LAUSON, JEAN DE, junior, grand seneschal of New France; b. presumably between 1620 and 1635 in France, son of Jean de Lauson, future governor of New France, and of Marie Gaudar; killed 22 June 1661 during an Iroquois raid on the Île d’Orléans.
It is difficult to give the exact date of the birth of Jean de Lauson junior. Several authors, without indicating their sources, say he was 17 when he became grand seneschal in 1651. Pierre-Georges Roy makes him 22 at the same period, and J.-Edmond Roy suggests that it was to him that Marie de l’Incarnation [see Guyart] was alluding in a letter of 2 Aug. 1644, when she wrote: “Among this year’s arrivals, there is a young man of very noble birth, 22 years old, whom God has inspired to serve Him in this country, for the salvation of the Indians. . . . This young man . . . has held a command in the French armies.” A document of 1660, in the registry of the notary Audouart, describes him as “now in his majority, 25 years old.” What is certain is that he was in Quebec, at least briefly, at the end of August 1644, when he acted as godfather for little Anne*, the daughter of Jean Bourdon and Jacqueline Potel. And finally, he came to Quebec again with his father on 13 Oct. 1651, having resigned in France from the Navarre and Picardy regiments. As soon as he arrived, Jean received from his father several grants of land in the Lauson seigneury and in the area around Cap-Rouge; on 23 Oct. 1651, at Quebec, he married Anne Després, who had made the crossing with him. Father Barthélemy Vimont solemnized the marriage, and the wedding festivities lasted three days.
Governor Lauson, a former counsellor of state, and consequently well acquainted with the organization and routine of tribunals, resolved to put the administration of justice in New France in order. Until then, civil and criminal justice had been administered very irregularly at the Château Saint-Louis, and almost arbitrarily. Lauson therefore created a seneschal’s court modelled on those in the French provinces. For Quebec and Trois-Rivières, he set up courts presided over by a lieutenant-general with the assistance of a clerk and an attorney, and of a special civil and criminal lieutenant for the lower courts (Montreal retained its seigneurial court under Chomedey de Maisonneuve). To preside over this entire organization, he appointed his son Jean, giving him the title of grand seneschal of New France, and the right to sit on all courts. The title and rights of the grand seneschal were to be chiefly honorary. For although it was stated, in several documents relating to the grants of seigneuries, that the judgements of the seigneurial courts “will be under the jurisdiction of the grand seneschal of New France,” justice was usually administered by subordinate officers (the general and special lieutenants and the seigneurial attorney), and appeals were brought before the governor.
During the administration of his father, an old man of about 70 years, who was incapable of waging war, Jean de Lauson’s chief concern was to give the colony the benefit of his army experience. In February 1652 he made a military inspection visit to Trois-Rivières, and among other feats of arms, at the end of the following August, he took an active part in the defence of the same town, at the time of the Iroquois attack during which Governor Guillemot met his death. After his father’s departure in 1656, he retired to his estate of Beaumarchais, near Beauport. He never resided in his Lauson seigneury.
The guerilla warfare being waged by the Iroquois was then at its worst. A band of Iroquois, returning from a murderous descent upon Tadoussac, stopped at the Île d’Orléans to slaughter some 15 Frenchmen. Quebec was living in terror, and in the grand seneschal’s circle anxiety was felt particularly about his brother-in-law, Louis Couillard de Lespinay, who was overdue from a hunting expedition. Lauson set out on 22 June 1661 with six companions to seek him, but himself fell into the hands of a troop of some 80 Iroquois. After a valiant and long struggle (during which the man for whom they had ventured out, having heard the sound of muskets, hurried vainly to Quebec to seek help), the seven Frenchmen were massacred. The next day the grand seneschal’s body was found, covered with wounds and decapitated. His head had been carried off to the Iroquois country as a trophy. With his six companions, he was buried on the feast of St. John the Baptist in the church at Quebec.
By his marriage with Anne Després, Jean de Lauson had six children, of whom only two daughters (later to become Ursulines) lived to adulthood. His widow remarried on 7 July 1664, her second husband being Claude de Bermen* de La Martinière, and died in 1689.
The annalist of the Hôtel-Dieu and Father Jérôme Lalemant pointed out how serious for Quebec was the loss of the third seigneur of Lauson. He was loved for his cheerfulness and his easy friendliness; he was respected for his authority. He was very courageous; he always seemed ready to pursue the enemy, and the young men followed him. After his death, confusion ensued on all sides, and discouragement left almost everyone at the mercy of the Iroquois.
“De la famille des Lauson,” éd. Louis-Hippolyte Lafontaine, dans Mémoires et documents relatifs à l’histoire du Canada (SHM Mémoires, II, 1859), 65–96. JR (Thwaites). P.-G. Roy, Inv. concessions.
T.-P. Bédard, “Le gouverneur Jean de Lauson et ses trois fils, étude historique (1651),” Nouvelles soirées canadiennes, I (1882), 55–61, 84–90, 115–22. Couillard Després, La première famille française au Canada, 266–73. Lanctot, Histoire du Canada, I. E. Lareau, Histoire du droit canadien (2v., Montréal, 1888–89), I. J.-E. Roy, Histoire de la seigneurie de Lauzon, I. P.-G. Roy, La ville de Québec, I.
Revisions based on:
Bibliothèque et Arch. Nationales du Québec, Centre d’arch. de Québec, CE301-S1, 23 oct. 1651, 24 juin 1661.