At a Crossroads: Connections and Family Formation in Montréal, 1700-1750

Alanna Loucks

Montréal was always a crossroads. Located along the St. Lawrence River, the continental highway, the city developed as a space defined by mobility and fluidity. This connected and dynamic character influenced the diverse demographic landscape of Montréal, and facilitated and encouraged the relationships that inhabitants developed within the city and across the French colonial empire. The life and connections of French soldier, Luc de La Corne St. Luc, encapsulates the fluidity and interconnectedness that characterized this city at a crossroads. Born into a prominent military family, La Corne began his career as an officer, but he quickly diversified his activities and built extensive commercial relations with prominent French merchants and members of the dynamic Indigenous communities involved in the fur trade whom he encountered throughout the pays d’en haut. Through his three marriages to prominent members of Montréal society, La Corne solidified his position among the elite members of society. Tracing the lives and connections of individuals, such as La Corne, can uncover a unique micro-historical perspective on the development of Montréal as a crossroads, and presents a window into the day-to-day experiences and interactions of the peoples who contributed to the growth and importance of the city.

Although French individuals, such as La Corne, did contribute to the growth of Montréal as an interconnected hub, they were not alone. The mobility that characterized this city also brought diverse peoples of Indigenous and African descent, both free and enslaved, into Montréal, who in turn, contributed to the city’s character. Tracing only the connections of La Corne does not capture the complexity of this city. However, a consideration of French households in eighteenth-century Montréal, which could include French families, European and Indigenous business partners, indentured servants, and slaves of Indigenous and African descent, allows for a more inclusive consideration of Montréal’s development as a crossroads. The households that lined the city’s busy streets were microcosms of broader migration and marital patterns, changing occupations, ethnic diversity, and slave ownership in the city, while also reflecting distinct expressions of family formation among the French, Indigenous, and African descent members of Montréal society. Although not universally representative, the household of Luc de La Corne presents an opportunity to examine the ways that factors such as status, wealth, gender, ethnicity, or occupation could influence the composition of individual households, and to analyze how the diverse members of these households carved out spaces for themselves and created individual connections, which collectively built this city at a crossroads.

“Portrait of Luc de La Corne St. Luc.” Source: Library and Archives Canada – ID #: 4310457

Luc de La Corne was born in the autumn of 1712 in Québec.[1] Following the La Corne family tradition, Luc de La Corne’s career began when he joined the colonial regular troops in the 1730s, and he quickly became an officer.[2] Throughout the height of La Corne’s military career, he spent time travelling across the North American continent, specifically in the pays d’en haut. During these travels, La Corne participated in numerous military campaigns, fighting alongside the Indigenous allies of the French, such as the Odawa and the Ojibwa, in conflicts against both Indigenous and European enemies.[3] For example, throughout the 1730s, La Corne participated in raids against the Fox nation in the territory surrounding Detroit.[4] Extended periods of time spent in and around the St. Lawrence Valley and the pays d’en haut allowed La Corne to develop extensive military and personal relationships with the Indigenous communities surrounding Montréal, including members of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy and the Abenaki, and with Indigenous communities surrounding the western French posts of Detroit and Michilimackinac.[5]

As La Corne continued to distinguish himself militarily, his reputation among his commanding officers and the colonial administration in Montréal increased.[6] It was during this period of La Corne’s career that he married his first wife, the daughter of a prominent Montréal merchant, Marie-Anne Hervieux in 1742.[7] This was also the period when La Corne began to capitalize on the extensive networks that he had created through his military endeavours to expand his commercial activities and his position in the fur trade.[8] In a manner that was typical among many French military officers and post commanders, La Corne took advantage of his military connections to Indigenous nations involved in the fur trade to learn their languages, and he began to transport goods between Montréal and French trading posts in the west, such as Michilimackinac.[9] Additionally, because of La Corne’s military and commercial activities in the pays d’en haut and in the St. Lawrence Valley, and the relationships he developed with the Odawa, Ojibwa, Abenaki, and members of Haudenosaunee Confederacy, La Corne became involved in the channels of exchange that were carrying slaves of both Indigenous and African descent across the continent. Through his connections, La Corne became one of the most prominent slave owners in Montréal, owning a total of twenty-four slaves over his lifetime.[10]

