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LANOULLIER DE BOISCLERC, JEAN-EUSTACHE, controller of the Marine, chief road commissioner (grand voyer); b. 1689 or 1694 in Paris, son of Jean Lanoullier, bourgeois, and Marie-Reine Grasse of Saint-Nicolas-du-Chardonnet parish, Paris; d. 25 Nov. 1750 in the Hôtel-Dieu at Quebec.

Details of Jean-Eustache Lanoullier de Boisclerc’s early life are sketchy and are often confused with those of his step-brother Nicolas, with whom he travelled to New France in 1712. He probably came to seek a brighter future than his father, a Paris bourgeois who eventually went bankrupt, could provide for him in France. Like Nicolas, he may have counted on using the influence at the French court of a sister-in-law, Mme Mercier, who had been a nurse to Louis XV, to obtain an advantageous colonial position. In 1719 he was appointed controller of the Marine; on 21 December of that year he married Marie-Marguerite Duroy, widow of Claude Chasle. Ten years later the arrival of Gilles Hocquart* at Quebec as acting intendant signalled a major change in his career. On 14 June 1729 the chief road commissioner in New France, Pierre Robinau* de Bécancour, died and Hocquart, who complained that the holders of this office had treated it hitherto as a mere sinecure, sought an energetic replacement who would develop the road system as a catalyst for internal commerce and colonization. On 26 Oct. 1730 he recommended Jean-Eustache Lanoullier, pointing out that he had manifested both energy and organizational skill in handling the goods salvaged from the shipwrecked royal vessel Éléphant in 1729. On 10 April 1731 Lanoullier was given letters-of-appointment as chief road commissioner, and these were registered in the Conseil Supérieur on 20 August. He held the post until his death in 1750.

He was the first chief road commissioner to give serious attention to his duties, which encompassed inspecting, constructing, and maintaining all roads and bridges in the towns as well as in the countryside. He drew up hundreds of procès verbaux, 34 in 1731 alone, outlining improvements to the existing road system, and he persuaded Hocquart to pass dozens of ordinances regulating the maintenance and use of the roads. Although he and his assistant at Montreal, René de Couagne, always came to some agreement with interested parties – seigneurs, parish priests, churchwardens, farmers – before launching any project, they were often forced to threaten fines of up to 20 livres, provided for in the ordinances, to persuade the habitants to perform the royal corvées which were the primary source of labour. In 1732 Hocquart stated that Lanoullier was educating many habitants in their obligations in that regard and, by so doing, was helping to extend royal authority into the countryside. By the late 1740s the roads and bridges of virtually every parish in New France had been upgraded.

But Lanoullier’s greatest accomplishment was the construction of two royal roads which, by 1750, spanned the length and breadth of the central part of the colony. The first and most impressive of these was the Quebec-Montreal route which ran along the north shore of the St Lawrence for almost 200 miles. He began work on it at the Rivière Maskinongé in July 1732 and he built virgin stretches 24 feet wide across 23 seigneuries, while improving the 14 seigneurial roads with which these new sections linked up. In 1733, when he spent 45 days on horseback, the difficult section around Lac Saint-Pierre was complete; ten of the 13 bridges required between the Maskinongé and Rivière du Loup were in place; and ferries, operated according to a toll schedule set by the intendant, had been launched on the unbridgeable rivers. A year later a carriage could travel from Quebec to Trois-Rivières in four days, and, when the road was finished in 1737, a rider who was unconcerned with a little mud could reach Montreal in four and a half. Lanoullier spent ten more years on improvements to this road. In 1739, he had begun work on a north-south route that ran from Montreal east along the south shore of the St Lawrence to Fort Chambly on the upper Richelieu, then extended down the Richelieu to Fort Saint-Jean where it linked up with a ferry, a flat-bottomed boat built in 1741 to navigate on Lake Champlain as far as Fort Saint-Frédéric (Crown Point, N.Y.). In 1747 this road was extended farther south from Fort Saint-Jean until it eventually reached Fort Saint-Frédéric.

