Jacques Poissant dit La Saline
The Founder of the Canadian Branch 1661 - 1734
(This chapter is the translation of Dr. J. C. Poissant’s remarkable book, “The Genealogy of the Poissant Family,” which was published in 1909. This is actually only the first 55 pages, the remaining 200 pages being a very thorough listing of all the Poissant families beginning with Jacques Poissant, the first in America in 1684, from whom all Poissants in America have descended. This translation was done by Sister Helena Laberge in 1979.)
On November 12, 1684, a ship was anchoring on the shores of the city of Quebec, after a long and tiresome voyage. It was a late date considering the season and the size of the ship, also the storms of the Equinox made for a dangerous trip for sailboats. These small boats, comparable to sea shells, were like toys for the wind and the ocean. Often it would take two or three months to make the trip, whereas, today you can cross the Atlantic in a matter of a few days. This is what happened to the ship that was tossed about the sea covered with ice and snow. To the pressing demands of Monsieur de La Barre and of Monsignor de Laval, who begged Louis the XIV not to abandon the colony that was in extreme danger because of the war with the Iroquois, the king sent 300 soldiers, commanded by Montortier, Deno and Rivau. Having left LaRochelle at the end of August, the boat that was taking them had withstood all the ravages of the ocean.
The situation in Canada was critical, and this help filled the Bishop’s heart with joy, who in turn hastened to thank the King. The unsuccessful government expedition against the Iroquois and the shameful peace treaty that he was obliged to settle with the Indians, was the sad news that Monsignor de Laval had to take to court himself, a few days later, as he was traveling through France. This resulted in the return of Monsieur de la Barre to France, being replaced the following spring by Monsieur de Denonville, as future governor, along with 500 other soldiers to help in dealing with ensuring problems.
For half a century, the two European rivals, France and England, were continuing to fight for religious freedom on the New Continent. Living near one another, these two colonies were flourishing, causing envy and quarrels with their Mother Country. Anxious to possess unexplored territory, the missionaries and the trappers from the two nations traveled relentlessly through the land, plunging themselves into the forest and taking possession of the soil by erecting the National Flag.
The disbandment of the Carignan Regiment in 1665 and the establishment of nearly all the soldiers that had belonged to this troop, was a large boost to the colony. It was from this time on that a large number of parishes were founded and have sprung up on each side of the Saint Lawrence River from Montreal up to the Gulf. The nomination of Mr. Talon and also the good administration of Monsieur de Fontenac had contributed to the prosperity of the New France. While Joliet and Marquette were discovering the Mississippi, LaSalle was taking possession of the Great Lakes, the Jesuits were exploring all of the West, Nicolas Perrot was uniting the Indian Tribes at Michillimakinac, Father Albanel was claiming the discovery of Hudson Bay .. contested by the English, who being led by two French merchants, traitor to their country, had established trading posts for the treatment of furs. It was a subject of hostility in a New Land. Jealous to preserve these acquired rights and to have the Fleur-de-Lis respected on American soil Louis the XIV, knowing that he would have to act with vigor, sent all the troops that he could dispose of.
Among the soldiers who were defending the French Possessions in Canada, was Jacques Poissant dit La Saline, founder of the Canadian Branch, in whose book most of its members have been retraced. He belonged to Monsieur Cadillac’s Regiment according to the historians or to Monsieur de Noyan according to Mr. Tanguay. And so in the documents of abjuration spoken about further in this book, it is said that Jacques Poissant was a soldier of Mr. Cadillac’s Regiment, while in the documents of concession of the Monsieur de Saint Sulpice, he was made a soldier of the marines to Monsieur de Noyan. Did he still continue to belong to these two regiments? If so, that would explain the different titles that are in the two official documents.
The name “Marine Soldier” does not imply that Jacques Poissant was a mariner and that he was doing Marine Service. It simply came, says Suite, from taking directions from the Marines; Colbert called for the budget of the Regiments for the colonies, instead of leaving it to the Minister of War. Receiving their dues from the Marine Headquarters, the soldiers were known under this name even if they did not belong to this branch.
Jacques Poissant was born in Marennes, France on July 12, 1661 from the marriage of Jacques Poissant dit La Saline and Isabelle Magard, or Magos, according to certain Canadian Registers; the new protector of the New France was only 23 years old when he left his country and his small native city. His parents, Calvinists, like most people of La Rochelle and its surroundings, had just died, most probably leaving him alone in the world, since the archives of Marennes makes no mention of brothers nor sisters. On the otherhand these archives contain official deeds of a multitude of Poissants without mentioning bonds of relationship with the man we are interested in.
Some of these people became celebrities; a sculptor named Thibault Poissant, born in Estrees (Somme) in 1605 and died in Paris, September 16, 1668. He was the pupil at Amiens of Nicolas Blasset, and at Paris of Sarrasin who employed him to work at the Louvre, where Thibault Poissant won a scholarship and was a boarder in Rome; when he returned he made a great number of statues and embodiments for the Castle of Louvre, of Tulleries, of Versailles, and for the churches of Reims, Andelys and of Paris. He was received into the Royal Academy, March 17, 1663. Thibault had a brother who was an excellent architect and who died in Paris on April 3, 1669.
Were these two Poissants uncles of our Canadian ancestors? It is a possibility. They were, it goes without saying, contemporaries of his father ... coming almost from the same province and having the same age.
