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RÉVOL, PIERRE, salt smuggler, trader, merchant; b. c. 1714 in France, son of Jacques Révol, a lawyer in the parlement of Grenoble, and Hélène Bastard; d. February 1759 at Gaspé.

Pierre Révol, banished from the kingdom of France, arrived in Canada on the king’s ship in 1739. He had received this punishment for having broken the law of the salt tax. The gabelle, a term which originally referred to any sort of tax, was soon reserved for the tax on salt. Philippe VI made this tax general by his ordinances of 1331 and 1343. Subsequently basic legislation on the salt tax, which varied throughout the kingdom, was established by the great ordinance of Louis XIV in May 1680. The kingdom was divided into six regions, each with a different tax rate on salt. This situation, which had in fact existed before Louis XIV’s ordinance, caused the price of salt to vary from one region to another and thus offered an irresistible temptation to smugglers. The illicit salt trade was truly the “great national industry” in all regions bordering the territories exempt from the tax and the pays de grande gabelle, even though the salt smugglers risked a fine of 200 livres for a first offence and banishment or death for a subsequent offence.

Révol must therefore have been convicted more than once when he arrived in Quebec. He was neither the first nor the last salt smuggler to land in New France; from 1730 to 1743 the colony received nearly 600 who had been banished for the same crime. Little is known of Révol’s early years in Canada; his career as a trader and merchant does not take definite shape until he contracted a marriage at Beaumont, near Québec, on 17 Feb. 1744. His wife was Marie-Charlotte, the daughter of Joseph Roy, who seems to have been successful in the Labrador trade at that time. Révol took part in his father-in-law’s activities and quickly proved to be a skilful though sometimes imprudent trader. The partnership between the two men lasted only a year, during which they clashed before the provost court of Quebec. Mme Roy’s death on 14 April 1745 brought about the final break. The dead woman’s succession was contested by Joseph Roy’s sons-in-law; Roy did not want to make over the property held in joint estate until after his own death. Révol and his brothers in-law then took legal action before the provost court against their father-in-law, who won the case in 1747. But Révol obstinately appealed to the Conseil Supérieur. At the time of Joseph Roy’s death in 1756 nothing had been settled. Révol never knew how the 14-year lawsuit ended, for he himself died a month before the final settlement.

This legal affair was not Révol’s only adventure. His finances were soon such that he was able to acquire a ship in the 1740s, the Comte de Saxe, so that he might extend his business to the West Indies; but his status as a deportee did not allow him to leave the colony. Early in 1748 Governor La Galissonière [Barrin] sent the king a request for repeal of Révol’s condemnation, and in the autumn, without waiting for the royal reply, Révol sailed for Martinique. His evasion was quickly known, and the governor sent a detachment of soldiers after him. The Comte de Saxe was overtaken at Île aux Coudres, but the soldiers were not able to approach the ship, as Révol threatened to sink their boat with gunfire. Révol seems to have spent the winter at Martinique; he was arrested there and brought back to Canada in June 1749. On 24 December of that year he was sentenced to six months in prison, and the captain of the ship suffered the same punishment, in addition to a fine of 500 livres.

His activities as a trader and businessman brought Révol more than once before the courts of the colony. He came several times before the Conseil Supérieur after first appearing before the provost court; he was much more frequently defendant than plaintiff; as plaintiff, he most often lost beforehand. From 1744 to 1756 the Conseil Supérieur refused more than six times to hear his appeals and condemned him some eight times for non-appearance. In 1752 Révol was even accused of selling bread weighing less than the stated amount.

His greatest financial adventure, equalled only by his matrimonial tribulations, was the leasing of the trading post of Gros Mécatina on the Labrador coast, which led to total bankruptcy for himself and for his friends. On 1 April 1756, before the notary Jean-Claude Panet*, Révol agreed to the terms of a trading lease for the post of Gros Mécatina, of which the former intendant, Hocquart*, had become the owner the preceding year. Révol undertook for ten years to pay annually three per cent of the proceeds from fishing to the Jolliet and Lalande heirs [see Louis Jolliet*], and 5,000 livres a year to Hocquart. But at that time Révol was in serious financial difficulties. Only six months later he was completely insolvent. Even on 10 April 1756 he had to pay creditors 13,168 livres, and on 30 October he had to meet financial obligations exceeding 50,000 livres. Révol was partially successful in getting out of this impasse, thanks to the brothers Jean and Alexandre Dumas, who offered the creditors payment of half their claims, plus interest and court costs, in two instalments, one in April 1757 and the other in May 1758. The creditors accepted, and Révol had no choice but to seek his fortune elsewhere.

An opportunity presented itself, but it did not bring him wealth. In 1757 Governor Pierre de Rigaud * de Vaudreuil appointed Révol lookout at Gaspé, a post fully justified by the threat of a British invasion via the St Lawrence. But instead of watching the British, Révol would have done better to keep an eye on his wife. Indeed, when he returned to Quebec at the end of the autumn, after the sailing season was ended, he learned that his wife had been unfaithful to him with Alexandre Dumas; he was paying dearly for his bankruptcy of 1756!

Révol decided to take the guilty lovers to court, as French law permitted him to do. This decision furnished Montcalm with an occasion to write to Lévis*: “We are going to have a lawsuit for cuckoldry . . . which, if it were argued by skilful lawyers at the parlement of Paris, would add to the number of celebrated cases.” But Révol changed his mind, and the interested parties settled privately on 11 Jan. 1758 before the notary Panet. Mme Révol was to retire to a convent and give up all the rights her marriage contract granted her. Alexandre Dumas was to leave Quebec until Révol’s departure for Gaspé, and after that he was to sail for France in the autumn of 1758 at the latest. In addition, Dumas was to pay Mme Révol a yearly income of 400 livres.

At the opening of the sailing season Révol returned to Gaspé, where he died in February 1759. On 10 March his relatives met to elect a guardian for his three underage children. Mme Révol’s name is not mentioned in the account of the meeting.

Michel Paquin

AN, Col., B, 89, ff.71, 84; 90, ff.96, 121; C11A, 91, ff.264–67; 93, f.49; Marine, C7, 273. PAC Report, 1899, supp., 154. Létourneau et Labrèque, “Inventaire de pièces détachées de la Prévôté de Québec,” ANQ Rapport, 1971, 323, 325, 346, 386. Marion, Dictionnaire des institutions. P.-G. Roy, Inv. coll. pièces jud. et not., I, 150, 156, 166, 168, 172, 224; Inv. contrats mariage; Inv. jug. et délib., 1717–1760, IV, V, VI; Inv. ord. int., III, 75. Tanguay, Dictionnaire. Gérard Malchelosse, “Faux sauniers, prisonniers et fils de famille en Nouvelle-France au XVIIIe siècle,” Cahiers des Dix, IX (1944), 161ff. P.-G. Roy, “Le faux-saunier Pierre Revol,” BRH, L (1944), 193–201, 225–35.

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Cite This Article

Michel Paquin, “RÉVOL, PIERRE,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 3, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed October 31, 2014, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/revol_pierre_3E.html.

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Permalink: http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/revol_pierre_3E.html
Author of Article: Michel Paquin
Title of Article: RÉVOL, PIERRE
Publication Name: Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 3
Publisher: University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication: 1974
Year of revision: 1974
Access Date: October 31, 2014