Jacques Vésina, the early years

Jacques Vésina, the early years

(The following details of Jacques Vésinat’s life are from the biographical essay written by Gérard Vézina, and I’m immensely grateful to GHS for spending a weekend reading and translating from the original French.)

According to Abbot J. B. Antoine Ferland, Jacques Vésina was a native of Puyravault, in the old French province of Aunis, now known as Charente-Maritime, near Rochefort, in the canton of Surgères, not far from the well-known city of La Rochelle. Although Aunis was the smallest province in France, it provided the largest number of colonists to Nouvelle-France (Québec).

The origin of the Vésina name is uncertain. It is thought by some to derive from “vésine,” which is a southwest wind referred to in certain regions in the Rhône. This wind was possibly followed by a downpour that’s called a “vézinée.” The family name Vézinat or Vésinat was common in Aunis in the 17th century.

Jacques was born around 1610 and although he was born in Puyravault, he spent many years in La Rochelle. His wife Marie Boisdon was born around 1617 and they were married June 10, 1640 in Puyravault. They initially lived in Saint-Rogatien, Marie’s birthplace. Their first child, François, was born in 1642, followed by Marie in 1649. It’s possible there were other children born during those seven years for which records do not exist.

During one census, Jacques listed his occupation as a cooper (barrelmaker). He later claimed to be a merchant, of what variety is unknown, but most likely related to his previous work as a cooper.

By 1659 when Jacques and his family left for Nouvelle-France, they had six children, including a second son also called François. Records of the time show that it was common for the godfather to ask that the godson be named after him, especially if he was important in society. The second François’ godfather was François Clément of the 100 Swiss guards to King Louis XIV.

Their reason for emigrating is not recorded but some educated guesses can be made. In the seventeenth century, France was involved in numerous wars with England, Spain, the Netherlands and others, as well as experiencing violence between Catholics and Protestants. In 1627, Richelieu besieged La Rochelle, which was considered a Protestant bastion. The town resisted for more than a year before surrendering, after 15,000 of its 20,000 residents were killed. Jacques was 17 years old when this happened.

In 1648, people were starving and unable to pay the royal taxes and soldiers pillaged towns that didn’t contribute their share. And it’s likely that there was a heavy propaganda campaign to bolster the population of Nouvelle-France.

Of the six children, the records indicate that only five children arrived with their parents in North America. The youngest, Jeanne, was only a few months old when they departed. Did she die during the trip? There are no passenger records to confirm this. Based on various other records, it can be deduced that the Vésina family was on the ship called Saint-André, and that Jacques was a “free passenger”, meaning that he was not indebted in servitude to another.

It is presumed that the family arrived in the city of Québec on September 7, 1659, and Jacques bought land on January 11, 1660. It was two kilometres from the Chute Montmorency area on the Beaupré coast at Longue Point and he paid 120 livres.

More about their life in Canada to come!

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