Monday, 10 January 2011

Charivaris against Loyalists

The first mention of charivaris was at the beginning of the fourteenth century in France where it was a regular custom after weddings.[1] Its origins were defined by abbé Jean Bonnecaz,

Le charivari est un bruit confus, tumultueux et désagréable, d’une assemblée de gens qui crient d’une manière bouffonne, et font du tumulte avec des poêles, chaudrons, des cors et des tambours, pour faire quelque sorte de confusion à ceux qui se marient en secondes noces.[2]

In charivari, people from the local community gathered to ‘celebrate’ a marriage, usually one they regarded as questionable, gathering outside the window of the couple. They banged metal implements or used other items to create noise in order to keep the couple awake all night. Sometimes they wore disguises or masks. Later it became a form of protest or social disapproval against marriages, for example the marriage of widows before completing the socially acceptable period of mourning. In the early seventeenth century, the Council of Tours forbade charivari and threatened participants with excommunication. Nevertheless, the custom continued in rural areas. Shivaree, sometimes called ‘belling’ or ‘horning’, was practiced at least in Ontario and Quebec in Canada and in the American Midwest, New England, Middle Tennessee, Louisiana and rural northern Pennsylvania. [3]

French pioneers brought the charivari with them to the Valley of the St. Lawrence. Allan Greer states,

Le ton carnavalesque et railleur des rassemblements, leur cadre nocturne, le vacarme, les masques et les costumes des participants, les longues processions dans les rues et leur caractère résolument public, tout cela rappelle des pratiques françaises qui remontent au Moyen Âge.[4]

In Lower Canada, the first charivaris occurred in the towns. Certainly, at the beginning of the nineteenth century, their use was found in the increasingly densely populated villages. For Allan Greer, the later presence of the charivari in a rural setting can be explained by the need for a substantial crowd from within the community as required by custom. [5] Nevertheless, during the three decades before the Rebellions in 1837 and 1838, the charivari became one of the characteristics of village life in Lower Canada. Between the seventeenth and nineteenth centuries, the rituals of the charivari changed little and appeared to be a coherent and uniform form of local ritual. Contrary to others parts of the world where customs had changed dramatically, the charivaris of Lower Canada were used primarily where newly married couples were considered ill-matched and followed French ritual in making a din in front of the house of the couple during the night. The individuals who carried out the charivari were often disguised and the demonstration and the atmosphere generally festive. However, things could become hostile obliging the new couple to call upon a mediator in order to haggle over a price to obtain peace. Once an agreement occurred, the charivari ended and couple were then able to live in peace.

From the middle of 1837, there were concerted efforts to coerce individuals and officials into supporting the Patriotes. In the Richelieu valley, [6] French Canadians were expanding southwards towards the British-American settlements while in the Deux-Montagnes British settlers were thrusting into French Canadian areas of settlement. [7] Papineau’s demands for the boycott of British goods and attacks on the British American Land Company and the increasingly exaggerated language of the Patriote press were soon translated by habitants into racial overtones exacerbating existing animosities. As a result, the nature and role of the charivari in Lower Canada was transformed. Although charivaris were an expression of local grievances, they reflected the depth of feeling felt by many habitants about the actions of the colonial government. [8] Charivaris played an important role in the events of 1837. We do not know the full extent of the charivaris in the area round Montreal, in the Richelieu valley or in the comté de l’Acadie in the autumn of 1837 but Greer argues that there were ‘dozens’ and they proved very effective.[9] They left supporters of the Crown isolated and often besieged and allowed the rural Patriotes to give active support to the movement in the autumn of 1837. [10]

