HUET DE LA VALINIÈRE, PIERRE, Roman Catholic priest and Sulpician; baptized 10 Jan. 1732 in Varades, France, son of Charles Huet de La Valinière and Olive Arnaud; d. 29 June 1806 in L’Assomption, Lower Canada.
Pierre Huet de La Valinière entered the Grand Séminaire de Nantes in November 1752. Once he had become a subdeacon and therefore attached to his diocese, he received permission from his bishop to join the Sulpicians, a step he took after staying for a time at the Séminaire de Saint-Sulpice in Paris. At the request of his superior general, Jean Couturier, La Valinière sailed for New France, where he arrived on 9 Sept. 1754. He completed his training for the priesthood with the Sulpicians in Montreal. Upon his ordination by Bishop Henri-Marie Dubreil* de Pontbriand on 15 June 1755, he was initiated into ministry in Notre-Dame parish in Montreal, among the Iroquois at the Sulpician mission of Lac-des-Deux-Montagnes (Oka), and at the Hôpital Général of Montreal, working in all three places with other Sulpicians. He was named parish priest of Saint-Joseph, at Rivières-des-Prairies (Montreal), in 1759, and of Saint-Henri-de-Mascouche (Mascouche) in 1766. Three years later he was transferred to the parish of Saint-Sulpice, near Montreal, where he had responsibility also for Saint-Antoine at Lavaltrie. La Valinière next served as parish priest of Saint-Enfant-Jésus, at Pointe-aux-Trembles (Montreal), in 1773; the following year he replaced his colleague Jacques Degeay* at L’Assomption.
Meanwhile New France had been conquered by the British. The gradual extinction of the religious communities had been the subject of a royal instruction, and the Jesuits, Recollets, and even the Sulpicians found this policy hard to accept. It is therefore scarcely surprising that some priests among them were strongly opposed to the new political régime: the Jesuits Joseph Huguet*, Bernard Well, and Pierre-René Floquet*, the Recollet Claude Carpentier, and the ex-Recollet Eustache Chartier* de Lotbinière. La Valinière is believed to have had similar leanings, for in 1771, not long after his arrival in the parish of Saint-Sulpice, he was accused of disloyalty to the British authorities. Although Étienne Montgolfier*, who was both his superior and vicar general of the District of Montreal, had in 1768 already lamented his colleague’s “immoderate conduct” and “fierce frame of mind” even towards Bishop Briand*, he had said that La Valinière had convinced him of the falsity of such allegations and he was pleased that the priest “said the prayers . . . usual for the king.” Montgolfier succeeded in stopping the legal action launched against La Valinière by justice of the peace Gordon of Saint-Sulpice, who had the support of the seigneur of Berthier, James Cuthbert*.
The American invasion of 1775 and the occupation of Montreal that November caused a variety of reactions with respect to the British government [see Benedict Arnold; Richard Montgomery*]. A large part of the Canadian nobility and bourgeoisie, as well as most of the Catholic clergy, came down in favour of defending Canada; however, on the whole the people remained neutral, and a majority of the English-speaking merchants of Montreal and Quebec heartily welcomed the revolutionaries. As for La Valinière, those who doubted his loyalty had reason to be suspicious. Writing from L’Assomption to his superior, Montgolfier, he wanted to know why, since God had declared for the invaders, “at least for a while,” the clergy should not themselves follow suit. For one thing, many of his parishioners were joining the rebels, having been persuaded to do so by Thomas Walker*, a Montreal merchant and justice of the peace who owned a local farm and who ardently supported the Americans. Worse still, when La Valinière learned that Jean-de-Dieu-François Robert and Charles-François Lemaire de Saint-Germain, the parish priests of Saint-Sulpice and Saint-Antoine at Lavaltrie, had been arrested by the invaders, taken to Sorel, and threatened with deportation for having declared too openly their loyalty to King George III, he went to see the prisoners and in some obscure way obtained Robert’s release. To his detractors this action was proof that he maintained good relations with the revolutionaries and their supporters.
In September 1776, when the Americans had gone home and Governor Sir Guy Carleton was restoring order in the province, La Valinière was severely reprimanded by Montgolfier. The superior reproached him with having compromised the Sulpicians’ honour, insisting that he deserved to be laid under an interdict and indeed sent back to France. La Valinière was not impressed: to be called a Bostonnais did not distress him in the least. First he declared to Bishop Briand that he had “done as much for the king’s service as any priest in the province.” He had often preached obedience to the king, although each time there had been disapproving murmurs from his congregation; he had warned the governor of the movements of Walker and his supporters; he had urged his own servant to enlist in the royal garrison; he had refused the sacraments to those supporting the rebels. On the other hand he had restrained royalist passions when hostilities had ended, in order to avert pillage and acts of vengeance. Hence his nickname Bostonnais. To his colleague Gabriel-Jean Brassier*, the bursar of the Sulpician seminary in Montreal, he specifically stated that his contact with pro-American parishioners had come in the course of his pastoral duties. It was part of a priest’s calling, he added, “to love the sheep of his flock, no matter how errant they may be, as long as he sees a prospect of retrieving them.” Montgolfier, Briand, and Carleton did not believe in his innocence, however. La Valinière went to Quebec to see Briand and tried in vain to refute the slanders that were being spread about him. The bishop offered him the choice of returning to France, retiring to the Sulpician seminary in Montreal, or becoming a parish priest in the Quebec district. La Valinière chose the last option. When he delayed going to his new charge of Saint-Roch-des-Aulnaies, Briand warned him that he would lose all his powers as a priest if he were not there by the end of January 1777 and told him “not to seek to justify himself or cause any scandal.”
