DOUCET, NICOLAS-BENJAMIN, notary, office holder, justice of the peace, militia officer, and author; b. 19 Feb. 1781 in Trois-Rivières, Que., second of 12 children of Jean Doucet and Magdeleine Mirau; d. 27 May 1858 in Montreal.
Nicolas-Benjamin Doucet’s forebear Germain Doucet de La Verdure, who was probably a native of La Touraine, France, came to Acadia in 1632. He served there as master at arms at Pentagöuet (Castine, Maine), and a few years later as commander at Port-Royal (Annapolis Royal, N. S.). Charles Doucet, Nicolas-Benjamin’s grandfather, had to leave Acadia at the time of the deportation and took refuge with his family in Trois-Rivières, where his son Jean married in 1778 and settled to carry on his trade as a baker. Jean Doucet soon became one of the leading figures in the district and held the offices of trustee and justice of the peace. Several of his sons chose to follow professions, and his daughters formed ties with people of their own station.
It was within this family, which was comfortably off and well known in Trois-Rivières at the end of the 18th century, that Nicolas-Benjamin grew up. In 1799, his studies behind him, he began his legal training in Trois-Rivières under Joseph Badeaux*. Doucet received his commission as a notary on 17 March 1804 and signed his first notarial act three days later, the day he took his oath of office. On 5 Aug. 1807 he married 18-year-old Marie-Euphrosine Kimber, the eldest daughter of René Kimber*, a prominent merchant in Trois-Rivières, and the sister of René-Joseph Kimber, who would become a physician, member for Trois-Rivières in the House of Assembly, and legislative councillor. The ceremony was performed by the bishop of Quebec, Joseph-Octave Plessis*.
With such good connections, in a society where prestigious offices were rare, Doucet soon took part in the affairs of the district of Three Rivers, becoming an assistant clerk of the peace and then in 1811 justice of the peace. He might have continued his rise in society in this uneventful way, but preparations for the War of 1812 gave him an unexpected chance to bring his talents to the attention of the colonial authorities. He was asked to assist the military as a commissioner for taking oaths from half-pay officers on 11 March 1812, for issuing licences in the district on 20 March, and for taking oaths of allegiance on 30 June. In addition, he was given commissions as captain and second major in the 3rd Select Embodied Militia Battalion of Lower Canada on 25 May 1812 and 25 Sept. 1813 respectively. In these capacities he proceeded with his men to Fort Lennox on Île aux Noix, and to Lacolle and Plattsburgh, N.Y., where hostilities were largely concentrated. Doucet was in command of various operations there, sat on a court martial, and took part in the famous battle of Châteauguay [see Charles-Michel d’Irumberry* de Salaberry]. He was decorated in 1813 for his service in the war.
Once the American threat was over, Doucet returned to Trois-Rivières. In 1815 he left to take up permanent residence at Montreal in a house on Place d’Armes, where he resumed working as a notary. However, he kept some assets at Trois-Rivières; in addition, his wife later inherited some of her father’s properties. A daughter had been born to them in 1814, and they were to have five more children, two of whom died in infancy.
Upon arrival in Montreal, Doucet, through his contacts with government circles, was appointed on 30 Oct. 1815 secretary and treasurer of the commissions of inquiry into the state of the roads and into the construction of a prison. On 21 June 1821 he was given the post of agent for the Indian Department on the Caughnawaga (Kahnawake) Reserve, and on 10 Feb. 1823 similar posts on the Saint-Régis Reserve near the New York border and the Lac-des-Deux-Montagnes Reserve (Oka). A well-known notary who was sought out for his thorough knowledge of the law, Doucet led a social life which brought some honorary offices; although few in number they were relatively important, a fact that probably indicates his influence. For example, he was elected churchwarden of the parish of Notre-Dame in Montreal in 1820 and president of the notaries’ association in the district of Montreal in the 1840s. For unknown reasons, possibly of a professional nature, he is believed to have refused the office of justice of the peace of Montreal in 1830, and to have declined in 1842, like his colleagues George Vanfelson and John Samuel McCord, a post as commissioner to inquire into the operation of the laws on seigneurial tenure in Lower Canada.
