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PAPINEAU, JOSEPH, surveyor, notary, seigneurial agent, politician, and seigneur; b. 16 Oct. 1752 in Montreal, son of Joseph Papineau and Marie-Josephte Beaudry; d. there 8 July 1841.

Joseph Papineau’s grandfather, Samuel Papineau*, dit Montigny, settled in New France in the late 17th century; after a military career he took up farming not far from Montreal. Joseph’s father was also a farmer, but after several set-backs became a cooper, practising his craft in Montreal under difficult conditions. Brought up in modest circumstances where life was harsh and money hard to come by, young Joseph resolved to prove his worth, to become rich and powerful. This desire to succeed explains the determination with which he worked and his withdrawn and studious existence. His humble birth weighed heavily on his pride and youthful ambition. It is no exaggeration to say that his uncommon will-power gave the Papineau line its impetus and its character.

Papineau’s father wanted him to follow in his footsteps and become a craftsman or a farmer, but when in 1758 the Sulpicians built a primary school, another direction opened up for him. At the end of his elementary studies in 1765, Papineau continued his education under Jean-Baptiste Curatteau*, the parish priest of Longue-Pointe (Montreal). His intelligence did not go unnoticed by the kindly and solicitous Curatteau, who, anticipating a bright future for him, persuaded his parents to send him to the Petit Séminaire de Québec in the autumn of 1767 so that he could complete his classical studies.

At Quebec, Papineau’s enthusiasm never flagged. He took prize after prize and his incredible capacity for work won the admiration of his teachers and schoolmates. His successes brought him into close contact with the priests at the seminary; already they were keeping an eye on him as a brilliant young man who was serious, introverted, and yet highly gifted for philosophical speculation and mathematics. Papineau’s development proceeded without break or crisis, and he presumably remained deeply marked by the religious and moral climate at the seminary. In that context his teachers surely would have had no difficulty in making him aware of the divine right of kings and the social values of the ancien régime.

Having no financial resources, Papineau went home in June 1771 after his studies finished. He found himself faced with a limited choice of careers: medicine, law, or surveying. In September he began to train as a surveyor with Jean De Lisle*, who also practised as a notary. Profiting from De Lisle’s scientific erudition and extensive knowledge of geometry, he soon qualified himself. He received his surveyor’s commission on 20 July 1773 and worked full time until 1775. His entry into the professional bourgeoisie signified that the Papineau family was beginning its rise.

As a surveyor Papineau revealed an unusual mind of a systematic bent. Equally demanding of himself as he was of others, he detested superficial, careless work, and he did not hesitate to redo whatever seemed imperfect to him. His professional qualities rapidly attracted the attention of the Sulpicians, who owned several seigneuries in the Montreal region. For two years Papineau was employed exclusively by them. He surveyed the boundaries of their seigneuries, making a number of plans, and checked the limits of various censives (seigneurial areas). The close relations he established with this important religious community enabled him to apply his knowledge of seigneurial matters and the seigneurial system and to build up a large practice around Montreal. Hardworking and thrifty, he had already bought some lots and buildings in the town itself.

Papineau was not satisfied, however. Surveying was time-consuming and entailed lengthy, difficult trips. The profession of notary had long attracted him and seemed more suited to his tastes and temperament. When French civil law gained recognition through the Quebec Act of 1774, Papineau was fully aware of the prospects in notarial work. He bound himself to article with De Lisle for five years beginning in 1775, although he did not abandon his activities as a surveyor. At the outbreak of war with the Americans in 1776, he interrupted his studies and devoted himself to the colony’s defence. Given the task of carrying military dispatches to Governor Guy Carleton*, he showed himself worthy of trust and an ardent supporter of the monarchy and aristocratic values. He probably hoped to benefit from patronage in the near future but, despite his loyalty, he did not obtain any surveying contracts from the government and had to work almost exclusively for seigneurs and private individuals.

Papineau’s career was, however, furthered by his marriage on 23 Aug. 1779 with Rosalie, daughter of François-Pierre Cherrier*. A former merchant who had become one of the most prominent notaries in the Richelieu region and a wealthy man, Cherrier had already acquired surgeon Jacques Larthigue and merchant Denis Viger* as sons-in-law. Papineau was thus entering a prosperous and influential family. His wife’s dowry is evidence of the importance of this alliance and of the economic benefits Papineau derived from it.

