Plaque in Place d'Armes in Old Montreal
Association des Familles Tessier
Urbain Tessier dit Lavigne (1625-1689) From yesterday to today.
Each summer, thousands of Americans stroll down the shaded narrow
streets of Old Montreal in search of entertainment and a bit of history.
A lot of them stop by Place D'Armes during their excursion. They pass
by the Sieur de Maisonneuve monument and Lambert Closse's sculpture
with his dog Pilote without giving them a lot of attention and arrive at
the Notre Dame Church where they enjoy the soothing effect of the soft
light and the meditative atmosphere while they visit . But some of them
opt to go towards the Royal Trust Company building, facing the church
on St. Jacques street at the north west corner of la Côte de la Place
D'Armes, to read the inscription engraved on the facade:
THIS BUILDING IS ERECTED ON PART OF THE ORIGINAL CONCESSION
TO URBAIN TESSIER DIT LAVIGNE BEING THE 8 TH GRANT MADE TO AN
INDIVIDUAL IN THE ISLAND OF MONTREAL
These few readers from New York want to understand why their great
grandparents Lavigne would start a lawsuit claiming the property of this
Place D'Armes. They don't know much about their French ancestor,the
first Tessier dit Lavigne to cross the Atlantic: Son of Arthur Tessier
and Jeanne Même, he was born around 1625 at Château-en-Anjou, now known
asChâteau-la-Vallière, situated at a hundred or so kilometers west of
Larochelle, where he would have left for Nouvelle France. He would
probably have been recruited by Jérome Le Royer de la Dauversière, one
partaker in the foundation of Montreal. Le Royer combed a good part of
the country surrounding
Château-en-Anjou to recruit future settlers ready to exile themselves to
a country that did not exist,covered with forests and with natives
representing a constant threat. Urbain Tessier dit Lavigne arrived
alone, without family, in Nouvelle France, precisely in Ville-Marie. We
have no knowledge of the actual date. He would not have been part of
the first arrival in 1642 with the 52 first Montréalistes, Maisonneuve
and Jeanne Mance's group, since he was present as godfather to his
brother Jean's first child in
Château-la-Vallière on September 4 th , 1641.(*1) At the latest, Urbain
Tessier arrives at the colony in 1647, since Maisonneuve grants him
land in the fortified enclosure in January 1648, where he builds a house
that will welcome his 12 years and seven month old wife Marie
Archambault in September. They were married in Québec City.
(1) Lavigne, Gilles, Dictionnaire généalogique de la famille
Tessier dit Lavigne en Amérique. De 1648 à 1800 (1 ère partie)
Montreal, 1982, 2 e édition, p.I.
Urbain Tessier dit Lavigne is the first of 16 Tessier's to migrate to
Nouvelle France. Of the 16, nine were named Tessier's, one
Tessier-Marquis, one Tessier-Ringuet-Laplante, one Tessier-Laliberté,
one Tessier- Laforest, on Tessier-Nicol and one Tessier-Latulippe.
Among those newly arrived, Urbain is the one that had the most children
(16) and the most sons that will marry (7). In 1730, he has 420 known
descendants and is ranked 39th on the list of all pioneers In Nouvelle
France, the other Tessier'a are far behind with Marc Tessier having 47
known descendants (rank 957), Mathurin Tessier 36 descendants (rank
1146)( *2), etc.
If our American cousins pursued their excursion, they could better know
their ancestor. By going up St.Denis street, they would stop at
l'Échange, a library of used books, where they could find an old copy of
l'Histoire d'Outremont (1875-1975) authored by Robert Rumilly and
could read a rather pompous tribute to their ancestor:
«we distinguish amongst young Montrealers of the heroic period, two
kinds of temperaments. The trappers went deep in the forest risking
meeting Savages (..) The civil leaders encouraged these young people
seeking adventure and liberty because they provided invaluable services
as explorers, guides and interpreters. The settlers, although more
sedentary, were no less courageous, for the terrible Iroquois would
attack them while they were isolated or in small groups and the dead
were better off than the prisoners who where submitted to atrocious
torture. The religious leaders encouraged the settlers to have families
and establish the basis of a stable colony. Urbain Tessier, his
brother in law, Jean Gervaise and Louis Prudhomme are of the group of
pioneers. (.) The Iroquois burnt down the house he had just built.
Urbain Tessier took his revenge in first positions in many battles».
He lost one of his battles in the winter of 1661. He was made prisoner
with five other settlers he had hired to work his land, four other
Montrealers were killed . He was brought to Onnontagué, south west of
Lake Ontario, the Iroquois capital. Three months after his kidnapping
his wife gave birth to a seventh child, the fourth boy. On the
Baptismal act we can read that the 7 th day of June, was baptized
Urbain, son of Urbain Tessier, resident taken by the Iroquois', last
March 24 th , and it is not known if he is dead or alive». (*4).
(2) Charbonneau Hubert et autres, Naissance d'une population. Les
Français établis au Canada au XV11e siècle, Paris, Ed. de l'INED et PUM,
(3) Rumilly, Robert, Histoire d'Outremont (1875-1975), Montréal, 1975, Éd. Leméac, p.5.