At the end of the 1830s Doucet prepared Fundamental principles of the laws of Canada, as they existed under the natives, as they were changed under the French kings, and as they were modified and altered under the domination of England, his most important accomplishment. Registered at the Court of Queen’s Bench of Montreal on 14 Feb. 1840 and published by John Lovell* from 1841 to 1843, probably in instalments, the work, which was intended for law students, describes the origins and history of laws and institutions. Written in English, it represents an immense effort of compilation and erudition. In the first volume Doucet mentions the Hebraic laws contained in the Bible, goes on to Roman law and to that of the barbaric tribes, particularly the Anglo-Saxon ones, and devotes the major portion to the history of English law from the Norman conquest to 1774. In the second volume he gives a brief account of laws of the American Indians and then elucidates the principal parts of the Code Napoléon, which, although without official standing in Lower Canada, was then in use among legal practitioners and judges there. The volume concludes with a bilingual version, without commentary, of the Coutume de Paris. In sum, this is a work of encyclopaedic pretensions but little originality which is almost wholly devoted to English law before the conquest and to the Code Napoléon; its merit probably lies in making accessible in English a body of English and, above all, of French laws in current use in Lower Canada at the beginning of the 19th century. Commenting on the work, the Montreal Gazette of 27 March 1841 noted: “It is, we must confess, a new thing to find a native French Canadian of this Province devoting so much time and labour, as this work required, to the instruction of those who intend to prosecute the study of our laws, and, throwing aside all native and national prejudices, giving it to the public in the English language.”
Doucet gave up the profession of notary in 1855, after 51 years in practice, leaving one of the most voluminous minute-books extant – it contains more than 30,000 notarized instruments – to the Palais de Justice in Montreal. His son Théodore, who had been his partner since 1839, followed in his footsteps. Nicolas-Benjamin Doucet died on 27 May 1858 in Montreal at the age of 77. Joseph-Edmond Roy* calls him “one of the outstanding figures in the professional and social life” of Montreal in the first half of the 19th century.
The minute-book of Nicolas-Benjamin Doucet, consisting of instruments notarized between 1804 and 1855, is in ANQ-M, CN1-134. He is also the author of Fundamental principles of the laws of Canada, as they existed under the natives, as they were changed under the French kings, and as they were modified and altered under the domination of England . . . (2v. in 1, Montreal, 1841–43).
ANQ-M, CE1-51, 29 mai 1858; CN1-68, 1er mars 1826; CN1-69, 29 sept. 1845; CN1-122, 4 nov. 1834; CN1-270, 10 mars 1823. ANQ-MBF, CE1-48, 2 févr. 1778, 20 févr. 1781, 5 août 1807; CN1-38, 1er mars 1799. AUM, P 58, U, Doucet à Louis Guy, 7 févr. 1812; Doucet à J.-G. de Tonnancour, 4 mars, 20 juin, 10 oct., 13 nov. 1820; 10 mars 1821; 21 janv. 1822; 16 juill. 1828; Doucet à Mme Dufresne, 18 sept. 1821; 11 juill., 24 sept. 1823; 8 juill. 1824; 4 janv. 1825; 13 juin, 27 sept. 1826; Doucet à Joseph Masson, 28 juin 1826; lettre de Doucet, 8 sept. 1841. PAC, MG 30, D1, 11: 242–45; RG 4, B8, 2: 507–12; RG 68, General index, 1651–1841: 279–80, 341–42, 368; 1841–67: 343. La Minerve, 29 mai 1858. Montreal Gazette, 27 March 1841. E. A. Cruikshank, Inventory of military documents in the Canadian archives (Ottawa, 1910), 54–56. “Marguilliers de la paroisse de Notre-Dame de Ville-Marie de 1657 à 1913,” BRH, 19 (1913): 276–84. Morgan, Bibliotheca Canadensis, 107. Officers of British forces in Canada (Irving), 111, 125, 157. [J.-E. Roy], “Bibliographie notariale,” La Rev. du notariat (Lévis, Qué.), 2 (1899–1900): 225–29. A. W. P. Buchanan, The Buchanan book; the life of Alexander Buchanan, Q.C., of Montreal, followed by an account of the family of Buchanan (Montreal, 1911), 123–24. Lareau, Hist. de la littérature canadienne, 398–99. J.-E. Roy, Hist. du notariat, 2: 234; 3: 82, 97. Sulte, Mélanges hist. (Malchelosse), 3: 100; 10: 93–94; 18: 61. F.-J. Audet, “Un jurisconsulte dans notre administration: Nicolas-Benjamin Doucet, sa carrière et les diverses fonctions qu’il occupa dans le Québec,” La Presse (Montréal), 12 août 1933: 29. “La famille Jékimbert ou Kimber,” BRH, 21 (1915): 201–5. J.-J. Lefebvre, “Une dynastie acadienne de notaires québécois: les Doucet (1804–1917),” La Rev. du notariat (Québec), 58 (1955–56): 474–81, 521–31. É.-Z. Massicotte, “Un record notarial,” BRH, 24 (1918): 104. Henri Têtu, “L’abbé André Doucet, curé de Québec, 1807–1814,” BRH, 13 (1907): 3–22. [Yvonne Yon] e L.-J. Doucet, “Généalogie des familles Doucet: souche acadienne,” SGCF Mémoires, 6 (1954–55): 371–88.