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HOCQUART, GILLES (baptized Gilles Hocquard, sometimes Hocart in old family documents), financial commissary and intendant of New France; b. 18 July 1695 in the parish of Sainte-Croix, Mortagne-au-Perche, France, third of 14 children born to Jean-Hyacinthe Hocquart, commissary general of the Marine, and Marie-Françoise Michelet Du Cosnier; m. 25 Aug. 1750 Catherine-Anne Delalande in Saint-Brieuc, France; the marriage was childless; d. 1 April 1783 at Paris.
The Hocquarts originated in Champagne, where documents bearing their name date from 1189. They were local officials near the village of Sainte-Menehould whose claims to nobility were not officially recognized until 1536 and whose material circumstances were hardly better than the surrounding peasantry’s. Gilles Hocquart’s ancestors, the Hocquarts de Montfermeil, migrated during the 16th century from Champagne to Paris, where they entered the king’s financial bureaucracy. Through the acquisition of tax offices and the fashioning of advantageous marriage ties, with the Colbert family for example, they climbed gradually into the upper echelons of the robe nobility. By the mid 1700s they were wealthy residents of the Place des Victoires district, with influence in the magistracy and government bureaucracy as well as in finance. Their offspring married into leading families of the sword nobility. It was, in fact, the French revolution and the brutal stroke of Mme Guillotine that finally halted their social progress.
Jean-Hyacinthe Hocquart, Gilles’s father, was one of the chief architects of the family’s success. At age 21 he was a secretary and clerk under Jean-Baptiste Colbert in the finance ministry. His marriage, in 1681, to a relative of the prestigious Talon family of the judicial robe helped the Hocquarts to gain a foothold in that branch of the robe nobility – a foothold which his grandson Jean-Hyacinthe-Louis-Emmanuel converted into the presidency of the second chamber of the parlement of Paris. In 1686, however, Jean-Hyacinthe abandoned his promising financial career and, responding to an appeal for men of talent to staff the Marine commissariat, began a new life in the port cities. After many years of service he was named intendant of Toulon in 1716 and of Le Havre in 1720. His two eldest sons followed his first career and became successful administrators and financiers at Paris. Jean-Hyacinthe, for example, was a wealthy farmer general. His younger sons, including Gilles, entered the Marine service under his direction and pursued lengthy careers far from Paris and the lavish style of life of their siblings.
Gilles, who spent his entire working life in the Marine commissariat, began in 1702 as a scrivener at Rochefort. Since he was very young, it is unlikely that he performed all of the duties of that post until much later. Moving with his father to Brest in 1706, he remained there until 1716 when, after briefly considering a vocation in the priesthood, he went to Toulon and was promoted junior commissary. In 1721 he was named commissary and a year later was transferred to Rochefort, where he served until his appointment to New France in 1729. Rochefort was a training school for Marine personnel and, during his tenure there, Hocquart performed a wide assortment of tasks, from supervising ship repairs to serving as the port’s financial controller. It was this practical training and the knowledge of commercial, legal, and administrative details which it provided that contributed to his successes in Canada. Though his progress through the ranks had been slow, by 1728 he was second in command to the intendant, François de Beauharnois* de La Chaussaye, Baron de Beauville, and was highly regarded in the ministry of Marine. At age 33, he was ready for a more challenging appointment.
It is not certain, however, that Hocquart’s appointment, on 8 March 1729, as financial commissary and acting intendant in New France, was based solely on his administrative record. His family may have intervened on his behalf with the minister of Marine, Maurepas. Several relatives were well placed for such action, including his brother Jean-Hyacinthe, who purchased the office of Marine treasurer in 1729 and who, as a farmer general, had financial dealings with Maurepas. Patronage based on family influence often determined whose career advanced and whose remained in limbo. On the other hand, Hocquart possessed specific abilities that were desperately required in Canada. As controller at Rochefort he had earned a reputation for honest and efficient financial administration, whereas in Canada the intendant, Claude-Thomas Dupuy*, had plunged the finances into a confused morass of large deficits, jumbled accounts, and doubtful dealings. Dupuy had not been trained in the Marine and he apparently regarded the details of financial administration as a proper field for unimaginative clerks. Moreover, his economic proposals, which he elaborated without first gaining knowledge of or experience in Canada, were seldom tempered by considerations of financial feasibility. Maurepas, it is clear, was anxious to replace him with a more realistic and experienced bureaucrat.
Then again, Hocquart’s personality may have been his strongest recommendation. By 1729 relations between Dupuy and Governor Charles de Beauharnois* de La Boische had degenerated from mutual dislike into the sort of bellicosity that infected New France’s upper social strata and brought effective government to a standstill. Beauharnois was undoubtedly correct when he wrote, “it is enough that I say white for him to say black.” It was for this reason that Maurepas finally decided to recall Dupuy and to send a more congenial partner for Beauharnois. Hocquart fitted this role perfectly. Everything about him suggested a person of calm temperament and unassuming disposition. He was physically nondescript, with the sleepy eyes and heavy features of one who enjoys sedentary pleasures. Although intelligent, he was not brilliant or devastatingly perceptive. The historian Guy Frégault* has described him as a “hard-working clerk . . . without any daring initiatives or broad syntheses.” Though unbending once he decided on a course of action, he was flexible in his methods and almost always sought the road of least resistance. Maurepas described him to Beauharnois as “judicious, industrious, and pleasant to deal with.” But although he may have suited the administrative needs of New France in 1729, there was no evidence that he possessed the experience or economic vision to cope with the colony’s long-term economic problems. The scope and magnitude of those problems were revealed to him in his memorandum of instructions.