On 18 July 1780 Papineau received a commission authorizing him to practise as notary throughout the province. Evidently he had substantial savings at his disposal, since shortly after his marriage he had bought his father’s house and transformed it into a luxurious two-storey stone dwelling. Opening an office in it, he drew up his first deed on 5 Aug. 1780, the prelude to an exceptionally long and profitable career of more than 60 years which would see him prepare in excess of 5,000 instruments. His clients were drawn from an immense area that included Montreal and its suburbs, as well as the seigneuries of Saint-Hyacinthe, Île-Jésus, Saint-Sulpice, Mille-Îles, Lac-des-Deux-Montagnes, and Petite-Nation, and those along the Richelieu; they also came from all classes of society. His practice was divided into two distinct periods: a busy one from 1781 to 1803, and a quieter one from 1804 to 1841.

From the start Papineau served the Sulpicians of the Collège Saint-Raphaël (also called the Collège de Montréal) and a number of their censitaires, who consulted him about land sales and confirmation of title-deeds. His clientele grew rapidly, and he dealt increasingly with craftsmen in the town and farmers round about. From 1781 to 1788 he drew up an average of 147 acts annually. His office served as an observation post and provided an effective way of building up a network of influence.

This side of his professional activities led Papineau to an interest in public affairs. In November 1784 he joined the Canadian reform committee, which included both English- and French-speaking bourgeois members. He himself was instrumental in bringing together the Montreal and Quebec reform movements by helping to prepare a petition of 24 Nov. 1784, which was designed to gain the sympathy of the imperial authorities for the idea of instituting a house of assembly. Although Papineau had been educated within the framework of monarchical institutions and was attached to the values of the ancien régime, in this political debate he unhesitatingly sided with the bourgeoisie. He probably saw an assembly as the best means of protecting the rights of the French-speaking community. In addition, he likely wanted to maintain relations with the small, privileged group of Montreal merchants, whether French- or English-speaking. From 1787 his urban practice was growing and included merchants, builders, and land speculators.

In 1788, on behalf of the Séminaire de Québec, Papineau managed the seigneury of Île-Jésus and also that of Petite-Nation, which was not yet being developed. In the same year, the Sulpicians entrusted a number of administrative duties in their seigneuries to him. His efficiency guaranteed him these posts until early in the 19th century. It was as manager of the seigneury of Île-Jésus that Papineau distinguished himself particularly. Initially he was given considerable freedom of action by the seminary’s bursar, who lived at Quebec, and in practice he assumed charge of development. He made the land grants, received fixed dues, kept an eye on property transfers so as to collect the lods et ventes, sold the wheat that was taken in as rent and as miller’s fees, saw that the mills operated properly and were maintained. In addition to running the seigneury well, he radically changed its management. On the one hand he sought to rationalize production, for example by building a second mill in 1804 at his own expense to serve the censitaires better and sell wheat at Montreal and Quebec; on the other hand he worked to achieve a firmer control, for instance by increasing rents and re-instituting all the other seigneurial rights.

From his role as the agent of religious communities which were powers in the field of real estate, Papineau acquired economic advantages and means of influence. He also used his situation to broaden his scope as a notary and perfect his knowledge of seigneurial matters. As a result, in the period 1789–1803 his clientele increased by more than 40 per cent in the seigneuries of Île-Jésus, Lac-des-Deux-Montagnes, and Saint-Sulpice. Naturally he profited from the privileged means of gathering information that were provided by his multiple functions. As a notary, surveyor, and seigneurial agent who kept in constant touch with influential landowners and merchants and was in a position to interact with the seigneurial gentry, the clergy, and the bourgeoisie, Papineau was better situated than others to benefit from the seigneurial régime and its mode of operation. In the late 18th century, when there was a sizeable increase in the number of censitaires and the real estate market was flourishing, he was well placed to conduct numerous property transactions in both town and country.

At the outset, the sums Papineau invested were relatively small (less than 2,000 livres before 1788), but his later efforts were impressive. Between 1788 and 1803 he made land purchases worth more than 50,000 livres. He thus gained possession of an estate that was his pride and joy: a few lots and houses in Montreal itself, several parcels of land in the faubourg Sainte-Marie, and a group of properties in Saint-Martin (Laval). More than 3,000 livres was put out in interest-bearing loans. Despite the scale of his business dealings, Papineau continued lending small sums to farmers, craftsmen, and labourers.

