TROTTIER DESAUNIERS, PIERRE (baptized Antoine-Pierre), merchant and shipowner, syndic of the merchants of Quebec; b. 2 Sept. 1700 in Montreal, son of Pierre Trottier Desauniers, a merchant, and Catherine Charest; went to live in France in 1747.
Pierre Trottier Desauniers was from a well-established business family. His uncle, Étienne Charest, seigneur of Lauson, owned a large business in Quebec, and it was perhaps at his suggestion that Desauniers took up residence there. On 27 Dec. 1723 he married Marguerite Chéron, daughter of a councillor of the Conseil Supérieur, Martin Chéron. The beginnings of Desauniers’s career are not known to us, but he seems already well established by 1730, since in that year he sold a two-storey stone house on Rue Sous-le-Fort; the following year he rented three houses belonging to Pierre Perrot* de Rizy, adjutant of the Quebec militia.
Desauniers devoted most of his energies to maritime trade and the fitting-out of ships. In 1733 he owed the Domaine d’Occident 1,365 livres in import duties, which suggests a sizable import trade. Around 1732 he had gone into business with his first cousin, François Martel de Brouague, in the fishing trade. Martel de Brouague held a large land grant at Baie de Phélypeaux (Brador Bay) on the Labrador coast and supervised the exploitation of it at the site. Desauniers acted as his supplier and attended to the marketing of the products of the Labrador fishery. The business required a large outlay of funds; in 1735 the two men formed a partnership, for which Desauniers put up 100,000 livres. As ships were needed to ply between Labrador and Quebec and to promote export trade, Desauniers wanted to launch into shipbuilding in 1737. But faced with the difficulty of finding the necessary wood, he could not execute his plan immediately. In 1739 he began building ships, encountering stiff competition, however, from the royal shipyard for wood and labour. Indeed, the shortage of carpenters had prompted Intendant Hocquart* to assign a certain number of them to the royal shipyard. A few others were free to work for the private shipbuilders, but the intendant required in return that the shipowners train carpenters. In addition to shipbuilding, Desauniers seems to have been interested for a time in the manufacture of fish glue.
In October 1740 Desauniers was chosen as syndic of the merchants of Quebec, an office he held until 1746. This nomination shows clearly the importance of his business concerns and bears witness to the confidence his colleagues had in him. Representing the commercial interests of Quebec, in 1741 Desauniers sent a report to the minister of Marine, Maurepas, asking for card money to be issued instead of bills of exchange, to facilitate retail trade. In another report to Governor Charles de Beauharnois and Intendant Hocquart he transmitted the complaints of the merchants of Quebec about the competition of the “coast runners” or smugglers, the scarcity of negotiable instruments, and the difficulty of handling them. He also requested contracts for building ships for the king or subsidies for private shipbuilding. In 1744 Desauniers, with Louis Charly Saint-Ange, the syndic for Montreal, signed another complaint to the minister of Marine over the difficulties of sea-borne trade in wartime. The syndics asked for escorts between French ports and Quebec, to avoid additional losses of ships.
In 1744 Desauniers’s commerce had reached a level sufficient to ensure him a comfortable living. He had four domestic servants to attend his family. Two years earlier he had married his two elder daughters to Étienne Charest and Joseph Dufy Charest, both of them sons of the rich seigneur of Lauson. On his ships Desauniers brought alcohol and general merchandise from France, and he sold the products of the Labrador fishery to the West Indies, from which he brought back tobacco. But the War of the Austrian Succession was to transform this promising career as a colonial merchant.
