COTTON (Couton), BARTHÉLEMY, hatter and receiver and inspector of furs for the Compagnie des Indes; b. 2 July 1692 at Quebec, son of Barthélemy Couton and Jeanne Le Rouge; d. 27 May 1780 at Quebec.
Barthélemy Cotton’s father was a soldier from Dauphiné who, after being discharged from the colonial regular troops, worked as a hatter and lived at Saint-Jérôme-de-L’Auvergne, in Charlesbourg parish. As the oldest son, young Barthélemy seems to have learned hat-making and also farming from his father. He was a dutiful child. In July 1712 his parents sold him a farm in Notre-Dame-des-Anges seigneury and, after he had paid off the debts encumbering the concession, they wanted to repossess it. In 1714 he formally declared that he would acquiesce “to retain their love, give them peace of mind, and preserve his inheritance” while protesting the loss to himself. He later took care of his aged parents and lent them money. Barthélemy possessed a farm at Saint-Jérôme-de-L’Auvergne from the 1720s until his death, but his interests were elsewhere.
From 1718 he worked at various times as a butcher, a hatter, and an employee of the Compagnie des Indes at Quebec, where he was receiver and inspector of pelts at the company’s principal office. He possibly owed this position to his knowledge of beaver fur acquired in hat-making since 1719 or even before, and to a trip to France from which he returned with his brother in 1724. His instructions were contained in a dispatch from France dated 9 May 1725; Cotton was to receive, grade, and pack the beaver skins in 120-pound bales with suitable identifying marks. Traders were obliged to deliver the pelts to him by virtue of the company’s export monopoly of beaver. He and a comptroller, who kept the accounts, worked under the supervision of the company’s agent.
Perhaps in part because of his new position, even though it was probably a seasonal occupation that ended with the yearly departure of the ships to France, Cotton had little time for manufacturing hats in the shop that occupied the lower floor of his house on Rue Saint-Jean, close to the Jesuit college. In 1730 and 1731 he shared the shop and the dye works behind the house with his apprentice Joseph Huppé, dit Lagroix. In the latter year another hatter, Jean Létourneau, assumed Cotton’s functions. Both Huppé and Létourneau were to pay rent to Cotton, but there was apparently a disagreement between Cotton and Huppé. Huppé defaulted and later moved to Montreal. A second blow fell in September 1736 when the Conseil de Marine forbade hat-making in Canada because in producing, selling, and exporting beaver hats the colonial craftsmen infringed the monopoly of the Compagnie des Indes. When Cotton’s shop was closed that month by royal order, the hat-making equipment confiscated was valued at 590 livres. Officials estimated that his yearly revenue from the business was only 400 livres.
Still an employee of the Compagnie des Indes, Cotton continued to make a comfortable living despite this setback. On 13 Nov. 1741 he married Marie Willis, a widow 12 years his senior who had been kidnapped by the Abenakis in New England as a child and brought to Canada. Possibly with his wife’s dowry, he acquired in the same year a tile-works from Nicolas-Marie Renaud* d’Avène Des Méloizes. The kilns were inactive beginning in 1743, a year of bad harvests. The kiln venture, the hat shop, and the fact that the couple had a man-servant in 1744 indicate that Cotton had money, but he exhibited little enthusiasm for business.
Without any children of his own, Barthélemy Cotton made five different wills to bequeath his property to his nearest blood relations. At first he favoured his sister Marguerite, who was a dressmaker, and his brothers Jean-François and Michel* who were, among other things, silversmiths. Of the three only Michel was married and his children were the principal beneficiaries of Barthélemy’s later wills. In the first testament, drawn up in 1752, Cotton showed the charitable inclinations of a devout man. Bequests were made to the poor, to the parishes of Quebec and Charlesbourg, and to various religious houses. Particularly favoured was the Hôpital Général of Quebec, for which Cotton had acted as secular agent in the 1720s and where three of his nieces were nuns. In 1771 Cotton made a special bequest to another nun of the Hôpital Général. His last will was made on 10 Dec. 1773. The frequent revisions were necessitated by the death of relatives or their departure for France after the conquest as well as by the reduction of his fortune; he seems to have found no replacement for his lost post with the Compagnie des Indes after the conquest. Cotton’s wife died in 1776 and four years later he passed away at the age of 87.
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