This enabled Patriotes to mobilised sympathetic political opinion into community action and there are clear parallels between this and the ‘Scotch Cattle’ activities in South Wales. [11] For example, on 7 July 1837, Paquin curé of St-Eustache was the victim of a charivari when he openly condemned the Patriote movement. [12] In other instances, like that of Rosalie Cherrier of St-Denis, it was sexual behaviour as well as support for the colonial regime that led to charivaris. It was, however, the magistrates and militia captains who had not given their support to the Patriotes who were the most targeted victims of charivaris and often resulted in them resigning their position or simply leaving their homes.[13] Officers in the militia had their flagpoles cut down and their houses were often ransacked. If they resigned their commission, the charivaris ended and the crowds moved on to other victims. Groups of men, normally disguised, came to the victim’s house and shouted Patriote slogans. John Oswald, a farmer from St-Eustache reported that crowds shouted their support for Papineau and the Patriotes in front of the houses of loyalists, before going to the homes of their victims.[14] The explicit use of violence formed a further aspect of charivaris at this time with the burning of houses and the firing of weapons though Greer argues that the use of physical as opposed to psychological violence should not be exaggerated.[15]

From early in the summer 1837, the Deux-Montagnes was distinguished by a large number of charivaris. Their use by the radical Patriotes seldom extended beyond intimidation and verbal violence. [16] However, there were two exceptions to this: the cases of Robert Hall and of Eustache Cheval. On the night of 28 June 1837, Robert Hall, a farmer in Ste- Scholastique was visited by four men menacingly under the command of John C. Hawley who admonished him for not joining the Patriotes in the parish and for not having signed a petition. In his deposition, Hall affirmed that

...la porte de sa maison a été enfoncée et que l’une de ses fenêtres a été fracassée en miettes avec des pierres...L’une de celles-ci pesant environ cinq livres est tombée tout près de l’un de ses jeunes enfants qui dormait dans une couchette sur le sol.

Some of his fences had been pulled down and destroyed. His corn field was left opened to animals, while his horses had their manes and tails shaved exposing Hall to ridicule when he travels with them.[17] Like Hall, Eustache Cheval had reported to the authorities on Patriote assemblies held in the Deux-Montagnes. In order to be avenged and to protect itself from the ‘seigneurial clique’, a group of men went to Cheval’s farm at the beginning of July 1837. Before they arrived, Cheval took measure to defend his house with his brother Joseph and four friends. In the middle of the night, they found the men near his cattle shed and drove them off. Later, a musket or pistol ball smashed a window in the house wounding one of his daughters. Cheval was convinced that they had tried to kill him.

Following these two incidents, the assistant of the Attorney-General of Lower Canada received complaints and began criminal prosecutions. He ordered the arrest of the four individuals denounced by Hall and offered £100 for information leading to the identification of those men who had attacked Cheval. [18] On 13 July 1837, Chief Constable Benjamin Delisle and Édouard-Louis-Antoine Duchesnay, the assistant to the sheriff accompanied by a sergeant and two constables left Montreal with arrest warrants. At St-Eustache, they found François Labelle[19] on his farm but his wife ran for help. A large crowd, armed with sticks and farm tools, confronted the constables who, fearing attack left but took Labelle with them. A group of Patriotes from St-Benoît arrived too late to free him. [20] The same day, two officials from Montreal arrived at Grand-Brûlé to put up posters about the ‘Cheval affair’. [21] In Louis Coursolles’ inn, the two men were verbally intimidated by Coursolles and Luc-Hyacinthe Masson and decided to leave.[22] Continuing tensions and the persistence of charivari in the Deux-Montagnes continued throughout the autumn until the battle of St-Eustache on 14 December 1837.

A wave of charivaris occurred in the Richelieu valley in September 1837.[23] The seigneur of St-Charles, Pierre-Dominique Debartzch, a Roman Catholic Polish immigrant was the victim of a terrifying charivari.[24] Originally a strong supporter of Papineau, he had done much to spread the Patriote programme along the Richelieu but, once he accepted a seat on the Legislative Council in 1832 he drew away from the more militant sections of Papineau’s party. He was bitterly resented by more militant Patriotes and was criticised by the British party as unprincipled and untrustworthy because he had raised Patriote expectations and then deserted them. Debartzch was among the most unpopular politicians in Lower Canada.[25] Those involved in the charivaris, called ‘Septembrists’ in the loyalist press, generally came from St-Denis and were supporters of Wolfred Nelson and acted in his name, though he does not seem to have been involved personally. [26] Although the main cause of these charivaris was Debartzch’s unpopularity, Le Populaire suggested that a speech Papineau gave at Ste-Hyacinthe during a speaking tour of Lower Canada was largely responsible for local Patriotes taking action. However, Papineau was highly cautious and suspicious of charivaris largely because he saw them as unjustifiably raising tensions and giving the authorities increased loyalist support