Hocquart’s instructions were rooted in classic mercantilist maxims. “Since the colony of Canada is of value only insofar as it is useful to the kingdom,” they stated, “Sieur Hocquart must apply himself to finding ways of contributing to that end.” But the thrust of French mercantilism had changed significantly since the days of Louis XIV and Colbert. Under Cardinal Fleury, Louis XV’s first minister from 1726 to 1743, the maintenance of peace with Great Britain for the purposes of commercial expansion was seen as the key to France’s eventual hegemony in Europe. To further this policy Fleury emphasized political stability and strict governmental economy; the impact in the colonial sphere was to tighten the grip of the commerce-oriented robe bureaucrats on policy and to restrict the funds available for state initiatives. Hence Maurepas laid great stress on the expansion of trade, but through private rather than state initiative. Hocquart was urged to promote Canada’s trade within the French Atlantic empire, but without increasing government spending.
The instructions pointed out that while the potential for a larger trade between Canada and France in fish, furs, lumber, and other items was great, the potential for Canadian agriculture and industry to supply the growing slave population of the French West Indies was greater still. Like so many mercantilist thinkers before him, Maurepas envisaged an integrated commerce between France’s Atlantic colonies which would have the added benefit of reducing the illegal trade between New England and the French West Indies. Louisbourg, Île Royale (Cape Breton Island), Hocquart was informed, was an ideal entrepôt and naval shield for this three-cornered trade, as well as a market for Canadian products, but since its construction few ships had arrived there each year from Quebec. In the minister’s view responsibility for this development lay with Hocquart’s predecessors, Michel Bégon* de La Picardière and Dupuy, for they had failed to develop the commercial possibilities of Canadian industry and agriculture. The instructions left no doubt that Hocquart’s own administration would be judged in the light of his ability to do so. He was to succeed where every intendant since Jean Talon* had failed in shifting the axis of Canada’s export economy from the fur trade to agriculture and industry. Only in this way would New France achieve long-term economic stability, while serving a more useful purpose for France.
Hocquart arrived at Quebec in September 1729, having escaped without injury when his ship, the Éléphant, ran aground near Île aux Grues. He stayed for some time with the governor general at the Château Saint-Louis and was pleased to discover that Beauharnois, chastened somewhat by the minister’s severe criticism of his role in Dupuy’s recall, was friendly and supportive. Indeed, over the next ten years both men found it mutually beneficial to cooperate and to respect each other’s sphere of authority. They had a mutual enemy in Bishop Pierre-Herman Dosquet and, apparently, a genuine liking for each other. It was Beauharnois who petitioned the minister in 1730 to have Hocquart promoted intendant and Hocquart warmly recommended Beauharnois for the cordon rouge. When differences did arise, they were careful not to allow the dispute to grow into a personal confrontation. Instead, they requested a decision from the minister. The administrative crisis that had led to Dupuy’s recall was thus easily defused and Hocquart was free to concentrate on broader issues.
As intendant Hocquart had jurisdiction in a number of areas – the administration of the judicial system, the maintenance of public order, and the development of economic policy. In fact, however, his activities in relation to justice and police constituted but a minor aspect of his intendancy and were focused largely on improving the quality of the bureaucracy. His instructions had stressed his role in the economic sphere, and it was this field that claimed his attention. If he had had any doubts about the feasibility of those instructions, they must have been confirmed by his first impressions in Canada. In fact, his dispatches to the court from the date of his arrival until 1731 were cautiously pessimistic. His initial scepticism can be partly attributed to the culture shock experienced by upper-class Europeans who were venturing for the first time to the extremities of the known world. To them, Canada was an isolated and forlorn outpost surrounded by an infinity of rock and forest. But Hocquart was also a practical man who observed that Canada lacked the human resources and material conditions necessary for rapid economic progress. He was discouraged, for instance, by the quality of the civil bureaucracy in New France. In his view it was inefficient, understaffed, and poorly paid. Many of the financial officers who had served with Dupuy, including the agent of the treasurers general of the Marine, Nicolas Lanoullier* de Boisclerc, were suspected of wrongdoing, while death and retirements left him without a single experienced commissary. “I have borne almost entirely alone the brunt of all the operations I have undertaken,” he complained in 1730; “having found no one here capable of unravelling the chaos of all the outstanding business, I have had to direct, give instructions for, and supervise all the work.” He regarded many of the judicial officers, including the king’s attorney at Montreal, François Foucher*, and several councillors of the Conseil Supérieur, to be incompetent, and he saw no possibility of finding suitable replacements in the colony. He asked for help from France and, in the mean time, relied heavily on those officials, such as Louis-Frédéric Bricault* de Valmur, his secretary, and Jean-Victor Varin de La Marre, the controller, who had accompanied him to Quebec.
Hocquart was even more disappointed with the merchant community in Canada. He was aware from his long experience in the French port cities that the commercial bourgeois there were largely responsible for France’s commercial resurgence since the treaty of Utrecht. He was predisposed therefore to look upon the merchants as the spearhead of economic growth. And the budgetary restrictions placed upon his administration left no doubt that his success in Canada would depend heavily upon his ability to persuade the merchants to develop agriculture and industry. But in 1729 this possibility seemed remote. The wealthiest merchants, men such as Pierre de Lestage* and Louis Charly* Saint-Ange, invested primarily in the fur trade, where profits were high and the demands for managerial skills, secondary facilities, and long-term commitments relatively modest. Hocquart learned from experience, moreover, that merchant capital was not easily attracted to other branches of the economy. There were a few entrepreneurs, he acknowledged, especially at Quebec, who were involved in the fisheries, lumbering, and the grain trade, but their operations made only a slight impact on external trade. Although he assisted those who were striving to develop export industries, such as Abbé Louis Lepage* de Sainte-Claire, who had established a sawmill on his seigneury of Terrebonne, or Michel Sarrazin* and François Hazeur, who operated a slate quarry at Grand Lang in Gaspé, he noted that these ventures often suffered from poor management. After one failure in 1730 he stated, “in this country only the king can establish industries and keep them going in their early stages.”