However, a petition was already being circulated at L’Assomption. It soon reached Bishop Briand, bearing the signatures of 575 men who claimed they were joined by their wives, their children, and people from the neighbouring parishes. They had constantly witnessed La Valinière’s devotion to the king and to his ministry, and they considered it harmful that the bishop and the governor had been deceived “by two or three black sheep who never listened to their pastor’s voice.” They recalled his patience in instructing all his parishioners, although in so doing he acquired as many enemies as he won over people led astray by the rebels. La Valinière had merely preached charity to all and so had led some people to heap countless insults upon him. They were sorry to see these people succeed in their plan to oust the parish priest. Bishop Briand admitted that the content of the petition had greatly reduced the impact of the false statements about the priest’s loyalty to the king that had been circulating. Addressing the parishioners of L’Assomption, the bishop declared: “What causes me to remove him from your parish is not what you allege; M. de La Valinière knows that. The reason informing my action is simply his own good, his interest, and the affection I have for him.” The bishop had, moreover, conveyed the tenor of the petition to the governor in order to clear the patriotic priest in his eyes, and the two men were happy to have the proof of his innocence. Nevertheless, La Valinière changed parishes in January 1777, although in the mean time he had considered joining his Sulpician colleagues at the seminary in Montreal instead; Bishop Briand adhered to his priest’s first choice and proceeded with the appointment already made. The real reason for his departure remained unstated, but it may have been simply to separate him from pro-American Canadians. Three months after arriving in the parish of Saint-Roch-des-Aulnaies the priest apologized to his bishop for still not having preached in favour of obeying the king. He thought the parishioners had already adopted that disposition towards the sovereign. Bishop Briand assured him that he should not be distressed at not having insisted on that point since his arrival. “I do not think anyone is malicious enough to blame you for that.”
But the Franco-American alliance of February 1778 kindled patriotic sentiments in many Canadians of French birth, and this reaction heightened the distrust of the French felt by the new governor, Frederick Haldimand. La Valinière became parish priest of Sainte-Anne (at La Pocatière) in September 1778. His recent past, possibly new verbal outbursts on his part, and the need for a scapegoat seem to have prompted the governor’s decision to deport him to England in 1779. He had ten days to get ready. Haldimand urged the bishop to advise La Valinière “not to indulge in his usual petulance, to be careful about the manner in which he conducts himself and speaks until he leaves.” He described the priest to the secretary of state for the American Colonies, Lord George Germain, as “a rebel in his heart, . . . fiery, factious and turbulent”; this punishment, he said, would serve as a lesson to his fellow religious, who would consequently become “more careful and circumspect.” In 1780 La Valinière left England for France where, the following year, he presented the Comte de Vergennes, minister of Foreign Affairs, with a plan for insurrection in the province of Quebec, or at least for its recapture by France. The signing of the Treaty of Versailles in 1783 destroyed all this inveterate patriot’s hopes.
Although he had left the Society of Saint-Sulpice in 1779 upon being expelled from the British colonies and had been refused hospitality by the Sulpicians in Paris when he came from England in 1780, La Valinière managed to stay for five years with the Sulpicians in Nantes, part of the diocese from which he had come. The contacts thus renewed with his deepest roots were not, however, enough to hold him. At the age of 53 he again left for the province of Quebec. But Lieutenant Governor Henry Hamilton*, with the assent of Bishop Louis-Philippe Mariauchau* d’Esgly of Quebec, forbad him to reside there, and the great traveller went to the United States. He first carried on his ministry among the Canadians, French, and Acadians in New York City. In June 1786 he became a missionary at Kaskaskia (Ill.), in the Mississippi valley. During his three years’ apostolate in that region La Valinière quarrelled with his parishioners and with the priests in the neighbouring parishes, Paul de Saint-Pierre and Pierre Gibault. In 1790 he was named parish priest at Split Rock, N.Y.
That year La Valinière published in New York a controversial catechism, Curious and interesting dialogue between Mr. Goodwish and Dr. Breviloq . . . , in both French and English. Two years later he brought out at Albany a 50-page fascicle entitled Vraie histoire, ou simple précis des infortunes, pour ne pas dire, des persécutions qu’a souffert & souffre encore le révérend Pierre Huet de La Valinière. . . . In this publication, as indeed in the first one, the author portrays himself as a martyr to the American cause at the time of the invasion of Canada in 1775–76.
