BOUCAULT, NICOLAS-GASPARD, king’s counsellor, king’s attorney, lieutenant general of the admiralty court, subdelegate of the intendant, merchant, and seigneur; b. c. 1689 in France, son of Nicolas-Gaspard Boucault, court officer for bankruptcy cases at the Châtelet in Paris, and Françoise-Anne Devene; d. 1755 or later, in France.
It was certainly not before the autumn of 1719 that Nicolas-Gaspard Boucault landed at Quebec to begin there a career as an official to which he was to devote the rest of his life. Nothing is known of his previous history, and in particular of his occupations before coming to the colony, but it can at least be assumed that he received legal training preparing him for the various functions entrusted to him during his 30 years in Canada.
Upon his arrival he entered Intendant Bégon’s service as secretary and held this post until Bégon finally left for France in October 1726. Had he not given satisfaction, he certainly would not have kept his position for such a long time, nor would he subsequently have received the support necessary to continue building a career. He was able, during the early years of his stay, to acquire valuable experience by becoming acquainted with the various administrative and legal questions the intendant had to settle. Circumstances were to give him a rather exceptional opportunity of adding to that experience direct knowledge of Canada and its inhabitants; from 4 February to 3 June 1721 he visited all the parishes on both shores of the St Lawrence to carry out an inquiry into the advantages and disadvantages – de commodo et incommodo – preparatory to a redistribution of parish districts. At that time he accompanied as clerk the attorney general, Mathieu-Benoît Collet*, who was responsible for the inquiry; as a reward for his services and indemnity for his travelling expenses Boucault received a gratuity of only 300 livres, whereas Collet received 1,200. In 1725 they were again commissioned to draw up new reports de commodo et incommodo, because of protests from several parish priests and habitants who were dissatisfied with the earlier delimitation of boundaries carried out in September 1721.
Shortly after Bégon’s departure in the autumn of 1726 Boucault, without a job, decided to go to France. He remained there two years. During this first return to the mother country he married Marguerite Buirette. Having decided to go back to the colony, he asked for and obtained the two offices left vacant by the departure of Jean-Baptiste-Julien Hamare* de La Borde, those of king’s attorney for the provost court and for the admiralty court of Quebec. He was appointed to the first on 20 April 1728 and obtained the second on 18 May upon presentation by the Comte de Toulouse. Taking with him his letters of appointment, which promised new possibilities for him, he sailed on the Éléphant, with his wife and Louis-Guillaume Verrier; the ship arrived at Quebec in the first half of September 1728. On 2 October the Conseil Supérieur ordered the character investigation, and two days later his reception as attorney. Scarcely had he been installed when Boucault had a raise in salary requested by Governor Charles de Beauharnois and the acting intendant, François Clairambault* d’Aigremont, who wrote to the minister of Marine, Maurepas, on 6 Nov. 1728 to point out that “receiving only 300 livres as salary for his office, and having no other resources in Canada, it would not be possible for him to keep himself and his family here.” The governor and the acting intendant also added: “He is a former resident of this country who served as secretary under M. Bégon with great impartiality and who always gave satisfaction.”
Determined to take advantage of every opportunity to rise in his administrative career, Boucault requested in 1729 the office of chief road officer, left vacant by the death of Pierre Robinau* de Bécancour. But he was in competition with eight other candidates, and because he did not receive any support from the governor or the new financial commissary, Gilles Hocquart*, he failed to obtain the office to which Jean-Eustache Lanoullier de Boisclerc was later appointed. On the other hand, on 30 Nov. 1729 Hocquart appointed him his subdelegate in Quebec, to judge all disputes involving sums not exceeding 100 livres and “to take cognizance of all other more important disputes and matters which we may refer to him.” Boucault seems to have kept his title of subdelegate in Quebec and to have exercised the legal functions of this office at least until Jean-Victor de Varin* de La Marre was appointed subdelegate on I Oct. 1736. After 1731 Hocquart, now intendant, also entrusted him on a few occasions with the preliminary investigations of certain criminal affairs.
Jean-Baptiste Couillard* de Lespinay’s death in March 1735 offered Boucault the opportunity for a new promotion. The offices of special lieutenant of the provost court and lieutenant general of the admiralty court became vacant. The experience he had acquired as attorney attached to these two courts marked Boucault out as the person to take over the offices. Beauharnois and Hocquart therefore recommended him, emphasizing that the candidate “combines with a great sense of honour and integrity all the competence required to occupy the positions.” The king appointed him special lieutenant of the provost court on 27 March 1736 and lieutenant general of the admiralty court on 3 April of that year. The Conseil Supérieur ordered the investigation of character on 13 August and received Boucault into his new function on 20 August. Boucault was not to receive any further promotions until the end of his career. Like his predecessor, and his successor, Guillaume Guillimin*, he held the two offices at the same time, often presiding over hearings in the provost court, particularly from 1740 to 1743, because the lieutenant general, Pierre André de Leigne, was frequently ill.
