BRASSARD DESCHENAUX, JOSEPH, secretary to the intendant, scrivener in the Marine, seigneur, and justice of the peace; b. 1 Aug. 1722 at Quebec, son of Charles Brassard Deschenaux, a shoemaker, and Marie-Joseph Hébert; d. there 16 Sept. 1793.
Born into a family of modest means, Joseph Brassard Deschenaux owed his education to a notary who lived with his parents on Rue Saint-Jean. (This notary may have been Christophe-Hilarion Du Laurent*, who at the time of the 1744 census was in practice and was a lodger in the Brassard Deschenaux home.) Joseph was thus able to join the Marine bureau, where he attracted attention because of his lively intelligence, his capacity for work, and his ambition. He became secretary to Gilles Hocquart, who in February 1745 made him responsible for the census of the parishes and seigneuries on the south shore of the St Lawrence. Although the intendant put restrictions on the young man, with whom “it was necessary,” he said, “always to keep the reins well in hand; . . . if one were to let them slacken on him, one might well experience dire results,” he recommended him to his successor, François Bigot. In 1750 Bigot entrusted Brassard Deschenaux with the collection of the tax levied for the maintenance of the Quebec barracks, and four years later he appointed him acting treasurers’ agent in the absence of Jacques Imbert*, the agent of the treasurers general of the Marine in Canada, who was visiting France. By 1752 Brassard Deschenaux was in a position to buy at public auction the house of Nicolas Lanoullier* de Boisclerc, on Rue des Remparts, for the sum of 14,500 livres. He was to rent it to Montcalm* during the general’s stay at Quebec. It was a good investment for Brassard Deschenaux, since the rent of high-ranking French officers was paid by the king and a high price could be obtained rather easily. He did not fail to take advantage of the situation judging by the remarks in Montcalm’s journal: “An excuse for enriching the secretary . . . high rents, inflated or imaginary repairs.”
Bigot’s secretary succeeded in making himself indispensable both to his employer and to those who, seeking to enrich themselves through public funds, gathered around the intendant. Thus, in 1755, he helped Joseph-Michel Cadet prepare a memoir in which the former butcher offered his services to the minister of Marine, Machault, for the supply of all necessary provisions to the king’s stores and posts. Cadet had made a similar offer the preceding year, but the minister had ignored it. This time, as a result of Bigot’s intervention, Machault responded positively and Brassard Deschenaux participated in the drawing up of the contract for the general supply of provisions in Canada which was to make Cadet a rich purveyor general and from which the secretary would also profit. In 1763, when trials were being conducted at the Châtelet in Paris regarding the affaire du Canada, Brassard Deschenaux was accused of having falsified five years earlier the figures in the accounts relating to the supplies he had undertaken to furnish, in partnership with Cadet, to the post at Miramichi (N.B.). The prices had been inflated excessively, and Bigot had refused to sign the accounts; the secretary had then reduced prices by half but doubled the quantity of supplies, so that “the king has suffered the same loss as if the first conditions had still applied.” He was also accused of having distributed to the Acadians who had taken refuge at Quebec far fewer supplies than the quantity officially claimed, with the result that Cadet, the supplier, had been able once again to profit “at the expense of the king.” Cadet testified to the court that he had given Brassard Deschenaux a pension of 40,000 livres for services rendered and had provided him with all the food he had needed. On 10 Dec. 1763 Brassard Deschenaux was sentenced to five years’ banishment from Paris, given a fine of 50 livres, and ordered to make restitution of 300,000 livres. Because he had remained in Canada after the conquest, having been appointed king’s scrivener by Governor Vaudreuil [Rigaud] and Bigot “to take care of the hospitals, and whatever may relate to the service of his most Christian Majesty,” this sentence had little effect on him. However, he seems to have gone to France in 1766 in order to have his name cleared there. An article in the Quebec Gazette on 14 May 1767 announced that “the several Persons concerned in the Canada Affair, who appealed from their Sentence, have obtained a Decision partly in their Favour. . . . M. des Chesneaux, who was . . . condemned to Banishment, and the Restitution of 300,000 Livres, is now ordered to restore only 100,000, till the Court has received further Information.”