While engaged in these varied occupations, Papineau was also following political life closely. The advent in 1791 of a constitutional régime with a house of assembly prompted him to enter politics. To learn how the new system worked he had to be initiated into a whole set of concepts and procedures. His interest aroused by the theorists of parliamentary government, he acquired a knowledge of English writers such as John Locke and Sir William Blackstone, whom he read and commented upon in minute detail. With great enthusiasm, he studied Burlamaqui’s volume on natural law and the works of a good many French philosophes, in particular Bonnot de Mably, Bernardin de Saint-Pierre, Montesquieu, Voltaire, and Rousseau. Papineau discovered the idea of the sovereignty of the people and quickly came to admire British institutions. However, democracy found no favour in his eyes, and still less republicanism. Having broken with the absolutist tradition and become imbued with a certain liberalism, he remained a moderate monarchist. For him, the ideal political model was to be found in the British constitutional monarchy, which had maintained a balance between aristocratic and bourgeois values while avoiding the extreme radicalism and excessive liberty of revolutionary France. Again, reading the 18th-century philosophes led Papineau to distance himself from religious observances, despite the remorse that he felt with regard to his mother and his wife, who were both devout. Although he was no longer drawn to religion, he did not give up Catholicism until the 1810s, and he would return to it at the end of his life.

Papineau had a significant though unspectacular career in politics. He easily gained election to the House of Assembly for Montreal riding in 1792 through the backing of various Canadian and British merchants. In 1796 he won by acclamation in Montreal East. To have more time for his personal affairs he planned not to run in the July 1800 elections. But the voters would not hear of it and Papineau was again returned for Montreal, against his will. Political life left him dissatisfied – he saw it as a duty. Absorbed in his professional career, he was often absent from the assembly. In 1801, for example, he took no part in the debate on the creation of the Royal Institution for the Advancement of Learning [see Joseph Langley Mills*]. However, he knew how to intervene at the right moment. For instance, in 1793, at the time of the debate on the language to be used in legislation and in the deliberations of the assembly – where only a third of the members were English-speaking – Papineau fought with all his might against a motion that its proceedings be recorded in English alone. Thanks to his efforts and those of others, the house decided to have proceedings recorded in either French or English, according to whether they concerned French civil law or English criminal law. On less important matters he split his votes between the British and the Canadian groups. Clearly in this period Papineau was gathering a working knowledge of the parliamentary system and did not yet fully identify himself as an opponent of the English-speaking bourgeoisie.

Since he had acquired some part of the seigneury of Petite-Nation from the Séminaire de Québec in 1801 in lieu of fees, and the rest by purchase two years later, Papineau felt less and less interested in sitting in the assembly and did not run in the 1804 election. His departure from the political scene came at a time when the French-speaking professional bourgeoisie was becoming aware of belonging to a Canadian nation and eager to impose its views and its political leadership. A merciless struggle had begun between the Canadian party and the English-speaking merchants and officials who were challenging traditional institutions and using political machinery in order to make themselves the dominant class. This competition to control political institutions made it impossible for the assembly to function properly.

It was in this heady atmosphere that Papineau returned to active politics late in 1809 at the request of certain voters in Montreal East. Although he disapproved of the tack taken by some members from the Quebec region, he was determined to find a solution to the political crisis that was perturbing the assembly. In 1810 the imprisonment of Pierre-Stanislas Bédard*, leader of the Canadian party, made his task even more difficult. The French-speaking members demanded Bédard’s release, so that he could take his seat in the house again. Papineau, with the backing of his son Louis-Joseph*, who had also been elected in 1809, demanded an inquiry into Governor Sir James Henry Craig*’s principal actions. Not satisfied with the answers he received, he pleaded Bédard’s case with Craig, but in vain.

Nevertheless the threat of war with the United States and the arrival of a new governor known for his conciliatory views, Sir George Prevost*, had the effect of clearing the political atmosphere. The end of the parliamentary crisis hastened the end of Bédard’s leadership and opened the way for the ambitious Louis-Joseph Papineau. He was elected speaker of the house in 1815 and, with his father’s blessing, asserted himself more and more as the new leader of the Canadians. He was the designated heir, the bearer of the family’s hopes in the political arena. At the same period another son, Denis-Benjamin*, was managing the seigneury of Petite-Nation and André-Augustin was a notary and merchant in Saint-Hyacinthe, where their sister Marie-Rosalie, who would marry the seigneur Jean Dessaulles* in 1816, was living. Toussaint-Victor was studying at the Petit Séminaire de Montréal and intended to enter the priesthood. The family’s rise in society was more and more a collective endeavour to which its members contributed according to their talents. In the momentum the strong carried along the weak, and all profited from their father’s success and his many connections. Papineau was close enough to his children to receive their confidences, but reserved enough to prevent rivalries and extremes of enthusiasm. Aware of his responsibilities, he had ensured the future of his descendants, who would become increasingly clannish. His financial success and his influence had determined the image of a family that would leave its mark on the social and political destiny of Lower Canada and Quebec for more than a century.

