SAINT-PÈRE, JEAN DE, clerk of court, notary, and syndic; b. c. 1618 at Dormelles in Gâtinois (France); son of Étienne de Saint-Père and Étiennette Julian, he belonged to a respected family whose arms were “azure, three fusils or, placed fessways in pale”; d. 1657 at Montreal.
Saint-Père came to Montreal, probably in 1643, in order, as he himself declared, “to contribute to the conversion of the Indians,” and from January 1648 he was the first clerk of court and the first notary at Ville-Marie (Montreal). He exercised this dual function from January 1648 to July 1651 and from April 1655 until his death. In 1651 he was the syndic of the Communauté des Habitants of Ville-Marie, and on 29 June 1654 he was elected “receiver of alms for the construction of the proposed church at Montreal.” These different responsibilities entrusted to him by his fellow-citizens show their esteem for Jean de Saint-Père. M. de Chomedey de Maisonneuve displayed no less confidence and esteem when, at the signing of Saint-Père’s marriage contract on 18 Sept. 1651, he made him a generous grant of land “to reward him for his good and faithful services, rendered over a period of eight years.”
This man “who had as solid a piety, as alert a mind, and in general . . . as excellent a judgment as have ever been known here [at Montreal]” met with a tragic end on 25 Oct. 1657. For a short time there had been peace between the French and the Iroquois. A group of Oneidas appeared on the land of Nicolas Godé, who, together with his son-in-law Jean de Saint-Père and their servant Jacques Noël, was busy building a house. The Frenchmen received the visitors most courteously, and even gave them a meal. The Iroquois, who had come under the guise of peace and friendship but with treacherous intent, waited until their hosts had climbed back onto the roof and were within range of their arquebuses; they then “brought them down like sparrows.” To complete their work, the Oneidas scalped Godé and Noël, but cut off Saint-Père’s head and carried it off “in order to have his fine growth of hair.”
A curious story, reported by Dollier* de Casson, Marguerite Bourgeoys, and Vachon* de Belmont, is connected with this episode. While the Iroquois were fleeing with their wretched trophy, Saint-Père’s head began to speak – in very good Iroquois, although during his life Saint-Père had always been ignorant of that language – reproaching them for their faithlessness: “You kill us, you inflict endless cruelties on us, you want to annihilate the French, you will not succeed, they will one day be your masters and you will obey them.” It was useless for the Iroquois to put the head some distance away, to cover it or to bury it; the avenging voice continued to make itself heard. They finally got rid of the skull, but since they retained the hair the Iroquois could not help but hear the voice of Saint-Père coming from the place where they kept the scalp.
These strange happenings, affirms Dollier de Casson, were recounted by the Iroquois themselves to reliable persons; Sister Bourgeoys asserts in addition that M. Cuillerier*, at that time a prisoner of the Iroquois, testified to the truth of this occurrence.
On 25 Sept. 1651, at Montreal, Jean de Saint-Père had married Mathurine Godé, by whom he had two children. He was buried in Montreal on 25 Oct. 1657, in the same grave as his two unfortunate companions.
AJM, Greffe de Lambert Closse, 1651–56; Greffe de Jean de Saint-Père, 1648–51, 1655–57. Premier registre de l’église Notre-Dame de Montréal (Montréal, 1961). É.-Z. Massicotte, “Jean de Saint-Père,” BRH, XXI (1915), 112–15; “Les trois premiers tabellions de Montréal,” RSCT, 3d ser., IX (1915), sect.i, 190f. J.-E. Roy, Histoire du notariat, I, 64–66.
The account of Saint-Père’s death is found in the following sources: Dollier de Casson, Histoire du Montréal, 122f; “Écrits autographes de Soeur Bourgeoys,” in Faillon, Histoire de la colonie française, II, 365, n. 2; JJ (Laverdière et Casgrain), 224; and [François Vachon] de Belmont, “Histoire du Canada,” Lit. and Hist. Soc. of Québec Trans., XVIII (1886), 29.
Revisions based on:
Bibliothèque et Arch. Nationales du Québec, Centre d’arch. de Montréal, CE601-S51, 25 sept. 1651, 25 oct. 1657.