In the autumn of 1747 Boucault sailed for France with. the intention, it seems, of never returning to the colony. But once he had reached the mother country he changed his mind and asked for a two-year leave of absence, at the end of which he resigned as lieutenant general of the admiralty court, thinking that his brother Gilbert, a notary, would succeed him. Intendant Bigot*, who had got wind of the affair, thwarted these plans by writing to the minister that the notary was not “suitable . . . for any judicial office.” Boucault returned to Canada before the end of September 1749 and took up only his duties in the provost court, exercising them until he left the colony for good in 1754 and returned to France. In a letter written from Saint-Germain-en-Laye, near Paris, on 14 March 1755 he no longer called himself anything but “former special lieutenant of the provost court,” which suggests that he did not keep his office until 1757 as has been affirmed, but rather that he resigned soon after his arrival in France, although his successor was not appointed until April 1757.
An ambitious man, unable to content himself with his modest salary as an official, Boucault attempted, like many others, to make a fortune in business. In 1733 he set up a company with François Foucault. The partners arranged the purchase of the schooner Saint-Michel, which they sent off on 27 May of that year with a crew of 17 under the command of captain Charles Chéron to look for a suitable place for hunting seals. The expedition set up its base on the Île du Grand Saint-Modet, Labrador, and did not return until the end of August 1734 with a cargo which, according to the partners, was far from meeting their expenses. Nevertheless they asked to be granted the post, which was given to them on 27 April 1735 for nine years, with the exclusive right to hunt seals and trade with the Indians. On the following 12 May the two partners transferred to Chéron a third of the concession to be held jointly, on condition that he too contribute his third to the operation of the post. The size of the expeditions in 1735, 1736, and 1737 increased each year, as did the profits.
But the holders of neighbouring concessions were to create much trouble for them. With François Martel de Brouague, who was accused of frightening off seals by hunting them with firearms, the affair was rapidly settled in favour of Boucault and Foucault. The same was not true, however, of the case brought against them by Pierre Constantin, who claimed that the post on Grand Saint-Modet was within the concession he had received on 31 March 1716. Constantin, who had in vain challenged the concession to Boucault and Foucault, immediately took the dispute to Versailles. Four years of letters, reports, and petitions followed. Inquiries were held, witnesses were heard, maps were drawn, without any success in deciding accurately between the claims of the litigants. Constantin insinuated, with considerable likelihood, that Hocquart was prejudiced in favour of Boucault; the minister, Maurepas, tended rather to favour Constantin. On 18 April 1738 the governor and intendant suggested a temporary settlement; this Boucault and Foucault rejected, but they temporarily relinquished the running of the post to Constantin, though reserving their rights to it. Arbitrators were named to settle the amount of the indemnity that Constantin had to pay. Finally, unable to present any new proof to counter Constantin’s claim, Boucault and Foucault gave up all their claims definitively; their title to Grand Saint-Modet was declared invalid, and Constantin was recognized as sole owner of the post by an ordinance of 28 Sept. 1740, which caused satisfaction in the ministry. Meanwhile, to compensate them for the unfortunate situation in which they had been put, Boucault and Foucault received on 1 May 1738 the concession of an area called Apetépy, on the Labrador coast, for ten years; this was ratified by the king on 26 April 1741. Immediately they began to operate it, but they were not able to retain the post beyond the date set, and in 1750 it was transferred to Jacques de Lafontaine de Belcour.
On 30 Sept. 1742 Boucault formed a trading company with Pierre Angers, “to share profits or losses equally” for a period of three years. Boucault supplied a ship, the Saint-Antoine, complete with rigging, as well as merchandise, all estimated at more than 9,700 livres. For his part Angers contracted to go to trade at Petit Degrat (Petit-de-Grat Island, N.S.). In mid-July of the following year, Boucault, worried at not receiving any news and fearing that his partner had been the victim of some accident, gave Philippe and André Carrerot power of attorney to represent him at Petit Degrat and, should the occasion arise, “to claim all that [might] belong to the aforementioned company.” But the disaster of which Boucault had a presentiment did not occur until later. Through Angers’s agency the company seems to have entered into an agreement with Bigot, who was at that time financial commissary of Île Royale. Thus, in November 1744, it is supposed to have delivered more than 6,000 livres in supplies to aid Louisbourg, Île Royale (Cape Breton Island). Then in 1745 Angers signed a contract by which Bigot promised to repay 5,000 livres in the event of the company’s ship Marie being captured by the English. The fall of Louisbourg was a terrible catastrophe for Boucault: he lost three ships, sunk in the port there, his partner was killed defending the town, and he did not receive his money for the accounts outstanding with Angers. He estimated that he had suffered a net loss of 25,000 livres in the venture. Moreover, Bigot refused to pay the indemnity of 5,000 livres that had been agreed upon, on the somewhat fallacious pretext that the ship had not been taken by the enemy but sunk in the port. It was because he had lost a great part of his fortune that Boucault resolved to go to France at the end of 1747, to try to obtain some compensation. He then sent the minister, Maurepas, two long reports in which he related his misfortune and pleaded his cause skilfully: “After such a catastrophe,” he wrote, “can the law, even if it is written, be adhered to in all its rigour? Is it so narrowly defined that according to circumstances it does not allow of some interpretation and some favourable aid for him who has submitted to it, especially when it is apparent that there has been on his part no ill will nor any view of his own interest which prevented him from carrying out what he was obliged to do?”
