PERRAULT, JACQUES, known as Perrault l’aîné, merchant-trader; b. 2 June 1718 at Quebec (Que.), eldest son of François Perrault* and Suzanne Pagé, dit Carcy; m. 20 Oct. 1749 Charlotte, daughter of Pierre Boucher* de Boucherville at Quebec; d. there on 20 March 1775.
Almost all members of Jacques Perrault’s family were involved in business. His father arrived in Quebec as a merchant around 1714, and all his brothers spent their lives in business with the exception of Joseph-François, who took holy orders. Guillaume-Michel took refuge in La Rochelle, France, in 1760 and then settled in Martinique, where he once again became prosperous. Jean-Baptiste joined an uncle in running the Saint-Maurice ironworks. Louis-François assisted Jacques in Quebec until 1760 and then was associated with Frederick Haldimand, who used his influence on behalf of the whole Perrault family.
Jacques Perrault was not born to high social position, but he rose in society through his work, the wealth he acquired, and the connections he established. Judging by his correspondence he evidently received a sound academic training. His father assisted by making him a partner in 1740 in the trading lease of the post on the Rivière Nontagamion (Nétagamiou) on the Labrador coast. His propitious marriage to the daughter of the co-seigneur of Boucherville linked him with important colonial officials and with families well known in the business community. Members of the upper class, including Governor La Jonquière [Taffanel*] and Intendant Bigot, were present at the signing of his marriage contract. As a trusted middleman, with a large circle of business connections, he greatly expanded his entrepreneurial activity so that he became involved in commercial transactions with the most important French and then British figures in Canada in the period 1750–75. It was from him, for instance, that James Murray bought a house in 1764.
In choosing his investments Perrault seems to have been seeking security. He traded in furs and fish and ran a general store where merchandise imported from France and the West Indies was sold. He bought land and building sites, built boats, lent money, and engaged in the lucrative trade in spirits. This diversity of investments, which provided numerous opportunities for profit, allowed him to link or to separate his activities according to his assessment of the benefits or risks in prevailing economic circumstances. His principal French correspondents lived in Paris, Bordeaux, La Rochelle, Nantes, Le Havre, and the West Indies.
The war and the siege of Quebec were hard on Perrault. His business was dormant, his house was destroyed, and he and his family had to take refuge at Trois-Rivières. After the military defeat Perrault, who had been clerk of the marshalsea and churchwarden of Notre-Dame since 1758, was uncertain what to do. In the end he decided to remain in Canada, since life promised to be easier in a colony under British rule than in a defeated France burdened with repatriates. He never had reason to regret his choice. By 1760 he was able to correspond with Denis Goguet, his most important associate in France, via New England and later via London, where he also found a reliable associate. During this period more than 20 of those in exile in France entrusted the administration of their Canadian estates to him and he managed assets worth nearly 150,000 livres.
With an annual turnover of between 250,000 and 300,000 livres, Perrault was able to leave an estate worth about 150,000 livres after debts and expenses were paid, including a house on Rue Saint-Pierre in Quebec which he had inherited from his father, a nearby river-lot, and a house and land in the barony of Longueuil. The dynamic businessman’s widow, a lady of high social standing, was left one-half of his estate and radically altered the nature of her inheritance, letting all the commercial ventures go and keeping clothing and silverware rather than any other movable assets. The children did not benefit much from their father’s estate; then 11 in number they each received slightly less than 7,000 livres. The strict egalitarian principles governing the division of property under the custom of Paris affected the Perrault heirs as they did all others. The dispersal of capital with each generation, which threatened to have ruinous consequences for Canadian businessmen, prompted Jacques Perrault’s children to enter government or the priesthood rather than follow their father’s career in business. Jacques-Nicolas*, who started out as a merchant, became a seigneur, a member of the assembly, and later a legislative councillor. Charles-François, who died in 1794, and Charles, who died in 1793, were priests. Jean-Olivier*, a lawyer and judge of the Court of King’s Bench, was a member of both the Legislative and Executive Councils.
[A detailed bibliography is found in Jacques Mathieu, “Un négociant de Québec à l’époque de la Conquête: Jacques Perrault l’aîné,” ANQ Rapport, 1970, 27-82. j.m.]