At the time when the Poissants were living in Marennes, salt commerce was still more considerable than today and the surname “La Saline” came most probably from some salt marshes exploited by the family: but this commerce however, was not that fruitful, from information received from the people of that place, they were simple people, fisherman perhaps, as were a large number of people living in Marennes. This place was so to say, an important fishing port. Today Marennes is a “head port” in the surrounding area of Charente-Inferieure on the Seudre, about 31 kilometers from La Rochelle the port from where most of the ships came in from Canada and 6 kilometers from Brouage, homeland of the Founder of Quebec, Samuel de Champlain. It is not more than 2 kilometers from the Atlantic, that continually ravages the shores and at every high tide, sends the surplus of its waters into the nearby marshes. The population, mostly Calvinists, is about 6,000. It has a tribunal of Inferior Court and of Commerce and continues considerable exploitation’s for salt, wine, marsh beans, peas, corn, but most of all green and Portugeuse Oysters ... universally known. The imports consists of coal and wood from the North, and there we find a factory for Chemical Products and a few distilleries.
Well built but not too sanitary because of the marshes nearby that have given it the surname “Gathering of Islands”, Marennes does not have old monuments except an old Huguenot Temple and a Catholic Church that dates back to the fourteenth century, attracting the tourists by its tall gray steeple. The city was released in the twelfth century from the “Monastery of Saints”, but was later annexed to La Rochelle and has withstood many tribulations. In 1548, the people revolted against the excise tax and became Protestants. The Religious persecutions began. Henry the Second became the successor of his father Francois First and showed excessive severity toward the Calvinists. His Edicts from Chateaubriand in 1551 and d’Ecouen in 1553 called for the penalty of death for Protestants who were caught in clandestine exercises of their cult. In 1568, Marennes submitted to a siege that lasted two years. The accession of Henry the Fourth to the throne of France and the publication of the Edict of Nantes, assuring the Calvinists religious liberty with important privileges, gave peace to the people of Marennes like to all of France, that had been suffering since fifty years of internal religious wars.
However peace was of short duration. Not long after, persecutions began that were more cruel than ever. Of the three great ambitions Richelieu had, one was the abolition of Protestantism in France, causing terrible suffering to the Calvinists of Marennes and particularly of LaRochelle; at last, Louis the Fourteenth, following the policies of his great minister, annihilated their power forever by revoking the Edict of Nantes, that had up to now given them certain liberties. This act of oppression caused a great number of people to leave their homeland. More than 100,000 reformed, brought their funds and industry elsewhere, leaving terrible consequences to the wealth of France.
Probably led by this flow of emigrants, Jacques Poissant, an orphan of both mother and father, without serious ties to his homeland, attempted to try his skill in America. Was the coming of religious persecutions the immediate cause of his departure? We do not believe so, since coming to Canada he found the same ordinances that were raging in France. The risk or the spirit of adventure, and the choice of his regiment by the king to give help to New France, were the only reasons for departure.
As soon as he arrived in Quebec, he was directed in wintering quarters with his troop, toward Montreal, to protect the people of Ville Marie from the incursions of the Iroquois. In the spring of 1685, they came to the Pointe au Trembles, a newly founded parish with a residing Pastor. At the High Mass, on Palm Sunday, Jacques Poissant renounced Calvinism with another Huguenot friend, Isaac Fore dit Laprairie and the two of them made an act of renunciation as recorded ---
Act of Abjuration of Jacques Poissant and Daniel Fore
I under sign as Sequenot, pastor of this Parish, and want to certify to whom it may concern, that Jacques Poissant and Daniel Fore dit Laprairie, the first one ... son of Jacques Poissant and of Isabelle Magos, his father and mother that come from Marennes, the episcopate of Xaintes, and the second one, son of Isaac Fore and Ann Tibau, his mother and father that come from Saint d’Angeli, episcopate of La Rochelle and both sons, soldiers of the corps of Mr. Cadillac, a detachment of the Marines, have made on this day of April 15, 1685, after the reading of the gospel during the parochial High Mass, on Palm Sunday, at the foot of the alter, in my presence and the presence of Mr. Jean de Bermonde, Grand Knight of Sainte Basile and Cromiere, lieutenant of the same Order, of Mr. Jean Deroche, St. Amant, Tourblanche de Fontenay, Laprairie, Archambau, Rainau, Gralenot, and all the parishioners, a public abjuration from the Heresy of the Calvinists and Huguenots of France, renouncing all connections imposed upon them, unfortunately, by their birth in this presupposed reformed religion, promising and swearing solemnly on the Holy Gospels, that they want to be considered in the ranks of the Holy Roman Catholic and Apostolic Church, the one true mother church of all other churches, outside of which there is no salvation, and to live and die, by the grace of God in the faith that it teaches.
Mr. Caron, after reading the profession of Faith found in the Catechism of the Council of Trente, and constructed in part for this purpose by order of the Fathers of Ecumenical Synod, La Saline and Laprairie, have declared in faith that they know why I have signed below, with other witnesses, and why it is not necessary that others sign because of the great number of persons.
This took place on April 15, 1685 at La Pointe aux Tremble, below the Island of Montreal.
Gillemarien (Gille Marien) , J. Raymond, St Basile, J. Caron, F. Laprarie
Sequenot, (Francois Sequenot, Cure)
So it was on April 15, 1685, five months after his arrival in Canada, that Jacques Poissant acknowledged the errors of his forefathers and returned to the fold of the church. How admirable the ways of Divine Providence for not permitting one of the reformed of the Mother Country or elsewhere, to propagate errors of their beliefs, on Canadian Soil! Most of them fleeing from the coercion of their faith and attracted by adventure and commerce, came with the hope of finding on virgin soil, more liberty in the practice of their religion, but the ordinances had already preceded them and we know how the governors and Bishops called for the respect of these laws. In a letter addressed by Louis the Fourteenth in 1683 to Monsieur de la Barre he says, “I wrote to Monsieur the Bishop of Quebec, that I will always uphold the prohibitions that I made to the Huguenots to pass from Acadia into Canada; only the persons coming in for their commerce can be tolerated, provided they promise not to practice their religion.” The policy from the High King was sanctioned in Canada like in France: only instead of using brutal and coercive means that compelled them to free from their homeland, the Protestants found examples coming from on high, of sublime devotion, divine charity and the practice of virtues that gave them reasons for their defections.
