TURC DE CASTELVEYRE, LOUIS, known as Brother Chrétien, superior of the Brothers Hospitallers of the Cross and of St Joseph; b. 25 Aug. 1687 at Martigues, France, son of Claude Turc de Castelveyre, provost, and of Marie Bonnel; d. 21 March 1755 at Cap-Français (Cap-Haïtien), Île de Saint-Domingue (Hispaniola).
We know almost nothing of Louis Turc de Castelveyre’s youth and education. But the office of provost held by his father and the title of schoolmaster which Turc gave himself when he arrived in New France suggest that he had received the upbringing and schooling of a young bourgeois of the period. In 1719 Louis Turc met François Charon* de La Barre, superior of the Hôpital Général of Montreal, who was making a brief visit to France seeking schoolmasters who would assist him in New France. The superior persuaded Turc to accompany him, and he also took along five other schoolmasters and some workmen for a factory making woven stockings. They travelled on the king’s flute the Chameau; Charon died on board in July 1719, after having appointed Turc his executor.
Upon his arrival in Montreal Turc became a member of the community of the Hôpital Général under the name of Brother Chrétien. On 17 Sept. 1719, acting, as he believed, in accordance with the founder Charon’s views, Bishop Saint-Vallier [La Croix*] named Brother Chrétien superior of the community. Some months later the council of Marine approved this appointment. The colonial authorities, Governor Philippe de Rigaud* de Vaudreuil and Intendant Michel Bégon, had doubts, however, about Brother Chrétien’s ability to administer the Hôpital Général; they wrote that the superior, “although a virtuous man, knows little about directing this house.” They even expressed a wish that a responsible person who had nothing to do with the community had been appointed, but since the letters patent of the hospital conferred entire responsibility for administration upon the hospitallers, the governor and intendant were powerless to relieve the superior of his administrative functions.
During his term of office, from 1719 to 1728, Louis Turc met with several administrative and financial disappointments as well as some successes. He had pronounced his provisional vows of religion on 2 Oct. 1722 and, more fortunate than the founder, he received in 1723 approval of the rules that the brothers had been observing since the founding of their community. He made great efforts to provide material support for the Hôpital Général. Thus on 13 Dec. 1719 he renewed the agreement, made on the preceding 15 June by his predecessor, with François Darles and André Souste for running a factory for making woven stockings. But in 1722 Intendant Bégon ordered that this partnership be ended because of the futile quarrels among the partners. As his time was completely taken up with other problems caused by his predecessor’s administration, however, Brother Chrétien had not played a great role in this affair. He had undertaken first to pay back the debts contracted by Charon with several French merchants, which Turc estimated at 17,000 livres. The superior also set up a trading company which operated in Quebec and Montreal through agents and which he hoped would make a profit. In this way he enabled the Hôpital Général to take in an attractive revenue for the years 1723 and 1724.
Brother Chrétien continued the founder’s efforts in education. In the period 1722–24 he recruited some 15 schoolmasters to meet the needs of teaching in New France, for which the Brothers Hospitallers were in part responsible. But the recruits, who had signed on almost blindly, resigned after a few months, for “the Hôpital Général did not supply them with anything for their upkeep.” Some returned to France, others settled in the colony. In the hope of remedying this constant lack of teachers, Brother Chrétien worked, during a voyage to France in 1723, at setting up a normal school at La Rochelle. Turning to account the desire of Bishop Étienne de Champflour of La Rochelle who himself wanted competent teachers for the youth of his episcopal city, he offered the services of his community. The hospitallers of Montreal accepted this project officially in 1724, hoping in this way to be able to train teachers in France before bringing them to the colony. To support this common work, Bishop Champflour requested royal consent and endowed the hospitallers of Montreal by testament with a house, garden, and outbuildings, and the sum of 12,000 livres.
The administrative and financial methods employed by Brother Chrétien confirmed the doubts that the governor and the intendant had already expressed concerning his managerial abilities. Thus, to settle his predecessor’s debt, Brother Chrétien had received from the hospitallers 409 livres 9 sols, which he used for other purposes; consequently, to settle this debt he had to make use of sums taken from the 3,000 livres in annual subsidies intended for the upkeep of the schoolmasters. These transfers of funds made normal financing of the teaching work of the Hôpital Général impossible. He had borrowed 40,000 livres to found the normal school in La Rochelle, in the hope that this sum would be returned to him by Bishop Champflour. Bishop Saint-Vallier’s consent to the union of the house in La Rochelle with that in Montreal did not reach Brother Chrétien until after Bishop Champflour’s death, the project fell through, and Brother Chrétien found himself in a precarious financial situation. In addition, he left unpaid many accounts in France, and he used the royal gratuities intended for education to settle his other transactions – these subsidies the king suspended in 1731. The total of his debts amounted to 53,968 livres 9 sols 4 deniers.
