Pierre Boucher and New France

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Portrait and signature of P. Boucher (from 662:3.c.95.10).

Pierre Boucher was born in Mortagne-au-Perche, France in 1622. When he was twelve, his family left to settle in New France (Canada). His father, Gaspard, worked for the Jesuits in Notre-Dame-des-Anges (Quebec) and they took care of the education of the children, especially Pierre. He was interested in the life of the native peoples and he became interpreter of Iroquoian languages, particularly Huron. He was a missionary assistant to the Jesuits in Huronia from 1637 to 1641.

Pierre Boucher, like New France pioneers Samuel de Champlain and Jean Talon, believed in miscegenation with the native peoples. Pierre married Marie-Madeleine Chrestienne (or Marie Ouebadinskoue) a Huron girl educated by the Ursulines, who later died in childbirth (1649) along with their child. In 1652 he married Jeanne Crevier, with whom he had fifteen children. From 1645 to 1667, he lived in the little settlement of Trois-Rivières (see View 1 below), founded in 1634 and second permanent settlement in New France after Quebec City. Boucher was twice-governor of Trois-Rivières (1653-58, 1662-67).

Early French pioneers faced great difficulties: they lived in poverty, were isolated, and, moreover, they were under a constant menace of the Iroquois attacks during a great part of 17th century.

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View 1: Detail view of Le Canada, ou Nouvelle France, 1656. Maps.bb.17.M.11

Boucher is credited for his defence of Trois-Rivières against the Iroquois attacks. He united the scattered settlers within a stockade for protection. In addition, he organized guard-houses to keep continuous watch and help protect the settlement when the village had a very small population. Like Champlain, founder of Quebec city (1608) and New France, he successfully used ruses de guerre or strategies to deceive the enemy, such as making great noises and thus, tricking the Iroquois into believing the group was too large to face. In 1653, Trois-Rivières was surrounded by the Iroquois, notably superior in number. The colonists defended attacks and after nine days of siege, Boucher negotiated peace with the Iroquois and the return of the French prisoners. Governor Jean de Lauson said to him: “It was fortunate that you held your post so well. For if the enemy had taken Trois-Rivières, the whole country would have been lost.”

After the successful defence of Trois-Rivières, Boucher gained popularity. He went to Paris in 1661 and met the King, Louis XIV, receiving the royal support needed to protect the colonies of New France. Pierre was granted the Seigneurie of Boucherville for his service to the country. In 1667 he took command of his small new settlement at the Percées Islands (renamed Boucherville) in a very organised manner: some time after he sent a report to Minister Colbert, consisting of a census of settlers, including the families, trades and number of acres farmed.

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Boucher, P. Histoire véritable et naturelle…, 1664. Syn.8.66.22. Copy signed by the bibliophile Jean-Baptiste Guyon de Sardière.

In 1664, Boucher published his Histoire véritable et naturelle… a descriptive account of New France based on his experience and observations. His work is both an appeal for settlers, and a set of recommendations to those thinking of undertaking the journey to Canada. He describes the native peoples and their habits, including the tortures and bad treatment the Iroquois gave to their prisoners. He also describes the animals and plants of the New World. Interestingly, he devoted a chapter to answer the questions posed to him when he was in France in 1661. In addition to Boucher’s work, another relevant source for the 17th century in New France is the Relations des Jésuites.

In his maturity, Boucher also wrote his memoires, and lived in his manor-house at Boucherville.  He died in 1717 at the age of 95, having spent most of his life in New France. Boucherville and Trois-Rivières are cities today. The latter has a museum named after Boucher, a tribute to its remarkable early governor.

The oldest map of New France held by the UL dates from 1656 when Boucher was Governor of Trois-Rivières. In View 1 above, we can see the area where the settlement was located, situated between Quebec and Montreal, by the St Lawrence River. View 2 shows the panorama of the colonies of North America at that stage, with the inevitable inaccuracies. View 3 shows territories on the Eastern coast colonised by other nations. From North to South: New England (with settlements like London, Bristol and New Plymouth founded in 1620); New Netherlands (including New Amsterdam, later N. York, and Long Island); New Sweden (that had a short existence from 1638 to 1655); and Florida (bigger than the current state), where the Spanish settled. The Spanish landed in the peninsula of Florida in 1513, founding St Augustine in 1565, one of the oldest continuously-occupied European settlements in the continental United States. Although this map shows a French Florida in the 17th century, this was not the case; there were three attempts of settlement by the French Huguenots between 1562 and 1565 in the north-eastern part of Florida, but they were thwarted by the Spanish.

Manuel del Campo

 

Further reading

Augeron, Mickaël; Bry, John de; Notter, Annick (eds). Floride, un rêve français (1562-1565). La Rochelle: Musée du Nouveau Monde, 2012. 2015.12.114

Boucher, Pierre. Histoire véritable et naturelle des mœurs et productions du pays de la Nouvelle France, vulgairement dite le Canada. Paris : F. Lambert, 1664. Syn.8.66.22. (Also in facsimile ed. 662:3.c.95.10)

Champlain, Samuel de. The works of Samuel de Champlain: in six volumes. Toronto: Champlain Society, 1922-1936. Ed. by H. P. Biggar. 662:01.c.2.1-6 

Id. La France d’Amérique : voyages de Samuel Champlain, 1604-1629. Paris : Imprimerie nationale, 1994. Ed. by Jean Glénnison. S662.b.99.1

Id. Les fondations de l’Acadie et de Québec, 1604-1611. Québec : Septentrion, 2008. Ed. by E. Thierry. 663:1.c.200.27

Douville, Raymond. Pierre Boucher. In Dictionary of Canadian biography. v. 2. Université de Toronto/Université de Laval, 1969 (revised in 1982). Available online.

Marion, Séraphin. Pierre Boucher : un pionnier canadien. Québec : Imprime par Ls-A. Proulx, 1927. RCS.C.62c99b.35

Mitchell, Estelle. Messire Pierre Boucher (écuyer), seigneur de Boucherville (1622-1717). Montréal: Librairie Beauchemin limitée, 1967. 662:3.c.95.9

Relations des Jésuites. Québec : A. Coté, 1858. 3 v. RCS.AF.62p2.1-3

Sulte, Benjamin. Histoire des canadiens-français, 1608-1880. Montréal : Wilson, 1882. 8 v. in 4. RCS.AF.62c.13-16

Id. Pierre Boucher et son livre. [S.l.] : [s.n.], 1896. RCS.A.62c99b.6

 

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