Jacques Poissant, like all his religious companions, submitted without a doubt the happy influences that are talked about by all historians. Monsignor de St. Vatier said on arrival in Canada, “ I feel the revival in all the churches in Canada, something of this spirit of detachment, that made for one of the principal beauties of the church of Jerusalem, at the time of the Apostles.” Charlevoix remarks, “ that among the new comers, the free thinkers could not go on, due to the examples of virtue that were constantly before their eyes, and that after six months they were not to be recognized and were not able to recognize themselves.”
The conditions of the place certainly had an influence on the religious spirit of that time. Always exposed to the attacks by the Iroquois and to all sorts of dangers expected of colonists and soldiers, these pioneers of the New France lived a pure and righteous life. Brave and courageous, they faced death with a peaceful soul, finding hope only in God. This soul condition cannot be found other than in the midst of the Catholic Church where it reaps heroism and virtue, and to acquire this condition, those who did not belong to it threw themselves into the fold as a supreme refuge of peace and tranquillity.
What happened to Jacques Poissant after his abjuration? A mysterious question for which we have no answers. Did he continue his career as a soldier? Did he partake of the Hudson Bay Expedition sent by Monsieur de Denonville in 1686 or the expedition against the Iroquois in 1687? Later, was he among those who ravaged the establishments of the New England in the expeditions that were organized by Fontenac during the winter of 1689-1690? Although his name was not mentioned anywhere in the Annals of our History, it is permitted to presume with certainty that he took an active part in the numerous struggles of his time. He must have been present in the combined skirmish de La Prairie de la Madeleine against the English and Iroquois in 1691. Perhaps it was because of this circumstance that he conceived the project of establishing himself in this parish that was founded since a number of years.
Following the memoirs of LaHontan, the soldiers had excellent occasions to acquaint themselves with the work of clearing the land. Here is what he wrote on October 2, 1685; “The troops are lodged with the farmers living near the seashore or with the landlords, from October to May. The farmer furnishes the soldier with the simple necessities, hires him to cut wood, fell trees, or the thresh wheat in the barns for about six cents a day plus his board. The captain also has his profit; so as to oblige his soldiers to give him half of their pay, he forces them to come to his home three or four times a week for drilling. Because these places are four or five acres away from each other and one hill accounts for two or three pieces of land, they much prefer to get along with the farmers than to go that far in mud and snow.”
There were also many occasions for numerous marriages. “What makes it easy to marry, says La Hontan, is the difficulty we have to converse with persons of the opposite sex. We must tell the mother and father after four visits we make to their daughters: we must stop all visits and speak about marriage, otherwise slander attacks or the other.”
No one fooled around with morals. Monsignor de Saint Valier wrote in 1868, “The people commonly speaking, are just as scrupulous as the clergy appears to be holy. We notice certain dispositions that we admired formally in the Christians of the first century; simplicity, devotion and charity, appear with brilliance, we are happy to help those who are beginning to settle down: each one lends or gives something and everyone encourages and consoles them in times of trouble. There is something surprising in the dwellings that are far away from the parish and were a long time without a pastor. The French kept up their charitable practices and their lives are admirable. Each house is a little community, well regulated: morning and evening prayer is said in common, the rosary is recited, there is particular prayer before the meal, and the mothers and fathers of a family substitute for the lack of a priest in what concerns the conduct of the children and their hired men.
We can easily understand that under such protection, permissiveness and flirting were unsuccessful and LaHontan’s remark is self explanatory. It was most probably under such circumstances that Jacques Poissant met his wife, Marguerite Bessette, (or Bessin or Bessede) according to the caprice or ignorance of the secretary at that time. When and where did he marry her? Most probably at La Prairie where he had land—that he was to occupy and where his wife lived also. Yet in spite of all the research, it was impossible to find in the registers his marriage certificate. Was it drawn up in a summary by a passing Missionary, or was it destroyed accidentally by someone? Mystery!! Here are a few facts about his wife’s family.
Greffe de a Adhemar
Marriage Contract of Jean Besset
and of Anne Le Seigneur
July 3, 1668, contract of marriage between Jean Bessede ( or Bessette or Bessin) said Brisetout, soldier of the Pont Habitant of the Fort St. Louis, native of Cahors in Quercy, on the one hand and from Anne Lesseigneur his wife, daughter of the deceased Guillaume Le seigneur and of Madeleine Save, native of Rouen and from the parish of St. Maclou.
Passed and signed at the Fort St. Louis in front of me, Antoine Adhemar, said St. Martin, notary of Richelieu and a close neighbor.
In 1681, we find Jean Bessin or Besset, mentioned in the parish of Seigneurie de Chambly. Jean Bessin, said Besset, 39 years old: Anne Le Seigneur his wife 32; his children, Marie 13 years old, Jacquelin 11 years old, Jean 9 years old, Simon 6 years old and Ann 2 years old. Marguerite was not born in 1681, since she does not appear in the parish census. Monsignor Tanguay does indicate the date of her birth in his Genealogical Dictionary. He places her immediately after Anne and mentions her marriage to Jacques Poissant, in 1698. Presuming that she was born around 1682, she would be sixteen years old which was about middle age at that time. If we consult the date of birth of his first child and judging by the registers—
Jean Baptiste, baptized at La Prairie on July 20, 1700 and that of the last ones, twins, Marie Agathe and Marie Anne, baptized at La Prairie on July 27, 1720... it seems that these probabilities are quite certain.