On the pastoral side there was again dissension between La Valinière and his parishioners; his church and presbytery were even burned down. He had to leave New York in 1792. He was able, however, to return to Lower Canada; Lieutenant Governor Alured Clarke* did not object to his return, the international situation having changed greatly in view of the French revolution. La Valinière’s rights as a British subject were finally restored in 1798. But on the ecclesiastical side he was denied any clerical office. He lived in poverty first at Saint-Sulpice, then at Repentigny. Having succeeded in borrowing money from a member of the parish of Saint-Sulpice, he bought a piece of land at L’Assomption. In 1802 he even took steps through solicitor general Louis-Charles Foucher* to have his innocence at the time of the American invasion publicly acknowledged. Having finally retired to Saint-Sulpice, the wandering priest was buried there; he had died after falling from a carriage on a return journey from L’Assomption. He was 74.
Pierre Huet de La Valinière no doubt gives the impression of having been “a restless spirit . . . capable of causing his colleagues a great deal of trouble,” as Bishop Hubert* of Quebec had described him in 1788 to Bishop John Carroll, the official responsible for missions in the United States. Bishop d’Esgly called him the “wandering Jew of Canada” and thought him discontented and turbulent. Perhaps less a man of ideas and principles than an unstable and difficult person, he seems to have been incapable of hiding his political preferences, even in public. As a result, during the war between the British and the Americans, when Governor Haldimand was bent on exercising his authority to the full, La Valinière suffered the painful consequences of his patriotic leanings and rash temperament. For this reason, his pastoral work has been left in obscurity, even though it may have been as valuable as that of many other priests. By failing to develop to a larger extent close ties with his parishioners or with fellow Sulpicians – indeed by provoking conflicts without truly realizing what he was doing – Huet de La Valinière isolated himself and lived as an outsider all his life.
Pierre Huet de La Valinière is the author of Curious and interesting dialogue between Mr. Goodwish and Dr. Breviloq, French and English, where every body may find easily the arms for defending his religion and may clear it of all false assertions made against it (New York, 1790), which was also published in French, and of Vraie histoire, ou simple précis des infortunes, pour ne pas dire, des persécutions qu’a souffert & souffre encore le révérend Pierre Huet de La Valinière . . . (Albany, N.Y., 1792). The archives of the Mass. Hist. Soc. holds La Valinière’s “Simple et vrai récit de la conduite du rév.d P. de La Valinière depuis son arrivée aux Illinois le 20 juin 1786,” a copy of which is at the PAC.
AAQ, 60 CN, I: 26. AD, Loire-Atlantique (Nantes), État civil, Varades, 10 janv. 1732. Arch. de la chancellerie de l’archevêché de Montréal, 355.114, 776-1, -2, 777-1, -3, -4; 901.005, 777-1; 901.115, 776-1. Arch. de la chancellerie de l’évêché de La Pocatière (La Pocatière, Qué.), Saint-Roch-des-Aulnaies, I, 12: 9, 18 mai 1777. Arch. du ministère des Affaires étrangères (Paris), Mémoires et doc., Angleterre, 47: 203–86 (copies at PAC). ASQ, Fonds Viger-Verreau, Sér.O, 0144: 31–38. ASSM, 14, Dossier 18. AUM, P 58, U, La Valinière à Foucher, 2 mai, 17, 27 juin, 7 nov. 1802. Bibliothèque nationale (Paris), 2008 (copies at PAC). PAC, MG 11, [CO 42] Q, 16–2: 689–91. PRO, CO 42/24. Allaire, Dictionnaire, 1: 316. Caron, “Inv. de la corr. de Mgr Briand,” ANQ Rapport, 1929–30: 121; “Inv. de la corr. de Mgr Hubert et de Mgr Bailly de Messein,” 1930–31: 205, 265–66, 279, 314; “Inv. de la corr. de Mgr Mariaucheau d’Esgly,” 1930–31: 189. Desrosiers, “Corr. de cinq vicaires généraux,” ANQ Rapport, 1947–48: 85–86, 91, 97–98, 119. Gauthier, Sulpitiana, 218. Louis Bertrand, Bibliothèque sulpicienne, ou histoire littéraire de la Compagnie de Saint-Sulpice (3v., Paris, 1900), 2. Lanctot, Le Canada et la Révolution américaine, 138. Laval Laurent, Québec et l’Église aux États-Unis sous Mgr Briand et Mgr Plessis (Montréal, 1945), 51–53. Christian Roy, Histoire de L’Assomption (L’Assomption, Qué., 1967). T. F. Cleary, “Huet de La Valinière,” Mid-America (Chicago), 15 (1932–33): 213–28. Gustave Lanctot, “Un sulpicien récalcitrant: l’abbé Huet de La Valinière,” SCHÉC Rapport, no. 3 (1935–36): 25–39. Henri Têtu, “L’abbé Pierre Huet de La Valinière, 1732–1794,” BRH, 10 (1904): 129–44, 161–75.