TÊTU, CHARLES-HILAIRE, merchant and postmaster; b. 22 June 1802 at Saint-Thomas-de-Montmagny (Montmagny, Que.), son of François Têtu and Charlotte Bonenfant; d. 9 Dec. 1863 at Rivière-Ouelle, Canada East.
Heir to the Têtu and Bonenfant families, François Têtu constantly enlarged his estates. He became seigneur of the Saint-Luc fief in the seigneury of Rivière-du-Sud, and a lieutenant-colonel in the militia. His wealth enabled him to educate and find suitable positions in society for his numerous children, who included a priest, a notary, a doctor, five merchants, and four farmers. Charles-Hilaire was the fifth of 18 children. He was not drawn to study, and at an early age went into business. In partnership with his first cousin Pierre-Thomas Casgrain, seigneur of Rivière-Ouelle, he ran a store in that village where “he sold something of everything.” He was also a large shareholder in a local porpoise fishing enterprise. He took an active interest in the business: with his son David he searched for the best fishing stations, he invented an ingenious system of nets to catch the porpoises, and he perfected a procedure for tanning and dressing the skins. He had this procedure patented, and won awards for it at the universal exhibitions in London in 1851 and Paris in 1855. From 1842 until his death he was also postmaster at Rivière-Ouelle.
The time and money devoted to fishing caused Têtu to neglect his business, and his financial difficulties were increased by the failure of some high risk ventures, for example several schooners purchased for the timber trade which were lost at sea. Pierre-Thomas Casgrain withdrew from the partnership, but, because he did not have the dissolution legally recorded, he was obliged to pay part of Têtu’s debts. Although he was a man “of Herculean build,” Têtu’s health collapsed: chronic dyspepsia, induced or intensified by his fondness for pantagruelian meals, brought him to his grave.
As a member of the Bonenfant and Casgrain clans, Charles-Hilaire Têtu had participated in the social life that centred on the seigneurial manor-house at Rivière-Ouelle, the residence of Pierre and later of Pierre-Thomas Casgrain, and the meeting-place for the established local bourgeoisie, for the Casgrains and Têtus, and for the Letellier, Dionne, Chapais, and Gagnon families, all related through a complex network of marriages. Their relationship did not prevent vigorous confrontations at election time, with one group supporting the Letelliers of the Rouge party, another swearing by the Chapais of the Bleus. Têtu sided with the moderate Liberals, but still incurred the wrath of parish priest Charles Bégin, whose management of financial matters Têtu had criticized. But he still continued to be one of the most regular churchgoers in the parish.
By his first marriage, on 16 May 1826 with Marie-Thérèse Pâquet of Quebec, Charles-Hilaire Têtu had three children; one of them, Justine, married Hector-Louis Langevin* in 1854. Widowed in 1836, Têtu remarried on 19 Sept. 1837. His second wife was Elizabeth O’Brien, widow of François Laurent, a Quebec merchant, and they had three boys and four girls.
Charles-Hilaire Têtu died on 9 Dec. 1863 at Rivière-Ouelle; his wife went to Ottawa to live with her children and died there on 8 Jan. 1881.
ANQ-Q, AP-G-327. Mme E. Croff [M.-E. Perrault], Nos ancêtres à l’œuvre à la Rivière-Ouelle (Montréal, 1931). P.-H. Hudon, Rivière-Ouelle de la Bouteillerie, 3 siècles de vie ([Rivière-Ouelle], Qué., 1972), 232–33, 272. Henri Têtu, Histoire des familles Têtu, Bonenfant, Dionne et Perrault (Québec, 1898), 91–96, 144–46. [Henri Têtu et H.-R. Casgrain], David Têtu et les raiders de Saint-Alban; épisode de la guerre américaine, 1864–1865 (2e éd., Québec, 1891), 38–40.