Source: courtesy Wikimedia Commons
LAUSON, JEAN DE, senior, governor of New France; b. c. 1584; d. 16 Feb. 1666 in Paris.
Jean de Lauson came from an old legal family of Breton origin that had been established in Poitou since the 16th century; he was the eldest son of François de Lauson, seigneur of Lirec, counsellor in the Parlement, and of Isabelle Lottin, daughter of the seigneur of Charny. While still young he began to follow the path traced by his ancestors. On 3 Feb. 1613 he was appointed a counsellor in the Parlement, and on 23 May 1622 maître des requêtes. In this latter capacity he was required, in 1632, to examine the case against Henri II, Duc de Montmorency, and two years later that against the Duc d’Épernon. Subsequently he was in turn president of the Grand Conseil, intendant of Provence, then of Guyenne, and, about 1640, intendant of Dauphiné. But already, in about 1627, he had become involved in the affairs of New France in a way which was to yield him key posts in its administration for 30 years to come. When Richelieu decided to form the Compagnie des Cent-Associés, Jean de Lauson was accepted as one of its first members, on the very day of its founding, 29 April 1627. He played the major part in its organization, and a few months later, at the request of the first associates, he was appointed by Richelieu its intendant or director. This was an office much sought after, for it was in the intendant’s own residence that the discussions were to be held and the accounts presented; in fact M. de Lauson replaced Richelieu in his absence, and became the pivot of the company.
As intendant, Lauson was required to make arrangements for restoring Canada to France after the capture of Quebec by the Kirke brothers. In 1629, Champlain had written to him from Dover to inform him of what had taken place, and in 1631 the founder of Quebec paid Lauson the tribute of saying that it was thanks to the latter’s influence that the restitution of the colony was negotiated. At the same time Lauson supported the Jesuits in their campaign to have themselves granted exclusive missionary rights in Canada. The Recollets claimed priority, and the Capuchins could call upon the influence of Father Joseph, Richelieu’s adviser. Lauson suggested that the Capuchins should accept instead the Acadian mission, previously manned by the Recollets; however he himself refused the latter free passage to Canada and their yearly allotments of 600 livres. In 1634 and 1635 he again opposed their departure. Then in January 1651, in the face of their reiterated complaints to the directors of the company, he managed to have their request referred to the Conseil de Québec. By that time he had already been appointed governor, and the decision, which could only be negative, thus came before himself.
In his capacity as intendant of the company, Lauson also took advantage of his influence to have vast estates made over to his family: to his eldest son François he granted a piece of land stretching from the Rivière des Iroquois (the Richelieu) to the present-day Châteauguay. Then, by making use of straw men, he obtained for himself Montreal Island, an eighth part of the Beaupré seigneury and of the Île d’Orléans, and the whole expanse of the seigneury that thenceforth (1636) bore his name. By 1640 the Lausons, father and sons, had become the biggest landowners in the colony.
Around 1640 Jean de Lauson was appointed intendant of Dauphiné, with residence at Vienne. It was there that in August 1640 he received a visit from Father Charles Lalemant, who was negotiating the purchase, on behalf of the Société Notre-Dame de Montréal, of the island where it was planned to found Ville-Marie. (According to some authors, Lauson sold it at the exorbitant figure of 150,000 livres, the Cent-Associés annulled the sale, and regranted the island in December 1640.)
Meanwhile, the situation in New France was becoming more and more precarious because of the Iroquois wars. Both the Compagnie des Cent-Associés and the young Communauté des Habitants found their business adversely affected. Lauson may have offered his services at that time for the solution of the difficulties. In any case, on the recommendation of the Cent-Associés and with Father Jérôme Lalemant’s backing, he was appointed governor of New France on 17 Jan. 1651, his commission to take effect on his arrival in the colony. M. de Lauson landed at Quebec on 13 Oct. 1651, and stayed there as governor until September 1656. He brought a letter from the king, dated 8 May 1651, conferring on him the right to promulgate “with sovereign authority and as a last court of appeal . . . such statutes and regulations as you shall deem reasonable, whether for the armies, for justice, for sound administration . . . . or for the beaver trade.” And he indeed lost no time in making use of his vast powers.
In the very first months of his administration, Lauson saw to the setting up of his sons; Jean and Louis, who had landed with him. He appointed the former grand seneschal of New France, and made him several grants of land in the Lauson seigneury and in the area around Cap-Rouge. To Louis, Sieur de La Citière, he granted a new seigneury called Gaudarville in honour of Marie Gaudar, Mme de Lauson, who had apparently died in France. To his youngest son Charles, who had arrived at Quebec 1 July 1652, he gave the title of grand master of the waters and forests, in addition to several fiefs, including those of Charny and Lirec. Having endowed them with estates of this kind, the governor also saw that his sons married into the founding families of the colony. Jean, the grand seneschal, married Anne Després, sister-in-law of Guillaume Guillemot; Charles married Marie-Louise, daughter of Robert Giffard; Louis took as his wife Catherine Nau, sister-in-law of Joseph Giffard of Beauport and niece of Gaudais-Dupont. Did Lauson, by thus establishing his sons, who might have held enviable posts in France – François, the eldest, was already a counsellor in the Parlement of Bordeaux – seek to inspire confidence in the settlers, who were discouraged by poverty and by Indian attacks? In any case, of all the French governors, he was the only one to encourage the cultivation of the land by setting up his sons in Canada.