This view was partly based on Hocquart’s recognition of the difficulties facing entrepreneurs in Canada. A thriving agricultural trade depended, for example, on the regular production of agricultural surpluses. But such surpluses could not be produced, he claimed, when seigneurs were lax in settling their fiefs and in fulfilling their seigneurial obligations. In taking note of these abuses, Hocquart also maintained that some seigneurs charged unfair and illegal rents and that others sold rather than rented wooded land. He considered the habitants, whose qualities he would later praise, lazy and insubordinate. He could not help comparing their subsistence level of farming with conditions in France, where the peasants, he believed, were more industrious. Between 1729 and 1731 he instigated the reunion of 400 undeveloped habitant concessions to their seigneuries under the second edict of Marly, more than double the number reunited under the two previous intendants. Hocquart also accepted the argument of Canada’s merchants that the supply of currency was inadequate to stimulate exchanges between habitants who did have surplus crops and the merchants. He pointed out that the 400,000 livres in card money that he had been authorized to circulate in 1729 was not enough. He also commented on the high cost and inadequacy of transportation, noting that the small ships constructed in Canada could not service the trade with the West Indies. But merchants who wanted to build large ships were faced with high labour costs. “It is true that . . . the majority of resident merchants take naturally to the building [of ships],” he wrote, “but labour is so expensive here, and the inhabitants have so little money, that they cannot undertake large enterprises.”
Although Hocquart acknowledged the material obstacles to economic diversification, he accepted the view of his French superiors that the unenterprising attitude of Canada’s commercial élite, evidenced by its narrow preoccupation with the fur trade, was primarily responsible. His initial assessment, in other words, was that of an unsympathetic outsider. But in 1731 and 1732 his views changed. He began to distinguish sharply between Canadian and French merchant interests and to ascribe the inadequacies of the former to the suffocating preponderance of the latter. The Canadian merchants, only a few of whose fortunes, he later claimed, were as large as 50,000 to 60,000 livres, did not have enough capital to invest in industry and the agricultural economy because trade was for the most part controlled by French commercial houses such as Robert Dugard et Cie of Rouen, represented in Canada by a permanent factor, François Havy*, and Mme Pascaud et Fils of La Rochelle, whose directors, the widow and sons of Antoine Pascaud*, were associated in the Canadian trade with Pierre de Lestage. French merchants gained the lion’s share of profits from the transactions of their agents in Canada and from the interest they collected on the debts the Canadian merchants owed them. In 1732 Hocquart estimated these debts at 250,000 livres. Since the French merchants were not generally interested in reinvesting their profits in other Canadian ventures, it was extremely difficult to promote economic diversification.
From a stern critic of the Canadian merchants, Hocquart had become their advocate. He was convinced that the crown would have to intervene to protect their interests and to help them gain a larger share of Canadian commerce, even if that meant interfering with the trade of French merchants. If the Canadians were ever to develop the non-fur economy, and Hocquart stated more than once that they were better suited to the task than were French merchants whose base of operations was far away, the crown would also have to provide them with financial aid. Hocquart summed up this line of thought in a seminal dispatch in 1732: “It is for you, my lord, to consider whether it would be more suitable in this case to assure the advantage for the resident merchants or for those from outside. It is true that freedom of trade benefits all the inhabitants because of the abundance and cheapness of goods that result. On the other hand, it would be desirable to have in this country some wealthy merchants, even if they were few in number, because they would be in a position to start and enlarge businesses that the slenderness of their means does not allow them even to attempt.” Hocquart wanted to create a Canadian commercial bourgeoisie, like those in the French ports, that could, with the crown’s initial support, diversify and expand the economy. Such was the policy that informed his actions, that brought him into conflict with his French superiors, and that characterized his intendancy.
There were three main factors which led Hocquart to adopt this policy. First, he was appointed intendant in 1731, a promotion that allowed him to shed some of the discretion that had been required during his probationary period as financial commissary. As intendant he was in a stronger position to express his views and to adopt his own goals. Second, after two years in Canada he had developed strong ties to elements of the commercial élite, particularly merchants and officials at Quebec involved in commerce. The views of men like François-Étienne Cugnet*, who spoke from the Canadian merchant perspective, had an impact on his thinking. Third, Hocquart was anxious to add to his prestige and wealth. Unlike many of his predecessors, however, he did not pursue this goal through proposals designed to increase the intendant’s political power. Instead he sought to add to his sphere of patronage by favouring the economic enterprises of his clients. He borrowed from and lent funds to them and invested in some of their ventures. The Canadian merchants, like the civil and judicial officials under his authority, were his natural clients. Whereas French merchants trading in Canada could appeal to the minister, the Canadian merchants turned to the intendant. This patron–client relationship contributed greatly to Hocquart’s protection and support of them.
Hocquart was anxious to gain the minister’s support for his ideas, but Maurepas was far from convinced. He doubted, as he explained in a dispatch of 1733, whether the Canadians were as deeply in debt to French merchants as Hocquart claimed or whether this indebtedness accounted for the slow development of agriculture and industry. The Canadian merchants, he suggested, were simply trying to become masters of the entire trade so that they could set their own prices and gouge the habitants. He warned Hocquart not to interfere with trade except on those occasions, during a crop failure for example, when the welfare of the colony was clearly at stake. Although Maurepas was prepared to support Canadian enterprise, he was not prepared to do so at the expense of French merchants. Nor was he willing to invest more crown funds in Canadian development. “As to the funds with which you believe the country must be assisted,” he wrote, “they have never been so considerable as during your administration . . . it is easy to judge that you have been more favourably treated . . . than your predecessors. . . .” Hocquart would do better, he contended, to find a profitable way to raise taxes so that the Canadians would finally pay their fair share of the 600,000 livres that the crown spent annually on Canada.
