Wednesday, 10 November 2010


Located downstream from Montreal on, the comté de Verchères extends approximately from Varennes to Contrecoeur, enclosed between the southern bank of the St Lawrence and the Richelieu River.[1] In 1837, more than 13,000 people lived there; most had been born in Canada and were Roman Catholics. The population was very young and half were children. The immigrants who lived there came from Great Britain, especially from Ireland. In the early nineteenth century, only Verchères could be called a village but there were small communities of people at Varennes, Contrecoeur, Beloeil and St-Marc. The whole of the territory of the region was on the plains of the valley of the St Lawrence, a vast and fertile area that has particularly sandy soil and is well supplied with water. Two-thirds of the land was devoted to agriculture, mainly oats and potato and the remainder was uncultivated lands. Animal breeding was widespread especially sheep and cattle. The undeveloped areas produced wood of average quality, except in Beloeil where there was beech, maple and birch. Two principal routes crossed the comté: one skirted the St Lawrence, the other the Richelieu. Religious observance was particularly strong in the region and by 1837 all the parishes had a stone church. Bouchette, among others, was surprised by the devotion of the habitants of Varennes and commented that their church exceeded those in the surrounding seigneuries in terms of its beauty.[2] There were, however, few other public buildings.

In Verchères the small, prosperous and politically committed elite sometimes supported the loyalist position but were more often committed to the Patriote cause. The Crown was supported by the religious and seigneurial elite in the comté. The curés of Verchères and of Varennes, René-Olivier Bruneau and Charles-Joseph Primeau, used all their power to try and stop the agitation in the autumn of 1837. Primeau was especially viewed with suspicion and was seen by some as an ‘enemy of his parishioners’ and even as an informer.[3] Curés, seigneurs, several professionals, especially the merchant of Varennes, Aignan-Aimé Massue, formed the basis of a loyalist coalition in the area.[4] However, it was the Patriote cause that gained more adherents. At Contrecoeur, Patriotes were led by doctor A. C. Lenoblet Duplessis, Cormier, a militia captain and even the curé, who refused to take his monetary dues from his parishioners to allow them to recover from economic stagnation in 1838. At Beloeil, the Patriotes were led by the blacksmith Jean-Baptiste Dufresne, who gathered and repaired weapons and the merchant Prudent Malot. [5] Varennes provided three important figures in the rebellions: doctor Eugène-Napoléon Duchesnois[6], Amury Girod[7] and Ludger Duvernay, born in Verchères. Finally, the reformist cause was supported by the two representations of the comté in the Legislative Assembly: Pierre Amiot[8], a prosperous farmer from Varennes and Joseph-Toussaint Drolet[9], merchant of Saint-Marc.

The Patriote attitudes of the comté and especially its attacks on the functioning of colonial government resulted in the holding of public assemblies. On 7 May and 27 December 1827, the first assemblies were held to attack the policies of Dalhousie and the Legislative Council. [10] There were further assemblies at Saint-Charles on 7 October 1830 and 30 July 1832 in which the Patriote elite from Verchères played a central role. During the winter of 1833-1834, the Patriotes of Verchères formed their own organisation. Amury Girod, who lived in Varennes made several speeches of which one attacked the position of the church.[11] He was also present at the assembly on 6 January 1834 that formed a comité central to correspond with that in Montreal. [12] Three months later on 3 April, the habitants of the comté met to ratify the Ninety-Two Resolutions that had just been written at Contrecoeur.[13] On May 15 1837, a large assembly was held at Saint-Marc in Verchères to protest at the rejection of the Ninety-Two Resolutions by the British government and called for the boycott of British goods and the introduction of a system of smuggling to deny customs revenue to the authorities.[14] The comté de Verchères was the only comté to specify what the political principles of a government controlled by the Parti Patriote would be.[15] Despite the intense agitation of the 1830s, there was no fighting between habitants and the British army in 1837 in the region. This occurred largely because the more radical Patriotes in the comté, including the deputies Amiot and Drolet, his son, Alexandre[16], Lenoblet Duplessis, Duchesnois, Joseph Dansereau[17], Étienne Gauvreau[18], Paul Lussier[19] and Pierre Ménard[20] went to the neighbouring villages of Saint-Denis and Saint-Charles, the main centres of Patriote resistance in the Richelieu.

[1] Ibid, Bouchette, Joseph, Description topographique du Canada 1815, pp. 201-203.

[2] Ibid, Bouchette, Joseph, Description topographique du Canada 1815, p. 203.

[3] Filion, Mario, Album souvenir du tricentenaire de la paroisse Ste-Anne de Varennes, 1692-1992, (Shawinigan, Publicité Pâquet inc.), 1991, p. 35; ibid, Laporte, Gilles, Patriotes et Loyaux, pp. 328-340.

[4] Audet, Françis-Joseph, Varennes: notes pour servir à l’histoire de la seigneurie, (Éditions des dix), 1943, p. 25

[5] Ibid, Lambert, Pierre, Les Patriotes de Beloeil: le mouvement patriote, les insurrections de 1837-1838 et les paroissiens de Beloeil, pp. 18-25

[6] Messier, p. 162.

[7] Messier, p. 212.

[8] DPQ, p. 7; Messier, pp. 6-7.

[9] DPQ, pp. 236-237; Messier, p. 158.

[10] Ibid, Lambert, Pierre, Les Patriotes de Beloeil: le mouvement patriote, les insurrections de 1837-1838 et les paroissiens de Beloeil, p. 14

[11] Le Canadien, 25 April 1834.

[12] Le Canadien, 13 January 1834.

[13] Le Canadien, 25 April 1834.

[14] Ibid, Bernard, Jean-Paul, Assemblées publiques, résolutions et déclarations de 1837-1838, pp. 38-41.

[15] Ibid, Lambert, Pierre, Les Patriotes de Beloeil: le mouvement patriote, les insurrections de 1837-1838 et les paroissiens de Beloeil, p. 29

[16] Messier, p. 157.

[17] Messier, p. 131.

[18] Messier, p. 206.

[19] Messier, p. 311.

[20] Messier, p. 334.

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