Chapter 18. Rene Ouellet* (The First North American Willette)

Riviere-Ouelle was a charming village which received its name from one of the directors of the Company of One Hundred Associates, Louis Houel, the Sieur de Petit-Pre in France. Benjamin Suite was right when he said that ancestor Ouellet had nothing to do with the name of this picturesque locality.

In a beautiful script, Rene Ouellet signed his name as "Rene Houallet." This diminutive means a small hoe like a trowel. We prefer a variation of Oulilet meaning "oeillet", a carnation, because no one can say whether ancestor Quellet was a nobleman become a commoner or a commoner become a nobleman!

The question is raised in the reading of his marriage contract presented on 4 March 1666 at Quebec. Notary Romain Becquet had indeed written that Rene was the son of Francois, "collector general of the province of poitou," and of Elisabeth Barre; "from the town of beaupere, bishopric of Lucon." The following statement is more questionable; "the fiancee Anne Rivet was the widow of "Gregoire Hise during his lifetime collector of the eighth of Bretagne." The Marquis de Tracy, Monsieur the Governor de Courcelles and Jean-Paul Maheu were present, signing with their admirable initials. The contract also noted the presence of Intendant Talon and the Widow of Louis Daillebout, himself a former governor. However, Anne Rivet presented herself as a protege of the King, bringing property to the marriage with a value of 300 livres, a worthy dowry for any respectable lady.

Thus began the life of this couple, passing from prestigious parents, to a humble but more promising future for the thousands of Ouellet or Ouellette descendants. A Parisian In QuebecWhen the pastor of the cathedral of Quebec drew up the marriage act of "Rene Hoelct" on 8 March 1666, he wrote that the father and mother of the groom were living in the parish of St-Jacques du Haut-Pas, archdiocese of Paris, and that the bride Anne Rivet was originally from Saint-Germain, Bishopric of Sees in Basse-Normandie. Abbot Henri de Bernieres does not mention the names of the bride's parents. Present at the ceremony as witnesses were Martin Boutet, Pierre Soumandre and Mathurin Mauricet.

It is necessary to go back to 1180 to discover a monastery in Paris where Italian monks, originally from the Altopasso in Tuscany, were living; hence the French name of Haut-Ras. For centuries these religious brethren kept up their charitable works. During the time of ancestor Ouellet, their large hospital had become the Seminaire de l'Oratoire. Beginning in 1630, the parishioners of St-Jacques added a new chancel to the former chapel. However, Rene Ouellet was not around to see the new facade and bell tower which were built after his departure in 1675.

In what year was Rene Ouellet baptized? In Paris, Archange Godbout found only one document concerning the family of our ancestor:
"On the 1st of June 1639, before notaries
Gaultier and Poureil, Me Francois Houallet,
clerk to five large farms in France, and
Elisabeth Barre', his wife, living in Paris on
rue des Urselins, parish of Saint-Landry.
made a mutual donation to the remaining survivor."

The legal instructions of the time would be dispensed with in this contract if they had children. Rene would have been born after 1639 and after his family moved to the parish of Saint-Jacques du Haut-Pas. Was Rene an only son? Did he attend school for several years? When did he decide to go to Canada? What ship brought him to the shores of North America?

Generations of researchers have asked these questions without obtaining satisfactory answers. The book of the Armuriers of New France contains a fragmentary text, from the notes of P. Laurant, in which a transaction is recorded on 26 September 1662 between Father Claude-Jean Allouez and Rene Vallet at Trois-Rivieres. It seems that Rene Vallet agreed to work for the term of one year at the Jesuits' forge. For this, his remuneration would be 150 livres. Historian Marcel Trudel concludes that this entry does indeed refer to our Rene Vallet or Ouellet.

