BOCHART DE CHAMPIGNY, JEAN, Sieur de NOROY et de VERNEUIL, chevalier, intendant of New France, 1686–1702; b. after 1645, son of Jean Bochart de Champigny, intendant of Rouen, and Marie Boivin; d. December 1720 at Hâvre-de-Grâce, France.
On 22 July 1686 Jean Bochart de Champigny, accompanied by his pregnant wife and two of his sons, set sail from La Rochelle to take up his appointment as intendant of New France. Fortunately the voyage was not as prolonged as Atlantic crossings could be at that time of year. In mid-September, they arrived at Quebec in good health and a few days after disembarking Madame de Champigny, née Marie-Madeleine de Chaspoux, Dame de Verneuil et Du Plessis-Savari, gave birth to a daughter. It was likely during these first days in the colony that Champigny had the copy of the bronze head of Louis XIV by Bernini placed on a pedestal in the market place in Lower Town. This extraordinarily fine work he had brought with him so that the Canadians could know what their monarch looked like. (A copy stands in the same place today.) On the 23rd of the month Champigny’s commission as intendant of justice, civil administration, and finance, dated April 1686, was registered by the Conseil Souverain. For the ensuing 16 years, longer than any intendant except Hocquart*, he was to be accountable to Louis XIV and the minister of Marine for the social well-being, internal security, economic prosperity, and the maintenance of law and order in New France. For discharging these onerous responsibilities he received a salary of 12,000 livres a year; not enough to meet the living expenses of a man in his station. As compensation, however, he had the prestige and authority that went with the office, made manifest by his personal body-guard of five archers and large staff of junior officials. Although his official status in the colony ranked beneath that of the governor, and in a tangential way below that of the bishop, yet the exercising of his powers affected the people, for good or ill, in far more ways than did that of either of his superiors.
Champigny’s appointment was unique in one respect; unlike all the other senior officials in the colony, before and after him, he had not held office under the crown before. Unfortunately very little is known of his pre-Canadian career. The documents that might have supplied this information were likely lost when the château at Champigny, near Paris, was destroyed during the Franco-Prussian war. That he had not served an apprenticeship in more junior posts is surprising, particularly since he must have been in his mid-thirties when he left for Canada – his eldest son was made a sub-lieutenant in the navy in 1688.
It is even more surprising in the light of the fact that some eight generations of the Bochart family had served the crown in one administrative capacity or another. The first Bochart of whom mention is found, Guillaume, was a native of Vézelay in Burgundy. He appears to have done nothing more noteworthy than acquire the fief of Noroy; but with his son Jean, who in 1440 became a counsellor in the parlement, the family began its steady rise in the world. During the ensuing two centuries Bocharts were prominent in the legal profession, acquired considerable wealth, and contracted marriage alliances with leading families of both the robe and the sword; families such as the Montmorencys, the Tronsons, and the La Portes. Bishop Laval was a Montmorency, the superior of the Sulpicians in Paris was a Tronson, and both acknowledged their kinship to Champigny. Cardinal Richelieu on the distaff side was the most notable member of the La Porte family. By 1596 a Bochart was a councillor of state and had acquired the fief of Champigny. Then, in 1624, Jean Bochart, Seigneur de Champigny, de Noroy et de Bouconvilliers was appointed superintendent of finance and controller general. Four years later he became first president of the parlement of Paris. It was one of his numerous grandsons, Jean Bochart VIII, who came to serve the crown in New France. Thus, the Baron de Lahontan [Lom d’Arce], officer of the colonial regular troops, wrote the truth when he remarked: “This new intendant is a member of one of the most illustrious families of the Robe in France.”
The governor general of the colony, Jacques-René de Brisay, Marquis de Denonville, informed the minister that he could not thank him enough for his happy choice of intendant and he expressed the wish that the king might be so fortunate as to be served by men as faithful and disinterested throughout his realm. These good relations among the senior officials had been sought by the minister and the expectation may explain why Champigny, despite his lack of experience in the royal service, was selected for such an onerous position. The two preceding intendants, de Meulles and Duchesneau*, had proven incapable of working in harmony with the incumbent governors, devoting too much of their time to squabbling and even open conflict. The colony’s administration had suffered greatly in consequence, and the minister was determined to have no more of it. To the surprise of many in the colony, and the disappointment of certain fractious elements with a penchant for fishing in troubled waters, he was not disappointed.
It was indeed fortunate that these cordial relations existed during the first three years of Champigny’s intendancy, for the colony was on the eve of a cruel war that was to endure for 13 years. Champigny was to see large sections of the colony laid waste by the Five Nations of the Iroquois Confederacy, see a New England fleet and army assault Quebec, and was to play no small part in its slow struggle to a decisive victory in a war waged from the Atlantic to Hudson Bay and west beyond the Mississippi. During these same troubled years French sovereignty, and his responsibilities, were pushed far into the interior of the continent, beyond the Great Lakes, and down the Mississippi Valley. Within the confines of the central colony on the banks of the St Lawrence he was instrumental in diversifying and strengthening the colonial economy. The strains of war, and a growing population, also brought serious social problems requiring the establishment of new institutions and the rapid expansion of existing rudimentary ones.