Unfortunately, La Corne’s first wife died in 1753, but in 1757, La Corne married his second wife, Marie-Josephe Guillimin, who was a widow of one of La Corne’s military comrades.[11] Throughout the later years of La Corne’s career, he continued to participate and distinguish himself through his military activity, and he was eventually awarded the Military Order of Saint-Louis in 1759.[12] Additionally, La Corne frequently served as an interpreter for Montréal’s administration, and he grew his commercial enterprise, professionalizing his activities, and eventually becoming an outfitter of fur trade expeditions.[13] This transition added another layer of complexity to La Corne’s commercial network because of the close associations that he developed with voyageurs. La Corne’s extensive connections allowed him to elevate his position in colonial society and to achieve great wealth. After the death of his second wife in 1768, La Corne’s last marriage to Marie Marguerite Boucher de Boucherville in 1774 solidified La Corne’s position as an elite member of Montréal society.[14]

A study of Montréal’s societal development and of the city’s population would not be complete without the inclusion of the slaves of both Indigenous and African descent who came to inhabit the city. Analyzing the relationships that developed between slaves adds another dimension to our understanding of Montréal’s position as an interconnected hub and of the complexity of family formation in colonial Montréal. Although slaves possessed limited freedom and had an inscribed inferior social status, they still formed broader webs of connections that exhibited the characteristics of a highly mobile and fluid society. Intimate and social relationships could develop between the enslaved members of individual households, between enslaved members of different households, and between slaves and free members of Montréal society.

“Plan of Montréal drafted in 1723 showing the location of Luc de La Corne’s residence.” Source: Library and Archives Canada – C28399

In La Corne’s household, his African descent slaves, Jacques and Anne, married and had two children born in 1748 and 1749.[15] It appears that the couple remained together in La Corne’s household until Anne’s death, when Jacques remarried another enslaved member of La Corne’s household, Marie, on May 24, 1757, and had two children born in 1757 and 1759.[16] Another example of a slave family in La Corne’s household is seen in the marriage in 1767 between the Panis named Joseph Nicolas and the Panise Marie-Joseph.[17] Two years later, the couple had twins.[18] Although some of the enslaved members of Montréal society were able to take advantage of the fluidity and mobility that characterized this colonial space, others were exposed to the limitations posed by their enslaved position and the involuntary mobility and violence that characterized slavery. For example, slaves might be sold away from family to someone traveling or living outside of Montréal. Luc de La Corne’s household included a couple that was of African descent, who had been captured in Saratoga during King George’s War and sold to La Corne in 1745.[19] Unfortunately, the couple’s four or five year old daughter, Étiennette, who had also been captured in Saratoga in 1745, was sold to Pierre Nicolas, a member of the Abenaki nation, and was then re-sold in 1746 to a French merchant named Jacques-Joseph Gamelin.[20] Despite the unpredictability that characterized the nature of intimate and familial relationships between the enslaved members of Montréal society, the presence of enslaved families and children within the city’s households attests to the creation and maintenance of family connections.

To understand Montréal as a crossroads, and to grasp the complex layers of connections that criss-crossed the city and traversed the French colonial empire, we must re-think how we conceptualize colonial urban spaces such as Montréal. When considered through a more inclusive perspective, a study of household composition, family formation, and networks in Montréal allows for a more complete view of the complex colonial society that emerged in this city at a crossroads. Each of the individual connections were the bricks that together built society and allowed Montréal to grow and progress. Although the diverse peoples in the city were not considered equal, due to gender, ethnicity, status, or occupation, everyone contributed and played a role in shaping this space. This project reimagines Montréal as a joint and inclusive creation and as a part of an interconnected colonial world, which brings together all members of Montréal society as participants in the historical dialogue.