Boucault’s business enterprises often took him to the courts. There was scarcely a year that he did not plead before the provost court or the Conseil Supérieur. Moreover, on various occasions he seems to have acted as a lender of rather large sums, which indicates the fortune that he had accumulated. Furthermore, in 1728 Boucault was appointed attorney for the majority of the creditors of Louis Turc de Castelveyre, also known as Brother Chrétien, who had contracted large debts in France for his community. Boucault represented the interests of these creditors in the long lawsuit that did not end until April 1735.
On 15 April 1723 Boucault had obtained from Charles Le Moyne*, Baron de Longueuil, the grant of an arrière fief on the Rivière Chambly and depending upon the seigneury of Beloeil. On 20 Feb. 1732, some time after the baron’s death, he took care to renew the oath of fealty and homage to his new seigneur, but he did not himself make any land grants. Finally, on 2 April 1743, he made his land over to Pierre-Antoine de La Corne de La Colombière.
In 1733 Boucault had had a luxurious three-storey stone house built on Rue Saint-Paul in Quebec, on a piece of land he had bought on 18 Oct. 1732. He lived there until 1747 with his wife, who was 15 years younger than he, and his three children. In the 1744 census he had three young servants in his employ. After the disappointments of his business affairs and before travelling to the mother country, he sold his house on 3 Aug. 1747 to Joseph-Pierre Cadet* for 10,000 livres, 8,000 of which were paid in cash.
In 1754 Boucault returned for good to France after having spent 30 years in Canada, during which he had performed conscientiously all the administrative and judiciary functions entrusted to him. Honest and competent, he always gave satisfaction to his superiors, who kept him in the same positions for long periods, while arranging advantageous promotions for him. He was certainly ambitious, and sought in various business activities a source of income that his salaries as a government official could not ensure him. But at the end of his career he saw the greater part of his fortune suddenly disappear, more through bad luck than bad management. He first sought a retirement pension, which was refused him “for lack of funds.” Then he asked that he be granted half the post of Gros Mécatina (Que.); Governor Duquesne* and Intendant Bigot had just granted it to a Quebec merchant, Jean Taché, who had, however, not yet received royal ratification. As this request probably met with certain reservations, Boucault tried a “more modest” approach by asking for only the 15th or 20th barrel of oil produced at the post, which was reputed, according to what he himself said, to bring in a yearly income of 20,000 livres net. He does not seem to have been any more fortunate in this last request, since the post of Gros Mécatina finally went to Hocquart; Taché had to be content with the one at Grand Saint-Modet that had caused Boucault so much trouble.
During the first months following his return to France, while he was endeavouring to obtain some support for a decent retirement, Boucault wrote a long report, accompanied by maps and entitled “ Idée générale du Canada.” Essentially it contains a description of the state of the colony which shows a broad knowledge of the country on the writer’s part. New France, from Newfoundland to the pays d’en haut, receives detailed description; Canada itself, however, is treated more comprehensively. Boucault describes the general aspect of each region, its geographical situation and particularities, its inhabitants, its resources, its administration, both civil and ecclesiastical, throwing in numerous historical considerations and some miscellaneous facts. He also emphasizes the climate and its consequences for the Canadians’ way of life, he compares the flora and fauna of Canada with those of France, and finally he outlines agricultural and industrial production. It is on the whole a well-documented report, with observations that are true and exact, the fruit of long acquaintance with the localities; it is disappointing nevertheless because of the absence of critical views and of any proposals for reform.
The work was finished at the end of December 1754. Boucault then presented it to some influential persons, seeking to acquire their favour for himself and their protection for two of his sons. One of his sons had already been serving for four years as port assistant at Brest under Hocquart; the other was in the service of Henri-Louis Duhamel Du Monceau, inspector general of the Marine.
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