LAMARRE, dit Bélisle, HENRI (signed henry Lamars dit bellile and, after 1692, henrÿ Bélisle; É.-Z. Massicotte called him Henri Belisle-Levasseur on unknown authority), barber-surgeon at Quebec, Detroit, Champlain, and Pointe-aux-Trembles on Montreal Island; son of Antoine Lamarre, druggist, and Marguerite Levasseur of Saint-Michel-le-Palus parish in Angers (Maine-et-Loire); d. September 1740 at Pointe-aux-Trembles.
As a general rule, surgeons in New France were men of substance. Bélisle was an unhappy exception to this rule and he spent much of his life fighting a rear-guard action against his creditors. He was a druggist’s son and came to Quebec from Anjou after 1681. On 26 June 1690 he married Catherine Demosny, daughter of the late surgeon Jean Demosny*. The list of friends in their wedding contract, which included two Quebec surgeons, suggests that Bélisle was a recent immigrant to Canada. In the next decade he trained two apprentices and worked throughout the Quebec region. One patient, whose severed leg tendon he failed to rejoin, obtained a miraculous cure at the shrine of Sainte-Anne de Beaupré.
In May 1701 Bélisle was hired by Bochart de Champigny as a coureur de bois and surgeon to go to Fort Pontchartrain at Detroit in the king’s service. Bélisle’s wife died during his absence and three of their children were boarded with the Sisters of the Congrégation de Notre Dame at Sainte-Famille, on Île d’Orléans. Two daughters eventually joined this teaching order. On 26 Nov. 1705, Bélisle married Périnne Dandonneau, a Batiscan widow with nine children. The surgeon was at this time establishing a home at Champlain, near Trois-Rivières. His life was far from settled. Notarial records show that he was in Quebec in 1707 and that in 1708, 1709, and 1710 he was at Detroit, where his second wife died in 1711.
Bélisle then moved to a new home, taking up residence in the village of Pointe-aux-Trembles. On 25 Aug. 1712 he married Jeanne Archambault, the eldest daughter of a local farmer. This fruitful match added seven children to the five from the first bed. Whether through sheer vitality or their father’s skill, all but one lived to adulthood in an age when infant mortality was high.
Bélisle’s population explosion added to his financial difficulties. When his first two wives died, he took legal action to exclude half of each estate from the claims of creditors. He stated that in 1711 he did not even retain enough property to merit an estate inventory. In 1713, his newly wed daughter, Marie-Catherine, and her husband Barthélemi Sicard, brought Bélisle before a notary to record his promise of a dowry and trousseau. One suspects avarice or financial mismanagement on his part as well as unfortunate circumstances. Perhaps Bélisle had served as a voyageur and investor in the fur trade during the 1706–13 slump.
As a surgeon Bélisle treated patients on Île-Jésus, Montreal Island, and in the south shore hamlets. Frequently he was paid in promissory notes. He purchased the inheritance rights of the children of his first marriage to some Quebec properties, and he accumulated pieces of real estate in the Montreal area, which he leased and later sold. At Pointe-aux-Trembles, he lived in a modest, wooden, pièces-sur-pièces house with a stone hearth, a board roof, and paper windows.
Bélisle’s financial situation worsened in the 1730s when a nervous disorder deprived him of a steady hand – so essential to his trade. In 1736 he permitted his wife to withdraw her portion from their community of goods and legally to summon Bélisle’s other heirs either to renounce their inheritance rights or to contribute to the maintenance of their aged father. Since the children retained their rights, one may assume that they met their legal obligation to support Bélisle.
When Bélisle died in 1740, his assets covered his declared debts. What was left, however, was insufficient to meet his widow’s needs. Undeclared debts appeared and more were incurred. A court summons to Bélisle’s children to share in the debt-ridden estate went unanswered, and in 1742 the entire legacy was awarded to the poor widow. Somehow, she managed to survive the threat of seizure by creditors of all that she possessed and slowly repaid the claimants. By 1749 she was sufficiently solvent, and attractive, to find another husband.
AJM, Greffe d’Antoine Adhémar, 27 mai 1701; Greffe de René Chorel de Saint-Romain, 8 juillet 1732; Greffe de François Comparet, 8 juin 1736, 14 nov. 1740; Greffe de Michel Lepailleur de Laferté, 14 août 1712; Greffe de Simon Sanguinet, 18 août 1742; Greffe de Nicolas Senet, 16 août 1713, 16 mai 1718. AJQ, Greffe de Louis Chambalon, 21 juillet 1692, 1 juillet 1695; Greffe de Jean-Étienne Dubreuil, 27 août 1721, 28 déc. 1722; Greffe de Gilles Rageot, 19 juin 1690; Registres d’état civil de Notre-Dame de Québec, 1690–95, f.36. AJTR, Greffe de J.-B. Pottier, 25 nov. 1705; Greffe d’Étienne Veron de Grandmesnil, 5 juillet 1707. ASQ, Congrégation Notre-Daine, 61; Paroisses diverses, 71. Jug. et délib., V, 308, 571–72; VI, 62. Michigan Pioneer Coll., XXXIV, 237, 256, 257, 263, 266, 294. Massicotte, “Répertoire des engagements pour l’Ouest,” 206. Raymond Douville, Visages du vieux Trois-Rivières (Trois-Rivières, 1955); “Chirurgiens, barbiers-chirurgiens et charlatans de la région trifluvienne sous le régime français,” Cahiers des Dix, XV (1950), 92–94.