GAULTIER DE VARENNES, JACQUES-RENÉ (he signed DeVarennes), officer in the colonial regular troops; baptized 2 Oct. 1677, second son of René Gaultier* de Varennes, governor of Trois-Rivières, and Marie Boucher; m. 7 Aug. 1712 Marie-Jeanne, daughter of Jacques Le Moyne* de Sainte-Hélène; buried 28 July 1757 at Montreal.
Jacques-René Gaultier de Varennes began his military career as a cadet at the age of 13 in the defence of Quebec against William Phips* in 1690. Thereafter he served with distinction in Canada during the wars of the League of Augsburg and the Spanish Succession; he was appointed ensign in 1704, and lieutenant in 1710. In 1726 his wife’s uncle, Charles Le Moyne*, Baron de Longueuil, interim governor of New France, appointed him to command at Kaministiquia (Thunder Bay, Ont.) for three years. While there, at the age of 51, he took part in his last military campaign – under Constant Le Marchand* de Lignery against the Foxes in 1728.
In 1709 Varennes had promised to marry Marie-Marguerite-Renée Robinau de Bécancour “when his affairs permit and conditional upon the permission of his mother and the governor general,” and failing marriage to pay her 6,000 livres. The following year he retracted his promise, citing the refusal of his mother and Governor Philippe de Rigaud* de Vaudreuil to give their consent. Pierre Robinau* de Bécancour, Marguerite’s father, won a court order in Montreal holding him to his original promise. Appealing to the Conseil Supérieur in 1712, on the grounds that the engagement had not been reciprocal, Jacques-René won a reduced sentence and had to pay Robinau only 3,000 livres. A few days after this judgement he married Marie-Jeanne Le Moyne de Sainte-Hélène.
Jacques-René, who became eldest son on the death of his brother Louis in 1706 or 1707, accepted responsibility with his other brothers for part of his widowed mother’s debt. She was obliged to support three widowed daughters and her grandchildren. The family seigneurial holdings were small, and although Jacques-René inherited the largest portion it likely produced only a modest income even by the end of the French régime.
Probably much more lucrative was his exploitation of the fur trade at Kaministiquia. It was a post commander’s unofficial prerogative to control the trade in his area, and Jacques-René formed partnerships with several prominent merchants of Montreal from 1726 to 1728. That he had to borrow money to finance his enterprise indicates he was not wealthy, but the trade seems to have been normal during the three years he was in command. In 1727 a rearrangement of the partnership brought in his younger brother, Pierre Gaultier de Varennes et de La Vérendrye, to begin his life of enterprise and exploration in the west.
From Kaministiquia Jacques-René came back to the garrison of Montreal. He was appointed captain in 1736 at the age of 60. A nobleman with an enviable military record, including praise for his moral conduct and devotion to the king’s service, Jacques-René might have looked forward to an honourable retirement. Instead he was stripped of his command when in 1743 as captain of the guard in Montreal he refused to supply troops at the request of the court ushers to arrest his brother-in-law, Timothy Sullivan, known as Timothée Silvain, king’s doctor, at the suit of Jacques-Joseph Guiton de Monrepos, lieutenant general of Montreal. Monrepos, whose haughtiness in claiming certain honours for himself since his arrival two years earlier had inflamed a traditional animosity between military and civil officials, had earned the scorn of the local officer corps. Jacques-René’s obstruction of the normal course of justice in this instance received support from many officers of the garrison and likely reflected their common resentment against Monrepos.
The importance of Sullivan’s relationship to Jacques-René is more difficult to estimate. There is evidence that the Varennes family disapproved of Sullivan’s marriage to Marie-Renée Gaultier de Varennes. Wife-beating figured among his several outrages, and in 1738 the Varennes launched a suit against him for legal separation. But in 1743 Jacques-René may have acted to protect Sullivan out of loyalty to the family. The intendant, Gilles Hocquart*, thought Monrepos foolish to have pursued a man whose wife was so well connected throughout the colony.
The minister of Marine, Maurepas, was determined to make an example of Jacques-René to check what he believed to be widespread insubordination among Canadian military officers. In vain did Governor Beauharnois, Intendant Hocquart, and Bishop Pontbriand [Dubreil] plead extenuating circumstances on Jacques-René’s behalf. The principle of punishment to set an example assumed that the more illustrious the example the more effective it would be. Even under a new governor, La Jonquière [Taffanel], and a new minister, Rouillé, Jacques-René failed to win reinstatement. He endured poverty and misery, though he himself seemed more concerned with his disgrace, which lowered him “to the level of ordinary individuals in the colony.” He died on 27 July 1757 and was followed ten days later by his wife.
Two of Jacques-René’s sons served in the colonial regular troops. Jean-Hippolyte (b. 7 Sept. 1717) married Charlotte-Louise-Angélique Sarrazin in 1746, fought in Canada during the Seven Years’ War, and died en route to France in the shipwreck of the Auguste, 15 Nov. 1761. René was born 27 April 1720, served as ensign at Île Royale (Cape Breton Island) from 1750 to 1757, then returned to Canada. He was wounded in the battle of Sainte-Foy and died the following day, 29 April 1760.
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