JAUTARD, VALENTIN, lawyer and journalist; b. c. 1738 in France; d. 8 June 1787 in Montreal (Que.).
Valentin Jautard, a much abused figure in Quebec history, arrived in America at an unknown date. On 4 June 1765 he bought from Jean-Baptiste Lagrange the property of the Sainte-Famille mission among the Tamaroas at Cahokia (East St Louis, Ill.) [see Jacques-François Forget* Duverger]. Some time later the bishop of Quebec’s vicar general, Sébastien-Louis Meurin, was successful in preventing him from reselling it to an Englishman. Although he had left Cahokia, Jautard retained possession until November 1786, when the ownership of the mission’s property was submitted to arbitration, which went against him.
Jautard arrived in the province of Quebec in 1767 and on 31 Dec. 1768 was appointed a lawyer. He must have had a good education and probably an attractive personality to obtain such a privilege so soon after settling in Canada. The American revolution fired him with such enthusiasm that in November 1775 he welcomed the invading army to Montreal with an address that he had had signed by several dozen “residents of three faubourgs”: “our chains are broken, blissful liberty restores us to ourselves . . . , we accept union as we accepted it in our hearts from the moment we learned of the address of 26 Oct. 1774 [the letter of the Continental Congress to the people of Quebec].” Early in 1776, the commandant of Montreal, Brigadier-General David Wooster, the highest-ranking American officer after the death of Richard Montgomery, appointed Jautard a notary, but it seems unlikely that Jautard went into practice since the Americans left the city in June.
At about this time Jautard met another Frenchman, printer Fleury Mesplet, who had arrived in Montreal in May. When Mesplet undertook in June 1778 to publish La Gazette du commerce et littéraire, pour la ville et district de Montreal, he enlisted the talented and educated Jautard as editor. In the spring of 1779 Jautard ventured to criticize in the Gazette, now renamed La Gazette littéraire, pour la ville et district de Montréal, some of Justice René-Ovide Hertel de Rouville’s judgements that he disagreed with as a lawyer. Judges Hertel de Rouville and Edward Southouse barred him from the court, but he and Mesplet appeared there on 27 May to defy the judges and perhaps to force them into a blunder. At least this is the suggestion Hertel de Rouville made when he wrote Governor Haldimand that day asking him to intervene. The pro-American attitude of the two friends had certainly not brought them into favour with the administration, and they were arrested on 2 June. The paper immediately ceased publication. Jautard and Mesplet were not released until September 1782.
On 23 Aug. 1783 Jautard signed a contract in Montreal for his marriage with Thérèse Bouat, widow of Louis-Jean Poulin* de Courval and of Jean-Baptiste de Gannes de Falaise; he thus joined an old Canadian family and at the same time gained access to some ready money. Jautard, who was only 45, may have thought that his wife, aged 72, would leave him well provided for. The contract stipulated that the wedding would take place “in a church ceremony as soon as possible.” Some wag hastened to announce in the Quebec Gazette that the wedding had been celebrated in the Recollets’ church “at 10 o’clock in the evening,” and praised the bride for “the charms and attractions of youth, which seem always to be renewed in her . . . who has been won over by someone who is as good a rhetorician as he is a gallant.”
In August 1785 Fleury Mesplet began publishing the Montreal Gazette/La Gazette de Montréal; Jautard was responsible for translation into English. On 13 October Jautard, “former courtroom lawyer,” advised its readers that henceforth he would be living in the home of Fleury Mesplet and offered his services “for counselling, written statements, and translating from English into French.” Less than two years later Valentin Jautard died. His widow lived until 1801, bequeathing her estate to the Hôpital Général to which she had retired.
Historians have treated Valentin Jautard severely, not so much because of his enthusiasm for the Americans, but because of the “Voltairianism” he displayed in La Gazette littéraire. “The quiet spectator” – his pseudonym – made no secret of his fondness for Voltaire. But in the earlier newspaper he gave as much space to anti-Voltairian writings as to Voltairian texts or pieces by Voltaire himself. Historians and scholars have not given Jautard, Quebec’s “first literary critic,” sufficient credit for having stimulated the Montreal intelligentsia; he was a man of the Enlightenment leading the philosophes’ campaign from Fleury Mesplet’s back room. It was in this context that the Académie de Montréal was founded; though it had sought incorporation from Governor Haldimand on 30 Dec. 1778, it did not obtain this status because of the opposition of the Sulpician superior, Étienne Montgolfier. These intellectuals – enlightened citizens fighting against obscurantism and the somewhat oppressive presence of the Sulpicians, who claimed the right to direct intellectual life in Montreal – were a group like those found in small provincial towns in France. After the war with the Americans, which had deprived the group of its two best men, Jautard and Mesplet, the circle formed again around them, this time through the agency of the Montreal Gazette/La Gazette de Montréal.
As the historian Séraphin Marion notes, Valentin Jautard was an astute man, a skilful polemist who, far from being a sycophant or time-server, was an avant-garde fighter of undoubted courage and independence of mind. It is regrettable that many aspects of his life – his origins, education, and much of his activity in Montreal – remain unknown.
ANQ-M, Greffe de Louis Chaboillez, 18 mai 1799; Greffe de François Leguay, 23 août 1783; Greffe de P.-F. Mézière, 12 août 1783. Cahokia records, 1778–1790, ed. C. W. Alvord (Springfield, Ill., 1907). Fabre, dit Laterrière, Mémoires (A. Garneau), 117–18. Old Cahokia: a narrative and documents illustrating the first century of its history, ed. J. F. McDermott (St Louis, Mo., 1949), 24–25, 83–84. La Gazette littéraire pour la ville et district de Montréal, 3 juin 1778–2 juin 1779. Montreal Gazette, 25 Aug. 1785–Jan. 1794. Quebec Gazette, 25 Sept. 1783. Jules Léger, Le Canada français et son expression littéraire (Paris, 1938). Séraphin Marion, Les lettres canadiennes d’autrefois (9v., Hull, Qué., et Ottawa, 1939–58), II. Camille Roy, Nos origines littéraires (Québec, 1909), 65–69. J.-E. Roy, Hist. du notariat, II, 58–59. Robert Rumilly, Histoire de Montréal (5v., Montréal, 1970–74), II, 57, 70–72, 82. Marcel Trudel, L’influence de Voltaire au Canada (2v., Montréal, 1945), I, 94–110. Raymond Douville, “La maison de Gannes,” Cahiers des Dix, 21 (1956), 119. R. W. McLachlan, “Fleury Mesplet, the first printer at Montreal,” RSC Trans., 2nd ser., XII (1906), sect. ii, 197–309. É.-Z. Massicotte, “La famille Bouat (deuxième génération),” BRH, XXX (1924), 39–45; “L’ultime aventure du journaliste Jautard,” BRH, XLVII (1941), 328–30.