In the fall of 1674, two years after Jean Baptiste had received his grant, he began to make concessions of land to the men who had served out the terms of their three-year contracts with him and had demonstrated their commitment to settle in Quebec. Many of these men were countrymen from the same area in Normandy who came with him in 1671. My ancestor, Robert Levesque, was one of the first to receive a grant, on November 10, 1674. His land, on the southern bank of the Ouelle River, was right across from Deschamps’ estate.
At the time of their grants, most of these men, Robert included, were still single. I suspect that once they had their land secured, their next goal was to find a wife! In fact, Michel Bouchard and Pierre Dancosse married soon after they received their grants and brought their wives to Rivière Ouelle where they started families. Catherine Baillon, a Fille du Roi like Jeanne, arrived in 1676 with her husband and family. Shortly after Jeanne appeared with Robert and her small family, Damien Berube married Jeanne Savonnet, who like Jeanne was a widow with children. She was also another Fille du Roi.
Census of 1681
In 1681, two years after Jeanne’s arrival, the government of New France undertook a census of the inhabitants of the colony. In prior censuses of 1666 and 1667, Quebec’s population was less than 4000 inhabitants. By 1681 it had grown to 10,000 inhabitants. Unlike the earlier censuses that had only listed names and ages, the 1681 census was full of detail, including occupations, the number of cleared acres, rifles and even cattle (but apparently not including sheep, chickens and other farm animals). For Rivière Ouelle, the 1681 census listed 11 families, all but one headed by couples, with a total of 21 adults and 41 children, among them three servants, for a total of 62 inhabitants. There were 104 head of cattle and 31 rifles. Only cleared land was considered to have value; the 134 arpents of cleared land in Rivière Ouelle compared favorably with surrounding estates that were also starting to grow.
At the time of the 1681 census, Seigneur Jean Baptiste Deschamps and his wife had 3 rifles, 12 cattle, and 15 arpents of cleared land. They also had one servant, aged 15. Robert and Jeanne had almost as much: 4 rifles, 10 cattle, and 10 arpents cleared, but no servant. Interestingly, one neighbor Joseph Renaud about whom little else is known to date — had 14 rifles, 16 head of cattle, 50 arpents of cleared land, and two servants!
Also of interest are the names of those not listed. Both Jeanne’s third son by Guillaume Lecanteur and the first Deschamps son were missing from the census. Although no death certificates have been found for either child, it is probably safe to assume they were no longer alive.
At the time of the census, both Jeanne and Catherine Gertrude were pregnant. In November, Catherine Gertrude died giving birth to her last son, who also died with her. Jeanne was more fortunate. Her second son was born the following January.
Continued efforts to grow Rivière Ouelle
After his wife’s and son’s deaths in 1681 and with his three surviving sons apparently living in Quebec City with relatives, Jean-Baptiste concentrated on developing Rivière Ouelle in order to fulfill his agreement with the King. He reportedly spent most of his time on his seigneurie, leaving it only for trips to Quebec City for baptisms, family events, and paying the required homage to the Governor. He made several more concessions of land to newcomers and in 1685 ceded part of his own estate to be used for a church and cemetery. In 1689 he also granted Jeanne’s first Lecanteur son a slice of land bordering on the St. Lawrence.
In addition to dealing with his family tragedies, Jean Baptiste’s life as seigneur of Rivière Ouelle had other challenges – both legal and financial. In 1675 he started having boundary disputes with his neighbor in Grande Anse, to the west of Rivière Ouelle, that were not resolved until 1688. In 1676, he was involved in a law suit, over a question of responsibility for a bad container of salted fish, a suit he apparently lost. Several years later, twenty residents of the South Coast, including Deschamps, the seigneur of nearby Kamouraska, and Robert Levesque, Jeanne’s husband, sent a request to the King to protest the withdrawal of what they considered their rights to hunt, fish and trade with the First Nation peoples. The outcome of this suit remains a mystery. We have no idea of how many other legal issues Deschamps may have faced, given the possibilities of lost, destroyed or even eaten (by rats or mice!) documents.
Deschamps’ attempts to grow his estate obviously took effort. In addition to these legal matters, he had to recruit families to come live there, provide them with grants, and hope that they would in turn recruit additional settlers who would all expand his revenue base. Apparently this hope was realized, as subsequent censuses listed newly arrived families from L’Ange Gardien, Chateau Richer, and other places near Quebec City where Jeanne and other founding settlers had lived. They must have been able to spread the word about greater opportunities for land away from the areas around Quebec City that were becoming more crowded and where land for future generations was becoming scarce.
Growth also took financial resources. Despite his son’s assertion in 1719 that Deschamps had invested $50,000 livres of his own money in his seigneurie, an amount that has not been confirmed since Deschamps apparently didn’t leave records or budgets, money continued to be a problem. He evidently needed more financial support to further develop the seigneurie. In 1677, upon the death of his father, he asked his sister Anne to inquire as to whether there was any inheritance coming to him (there apparently was none.) He had to secure a loan of 800 livres in 1678 from the Hotel Dieu and then another one of 2,423 livres from a merchant in Quebec City two years later. He also apparently failed to pay Nicolas Paquin, a Norman countryman whom his father had recruited, the sum of 180 livres that was due Paquin for his contracted engagement. And it does not appear that he ever built the mill that was one of his responsibilities as part of grant of land from the King.
Tragedy strikes Rivière Ouelle — Again
In spite of these challenges, growth in Rivière Ouelle continued. The estate was relatively untouched by events going on in the rest of New France where battles, resulting from wars fought between France against Spain and England with their First Nation allies, were being fought to the south of Rivière Ouelle. Although Rivière Ouelle settlers in those years may have been sheltered from wars and remained at peace with their First Nation neighbors, they unfortunately did not remain untouched by epidemics. An epidemic in 1688 of smallpox and measles killed over 1,000 inhabitants in all of New France, close to 10% of the population. In Rivière Ouelle, nine deaths were recorded between December 1687 and the middle of March, 1688. Among the dead were Jeanne’s and Robert’s two infants, both named Jean Baptiste. The epidemic also claimed Jacques Miville and his wife Catherine Baillon, one of the earliest women to arrive in Rivière Ouelle, as well as Damien Berube and Jacques Thiboutout, two of Deschamps’ and Robert’s countrymen who had come over on the ship with them. It must have been a particularly sad time for Deschamps, Jeanne, Robert, and the other early settlers.