This refusal to provide the moral and material support Hocquart considered vital severely restricted the effectiveness of his initiatives between 1733 and 1736. Although he convinced Maurepas that the time was not yet ripe for collecting taxes in Canada, he was unable to gain approval for more than 25,000 livres, or 2.5 per cent of the total expenditures for the period, in loans and direct aid to Canadian enterprises. In these circumstances, his efforts on behalf of ventures such as François Poulin* de Francheville’s ironworks at Saint-Maurice, Nicolas-Marie Renaud* d’Avène Des Méloizes’ tile industry near Quebec, Louis Denys* de La Ronde’s copper mine on Lake Superior, and Abbé Lepage’s lumber business, produced meagre results. None of them gave any sign of developing into significant export industries. On the contrary, Francheville’s forge shut down in 1735 [see Thérèse de Couagne*] and by 1736 Lepage was on the verge of bankruptcy. Hocquart was now convinced that small-scale enterprises could not succeed and that the Canadian merchants would never transform the economy without substantial support from the crown. “I know, my lord, that the expenditures the king makes in support of this colony are great, and that they are even a burden on the Marine,” he explained in 1736, “but . . . the colony is about to become still more useful to France through the cultivation of tobacco, the construction of ships, the mining of iron and copper: but the efforts that will be made here can produce an effect only slowly, if His Majesty does not consent to help us.” The previous year he and Beauharnois had sought approval for a loan of 110,000 livres to a new company, headed by Cugnet, which intended to develop the Saint-Maurice ironworks into a major industry. In 1736 Hocquart returned to France to appeal personally for more support.
By then, however, the outlook in the ministry had changed. For one thing, Fleury and Maurepas were fearful that a European war would soon erupt over the Austrian succession and that the French navy would be unable to protect France’s growing Atlantic trade. This concern led to a new emphasis on the construction of war vessels and to renewed interest in Hocquart’s glowing – and, as it proved, over-optimistic – accounts of Canada’s timber resources and shipbuilding capability. Later, in 1738, Pierre-Arnaud de Laporte succeeded Pierre de Forcade as first clerk of the colonial bureau in the ministry of Marine. More ambitious and less experienced than Forcade, Arnaud de Laporte was also more dependent on the views of the colonial intendants. Hocquart, it seems clear, convinced him that big industries like the Saint-Maurice ironworks and state shipbuilding would flourish in Canada. In any event, the ministry’s financial austerity was relaxed and, between 1736 and 1741, more than 500,000 livres in crown funds were invested in or lent to these industries. This largesse contributed significantly to rapid economic growth during the same period.
But if the ministry’s financial policy was important, so too was Hocquart’s administration of the Canadian finances. He believed that there was a close relationship between government spending and the growth of trade. “The expenditures the king makes in this country,” he wrote in 1735, “are responsible for part of the returns. If . . . His Majesty increased those outlays not only would his service benefit from it, but it is clear that trade would expand commensurately.” After his first two years at Quebec, when unravelling Dupuy’s accounts and stabilizing the financial system were imperatives, he took advantage of every opportunity to increase expenditures. For example, he proposed numerous public works and fortifications from completing the Lachine canal to the construction of a stone wall around Quebec, the estimates for which totalled hundreds of thousands of livres. And the projects that were approved, such as the construction of Fort Saint-Frédéric (near Crown Point, N.Y.), always proved more costly than his estimates. Hocquart also made a number of inflated or unauthorized expenditures that were vaguely explained in his annual accounts. This laxity, which perhaps was deliberate, was a constant source of irritation for Maurepas, who reprimanded him repeatedly. Annual expenditures rose very gradually during the 1730s, but Hocquart did all in his power to increase them.
Although government spending benefited a wide cross-section of Canadian society, Hocquart favoured his clients above all others. He did this, first of all, by maintaining control of financial affairs in a closely knit group of civil officials who remained in place through most of his administration. Chief among them were Thomas-Jacques Taschereau*, the agent of the treasurers general of the Marine; Jean-Victor Varin de La Marre, the controller; Honoré Michel* de Villebois de La Rouvillière, the commissary at Montreal; François Foucault*, the king’s storekeeper at Quebec and, later, financial officer of the state shipyards; and Cugnet, director of the Domaine d’Occident. These men also formed the corps of Hocquart’s judicial clientele in the Conseil Supérieur. Although he continued to ask for administrative help from France, Hocquart had gradually abandoned his criticisms of the Canadian bureaucracy. Instead, he praised his staff of financial officers and civil officials as able men beleaguered by an excess of work. This assessment seems, on the whole, to have been accurate and several officials, Louis-Guillaume Verrier*, Michel de Villebois, and Jean-Eustache Lanoullier* de Boisclerc, were remarkably vigorous and effective. It is true, of course, that Hocquart tended to put too much confidence in his lieutenants, and near the end of his tenure several of them, including Cugnet and the king’s storekeeper, Louis-Joseph Rocbert de La Morandière, were guilty at times of abusing his trust. On balance, however, Hocquart had one of the most efficient administrative teams in New France’s history.
Many of these officials were privately involved in the industrial and agricultural enterprises supported by the intendant. They were given crown loans, fur-trade leases, seigneurial grants, fishing-post leases, advances on their salaries, and extraordinary bonuses; several of them profited from state contracts. On occasion their contract arrangements went well beyond 18th-century standards of public morality. Foucault, for example, purchased bread for the king’s store from himself under an assumed name. These bureaucrat-entrepreneurs were in a good position to second Hocquart’s efforts to assist other entrepreneurs, such as Denys de La Ronde and Lepage. It is clear, in fact, that the intendant and his team of officials were the driving force behind the expansion of the non-fur economy during the late 1730s.
But Hocquart’s energetic efforts extended far beyond government finance. He strove in numerous ways to increase the Canadian merchants’, and especially his clients’, share of New France’s commerce. Despite Maurepas’s admonitions, for instance, he made matters difficult for many French merchants trading in Canada. He was slow to assist their agents in collecting debts from Canadians and he used his influence in the Conseil Supérieur to frustrate their legal proceedings. He worked, moreover, to discourage those transient merchants (marchands forains) who came to Quebec on a seasonal basis and who took all their profits out of the colony. He did this by nurturing uncertainty as to whether or not the grain crop would be sufficient to permit exports; by introducing shipping and milling regulations that complicated their transactions; by favouring the spread of resident merchants’ stores into the countryside to reduce the forains’ on-the-scene trading advantages; and by increasing the supply of card money to offset the appeal the forains enjoyed when they paid in coin. By the late 1730s fewer and fewer transients were risking the trip to Canada.
