ESTÈBE, GUILLAUME, merchant-trader, entrepreneur, storekeeper, member of the Conseil Supérieur, and seigneur; b. 1701 in the parish of Sainte-Trinité, Gourbit (dept of Ariège), France, son of Arnaud (Armand) Estèbe and Élisabeth Garde; probably d. in France some time after 1779.
Guillaume Estèbe, the son of a merchant, already had contacts with a number of French merchants before he sailed for New France. He was in Quebec in 1729 as an itinerant trader bearing a proxy from a La Rochelle merchant, Joseph-Simon Desherbert de Lapointe. He may have returned soon after to France but, having decided to settle in Canada, he married Élisabeth-Cécile, daughter of merchant Étienne Thibierge, at Beaumont, near Quebec, on 8 Nov. 1733. The 5,000 livres of property he declared when his marriage contract was signed, the 3,000-livre marriage settlement he provided for his wife, and the social rank of the witnesses present in the office of notary Jacques Barbel* suggest that Guillaume Estèbe already enjoyed a degree of wealth and had rapidly established new connections. Among the witnesses at the marriage itself were Jean Crespin, a member of the Conseil Supérieur and militia colonel for whom Estèbe was to serve two years later as executor; Louis-Jean Poulin* de Courval, king’s attorney; and Nicolas Boisseau, notary and clerk of the provost court of Quebec.
During the years that followed, Estèbe carried on various activities simultaneously. In 1737 he bought a house on Rue Saint-Pierre which he sold in 1750 to Jean-Baptiste Amiot* (1717–69) for 30,000 livres. In 1752 he had another house built on that street by Nicolas Dasilva*, dit Portugais, and sold it in 1757 to the king’s purveyor, Joseph-Michel Cadet, for 50,000 livres. In 1743 he received his first land grant, the seigneury of Sabrevois on the Richelieu, but he had the grant annulled the following year after he learned the land was “worthless.” In 1744 he obtained a grant of the seigneury of La Gauchetière on the shores of Lake Champlain and in 1753 became the holder of Mistanguienne, an arriere-fief belonging to the seigneury of Notre-Dame-des-Anges, which he sold four years later to storekeeper François-Joseph de Vienne.
In 1739 Estèbe acquired interests in the seal fisheries off the Labrador coast by entering into partnership with Jean-Baptiste Pommereau*, who had obtained a concession at Gros Mécatina (Que.) the previous year. He kept these interests after Pommereau’s death in 1742 [see Joseph-Michel Legardeur de Croisille et de Montesson]. In 1740 Estèbe and Henri-Albert de Saint-Vincent set up a company to exploit the concession at Petit Mécatina, next to Gros Mécatina, and in 1748, with Jacques-Michel Bréard, he obtained another concession in that region. This concession was by no means the only undertaking in which Bréard and Estèbe were partners: Estèbe acted as business agent for Bréard and the two men were also important members of Intendant Bigot’s famous clique.
Before Bigot’s arrival in the colony, Estèbe had already made a place for himself within the colonial administration. In 1736 he was appointed a councillor of the Conseil Supérieur, and on 1 Feb. 1758, after he resigned the office prior to his departure for France, the king appointed him an honorary councillor, an honour given to only one other person in New France, François Daine*. In 1740, moreover, he had obtained the office of king’s storekeeper in Quebec. Intendant Hocquart also recognized his competence in a number of fields. In 1741, after the collapse of the company formed by François-Étienne Cugnet* to operate the Saint-Maurice ironworks, Hocquart appointed Estèbe his subdelegate to manage the establishment. In the autumn Estèbe went to the ironworks and drew up a complete inventory. He was chosen by the intendant to replace the commissary of Marine when the decision was taken early in 1744 to make an appraisal of the ironworks. That year Hocquart twice commissioned him to go to the Côte de Beaupré and the he d’Orléans to buy or borrow from the habitants the wheat and flour needed for the troops and residents of Quebec and the troops on Île Royale (Cape Breton Island).
Guillaume Estèbe amassed most of his fortune in his last ten years in New France, during Bigot’s term as intendant. After the conquest, at the time of the affaire du Canada, he admitted he had left the colony with nearly 250,000 livres, and this was probably an understatement. The anonymous author of the “Mémoire du Canada” estimated Estèbe’s fortune at 1,800,000 livres. Estèbe’s connections with Bigot and some of his entourage, particularly Bréard and Pierre Claverie*, enabled him to participate in highly profitable commercial undertakings. For example, in the early 1750s, he and Claverie were involved in a store which the other Quebec merchants called, not without reason, “La Friponne” (“The Rogue”). Moreover, as king’s storekeeper until 1754, Estèbe was in a favourable position to carry out certain fraudulent operations at Bigot’s request. When the ships of David Gradis et Fils, a Bordeaux firm with which Bigot was associated, arrived at Quebec, Estèbe would declare to the bureau of the Domaine d’Occident that their cargoes were for the king’s account. Thus the company evaded payment of import duties, which had been in effect since 1749.
Estèbe had gone to France shortly before the affaire du Canada broke in 1761. He was imprisoned in the Bastille, as were other colonial administrators accused of corruption. During his trial at the Châtelet he was charged, among other things, with having profited illegally through the sale of goods to the king’s store at exorbitant prices by companies in which he had an interest, with selling to the king at an inflated price the provisions for Île Royale, and with having had interests in the coasters chartered in the king’s name which traded on the St Lawrence or transported goods to Acadia. The decision rendered on 10 Dec. 1763 sentenced him to be reprimanded before the council chamber at the Châtelet, to donate six livres to charity, and to repay 30,000 livres.
This conviction does not seem to have affected Estèbe’s administrative career. For more than 20 years after his return to France, he apparently held the office of king’s secretary at the chancery in Bordeaux. In 1779 Estèbe asked that his lettres d’honneur to the post at Bordeaux be registered with the Conseil Supérieur of Saint-Domingue (Hispaniola), where he wanted to join members of his family; the transfer was refused on the pretext that he did not live there himself. No further trace of him has been found.
AN, Col., E, 172 (dossier Estèbe). ANQ-M, Greffe de F.-M. Lepallieur de Laferté, 9 mars 1737. ANQ-Q, AP-G-322, 61ff.; Greffe de Jacques Barbel, 6 nov. 1733; NF 12, 16, cahier 8, pp.6–7; cahier 10, pp.57–58. Inv. de pièces du Labrador (P.-G. Roy), I, 83–84, 88–89; II, 11–16, 20–45, 50–57, 61, 66. “Mémoire du Canada,” ANQ Rapport, 1924–25, 134, 197–98. PAC Rapport, 1887, cciii. Marion, Dict. des instit. J.-E. Roy, Rapport sur les archives de France, 870, 874, 881. P.-G. Roy, Inv. concessions, I, 23–24; IV, 252, 271–72; Inv. jug. et délib., 1717–60; Inv. ord. int., II, 304; III, 16–17, 57, 59–60, 62. Tanguay, Dictionnaire. Frégault, François Bigot. P.-G. Roy, Bigot et sa bande, 59–65. Tessier, Les forges Saint-Maurice, 74–85. J.-E. Roy, “Les conseillers au Conseil souverain de la Nouvelle-France,” BRH, I (1895), 180, 183. P.-G. Roy, “Le sieur Guillaume Estèbe,” BRH, LII (1946), 195–207.