Saturday, 30 October 2010


The region of Richelieu is divided into two distinct parts that corresponded to their position in relation to the Richelieu River. The Bas-Richelieu is located between where the Richelieu joins the St Lawrence as far as the comté de Rouville and Beloeil and forms the comté de Richelieu. [1] It is bordered in the west by the Richelieu River, the principal communication route, to the north by the St Lawrence and to the east by the Yamaska River and the comté de Saint-Hyacinthe. In contained six parishes in 1837: Sorel, Saint-Ours, Saint-Denis, Saint-Charles, Saint-Jude and Saint-Barnabé.[2] The parishes along the Richelieu and St Lawrence were the most developed: Sorel, Saint-Ours, Saint-Denis and Saint-Charles. Saint-Jude and Saint-Barnabé were then regarded as missions. The population of the comté in 1835 was 16,149 and was overwhelmingly French Canadian.[3] The only exception was Sorel, the village of William Henry where forty% of its 1,063 habitants were anglophones.[4]

The comté was discovered by Samuel de Champlain and named after Cardinal de Richelieu who had ordered the colonisation of New France. Its temperate climate, fertile soil and access to the resources of the forests accelerated the granting of seigneuries in the seventeenth century. It was the Richelieu River that proved the major contributor to the development of the region. Its communication links placed the comté in a particularly advantageous position with other areas of Lower Canada. In 1829, the colonial government developed plans, which took twenty years to implement, to improve communication on the Richelieu by building a lock at Saint-Ours to increase regional trade upstream from the village.[5] The comté was one of the most important centres for agriculture and animal rearing in Lower Canada but there was also cultivation of flax and hemp.[6] Habitants also grew peas and beans, oats and corn for domestic use. Like other parts of Lower Canada, the Richelieu was affected by the downturn in the economy in the early 1830s and potatoes replaced wheat as the major crop.

The economy of the Richelieu diversified during the first half of the nineteenth century with the development of small-scale rural industries. This process was helped by the appearance of steamboats on the Richelieu stimulating the development of industries that now had easy and cheaper access to markets. In 1831, the pottery industry in Saint-Denis employed 31 people and there was also an important manufacturer of coaches in the same parish.[7] Saint-Charles, Saint-Denis and especially Saint-Ours became distribution centres for manufactured goods. Road and water links gave easy access to the markets of Montreal and Quebec. The area had mills for pressing linseed oil, a brewery, distillery and brickyard. [8] During the 1830s, Saint-Charles had industries that were less common: a foundry, a tannery and also, from 1833 to 1836, its own newspaper, L’Écho du pays. Although not well situated for farming, Sorel’s strategic position at the mouth of the Richelieu proved important. The development of commercial maritime trade from 1809 resulted in shipbuilding and particularly ship maintenance industries being developed and from 1837 to 1866 the village had an important military garrison.

The comté de Richelieu generally elected deputies from the Parti Patriote.[9] François-Roch de Saint-Ours[10] and Pierre-Dominique Debartzch[11], both seigneurs, were regarded as Patriotes until the mid-1830s when they found their moderate reformist position increasing sidelined by more radical Patriotes. Clément-Charles Sabrevois de Bleury broke with Papineau and was dismissed as deputy for Richelieu in 1836. [12] Because Sabrevois de Bleury was considered too moderate, the Patriotes met at Saint-Ours and demanded his resignation replacing him with Wolfred Nelson[13], a committed radical. On Saint-Jean-Baptiste in 1836, Nelson had defied the instructions of Mrg Lartigue and erected a monument to the memory of Louis Marcoux, killed on 8 November in a brawl with loyalists during the 1834 elections. Deputy Jacques Dorion[14] and Simeon Marchesseau[15] joined him in inflammatory speeches on the ‘immortal Ninety-Two Resolution’.[16]

On 7 March 1837, the popular assembly at Saint-Ours, chaired by Côme-Séraphin Cherrier[17], was attended by 1,200 people and denounced Russell’s Ten Resolutions. [18] During the autumn of 1837, the Patriotes in the comté de Richelieu adopted a more aggressive approach, taking part in charivari and in September in Saint-Denis burning Lord Gosford, Sabrevois de Bleury, Debartzch and Saint-Ours in effigy.[19] On 23 and 24 October, the assembly of the Six-Comtés was held at Saint-Charles attended by between 1,000 and 4,000 people from the comtés of Saint-Hyacinthe, Rouville, Chambly, Verchères and Richelieu. It protested against political injustice but also established a regional federation ‘to celebrate the unity and determination of the people’.[20] It also marked the point when political rhetoric began to turn into military action.[21]

During November 1837, comté de Richelieu saw several bloody encounters between Patriote rebels and British forces.[22] the On 18 November, Thomas Storrow Brown[23], general of the Fils de la Liberté occupied the manor of seigneur Debartzch at Saint-Charles and established an armed Patriote camp. [24] Wolfred Nelson established a camp at Saint-Denis at the same time. [25] On 23 November, there was an unsuccessful attack by British regulars under Lieutenant-Colonel Gore on Saint-Denis that left twelve dead on both sides.[26] Two days later, troops led by Wetherall successfully attacked the Patriotes at Saint-Charles leaving three soldiers dead and between 32 and 152 Patriotes. [27] On 2 December 1837 Gore returned to Saint-Denis and burned several buildings but the following day soldiers discovered the body of Lieutenant George Weir and destroyed the distillery of Wolfred Nelson.[28]

