HÉBERT, GUILLEMETTE (Couillard de Lespinay), daughter of Louis Hébert and Marie Rollet, m. Guillaume Couillard de Lespinay 26 Aug. 1621 at Quebec; b. in Paris or Dieppe c. 1606; d. 20 Oct. 1684 at Quebec and was buried there the following day.
On Louis Hébert’s death, his daughter Guillemette and her husband Guillaume Couillard inherited half the estate. Guillaume Couillard became the head of the family, as his wife’s brother Guillaume was still a minor. Up to 1632, the Hébert house on the brow of the cliff was the only private dwelling in Quebec. Farther up along the edge was Champlain’s little wooden fort, and directly below it, on the shore, was the Habitation with the small Recollet chapel beside it. The only other buildings in the settlement were the convents of the Recollet and Jesuit orders on the St. Charles River, a mile away beyond dense woods. Guillemette and her mother were frequently alone on their property for Couillard was often on the river and the servant, Henri, whom the Héberts had brought from France, was murdered by the natives the same year that Louis Hébert died (1627).
Like her parents, Mme Couillard was interested in Indian children and was often godmother at their baptisms. After the English captured Quebec in 1629, she received into her home Charité and Espérance, two of the three Indian girls, protégées of Champlain, whom he had hoped to take to France with him. When David Kirke refused permission for the journey, the girls asked to be sent to Mme Couillard. They must have formed part of a cosmopolitan household, for it contained also Olivier Le Jeune, a black boy from Madagascar brought up the river by the English, sold to Olivier Le Baillif, and given by him to the Couillard family. Guillemette and her mother arranged for his religious instruction and he was baptized in 1633. By 1648 the Couillards had other servants and ten children, a lively – entries in the Journal des Jésuites would suggest even an unruly – ménage. At the marriage of the third daughter, Élisabeth, in November 1645, there were two violins in the chapel, a thing never before heard in Canada. The early 1660s, however, brought bereavement to Mme Couillard. Two sons, first Nicolas, aged 20, then Guillaume, aged 27, and her nephew Joseph Hébert fell victim to the Iroquois, 1661–62, and in March 1663 her husband died.
Being rich in land (the Héberts owned property other than their original homestead), Mme Couillard jointly with her husband had made various gifts for charitable and religious purposes: to the church in 1652, and to the Hôtel-Dieu in 1655 and 1659. As a widow, she sold to Bishop Laval* in 1666 the land for the “petit séminaire.” Her disposal of this valuable property (the fief of Sault-au-Matelot), on which her father had first established himself, met with strong objections from the younger generation. The litigation begun by these prospective heirs was to continue generation after generation, even into the 20th century.
Saddened no doubt by the dissensions in her family, and somewhat infirm in body, she withdrew to the convent of the Hôtel-Dieu, where, as a boarder, she spent her last years. In 1678, when her father’s bones were re-interred, she had herself carried to the Recollet chapel to witness the ceremony. She died in October 1684, “aged 78 years or thereabouts,” and was buried beside her husband in the chapel of the Hôtel-Dieu. At that time her descendants numbered over 250. The number at the present day could hardly be estimated.
There are brief references to Mme Couillard in Sagard, Histoire du Canada (Tross); Champlain, Works (Biggar); and in the records of the Jesuits. Sons and servants are mentioned in the Journal des Jesuits (see: JR (Thwaites), passim). Chrestien Le Clercq, who was in Canada 1673–87 and who often talked with her, gives details of her later life (see: First establishment of the faith (Shea), passim). For more complete information consult Azarie Couillard Després, Histoire des seigneurs de la Rivière-du-Sud et leurs alliés canadiens et acadiens (Saint-Hyacinthe, 1912); Louis Hébert: premier colon canadien et sa famille (Lille, Paris, Bruges, 1913; Montréal, 1918); “Louis Hébert et ses descendants,” BRH, XX (1914), 281–85; and La première famille française au Canada.
Revisions based on:
Bibliothèque et Arch. Nationales du Québec, Centre d’arch. de Québec, CE301-S1, 26 août 1621, 21 oct. 1684.