Educated at a Jesuit college, then the best schools in Europe, and subsequently in the law, Champigny was clearly a man of exceptional intelligence. He showed himself to be an efficient administrator, introducing reforms where needed and never sparing himself in times of stress. Perhaps the personal attribute that was most conspicuous was his strength of character. When he believed himself to be in the right he could not be swayed, either by the governor or even by the minister. Indeed, on more than one important issue he obliged the minister to give way even though he thereby placed his career in jeopardy. What is more important, on these occasions events proved his judgment to have been sound. Unlike Frontenac [Buade*], with whom he served for nine years, Champigny does not appear to have possessed great personal charm. His official correspondence shows little evidence of wit or humour, albeit dispatches to the minister are not good vehicles for those qualities. In these dispatches, however, he sometimes employed biting irony, verging on sarcasm, even with the minister. As a courtier he would have been a distinct failure, but as a royal official he eventually succeeded in earning the respect of both the minister and Louis XIV.
In an age when deep religious feeling was giving way to a more secular, worldly outlook, where the influence of the counter-Reformation was waning and scepticism and libertinism becoming prevalent, Champigny was patently a sincerely religious man. This allowed his enemies – with his character and his position he had many – to accuse him of being too much influenced by the clergy, when there was a conflict between secular and clerical authoritet the evidence indicates the contrary. Whenever he felt that the clergy in the colony were encroaching on the royal authority he opposed them, earning the sincere displeasure of the bishop on occasion. Although he would not suffer fools or scoundrels, he was a humane man. This is evidenced by some of the social legislation that he introduced. It must be remembered, however, that this attitude towards the individual and society was a distinctive feature of the age of Louis XIV, particularly during Pontchartrain’s administration.
In time of war compassion is frequently forgotten, particularly when the war is waged against a relentless and cruel foe. Champigny’s most important task upon assuming his duties was to assist Denonville in his plans for a campaign against the western Iroquois, who threatened the French hold on the west and who had become extremely aggressive in recent years. This campaign, launched in 1687, was planned with very great care by Denonville, as, indeed, it needed to be. To move an army, composed largely of French regular troops of doubtful quality, several hundred miles into the Canadian wilderness to attack a foe as wily, numerous, and ferocious as was this powerful tribe was no small undertaking. That Champigny deserves much of the credit for the careful logistic planning there is no gainsaying.
Surprise was one of the chief elements upon which Denonville counted for success. To ensure it, and also to have available hostages for exchange should any of the French be captured, Denonville took prisoner all the Iroquois encountered on the way up the St Lawrence to Fort Frontenac. This was clearly a legitimate act of war. Before the main body of the army reached Lake Ontario Champigny went ahead to Fort Frontenac (Cataracoui) with a small advance party to make preparations for the army’s arrival and subsequent advance into the enemy’s territory. Encamped near the fort were two parties of Iroquois; one of them was taken prisoner by a force sent by Denonville, but the other, some 30 men and 90 women and children, were invited by Champigny to the fort for a feast. Once within the stockade they were seized and the men bound and tethered. When Denonville and the army reached the fort a detachment was sent to capture another group of nearby Iroquois. Subsequently all the prisoners were sent back to Montreal and, in blind obedience to a directive from the minister that any able-bodied Iroquois captured during the campaign be sent to France to serve in the galleys, 36 of the 58 male Iroquois were sent to France. Two years later, at Denonville’s behest, they were sent back to Quebec. Some, however, had died either in the galleys or during the voyage.
Most of the contemporaries who commented on these events regarded Denonville’s and Champigny’s actions as justified, but some condemned one or the other, or both. Unfortunately, in doing so they gave exaggerated and quite erroneous accounts of the circumstances, confusing Iroquois captured by force with those taken by guile, imputing wrong motives to the wrong people and exaggerating the consequences. Latter-day historians have, for the most part, merely compounded the confusion. When a close analysis of the motives, circumstances, and consequences of the events is made, the fact remains that the capture of the one small party of Iroquois by Champigny at Fort Frontenac was effected in a distinctly dubious manner. At the same time it must be said that there is no evidence whatsoever that it changed the course of events. To claim, as some historians have done, that this act of treachery brought about the so-called Lachine massacre two years later is contradicted by too much evidence to warrant any degree of credence.
With New France again in a state of war the defences of the colony had to be strengthened – they were, indeed, almost non-existent – and in this task Denonville was very ably assisted by Champigny. As a result of his exertions during and after the campaign Denonville’s health was ruined and he asked to be recalled. Champigny was upset when he learned that Denonville’s request had been granted and that the Comte de Frontenac was to replace him.