...il n’y a pas de bureaucrates ici; s’il y en avait, il faudrait les mettre entres deux bœufs.[27]

Debartzch, despite his unpopularity, was an important public figure whose engagements were, like Papineau’s, listed in the press. In September 1837, he returned to St-Charles with his family after the Legislative Council session in Quebec ended. He broke his journey at St-Ours for the baptism of one of his brother-in-law Roch de Saint-Ours’ children. After the reception, rioters arrived at Roch de Saint-Ours’ manor house and subjected those inside to a terrifying charivari. The following day, some of the Septembrists apologised to Roch de Saint-Ours for the fear caused to his family making it clear that Debartzch was their real target.[28] After staying a few days with the Saint-Ours, possibly to recover from the fright, Debartzch, his wife and four children continued their journey to St-Charles.[29] At St-Denis, which they had to pass through, his effigy had been hung at the end of a pole. Debartzch suspected that there might be a problem and enquired of a local farmer what was going on in the village. Informed of the preparations, he then decided to change his route to bypass the village. According to his testimony, he received no local support against popular justice and could not escape as the charivarists followed him to his home in St-Charles.[30] If one accepts the evidence of curé Blanchet, with one exception, the habitants of St-Charles did not take part in the charivaris against Debartzch.[31] Once the rebellion broke out, Debartzch and his family were held prisoner for several days before being freed when he agreed that he would not act against the Patriotes, a promise he immediately broke when he arrived in Montreal. The Patriotes were then free to occupy his manor house and, on 20 November, it was fortified but it was destroyed in Wetherall’s successful attack on the village five days later.

The area around Saint-Hyacinthe in the Richelieu valley was an important centre of Patriote support. On 13 September 1837, Sir John Colborne, commander-in-chief of British forces in Canada was en route to the Eastern Townships on a tour of inspection and had reached the village. By chance, on the same day, Louis-Joseph Papineau brought his sons Lactance and Amédée to the seminary of Saint-Hyacinthe for the beginning of their classes. Papineau’s arrival resulted in the leading citizens of the village announcing festivities in his honour and escorted Papineau to the seminary. [32] Roused by the excitement, some of the crowd diverted to the inn where Colborne was staying crying ‘Vive Papineau! À bas Colborne et Gosford!’ The same evening, a political charivari was organised against the general. [33] Colborne was not the first victim of a charivari but the event took on a greater significance because of his political position in the colony. The crowd of about forty people led by Thomas Bouthillier, Eusèbe Cartier and Arthur Delphos surrounded the inn chanting insults ‘A bas Colborne; c’est un traître au pays! À bas les anglais! Hourra pour Papineau! À bas les soldats!’ [34] Embarrassed, Papineau called the leaders of the crowd to the house of Mme Dessaulles, his sister and seigneur of the village and demanded that they end the charivari. The following day, Thomas Bouthillier, Pierre Boucher de La Bruère, Eusèbe Cartier and thirty others erected a maypole in Papineau’s honour topped by a cap of liberty in front of the village church. [35] This event sent out a clear message: in the eyes of the people it was Papineau not Colborne who represented legitimate authority.

The Richelieu valley was particularly tense during September 1837 largely because the colonial authorities had decided to withdraw the commissions of those magistrates it believed had been encouraging civil disobedience. [36] As a result a group of agitators undertook a series of charivaris against individuals associated with colonial government.[37] After Colborne and Debartzch, it was Léonard Godefroy de Tonnancour who was the next victim of the ‘Septembrists’. De Tonnancour was the deputy for Yamaska and the son of a well-established seigneurial family from Saint-Michel-de-Yamaska. He had been a long-time supporter of Papineau, but the growing militancy of some Patriotes in the middle of 1837 resulted in a change in his political views and he increasingly called for moderation. [38]