In a more positive vein, Hocquart favoured the expansion of the fur trade, particularly the expeditions of Pierre Gaultier* de Varennes et de La Vérendrye and his sons in the 1730s to open the far west to French influence. Fur-trade profits, he realized, were the major source of investment capital for Canadians interested in developing agriculture and industry. He encouraged prominent fur-traders, such as Lestage and Charly Saint-Ange, to diversify in this way. He also leased government trading posts at Tadoussac, Fort Frontenac (Kingston, Ont.), and Fort Niagara (near Youngstown, N.Y.) to private entrepreneurs such as Cugnet and François Chalet. In the 1740s he advocated leasing all posts then exploited by their military commandants to merchants. He recognized that his proposal was a direct assault on Beauharnois’s sphere of patronage which could only result in a deterioration of their relationship, but by that time he was less concerned with Beauharnois’s attitude than with pushing aggressively forward with his policy of commercial expansion. This concern helps account, too, for his reluctance to destroy the illegal fur trade, even though he admitted in 1737 that it represented as much as one-third of the traffic in beaver pelts. He explained to the Compagnie des Indes that “the country is so vast and the profits made there so great that it is not possible to destroy [the trade] entirely”; but it is also evident that he regarded those profits as indispensable for the Canadians. Similarly, when the sedentary fisheries along the Labrador and St Lawrence coasts became profitable during the 1730s Hocquart, in cooperation with Beauharnois, recommended grants to several of his clients, including Foucault and Nicolas-Gaspard Boucault*, and stoutly resisted the claims of older concession holders and French merchants, though not always with success [see Pierre Constantin*]. As always, he wanted to channel the existing commercial wealth to Canadian entrepreneurs.
Hocquart also strove to eliminate the obstacles to the commercial success of industrial and agricultural ventures. For instance, he was an effective spokesman for Canadian exports, forwarding samples and extolling the qualities of products from beeswax to buffalo hides. He argued vigorously when French inspectors differed with his assessment of these products and others such as lumber, hemp, tar, and tobacco. He took the lead in sending trial shipments of Canadian staples to Martinique and he endeavoured to expand the agricultural trade to Louisbourg. In the latter regard, he supported the claims of Quebec’s merchants that the Louisbourg officials, particularly Governor Saint-Ovide [Monbeton*], were tolerant of the illegal trade in foodstuffs with New England which was so detrimental to their interests. He warned that “the merchants of Canada who send [goods] there can sell them only at a loss, and are consequently reluctant to send anything there . . . a disadvantage that leads to others, the price of wheat drops, and the habitants neglect the cultivation of their lands.” Secure and substantial markets, Hocquart understood, were vital to the success of Canadian commerce.
Within Canada, Hocquart endorsed virtually every proposal, plausible or bizarre, that offered some hope of developing into a trading enterprise. He even approved a scheme, originating with Cugnet and Jean-Baptiste Gastineau* Duplessis, to transport live buffaloes from the Mississippi River to Quebec which, while it did not amuse the officials at Versailles, must have severely tested the stoicism of the indigneous peoples of the Mississippi. The intendant also oversaw many improvements to Canada’s internal trading system. They included annual expeditions by Quebec’s port captain, Richard Testu* de La Richardière, to sound and chart the St Lawrence and its tributaries; the upgrading of Quebec’s port facilities, including the construction of a breakwater in the Rivière Saint-Charles, which Hocquart described as “the most useful undertaking I could conceive for the advancement of trade”; ordinances governing the quality and transportation of exports such as flour; and regulations to raise standards in town markets. The ordinances reflecting that aspect of Hocquart’s administration devoted to public order are filled with regulations designed to improve exchanges between the countryside and the towns and to promote a more stable and consistent economic atmosphere. It was under Hocquart’s direction, furthermore, that the chief road commissioner (grand voyer), Jean-Eustache Lanoullier de Boisclerc, constructed two great roads, from Quebec to Montreal and from Montreal to Lake Champlain, which facilitated settlement and the movement of goods within the central colony. Hocquart, in short, was the most industrious intendant since Talon at fostering New France’s commercial potential.
Nowhere was this more apparent than in his contribution to the two major colonial industries: the ironworks of Saint-Maurice and shipbuilding. Hocquart not only persuaded the ministry in 1736 to lend the Saint-Maurice company the original 110,000 livres required to establish the ironworks, but he advanced additional sums on his own authority. When the end came in 1741, the company owed the crown 192,627 livres. He also defended Cugnet, the company’s financial officer, when it was discovered that he had “borrowed” another 64,302 livres from the funds of the Domaine d’Occident. Hocquart intervened with Maurepas on three occasions to delay repayment of the loans and, when iron was finally produced, he permitted the company to sell it to obtain operating capital rather than use it as repayment. In 1740 he loaned the company 3,000 livres of his own money. He also helped the Saint-Maurice partners to acquire additional seigneurial grants in the vicinity of the ironworks and facilitated the transportation of iron to both Louisbourg and France. Despite his having recommended the project as a stimulus to other iron-mining ventures, he blocked Abbé Lepage’s efforts to establish one at Terrebonne on the grounds that it would injure the Saint-Maurice enterprise. Finally, in 1740, when the company was unable to surmount a number of managerial difficulties, he stepped in to reorganize its operations. From then until the collapse of the Saint-Maurice venture the following year, Hocquart functioned as an unofficial government watchdog.