In the face of his numerous creditors’ insistence, Brother Chrétien left France in 1725 to go to the French colony on the Île de Saint-Domingue, thinking that he would set up several fishing establishments there. The king then ordered the governor of Saint-Domingue, Charles-Gaspard de Goussé, Chevalier de La Rochalar, to have him arrested and to send him to Quebec to account for the large loans he had contracted in France in the name of the Hôpital Général of Montreal. Brother Chrétien fled to the Spanish part of the island, where he lived for three years. He was finally forced to return to New France. He arrived in July 1728 and retired to the Recollet convent in Quebec. On 17 September the hospitallers removed him from the office of superior of the community.
To settle his numerous debts Brother Chrétien sued the Brothers Hospitallers, who, he claimed, owed him the sum of 54,776 livres 8 sols 6 deniers. He also demanded from one of his agents in the colony, Claude Morillonnet, dit Berry, payment for goods he had had sent to him from France. For their part, 39 of his French creditors sued him before the courts of New France for the sum of 29,938 livres 9 sols 4 deniers and demanded subrogation of Brother Chrétien in their favour in the legal proceedings against the hospitallers and the agent Morillonnet. On 22 April 1735, having inspected all the documents pertinent to this financial imbroglio, the Conseil Supérieur finally found the Brothers Hospitallers in debt to their former superior to the amount of 24,940 livres 13 sols 9 deniers. As for Morillonnet, he had been sentenced in a judgement on 10 July 1731 to pay Brother Chrétien 9,073 livres 6 sols 4 deniers and to hand over to him goods valued at 5,188 livres 2 sols 4 deniers.
Although the bankruptcy of the Hôpital Général of Montreal is not to be attributed solely to Brother Chrétien, the fact remains that the expenditures made without the hospitallers’ knowledge – if the account book of the Hôpital Général is to be believed – aggravated the already shaky financial situation of that enterprise. In 1735, after all the differences between the hospitallers and his French creditors had been settled, Brother Chrétien requested permission of the authorities of New France to return to Saint-Domingue, where he hoped to set up a brewery, with the idea presumably that its profits would serve to pay off the rest of his creditors.
Louis Turc de Castelveyre then went to Cap-Français. He rented a small house, where he took in some orphans to educate; subsequently he harboured indigent old men. Encouraged by the Jesuits, who were ministering to the northern part of the island, and supported by the alms of rich colonists, Turc de Castelveyre was able at the end of five years to acquire a huge property which he named “La Providence.” He then increased the number of boarders, agreeing to lodge emigrants from Europe. When he found himself at the head of a growing organization, Turc de Castelveyre wanted to be relieved of all financial responsibility and presented a petition to the Conseil Supérieur of Cap-Français on 12 Nov. 1740, requesting that administrators be appointed for this hospice and reserving for himself only the right to devote himself to it as a hospitaller. This petition was granted on 5 March 1741.
Louis Turc de Castelveyre spent his days in charitable works until his death on 21 March 1755. Moreau de Saint-Méry has left us the following portrait of the “founder and first director of ‘La Providence des Hommes’ ”: “He was a stout man 5 feet 4 inches tall, slightly stooped, broad-shouldered, pug-nosed, his face indicated gentleness and kindness.”
AAQ, 22 A, Copies de lettres expédiées, II, 325. AN, Col., B, 42, f.44; 44, ff.507, 508; 45, f.111; 46, f.526; 48, f.884; 50, ff.500–1; 51, f.171; 57/2, f.627; C11A, 39, f.391; 40, f.51; 47, f.271; 107, ff.93ff. ANQ-M, Greffe de J.-B. Adhémar, 25 août 1719; Greffe de J.-C. Raimbault, 17 sept. 1728; Greffe de Pierre Raimbault, 22 sept. 1721. ASGM, Inventaire des biens meubles et immeubles des frères Hospitaliers dits Frères Charon de l’Hôpital Général de Montréal, 4 sept. 1747; Recette et dépense de juin 1718 à septembre 1746; Registre des vêtures, professions, etc. des Frères Charon, 1701–48. ASSM, Cahiers Faillon, 197c (mfm F1). Édits ord., I, 389. [M.-L.-É.] Moreau de Saint-Méry, Description topographique, physique, civile, politique et historique de la partie française de l’isle de Saint-Domingue (2v., Philadelphia, 1897; Blanche Maurel et Étienne Taillemite, édit., Bibliothèque d’histoire coloniale, nouv. sér., 3v., Paris, 1958); Éloges de M. Turc de Castelveyre (Paris, 1790). Massicotte, “Inventaire des documents concernant les frères Charon,” APQ Rapport, 1923–24, 163–201. P.-G. Roy, Inv. ord. int., I, 183, 229–30; II, 104. [É.-M. Faillon], Vie de Mme d’Youville, fondatrice des Sœurs de la Charité de Villemarie dans l’île de Montréal en Canada (Villemarie [Montréal], 1852). Albertine Ferland-Angers, Mère d’Youville (Montréal, 1945). Amédée Gosselin, L’instruction au Canada, 460. Lionel Groulx, L’enseignement français au Canada (2v., Montréal, 1931–33), I, 117–18. É.-Z. Massicotte, “Les frères Charon,” BRH, XXIII (1917), 150ff.