VALLETTE DE CHÉVIGNY, MÉDARD-GABRIEL, king’s writer, merchant, storekeeper; fl. 1712–1754.
Médard-Gabriel Vallette de Chévigny probably came to New France with the intendant Bégon late in 1712. For many years Chévigny served as a junior official in the intendant’s office. On 25 Nov. 1720 he married at Quebec Marguerite, daughter of Jean-Baptiste Maillou, dit Desmoulins. In the marriage act Chévigny is described as king’s writer and son of Charles Vallette de Chévigny, “king’s attorney of rivers and forests at Vitry,” and Marie-Anne Deschamps de Fellière, both of Saint-Médard parish, diocese of Orléans, France. Chévigny’s career holds great interest, for he probably did as much as anyone to develop the tar and pitch industry in New France. As early as 1724 he accompanied a party sent by Bégon to Baie Saint-Paul to search for masts needed by the French navy, and later in the decade he was placed in charge of 25 soldiers and two sergeants, drawn from the colonial regulars, who worked at the royal tar works at Grande-Anse (seigneury of La Pocatière) on the St Lawrence. Under the impetus of Gilles Hocquart*, who had come to New France as financial commissary in 1729 and was anxious to foster shipbuilding and associated industries, Chévigny began to devote all of his time to tar manufacture.
In 1731 he went to France to learn processes for producing tar, pitch, resin, and turpentine. He returned to Canada in 1732 and before the next summer season distributed copies of his reports to interested habitants. In 1733, however, he was diverted to search for ship timber in the Lake Champlain region. This trip was significant. He advised the minister of Marine, Maurepas, that no trees could be found for ships with a keel length greater than 100 feet. Thus five years before the royal shipyards at Quebec began construction of vessels of larger dimensions a report existed that denied the possibility of success.
Chévigny’s own enterprise was not very successful. In late spring 1734, with three soldiers, he began to experiment with the red and white pines in the Baie Saint-Paul area. By the end of the season about 1,000 pounds of dry pitch and resin had been obtained. The climate, however, was too severe. Sap in the white pines only began flowing in July, and the enterprise could not be economic. During the next two seasons Chévigny turned to the southwest, where in the seigneuries of Berthier and Dautré he manufactured pitch and resin on his own account, and instructed interested habitants in procedures. In 1736, although he worked for only part of the summer, he again sent 1,000 pounds of pitch and resin to Quebec whence it went to France for inspection. In 1737 his operations in the pineries of New France were concluded; results may not have met the intendant’s expectations or Chévigny may have thought the enterprise a bad business venture. Further development was carried out by Antoine Serindac, a soldier who had worked for Chévigny at Grande-Anse in the 1720s.
On 27 March 1738 Chévigny was sent by Hocquart to Fort Saint-Frédéric (Crown Point, N.Y.) as storekeeper. Two years later he took strong exception to the activities of the fort’s commandant François Lefebvre Duplessis Faber, who wanted to increase settlement and exploit timber resources. Chévigny objected that Duplessis Faber claimed the right to distribute food and supplies to the garrison and had taken the keys to the storehouses. In 1741 Hocquart recalled both men to Quebec, and it is significant that almost immediately he sent Chévigny back to the fort with a new commandant, François-Antoine Pécaudy de Contrecœur. Nevertheless the intendant complained that the storekeeper appeared incapable of presenting well ordered accounts and by 1744 was planning to replace him as soon as possible.
Hereafter Chévigny disappears from view. In 1754 he was identified as a bourgeois of Quebec. The absence of any death notice in the records suggests that he returned to France during the Seven Years’ War or after the conquest Although he had 12 children only one appears to have survived to adolescence.
AJQ, Registre d’état civil, Notre-Dame de Québec, 25 nov. 1720. AN, Col., B, 58, f.423; 63, f.472; C11A, 62, f.265; 74, pp.168–76; 75, pp.362–66, 367; 82, pp.15–20 (PAC transcripts); Marine, C7, 334. P.-G. Roy, Inv. contrats de mariage, VI, 87; Inv. jug. et délib., 1717–1760, I, 317, 318, 321; II, 52, 122–25; V, 304; Inv. ord. int., I, 246, 274, 291; II, 20, 26, 163, 184, 199, 241; III, 72. Tanguay, Dictionnaire. J.-N. Fauteux, Essai sur l’industrie, I, 201; Il, 319, 322–26.