Well, on 27 May this 24 years old gunsmith from Saumur in Anjou, agreed to work for the great explorer Medard Chouart des Grosseillers, then living at Trois-Rivieres. In addition to the 75 livres per year, Rene was to receive lodging, food and drink from his cousin Christophe Gerbault, a soldier. Chouart and Gerbault signed the act before notary Moreau at La Rochelle. There are two disturbing facts about this: Rene Vallet made his mark before Father Allouez at Trois-Rivieres in spite of the fact that Rene Ouellet knew how to write very well. Was it not to offend the notary that he made a mark instead of signing his name? Perhaps the notary had presumed that Rene did not know how to write. At La Rochelle and at Trois-Rivieres, why a V instead of a U? Or was Rene Vallet really Rene Ouellet? A mystery and a boule de gomme!

In conclusion, Rene Ouellet arrived in Canada probably aboard the good ship Saint-Andre in the summer of 1659, to go to work at Trois-Rivieres in the service of Medard Chouart for three years.In Pursuit Thus did our ancestor Ouellet quietly enter the halls of Canadian history. At his marriage, he presented himself as a citizen of Quebec. The book entitled L'histoire de l'Ile d'Orleans reports him in 1664 or 1665, as living on the next to the last piece of land at Saint-Famille, between the farms of Pierre Mailloux and Guillaume Bauche, almost across the river from Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupre. The census of 1667 reports the existence of a certain Rene Oudin. Could not this name be confused with that of Rene Ouellet working on the farms of Msgr de Laval with Pierre Roberge, Pierre Brulot and Jean Auray?

On 25 April 1667, Rene signed as a witness to the marriage contract of Mathias Campagna, farmer for Charles Gaultier dit Boisverdun on th l'Ile d'Orleans.

In the absence of Msgr de Laval, on 6 February 1673, the Abbot Dudouyst, administrator, officially initialed a land grant to Ouellet. Let us read about "the number of three arpents of front land, parish of Sainte-Familfe, crossing to the north." The owner, wrote notary Vachon, will only be able to fish across from his concession. Why does the text contain the following unusual words: "he (Msgr de Laval) wanted to make and to ratify and to inhabit the lands of the uninhabited concessions"? Had Rene already begun to clear this plot for several years, as many serious authors claim? Did he wish to own a deed in order to resell it? Why were the witnesses young men from Beauport, ie., Jean Crete and Nicolas Belanger? Was the Ouellet family living at Beauport?

Sixteen days later, Rene Ouellet sold the same three arpents of land situated between Bauche and Mailloux to Robert Coutard. The notary specified: "with this cleared land there is a cabin and a shed." The buyer promised to pay one hundred silver livres in two installments.

On 13 March of the same year, surgeon Timothee Roussel from Quebec, proprietor of a farm situated between those of Germain Lepage and the aforesaid Robert Coutard, offered to rent it to Ouellet for the paltry sum of 20 minots of wheat a year! Rene could live in the cabin but must build a shed, 20 by 15 feet, to store the grain and to maintain the fences, etc. Why was this lease never signed?

Where did the Ouellet family live then? On 13 October 1674 before notary Rageot, Rene Ouellet, "inhabitant of the seigneurie of Beaupre," rented for one year another farm on the Ile belonging to Pierre Soumandre, an edge-tool maker from Quebec. It was the first time that our ancestor became responsible for an old cow of 7 years and a pair of oxen. This farm, measuring 4 arpents in frontage, was situated between those of Thomas Rondeau and Mathieu Cote, at Saint-Pierre. It was rented for 6 years in October 1677 by Nicolas Goulet. Departure If there was ever a humble and retiring ancestress it was indeed Anne Rivet. Nevertheless, she gave her husband three hardy sons: Abraham-Joseph, Mathurin-Rene and Gregoire*, all baptized at Sainte-Famille between 1667 and 1672, confirmation that the Ouellet family was living in this parish. The sons all headed families; the first, by marrying Francoise Lizot and Reine Meneux; the second, by marrying Angelique Lebel, daughter of ancestor Nicolas; and the third, by marrying Anne Lizot* and Madeleine Dube. Anne Rivet, after less than ten years of marriage, fell gravely ill and died on 5 April 1675. Two days later, she was buried in the cemetery of Chateau-Richer. Did these two days between the death and the burial mean that it was necessary to transport the body from the Ile to Chateau-Richer over an icy bridge? Was it a question of bad transport due to temperature or thawing? Reading between the lines of the life of this family contains more history than the text itself.Migration In the autumn of 1670, FranCois Pollet de la Combe Pocatiere, accompanied by Jean Langlois de Beauport, settled on his fief of Grande-Anse. After his unexpected death on 20 March 1672, his widow Marie-Anne Juchereau, "pulled strings on her father's side" according to historian Gerard Ouellet, and, on 29 October 1672, obtained the seigneurie of Grande-Anse or La Pocatiere from Frontenac. In 1674, Jean Migneault of Beauport, became one of her concessionaires. The permits to clear land must have been given verbally. Nicolas Lebel, ancestor of the author, owned the land bearing the number 18.