Alanna Loucks is a PhD student at Queen’s University. Her current project examines the familial and economic connections developed by four French families over three generations, between 1650-1763, in order to understand the various ways that their lives and interests reflected Montréal’s position as a crossroads within the larger webs of colonial North America.

[1] Research on the European, Indigenous, and African descent population, both free and enslaved, is based on a consideration and cross-referencing of Marcel Trudel’s Dictionnaire des esclaves et de leurs propriétaires au Canada français and the Université de Montréal’s database “Programme de Recherche en Démographique Historique,” hereafter referred to as PRDH. PRDH Individual #114227; Université de Montréal (UM), “Extraits généalogiques des de La Corne,” 1675, P0058, A 2/2, mf66.

[2] Library and Archives Canada (LAC), “Lettre de Beauharnois au minister – promotion sollicitée pour…” 12 novembre 1733, Correspondance générale; Canada, Série C11A, fol. 49-50v, P40; LAC, “Le président du conseil de marine à M. de Beauharnois…” 20 avril 1734, Série B. Lettres envoyées, fol. 529.

[3] LAC, “Procès-verbal d’une assemblée des officiers du détachement de Canadiens…” 1746, mars, 22, Archives du Séminaire de Québec, Fonds Viger-Verreau; LAC, “Relation par M. de Boishébert, d’une expedition de Français et…” 1747, juin, 23, Première série, P204-208.

[4] LAC, “La Corne de Saint-Luc. Enseigne des troupes du Canada. 1747, …” Série E. Dossiers personnels, P4-5.

[5] LAC, “Feuille au roi..” 1748, janvier, 28, Correspondance générale; Canada, Série C11A, fol. 114-115, P98-100. See also; J. A. Maurault, Histoire des Abénakis depuis 1605 jusqu’à nos jours (Sorel, QC: Atelier, Typographique, 1866).

[6] LAC, “Lettre de Beauharnois au minister…” 1741, novembre, 01, Correspondance générale; Canada, Série C11A, fol. 238v-239; LAC, ““Projet de promotion” contenant les noms des gens recommandés…” 1748, Correspondance générale; Canada, Série C11A, fol. 221v; LAC, “Remplacement d’officiers à faire dans les troupes du Canada…” 1754, octobre, 10, Correspondance générale; Canada, Série C11A, fol. 282.

[7] PRDH Individual #114227, Individual #114228, Couple #150142.

[8] William R. Nester, The French and Indian War and the Conquest of New France (Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press, 2014), 1-7.

[9] Bibliothéque et Archives Nationales du Québec – Vieux Montréal (BANQ-M), “Enregistrement d’une permission accordée par Charles de Beauharnois,” Juin 1735, TL4, S34, P424; Pierre Tousignant and Madeleine Dionne-Tousignant, “Luc de La Corne,” Dictionary of Canadian Biography, University of Toronto/ L’Université Laval, The most common Indigenous languages that were known by the French inhabitants were Haudenosaunee, Abenaki, and Odawa, and a variety of other dialects were understood by French individuals depending on which Indigenous nations they interacted with most frequently. See; Reuben Gold Thwaites ed., The Jesuit Relations and Allied Documents: Travels and Explorations of the Jesuit Missionaries in New France, 1610-1791 (Cleveland, OH: Burrows Brothers, 1896-1901), 68: 224, 264; Pierre Gaultier de Varennes de La Vérendrye, Journals and Letters of Pierre Gaultier de Varennes de La Vérendrye and his Sons: With Correspondence Between the Governors of Canada and the French Court, Touching the Search for the Western Sea, ed. Lawrence J. Burpee (Toronto, ON: The Champlain Society, 1927), 114.

[10] Of the approximately 4,000 slaves who are known to have existed, owned by around 1,500 individuals, only about 30 owners held more than ten slaves. Of these large owners, La Corne was second only to Governor Charles de Beauharnois de la Boische.

