In late June, 1671, the 300-ton ship “Le Saint Jean-Baptiste” left Dieppe harbor headed for Quebec. On board was a young “gentleman,” “le sieur de la Bouteillerie,” from the Pays Caux. He brought with him two carpenters, two masons, and four laborers to settle the land which the King had given him. This land, up to the size of 1000 arpents, or about 1.32 square miles, was reported to be located between the towns of Three Rivers and Montreal. Also on board were one hundred men, 26 young women from Paris, ten mules, 50 male sheep, dry goods, blankets, and many other items that would be useful to those living in New France or for the voyage. Six months later, the ship brought back to Dieppe 10,000 livres of beaver skins, 400 moose skins, stones, wood, pitch, and many other rare items, among them a live moose of about 6 months old, a fox, and a dozen large birds to be given to the King.
The above excerpt is my translated paraphrasing of a passage from the Antiquitez et Chroniques de la Ville de Dieppe (“Annals and Chronicles of the City of Dieppe”). The original book was written in 1682, just eleven years after the ship’s departure, by David Asseline, a priest turned historian, who lived in Dieppe. He was said to be most thorough in his research, with reference notes to back up his work. The original manuscript is still located in the Dieppe archives. Access, however, to the rare document is restricted. During my visit to Dieppe in May, 2015, I was able to ask the archivist if he would check the manuscript for any notes. He did, and there were none. So I don’t know how Asseline learned this information – from talking with the young Norman gentleman, from the ship’s logs since destroyed, or perhaps from personal observation? The accuracy of the story, therefore, is a bit suspect as are some of the facts. For example, how many young women were on board? The French version uses an unusual number (literally “six twenty”). Was it 26 or six times twenty, meaning 120? A later version of the same text, written by another priest eighty years later, puts the number of young women at 120. Were they all truly from Paris? Another ship The Prince Maurice was also said to be leaving Dieppe around the same time, with many of the same passengers supposedly on board, although Asseline didn’t mention its departure. How do we get these stories straight? Do we need to?
The young nobleman and his family
That young gentleman – whether on the St. Jean Baptiste or The Prince Maurice — was Jean Baptiste François Deschamps de la Bouteillerie, born around 1646 (I am still searching for his baptismal record) in Cliponville, a small Norman village not far from Rouen. Jean Baptiste was one of at least 11 children born into the noble family of Jean Deschamps de Boishebert and Elizabeth or Isabeau de Bin. Jean Baptiste’s father was Seigneur de Costecoste, de Montaubert, and des Landes and had been honored by Louis XIII in 1629 for the service that he and his family had rendered to the kings of France. Jean Baptiste’s great aunt Marie des Champs had entered the Augustinian monastery of the Hospitalieres in Dieppe under the name Saint Joachim. In 1643, she was one of the nuns who journeyed to New France to support the work of the recently founded Hotel Dieu, in Quebec City.
Jean Baptiste’s family, by some reports, could trace its line back at least to the third crusade or even to the time of William the Conqueror. Through a fortuitous Internet search, I had been able to connect with a “Deschamps de Boishebert” family during my 2013 fall visit to Dieppe. As we talked over tea, Monsieur Jacques Deschamps de Boishebert questioned whether this long lineage was more legend than fact. Nevertheless theirs was a family that could trace its noble roots back for at least several centuries.
In keeping with the practice and laws of the times, Adrien, the third Deschamps son, inherited the family’s title and the not inconsiderable land holdings since the first son died without having married and the second became a priest. The remaining seven children apparently either joined the priesthood or the convent or died without progeny. Adrien went on to have a long lineage in France, including the family who invited me for tea in Dieppe. He died December 17, 1703 in Cliponville, leaving two sons.
Although not the primary inheritor of his family’s estate, Jean Baptiste did inherit the title La Bouteillerie from his grandmother, Suzanne Le Bouteiller. His signature and later documents indicate he was well-educated. According to my handwriting analyst, he was refined, stubborn, idealistic, emotional and loyal. He was attracted to situations that tested his mental abilities and might not always do things the easy way, being predisposed to go his own way when feasible. He also had a desire for attention: “Active recognition was important to Deschamps de la Bouteillerie.”
The Adventure Begins
With little chance of much inheritance other than that title, Jean-Baptiste did indeed test his abilities and find his own way. His future traditionally would have been limited to joining the military or the church. Instead, he chose a third way: adventure. He decided to explore possibilities in New France.
As the story goes, in return for the promise of a substantial land grant from the King, Deschamps agreed to invest his own money and to use the grant to help colonize French Canada. He gathered those eight men (one of whom was my ancestor Robert Levesque) and contracted with them for three years of service to help clear the land and build him a home on his land. In exchange, he promised them passage to New France, room and board for those three years, and land grants of their own upon completion of their contracts.
In late June, 1671 the ship, mostly likely the Saint-Jean-Baptiste, set sail for Quebec. Deschamps’ arrival two months later did not go unnoticed by the King’s Intendant Jean Talon. After a meeting with Deschamps and some his colleagues, Talon wrote to the King’s Minister of Finance Jean-Baptiste Colbert in November, 1671, commenting, in a passage paraphrased by me, “If men of this quality come to Canada, we will have no problems colonizing New France.”