On 24 September, in the early evening, he came to St-Denis to visit his mother-in-law, the widow Benjamin Cherrier for a family meal.[39] There had already been several charivaris directed at Debartzch but Tonnancour’s arrival in the village further raised tensions. A group of men went to the Nelson’s distillery and probably led by Siméon Marchesseault decided to organise a charivari against him for having voted against Papineau. Tonnancour wanted to address the crowd but was dissuaded from doing so by his fellow guests. The crowd made a din for about an hour and burned Gosford, Debartzch, Saint-Ours and Sabrevois de Bleury in effigy. [40] Mme Saint-Jacques, also known under the name of Rosalie Cherrier, intervened removing the inscriptions placed on the effigies but this had the effect of starting the charivari again. [41] The same evening, a noisy crowd surrounded the house singing obscene songs and demanding her departure from the parish.[42] The crowd tried to enter Mme Saint-Jacques’ house with cries of ‘Vive les Patriotes!’ and she replied with: ‘Vives les bureaucrates, ils ne se sont jamais comportés en gredins comme vous.’

In these circumstances, the comité permanent du comté de Richelieu met. Its president, Wolfred Nelson, who had just returned from Lavaltrie, spoke of those militia officers who had not resigned their commissions in protest against the attitudes of the government. [43] The following day, the charivarists of St-Denis decided to regulate the case of Saint-Jacques but also to visit and put pressure on some of the militia officers at St-Antoine opposite St-Denis. During the night of 25 September, they visited Jacques Cartier, father of the Patriote George-Étienne Cartier ordering him to resign his commission by the following day. Firmin Perrin, a JP and doctor Allaire were also subject to charivaris the same evening.[44] Despite the threats, Saint-Jacques had no intention of leaving her home and in the course of the day procured a rifle and ball. In the evening, waiting for the charivarists, she retired with her family leaving the defence of the house to Mitchell alias W. Southwick, her young American lover. Her unconventional sexual behaviour may also have played a part in the charivari. Around 9 pm, a large and menacing crowd appeared before the house and an hour later apparently encouraged by one of Cherrier’s daughters, Mitchell opened fire on the crowd leaving two people seriously wounded. The enraged crowd then demolished the house but not before its occupants fled. [45]

Faced with the wave of charivaris, curé Blanchet tried to calm his flock. From the pulpit, he preached a sermon on the impropriety of charivaris and the consequences for those involved.[46] Rosalie Saint-Jacques, who had not left St-Denis, was finally arrested by Lacasse de Contrecoeur and taken to Montreal. These events were widely reported not just in Lower Canada but in the United States.[47] The ‘Saint-Jacques’ affair was important since it demonstrated ideological differences within the family clan of Papineau-Cherrier-Dessaulles. Côme-Séraphin Cherrier, her nephew and a Patriote lawyer did not intercede on her behalf and it was Sabrevois de Bleury, a loyalist, who defended Rosalie Cherrier and provided some comfort to her during her imprisonment and B.A.C. Gugy and P.E. Leclère arranged for her provisional release.[48] Some Loyalists even suggested that a medal should be made in recognition of her courage. The matter ended when a Grand Jury of the Criminal Court in Montreal rejected all accusations against her in early 1838.[49] Female domesticity and chastity were a necessary part of masculine civic virtue in the republican discourse of this period. Whether the intimidation of Rosalie Saint-Jacques was a political or a traditional charivari is unclear but it was aimed at a partisan opponent, a woman who dared to intrude into the public sphere as well as someone who lived unconventionally

The area around St-Blaise-sur-Richelieu played a minor part in events in 1837. However, between 27 and 29 October, a charivari took place at the home of Dudley Flowers, a lieutenant in the militia orchestrated by Cyrille-Octave Côté that led to Flowers resigning his commission and leaving with his family. [50] Further charivaris by Patriotes took place at the Protestant mission of Henriette Odin-Feller and at the homes of converts. [51] Unable to establish missions in Montreal or St-Jean where the Catholic Church exercised considerable control, Louisa Roussy, a Swiss missionary and Henriette Odin-Feller decided to establish a mission on newly settled lands where the clergy had less control and where the absence of services such as schooling or a doctor favoured establishing good relations with their neighbours. They quickly established a small Protestant community of twenty-five people, most descendents of Madame Lore, a Protestant of American origin who had converted to Catholicism on her marriage.