[11] PRDH Individual #114227, Individual #83077, Couple #298730: LAC, “Liste des officiers, cadets et soldats detaches…” 22 octobre 1745, Archives du Séminaire de Québec, Fonds Viger-Verreau, P4.

[12] LAC, “Le Président du Conseil de Marine à M. de Vaudreuil…” 20 janvier 1759, Série B. Lettres envoyées, fol. 17. The Ordre Royal et Militaire de Saint-Louis is a dynastic order of chivalry founded on April 5, 1693 by King Louis XIV. It was intended to be rewarded to exceptional officers and it is notable because it is the first decoration that could be granted to non-nobles.

[13] Tousignant and Dionne-Tousignant, “Luc de La Corne;” Claude Charles Le Roy Bacqueville de la Potherie, Histoire de l’Amérique septentrionale qui contient (Paris: Chez Nyon fils, 1753), 1: 364-365. La Corne served as an interpreter for Indigenous peoples visiting French forts and at an important conference between the French and the Seneca in 1755. La Corne also escorted Indigenous delegations to Montréal. Interpreters served an important role in the military, especially in the pays d’en haut where the French were reliant on their Indigenous allies, such as the Algonquian, Wendat, and Odawa, for military support and also for many of the navigation and survival skills that allowed for the expansion and maintenance of the French colonial presence in the wilderness of the west. See; Bernd Horn, “La Petite Guerre: A Strategy of Survival,” in Perspectives on the Canadian Way of War: Serving the National Interest, edited by Bernd Horn (Toronto, ON: Dundurn Press, 2006), 10; LAC, “Extrait de la dépense qui a été faite dans les…” 1 septembre 1747, Correspondance générale; Canada, Série C11A, fol. 176v-196v. Additionally, beginning in 1738 until the end of the French regime in 1763, La Corne signed more then 80 hiring contracts for voyageurs traveling to other French posts, including Detroit, Michilimackinac, and Sault Ste. Marie. Contracts signed by La Corne appear in the Voyageur Contracts Database, which was created by the Société historique de Saint-Boniface,

[14] PRDH Individual #114227, Individual #105930, Couple #213372; LAC, “Contrat de mariage entre Luc de Chapt de La Corne…” 1774, mars, 17, Série II, P8464-8467.

[15] Marcel Trudel, Dictionnaire des esclaves et de leurs propriétaires au Canada français (Montréal, QC: Hurtubise HMH, 1990), 102.

[16] Trudel, Dictionnaire des esclaves, 103.

[17] Trudel, Dictionnaire des esclaves, 67.

[18] Trudel, Dictionnaire des esclaves, 67.

[19] Trudel, Dictionnaire des esclaves, 89. During the late 1740s, La Corne participated in numerous raids of the English garrison at the fort of Saratoga. Additionally, during the 1740s the Abenakis’ were forced from their traditional territory in New England by the English and the community was invited by the French to winter on the south side of the St. Lawrence. La Corne’s military activities and the proximity of the Abenaki community most likely created the channels through which this African descent couple came under the ownership of La Corne. See; John Romeyn Brodhead, Documents Relative to the Colonial History of the State of New-York: Procured in Holland, England, and France, ed. E.B. O’Callaghan and Berthold Fernow (Albany, NY: Weed, Parsons, 1853-1887), 10: 342; LAC, “Feuille au roi (rapport de La Galissoniére sur les partis…” 28 janvier 1748, Correspondance générale; Canada, Série C11A, fol. 114v-115; LAC, “Mémoire des partis de guerre qui ont été équipes à…” 10 août 1747, Correspondance générale; Canada, Série C11A, fol. 2v.

[20] Trudel, Dictionnaire des esclaves, 89.

Featured image: “Map of New France showing the locations of relevant French settlements.” Source: BANQ-Q – Louis Hennepin, Carte de la Nouvelle France et de la Louisiane nouvellement découverte – 1688 (map),

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