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La Grande Recrue de 1653

“The Great Recruitment of 1653” was an ambitious effort by Quebec’s Governor to bring settlers to New France. Villemarie [Montreal] was founded in 1642 by Paul Chomeday, Sieur de Maisonneuve. However, by the early 1650’s, the small settlement was struggling, and in danger of being abandoned. There were only about fifty inhabitants. The Iroquois attacks had been frequent and deadly. At the urging—and financial support—of Jeanne Mance (the hospital’s founder), Governor Maisonneuve decided that he would return to France to recruit settlers. He was 40 years old when he left Montreal in the autumn of 1651; it would be two years before he returned.

It is known that 153 men were recruited in France, many from the areas around La Flèche (about 250 kilometres southwest of Paris). Maisonneuve wanted young strong men who were skilled in a trade. They signed notarized contracts and were given wage advances. Agreements varied from three to five years, their passage would be paid, and salaries were determined by occupation. There was provision in the contracts for paid passage back to France at the end of the term. However, most—if not all—of these men remained in New France and became ancestors for thousands of North Americans.

Historians have been able to compile lists of these recruits, including the 103 men who actually sailed. (The others had changed their minds and decided the New World was not for them.)

Of these 103 men, seven were Jim’s ancestors:

-Antoine Beaudry dit L’Épinette [one of Jim’s 7X great-grandfathers], 24 years old, settler and nailmaker from Chemiré-en-Charnie (Pays de la Loire). His promised salary was 126 livres, and the advance was 75 livres.

- Jean Deniau [one of Jim’s 7X great-grandfathers], 23 years old, settler and long sawyer, from Nantes (Brittany). Salary 110 livres, and advance 75 livres. Many years later, Jean and his wife were both killed by the Iroquois at Boucherville on August 12, 1695.

-Pierre Godin dit Châtillon [one of Jim’s 8X great-grandfathers], 22 years old, carpenter, from the city of Châtillon (Burgundy). Salary 127 livres, and advance 100 livres. Pierre married and settled in Quebec City, later moved to Montreal and finally relocated to Acadia [Nova Scotia].

Toussaint Hunault dit Deschamps [one of Jim’s 7X great-grandfathers], 25 years old, settler, from St-Pierre-es-Champs (Picardy). Salary 120 livres, and advance of 75 livres. Toussaint’s life came to an unhappy end at the age of 62; he was murdered by a lieutenant in the navy (Gabriel Dumont de Blaignac) who mortally stabbed Toussaint with a sword on September 3, 1690 and then fled.

- Urbain Jetté [one of Jim’s 7X great-grandfathers], 26 years old, long sawyer, mason and settler, from St-Pierre de Verrin. Salary 134 livres, and advance of 90 livres.

- Gilles Lauzon [one of Jim’s 8X great-grandfathers], 22 years old, settler and coppersmith, from St-Julien de Caen (Normandy). Salary 80 livres, and advance of 127 livres.

- Hugues Picard dit Lafortune [one of Jim’s 7X great-grandfathers], 26 years old, settler and long sawyer, from St-Colombin (Brittany). Salary 137 livres, and advance of 75 livres.

The following is an example of one of the contracts. This one is for Urban Gelté (Urban Jetté) [one of Jim’s 7X great-grandfathers].


The 30th day of March 1653 in the afternoon in our presence, Pierre de la Fousse, Royal Notary and scribe at La Flèche, residing there at the present time; Paul de Chomedey, esquire Sieur de Maissonneuve, Governor of the roll and fort of Montréal in New France, residing at Montréal; and nobeleman Hierosme Le Royer Sieur de La Duaversiere, attorney for the Company of Associates for the Conversion of the Natives of New France on Montréal, residing at La Flèche, on the one part, came Urban Gelté [Urbain Jetté], longsawyer, mason and resident of the suburb of St-Jacques near La Flèche, and René Maillet of Ste-Columbe, cooper. Gelté and Maillet have promised and obliged themselves to return to the city of Nantes at the lodgings of Master Charles Lecoq Sieur de la Baussonniere on the last day of next April to embark with the said Sieur de Maisonneuve for New France. In return, the Sieurs de Maisonneuve and de La Dauversiere have promised to feed, lodge and to bed during the voyage and during the time of their service. At the end of their service they will see them home to France at their costs and expenses without any cost to Gelté and Maillet. They will also be supplied with all the tools necessary for their employment. Further they will each be paid the sum of 90 livres for every year as wages. These wages will be paid for each of the said five years except for the first year when the wages will be advanced to them in order to equip themselves. Gelté and Maillet have agreed to the above stipulations. This contract of engagement is made and held and obliged and renounced at La Flèche in the presence of witnesses, René Maillet, practitioner, and François Hardy, also practitioner, residing at La Flèche. Maillet and Gelté have said not to know how to sign.

Signed: Paul de Chomeday


René Maillet

De la fousse, notary

Le Royer de La Dauversiere

Among the passengers—in addition to Sieur de Maisonneuve and Jeanne Mance—was Marguerite Bourgeoys, a 33-year-old nun travelling with thirteen young single women. Marguerite would establish the Congregation of Notre-Dame (the “Grey Nuns”) and later establish a school in Montréal.

Five of the young women on this voyage would become ancestors:

- Marie Chefdeville [one of Jim’s 7X great-grandmothers], 22 years old, of Villers (Picardy)

- Marie Lorgueil [one of Jim’s 7X great-grandmothers], 15 years old, from Cognac (Nouvelle-Aquitaine)

- Jeanne Merrin [one of Jim’s 7X great-grandmothers], 18 years old, from Poitiers (Nouvelle-Aquitaine)

- Jeanne Rousillier [one of Jim’s 8X great-grandmothers], 17 years old, from Maeze near Brouage (Nouvelle-Aquitaine)

- Jeanne Soldé [one of Jim’s 8X great-grandmothers], 21 years old, from La Flèche (Pays de la Loire)

[All five of these young women married within a year of their arrival; Marie Lorgueil and Jeanne Rousillier each married men who had travelled on the same voyage.]

The ship was called Saint-Nicolas de Nantes and it sailed from Saint-Nazaire on 20 June 1653. However, it proved unseaworthy and was forced to return to France. Another ship was obtained and the members of “La Grande Recrue” finally sailed on 20 July 1653. Unfortunately, history has not recorded the name of this replacement ship. It arrived at Quebec City on 22 September—after 65 days at sea. Eight of the recruits died during the voyage, and it is not difficult to imagine just how arduous the trip must have been.

The Governor of Quebec City wanted the recruits to remain there, and he made it difficult for Maisonneuve to obtain smaller vessels for the remainder of the voyage to Montréal. Several weeks elapsed before Governor Maisonneuve prevailed; the group finally arrived in Montréal in mid-November.

Prior to this undertaking, most of the immigrants to New France had been soldiers. Le Grande Recrue brought men specifically to become settlers. Many of them would later join the local militia, but their prime reason for emigration was not military. The arrival of this group tripled the population and enabled the struggling settlement to thrive. They are often referred to as “The Colonists who saved Montreal”.

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