There is nothing surprising in our history that the registers be incomplete due to the troublesome times. When we think of the life that these colonists of Montreal lived and of La Prairie in particular, when we recall his incessant struggles, the repeated attacks by the Iroquois or the British, that obliged the people to take refuge in Montreal under the protection of the soldiers, also every summer men were needed to defend their country and so were enrolled in far away expeditions, lastly, when we observe how the population remained stationary in spite of the many births, and how new recruits were needed because of the annihilations caused by the destruction’s of war, we cannot be surprised that all civil deeds were not entered regularly.
For example: the small village that La Prairie built in 1647 -- was not occupied before 1667, since the census bearing this date makes no mention of it—has in 1681 about 38 land grants --- 28 of them fusing together and forming a population of 151 persons in all -- 81 men and 70 women. Seventeen years later (1698) La Prairie and St Lambert united into one—having only 225 inhabitants -- 114 of which were men and 111 were women—showing not much of a strong increase, which is normally what would not have been given, like the surplus of births and some new colonists. The number of mortalities cause by war was high—says Monsignor Tanguay. After the war says Garneau (speaking about the times he was living in) the colonists were faced with a terrible famine. Money had disappeared and we were compelled to issue card money. Ware products and merchandise had no value—ammunition was missing, and the director was obliged to have the gutters on the houses melted, using these metal balls for bullets. There was also a great loss of men. In the Spring of 1691, the Iroquois were spreading everywhere, burning villages like those of St. Ours and Contrecoeur, or scalping the people like the father of Marguerite, -- Jean Besset, and one of his companions, Joseph Dumay, who had his hair pulled out in the summer of 1692, at Saint Lambert. The English were also part of this plot. During the night of August 10, 1691 -- Colonel Pierre Schuler, escaping from the surveillance of the troops that Mr. Calliere had placed in the direction of Chambly, fell on the camp of La Prairie which was poorly guarded, and killed 18 French and Canadians—then withdrew upon noticing that his forces were inferior to the one he wished to attack.
The summer of 1691, relates Mr. Sulte, slipped away in the midst of struggles. The following winter, the French, the Canadians and the Indians went racing into the neighborhood of the most hostile Iroquois. The following year, in 1692, the Iroquois repeated attacks on Montreal and its surroundings. Any attempt to farm would endanger ones life and lead to death. The homes in the country were not even safe. The year 1693 was more quiet. At the end of Autumn, the people from Lachenaie decided to spend the winter on their farms. Not long after the Iroquois gave them a surprise attack and took them as captives, with the exception of those who were killed while fighting. During the harvest, (1694) a great number of Iroquois coming from Richelieu, entered into the farmlands to surprise Boucherville but were dispersed by the Captain of la Durantage. The following year there were no incursions from the Iroquois. To revenge—some troops and militia surprised the Indians in the surroundings of Cataracouri and inflicted upon them a bloody defeat. In the summer of 1696, Frontenac organized a great expedition against the Onnontagues—that proved to be successful; they burned their villages and escaped into the forest where they continued to harass the inhabitants. Finally, the peace settlement of Ryswick gave respite to the farmers, even though the Iroquois continued to make war until November 1698. Then they made plans for negotiations, which shrewdly conducted by Monsieur de Callieres, brought lasting peace in 1701, and was signed in Montreal by delegates of most of the Indian tribes in America. The colonists were able to breathe and further their cultivation, that was constantly interrupted by eight years of war inflicted upon them. An era of prosperity was foreseen for the New France. Its population increased to about 15,000 people. Commerce between the West and Hudson Bay Strengthened. The soldiers that were not on duty were dispersed on farms to help in the harvest. Saint Sulpice Seminary had the Canal of Lachine excavated. D’Iberville founded Louisiana and Lamothe and Cadillac settled in Detroit. All of these circumstances most probably persuaded Jacques Poissant to settle down, following in this manner the example of most of his comrades, who chose a colony, once their service was finished, by taking farms and becoming Canadians and marrying girls from this country.
Arriving in the country in 1684 with probably a ten year contract, Jacques Poissant became a free man in 1694. Hence he decided to stay in La Prairie de la Magdeleine that he knew well because of having fought there—and he obtained from the Monsieurs de Saint Sulpice, a plot of land in the part called “Cote de la Tortue” mentioned in the document that follows. The name Hill (cote) given to all the settlements, came from a custom brought out by many Historians, who established themselves along a river (St. Laurent (Saint Lawrence))
“We were always astonished in the King’s Council, says Sulte, that the people of New France refused to change their dwelling place—and would group themselves in the manner of their country—like a village or a hamlet.” “On the contrary, says Charlevoix, when new farms were tilled, we thought of spreading out so that we could have more space, without considering, that by doing this we were deprived of mutual protection. The houses were in a graduation near enough to make another—on long and narrow farms—all facing the edge of the river.” “In the first Springs, says Mr. Gillaume Levesque, no one wanted to leave the shores of the Saint Lawrence River. Here we discover why these concessions are narrow in the front and of such great depth. This rule that was followed on the shores of the great river, extended itself to other shores. The one owned by Jacques Poissant began with the front part facing the St. Laurent River and extending to the unoccupied lands, as it is said in the Law Of Concessions.”
A difficulty arises concerning the exact location of the ancestral land. Following the opinions of the “ancestors,” especially the father of J. C. Poissant, the family home was about six or seven miles from La Prairie, implying that it was far from the farmlands. We do not believe that it was the primitive property grant, but probably a second property bought later. This land called “Cote de la Tortue” is still existing. It begins from the village of La Prairie going southwest, across Saint Philippe’s Parish, on into Saint Edwards. The small river bearing this name, probably because of its winding form, branches off in different places before pouring its contents into the Saint Lawrence River.
