Unlike most other grants made at the time with access to the St. Lawrence, the seigneurie Jean Baptiste Deschamps received was not long and narrow, but wide and deep instead. It was still rectangular in shape, however, measuring six miles wide along the St. Lawrence and 4 ½ miles deep into the valley. The grant included land on both banks of a river that snaked its way through the property, a river that would also take on the name “Rivière Ouelle.”
If you could walk the perimeter of the grant and manage to cross the many twists and turns of the river along the way, you would cover roughly 21 miles. Boundaries were somewhat unclear in Deschamps’s lifetime. The grant was considered to be large enough that exact boundaries did not really matter, although this ambiguity would eventually cause legal problems and court cases; an assessor would be called in to set boundaries. The land to the west was also granted in 1672, but the land to the east of Deschamps’ grant along the shores of the St. Lawrence would be granted two years later. The land to the south of the grant was not conceded until many years later.
The grant measured roughly 27 square miles of land, significantly larger than the size of the grant mentioned by Father Asseline. It consisted mostly of densely packed evergreens and hardwoods, some marsh land at the mouth of the River Ouelle, and a fairly large peat bog covering about one-quarter of the property. The challenge for Deschamps was to bring in farmers to clear the forests and to plant and settle the land, under his agreement from the King; otherwise he risked forfeiting the grant.
In the summer of 2014, I stood in several different places on what would have been Deschamps’ grant. It was difficult to imagine what it was like in 1672, over three centuries ago, with essentially only those vast, dense forests. Today, the forests have been thinned and farms now dot the countryside. There are paved roads and mostly 20th century homes. There are also several campgrounds, a few stores and municipal buildings, a 19th century church, a bank and post office, and a couple of places to eat, but not much else. Most of the buildings from the 17th and even the 18th century are gone, as are the original church and the first cemetery that would have been there in Jeanne’s time.
But back in 1672, it would have been different. With access to the St. Lawrence, the major communication link throughout the colony, with water supplied by the inland river, fertile soil, and plenty of wood for building and heating, Rivière Ouelle, as it would be called interchangeably with “La Bouteillerie,” was a wise choice. The abundance of wild game and fish, including the porpoise and eel that would later contribute to Rivière Ouelle’s prosperity made the property even more inviting. The absence of any permanent settlement of Amerindians, with only nomadic tribes coming to the river in the spring to hunt, fish, and eventually to trade, was an added attraction.
Internally the river that originated up in the mountains to the south of the grant ran down through the property to the St. Lawrence, providing fresh water to much of the land and pushing back most of the salty influx from the St. Lawrence. It also provided transportation, connecting settlers on their own land grants with each other and with the St. Lawrence. Because the river’s path took so many twists and turns, however, traveling within the seigneurie was challenging. There were (and still are) few places to easily cross it. Settlers had to use rafts or take their chances at lower tides.
If Deschamps had stood with his back to the St Lawrence and to the Laurentian Mountains 18 miles away in the distance on the northern shore, he could have looked out south over the vast expanse of forests across the valley to the hills far away. He surely must have been satisfied with his grant. While hopeful for the future, certainly compared to what he might have had in France, he also knew the land came with significant responsibilities, if he was to fulfill his promise to the King. He could have stayed in Quebec, as many of his peers did, neglecting their grants, but instead he was committed to living on the land.