In 1745 the war on the seas and the English threat increased tenfold the risks in the import trade and caused shipowners to suffer enormous losses. The over-all economic situation became dark for merchants. Only the naval forces of the mother country could protect sea-borne trade, and their successes were irregular. Struck with consternation by the fall of Louisbourg, Île Royale (Cape Breton Island), the military forces at Quebec decided to fortify the town without asking for royal assent. On 12 Aug. 1745 the decision was taken, and Desauniers received the construction contract for the fortifications. He obtained 60,000 livres in advance, “to further its prompt execution,” and set to work following plans drawn up by Gaspard-Joseph Chaussegros de Léry. But his expenditures had not been authorized in the budget of the colony, and when Maurepas learned of them in 1746 he ordered that the works be stopped until the colony decided whether it wanted to continue them and pay for the cost, or preferred to give them up. As opinions were divided, it was left to Versailles to decide, and the works were abandoned. Desauniers then wanted to be paid for the construction done, a sum, according to the terms of his contract, amounting to 185,000 livres. Hocquart made difficulties for him about the payment of the last 5,000 livres. This last sum amounted to a third of Desauniers’ profit on the work, a profit which, to begin with, was only about eight per cent. In discouragement the merchant made up his mind to wind up his business and to go to live in France.
On 8 Sept. 1746 he sold his share in the fief of Argentenay (Île d’Orléans) to his partner, Martel de Brouague. On 7 November they dissolved their company and Desauniers withdrew his initial investment of 100,000 livres, plus 93,999 livres 7 sols as his share in the profits since 1735; he was to receive this sum of 193,999 livres 7 sols in France from the company’s funds. In October 1747 he sailed for France with his two sons, Pierre-François and Jacques, and his son-in-law, Joseph Dufy Charest – the three of them returned, it seems, to New France the following year. As his business had not been completely settled when he left the colony, Desauniers was involved in lawsuits heard by the provost court and the Conseil Supérieur in 1750, 1754, and 1755. At that time he was said to be “a merchant of Bordeaux.”
Born in Montreal of a bourgeois family, Desauniers had settled in Quebec, the seat of large-scale business, where he had prospered. Following the crisis brought on by the war, he chose to move to the mother country to continue his commercial activities. In so doing he achieved an ambition that was cherished by many colonial merchants in the 18th century.
AJQ, Registre d’état civil, Notre-Dame de Québec, 27 déc. 1723, 8 févr. 1731. AN, Col., C11A, 54, ff.235–37; 59, f.388; 67, f.78v; 69, ff.39–43; 70, f.138; 71, ff.125, 142–43; 75, ff.9–13v, 76, 79–80; 78, ff.94–96v; 80, ff.74–75; 82, ff.338–43; 84, ff.6–28, 120–30, 200–5, 218–21, 228–30; 85, ff.76–78, 323–33; 86, ff.283–86; 89, f.12; 94, ff.59–64; 121, f.174. ANQ, Greffe de Jacques Barbel, 4 août 1730, 28 déc. 1735; Greffe de Gilbert Boucault de Godefus, 20 oct. 1742; Greffe de Florent de La Cetière, 26 déc. 1723; NF, Registres du Cons. sup., 1721–1723, ff.90v.–91; 1729, ff.179v–81v; 1735, ff.22–25; 1735–1736, ff.39v–41v, 96–99v, 113v–15; 1739–1740, ff.142v–43; 1741, ff.173v–76v. ANQ-M, Registre d’état civil, Notre-Dame de Montréal, 3 sept. 1700. ASQ, Livres de comptes, C 8, 50, 323; C 10, 24; Polygraphie, XXIV, 36j; XXVII, 3b; XXXV, 22c, 22h; XLVI, 16g. Harvard College Library, bMS Can 1. PAC, MG 8, A2, 33, ff.75–85; 35, ff.87v–89v, 106–7; 37, ff.139v–40, 152v–54v; 40, f.12; A6, 15, ff.427–29. Inv. de pièces du Labrador (P.-G. Roy), II, 70–83, 192–93. “Recensemenet de Québec, 1744” (APQ Rapport), 104. P.-G. Roy, Inv. contrats de mariage, VI, 58; Inv. jug. et délib., III, 76, 92, 103, 107, 109, 116, 118, 122, 164–65, 250, 272, 292, 295, 302; IV, 42, 46, 58, 99, 164, 199, 232; V, 9, 14–15, 157, 164; VI, 25, 34. Tanguay, Dictionnaire.