From the moment that Frontenac arrived in the colony, his relations with Champigny were strained, but they never quite reached the breaking point. To some degree their difficulties were caused by their differing temperaments. Frontenac’s flamboyance and his insatiable appetite for flattery, which allowed sycophants ample scope to exercise their talents, grated on Champigny but he responded to these character traits only with disdain. On the other hand, Champigny’s bureaucratic rigidity, at times, must have irritated Frontenac whose attitude towards government directives was frequently cavalier. Their more serious disputes centred about questions of policy and, for the first six years of their association, Frontenac had sufficient support in the ministry of Marine to force Champigny to give way. During these years a friend of Frontenac’s, Jean-Baptiste de Lagny, the intendant of commerce, was in charge of Canadian affairs. The minister, Louis Phélypeaux de Pontchartrain, a kinsman of Frontenac’s, paid little attention to what was going on in the colony. Champigny was very critical of Frontenac’s military policy, as were Hector de Callière, the governor of Montreal, who was responsible for the tactical direction of the war, and Philippe de Rigaud de Vaudreuil, commanding officer of the colonial regular troops. Champigny considered that Frontenac’s raids of 1690 on the border settlements of New York and New England would hinder the enemy’s war effort but little, and that a single concerted attack to destroy the Iroquois’ main base, Albany, would be far more effective. The governor of New York shared Champigny’s view and was relieved that Frontenac neglected to make the attempt. Later in the war, however, Champigny, Callière, and Vaudreuil were able to bring enough pressure to bear on Frontenac to force him to alter his Fabian strategy. The success of this change forced the Iroquois to come to terms and prevented a wholesale defection of the western nations allied with the French.
Champigny’s proper role in military affairs was only indirectly concerned with strategy but the success of these operations depended in no small measure on how efficiently he discharged his duties. He was responsible for paying and supplying the troops, providing them with arms, munitions, canoes and boats, and arranging for their billets in the forts or with civilians in the towns, since there were no barracks in the colony. He also had to arrange for their hospitalization, serve as executor of their wills on occasion, and when hostilities ceased he had to dispose of surplus military supplies. The building and maintenance of the colony’s fortifications was also his responsibility, as was the safekeeping of prisoners of war and their eventual exchange.
After familiarizing himself with colonial conditions Champigny introduced several notable reforms in the military system. It was the custom in the colonial regular troops for the captain of each company to pay his men, and issue them with uniforms and rations. As the captains expected to make a profit on these transactions, too often their men were clad in rags and inadequately fed. In Europe this had not been too serious an abuse since the French during this period fought their wars on other countries’ territory, hence the men could forage for themselves at the expense of the enemy’s civilian population. In Canada, however, they could not do so and, given the severity of the climate, the regular soldiers suffered considerable hardship. Champigny put a stop to this practice in 1687 by importing supplies of clothing and issuing it to the men on repayment. Two years later he extended this system to their rations. His successor, François de Beauharnois* de La Chaussaye later complained that he had charged only 3 livres 6 sols per man for rations worth 3 livres 9 sols. Then, in 1692, Champigny introduced a form of battle dress for the Canadian army on active service. Previously the troops had been clothed in a pale grey coat with red or blue facings – blue for the men, red for sergeants – grey knee breeches and stockings, shirt, cravat, and a wide brimmed hat. This uniform was adequate for European parade-ground soldiering, but quite unsuitable for the Canadian climate and terrain. Champigny therefore designed and had the men issued with the type of clothing worn by coureurs de bois.
Frequently the colony’s budget proved inadequate and Champigny had to face the wrath of the minister when he exceeded it. The excessive rate of wear and tear on equipment during campaigns in the wilderness was something that the minister consistently failed to comprehend. In 1693, when he was taken severely to task on this subject, Champigny sent the minister a stinging reply, informing him in great detail what the frequent campaigns required. “If all this,” he wrote, “and an infinity of other things could be done without expense in a new country half ruined by war, it would be a most admirable secret which, with all my heart, I wish I had been able to discover in order to satisfy His Majesty and please you.”
To send a rebuke such as this to the minister required either considerable strength of character or the recklessness of desperation, and Champigny was not notably reckless. It is hardly to be wondered at that rumours now began to circulate that certain officials in the ministry of Marine were gloating over the likelihood of his imminent dismissal from office.
Champigny also made himself unpopular with some of the regular officers by his attempts to have the colonial regular troops play a greater role in military operations. Although he was forced to agree with Frontenac that the regular troops were of little use in campaigns against the Iroquois until they had had several years’ experience in this guerilla-type warfare, he still felt that they could be employed more effectively. As it was, the Canadian habitants in the ranks of the militia were doing most of the fighting and the regular troops were used as a labour force. This arrangement had been inaugurated as an emergency measure by Champigny’s predecessor, de Meulles, but Champigny believed that it was being grossly abused. He discovered that the soldiers were eager to work in a civilian capacity since they earned good wages and were free of military duties and discipline. Their captains, however, would only release them if they made no claim for their military pay and, what was worse, the captains forced the men to hand over part of their wages. The men, for the most part, were willing to do this and the method of paying the troops made it difficult to check the abuse. Periodically a muster parade was called by the intendant or his deputy, heads were counted, and the captains received money to pay those present. The captains made very sure that all their men were on hand for these parades, but when they were needed for a war party they were not available and the militia were called out instead. Champigny, in frustration, eventually suggested that the best way to eliminate these abuses, and make the regular soldiers a more effective fighting force, would be to discharge them all and make them get married. Then they would settle on the land and in a few years become habitants, fit for active service in the militia. Needless to say, the recommendation was not adopted.
