LEMOINE DESPINS, JACQUES-JOSEPH, merchant; b. 15 July 1719 at Boucherville (Que.), son of René-Alexandre Lemoine, dit Despins, and Marie-Renée Le Boulanger; d. 16 April 1787 in Montreal.
Jacques-Joseph Lemoine Despins probably acquired his knowledge of business from his family; his father was a merchant, and one of his uncles, Alexis Lemoine*, dit Monière, had had great success in the fur trade. In 1743 or 1744 Lemoine Despins went into partnership with Jean-Baptiste-Grégoire Martel de Saint-Antoine, who had just been appointed king’s storekeeper in Montreal. This partnership brought him into the king’s service as Martel’s clerk, and by this means into increasingly lucrative enterprises. On 22 April 1747, when his marriage contract with Marguerite, the daughter of merchant Jean-Baptiste Guillon (Guyon), was signed in Montreal, some ten Montreal merchants were present. The contract indicates that Lemoine Despins possessed 16,000 livres, “both in cash and in merchandise,” and that he reserved about two-thirds of what he owned as property separate from the joint estate. This unusual clause allowed him to allocate most of his wealth to his business without legal obstacle.
Lemoine Despins quickly prospered in his business dealings. Indeed, in 1748 the commissary of the Marine in Montreal, Jean-Victor Varin de La Marre, became associated with Despins and Martel. This “important business company” as Madame Bégon [Rocbert*] wrote in December that year, was the exclusive contractor for the king’s supplies; it also sold goods retail and had commercial interests in the pays d’en haut. Louis Pennisseaut, who was a cousin by marriage of Lemoine Despins and a merchant-trader later linked with assistant purveyor François Maurin*, also entered the partnership in 1755. The company lasted until 1757. In 1763, during his trial at the Châtelet in the affaire du Canada, Martel declared that it was Lemoine Despins who had administered the partnership.
Lemoine Despins also was involved in the fur trade. In 1751 and 1752 he hired some voyageurs and in the autumn of 1752 went into partnership with Louis de La Corne* to operate the poste de l’Ouest. Subsequently he had a share in the fur trade at Detroit, and from 1755 at Fort Témiscamingue (near Ville-Marie, Que.).
His first wife having died in 1752, Lemoine Despins remarried in Quebec on 6 Nov. 1755; his second wife was Madame Bégon’s niece, Marguerite-Charlotte, daughter of Louis-Joseph Rocbert de La Morandière, who had been storekeeper in Montreal. Lemoine Despins had had two sons by his first marriage, Jacques-Alexis and Jean-Baptiste, who on their mother’s death were entitled to half their parents’ estate. Thus Lemoine Despins had an inventory made of his property in September 1756 which reveals the extent of his commercial interests. The furnishings of his house seem modest, but the goods stocked in the vault, the warehouse, and the courtyard, belonging to the partnership that Lemoine Despins ran for Martel and Varin, were valued at more than 100,000 livres; the moneys owing to the partnership amounted to about 200,000 livres and the debts to only 30,000 livres. It is difficult to know what belonged to Lemoine Despins in his own right, but in addition to the partnership’s business he certainly had personal business interests; he owned a bakery and shares in a schooner, and he had a correspondent in Quebec, the merchant Jacques Perrault, who owed him 50,000 livres.
At the end of 1756 Lemoine Despins signed a contract with purveyor Joseph-Michel Cadet to enter “the service of the king.” Martel later wrote that “for economy’s sake the Sieur Lemoine had been charged with furnishing all the flour, salt pork, and peas to the armed forces and with the general victualling of the forts; these supplies were enormous,” and Martel accused Lemoine Despins of having falsified invoices. In 1758 Lemoine Despins asked Jacques Perrault to “include in the expenditures those for whom this [would be] advantageous.” These unsavoury practices and the resulting profits were resented in Montreal.
After the conquest Lemoine Despins’s name was on the list of those charged in the affaire du Canada, but when the judgement was rendered it simply declared “that there will be a further inquiry into the facts mentioned in the trial.” According to Pierre-Georges Roy*, Lemoine Despins went to England in 1765 and then to France where he obtained letters of rehabilitation before returning to Canada. Whether or not this is so, Lemoine Despins seems to have had little difficulty in starting up in business again under the British régime. He was put in contact with the merchants Daniel and Antoine Vialars in London, who often acted as suppliers to Canadian traders, and with whom he did business through Jacques Perrault in Quebec. He seems to have remained in business until his death. When his sons came of age, he gave them their share of their mother’s estate, 60,000 livres to each. They received merchandise, real estate, and funds which enabled them to form a company for “trade in merchandise suitable to this country.” Lemoine Despins had little to do with politics under the new régime. At the request of the citizens of Quebec in 1765, he did, however, secure the nomination of eight representatives from Montreal “to be present at Quebec when a general assembly for the common good is convoked.” On the advice of his correspondent Perrault, he had acted unobtrusively. In 1775 he helped carry out defence preparations before the Americans reached Montreal.
In the course of his career Lemoine Despins, like several other merchants, had been a churchwarden and a militia captain. Using his family and business connections, he acquired substantial wealth, more through questionable privileges than by honest trade; this route to success set him apart from most of the Montreal merchants.
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