PENNISSEAUT (Pénissault, Penisseau, Pennisseault), LOUIS (baptized Louis-André-Joachim), merchant-trader; b. 20 March 1724 at Poitiers, France, son of Charles Pennisseaut, a lawyer at the presidial court of justice in Poitiers, and Catherine Bry; d. some time after 12 Sept. 1771.
Louis Pennisseaut arrived in Canada around 1747 and settled there, dividing his time between Quebec and Montreal. “Quick and enterprising by nature,” he soon made friends with people in high office. On 2 March 1753 in Montreal, he married Marie-Marguerite, daughter of the merchant Alexis Lemoine*, dit Monière; the previous day Governor Duquesne, Intendant Bigot, and several prominent Montreal merchants had gathered in the office of notary Louis-Claude Danré* de Blanzy for the signing of the marriage contract. If we accept Pennisseaut’s own statement (according to the Sieur de Courville [Au-masson] he was “dishonest and deceitful in all his dealings”), he went into partnership in 1754 with Brouilhet (Drouilhet), receiver general of finance in Paris, and the La Ferté brothers, who sent him merchandise from France. Their business seems to have been profitable. Pennisseaut also obtained fur-trading rights in the pays d’en haut from his father-in-law and thus secured a solid footing in the colony’s economic system.
After Joseph-Michel Cadet’s appointment in 1756 as purveyor general of supplies in New France, Pennisseaut seems to have become interested in supplying the troops in the Montreal region and the pays d’en haut. He and François Maurin*, whom Cadet had appointed assistant purveyor general, were busy finding wheat, flour, salt pork, hay, harness, firewood, boards, kegs and barrels, oars, poles, and clubs. When at the beginning of 1757 Pennisseaut and Maurin went into partnership with Cadet, the monopoly exercised by the Grande Société [see Michel-Jean-Hugues Péan] was extended from Quebec to the entire colony. The partnership was ratified in a contract of 10 April 1758, by which Pennisseaut was to work “in his capacity,” that is, as an entrepreneur, with Maurin being responsible for the bookkeeping, and each was to receive one-fifteenth of the profits. Pennisseaut by his own admission drew more than 900,000 livres in profits from this partnership – the figure of 1,900,000 livres has even been mentioned; he received 1,062,000 livres in bills of exchange in 1759. When Intendant Bigot was informed of these profits, he had a warning passed on to Pennisseaut and his accomplices “not to boast” of them. Such understandable prudence could conceal only the extent of the dishonesty, not its existence.
In addition to his talents as an entrepreneur, Pennisseaut could count on the charms of his wife, who was considered a beauty and who became the mistress of Péan, Montreal’s assistant town major, and later of the Chevalier de Lévis. According to Pennisseaut, Péan ran the affairs of the Grande Société in Montreal, and Bigot played a similar role in Quebec, not only at the head of the Grande Société, but also with Mme Péan [Angélique Renaud d’Avène Des Méloizes].
In the autumn of 1760 Pennisseaut returned to France, and on 16 Nov. 1761 he was arrested for fraud and imprisoned in the Bastille. He was tried at the Châtelet with the other defendants in the affaire du Canada and eagerly cooperated, all the while endeavouring to attribute his swindles to naïvety. He was nonetheless found guilty and he was sentenced on 10 Dec. 1763, as was François Maurin, to banishment from Paris, payment of a fine of 500 livres, and restitution of 600,000 livres. His wife meanwhile continued to look after his affairs and succeeded in winning the Due de Choiseul’s favour. After he received a memoir from Mme Pennisseaut describing her destitution, Choiseul suggested in July 1764 that her husband be released from the Bastille and that the bills of exchange he was offering be accepted in payment of the 600,000 livres. The king assented to this suggestion and Pennisseaut was released at the end of the year. No interest was imposed and at the end of 1765 Mme Pennisseaut even received a gratuity of 4,000 livres.
In November 1769 Louis Pennisseaut obtained letters of rehabilitation which remitted his fine and his sentence of banishment. The last record of him is a letter dated 12 Sept. 1771, in which he requested a safe-conduct and a suspension of any legal proceedings against him, circumstances having obliged him to borrow 24,000 livres. He probably died soon after, since his widow married first the Marquis de Fresnoy, and then a certain M. de Fontanille, before she died on 22 Dec. 1786.
AN, Col., B, 115, f.168v; 118, f.58; 120, ff.253v, 310, 351; 122, ff.112, 353; 139, f.394; C11A, 108, ff.1–90; 116, f.249; E, 92 (dossier Corpron, Maurin, Pénisseault); 332bis (dossier Pénissault). ANQ-M, État civil, Catholiques, Notre-Dame de Montréal, 2 mars 1753; Greffe de L.-C. Danré de Blanzy, 1er mars 1753; Greffe de Gervais Hodiesne, 5 avril, 17 juin 1754, 25 juin 1758; Greffe de Pierre Panet, 14 juill. 1756–13 mai 1759. ANQ-Q, NF 19, 40, pp.41–42 (copies at PAC). Archives paroissiales, Saint-Paul (Poitiers, dép. de la Vienne, France), Registre des baptêmes, mariages et sépultures, 21 mars 1724. Bibliothèque de l’Arsenal., Archives de la Bastille, 12133–68, 12501–6 (mfm. at PAC). [These documents primarily give details of the daily life of those imprisoned in the Bastille during the affaire du Canada and provide little information about Pennisseaut. j.e.i.] PAC, MG 18, G8, 5, pp.199–230, 232–33, 241. Mémoires sur le Canada, depuis 1749 jusqu’à 1760. PAC Rapport 1905, I, vie partie, 326, 344, 353, 355, 357–58, 363, 367, 396. Quebec Gazette, 25 July 1765. J.-E. Roy, Rapport sur les archives de France, 693, 860, 864, 868, 870, 873–74, 880–81. Tanguay, Dictionnaire. Frégault, François Bigot, II. P.-G. Roy, Bigot et sa bande, 98–105. “Les ‘millionnaires’ de 1759,” BRH, L (1944), 19–20.