Considering the obstacles, these roads were reasonably well built. Hocquart thought them excellent and he outlined their benefits to the colony. “These roads provide easier communications from one place to another than ever before,” he stated in 1735, adding that they also made it easier for habitants to bring their produce to the town markets. Finally, they opened new areas to settlement. Hocquart claimed that the rapid development of the Lac Saint-Pierre region during the 1730s was due entirely to Lanoullier’s roads and that the settlement of the Richelieu valley was greatly facilitated by them. Without doubt they constituted one of the great practical achievements of the French régime.

Lanoullier’s familiarity with New France’s geography and his daily contacts with the countryside’s inhabitants made him valuable for other tasks as well. Hocquart employed him as his special agent for everything from assessing the condition of the crops to participating in the biennial census-taking. Then too, whenever new reports of rich mineral deposits reached Quebec, Lanoullier was sent to investigate them. In 1734, for example, he passed several months at Portage des Chats on the Ottawa River sampling lead deposits and, in 1740, he went with Jacques Simonet Of the Saint-Maurice ironworks to search for iron ore at Pointe-du-Lac. In fact, he was Hocquart’s unofficial watchdog at Saint-Maurice, having been present when Pierre-François Olivier* de Vézin drew up plans for the ironworks in 1735. On all of these excursions he prepared reports on the suitability of the lands he passed through for cultivation, and in 1739 he was sent to Fort Saint-Frédéric to mark off 90 concessions for future settlement. During the crop failures of 1736–37 and 1742–43, Hocquart dispatched him to soothe the superstitious fears of the habitants and to convince them to sell rather than hoard their surplus wheat. During the second crisis, Lanoullier used force to empty all the barns on the Île d’Orléans. Indeed, as the enforcer of the royal corvée and the agent of central authority, the inhabitants must have regarded him with the aversion reserved by French peasants for the tax collector.

He was rewarded, however, by Hocquart. In addition to his annual salary of 600 livres, he received a 500-livre bonus almost every year and he was compensated for expenses incurred on his many journeys. In 1734, moreover, Hocquart and Governor Charles de Beauharnois recommended him for a seigneurial grant behind the Jesuit mission at Sault Saint-Louis. Although approved in 1735, it was withdrawn a year later after a spirited protest by the Jesuits who maintained that it would block the mission Indians from their hunting grounds. This setback to his hopes of establishing a large patrimony for the six of his 15 children who survived infancy, was eased somewhat by Hocquart’s willingness to employ his sons in the intendancy. All in all, Lanoullier benefited deservedly from his years of strenuous efforts to open the countryside of New France to settlement and trade. His contribution to the economic expansion of the colony during the 1730s was significant.

Donald J. Horton

[The best sources on Lanoullier’s background and career are P.-G. Roy, “Les grand voyers de 1667 à 1842,” BRH, XXXVII (1931), 44950 and La famille Lanoullier (Lévis, Qué., 1935). See also: AN, Col., C11A, 57–80; this series, along with P.-G. Roy, Inv. procès-verbaux des grands voyers, V, and Inv. ord. int., III, is the best primary source on his road-building activities. Roland Sanfaçon, “La construction du premier chemin Québec-Montréal et le problème des corvées (1706–1737),” RHAF, XII (1958–59), 3–29, and G. P. de T. Glazebrook, “Roads in New France and the policy of expansion,” CHA Report, 1934, 48–56, contain the best secondary description of the Quebec to Montreal road. Lanctot, History of Canada, III, and Émile Salone, La colonisation de la Nouvelle-France: étude sur les origines de la nation canadienne française (Paris, 1906; réimp. Trois-Rivières, Qué., 1970), give short accounts of the general impact of road-building on the economy.  d.j.h.]

General Bibliography

Cite This Article

Donald J. Horton, “LANOULLIER DE BOISCLERC, JEAN-EUSTACHE,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 3, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed April 20, 2014, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/lanoullier_de_boisclerc_jean_eustache_3E.html.

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Permalink: http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/lanoullier_de_boisclerc_jean_eustache_3E.html
Author of Article: Donald J. Horton
Title of Article: LANOULLIER DE BOISCLERC, JEAN-EUSTACHE
Publication Name: Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 3
Publisher: University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication: 1974
Year of revision: 1974
Access Date: April 20, 2014