The main reason why Champigny was so concerned about the continual use of militia rather than regular troops for military operations was the dire effects it had on the social and economic fabric of the colony, for whose well-being he was directly responsible. Soldiers were expendable but the habitants were the backbone of colonial society. In 1691, after touring the upper colony, where the Iroquois raids had caused great devastation, he wrote: “I found the people living above Trois-Rivières in a state of great misery and the whole countryside ruined by the enemy, with the exception of the area around Boucherville and the forts, to which all the families have been forced to retire, which prevents them working on their distant fields or raising cattle except in very small numbers because of the limited space available in the forts. They dare not venture out because of the enemy who appears from time to time. What is even more grievous is the number of habitants crippled in the war and the poor widows who, having lost their husbands in the fighting, have trouble in obtaining bread for their children.”
In an attempt to alleviate hardship for the poor, and to eliminate a grave social abuse, Champigny in 1688 had the Conseil Souverain establish a new institution to provide a comprehensive system of poor relief. The legislation brought into being Bureaux des Pauvres in the three towns, Quebec, Trois-Rivières, and Montreal. These offices were staffed by the local parish priest and three directors, and cared for the poor in their areas. They were required to collect alms for this purpose from the more well-to-do and see to their distribution. Those of the poor who could work were found employment, those who could not were given aid enough to suffice for their needs. Once the offices had begun to function begging was forbidden, except in the most desperate cases, and fines were imposed on anyone who encouraged it by granting alms at his door to unlicensed beggars. Champigny and the Conseil Souverain had three main aims in view when they drafted this legislation: to ensure that no one starved, to find useful work for all those capable of working, and to put an end to the public annoyance created by hordes of mendicants, some of whom preferred to beg rather than to work for a living. Their purpose was, clearly, not merely to protect the more well-to-do but also to ensure the well-being of the less fortunate members of society. This règlement is worthy of note not merely because it is one of the earliest examples of comprehensive welfare legislation in Canada, but also because its spirit was basically humane; every effort was made to safeguard the basic dignity of those it sought to aid, as well as to serve the interests of society as a whole.
In the founding of this institution, as in many other matters, Champigny had to work closely with the clergy. Although he, like his wife, was a very religious man, he never forgot for a moment that he was a senior royal official. During his tenure of office there was no real conflict between church and state, but there were differences of opinion on matters that affected both. It must be remembered that the officials who represented the authority of the crown were also members of the church served by the clergy; there was never any basic disagreement on ends, only occasionally on means. Thus Champigny refused to grant the bishop exclusive control of the royal subvention to the clergy, and he was upheld by the minister. The king and the minister of Marine were anxious to have resident priests established in as many of the more populated parishes as possible; the bishop preferred to have his secular priests based at the Quebec seminary and travelling about the colony, spending a few weeks at each in turn. Champigny opposed the bishop firmly on this point. Similarly, he was not in entire agreement with the Jesuits who, for the best of reasons, wished a total ban on the trading of liquor to the Indians and, indeed, wanted all but missionaries excluded from the distant Indian villages. Champigny sympathized with their motives but considered these measures impractical and sought only to eradicate abuses as far as possible. When Frontenac and Bishop Saint-Vallier [La Croix became embroiled in a violent dispute over the playing of Molière’s Tartuffe by the governor’s company of amateur players in 1694, Champigny sought to mediate but upon seeing that it was impossible, withdrew to the sidelines. The minister later was mildly critical of him for not having supported the governor, but, all things considered, Champigny showed sound judgement in declining to become involved.
Similarly, in his relations with the Conseil Souverain, over whose deliberations he presided, Champigny preserved a necessary aloofness which did much to suppress the latent tendency for intrigue and faction amongst the members of that body. On one occasion, when there was a serious meat shortage in the Quebec district, Frontenac and some members of the council favoured fixing the prices of this commodity to prevent profiteering and ensure fair shares for all. Champigny opposed the measure on principle, claiming that fixed prices would not increase the supply; if anything, they would have the contrary effect. His was the novel – for that age – argument of the free market concept. Frontenac, however, pointed out that while waiting for high prices to stimulate production many people would have been deprived of meat entirely. Champigny then agreed to call a public assembly and submit the issue to it. When this was done the majority showed itself in favour of regulating the prices and Champigny immediately issued an ordinance in accordance with the popular verdict. There was, of course, nothing novel about this procedure; such public assemblies were held quite regularly to discover the views of the people before legislation was enacted. When all food was in short supply Champigny did not hesitate to distribute rations from the military stores to the civilian population.