After the death of Anne Rivet, Rene Ouellet put his affairs in order before moving to La Pocatiere, about 1677 or 1678. It is there that we find him on 6 February 1679, at the time of his marriage to Therese Migneault, daughter of Jean, widow of Nicolas Lebel, and mother of 4 children. The missionary Pierre Thury blessed their union in Mann Fouquet's house, before Nicolas Huot dit St-Laurent and Madeleine, the bride's sister.

Rene then concentrated all his efforts on clearing his new wife's land. The seigneuresse Juchereau became demanding with her censitaires. In 1683, her marriage to the wastrel Francois d'Auteuil, a sort of "bleeder of money", did not improve the situation. Several colonists preferred to go to Riviere-Ouelle* to escape her ill temper. On 15 March 1680, the Seigneur of Riviere-Ouelle, Jean-Baptiste-Francois Deschamps granted Rene Ouellet a piece of land measuring 8 arpents of frontage by 42 in depth. Rene lived there for 17 consecutive years. His wife, nevertheless, kept the property of her first husband at Sainte-Anne.

The census of 1681 affirms that Rene and Therese had 6 arpents of land under cultivation, 7 head of cattle and 1 gun, with Nicolas Huot and Jean Grondin for neighbors. At this time, how did the children from the first marriage earn their living? The eldest Abraham-Joseph had been entrusted, it seems, to the home of Jacques Meneux, from Saint-Laurent, I.0., where he was working as a servant. Mathurin-Rene, 12 years old, was in the service of Louis Gagne dit Bellavance, Sieur de la Frenaye, at Cap Saint-Ignace; he was confirmed in this place by Msgr de Laval on 30 July 1681. As for Gregoire*, 11 years old, he remained with his aunt Madeleine Migneault, wife of Noel Pelletier, at Grande-Anse des Aulnaies. Such was the "Aid to Dependent Children" of those days.

Let us say right away that the new Rene-Therese couple brought 6 offspring into the world: 2 boys and 4 girls. Sebastien went to find his future life at the Lizot home; Francois preferred Marie-Anne Bouchard; Angelique-Marguerite married Ignace Berube, then Jean-Baptiste Pelletier; Francoise married Andre Mignier dit Lagace; Marie-Therese married Charles Pelletier and Marie-Anne married Charles Boucher. All these marriages took place in the church at Riviere-Ouelle, with the exception perhaps of Francois's, because his marriage record was not entered in the registry.Orientation With active men like the seigneur Deschamps and Robert Leveque, ancestor Ouellet knew stability at Riviere-Ouelle. The children married and founded families. The little Lebel children inherited the land of their late father. It was valued at 800 livres, that is to say 200 livres, for each heir. Angelique Lebel, wife of Mathurin-Rene Ouellet, took on double-duty by adding the rights of her husband to hers. Rene and Therese Migneault made some special arrangements. In order to keep them nearby, they detached 3 arpents,, of front land from their 8 arpent farm in favor of Rene's son and Therese's daughter. The 3rd arpent was an exchange with the one coming to Angelique at La Pocatiere. But, on 2 October 1695, Mathurin-Rene sold his 3 arpents of land to Pierre Soucy and went to settle at Kamouraska, on a concession with 5 arpents of frontage.