In 1814, when his electoral mandate came to an end, Papineau retired for good from the political scene and concentrated on administering Petite-Nation. There were already some 30 settlers living on it, and two mills had been built along the river of that name. A precise and meticulous man, Papineau had had a number of pieces of land surveyed and a plan made of the territory that was occupied. For several years the seigneurial forest had been exploited to keep a sizeable lumber business supplied. Upholding the seigneur’s rights remained his main concern, however. The drafting of contracts for land grants, the updating of charges payable when property changed hands, and the regular collection of seigneurial dues were designed to obtain the maximum from the censitaires and to ensure sound management of the property. From the outset Papineau’s main aims were to establish his rights firmly and to lay the bases for an efficient administration, in order to make himself an all-powerful seigneur. Since he derived his income from rents, he was in the clearly defined class situation of a man appropriating part of the product of the peasants’ work through the system of seigneurial servitude. He was still putting money into land and he became a major speculator in the faubourg Sainte-Marie and at Saint-Martin. His method of building up his immense fortune, essentially in land, was a traditional one. In the end, his actions had enabled him to realize his aristocratic aspirations.

Papineau sold Petite-Nation to his son Louis-Joseph in 1817 for £500 and then devoted himself to his profession. He continued none the less to play a certain role in the seigneury’s management, lavishing advice in his letters to Denis-Benjamin, who had remained in charge of development. Being 65, he also reduced his dealings in real estate and began to liquidate his assets. Papineau remained active professionally, however; in the last 24 years of his life he drew up at least 1,000 instruments. Considered to have reached the top in the notarial profession, he was increasingly drawn into complicated cases concerning tangled estates that belonged to families of the bourgeoisie and the seigneurial gentry. If a matter seemed involved, his judgement and discernment were called upon. He continued to work as a surveyor, laying out several roads and surveying several seigneuries in the district of Montreal.

Papineau also followed political events closely. The radicalization of the French-speaking assemblymen in the 1830s worried him. He did not approve of the stands taken by his son, who talked of democracy, a republican constitution, the sovereignty of the people, emancipation of the state, an educational system in the hands of the laity, and the separation of church and state. An admirer of British institutions, Papineau maintained his faith in the imperial government and became a supporter of constitutional reform, for in his view it was the English-speaking minority that threatened the survival of the French-speaking community. During the 1837–38 rebellions, despite his being Louis-Joseph’s father, he was not disturbed by the British authorities. In 1838, when he was 86, he went to Saratoga (Schuylerville), N.Y., where his son had taken refuge after the defeat of 1837. He advised him to sell Petite-Nation quickly lest the government confiscate his property.

In his old age Papineau, who had already provided for all his children, was not without resources. The money owed him, 2,281 livres, was a substantial but fairly usual sum for the end of a career. His personal and real property was valued at £1,796. In his library there were more than 200 volumes on diverse subjects: tomes on English and French law stood side by side with the complete works of Rousseau, Raynal, and Voltaire, and books on herbal medicine, forging and milling, the perfect merchant, and mathematical puzzles.

With his health undermined by a serious illness, borne without complaint, and his spirit burdened by the painful events of 1837–38, Papineau turned to religion. Shortly before his death on 8 July 1841 he met Ignace Bourget*, the bishop of Montreal, and returned to Catholicism.

Joseph Papineau represented the first generation of a family typical of certain contemporary élite groups in its rise in society, its wealth, and the thrust of its political activity and choices. Through his qualities and personal gifts, his connections and the backing they brought him, he gave the impetus to its social ascendancy and laid the foundations of its fortune. His dazzling career and his manifold occupations, however, make it difficult to categorize him. By his culture Papineau was a man of the early 19th century, responsive to aspects of the Enlightenment and living in an intellectual and political atmosphere that was eroding the old structures. On the other hand, as the owner of a seigneury, and a defender of seigneurial rights and a type of management traditional among the seigneurial gentry, he also belonged to the past. He stood at a crossroads in this changing colonial society.

Richard Chabot

The reports of surveys by Joseph Papineau, written between 1773 and 1775, are at ANQ-M, CA1-71, and his minute-book, containing 5,564 instruments passed between 1780 and 1841, is at ANQ-M, CN1–313.