Unfortunately certain other differences of opinion between Champigny and Frontenac on policy questions were not so easily reconciled – royal policy governing the fur trade, for example. The king and the minister of Marine still subscribed to the policy laid down by Colbert that, as far as possible, the trade with the Indians in furs should be carried on at Montreal and Trois-Rivières and the Canadians forbidden to voyage to the west to trade in the Indian villages. The purpose of this policy was to keep the Canadians in the colony, employed in agriculture, fishing, lumbering, and ancillary industries, not roaming about the interior of the continent part of the year and living in idleness the rest of the time. The Canadians, however, had consistently defied the restrictive edicts and Colbert, in 1681, had moderated them by allowing the governor and intendant to issue 25 fur-trading licences (congés) a year. Each licence allowed one canoe bearing three men to voyage to the west to trade. Champigny made a determined effort to prevent this privilege being abused but his efforts were continually thwarted by Frontenac who allowed more than double the number to leave the colony to trade every year. Similarly the king’s injunction of 1679 forbidding the transport of brandy to the Indian villages was rejected by Frontenac. When, in 1693, Champigny issued ordinances forbidding anyone to take more than a modest amount of brandy for his own use on voyages up country, Frontenac issued an ordinance of his own overruling that of the intendant. Champigny was also defeated in his attempt to revoke Frontenac’s granting of a monopoly on the fur trade in the entire Illinois country, a vast area south of the Great Lakes, to Henri Tonty and François Dauphin de La Forest, the heirs of his late associate, Cavelier* de La Salle. Frontenac had no legal sanction whatsoever for this, but, with the support of his friend de Lagny in the ministry of Marine, he was able to ride roughshod over Champigny’s protests.
Eventually, however, a radical change occurred in the attitude of the minister towards Frontenac and Champigny. Previously, whenever there was a difference of opinion between them, Frontenac’s views carried the day. When anything went wrong in the colony, Champigny, not Frontenac, was held to blame; and in their several disputes it was the same. But in 1695 the minister was obliged to take a closer look at colonial affairs, and what he discovered forced him to conclude that Champigny had not always been wrong or misguided. The cause of this change in attitude was the discovery that the company holding the monopoly on the marketing of beaver fur in France, which was the mainstay of the fur trade – hence of the French empire in North America – had an unsalable surplus of 1,500,000 livres worth of the commodity. This company paid the crown 550,000 livres a year for the monopoly and the lease expired in 1697. Clearly, it might well prove difficult to find anyone willing to take a new lease. The consequent large financial loss to the crown, just at a time of heavy war expenditures, would prove intolerable. The minister immediately began to investigate how this situation had arisen and he concluded that Frontenac was mainly responsible because he had refused to abide by the edicts governing the fur trade.
The minister and Louis XIV now enunciated a much more restrictive policy, ordering that all but one post in the Illinois country be abandoned, the garrisons withdrawn, and no more permits issued for trading voyages to the west. Although Champigny had strongly opposed Frontenac’s circumvention of the earlier edicts, he supported the governor’s decision not to implement the decree. Champigny then advised the minister that to withdraw from the west in this fashion, with the war still on, would be folly. He suggested a compromise that would have allowed the French to maintain their control of the west and, at the same time, would have curbed the abuses that had resulted in the surplus of beaver. Unfortunately, the minister eased his restrictions, allowing more posts to be retained, but he ignored Champigny’s suggested reforms; thus the abuses continued unabated. Yet from this time on the minister’s marginal notations in the Canadian dispatches indicate approval of Champigny’s recommendations and disapproval of, frequently anger with, those of Frontenac. Consequently, when in 1696 the governor, in a high-handed manner interfered in a judicial case to do with a ship prize, nullified the decree of the court, overruled an ordinance of the intendant and rendered judgement himself, the minister not only refused to sanction his actions but issued an edict confirming Champigny’s ordinance and his general handling of the case. Frontenac was ordered, in the strongest terms, never to do anything of the sort again.
The governor was, however, incapable of self-restraint and a few weeks later he came into violent conflict with Champigny when he again intervened in a judicial matter. This time he acted to protect his protégé, Lamothe Cadillac [Laumet], commandant at Michilimackinac, who was being prosecuted by the intendant for having grossly abused his authority and made a mockery of both justice and the edicts governing the fur trade. Fortunately, this dispute between Champigny and Frontenac, which looked as if it might get completely out of hand, was reconciled by the intervention of Vaudreuil and an influential visitor to the colony, the Marquis de Coutré. The moral victory was clearly Champigny’s but he was still rather bitter. Moreover, the legal issues involved were vital ones. He therefore asked the minister to decide once and for all whether or not the governor could force the officers of justice to defer to his opinions, or to veto the judgements of the intendant. In actual fact the governor had this authority, but he could use it only in the most drastic circumstances, when, for instance, the security of the colony was at stake. He certainly was not justified in using his authority merely to allow one of his following to evade justice.
