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Justice in New France

From the earliest days in New France some form of judicial system existed. The earliest was by Champlain in 1620 when he appointed Louis Hebert as “King’s Prosecutor”. When the seigneuries were granted (twenty-nine between 1626 and 1663), the Seigneurs had the power to dispense justice. In 1647, mayors were elected in the three principal towns (Montreal, Quebec, and Trois-Rivieres); they assisted in the judicial process.

In 1663, The One Hundred Associates’ power was relinquished and the King established a royal administration and Royal Judges were appointed. Trois-Rivieres had eight judges and their records have been preserved and studied by researchers over the years. It is interesting to find the names of ancestors in these transcriptions, and to get a sense of what life was like in those days.

Jeanne Évard/Énard (Jim’s 8 X great-grandmother)

Jeanne was born about 1620 in Rouen, France, and married Christophe Crevier (Jim’s 8 X great-grandfather) in 1633 when she was about thirteen years old. Their first three children were born in France before they emigrated. Their first New France-born child was in 1640. The family settled in Trois-Rivieres. In 1655, Jeanne appeared before Judge Severin Ameau; she would have been 35 years old and the mother of ten children.

“ On Saturday, 19 June 1655, a hearing was held… appearing was Jeanne Énard [sic], wife of Christophe Crevier, Sieur de la Meslee, as plaintiff, and Marie Sedillot, wife of Bertrand Fafard dit Laframboise, as defendant. Sedillot owned a calf which she agreed to share with Énard, provided Énard would fatten it up for three weeks, at which time Sedillot would have the calf slaughtered and they would share the veal thus produced. However, Énard reneged on the fattening and asked Sedillot to take it back. If the calf was to be slaughtered, Énard wanted her half citing as reason the fact that she had fed the calf for a time. Ameau ordered that the value of the calf should be established according to its present worth before slaughtering and that Sedillot will receive the sum of eight livres which was the value of the calf when it was rented to Énard If Sedillot has the calf killed she will deliver to Énard a part of the veal in proportion to what she owes her for the fattening, ir if she does not have it killed, she will reimburse Énard for her part in the fattening. Done and ordered this said day and year as above.”

[Laforest, Thomas J. Our French-Canadian Ancestors, (Palm Harbor, Florida 1988). All the examples I have quoted in this post are from Volume VI pages 2-18 or Volume VII pages 2-13.]

Catherine Forestier (Jim’s 8 X great-grandmother)

In December 1655, 22-year-old Catherine (mother of three at the time), appeared before Judge Ameau:

“ …Catherine Forestier, wife of Jacques Menard dit Lafontaine, demanded from Jean DeNoyon, the sum of 27 livres, in accordance with a contract of exchange undertaken by the two parties.”

Marguerite Hayet

Marguerite was not an ancestor, but was a contemporary. She was the second wife of Médard Chouart des Groseillers (of Radisson and Groseillers fame), and appeared numerous times before the Royal Judges to answer claims against her husband. “Marguerite had no choice in the matter: she had to defend herself against an army of creditors who were in pursuit of a husband who was absent more often than not, a husband exploring across mountains and valleys, lakes and rivers, in pursuit of wealth and adventure…”

“On Friday, 28 January [1656], Christophe Crevier [Sieur de la Meslée] (Jim’s 8 X great-grandfather] wanted 36 livres owed to him by Pierre Guillet, [Jim’s 7 X great-grandfather] for whom the Sieur de la Meslée had power of attorney. Marguerite [Hayet] paid as directed, plus a 10 livre fine ‘for not having appeared in person’ before Judge Sauvaget.”

Jean-Baptiste Bourgery (Jim’s 9 X great-grandfather)

“On Saturday, 11 October 1656, Francois Le Maistre asked for compensation from Baptiste Bourgery for insults. Witnesses came to state that the insults had been reciprocal, and the plaintiff, who could not explain himself, was ordered to pay the court costs for having begun the proceedings. Each party was ordered to speak no evil, of or to each other, in the future.”

“On 22 September 1657, Baptiste Bourgery sued Étienne de Lafond and claimed damages for the ‘mistreatment done to his son’ and for having killed a pig. Lafond answered that he had been insulted by the son and that he chastised him reasonably and legitimately. He denied having killed the animal, but admitted having injured it.”

Claude David (Jim’s 8 X great-grandfather)

“On Saturday, 29 December 1657, the gunsmith Barthelemy Bertaut, along with Guillaume and Claude David [brothers], appeared in response to a charge made by Pierre Couc dit Lafleur de Coignac. The plaintiff told the court about several flagrant insults and wounds suffered at the hands of the defendants. Told to prove his allegations, Couc returned before the court on 2 January 1658 with a surgeon’s report certifying that he had indeed been wounded. Bertaut was ordered to pay 150 livres to Lafleur, plus damages, except that Bertaut had recourse for damages from his accomplices.”

Guillaume Pépin (Jim’s 8 X great-grandfather )

“On 16 August 1659, Jean Garnier dit Nadeau sued Guillaume Pépin who was ordered to pay a fine of 100 sols for insults.”

“On 11 March 1655, [Judge] Severin Ameau sued the major Guillaume Pépin for the sum of 25 livres for his time and fees, on the occasion of a lawsuit between his client and Sebastien Dodier. Pepin did not contest, but he wanted to pay in peas, while Ameau insisted on payment in wheat. Pierre Boucher, presiding judge, rendered another judgment a la Solomon:. Pépin would give 2 minots of wheat and 2 minots of peas.”

Michel Lemay (Jim’s 8 X great-grandfather)

“On 15 August 1659, Michel Le May dit Le Poudrier wanted to pay a bill [to merchant Arnaud Peré] a bill in Indian corn, instead of the coin demanded, amounting to 39 livres 1 sols. The judge agreed as to the method of payment but ordered him to transport the corn from Trois-Rivières to Quebec and make payment there.”

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