CONSTANTIN, PIERRE (sometimes known as Lavallée Constantin), fisherman, trader, and militia officer; baptized 21 April 1666 at Sillery, son of Guillaume Constantin and Jeanne Masse; d. 20 March 1751 and was buried the following day in the cemetery of the parish of Saint-Augustin-de-Desmaures.
Nothing is known of Pierre Constantin before his marriage to Marguerite-Susane Derouvray on 6 Nov. 1696 in the parish of Saint-Augustin-de-Desmaures. Soon afterwards he purchased a house at Quebec and was identified as a voyageur. In 1700 he was hired by Augustin Le Gardeur* de Courtemanche to travel to the Rivière des Esquimaux (St Paul River) to trade with the indigenous people and to erect a post, and was thus one of the first Canadians to explore this forbidding region of the north shore of the St Lawrence. The following spring he was hired by Mme Le Gardeur de Courtemanche to trade in the same region and to locate summer and winter trading sites. He was paid 600 livres, and a hogshead of wine, and was to receive half of the profits from any hunting.
Constantin continued to work for Courtemanche but approached François Hazeur*, entrepreneur and member of the Conseil Souverain, to try to obtain a concession on the northwest shore of Newfoundland. Finally in the spring of 1705 Hazeur was granted the seigneury of Portachoix. Constantin came to work for him in return for joint ownership and one-half of the profits from the inshore fishery, sealing, and trade with the indigenous people. The arrangement was renewed in May 1708, when they had four employees at Portachoix. When Hazeur died in June his creditors relinquished their half interest for 100 livres and Constantin found himself a seigneur. Two years later he signed an agreement with his brother-in-law, Jean Guion Durouvray, to exploit the seigneury for five years: Guion was to live in Newfoundland, establish a post, and fish and trade in the area. Constantin remained at Quebec to handle cargoes and supplies.
In November 1710 Constantin sold his Quebec property and moved to the seigneury of Maure. Perhaps as a mark of his increased position, he was appointed militia captain in the parish of Saint-Augustin-de-Desmaures; later he became a churchwarden.
Constantin’s interest shifted back to Labrador from Newfoundland and in May 1713 he obtained a ten-year grant on the Strait of Belle Isle, 30 leagues long and ten leagues deep, from an area not developed by Courtemanche. For the next four seasons he fished for cod and hunted seals at posts he established near the mouth of the Rivière des Français (Pinware River) and at Red Bay. The latter post was destroyed by the Inuit in 1719 and rebuilt two years later. In 1716 he received a grant for life, two leagues on either side of the Rivière des Français and four leagues deep, within the earlier concession. Constantin appeared to realize a profit from his ventures.
During the early 1720s Constantin was associated in the cod fishery with a merchant from Saint-Malo, Sieur Desferières Renaud, but in the summer of 1723 the latter broke their agreement, leaving Constantin with a 5,800 livre debt. In 1729 Constantin’s request to have his grant extended was refused by Maurepas, minister of Marine, on the grounds that it was not fully exploited. Lack of capital may have been Constantin’s difficulty; although he had obtained large land grants he had little to offer beyond shares in future returns.
In 1732 he leased his post at Red Bay and those in Newfoundland for seven years to his son-in-law, Pierre Hamel, and to François and Pierre Trefflé, dit Rottot, for 200 livres annually. Almost immediately his concession on the Rivière des Français was challenged by Nicolas-Gaspard Boucault and François Foucault, who outfitted a venture into the area that damaged the seal hunting of Constantin’s lessees. In 1735 Boucault and Foucault were granted the island of Grand Saint-Modet, which Constantin claimed was within the limits of his 1716 concession. The intendant ordered the three claimants to exploit the island jointly. Despite the support of Governor Charles de Beauharnois and Intendant Gilles Hocquart* for Boucault and Foucault, Maurepas found in favour of Constantin, who had appealed to him, and in September 1740 their concession was revoked. The significance of the outcome is that it favoured a small entrepreneur of peasant background against two important individuals who were supported by the highest officials in the colony.
Pierre Constantin died on 20 March 1751. On 27 March, at the request of his widow, the joint estate was inventoried.
ANQ, Greffe de J.-N. Pinguet de Vaucour, 20 août 1746; Greffe de Simon Sanguinet, 27 mars 1751. “Documents sur Pierre Constantin,” P.-G. Roy, édit., BRH, XXXIV (1928), 257–63. Inv. de pièces du Labrador (P.-G. Roy), I, 16–17, 24–26, 29–30, 48–49, 167–74, 273–75, 287–89; II, 17–19, 114–29, 183–86. Relation par lettres de l’Amérique septentrionale, années 1709 et 1710, Camille de Rochemonteix, édit. (Paris, 1904). Bonnault, “Le Canada militaire,” APQ Rapport, 1949–51, 372–73. A. Roy, Inv. greffes not., XIX, 336. P.-G. Roy, Inv. concessions, IV, 180, 183–84. Tanguay, Dictionnaire. Benoît Robitaille, “L’habitation de Constantin et la possession du Grand Saint-Modet,” BRH, LXI (1955), 163–68.
Revisions based on:
AAQ, 1 US (registre de Sillery). Bibliothèque et Arch. Nationales du Québec, Centre d’arch de Québec, CE301-S1, 27 nov. 1719; CE301-S17, 6 nov. 1696, 21 mars 1751.