Before the minister and Louis XIV were required to rule in this issue Frontenac died. Before his death he made his peace with Champigny, who subsequently wrote to the minister: “You may perhaps find it hard to believe, my lord, that I was deeply moved by his death in spite of the strained relations that had existed between us. The truth of the matter is that our misunderstandings sprang solely from a divergence of opinion as to what was best for the king’s service. As private persons we never quarrelled. Also I must state that during his last illness he used me most civilly; it would be ungrateful of me not to acknowledge the fact.” It is quite likely that Champigny’s feelings were not momentarily overcome by the sombre event, and that he spoke the truth. He gave no evidence of being an emotional man and his frequent disputes with Frontenac on policy matters really occupied but little time. The dispatches to the court are naturally replete with them, and might lead one to believe that this state of affairs was constant; but these dispatches were sent only once a year, giving an account of all that had transpired during the preceding twelve months. It could easily be that a dispatch would make much of a dispute lasting only a few days, while the fact that the governor and intendant had carried on their work in a reasonably amiable fashion during the rest of the year would be passed over in silence. In military matters he must have been able to work with Frontenac most of the time; had he not, the conduct of the war would have been impossible.
With Frontenac’s successor, Louis-Hector de Callière, who had been governor of Montreal, Champigny’s relations were better. Champigny and Callière were in basic agreement on the major policy questions and cooperated admirably in their execution, particularly in their attempts to control the western fur trade, hold the Iroquois in check, and maintain the alliances with the western nations. Together they negotiated the treaty of 1701 with the Iroquois and some 30 other Indian nations, which restored peace to the west. Michel Bégon* wrote of it: “Messieurs de Callières and Champigny have acquired immortal glory by reconciling all the differing interests of these peoples who have arranged among themselves a peace which, in its results, will be very advantageous to our country.” What did make their relationship difficult was Callière’s testy personality. He took umbrage over trivialities and was continually at odds with the senior officers of the regular troops over petty questions of precedence and protocol. At least part of the trouble likely stemmed from the fact that Callière suffered severely from gout. Moreover, in his relations with Champigny he was perhaps too acutely aware that the intendant was on very good terms with Vaudreuil, who had been his unsuccessful rival for the governor general’s post and with whom his own relations were strained. Although Champigny’s patience was severely tried on occasion there were no serious disputes. It has been asserted that Champigny himself had been a contender for the post of governor general, but there is no evidence whatsoever to support this contention and a good deal that convincingly refutes it.
Certainly Champigny could not have devoted too much of his time to disputing with the governors; he had far too many responsibilities to have been able to afford this luxury. He had to anticipate the needs of the colony in foodstuffs and other vital supplies a year ahead of time, calculate how much the colony could provide for itself, then arrange for the balance to be imported the following summer. He was also required to do everything possible to stimulate the economy and, considering the handicaps under which he laboured, he accomplished a great deal. In 1687 the minister had instructed him, “this colony will never be stable as long as it cannot subsist on its own, and the people cannot obtain from it all the absolute necessities of life.”
In agriculture several factors combined to hinder production – the destruction of crops, livestock, and farm buildings by the Iroquois and the absence of so many men either on trading ventures to the west or on military campaigns with the militia. A more enduring factor was that Canada was bypassed by the European agricultural revolution of the late 17th and 18th centuries. Farming methods persisted in the old, inefficient way, made worse by the profligacy of frontier conditions. Too many of the habitants were content to grow only enough for their own needs. Moreover, the staple food was wheat bread, average consumption being a pound and a half per person per day, and both the climate and the soil were unsuitable for this grain. Consequently crop failures were frequent, though no more so than in France. Only occasionally was there a surplus of wheat or flour for export. Champigny did all he could to stimulate production, but it was difficult to make the conservative habitants change their ways. He did get them to raise hemp, flax, and more sheep for the production of rope and clothing, but again they were reluctant to produce more than sufficed for themselves.
In his attempts to stimulate the fishing industry to produce for the export market he also had scant success. Lack of capital for ships and tackle, lack of salt supplies in the colony, and the depredations of English privateers in the Gulf, were the main hindrances. Champigny persuaded the minister to provide subsidies for fishing tackle, and with this aid Charles Denys de Vitré did enjoy some success in the whale and porpoise fishery, his boats bringing in 70 whales in 1701 and 97 porpoises the following year. In an attempt to encourage by example, Champigny and Frontenac, in partnership with two Quebec merchants, refurbished a ship prize and sent it to the Grand Banks. Within a year it was recaptured by the English and Champigny bemoaned the fact that he had thereby lost 4,000 livres. To provide the much needed salt for the sedentary fishing industry Champigny had a supply sent out on the king’s ships and sold it at a modest profit for the crown to the fishermen, but the minister, with his habitual shortsightedness, subsequently took him severely to task for not charging all that the traffic would bear. Despite these problems, fishing for the local market did thrive and after the war expanded down the Gulf to Labrador.
