SIMONNET, FRANÇOIS, Brother Hospitaller of the Cross and of St Joseph, schoolmaster, royal notary, and king’s attorney; b. 29 Dec. 1701 at Niort, France, son of Philippe Simonnet, a merchant and later comptroller of the king’s tax farms, and of Marie Boismenay; d. 9 Dec. 1778 in Montreal.
Nothing is known of François Simonnet’s life before his arrival in New France. It seems certain that he had been recruited by François Charon* de La Barre, and that with five other schoolmasters he had come on the Chameau in 1719. His presence in the colony is first indicated on 14 Sept. 1721 among the Brothers Hospitallers of the Cross and of St Joseph at the Hôpital Général in Montreal, when he signed in a register “F. Simonnet de la Croix, hospitaller and missionary,” and then “schoolmaster.” At that time he was teaching in the school at Longueuil. On 8 Oct. 1723 Bishop Saint-Vallier [La Croix*] approved the brothers’ rules, which had been recorded in an extraordinarily beautiful hand by Simonnet. On 24 Oct. 1724, after five years of community life, in both hospital and missions, Simonnet took simple vows of poverty, chastity, obedience, and hospitality to the poor and the young. From then until 1730 he taught at Trois-Rivières, where he was in charge of the school. On 28 Sept. 1731 he was still a religious and was then teaching in Boucherville. That year the king of France discontinued the annual subsidy of 3,000 livres that had until then been granted to provide for schoolmasters. François Simonnet probably quit the religious life at that time, for, following the king’s decision, several of the hospitallers asked to be freed from their vows.
In any case it is known that on 23 Jan. 1736 at Boucherville Simonnet married Léger Bourgy’s widow, Marguerite Bougret Dufort, a 52-year-old invalid. She died on 22 April 1749 and two and a half months later, on 7 July 1749, in Montreal, he remarried. His second wife was Marguerite Neveu, daughter of Jean-Baptiste Neveu*, seigneur of Lanoraie and Dautré and colonel of the militia in the Government of Montreal, and of Françoise-Élisabeth Legras. They had one son, who died in infancy.
On 1 July 1737 François Simonnet, who had called himself a merchant at Boucherville in certain deeds signed the year before, received from Honoré Michel* de Villebois de La Rouvillière, the commissary of the Marine who was serving as intendant in Hocquart’s absence, a commission as royal notary at Boucherville and throughout the côtes within the Government of Montreal. On 25 Feb. 1738 Intendant Hocquart confirmed his commission but restricted it to Varennes, Cap Saint-Michel, Verchères, Contrecœur, Saint-Ours, and Chambly. This restriction was lifted on 20 Aug. 1738, however, and Simonnet obtained a new commission for the whole of the Government of Montreal. From October 1738 on, he lived in Montreal.
In 1756 Simonnet took part as a handwriting expert in the celebrated trial in Montreal of the hostage Robert Stobo*. From 1757 to 1760 he was deputy king’s attorney and then regular attorney for the jurisdiction of Montreal. On 24 Nov. 1759 the members of the Conseil Supérieur at their meeting in Montreal had appointed him ex officio clerk in the court registry. On 20 Oct. 1760, three weeks after the surrender of Montreal, Thomas Gage, the military governor, renewed Simonnet’s commission as royal notary. Despite all his other duties, Simonnet was to draw up deeds almost without interruption until 14 Nov. 1778.
Although never an important businessman, Simonnet in the course of time became the owner of a great deal of property. In addition to inheriting the seigneuries of Lanoraie and Dautré, he purchased land in the seigneuries of Belœil, Boucherville, Cournoyer, and Prairie-de-la-Madeleine, as well as on Montreal Island. He initiated work on the seigneuries of Cournoyer and Prairie-de-la-Madeleine in 1742 and 1743 that was never finished. But in the seigneury of Boucherville and on Montreal Island he developed tracts of land and shared the proceeds equally with his farmers. In addition to owning all the buildings, equipment, and animals needed for improving his farms, he went in for sheep-raising and the cultivation of orchards.
On 14 Sept. 1768 René Cartier and his wife Angélique Sarasin Depelteau, the seigneurs of La Salle, appointed François Simonnet legal adviser in personal and general matters for their seigneury and gave him the right to manage all their property and business affairs. On the same occasion the seigneur made a grant of an arriere fief to Simonnet as an act of recognition and gratitude to him for stopping the auction of the seigneury. They were, however, really just settling in this way a legal dispute that had been entered in the Court of Common Pleas on 26 Sept. 1766 on the application of Simonnet, who complained that the seigneur Cartier was unable to honour his debts to him and to other creditors.
François Simonnet died on 9 Dec. 1778, a few weeks after his wife Marguerite Neveu. His estate was valued at more than £53,000 including £8, 200 in gold and silver. He left the greater part of it to his sister Marie-Louise, and the remainder to a number of paupers.
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