PERONNE DUMESNIL, JEAN, a native of Anjou, lawyer in the Parlement of Paris; d. before 14 March 1667.
Dumesnil landed at Quebec 7 Sept. 1660. He stated that he was provided with a commission as “comptroller general, intendant and sovereign judge in the said country of Canada,” granted by the Compagnie des Cent-Associés, the seigneur of the country. He immediately undertook the task of inspecting all fur-trading transactions carried out since 1645, the year in which this trade was ceded by the Cent-Associés to the Communauté des Habitants. Such a commission could not be considered valid, because the king, in the charter of the “great company,” had reserved to himself the right of establishing sovereign judges in New France. Moreover, the control of trade did not belong to the Cent-Associés but to the king, who, in 1647, had appointed a council to administer it. The only claim the Cent-Associés could legitimately insist on was that of a thousand pounds of beaver pelts by weight each year. This commitment was not met after 1650, but Dumesnil made no mention of that in his report. It is, therefore, not surprising that the Conseil de Québec, set up by the king, did not recognize the authority of the great company’s delegate.
The methods used by Dumesnil were somewhat odd for a jurist. During the first year of his stay, he appears to have tried to extort information about the commerce of the country. He made himself so odious that on 30 Aug. 1661 four settlers of the colony murdered his son, Michel Peronne Des Touches. Indomitable, the father, at an unknown date, broke into the house of the notary Guillaume Audouart the secretary of the council, and seized the Communauté’s papers. These were the documents that the Conseil Souverain ordered Rouer de Villeray and Jean Bourdon to go and take from his house, 20 Sept. 1663. Dumesnil, called upon to explain his conduct, refused in practice to accept the authority of the whole council. Gaudais-Dupont prevented his being arrested for his outrageous behaviour towards the tribunal. The lawyer, stripped of his powers, decided to sail back to France. He has left a dramatic account of his departure, 21 Oct. 1663, with the cannon of the port pointed at him.
Dumesnil accused the settlers of the country of having “taken and misappropriated 3,000,000 livres or thereabouts.” Here are the items: “2,400,000 and some odd livres belonging to the public and being proceeds of the sale of beaver and other pelts since the year 1645,” “830,175 livres borrowed from public funds,” and “400,000 and some odd livres given in alms.” First of all, these sums in no way concerned the Cent-Associés, who had not disbursed them and had no right to them, except for the thousand pounds by weight of beaver pelts each year. The alms were the concern of the donors, who did not demand statements, and it is odious to suppose that the beneficiaries misappropriated them outright. The loans were the lenders’ affair, and a part of the money had been repaid. The 2,400,000 livres represented the gross receipts from the trade in beaver pelts over a period of 15 years. They had been used to meet the costs of this trade, to finance the administration, upkeep, and defence of the colony, to pay back the loans, to discharge interest, and to pay off the seigneurial rent to the Cent-Associés over a period of five years. They could not then have been misappropriated entirely, or even in their greater part. It should be noted that the budget of the colony showed a considerable deficit under the administration of the Communauté des Habitants.
Whereas Dumesnil scarcely concerned himself at all with the genuine rights of the Cent-Associés, he plunged up to his neck into commercial accounts over which he had no jurisdiction. He called in question the powers of Governors Louis d’Ailleboust, Pierre de Voyer* d’Argenson, and Pierre Dubois Davaugour, and of the commissioner Gaudais-Dupont, who were all established by the king; he rejected the authority of the councils, which were also constituted by the king. He piled up charges and slanders against all officials, against the Jesuits and the bishop. And he had the presumption to suggest to the king an administrative structure of his own fabrication to replace the one that the monarch had set up a few months previously. The falsest allegations can be found in his report. He asserted that Gaudais-Dupont had not published his commission, when it had been registered in the council on 18 Sept. 1663. He attributed to the Jesuits the embezzlement of 6,000 livres, which they had declined to accept earlier for the construction of a presbytery. He demanded from the “Sieurs Rosé Guinet and Company, merchants of Rouen,” the 100,000 livres – which he raised to 120,000 – that they had paid for the privilege of collecting the 25 per cent tax on beaver pelts for a two-year period; they were short of the amount by 12,650 livres because of the insufficient volume of trade. Dumesnil further estimated at about 22,000 livres the revenue from the 10 per cent levy on merchandise in 1662, whereas this levy had been farmed out to Aubert* de La Chesnaye for only 10,000. And so on.
We would not need Dumesnil’s report to arrive at the conclusion that the Communauté des Habitants had been badly run, although, used with discretion, the report is valuable in that it gives us a more exact idea of the situation. The incompetence of the directors can readily be believed, but their dishonesty is not proven. Bad bookkeeping, unjustified expenses, uncalculated risks, doubtful legality, all that, at varying times, marked the management of the Communauté. Gaudais himself was less than delighted with a council composed of these same people: “But after casting one’s eyes on several persons from whom to make up the aforesaid council, there were none more capable to be found. It was necessary to use and employ those who are now on it.”
Coll. de manuscrits relatifs à la Nouv.-France, I. JR (Thwaites). Jug. et délib., I. Ferland, Cours d’histoire da Canada, I. Lanctot, Histoire du Canada, I. Parkman, The old régime (Toronto ed.), chap.x, P.-G Roy, “Jean Péronne Dumesnil et ses mémoires,” BRH, XXI (1915), 161–73, 193–200, 225–31; “Mémoire du sieur Gaudais Dupont à Mgr Colbert,” ibid., 277–31; La ville de Québec, I, 303f.