Greffe De A. Adhemar
Act of Concession of the Sulpicians of Montreal
July 8, 1694
Concession to Poissant dit Lasaline. Before Anthoine Adhemar, Royal Notary of the Island of Montreal, resident of Ville Marie, undersigned and present witness, the Reverend Fr. Vallant, who voluntary gave and conceded to Jacques Poissant said Lasaline, soldier of the Company of Monsieur de Noyan, Captain of a detachment of the Marines, living at La Prairie de la Madeleine at present and accepting, taking and holding an auditory title for the cause of a concession at La Prairie de la Madeleine, a place called La Tortue, about two acres wide and fifty acres long with a part facing the Saint Lawrence River and the length extending way back into lands not conceded and from one side runs into the farms of Anthoine Rougier dit La France, soldier of the company of Mr. Denoyan and separated by a parallel line from the preceding land which runs southwest, minus 5 degrees over to the other side to the farms of Jacques Boyer, son of Nicolas, and separated by a parallel line from the preceding one, thereby more easily bound and measured for verbal proceedings, naming the Monsieur de Cathalogne as jury and surveyor of this land ..... signed by him the third of this month in this country, that the land given to the party by the notary, would at present remain dependant to the smallest detail so that it could be used when needed...along with other conditions and charges.
Among other things, these persons should be paid for their ten hours of work by the RR.PP. Seigneurs at their residence which is La Prairie de la Madeleine, for each one two ‘deniers’ of rent and one ‘sol’ for each of the described hundred acres which is equal to five Livres, with two good live turkeys ... or 40 ‘sol’ for the value of which would be left to the choice of the RR.PP. Seigneur in the said contract of Concessions of Jacques Poissant dit Lasalline, transcribed above, written and passed on this day with witnesses and the Reverend Father Vaillant ... and the notary. The purchaser declared after the document was read and he was interpreted that he did not know how to read nor sign this document according to the law.
By this deed of Concession of the Monsieur de Saint Sulpice, rather strange because of the style of writing and the details mentioned, we have proof that Jacques Poissant spent some time at La Prairie in 1694 because the locations of the farms, demanded that the headmaster reside there. We also have the proof that Lordships of La Prairie belonged to the Sulpicians. Conceded first to Francois de Lauzon, having the title “Counselor of the King in his Court of Parliament of Bordeaux,” and he gave the land, on April 1, 1647 to the Reverend Jesuits Fathers, who founded a Mission of Iroquois in 1669, but on May 29, 1680, the Jesuits exchanged it for the Lordships of Sault Saint Louis, finding that the farms of La Prairie de la Madeleine that were conceded to them beforehand were too humid to be seeded and could not provide for the subsistence of the Iroquois that were living there. The Jesuit Fathers were also in custody of vast lands near the villages of La Prairie called “The Common,” where the cultivators from the surrounding area sent their flock of sheep to graze.
In this same deed of Concession, we find a companion in battle, Anthoine Rougier, living near him. He also had to pay minimum rent demanded by the Sulpicians.
At all times in Canada, the rent was of nominal importance! It was one of the ancient feudal customs and an occasion to help the concessionaires, because not only was land given to those who wished to establish themselves but given also of a certain amount of money, obliging them before all else to till the land. The king granted 100 Livres to each soldier who took a concession, or 50 Livres and food for the year; the Sergeants received 150 Livres or 100 Livres with food for the year. The other officers received in proportion to their ranks. On the other hand, the Seigneurs, especially those from Montreal, as Mr. Faillon has stated --- paid to their headmasters, gratuities of 400 or 600 Livres
Later, Louis the Fourteenth, encouraged marriages and large families. By an Edit signed April 12, 1670, the king decreed that all the families having ten children would receive a pension of 300 Livres, “for each year” and those who had twelve children would receive 400 Livres His Majesty even offered more: “may each boy that marries at 20 years or under and each girl at 16 years or under, receive 20 Livres on their wedding day: this will be called the King’s Gift.” This was a practical way of encouraging colonization and the establishment of soldiers. Jacques Poissant could not benefit from these advantages because, when he married, he was 37 years old. His wife, much younger, who was not more than 16 years old, could have received the King’s gift. Like most of the young girls she was an orphan and was also poor! (Heir and Heiress were quite rare in that country) so the women would give to their husbands, much spirit, joy, friendship and fecundity ... says Marie de L’Incarnation. Marguerite had nothing else to bring to her husband’s dwelling. Everything was set up ... At that time it was the custom, says Mother of the Incarnation, among the most shrewd persons .. (speaking about the young men who wish to marry) to begin preparing a dwelling a year before getting married, because those who had one found a better party; it is one of the first things a girl would inquire about, and this was truly wise ... because those who had no dwelling suffered very much before enjoying a bit of comfort.
What were these dwellings? Monsieur Boucher gives a description: “Some are made of stones,” he said, “and covered by boards or pine wood, others have a framework of timber with walls in between, while others are made of wood and are covered by boards. Some are still in existence. They are remarkable by the thickness of their walls, their shutters of wood or iron, by their large chimneys with a hearth formed from a large flat stone on which the Christmas and New Year’s logs were burned.”
The dwelling of Jacques Poissant and of Marguerite Bessette resembled those that existed at that time. Both poor, his pension as a soldier did not make him rich, neither did his wages as a farmer’s hired man; their marriage beginnings might have resembled those that Pierre Boucher speaks about: “Most of the farmers that were here, were people who came as workman, servants or soldiers and who, after serving for three or four years, gave themselves up to them; ordinarily they had very few things and they married a girl not having much more; then in four or five years you see them living comfortably ... if they like work and are well adjusted for people of their condition.”
