BREHAUT, PIERRE (Peter), cooper, businessman, and politician; b. 7 June 1764 in Guernsey, son of Pierre Brehaut and Marie Todevin; m. 30 Jan. 1792 Thérèse Bellenoy at Quebec in the Anglican church (later the Cathedral of the Holy Trinity), and they had four children; d. 2 May 1817 at Quebec.
Pierre Brehaut came of a family which had settled in the Channel Islands in the 14th century and which had developed ties with sea-borne commerce and the colonies. Seeking a career abroad, the young Brehaut sailed for Quebec around 1788. Soon after his arrival he was hired as a cooper by businessman Louis Dunière. From 1792 on, he practised his trade independently. He operated a shop close to Quebec’s port facilities, where the import-export trade was centred, and engaged now and then in sales of wines and spirits imported from Guernsey and the West Indies.
Brehaut’s business seems to have prospered, since on 19 Nov. 1800 he acquired for £3,250 Dunière’s properties at the foot of Cap Diamant: a 200-foot river-front lot with wharf, warehouse, two sheds, and a stable. He was then able to set on foot a wholesale-trading enterprise that opened the way to capital accumulation. In 1802 Peter Lemesurier joined the firm and aided in its financing for a four-year period. Under the name of Peter Brehaut and Company the partners specialized in the grain trade and the import of wine and spirits. Concerned to defend his economic interests, Brehaut identified himself with the merchants’ cause in the notorious “prisons debate” of 1805 in the Lower Canadian House of Assembly [see Jonathan Sewell*]; his name appears on a petition demanding a tax on land to finance them rather than on the revenues of commerce. In 1806 he reconstructed the firm with new partners, including Thomas Higginbottom, and then enlarged its storage space with the building of additional warehouses. The quantity and variety of the goods offered to customers in March 1811 are evidence of the scale of the firm’s transactions: 4,000 bushels of wheat, 1,200 of peas, 1,000 of salt, as well as such other items as flour, biscuit, cordage, American leather, and millstones. In May 1811 Brehaut joined forces with merchant William Grant Sheppard and the latter’s brother Peter in the firm of Brehaut and Sheppard. Through commercial connections with Samuel Dobree and Company of London and Janvrin and Company in Jersey, the firm reached new overseas markets in Ireland, Portugal, and the West Indies. The 55 accounts receivable from clients in the Quebec region in May 1814 give an indication of the scale of its operations in the local market.
As a recognized spokesman of the trading interest, Brehaut won election to the assembly on 13 May 1814 as member for the riding of Quebec. When Sir George Gordon Drummond* dissolved the house in February 1816, he cited in justification, and as evidence of the stubborn ill-will of the members, the declarations made to their constituents by Brehaut and Pierre Bruneau. This action did not prevent the re-election of both men on 25 April. In his second term Brehaut sat on committees dealing with economic matters such as several on public accounts, one on a bill to regulate trade with the United States, and another regarding the establishment of a banking institution in Lower Canada.
On 4 Sept. 1815 a fire had damaged the buildings of Brehaut and Sheppard. This misfortune was compounded by dissolution of the partnership on 1 May 1816. Far from ceasing his activity, however, Brehaut embarked in June 1816 on the rebuilding and enlargement of his facilities. Some 150 men worked on the site at erecting sheds designed to store from 150,000 to 200,000 bushels of grain. In the same year Brehaut purchased from Thomas Dunk the Cape Diamond Brewery, which adjoined his wharf and store. The acquisition, made for £12,600, enabled him to enter the production sector and to establish closer ties with producers of barley and hops, while securing the services of an expert London master-brewer, Thomas Purcell.
Some years earlier Brehaut had purchased the Manoir Saint-Roch, located in the suburb of that name and formerly the seigneurial property of William Grant (1744–1805). The original house had been built in the 17th century for the wealthy fur trader Charles Aubert* de La Chesnaye. In 1815 and 1816 Brehaut acquired, on Rue Saint-Louis, two dwellings of note which are still standing: the Maison Maillou and the Maison Kent, the latter house having been the site where Jean-Baptiste-Nicolas-Roch de Ramezay* signed the capitulation of Quebec in 1759, and the residence of Prince Edward Augustus, in 1792–94. Thus, to his interests in trade and brewing, Brehaut added important holdings in real estate.
In the wake of the Irish immigration movement which began in 1816, 45 families were landed that summer at Brehaut’s wharf. Destitute, they sought his aid and he immediately agreed to house them in his buildings while they waited for land grants in the area of Nicolet.
It is not known to what extent Brehaut was successful in restarting his commercial operations after the difficulties of 1815. Early in 1817, not long before his death, he painted a rather gloomy picture of the state of the economy: “Poverty is worse in Quebec than I have seen it these twenty years; not a ship on the stocks, no employment for workers.” It would not be surprising if his affairs had suffered a blow from the recession that followed the Napoleonic Wars.
As a separation of dwelling and the sale of furnishings from the Manoir Saint-Roch reveal, Brehaut’s marriage had collapsed some time before he drowned in the St Lawrence on the night of 2 May 1817. He was said to have lost his footing while inspecting his piers and warehouses as was his custom, but there were no witnesses. A year later his widow married his former partner, William Grant Sheppard, and Brehaut’s friends marked the occasion by staging a derisive charivari.
If Brehaut’s wharf was long a Quebec landmark, this was in large part due to its owner’s role in the commercial life of the city and in the building up of its overseas trade, particularly with the West Indies.
ANQ-Q, CE1-61, 30 janv. 1792; CN1-26, 8 mai 1806; CN1-83, 22 sept. 1792; CN1-171, 3 nov. 1809; CN1-178, 2–3, 5, 7, 9–13, 16–18, 26 mai 1814; CN1-262, 19 nov. 1800, 25 févr. 1805, 28 avril 1806, 2 mai 1816; CN1-285, 3 mai 1806. PAC, MG 24, D15. Bas-Canada, chambre d’Assemblée, Journaux, 6–7 févr. 1816. “Les dénombrements de Québec” (Plessis), ANQ Rapport, 1948–49: 28, 83, 132, 181. Montreal Herald, 9 Sept. 1815. Quebec Gazette, 16 Aug. 1792; 21 July 1803; 8 May 1806; 16 May 1811; 23 May 1815; 4 Jan., 14 March 1816; 8 May 1817. Desjardins, Guide parl., 136. Wallot, Un Québec qui bougeait, 55–58. P.-G. Roy, “La famille Brehaut,” BRH, 45 (1939): 146–50.