Besides supervising state shipbuilding, Hocquart’s major contribution to that industry was in keeping both the state and the private shipyard supplied with carpenters. He had played down New France’s chronic shortage of skilled labour when he confidently asserted that the two shipyards could flourish in harmony. But there were just 50 carpenters at Quebec in 1739, only 20 of whom could be rated first-class. The high wages they were able to command, up to three livres per day for a master carpenter, threatened to close down private shipbuilding. Between 1739 and 1743 Hocquart employed various expedients to keep both yards operating. He persuaded the king’s shipbuilder, René-Nicolas Levasseur, to employ men from related trades and even unreliable axemen. Carpenters were brought from France and he searched as far afield as Acadia and Louisbourg for more. He also attempted to speed up the training of those in the royal shipyard. On one or two occasions he suspended work on the king’s vessels to supply the private shipyard and he allowed carpenters to work on certain religious feast-days. It was largely because of his efforts that private vessels were constructed during this period [see Pierre Trottier* Desauniers].
For a number of reasons Hocquart’s promotion of agriculture was much less paternalistic. He was unfamiliar with agriculture himself and his close associates in Canada were also town dwellers. Industry, moreover, seemed to offer better prospects for immediate commercial returns. Lumber, ships, iron, copper, and fish were needed in France, whereas grain was not. He believed, too, that a vibrant shipbuilding industry was a necessary prerequisite for the expansion of the grain trade with the other French colonies. Hocquart may also have been discouraged by his initial insights into the unambitious attitudes of the seigneurs and habitants. If so, he became convinced in time that harsh measures, like the edicts of Marly, would be less effective in spurring them on than would a more positive approach. For example, he abandoned his earlier resolve to withhold new seigneurial grants until the existing ones were well established. Instead he and Beauharnois launched the most significant expansion of the seigneurial system since the 17th century. Between 1733 and 1743, 32 new fiefs were granted in previously unsettled areas of the St Lawrence and along key tributaries such as the Chaudière and Richelieu. When not given to military officers in Beauharnois’s circle, such as Jean-Baptiste-Nicolas-Roch de Ramezay, they went to Hocquart’s clients – Taschereau, Cugnet, Foucault, Guillaume Estèbe. He trusted that these hand-picked seigneurs would expand settlement. Similarly, he was convinced that promoting the trade of the town merchants, so that they could offer high prices for the habitants’ produce, was a better way to encourage surplus productivity than was seizing the habitants’ concessions. “Since the habitant has no tax to pay,” he wrote in 1741, “[the prospect of] luxury is necessary to encourage him to work . . . .” He acted on this premise by offering unprofitably high prices in the king’s stores for hemp and tobacco. Once the habitants saw the advantages of growing these crops, he argued, prices would come down and the merchants would take over. Thus, despite the fact that he issued many ordinances relating to life in the countryside, Hocquart depended mainly on the initiative of his merchant-clients and on the dynamics of the market-place to achieve his goals there.
By 1740 it seemed as though Hocquart was on his way to achieving the economic transformation called for in his instructions. Canada’s volume of trade that year was 4,375,184 livres compared with 2,817,742 livres in 1730, a 39 per cent increase. Exports had increased during the same period by 712,780 livres, or 51 per cent, and, between 1739 and 1741, New France enjoyed a favourable balance of trade totalling 262,118 livres. Most important, over 50 per cent of the exports during that three-year span were in agricultural and industrial products. Between 20 and 30 ships left Quebec each year with agricultural goods for Louisbourg and the West Indies; in 1739, for instance, their cargoes were valued at 162,017 livres. Hocquart could fairly claim that “various kinds of meal and biscuits now constitute a considerable item in Canada’s trade.” The private shipbuilding industry had expanded during his tenure to the point where merchants from Bordeaux and Martinique were making plans to build ships at Quebec, and the Saint-Maurice ironworks, which was finally producing iron, promised to add significantly to Canada’s exports. Hocquart was also hopeful that state shipbuilding would spur private initiatives in the lumber, tar, and rope-making industries [see Médard-Gabriel Vallette* de Chévigny]. Although the state had played a major role in the economic progress of the period, Hocquart saw this role as a kind of midwifery that would give birth to a vibrant Canadian bourgeoisie in the years ahead.
But none of this promise was realized. Between 1741 and 1748, when he left New France, Hocquart witnessed the collapse of his economic policy and, with it, the end of the mercantilist rationale for Canada’s role within the French empire. There were many reasons for this collapse and several of them – human failings, natural calamities, and the perils of war – were beyond his control. Yet the shortcomings of his approach to economic development, some typical of the thinking in that era and others the result of his own short-sightedness, played a key part.
The initial shock came in 1741, when the Saint-Maurice ironworks went bankrupt. The ironworks was, in many ways, the linchpin of Hocquart’s emphasis on industrial development and its failure revealed many of the drawbacks of that orientation. It was clear, first of all, that the five partners – Cugnet, Taschereau, Jacques Simonet* d’Abergemont, Ignace Gamelin, and Pierre-François Olivier de Vézin – had never possessed enough capital to succeed. Not only did they borrow all of the money to establish the ironworks from the king, but they also borrowed large sums at high interest rates from private sources, Denis Goguet, Jean Taché*, and Trottier Desauniers among them, to meet operating expenses. In the end, they had incurred total debts of more than 390,000 livres. Cugnet, the company’s financial officer and the most favoured of all Hocquart’s clients, was ruined. He was saved from the dismal consequences of bankruptcy only by Hocquart’s intervention. The partners also committed a number of managerial blunders which, taken together, demonstrated that Hocquart had overvalued their entrepreneurial abilities. In financial resources and bourgeois qualities, then, Hocquart’s clients were not at all like the successful merchants in the French ports who diversified into primitive industrial ventures.
