GALLANT, XAVIER (Francis-Xavier), known as Pinquin (Pinquaing), settler and convicted murderer; b. c. 1760, probably in Ristigouche (Que.), son of Louis Gallant and Anne Chiasson; m. Madeleine Doucet; d. 6 Nov. 1813 in jail in Charlottetown, P.E.I.
When the Acadians living on Île Saint-Jean (Prince Edward Island) were deported in 1758, Louis Gallant and his family took refuge at Baie des Chaleurs, settling first at Ristigouche, and later at Shippegan (Shippagan, N.B.). At some point Xavier Gallant, known as Pinquin, and two of his brothers crossed to Île Saint-Jean and settled there. Gallant and his wife had eight children, seven of whom were still alive in 1812. The family were living as tenants on Lot 16, on the shores of Malpeque Bay.
Gallant was, it seems, an affable man, a good worker, and a practising Catholic. Nevertheless, on Thursday, 11 June 1812, in a state of insanity he killed his wife, slitting her throat in a woodlot on his farm. After the murder he went home, asked about her, and claimed he did not know where she was. For two days he tramped through the woods with his children, looking for her, but she was not found. The following Saturday he fled; the children called in the neighbours, who organized search parties. The next morning Gallant was seen at the edge of the woods, and his cousin Jean-Baptiste Gallant managed to approach him. Xavier admitted that he had murdered his wife and told him the location of her corpse. At the neighbours’ urging he led them to the spot where he had concealed it under a pile of leaves. The body was taken to Gallant’s home and he was questioned in the presence of 12 witnesses. He confessed to having deliberately killed her and was taken to the Charlottetown jail.
On 3 July Gallant was tried before Chief Justice Caesar Colclough*, his associate judges Robert Gray* and James Curtis, and a jury of 12 men of British origin. The crown assigned Solicitor General James Bardin Palmer* to defend the accused, and Attorney General Charles Stewart prosecuted. John Frederick Holland*, a member of the grand jury, was sworn in as interpreter, since a number of the witnesses did not speak English.
In the course of the trial, which lasted just a day, 11 witnesses appeared, 6 for the crown and 5 for the defence. Among them were three of the defendant’s sons: Victor and Fidèle for the crown and L’Ange for the defence. According to the evidence, people had become aware of Gallant’s mental problems some years earlier, soon after he had concluded a deal, apparently netting him several hundred dollars, with a man named Marsh (probably the merchant Thomas Marsh). His son Fidèle stated in court that “this was the cause of his father’s derangement”; he who had previously been hard-working, amiable, and kind to his family stopped working. The money, which Gallant kept hidden in various places, including the attic, gave rise to numerous quarrels; he often accused his wife and children of stealing it. Obviously deranged, he sometimes imagined, according to Fidèle, that his wife was his daughter-in-law, believed that his dog had bewitched him, thought that his house was going to be seized, and would no longer go to church since he was afraid of being attacked and arrested. Fidèle further testified that Gallant said he had killed his wife because she “was not mindful enough of Household affairs and did not take care of him – that he was obliged to cook his own Victuals.”
Found guilty, Gallant was sentenced to be hanged, but his lawyer sought a stay of execution. On 16 July Lieutenant Governor Joseph Frederick Wallet DesBarres* consulted the Council and its members agreed unanimously to a reprieve. In the mean time Gallant remained locked up in the Charlottetown jail under the guard of the jailer Caleb Sentner, who was supposed to receive 15 shillings weekly for the prisoner’s keep, the money to come from the liquidation of Gallant’s property that the coroner was to arrange.
On 9 April 1813 Gallant’s case had still not been settled. Certain questions about the legality of the proceedings under which he had been convicted were yet unresolved. The prisoner’s execution was therefore again respited and the matter referred to the Prince Regent. In September Gallant was still in prison. The jailer informed Lieutenant Governor Charles Douglass Smith* that he had received no money from the coroner for Gallant’s keep since February. He complained that he did not have the means to take care of him, deplored the unhealthy and uninhabitable state of the prison, and stressed the prisoner’s horrible condition. Gallant’s health was already seriously affected; he died in his cell a few weeks later, on 6 November. A judicial inquiry conducted by coroner Fade Goff* at the prison concluded that he had died “of the Visitation of God, and in a natural way.” On the day of Gallant’s death the problem of the prison and of the prisoners’ keep was a major subject of discussion at a meeting of the Council. At the end of the deliberations it was decided that any prisoner unable to meet his own needs would thenceforth receive public assistance without undue delay.
The story of the sad fate of Gallant and his wife has been handed on in the Acadian oral tradition through a ballad and legends. The ballad, composed by an unknown author, is still in the repertory of many traditional Acadian singers. Folklorists have collected it in Prince Edward Island, New Brunswick, and Quebec, where it has been found on the Îles de la Madeleine, in the Gaspé, and on the north shore of the St Lawrence. It appears in Conrad Laforte’s Catalogue de la chanson folklorique française under the title “Le meurtrier de sa femme.” This tragic narrative song relates in detail the events surrounding the murder and the murderer’s death. There are diverse renditions of the lament which do not agree on every point. For example, in certain versions, such as that of Eva Richard, the wife of Thomas Savoie, of Sheila, N.B., Gallant dies in prison of hunger and thirst. In others he dies infested with worms and lice, as Benoni Benoit, also from Sheila, sings. According to certain legends found on Prince Edward Island, Gallant was a pirate and had supernatural powers. A treasure he was supposed to have buried near the village of Miscouche was the object of searches towards the end of the 19th century. During the trial reference had been made several times to the accused man’s bizarre beliefs in the supernatural and in witchcraft as well as to a relatively large sum of money in his possession.
The story of Xavier Gallant has survived orally down to the present because of the very nature of his mournful and moving tale and also because it may well recount the first murder committed by an Acadian on the Island. The tragic ballad has certainly contributed greatly to keeping Gallant’s memory alive, both among his numerous descendants on the Island and among the Acadians in many corners of the Maritimes and Quebec.
Centre d’études sur la langue, les arts et les traditions populaires (Québec), Coll. R. Bouthillier–V. Labrie, enregistrement 1238; Coll. Roger Matton, enregistrement 186. PAPEI, Acc. 2702, Smith–Alley coll., “The King vs Francis Xavier Galant . . . , 1812,” report by Charles Serani; “The petition of Caleb Sentner, keeper of his majesty’s gaol at Charlotte Town . . . ,” 1813; RG 5, Minutes, 1812–16 (mfm. at PAC); RG 6, Supreme Court, inquests, “Inquest taken on the body of Francis Xavier Gallant . . . ,” 1813; minutes, crown side, 1811–13; Trinity term, R. v. Xavier Gallant, indictment, 1812. PRO, CO 226/26: 189–92. Le catalogue de la chanson folklorique française, Conrad Laforte, compil. (Québec, 1958). Patrice Gallant, Michel Haché-Gallant et ses descendants (2v., s.l., 1958–70), 2. Illustrated historical atlas of the province of Prince Edward Island . . . , comp. J. H. Meacham (Philadelphia and Charlottetown, 1880; repr. Belleville, Ont., 1972). Georges Arsenault, Complaintes acadiennes de l’Île-du-Prince-Édouard (Montréal, 1980). J.-H. Blanchard, Rustico: une paroisse acadienne de l’île du Prince-Édouard ([s.1., 1938]).