M. de Lauson also endeavoured to solve the Indian problem. Since 1649, the Iroquois had been masters of the fur-trading routes, and the colony was barely eking out an existence. In 1653, when the settlers were thinking of going back to France, he succeeded in concluding a treaty with the Mohawks, who sent their chief, Andioura, to Quebec to negotiate. But three years later the same Mohawks, jealous because of the promise of the French to set up a post among the Onondagas, decided to attack the Hurons on the Île d’Orléans. On 20 May 1656, 300 of them landed on the island and reduced the Huron village to ashes, murdering or capturing their enemies. On their way back they passed by the walls of Quebec, chanting insults at the French; the latter did not dare to give chase or snatch the prisoners from them. The inhabitants of Quebec wanted to intervene, but Lauson, who had had the Jesuits’ residence fortified in case of emergency, vetoed this categorically, no doubt having in mind the meagreness of the resources at his disposal. He nevertheless continued to encourage the expedition into the territory of the Onondagas led by Father Simon Le Moyne, which he had himself approved.
In the meantime, he also encountered great difficulties over the question of the fur trade. Since 1648, the prosperity of the colony and of its governor had been declining steadily, despite the harsh measures adopted by Lauson in 1652 in order to control trade and increase his own income. After he signed the peace treaty with the Iroquois in 1653, their attacks momentarily ceased, but there was no perceptible improvement in trade. Hence, in 1654, having obtained a renewal of his mandate, Lauson arrogated to himself the monopoly of the fur trade, by forbidding anyone to set out without his written permission, and by sending into the interior two of his own supporters (one of them being Chouart Des Groseilliers, apparently). In view of these abuses, the settlers deputed a syndic to go to Paris; the latter lodged a complaint with the Cent-Associés, and, through their intermediary, with the king. Louis XIV consequently decreed (15 March 1656) that the seigneurial attorney of the Cent-Associés should thenceforth sit on the council, to which the fur-trading accounts would be presented. At Quebec, the council hastened to comply with the decree by granting all the settlers the right to engage in the fur trade throughout the whole country. M. de Lauson, feeling himself the particular target of the king’s decree, decided to return to France to build up influential support. He left the administration of the colony to his son Charles, Sieur de Charny, and set out from Quebec in September 1656. Before leaving, he seized a substantial share of the furs, valued at 300,000 livres, that Des Groseilliers had unloaded at Quebec during the summer; then he had Charles Sevestre, the company’s receiving clerk, pay him 3,000 livres for the cost of the journey which he made on one of the company’s ships, presumably without dipping into his own purse. It seems difficult not to censure the old governor’s ambition and greed, even if the sons he had given to the colony and left there were to do honour to New France by their talents and their sacrifices. The directors of the Cent-Associés, however, exonerated him, while regretting (in a decree dated 7 March 1657) the cornering of the fur trade “by the most powerful . . . who draw the profit to themselves alone.” Later on, Lauson was appointed to the post of subdean of the Conseil Royal.
The correspondence of missionaries and other contemporaries alludes to Lauson as being a virtuous and cultured man. He apparently possessed one of the richest libraries in France, and used it. But he was also said to be ambitious and cowardly, inexperienced, poorly advised, and lacking in decisiveness. One thing is certain: whether or not he had the requisite attributes for a governor, he had to face a decade of reverses which made this period one of the most difficult in the history of New France.
APQ Rapport, 1924–25, 377–91, “Les ordonnances du gouverneur de Lauzon.” “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. Édits, ord., III, 16. JR (Thwaites). Mémoires des commissaires I, 157; II, 501; IV, 180, 219; and Memorials of the English and French commissaries, I, 117, 211, 365, 717. 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. BRH, XXI (1915), 140; XXII (1916), 33; XXVI (1920), 343. Couillard Després, La première famille français au Canada, 266–73. Garneau, Histoire du Canada, I. Amédée-E. Gosselin, “Notes et documents concernant les gouverneurs d’Ailleboust, de Lauzon et de Lauzon-Charny,” RSCT, 3d ser., XXVI (1932), sect.i, 83–96. Lionel Laberge, Histoire du fief de Lotinville, 1652–1690 (L’Ange-Gardien, 1963). Lanctot, Histoire du Canada, I. L. Lauzon, Un pionnier de la Ville-Marie, Gilles Lauzon et sa postérité (Québec, 1926). J.-E. Roy, Histoire de la seigneurie de Lauzon, I. P.-G. Roy, La ville de Québec, I.