Towards the end of 1838, Malhiot[29] took command of the Frères Chasseurs of Saint-Charles, Saint-Denis and Saint-Ours, a force of nearly 2,000 men.[30] In the grandiose plans developed by Robert Nelson for the second rebellion, Malhiot’s role was to attack the garrison at Sorel to obtain its arms and munitions. During the night of 9-10 November, Malhiot and three hundred men left Saint-Ours in the direction of Sorel but turned back when they learned of the defeat of Nelson’s troops further south at Odelltown. Calm in the region was restored when regular troops moved south of the St Lawrence.[31] The 2,000 rebels at St-Charles, St-Denis and St-Ours dispersed. A patrol sent into the hills round Boucherville found that the Patriotes under Malhiot had disbanded without a fight and the camp which, between 6 and 10 November contained 1,000 men, empty. The area, particularly Saint-Charles and Saint-Denis, was ravaged by the rebellions and its economy took a long time to recover.

[1] Ibid, Bouchette, Joseph, Description topographique du Canada 1815, pp. 200-230

[2] Ibid, Bouchette, Joseph, Description topographique du Canada 1815, pp. 206-230

[3] Girod, Amury, Notes sur le Bas-Canada, (Village Debartzch, imprimerie de J.P. Boucher-Belleville), 1835, p. 94

[4] Ibid, Courville, Serge, Entre ville et campagne: L’essor du village dans les seigneuries du Bas-Canada, p. 284

[5] Filion, Mario, Chambly, (Éditions passé présent), 1988, p. 32

[6] Ibid, Bouchette, Joseph, Description topographique du Canada 1815, p. 225

[7] Courville, Serge, Entre ville et campagne: L’essor du village dans les seigneuries du Bas-Canada, p. 154

[8] Greer, Allan, Habitants, marchands et seigneurs: La société rurale du Bas Richelieu, 1740-1840, (Septentrion), 1999, p. 259

[9] Ibid, Laporte, Gilles, Patriotes et Loyaux, pp. 175-194.

[10] DPQ, p. 679.

[11] DPQ, pp. 207-208; ‘Pierre-Dominique Debartzch’, DCB, Vol. 7, 1836-1850, pp. 235-237.

[12] Rumilly, Robert, Papineau et son temps, 2 Vols. (Fides), 1977, Vol. I, p. 403; DPQ, pp. 673-674.

[13] DPQ, p. 554; ‘Wolfred Nelson’, DCB, Vol. 9, 1861-1870, pp. 593-597.

[14] DPQ, pp. 231-231.

[15] Messier, pp. 320-321.

[16] Ibid, Rumilly, Robert, Papineau et son temps, Vol. I, p. 408.

[17] ‘Côme-Séraphin Cherrier’, DCB, Vol. 9, pp. 187-189; Messier, pp. 109-110.

[18] Lacoursière, Jacques, (ed.), Histoire populaire du Québec 1841-1846, Vol. 3, (Septentrion), 1996, p. 314; ibid, Bernard, Jean-Paul, Assemblées publiques, résolutions et déclarations de 1837-1838, pp. 23-28.

[19] Senior, Elinor Kyte, Les habits rouges et les Patriotes, (VLB), 1997, p. 51.

[20] Ibid, Greer, Allan, The patriots and the people, p. 205

[21] Ibid, Bernard, Jean-Paul, Assemblées publiques, résolutions et déclarations de 1837-1838, pp. 259-285.

[22] See, Fortin, Réal, La guerre des Patriotes: le long du Richelieu, (Editions Mille Roches), 1988 and Lambert, Pierre, Les Patriotes de Beloeil: le mouvement patriote, les insurrections de 1837-1838 et les paroissiens de Beloeil, (Septentrion), 1994.

[23] ‘Thomas Storrow Brown’, DCB, Vol. 11, pp. 116-117 is a convenient summary; see also, Messier, p. 86.

[24] Meunie, Pierre, L’insurrection à Saint-Charles et le Seigneur Debartzch, (Fides), 1986 is the most detailed account. Bellemare, Georges, Saint-Charles 1837 et la survie d’un peuple menacé, (Guérin), 2005, is a good account of the battle and is especially interesting on the number of Patriote dead.

[25] Séguin, Robert-Lionel, La victoire de Saint-Denis, (Parti pris), 1964, Boissonault, C.-M., ‘Les patriotes a Saint-Denis’, Revue de l’Université Laval, Vol. 5, (1951), pp. 777-790, and Richard, J. B., Les événements de 1837 à Saint-Denis-sur-Richelieu, (Societe d’histoire regionale de Saint-Hyacinthe), 1938, are useful, studies of the battle.

[26] Ibid, Senior, Elinor Kyte, Les habits rouges et les Patriotes, p. 126.

[27] Ibid, Senior, Elinor Kyte, Les habits rouges et les Patriotes, p. 141.

[28] Ibid, Senior, Elinor Kyte, Les habits rouges et les Patriotes, p. 153.

[29] ‘Edouard-Elisée Malhiot’, DCB, Vol. 10, pp. 491-492.

[30] Ibid, Senior, Elinor Kyte, Les habits rouges et les Patriotes, p. 266.

[31] Ibid, Senior, Elinor Kyte, Les habits rouges et les Patriotes, p. 266.

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