The arrival of Protestantism in the region was considered by some habitants as further attack on their traditions and the small Protestant community she established became a legitimate Patriote target. The Patriotes attacked those who had converted to the religion of the colonial power, for not having taken part in the radical reform movement and of disturbing the area by supporting a suspect religion. After a series of charivaris, Odin-Feller and the families who had converted left St-Blaise for Champlain in the United States. The 1837 rebellion marked an important stage in the development of Protestantism in St-Blaise. It appeared to English and Swiss evangelists of Lower Canada to have removed the influence of the clergy, the most significant obstacle to their conversion of the French Canadians. On her return two months later, Odin-Feller distributed food and medicine to local people, stopped further action against those who had burned the converts’ houses, and went to Napierville to speak on their behalf to Richard McGinnis, charged by the government with taking depositions and examining witnesses. She wrote

En général, l’esprit du peuple est tellement changé envers nous, qu’il n’est, je crois, aucune maison de la Grande Ligne dans laquelle je ne puis entrer maintenant.

St-Blaise was not involved in the fighting in November 1838 but there were several loyalist acts of reprisal against Patriotes especially the properties of Pierre Boursquet, Louis Dupuis, Ambroise Guay, Toussaint Martin, Jacques Métivier, Joseph Palin, Antoine Rocque, Cyprien Saint-Amant and Eustache Signouin.


[1] Le Goff, Jacques and Schmitt, Jean-Claude, (eds.), Le charivari, (École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales), 1981, p. 141. It is possible that the blowing of car horns after weddings in France today is a hangover from the charivari of the past.

[2] Cit, Levasseur, Roger, (ed.), De la sociabilité, (Boréal), 1990, p. 59.

[3] Greer, Allan, The Patriots and the People: The Rebellion of 1837 in rural Lower Canada, (University of Toronto Press), 1993, pp. 69-86, 254-255, and Hardy, René, ‘Le charivari dans l’espace québécois’, in Courville, Serge and Séguin, Normand, (eds.), Espace et Culture/Space and Culture, (Presses de l’Université Laval), 1995, pp. 175-186, provide important discussion on this issue. Thompson, E. P., ‘Rough Music’ reprinted in his Customs in Common, (Merlin Press), 1991, pp. 467-538, an extended version of ‘Rough Music: Le Charivari anglais’, Annales: Économies, Sociétés, Civilisations, Vol. 27, (1972), is also valuable.

[4] Ibid, Greer, Allan, The Patriots and the People: The Rebellion of 1837 in rural Lower Canada, p. 73.

[5] Ibid, Greer, Allan, The Patriots and the People: The Rebellion of 1837 in rural Lower Canada, p. 72.

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

[7] Ibid, Laporte, Gilles, Patriotes et Loyaux, pp. 257-290.

[8] Ibid, Greer, Allan, The Patriots and the People: The Rebellion of 1837 in rural Lower Canada, p. 71.

[9] Ibid, Greer, Allan, The Patriots and the People: The Rebellion of 1837 in rural Lower Canada, p. 219.

[10] Ibid, Levasseur, Roger, (ed.), De la sociabilité, pp. 62-66.

[11] Jones, David, ‘The Scotch Cattle and their Black Domain’, in Jones, David, Before Rebecca: Popular Protest in Wales 1793-1835, (Allen Lane), 1975, pp. 86-112.

[12] Ibid, Greer, Allan, The Patriots and the People: The Rebellion of 1837 in rural Lower Canada, p. 158.

[13] Ibid, Greer, Allan, The Patriots and the People: The Rebellion of 1837 in rural Lower Canada, p. 200.

[14] Ibid, Greer, Allan, The Patriots and the People: The Rebellion of 1837 in rural Lower Canada, p. 158.