But still more notable in the Saint-Maurice failure were the material and environmental difficulties that made such an enterprise unprofitable in a remote setting like Canada. Though he had always recognized these problems of markets, transportation, labour, technical expertise, and climate, Hocquart had consistently underestimated them. Now, however, they proved instrumental in transforming the Saint-Maurice project from an example of private initiative into an industrial albatross that the state was obliged to take over. These same problems, particularly high labour costs, led to the collapse of the private shipbuilding industry in 1743. They contributed, too, to the high cost of state shipbuilding, which made a mockery of Hocquart’s prediction that the accessibility of lumber would make that industry more economical in Canada. Needless to say, no timber barons emerged to supply the shipyards or to export lumber to France. Pierre Lupien*, dit Baron, had some success, but his sons, like Clément de Sabrevois de Bleury, retreated to the less risky task of supplying the lumber needs of the small domestic economy. As Hocquart dejectedly stated in 1744: “Today I find myself obliged to have the exploitations [of the forests] undertaken economically, which is embarrassing, and to abandon the means of private enterprise for lack of skilled and solvent people.” Nor, in this atmosphere, were Canadian merchants interested in taking over any of the smaller export industries operated by the state, such as rope-making and the manufacture of turpentine and glue.
Although the emasculation of private industry that occurred during these years was primarily due to the long-term problems peculiar to that branch of the economy, the process was hastened by agricultural setbacks. Three consecutive crop failures between 1741 and 1743 led to a rise in prices for bread and other staples, the suspension of work on many industries, and ultimately to widespread unemployment among the town workers. The devastating impact of these natural calamities was at least partly due to Hocquart’s neglect of agriculture. This neglect first became apparent in 1741, when he was forced to reunite 21 undeveloped seigneuries to the king’s domain, the majority of which were grants that he and Beauharnois had recommended during the previous decade. With the exception of Taschereau his clients had not extended the frontiers of settlement and his own lack of emphasis on immigration, combined with the fact that a high proportion of the rapidly growing population that came of age during the 1730s was attracted to the industrial towns, meant that there were few new tenants available. The intendant’s industrial orientation had reinforced the centripetal pattern of settlement which saw most of New France’s grain produced within a 30-mile radius of the two main towns. And his relative complacency in promoting the trade of the town merchants, without emphasizing reforms in the countryside, meant that while trade and wheat production increased, the amount of new land brought under cultivation and agricultural methods did not improve commensurately. All of this heightened the colony’s vulnerability to crop failure. By 1742 all exports of grain were suspended and Hocquart was obliged to fix the price of wheat to discourage hoarding. When caterpillars destroyed the crops in 1743, he appealed to France for emergency shipments of flour. That winter, rations were distributed by armed guards to the hungry Quebec townsfolk, whose numbers were swelled by starving habitants who poured into the capital to find food. From the bright prospects of the late 1730s, Hocquart found himself struggling to save the colony.
War between France and Britain from 1744 to 1748 dealt a finishing blow to any hopes Hocquart may have had for reviving private initiative in the industrial-agricultural economy. The British naval blockade was so effective during the first two years of the war that trade to and from New France virtually ceased. Between August 1744 and November 1746 only five ships from France dropped anchor at Quebec. According to Hocquart, only 98,744 livres in dry goods reached Canada from France in 1745 and only 331,782 livres from all sources. Prices rose far above the level that would have permitted profitable industrial activity and trade goods of all types were scarce. “We are totally lacking in blankets, in dry goods, both for the needs of the inhabitants and for the Indians,” Hocquart and Beauharnois reported in 1745 and, until a fresh supply of goods reached the western posts in 1747, the fur trade declined sharply. Meanwhile, British privateers ravaged the fishing industry, and agricultural exports, which were just beginning to rebound from the series of crop failures, were hit by military expropriations and by the fall of Louisbourg to Anglo-American forces under William Pepperrell* and Peter Warren*. After Louisbourg was lost Hocquart wrote that “the trade in food, and in other products of the country, has fallen off completely . . . .” From then on, Canadian merchants, who were already intimidated by high wartime insurance and freight rates, kept their ships in port. The most successful of them turned from external trade to supplying the state with war supplies. Instead of commercial bourgeois, they became state contractors.
The war was also disastrous for Hocquart’s financial administration. During the early 1740s expenditures on Canada had increased dramatically owing to the high costs of operating state industries and because the economic hardships of the period necessitated extraordinary outlays. Whereas expenditures had averaged 519,180 livres from 1738 to 1741, they reached 859,052 livres in 1743. The deficit of revenues to expenditures in 1743 was 172,926 livres. Yet these statistics paled before the wartime expenditures. The high cost of equipping the numerous war parties led by such men as François-Pierre de Rigaud de Vaudreuil and Jacques Legardeur* de Saint-Pierre, in Acadia and on the New York frontier, and the staggering sums spent on presents and equipment for France’s indigenous allies, not to mention the expense of maintaining as many as 4,000 of their dependants at any one time, raised the average annual expenditure between 1744 and 1748 to 2,056,869 livres. Although opinions vary, the deficit for the war years was about 2,500,000 livres.
When the treasurer Taschereau resorted to the desperate expedient of issuing millions of livres in letters of exchange, drawn on the treasurers general at Paris, as payment for the card money and other secondary currencies brought to him in 1746, Maurepas was beside himself with consternation. “The extraordinary efforts that have had to be made to honour these bills of exchange have so upset the Marine service,” he explained to Hocquart in 1747, “that it has been necessary to suspend the most essential operations . . . if the other colonies had caused in proportion half of the expenditures that have been made in Canada since the war, there would not have been enough left to fit out a single ship . . . .” He warned the intendant that his reputation in the Marine service depended upon his ability to reduce expenditures substantially. But Hocquart, who was exhausted by the wartime demands upon his ingenuity and despondent about his own debts, which had risen to 24,000 livres because of the failure of his personal supplies to reach Quebec, could offer no solution. “You recommend economy to me and reduction in expenditures,” he had written as early as 1745, “. . . I have always made that my main concern and if things go otherwise, it must be attributed to the circumstances of the war.” He contended then and repeated often thereafter that the governor was solely responsible for war expenditures and that “economy is by no means the commanding virtue of the military.”
