LENEUF DU HÉRISSON, MICHEL, seigneur, member of the Communauté des Habitants, syndic, acting governor of Trois-Rivières, royal judge; b. c. 1601 at Caen (Normandy), son of Mathieu Leneuf and Jeanne Le Marchant; d. probably in 1672.
Michel Leneuf landed at Quebec 11 June 1636 along with other members of his numerous family: his adopted or illegitimate daughter Anne; his mother, Jeanne Le Marchant, widow of Mathieu Leneuf; his sister, Marie Leneuf (who was to marry the Trois-Rivières pioneer, Jean Godefroy de Lintot); his brother, Jacques Leneuf de La Poterie, who was bringing from France his daughter Marie-Anne and his wife, Marguerite Legardeur de Repentigny; Pierre Legardeur de Repentigny and Charles Legardeur de Tilly. They made up a veritable family clan, as was said later, which for several years sought to acquire a monopoly of the fur trade and which took the initiative in the founding of the Communauté des Habitants.
The Leneuf family went to settle at Trois-Rivières the same year it arrived. Michel secured title to substantial grants of land: among others the Dutort (later Bécancour) fief, 1 Dec. 1637; 50 acres fronting on the St. Lawrence River at Trois-Rivières, 16 July 1638; the fief of Vieux-Pont, 29 March 1649; part of the seigneury of Cap-des-Rosiers (the rest of which belonged to his brother, to the Le Gardeurs, and others), 9 March 1652. With the backing of his younger brother, Jacques, in whose house he lived, he managed to acquire, jointly with Jacques, effective control of the town of Trois-Rivières. The 1667 census credits him with 100 acres of land under development at Trois-Rivières. He also owned a flour mill. He had his farms cultivated by tenant farmers with whom, as a result of his violent temperament, he was in constant difficulty and litigation, especially with Sébastien Dodier and Guillaume Isabel. He was also continually at odds with the Jesuits in connection with the boundaries of their adjacent grants of land.
His public life was similarly very active. He capitalized on the prestige of his brother Jacques, who was governor of Trois-Rivières almost without interruption from 1645 to 1662. Michel Leneuf was chosen syndic of the settlers in 1648 and in 1649. In 1661, while his brother was still governor and when his brother-in-law, Charles Legardeur de Tilly, was a member of the Conseil de la Nouvelle-France, Michel had no difficulty in obtaining the post of general civil and criminal lieutenant in the seneschal’s court of Trois-Rivières; then, from 1664 on, he replaced Pierre Boucher* as royal judge after the latter’s resignation. When the Leneuf brothers had the control of the key offices which they had sought for a long time, their abuses involved them in numerous difficulties. In 1665–66 an inquiry into the liquor trade with the Indians proved that the governor’s wife herself, Marguerite Legardeur, was one of the leading figures in this flourishing business. The Conseil Souverain suspended Michel Leneuf from his post as a judge by a decree dated 29 May 1665 and replaced him temporarily by Councillor Louis Peronne de Mazé, who was appointed “special commissioner” for the time being.
Shortly afterwards Michel Leneuf was reinstated in office. In the records of a hearing held on 19 May 1666 he is listed as civil and criminal lieutenant, and the following year, on 8 June, a petition addressed to him by Michel Gamelain dit Lafontaine refers to him as “Royal Judge.”
The archives of the courthouse of Trois-Rivières have preserved for us some of the judgements handed down by Michel Leneuf. In general they are marked by fairness and common sense. These archives also contain an absorbing account of the numerous lawsuits that took place between the fiery seigneur and his tenant farmers. He was a typical Norman country squire, intelligent and wily, but fond of legal quibbles.
The documents provide us with very little information about his private life. When he arrived in New France he was single or a widower, for he brought out with him a little girl of four who still bore the name Anne Du Hérisson and not Anne Leneuf Du Hérisson. It is possible, as has been claimed, that she was his illegitimate daughter. No precise information is given in this young woman’s marriage contract with Antoine Desrosiers dated 24 Nov. 1647.
Michel Leneuf’s burial certificate is not recorded in the Roman Catholic registers of Trois-Rivières, which are preserved intact from 1634. We may, however, assume that he died in 1672, for he was replaced in his post as judge by Gilles de Boyvinet on 26 October of that year.
Michel had acted as governor of Trois-Rivières in 1668, as a temporary replacement in this office for René Gaultier de Varennes.
AJTR, MSS, Registres des audiences de la cour de juridiction civile et criminelle. APQ, Documents de la prévôté de Trois-Rivières. Recensement de 1667. Papier terrier de la Cie des I.O. (P.-G. Roy). P.-G. Roy, Inv. concessions, I, II, V. Raymond Douville, “La dictature de la famille Le Neuf,” Cahiers des Dix, XX (1955), 61–89; Visages du vieux Trois-Rivières (Trois-Rivières, 1955). Godbout, Les pionniers de la région trifluvienne. Sulte, Mélanges historiques (Malchelosse), XI, 7–38; XIV, 65–67; XIX.