In these places the soil was fertile and their conditions modest. When the Iroquois did not prevent them from tilling and seeding, they could hope for a rich harvest. Hunting and fishing furnished them with abundant and wholesome food. Lastly, according to all Historians, these families, quite numerous, lived conveniently. Truly, it was not the life of the farmers of today. They did not have the luxuries of a farmhouse that exists today.
There were typical details on this subject ... which prove to be very interesting. If the dwellings of our great grandfathers were not as sumptuous as those of today, they certainly offered commodities that were all deprived of. First, the homes were more solid, since many of them withstood the activities of centuries. These homes were vast with full length rooms. We could circulate as well as in the King’s Palace..., observes Sulte, “We built large homes because we wanted to live comfortably in the summer ... while in the winter we would heat daringly ... It was not combustible material that was mission—“In our four chimneys”, said Mother of the Incarnation, “we burned this winter 175 cords of large logs.!!” What joyous evenings ... sound and honest, spent under the roof of our dwelling, while the huge logs of oak or pine .. since there was no economy with this precious wood ... crackled on the hearth and conversation was at its highest peak. What adventurous stories and bold stunts were related as we smoked the good old Canadian pipe. Hunting for the Iroquois and battling for the English must have been the subject most talked about in more than one evening. How many times did we hang our pipes in the chimney corner to unhook the long gun in that same chimney corner or the large musket and run upon some forest prowlers. Sulte tells about a bachelor who was courting a widow at Lachenaie in 1693. During the evening the Iroquois appeared. The lovers grabbed a gun, chased the looters and continued the conversation where they had left off. Every night the storm doors and blinds were closed through prudence. Otherwise the Iroquois would have disturbed the peace of the smokers. This life seems intolerable .. and yet, if we believe the chronicles of the time, Canada has never known such a time of joy!! We found time to amuse ourselves between two skirmishes and the annals are filled with familial love feasts and entertainment. We ate very well ... and we would be at fault if we believed that our ancestors nourished themselves with salt provisions. Hunting and fishing furnished them with game and fish of all kinds and the domestic animals with fresh meat. The family suppers and the stews were legends; like pea soup, meat pies, blood sausage, suckling pigs, sausages and roast pork.
“In 1660, the country could get along without France,” said Mother of the Incarnation, but we needed clothes. A few years later the Farmers Industry made them altogether independent of the mother country. We build ovens to be free from those of the company and to utilize the wheat that we harvested. Some of these ovens were contiguous with the home and some were further away. Very few of these are in existence today, along with kneading troughs and many other relics of the past. It is interesting to note in an inventory that dates back to 1690, the enumeration of certain objects that we cannot find today. For example ... small and large benches, ladders, iron pots, sledge hammers, lead molds, sword makers, guns, muskets, and pistols. Earthenware dishes and knives cannot be found anywhere. Neither can we find pottery or tin articles. We had pewter spoons that we melted ourselves, while rich people had silver spoons. Most of the furniture was man made. The chairs were like ladders ... benches were long with a back. Later on we had chairs with woven seats and backs made from crude skins or from ash. Our beds were made of wood and could close like closets, said Marie of the Incarnation. There were bunk beds ... we still find some today. The more fortunate people had real beds with a bed tester, screen and curtains. In some of our old farm houses we have kept huge ancient furniture. Very high and heavy, these pieces of furniture were luxurious and awesome. Four large columns held the bed tester and a curtain of shirred white linen hid the base. During the day we would open the curtains and at night we would close them for reasons understood only, if we consider that this was the only real piece of furniture in many homes.
Another rare piece of furniture at that time was the stove. The Blacksmith Shop of Saint Maurice began making these huge stoves with three decks in 1730. Prior to this, the stoves that were in the country came from Europe and only the rich had them. For example, when Marie Lauzon entered the Ursulines in 1668, the family asked that a stove be installed in the monastery. For a long time the churches were deprived of this. We had heaters filled with coal and in the cold winter months, pails made of iron were also filled with coals and were placed here and there. In private homes the chimney heated the rooms and we cooked our food on a hanging pot that replaced the stove.
The large closets of our great grandmothers deserve our attention. This was their pride to show these closets filled with beautiful white linens, checkered woolen material and soft light flannels, large pieces of material from their country out of which men and women’s clothes were made. In this way the “Farmer’s Industry” took care of their needs quickly. The cultivation of flax and hemp, that grew taller and more beautiful than in France, said Pierre Boucher, furnished the linens from which summer clothes were made; and the fleece from our numerous sheep gave us the necessary wool to make simple or twill material from which shirts and winter coats were made. In the attic or in some corner of the house the heavy loom for weaving functioned all winter and the nimble spindle glided through the hands of our strong Canadians, who weaved with great facility the four full width measures of linen and heavy material. If the absence of rugs was conspicuous, the yellow floors nevertheless, were in part covered by beautiful strips of heavy colored material, which was the pride and joy of the oldest daughter of the house or the mother of the family.
