OLIVIER DE VÉZIN (Vésin, Vézain), PIERRE-FRANÇOIS, ironmaster, director of the Saint-Maurice ironworks, and chief road officer in Louisiana; b. 28 April 1707 at Aingoulaincourt (dept of Haute-Marne), France, son of Hugues Olivier and Louise Le Roux; d. in or after 1776.
Pierre-François Olivier de Vézin was an ironmaster at Sionne (dept of Vosges), France, at the time he was hired by the king to investigate the Saint-Maurice ironworks in New France. These ironworks had virtually been abandoned after the death of their first owner, François Poulin* de Francheville, in 1733. With an annual salary of 2,400 livres and a special gratuity of 1,200 livres, Olivier de Vézin sailed on the Héros and reached Quebec on 3 Sept. 1735. After a five-week tour with Jean-Eustache Lanoullier* de Boisclerc to Batiscan, Champlain, and finally Saint-Maurice, he drew up a report to Maurepas, the minister of Marine, which included an assessment of the favourable and disadvantageous aspects of Poulin de Francheville’s establishment, and he appended a “draft of the expenses to be incurred to set up and run the ironworks in Canada” [see François-Étienne Cugnet*]. He offered to oversee the undertaking himself, quite forgetting his ironworks at Sionne.
Vézin and two of Poulin de Francheville’s former partners, Cugnet and Ignace Gamelin, drew up a plan for a partnership. In the spring of 1736 they received backing from the king, who agreed to Vézin’s proposal and consented to advance substantial capital. When the company was formed on 16 Oct. 1736, it also included Thomas-Jacques Taschereau*, the agent of the treasurers general of the Marine, and Jacques Simonet* d’Abergemont, an ironmaster sent from France some months earlier to help Vézin set up the ironworks. They all signed the official instrument establishing the “Société et Compagnie pour l’ Exploitation des . . . mines de fer” on 11 Feb. 1737, but preparatory work had already been undertaken in 1736 under Vézin’s enthusiastic direction. He enjoyed the confidence of colonial officials and had the benefit of royal bounties. However the works did not progress as quickly as he had promised and were costly. Intendant Hocquart began to question the ironmaster’s competence. Vézin had in fact been guilty of a technical error in overestimating the flow of the stream that was to run the ironworks, and he tried to conceal his error when the intendant came to visit the installations in July 1738. Not until August was the furnace first lit successfully.
Vézin went to France late in 1739 and returned the following year with his brother, the Sieur Darmeville, and several workmen. Simonet d’Abergemont had replaced him during his absence. Violent disputes now occurred between Olivier de Vézin and his partners who blamed him for spending too much money, for the workmen’s bad behaviour, and for the ironworks’ unprofitability. These difficulties became so serious that in 1741 bankruptcy became inevitable for the undertaking. Olivier de Vézin submitted his resignation on 13 October and immediately returned to France on the Rubis to plead his cause. Writing to the king on 13 March 1742, he offered to resume management of the Saint-Maurice ironworks. Instead, he was commissioned chief road officer in Louisiana the following year.
The reports drawn up by the interested parties after the bankruptcy of the ironworks all blame Olivier de Vézin. When he had been chosen to go to New France, Maurepas had stated that his qualities as an ironmaster were well known, but they were in fact frequently questioned by his partners. It is undeniable that there were other causes for the bankruptcy; the difficulty in finding really competent skilled workers and the workers’ lack of discipline are two of the factors that prevent our blaming Vézin alone. Subsequent managements achieved only modest results which indicate that Olivier de Vézin’s management was not the sole reason for the poor performance of the ironworks.
However that may be, in 1744 Olivier de Vézin was in Louisiana. His new duties as chief road officer did not satisfy him completely; he soon made clear his desire to undertake the exploitation of iron mines in Louisiana, but the project was stillborn. He continued to carry out the duties of chief road officer and of surveyor general for Louisiana, and in 1749 he was back in Trois-Rivières, where on 14 June he married Marie-Joseph, the daughter of Jean-Baptiste Gastineau* Duplessis. Vézin had obviously not forgotten his earlier ties with America: in his marriage certificate he indicated that he was “the first person sent by the king to this country to set up there the ironworks and furnace of Saint-Maurice, of which he was the first director.” Vézin returned to Louisiana with his young wife, and on 4 July 1754 he received permission to sail for France on the Rhinocéros to try to persuade the king to exonerate him from responsibility in the bankruptcy of the Saint-Maurice ironworks, in which he had “lost his time, his emoluments, his youth, and his salary.” He wanted the assurance of being freed of all debt.
Olivier de Vézin remained in Louisiana even after the colony was transferred to Spain in 1762. After a score of years in that colony, where he held important administrative posts, he must have acquired a certain renown as well as gratifying material rewards. He became a member of the Cabildo, the council of six members that replaced the Conseil Supérieur of the former French colony, when it was created in 1769, and served as regidor perpetual (councillor) and alcalde mayor provincial (chief provincial justice of the peace). In 1776 he resigned his positions in favour of one of his sons, Charles-Honoré Olivier de Saint-Maurice. This is the last piece of information we have on Pierre Olivier de Vézin. According to some sources he is supposed to have died while on a voyage in France.
His wife must have died some years before him. During the 1760s two sons, Pierre-Darmeville and Nicolas-Joseph-Godefroy, lived for a time at Trois-Rivières with their aunt, Madeleine Duplessis. On her death in 1768 she left a legacy to them and other children of Olivier de Vézin. In January 1770 Vézin was chosen guardian of those of his children who had remained in Canada. That year he went to Trois-Rivières for the last time; he was present at the marriage of his friend Michel-Eustache-Gaspard-Alain Chartier* de Lotbinière. In 1772 and 1773 Jacques Perrault, known as Perrault l’aîné, took care on his behalf of the sale of property left by Madeleine Duplessis. From that time on the Olivier family was firmly established in Louisiana. Nicolas-Joseph-Godefroy purchased a huge sugar-cane plantation at St Bernard, not far from New Orleans, and several of his descendants were prominent in the area.
AD, Haute-Marne (Chaumont), État civil, Aingoulaincourt, 29 avril 1707. AN, Col., B, 62, p.56; 63/1, pp.237–39; C11A, 63, pp.45, 58; 65, pp.154–57; 72, p.29; 76, pp.68–69; 100, pp.207–10; 110; 111; 112; C13A, 38, pp.8–11; 42, pp.81–82; C13C, 4, pp.238–39 (PAC transcripts). ANQ-MBF, État civil, Catholiques, Immaculée-Conception (Trois-Rivières), 14 juin 1749, 13 déc. 1770; Greffe de Paul Dielle, 4, 28 nov. 1768, 3 avril 1772, 6 mars 1773; Greffe de C.-L. Maillet, 3 avril, 5 nov. 1772, 6 mars 1733; Greffe de H.-O. Pressé, 28 sept. 1737. Archives maritimes, Port de Rochefort (France), 1E, 122, f.334; S, 162, liasse 131, pièce 225. New Orleans Public Library, Dept. of Archives, Cabildo, 1769–1803, I, pp.3, 139–43, 242. J.-N. Fauteux, Essai sur l’industrie, I, 55–124. Jouve, Les franciscains et le Canada: aux Trois-Rivières. J. S. Kendall, History of New Orleans (3v., New York and Chicago, 1922), III, 1069–70. E. E. Long, Madame Olivier’s mansion (New Orleans, 1965), 11–18. Sulte, Mélanges historiques (Malchelosse), VI. Tessier, Les forges Saint-Maurice.