This comment pointed to yet another aspect of Hocquart’s intendancy that had deteriorated since the 1730s. He and Beauharnois had enjoyed amicable relations throughout most of that decade, but as Hocquart’s economic proposals found favour in the ministry, bringing him much additional financial patronage, Beauharnois became frustrated and jealous. The governor’s patronage had not expanded during the long peace because the military establishment remained relatively static and because the minister was opposed to new western initiatives. Thus, in spite of the absence of any significant constitutional changes, Beauharnois’s position had slipped relative to Hocquart’s. In peace-time government finance was the main lever of power, and as Beauharnois admitted in 1739, “I do not know where Mr. Hocquart is in terms of funds nor what use he makes of them.” This state of affairs was aggravated by Hocquart’s intrusions into Beauharnois’s sphere of authority, especially with respect to the role of the commandants in the western fur-trading posts. By 1740 Beauharnois was criticizing Hocquart in a number of areas, including his favouritism for the Saint-Maurice company in spite of its wasteful expenditures and his direction of state shipbuilding. The governor may also have been the source of rumours about irregularities in Hocquart’s financial administration that began in 1739 [see Jean de Laporte* de Lalanne] and surfaced regularly thereafter. Although they cooperated during the war, Hocquart suggested to Maurepas that Beauharnois and his senior officers were too old to pursue an aggressive military policy in the Canadian style. He may well have contributed thereby to the governor’s recall to France in 1746.
Hocquart was recalled himself in 1748. Although he had been requesting a new post for over a year, it seems likely that Maurepas had decided to replace him with François Bigot, the financial commissary at Louisbourg, soon after the war began. A number of factors had delayed Bigot’s appointment, and he did not reach Quebec until 1748. Hocquart returned to Paris in September of that year and on 1 April 1749 he was appointed intendant at Brest. During his 15-year tenure there he had many contacts with persons passing to and from Quebec and he maintained a private interest in the fishing post of Saint-Modet on the Labrador coast (later traded for Gros Mécatina) and in a seigneury on Lake Champlain, purchased in the early 1760s by Michel Chartier de Lotbinière. During the Seven Years’ War he fitted out several fleets bound for Canada and helped Acadian refugees resettle in France. After his retirement in 1764 to accept the sinecure of intendant of maritime conscription, he lived frugally in Paris on pensions and his 12,000 livres’ salary. When he died, he was quite poor. He wanted to leave 13,500 livres – a portion to his domestics and the poor of various parishes where he had lived, the rest to be used by the minister of Marine as he saw fit – but he had only 10,554 livres in liquid assets.
It is clear from dispatches he wrote in later life that Hocquart regarded his Canadian intendancy as a failure. He had expressed the same view at the end of his tenure when he wrote, “I have gladly sacrificed in the king’s service both my youth and the expectations I could have of an advantageous situation. . . . My administration has been more difficult than any of those that preceded it and perhaps several of them together. . . .” The judgement of history, however, is mixed. During Hocquart’s 19-year administration, New France experienced its golden age of commercial prosperity. Economic development was more diversified under his direction than at any other time, and his policies served to stabilize the colony’s internal social structure. Given the peace-time conditions of the 1730s, some progress in these areas was inevitable. But it was Hocquart who pursued a deliberate economic policy which stressed the private initiative of Canadian merchants in the non-fur economy. It was Hocquart who, through his control of state finance, made the majority of enterprises possible. And it was Hocquart who worked tirelessly to improve the material conditions upon which their success depended. In the process he brought order, if not strict economy, to the Canadian finances and, for more than a decade, harmony to Canadian politics. On the other hand, he placed unreasonable confidence in the good will and entrepreneurial skills of his Canadian clients and underestimated the serious drawbacks of Canada’s frontier economy, especially with regard to the lack of trained manpower, the absence of a strong local market for industrial goods, and the costs of transportation that made Canadian products uncompetitive overseas; in consequence he misdirected economic development towards large industries instead of agriculture. By so doing, he increased the colony’s vulnerability to the periodic agricultural crises that were a common feature of the ancien régime. If he was not responsible for the devastating setbacks of the war years, it was nonetheless true that his departure at the end of the war marked the permanent eclipse of those mercantilist goals that had been the leitmotiv of his original instructions. Perhaps Roland-Michel Barrin* de La Galissonière, interim governor of New France from 1748 to 1750, wrote the best epitaph to Hocquart’s intendancy in his remarkable memoir on Canada in 1750: “In this memoir, I shall consider Canada strictly as an unproductive frontier. . . .”
A portrait of Gilles Hocquart is reproduced in P.-G. Roy, La ville de Québec sous le Régime français (2v., Québec, 1930), II, facing 112, and in Régis Roy, “Les intendants de la Nouvelle-France,” infra, 101. The dispatches that Hocquart wrote after his return from Canada are held at Archives maritimes, Port de Brest (France), 1E, 505–12.
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Revisions based on:
Arch. Départementales, Côtes d'Armor (Saint-Brieuc, France), “Reg. paroissiaux et d'état civil,” Saint-Brieuc, paroisse Saint-Michel, 25 août 1750: sallevirtuelle.cotesdarmor.fr/EC/ecx/connexion.aspx (consulted 15 Jan. 2022). Arch. Départementales, Orne (Alençon, France), “État civil,” Mortagne-au-Perche, paroisse Sainte-Croix, 28 juill. 1695: gaia.orne.fr (consulted 28 Jan. 2022).
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Cite This Article
Donald J. Horton, “HOCQUART, GILLES (Hocart),” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 4, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed March 31, 2023, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/hocquart_gilles_4E.html.
The citation above shows the format for footnotes and endnotes according to the Chicago manual of style (16th edition). Information to be used in other citation formats:
|Author of Article:||Donald J. Horton|
|Title of Article:||HOCQUART, GILLES (Hocart)|
|Publication Name:||Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 4|
|Publisher:||University of Toronto/Université Laval|
|Year of publication:||1979|
|Year of revision:||2022|
|Access Date:||March 31, 2023|