According to the anonymous author of the “Mémoire du Canada,” Brassard Deschenaux was a member of the Grande Société, forming with Michel-Jean-Hugues Péan and Cadet “a kind of triumvirate,” and amassed a fortune of 2,000,000 livres during the French régime, a claim that should be taken with caution. However it may be, Brassard Deschenaux was in a position to take advantage of the final departure for France of some of his former friends after the conquest to buy their seigneuries. From Péan he acquired the seigneuries of La Livaudière and Saint-Michel and from Nicolas Renaud* d’Avène Des Méloizes that of Neuville, known also as Pointe-aux-Trembles. In 1769 and 1770 he bought some parts, with seigneurial rights, of Beaumont and on 18 March 1770 he purchased a quarter of the seigneury of Bélair, adjoining that of Neuville. The numerous leases made between Brassard Deschenaux and new censitaires prove that he attended closely to the management of his properties. In Quebec he owned and lived in a magnificent house on Rue des Pauvres with a stone courtyard and buildings. Brassard Deschenaux seems to have made his fellow citizens forget his malpractices since they entrusted him with offices requiring honesty and disinterestedness; he was, in fact, churchwarden of Notre-Dame parish and cashier of the parish council at the time of the rebuilding of the cathedral (1768–71). He was among those persons of standing approached in 1773 by the English merchants of Quebec who, desiring a house of assembly, sought to enlist support from the leading Canadians of the city. He was also appointed a justice of the peace.
Brassard Deschenaux had married at Quebec on 21 Aug. 1747 Suzanne-Élisabeth Filion, who died the following year; he then married, on 21 May 1750, Madeleine Vallée. Four children survived him, including two sons: Charles-Joseph*, who was to become vicar general of the bishop of Quebec in 1809, and Pierre-Louis*, a notary and lawyer, who was to be appointed judge of the Court of King’s Bench for Trois-Rivières in 1794. Brassard Deschenaux’s funeral service was held on 18 Sept. 1793 in the cathedral of Quebec in the presence of the coadjutor bishop, Charles-François Bailly de Messein. The honourable Gaspard-Joseph Chaussegros de Léry, Jean-Antoine Panet*, Nathaniel Taylor, Michel-Amable Berthelot* d’Artigny, and Thomas Scott* signed the burial certificate.
ANQ-Q, État civil, Catholiques, Notre-Dame de Québec, 2 août 1722, 21 août 1747, 21 mai 1750, 18 sept. 1793; Greffe de J.-B. Planté, 5 juin 1793. Coll. des manuscrits de Lévis (Casgrain), VII, 514. Doc. relatifs à l’hist. constitutionnelle, 1759–91 (Shortt et Doughty; 1921), I, 11, 474. “Mémoire du Canada,” ANQ Rapport, 1924–25, 116–18, 131, 197. “Recensement de Québec, 1744,” 33. Quebec Gazette, 14 May 1767. P.-V. Charland, “Notre-Dame de Québec: le nécrologe de la crypte,” BRH, XX, 249–50. J.-E. Roy, Rapport sur les archives de France, 875, 884. P.-G. Roy, Inv. concessions, II, 27–28, 259–61; III, 51–53; IV, 286; V, 60; lnv. jug. et délib., 1717–60, V, 136; VI, 129; Inv. ord. int., III, 67, 145, 148, 188. Frégault, François Bigot, II. P.-G. Roy, Bigot et sa bande, 152–58. [P.-]P.-B. Casgrain, “La maison Montcalm sur les Remparts, à Québec,” BRH, VIII (1902), 230–35. Leland, “François-Joseph Cugnet,” Revue de l’université Laval, XIX, 145. P.-G. Roy, “La maison Montcalm sur les Remparts, à Québec,” BRH, XXXII (1926), 380–81; “Les secrétaires des gouverneurs et des intendants de la Nouvelle-France,” BRH, XLI (1935), 104–5.