(4) Premier registre de la paroisse de Montréal. Bibliothèque de Montréal, salle Gagnon. Cité par Godbout, 1960, p.13.
Urbain's captivity is difficult and he is tormented. Observed in an
excerpt of Relations de 1662, written in the purest Jesuit's style of
the period, Urbain is apparently tempted to join the Iroquois' in
«One of them before Father (Simon Lemoyne)'s arrival, tempted by the bad
morals prevailing , is about ready to give in to vice and to embrace
the Savage's life, having taken part in battles with a few Iroquois: It
is true that God always held him by the hand, that is rather by one
finger which was cut off when he was made prisoner and would not heal
even if all ordinary remedies were tried. The Father's arrival
remedied his biggest sickness, suggesting a few devotions to the Virgin
Mary, that were so successful that in a few days he was liberated from
his obsessions and his six month old injury to the hand was healed. He
then used his hand in a miraculous fashion, baptizing not only children
that he went to find in caravans but by being on the lookout for the
Sonnontoeronnos (Tsonnontouans) caravans to appear; they traveled in
bands to the treaties in case they met their enemies. He approached
every mother with children in each convoy and could convince them so
well that in little time he baptized more than sixty children that died
of the current sickness.» (*5)
His captivity, his solitude and the anxiety of the wait end after 17
long months, taking place at an Iroquois and French exchange of
prisoners negotiated by Chief Garakontié and Father Lemoyne.
But what interests most our American cousins, are the Québec National
Archives, where they have heard by someone in the family, there are
files on their ancestor. They therefore go to Viger street. With
curiosity and awe, they unroll plans measuring 2 feet by 4 of the City's
section, that a documentalist unaware of their excitement brought them.
In examining these big blue sheets, they try to transpose what is
before them to what they have seen while strolling down the streets of
the city . The task is difficult since these plans superpose Urbain
Tessier dit Lavigne's land, granted by Maisonneuve in 1651, with the
decoupage of the streets of Montreal in 1929 and since then, a lot of
the streets have been renamed. This plan like others has been elaborated
by the engineer surveyor geometrician Séraphin Ouimet for the famous
trial of his great grand-parents. Forty years later, in 1971, the
Justice ministry deposited them at the National archives.
With these plans they can, with one look, see the full dimension of the
30 acres (approximately 950,000 square feet) owned by their ancestor.
Imagine that in one part of the actual Palais des Congrès flowered the
garden of Urbain's family! Imagine that at the end of his wooded land
there is now La Place des Arts! Imagine that on his old corn and wheat
field grew the Place Desjardins Towers, la Place Guy-Favreau and Hydro
Québec's head office! Imagine that each day thousands of workers,
tourist or strollers walk through the Place-d'Armes metro station, under
his ground somewhere in the roots of his old cultivations.
(*5) Relations des Jésuites, éditeur Thwaites, 48, p 202 et sq.n.
This ideal land extended itself on both sides of St. Urbain Street,
south of De Maisonneuve boulevard and north of St. Jacques street. St.
Urbain street, named after their ancestor, was at origin the route he
had cleared to accede to his land and on which he had to build a bridge
to cross the Petite Rivière now dried and named St. Antoine street.
And so as early as 1668, the governor of the city, Charles D'Ailleboust,
proclaims that the access to the Saint-Louis and Sainte-Marie hillside
roads will pass through the Tessier-Lavigne bridge.
As time passed St. Urbain street was lengthened, so much so, that today
it links the St-Laurent river to the Rivière des Prairies and divides
the Island of Montreal practically in two equal parts. Urbain,
St.Urbain street a just return of things! Did this ancestor's first
name come from the fact that the Pope in power at his birth was named
Urbain V111? Does this indicate that his parents where fervent
Catholics or simply that the name was currently used at the time? Could
another Pope, this one Urbain V (1310-1370), of French origin, be at
the source of the use of this given name? So many questions without
answers! Another plan illustrates the apportionment of Urbain's land to
his numerous heirs at his death in 1689, at the age of 64. Whom of
Paul, Jacques, Petronille, Jean, Ignace, Jean-Baptiste or of Louise
Tessier is their ancestor? In the course of the three last centuries,
what has become of the ownership of this land? A document of 225 pages
elaborated in 1929 and 1930 by E. Z. Massicotte, archivist and
historian, provides some answers, that is in l'Inventaire des actes
notariés et autres documents concernant les bien immeubles d'Urbain
Tessier dit Lavigne et de ses descentants , ainsi que les emplacements
de la place d'Armes et de l'Église Notre Dame . All transactions were
done following the rules of the art. This probably explains why the
lawsuit never went anywhere and that the ones who benefited the most
from this, were probably the lawyers. (*6)
(*6) Everything you have just read is verifiable. Each summer American
descendants of Urbain Tessier dit Lavigne go to the Québec National
Archives to consult archives on their ancestor.
Gilles Dubé no 108
Reference Le Défricheur may 2003
Buried 21 Mar 1689 in Montreal, Ile-de-Montreal, Quebec.