The industry to which Champigny devoted most of his attention was the production of timber, more particularly ship masts. In the age of sail the tall, perfectly proportioned pine trees required for main masts were as vital to a maritime nation as oil was later to be. Without an adequate supply of masts and spars, ships were useless hulks. The main source of supply of the essential main masts was Russia and the Baltic states. Both England and France were eager to rid themselves of this dependence on a foreign source of supply and to obtain masts, along with other naval supplies, from their American colonies. Neither state enjoyed much success. In Canada Champigny had the forests surveyed, obtained royal subsidies, had master craftsmen sent from France, and managed to have a considerable number of masts, and also oak planks, produced. The main problem was to get them across the Atlantic to the French ship yards. The bottleneck here was a shortage of flutes, the long, stern-loading ships needed to transport masts. Year after year some 90 great masts would be ready for shipment and no more than 12 could be exported. Champigny suspected that the timber merchants of the Pyrenees were not eager to face Canadian competition and were making difficulties. Another factor was the high cost of Canadian masts and timber, but this was inevitable in an infant industry and the same problem was encountered by the English. Yet a beginning was made and the industry managed to keep its head above water, awaiting better times. The number of sawmills in the colony did increase but most of the timber they produced was consumed locally during these years.
Champigny also tried to stimulate trade with the West Indies, but in war time this was too risky a business to have much success. As soon as the war ended, a promising trade sprang up between merchants in Quebec and New England, but the minister, Pontchartrain, would have none of it. He forbade all trade with the English colonies, fearing that they might provide the colony with goods that France could have supplied. The trade continued, clandestinely, chiefly by the Lake Champlain-Richelieu River route between Albany and Montreal. French wines, brandy, silks, and beaver pelts moved south in exchange for English woollens needed to compete with the Hudson’s Bay Company in the fur trade. The intendant and the governor, Callière, claimed that they were doing all they could to stop this trade, but the benefits to the colony were obvious, and there is reason to believe that they did not over-exert themselves.
During his last years in the colony Champigny was deeply concerned with the various attempts to organize a company to take over the beaver monopoly, one which would function without reducing the prices paid in Canada in spite of the depressed state of the market. Several proposals were put forward and there was a great deal of intrigue between rival groups. Champigny’s sympathies were clearly with the Canadians and he was rebuked by the minister for this manifest partiality. Eventually the Canadian fur-traders proposed forming a company to market the furs themselves. Champigny, however, was very sceptical and advised that it was extremely doubtful that the Canadians could succeed in this venture, but the minister rejected his views and accepted the merchants’ proposal. This Canadian company, the Compagnie du Canada, organized in 1700, quickly encountered difficulties with which it could not cope and in 1706 it collapsed.
In another sphere of activity Champigny was able to accomplish something – town planning. From 1688 on the population of Montreal began to increase rapidly and some persons owning vacant land within the town walls began to take advantage of the increased demand by charging exorbitant prices to rent or sell. Champigny quickly put a stop to this by decreeing that no one could own more than one acre of land within the town; all owners of vacant land had to build a stone house within a year of the decree. Persons with surplus land who did not wish to build had to dispose of it within six months. At the same time Champigny ordered the streets widened to 30 feet.
One particular innovation introduced by Champigny should earn him the respect of historians. In 1698 he proposed the establishment of Canadian archives to preserve all edicts, ordinances, and royal declarations for future reference. The following year the archives came into existence with the clerk of the Conseil Souverain serving as Canada’s first archivist. Another of Champigny’s proposals was the creation of a Canadian Estates General. In a rather mysterious dispatch dated 15 Oct. 1700, he suggested that if the minister decided to make the colony a pays d’état – several provinces in France had this form of local assembly – the governing body should consist of the governor, who would preside, the bishop, the intendant, who would have a deliberative voice and chair the meetings, two deputies from the clergy, two from the Conseil Souverain, a judge from each of the three towns, two seigneurs from each of the three governments, Quebec, Montreal, and Trois-Rivières, three merchants from Quebec, two from Montreal, and one from Trois-Rivières. “In this assembly,” he wrote, “the affairs of the colony would be settled by the plurality of votes and whatever tax the colony was required to impose would be provided for.” Nothing, however, came of this proposal and the Canadians escaped the threat of having to impose taxes on themselves.
The following year, 1701, Champigny was gratified to learn that he had been appointed by the king to the post of intendant at Le Havre. In the autumn of 1702, when his replacement arrived, he and his wife left Quebec, but this by no means marked the end of his concern with Canada. While at Le Havre he served for several years as the minister’s adviser on Canadian affairs. The Canadian dispatches were sent to him for his comments and recommendations. He also prepared memoirs on the more important issues for the minister’s guidance and his views carried considerable weight.