If the women were considered industrious, the men were non the less. Both good laborers, they were not frightened by work. In the summer some would join others in their farm work, particularly around harvest time where everyone was needed in the fields. Today, the reaper climbs on his machine, cuts his 10 acres of wheat or oats, unmindful that he is doing the work of ten sickle cutters of the past. “The Reaper,” one of Millet’s paintings, has displayed the loss of one scene that should be preserved; that of the mother, father and children, bent over the wheat and rising with cadence to deposit in a jar a handful of blond wheat clusters. Another scene of the past that we will never see again in our country is “Trussing.” Anyone who has seen this will remember it forever. The chief of the oven would watch over cans of flax roasting over the fire; then the trusser with rolled-up sleeves would beat with vigor using a wooden knife ... the dried stems; the combers would take out handfuls of hair from the tufts by passing them through iron combs and then knotting them into a soft blond cord. During this activity there was much laughter and the jeers from the workers constituted an unforgettable scene. We were happy because we did not know the meaning of idleness!!! No one can live here says Pierre Boucher, unless they can do everything ... and later Father Joseph Navieres, pastor of Sainte Anne de Beaupre in 1734 added, that each person does what he is capable of doing, since the carpenters are rare. Buildings, farm implements, clothes, everything was made from their hands. Shoes (like Indian Boots) made of red leather .. so convenient for our Winters, were cut and sewed near the chimney during the winter months while smoing a pipe the mother working on the loom or knitting long traditional toques. Sometimes for Sundays and holidays, we had new shoes and a suit of fine linen that would last a life time, but the national costume, the one that is unfortunately disappearing, consisted of a coat and pants made of material of the country, a red or blue toque, Indian shoes and a pointed belt with arrows. Our great grand fathers would never recognize their granddaughters and grandsons with their plumed hats, furs, frisky equipment, standing in front of a church on Sunday. Also, in regards to civic and moral laws we would hardly recognize them. With the simplicity of morals, the simplicity of spirit has disappeared. Defiance and ambition has replaced the confidence and generosity that existed formerly. The times have passed for farmers, who upon the donors word would lend money in secret. Today we need a lawyer and even at that we get caught. We never locked our doors because this was not accepted by the neighbors. Everything we had was in common so to say, and the table was set for anyone who walked in. Canadian hospitality was just as renowned as Scottish hospitality; this fine reputation we owe to the simple generosity of our fore fathers. Today there are many good farmers who are still resisting as much as they can ... the new morals and who are keeping the good practices of the past. They are trying to live their farmer life, like it was lived by this ancestor of whom we are writing this biography. While relating about the existence of people in those days are we not writing about his life ... where he lived ... in the place of La Tortue until he died, rearing his children in the love and fear of the Lord, tilling the land which gave them subsistence and preparing a beautiful heritage for his children.
Jacques Poissant did not have too many children relative to his time. We have traced nine in the registers: Jean Baptist baptized July 20, 1700, Jacques on August 10, 1702, Marguerite around 1703, Francois, on June 18, 1704, Pierre around 1706, and Claude on January 27, 1709. Then there was a long gap in the births, according to the registers, since no other names are mentioned before 1716. If in the interval, other children were born, they must not have lived ... and if they did and were boys they certainly did not prosper. Four years later, Marguerite Bessette, ended the family name by bringing into the world girl twins, Marie Agathe and Marie Anne on July 27, 1720. She was about 38 years old and her husband 59. Ten years later her son Jacques settled down and the following year (8 January 1731) his sister Marguerite followed her brother’s example. These were the only two children who married before their father’s death on August 19, 1734 at the age of 74. A few days before his death, feeling that the end was coming, the old soldier dictated his last will in the testament written below and that we are happy to reprint; it shows in minute details, to what point this venerable of man exemplified the cult of honor and integrity.
Testament of Jacques Poissant (Translated from Old French)
Present in person, the Monsieur Jacques Poissant living in this place - bedridden, but having full memory, judgment and understanding ... his exterior actions and gestures denoting a person advanced in age, without certainty about the hour of his death and not wanting to die before putting order in his temporal belongings toward his family so that when it will please God to dispose of his soul, he will leave peace and tranquillity among his children as told to the notary undersigned and serving as a witness the names of Jean Baptiste and Pierre Poissant his children, absent because they moved further away, have loaned him 40 bushels of wheat so that he and his wife could live because he is incapable of working and cannot evaluate his belongings due to his weakness. These 40 bushels of wheat the Monsieur Poissant, father, wishes in as much as God gives him life, that they remove some wheat from the present harvest and return it to her preferably to his wife so that he may own this portion that is due him, ... Monsieur Poissant, father, declares that to the Monsieur Jean Baptiste Poissant, his son, he leaves in his custody before he dies, a green blanket that cost 25 Livres that he bought and earned by his work for others, and that it would be listed as belonging to him personally and knowing and confessing that the Monsieur Poissant in front of those present, that the Monsieurs Jean Baptiste and Pierre both have two young steer and a horse belonging to them, that was left in their father’s and mother’s care before they took leave, and there is one that they bought with their money along with a horse that Monsieur Pierre Poissant bought with his own money and the other two steer, the mother and father Poissant gave and bequeathed to them to repay for the necessities that were given to them in merchandise and other things like Monsieur Poissant Father, declares that Monsieur Claude Poissant, his son, has always worked since the departure of his brothers for another place further North, to provide for the necessities in order to live, otherwise they would have had to depend on others, and so Monsieur Poissant with his wife wish that Monsieur Claude Poissant would take in payment for part of his work, a horse with gray hair belonging to them and after two months that they be paid a salary as good workers during harvest time in regards to Francois Poissant, their son, that the mother and father consent to dress him in new clothes from head to foot and for the work of the present harvest their would be no fixed salary nor anything betaken from the father and the mother who are working their interest and that everything that has been projected and mentioned above, according to one party or the other, that with their consent everything will be executed and accomplished in justice, for the sake of their children ... without any inconveniences, as it has been declared, that no one can go against what has been decided recently and taken place at La Prairie de la Madeleine, home of Monsieur Poissant, in the year of 1734, the fourteenth day of August, at noon, before the Monsieurs Rene Dupuy, Captain of the Militia of the place, and Francois Montreuil, witness living in the place, knowing that Monsieur Dupuy with the notary and Monsieur Poissant who could not sign this testament because of his sickness and Monsieur Montreuil, witness also, who did not sign, but knew that the paper was written order -.
The fourteenth of August 1734.