As for Rene, whose talents for farming were not the best, he was rather up to his ears in debt. One example should suffice:
"At the request of Francoise-Catherine
Juchereau, widow of Francois Vianney Pachot,
merchant during his lifetime at Quebec
a summons to Rene Houellet, from Grande-Anse,
so that he may pay 157 livres and
6 sols for merchandise sold and
delivered, with interest and expenses."

In addition, genealogist J.-Eugene Ouellet maintains that the "named Jeanneau availed himself, by ruse, but legally, of a part of the land that Rene Ouellet had in the seigneurie of la Boutellerie." Then, did Rene and Therese move once again?Flight In 1690 at Riviere-Ouelle, Rene Ouellet and his sons joined parishioners, led by their curate, to prevent Phipps's soldiers from landing. The group successfully used the strategy of surprise and trickery.

Rene and Therese enjoyed the golden years at the home of their son Abraham-Joseph, living in the present-day territory of St-Roch-des-Aulnaies. When he reached his 80's, Rene decided to draw up his will. This was on 7 August 1721. Btienne Janneau wrote:
"Renne Houellet... parish sainte-anne living at
present in the house of Joseph... commends his
soul to god... and I wish and request that
one of the two arpents of front land by a
depth of one arpent... be given in perpetuity
to the church of sainte anne."

This square arpent had first belonged to Nicolas Lebel and Therese Migneault.

Rene Ouellet died the following year and was buried at Sainte-Anne-de-la-Pocatiere on 15 January. It was probably abbot Maurice Imbault, present at the reading of the will, who said the 50 Masses promised after the death of Rene.

On 23 August 1728, Therese Migneault, living at Petit-Kamouraska, gave her son-in-law Gabriel Bouchard the remainder of the land near the site of the future church of Sainte-Anne. The buyer was to pay 180 livres and have 10 Masses said for the intentions of his mother-in-law after her death. The contract was signed in Francois Ouellet's house. The widow of Rene Ouellet died and was buried at Kamouraska on 5 December 1728. Therese, baptized at Quebec by Father Poncet on 15 September 1651, was therefore 77 years old when she left her Lebel and Ouellet families.

The Ouellets have spread throughout the eastern part of Canada and the United States. They have representatives in every trade and every profession. The first Ouellet to be an elected delegate was named Edouard (1860-1931). He represented the county of Yamaska at the Assemblee Nationale for 18 years. The first Ouellet priest, Louis-Charles-Arthur (1824-1891), a veritable apostle, was born at Riviere-Ouelle. Anne-Marie Ouellet (1873-1943), known as sister Reine du Clerge founded the Servants of Notre-Dame in 1929 at Lac-au-Saumon. She was director of her congregation for 21 years. Other descendants have given two bishops to the Canadian church: Msgr Andre Ouellet, former Bishop of Mont-Laurier, and Msgr Gilles Ouellet, F.M.E., Archbishop of Rimouski.

The moral of this story is that a little hoe can turn over the soil in a great garden!Family Name Variations

Aillet, Ailette, Auclair, Boncourage, Chaume, Crochet, Deschenaux, Hoelet, Holyoke, Houalet, Houaliet, Houallet, Houellet, Houellette, Lesperance, Menage, Oilette, Oualet, Ouallet, Ouelett, Ouellette, Ouilette, O'Willet, Oylet, Paincor, Wallette, Wellet, Wellette, Wells, Willard, Willet, Willett, Woolet, Wouallet and Woullette.
(* indicates an ancester or living place of a Douglas Willett relative.)

See also Rene Houallet by Daniel Ouellette.