One question that must be asked of any government official, then as now, is whether or not he took advantage of his position for private profit. In Champigny’s case one can say only that he was either honest or extremely clever. In any bureaucracy, suspicion, malicious gossip, whispered accusations, and backbiting are endemic. It would be difficult to find any official in New France who was not accused of wrong-doing of one sort or another. Champigny was no exception. Yet what is striking is that only two such accusations against him have come to light. One is an anonymous letter by a disgruntled soldier accusing his superior officers of all manner of crimes, and linking Champigny and Vaudreuil, the commanding officer of the colonial regular troops, with them. Not much credence need be given this testimony. The other, however, may carry more weight. It is a letter of Father N. Tremblay of the Missions Étrangères to the retired bishop, Monsignor Laval, dated Paris, 19 June 1705, three years after Champigny had left Canada. It briefly states that the Missions Étrangères had been informed that Champigny had made a personal profit of over 25,000 livres a year on the food and clothing provided for the regular troops in the colony. “Men who are very certain of it have so informed me,” wrote Father Tremblay. It would have been easy for Champigny to have lined his pockets in this manner but, as so many men would be affected, it is difficult to see how he could have done so without arousing comment long before 1705. Certainly had Frontenac even suspected that Champigny was guilty of malversation he would have been quick to report it to the minister. That he did not do so requires that the charge repeated by Father Tremblay be, at most, treated as “not proven” in the Scottish legal sense.
All things considered, Champigny’s career as intendant of New France can perhaps best be summed up as that of a competent, conscientious, senior civil servant. He was not an initiator of great projects; the times were not propitious for such things. His fundamental concern with social values made him a staunch opponent of unbridled western expansion which, in his view, sapped the strength of the colony. Like Colbert, he was farsighted enough to see that greedy attempts to seize the whole of North America before the economy and the social fabric of the central colony had been firmly consolidated would court disaster. In military affairs he showed a good grasp of strategy and the tactics needed to achieve its aims. His efforts to sustain the fighting forces of New France during the darkest days of the war contributed in no small degree to their success. It may well be that the presence of at least one of his sons in the colonial troops made him more acutely aware of their needs and difficulties. His relations with the three governors under whom he served left much to be desired as far as Frontenac and Callière were concerned, but the administration of the colony never suffered as a result. Perhaps the best testimonial to this intendant was that of Mother Jeanne-Françoise Juchereau of the Hôtel-Dieu at Quebec who remarked of Champigny, after he had called to pay his final respects before sailing for France: “He was a good man, humane, and well liked.”
[Unfortunately, no private papers or correspondence by or to Champigny are known to have survived. His dispatches to the minister are contained in AN, Col., C11A; the minister’s dispatches to him are in AN, Col., B. A good deal of pertinent material is contained in AN, Col., F3; the PAC has microfilm copies. The ASQ has several pertinent documents, particularly in Lettres, N. The Jugements et délibérations du Conseil souverain de la Nouvelle-France contains a great deal of relevant material. Regrettably, few of Champigny’s édits and ordinances have survived.
On the origins of the office of intendant, the articles by Edmond Esmonin in Études sur la France des XVIIe et XVIIIe siècles should be consulted. Gustave Lanctot’s early work, L’administration de la Nouvelle-France (Paris, 1929), is useful, and Cahall, The Sovereign Council of New France, is essential to the understanding of the role of the intendant in the administration of justice. F. M. Hammang, in The Marquis de Vaudreuil, New France at the beginning of the eighteenth century (Bruges, 1938), discusses the part played by Champigny in Canadian affairs after his return to France. Rochemonteix, Les Jésuites et la Nouvelle-France au XVIIIe siècle, contains much information on Champigny’s relations with the members of that order. Eccles, Canada under Louis XIV, and Frontenac, deal with Champigny’s Canadian career in some detail. Thérèse Prince-Falmagne, Un marquis du grand siècle, Jacques-René de Brisay de Denonville, gouverneur de la Nouvelle-France, 1637–1710 (Montréal, 1965), discusses Denonville’s relations with Champigny. Régis Roy’s brief notes, “Jean Bochart,” BRH, VII (1901), 325–27, and “Champigny,” BRH, XX (1914), 80–81 provide some genealogical information, but they also contain errors of
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Cite This Article
W. J. Eccles, “BOCHART DE CHAMPIGNY, JEAN, Sieur de Noroy et de Verneuil,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 2, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed June 6, 2023, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/bochart_de_champigny_jean_2E.html.
The citation above shows the format for footnotes and endnotes according to the Chicago manual of style (16th edition). Information to be used in other citation formats:
|Author of Article:||W. J. Eccles|
|Title of Article:||BOCHART DE CHAMPIGNY, JEAN, Sieur de Noroy et de Verneuil|
|Publication Name:||Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 2|
|Publisher:||University of Toronto/Université Laval|
|Year of publication:||1969|
|Year of revision:||1982|
|Access Date:||June 6, 2023|