This old document is very precious and filled with information. We learn that two of Jacques’ sons, Jean Baptiste and Pierre left for a place “further North” having departed not too long before the father’s death, since they lent their father 40 bushels of wheat and that they owned two young steers and a horse bought with their money. And the old man waits for their return! He wants to give back everything that belongs to them, leaving the reader with the impression that these two sons were share holders, a practice that existed among the older children of a large family, preparing them for the future by putting aside their savings. Did they come to their father’s funeral? It is not certain. However, they did not wait too long to return, since Pierre married fifteen months later at La Prairie. Another unknown fact is the donation of the paternal farm. It is not mentioned in the father’s testament. Was it bequeathed before hand? Most probably since the old man mentions only detailed questions. To each of their sons, he gives them their dues, what they lent and what they earned by working on his farm. His farm? What did he do with it? Did he own it or was it just rented? These are questions difficult to explain. We are perplexed when reading the testament! The notary writes, “not being able to work nor to evaluate his possessions.” Hence by simple deduction the farm belonged to him, also the harvest, since he disposes of it. Claude and Francois, who always worked (Since their brothers left for the Northern Country) to earn a living for the family so that they could survive until this day were paid for their troubles. So they were not only working for themselves . Jacques was married since four years and was earning a living. Jean Baptiste and Pierre were gone, Claude and Francois were hired by their father to work on his farm and he dies without willing it to them. Does his wife keep the property? It is not likely because of the customs of that time. This question cannot be solved even by those who have done research in the archives.
Whatever it may be, we see by the Chronology that all his children lived in the Parish where they were born, until they were very old with the exception of Francois Xavier who died at sixteen years of age. Some of the death documents are missing—those of Jacques and Anne Marie. The other six lived to their sixties and seventies. By comparing dates we noticed that four of the boys married quite old. Jean-Baptiste was 46, Jacques was 28, Pierre was 30 and Claude was 40. The girls married at a young age especially Marie-Agathe who married at 18, Marguerite was 28 when she thought of marriage for the first time and this was not something final because of misfortune and also because of her taste she thought of marriage three times! It must also be said that Jacques Poissant married Marie Angelique Monet and Marie Agathe Poissant married Jean Monet. From this generation, only the descendants of Pierre were numerous and formed most of the branches on the family tree. We can follow their children and their children’s children up to this present generation. Contrary to this the two boys never founded a family and this branch of the family tree died out at the second generation. Claude’s four sons formed three families, while one son contributed five branches on the family tree.
In the third generation we accounted for sixteen masculine families, and nine reproduced and formed the fourth generation. The family began to disperse. We can account for this by consulting the Registration No. of the parish and not too many have dispersed yet. The ranks and hills of La Prairie became the parishes of L’Acadie, of Saint Phillippe, and of Saint Constant. These divide again to form the first parishes of Saint Jean, Saint Cyrille, Saint George, Saint Valentin and Iberville. The second parishes are Saint Edouard, Saint Jacques, Sherrington, and Hemmingford. The third parishes are Chateauquay, Sainte Martine, Sainte Philomene, Saint Jean Chrysostome, Saint Antoine Abbey and Saint Remi. Many of these last parishes have been subdivided into Saint Cyprien, Lacolle, Champlain, Le Corbeau, Saint Agnes, Howick, Ormstown, Valleyfield, and many others are included in the six counties of La Prairie, Saint Jean, Napierville, Chateauquay, Beauharnois and Huntington. In these counties and parishes that were formed we discover after two centuries, many Poissants occupying the Paternal Land of their forefathers. It is always the family cradle, where the traditions of the past are preserved, where ties for the natve soil are impregnated with blood and sweat, simple and honest morals, and the Ancestral Name. However, there exists remarkable changes. Most of the Poissants who have emigrated to the United States, particularly in Malone, have changed their names and are called Fish or Fisher. Elsewhere on the shores of Lake Champlain and the Richelieu River, we find names like Claude or Glaude, who have replaced their family name by the baptismal name of an ancestor. We also find “Boileau’s” descendants of the Poissants and who have remained as such for unknown reasons.
All of them, no matter how numerous they are, nearly 1,800, from Canada, U.S.A., counting also the descendants who were not traced, drew from the same strong and sound ancestral source, the moral and physical strength, necessary for the foundation of large families. As we skim through the pages of this book in which are reunited the official documents of the existence of numerous offsprings of Jacques Poissant, we cannot help but admire the prodigious development of certain branches from the family tree. The families of fourteen, fifteen and sixteen children are quite common in the first generations. A social study on this subject from the beginning to the very end would prove to be quite interesting. For example, the families that remained attached to the native land were more numerous and received the blessings promised to the Patriarchs or again a moderate comfort might be a favorable condition for the maintenance of national tradition. The dispersion of the present generation offers us an austere lesson and might have had sad results. Consequences of intensive modern living, where instability seems the foundation for morals, would be impractical in the future for such a compilation. It is impossible for us to fill in the gaps of the two last generations because we would have had to consult the archives of the two Americas almost from the whole world.
Will this work complete itself? Thanks to the zeal of those interested, who will continue to fill in the lines! We hope that by giving to the family and to the public this monumental task, dedicated to the memory of the person of whom we have tried to retrace his existence along with his descendants, that this generation will not become extinct.
May our example find imitators from our fellow countrymen, descendants also of this courageous pioneer who implanted a strong and prosperous race on American soil. These genealogies would then be strong links that would bind the members of this large French-Canadian family, one to the other, in the midst of a population that is becoming more and more cosmopolitan, forming a stronghold against assimilation and preserving intact the patrimony of our father. It would prevent our origins from being confused with those of another nation and would perpetuate the miracles of the mustard seed, when planted on the arid rocks of Quebec, will germinate, grow and form giant trees, the pride of our country and admiration of all the world.