[15] Ibid, Greer, Allan, The Patriots and the People: The Rebellion of 1837 in rural Lower Canada, p. 227.

[16] Bernard, Philippe, Amury Girod, Un Suisse chez les Patriotes du Bas-Canada, (Septentrion), p. 167.

[17] ANQM., no. 607, 15 July 1837.

[18] Ibid, Bernard, Philippe, Amury Girod, Un Suisse chez les Patriotes du Bas-Canada, p. 167.

[19] Messier, p. 254.

[20] ANQM, nos. 837-838-839, 14 July 1837.

[21] ANQM, no. 669, 14 July 1837.

[22] Ibid, Bernard, Philippe, Amury Girod, Un Suisse chez les Patriotes du Bas-Canada, p. 168.

[23] Ibid, Greer, Allan, The Patriots and the People: The Rebellion of 1837 in rural Lower Canada, p. 35.

[24] Ibid, Meunie, Pierre, L’insurrection à Saint-Charles et le Seigneur Debartzch is the most detailed account.

[25] Ibid, Greer, Allan, The Patriots and the People: The Rebellion of 1837 in rural Lower Canada, p. 257 and Choquette, Mgr C.-P., Histoire de la Ville de Saint-Hyacinthe, (Richer et fils), 1930, p. 131

[26] Le Populaire, 27 September; La Minerve, 12 October 1837.

[27] Le Populaire, 16 October 1837.

[28] Le Populaire, 27 September; La Minerve, 12 October 1837.

[29] La Minerve, 14 and 18 September 1837.

[30] La Minerve, 12 October 1837; Le Populaire, 16 October 1837.

[31] Le Populaire, 2 October 1837.

[32] La Minerve, 14 September 1837.

[33] La Minerve, 14 September 1837.

[34] Le Populaire, 13 and 29 September 1837; Chabot, Richard, Le Curé de campagne et la Contestation locale au Québec de 1791 aux, troubles de 1837-38: La querelle des écoles, l’affaire des fabriques et le problème des insurrections de 1837-38, (Hurtubise HMH), 1975, p. 212.

[35] Ibid, Chabot, Richard, Le Curé de campagne et la Contestation locale au Québec de 1791 aux, troubles de 1837-38, pp. 212-213.

[36] Lamonde, Yvan, Histoire sociale des idées au Québec (1760-1896): Vol. I, (Les Éditions Fides), 2000, p. 246; ibid, Greer, Allan, The Patriots and the People: The Rebellion of 1837 in rural Lower Canada, p. 51.

[37] Richard, J.-B., Les événements de 1837 à Saint-Denis-sur-Richelieu, (Société d’Histoire régionale de Saint-Hyacinthe), 1938, pp. 17-18.

[38] Bibaud, M., Histoire du Canada, sous la domination française, 3rd ed., Montreal, 1878, pp. 454-456

[39] Le Populaire, 2 October 1837.

[40] Le Populaire, 2 October 1837.

[41] La Minerve, 12 October 1837.

[42] Ibid, Greer, Allan, The Patriots and the People: The Rebellion of 1837 in rural Lower Canada, p. 198.

[43] La Minerve, 12 October 1837; Le Populaire, 2 October 1837 ; Allaire, Jean-Baptiste, Histoire de la paroisse de Saint-Denis, (Imprimerie du Courier de Saint-Hyacinthe), 1905, p. 346

[44] Le Populaire, 2 October 1837.

[45] Le Populaire, 2 October 1837.

[46] Le Populaire, 2 October 1837.

[47] Courier Inquirier, 6 October 1837.

[48] Le Populaire, 16 October 1837.

[49] Le Populaire, 7 March 1838.

[50] Archives Nationales du Québec, fonds P224, no. 146.

[51] Balmer, Randall, and Randall, Catharine, ‘“Her Duty to Canada”: Henriette Feller and French Protestantism in Quebec’, Church History, Vol. 70, (2001), pp. 49-72, examines her role as a Protestant missionary. See also, Hardy, R., Contrôle social et mutation de la culture religieuse au Québec, 1830-1930, (Boréal), 1999, pp. 30-35.

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