ANQ-M, CE1-51, 16 oct. 1752, 8 juill. 1841; CE2-12, 23 août 1779; CN1–16, 18–19, 22 sept. 1800; 22 mai 1809; 18 août 1813; 26 oct. 1814; 7 mars, 5 avril, 24 juill. 1815; CN1-74, 23 juill. 1798; CN1-108, 15 sept. 1748, 16 juill. 1753; CN1-128, 7 oct. 1796; CN1-134, 8, 29 juill. 1822; 7 janv., 24, 28 oct. 1825; CN1-158, 18 oct. 1777, 13 avril 1779; CN1-194, 23 nov. 1801; 12 janv., 23 déc. 1803; 13 sept. 1804; 1er juin 1805; 4 août 1806; 30 oct. 1807; 3 mars, 17 oct. 1808; 15, 18, 24 févr., 8, 21 mars, 6, 14, 17 avril, 17 juin, 19 août 1809; 24 avril, 10, 29 mai, 7, 30 juin, 18, 20 oct., 5 déc. 1810; 3 avril, 7 juill., 18 août, 15 oct. 1811; 16 juill. 1814; 7 août 1815; 1er, 12 févr. 1816; 7 juill., 18 nov. 1817; 17 oct. 1818; CN1-310, 25 déc. 1841; CN1-317, 10 oct. 1818; CN1-385, 12–13 nov. 1829; 18 sept., 4, 9, 20 oct., 15 nov. 1830; 5 avril 1831; 16 avril, 25 mai 1832; 13 janv. 1835; 19 janv. 1838; 22 nov. 1839; 2 juill. 1840. ASQ, C 36; C 37; Polygraphie, VI, no.18; XXVII, no.76; S, 2–3; Séminaire, 40, nos.22, 22B–D, 22F–P; 82, nos.2–3, 6, 13, 13C, 16C, 16E-F, 16H-M; 120, nos.401, 407–9, 426; 121, nos.395–96, 398–402; 122, nos.73, 76, 139–41, 192, 500; SME, 17 mars, 21 avril 1788; 21 avril 1793; 26 mars 1794; 22 oct., 9 déc. 1798; 4 mai 1801; 27 juin 1802. ASSM, 8, A, carton 28; 9. PAC, MG 24, B2: 6–25, 78–81, 86–89, 178–81, 212–14, 239, 280–83, 288–90, 293–94, 303–5, 328–31, 433–37, 506–13, 528–31, 550–53, 558–61, 945–7, 1065–68, 1190–93, 1354–57, 1369–72, 1381–82, 1435–38, 1553–56, 1610–13, 1774–77, 2009–16, 2018–21, 2041–44, 2054–57, 2066–69, 3018–20, 3050–57, 3073–79, 3084–86, 3091–94, 3115–22, 3145–48, 3157–60, 3165–68, 3183–90, 3194–97, 3345–48, 3371–74, 3395–400, 3413–16, 3465–68, 3503–6, 3519–21, 3548–51, 3576–79, 5305–9, 5329–31, 5340–42, 5369, 5486, 5840–43, 6821–24; L3, 37, 24 April 1783; 39, 13 Sept. 1796; 44, 9 June 1787; 48, 26 Nov. 1787; MG 30, D1, 23: 775–819; RG 1, E3, 101: 55–58; RG 4, B8: 98–99; RG 68, General index, 1651–1841. Joseph Papineau, “Correspondance de Joseph Papineau (1793–1840),” Fernand Ouellet, édit., ANQ Rapport, 1951–53: 160–300. L-O. David, Biographies et portraits (Montréal, 1876), 1–19. Desjardins, Guide parl. Claude Baribeau, La seigneurie de la Petite-Nation, 1801–1854; le rôle économique et social du seigneur (Hull, Qué., 1983), 21–27, 61–73, 81–83. L.-O. David, Les deux Papineau (Montréal, 1896), 5–43. Gérard Parizeau, La société canadienne-française au XIXe siècle: essais sur le milieu (Montréal, 1975), 383–413. Rumilly, Papineau et son temps. [R.] C. Harris, “Of poverty and helplessness in Petite-Nation,” CHR, 52 (1971): 23–50. Fernand Ouellet, “Joseph Papineau et le Régime parlementaire (1791),” BRH, 61 (1955): 71–77. D.-B. Papineau, “Samuel Papineau,” BRH, 39 (1933): 331–39.

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Cite This Article

Richard Chabot, “PAPINEAU, JOSEPH,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 7, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed April 17, 2014, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/papineau_joseph_7E.html.

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Permalink: http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/papineau_joseph_7E.html
Author of Article: Richard Chabot
Title of Article: PAPINEAU, JOSEPH
Publication Name: Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 7
Publisher: University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication: 1988
Year of revision: 1988
Access Date: April 17, 2014