FOUCHER, FRANÇOIS, merchant, king’s attorney; b. 1699 in the marquisate of Maillebois, diocese of Chartres, France; son of Jacques Foucher, a king’s councillor and salt-tax collector, and Charlotte-Élisabeth Goubert; d. 1770 in France.
François Foucher came to Canada in 1722. In 1723 he was housed in the intendant’s palace where he was employed as Michel Bégon’s secretary. A document dated 1724 describes him as also a “writer in the office of the intendant.” During the 1720s, moreover, he invested privately in the fur trade and in the lower St Lawrence fisheries. These investments were no doubt enhanced by his marriage, in 1724, to Marie-Bernadine Lebé, daughter of a prominent Montreal merchant and fur-trader. On 29 April 1727, Foucher received lettres de provisions for the post of king’s attorney at Montreal and the Conseil Supérieur registered them on 15 Sept. 1727. He did go to Montreal in 1728, but he soon returned to Quebec where he took advantage of the confusion created by Claude-Thomas Dupuy*’s recall to France to treat his position as a sinecure. When Dupuy’s successor, Gilles Hocquart*, ordered him in 1729 to take up his duties, he stated that he would rather lose his salary and remain at Quebec where his private affairs required his presence. He changed his mind, however, when Hocquart informed him that he would lose his office as well as the salary attached to it. After delaying for as long as he could, he went finally to live at Montreal in 1731.
It is easy to understand why Foucher was reluctant to perform the functions of king’s attorney. They were demanding, especially at Montreal where there was only one judge in 1731 and where the scarcity of seigneurial courts in the surrounding countryside threw even more of a burden on the king’s court. In addition to preparing civil cases, the king’s attorney was responsible for the elaborate investigative and interrogative procedures that were a key feature of the inquisitorial criminal law system. He was also charged, as numerous notarial entries testify, with locating good homes for and overseeing the care of illegitimate children, who were treated as wards of the state in New France until the age of 18. In a frontier town, this in itself could be a burdensome task.
Foucher, furthermore, possessed little or no legal training, a fact too often apparent, according to Hocquart, in the inaccurate and unprofessional legal processes drawn up at Montreal during the 1730s. Hocquart had his enthusiasm well in hand, therefore, when he described Foucher, on 27 Oct. 1732, as “30 years of age, a mediocre individual . . . will become really useful if he continues to apply himself.” He applied himself too well, however, for the comfort of the councillors who reprimanded him on several occasions for overstepping his authority. Hocquart was obliged to do the same in 1742, after the judge at Montreal, Jacques-Joseph Guiton de Monrepos, accused Foucher of encroaching on his prerogatives. On balance, Foucher seems to have been a hard working, but poorly trained and overly aggressive crown official.
The evidence pertaining to his private affairs at Montreal suggests that he was also an unbending and, at times, unscrupulous businessman. During the 1730s and 1740s he sold and advanced merchandise on credit to Montreal merchants and hired voyageurs to trade for him in the west. Contracts involving sums up to 9,500 livres appear under his name in the notarial records. He obtained his trade goods from merchants at La Rochelle. In 1734, Jean Butler, a merchant of that port, sent an agent to Canada to collect a large debt owed him by Foucher. The latter refused to pay, however, on the rather shabby pretext that their contract had not been properly registered. When Maurepas, the minister of Marine, heard about this refusal, he wrote Hocquart demanding that he collect the debt and adding that “if the Sr Foucher is no fairer in matters that affect the public than in this one it appears it would not do to keep him in his position.” Had this view been popularly known, Maurepas would undoubtedly have received strong support for it from the Canadian merchants, officers, and even close relatives with whom Foucher had numerous and bitter court battles.
Foucher retained his post, however, for some 31 years, and in 1753 he persuaded Intendant Bigot* to appoint his son François, who had studied law under the attorney general, Louis-Guillaume Verrier, as his substitute whenever he was away from Montreal. Although the danger of a backlog of legal business accumulating was the reason he gave, it was also true that much of his energy from that time on was devoted to the preservation of his children’s inheritance in the Labrador fisheries. That inheritance stemmed from his second marriage, in 1728, to Marie-Joseph, daughter of Augustin Le Gardeur* de Courtemanche, who bore him 13 children, five of whom survived her death in 1753. Through her they were entitled to a one-sixth share in the fishery of the Baie de Phélypeaux (Baie de Brador, Que.), one of the richest in New France, but legal entanglements involving their co-proprietor, François Martel de Brouague, led to their receiving a cash settlement instead. Soon after, in 1758, Foucher elected to return to France, leaving François as king’s attorney at Montreal and another son, Charles, known as Foucher de Labrador, an officer in the colonial regular troops. Both sons fled the colony after the conquest and continued their career in Martinique. Nothing is known of Foucher’s final years in France except that he died there in 1770.
AN, Col., B, 61; C11A, 53, 81, 84; E, 43 (dossier Bouat), 190 (dossier Foucher). A. Roy, Inv. greffes not., X, 166, 172, 173, 177; XII, 6, 17, 28; XVI, 144, 159, 161, 166, 171. P.-G. Roy, Inv. jug. et délib., 1717–1760, I, 332; II, 121, 238, 244–45, 259; III, 19, 21, 22, 81, 129, 137, 178; IV, 151–52, 193, 204, 246; V, 223, 282. “La famille Foucher de Labrador,” BRH, XL (1934), 250–52. P.-G. Roy, “Les secrétaires des gouverneurs et intendants de la Nouvelle-France,” BRH, XLI (1935), 99.