Guillaume Couture was born in 1617 in the Parish of Saint Goddard in Rouen, the capital of Normandy. His late father, also named Guillaume, taught his son to be a carpenter like himself. His mother was Madeleine Mallet and he had a sister Marie. Sometime before 1640 Guilllaume left home and hearth and emigrated to Canada.
In 1640 Master Carpenter Couture found his vocation as a "donne," or lay missionary, on the staff of the Jesuit Fahters for the Hurion missions in new France. However, he was obliged to renounce his worldly possesions. So while at Quebec on 26 June, 1641, before the Notary Martial Piraube, he made an irrovocable gift to his family back in France of "that two-thirds of his father's inheritance left to him, in the parish ot Haye Aubray in Normandy."
From this time on, the good Guillaume labored among the Hurons. Father Joques, on his return to Quebec in 1642 after six years among the Indians, mentioned Couture as one of his traveling companions. We may appreciate some of the difficulties inherent in such traveling when we think of the impenetrable forests, the fragile canoes, the numberless portages, the voracious mosquitoes, not to mention the ever-menacing Iroquois. Up until this time however, Guillaume had not met any Iroquois. Before long his luck would run out.
After 15 days in Quebec, a little band of 40 men went up river to Trois-Rivieres for a few days, outfitting for the return trip to the missions. They set out on the first day of August, 1642. After traveling 30 miles, paddling up river against the current, they made camp near Lake Saint-Pierre. The second day out they were attacked by an Iroquois hunting party and straight away the Hurons in the party took off.
"Another Frenchman named Guillaume Couture, seeing the Hurons run away, escaped with them and since he was swift, he was soon beyond capture by the enemy: but remorse seized him for having forsaken his Father (Jogues) and his comrade (Surgeon Rene Goupil, now a canonized Saint). He stopped short, deliberating with himself whether he should go on or go back. He about-faced to return and immediately was confronted by five Iroquois. One of them, a Mohawk Chief, aimed at him with his arquebus. The gun misfired, but the Frenchman in his turn did not miss the Indian - he shot him stone dead on the spot. The other 4 Indians fell on him with the rage of demons. Having stripped him care as your hand, they bruised him with heavy blows of their clubs. Then they tore out his fingernails with their teeth - crushing the bleeding ends in order to cause him more pain. Then they pierced one of his hands with a javelin and led him, tied and bound in this sad plight to the place where we were."
The trip into Iroquois territory took 13 days,a true "Way of the Cross." As for himself, Guillaume "suffered almost insupportable torment: hunger, stifling heat, the pain of our wounds, which for not being dressed, became putrid even to breeding worms. Then we encountered a party of 200 Iroquois braves returning from a hunt. They were gleeful on seeing us, they formed two facing lines of 100 on a side, armed themselves with sticks of thorns and made us pass all naked between them down a road of fury and anguish where they let go upon us with numerous strong blows."
After arriving at their village and being subjected to repeated indignities, "one of these barbarians, having noted that Guillaume Couture, whose hands were torn apart, had not yet lost any of his fingers, siezed one of his hands and tried to cut off and index finger with a dull knife, and as he could not succeed therein, he twisted it and in tearing at it, he pulled sinew out of the arm, to the length of a span."
Finally the prisoners were allowed to live and their tortures stopped because the Mohawks believed that they could be useful in trade for making peace. Father Jogues and Rene Goupil were kept in a small distant camp but the Indians sent Guillaume to a larger village. Here this courageous young man was adopted by an old squaw who had lost her brave in battle. Thus he was protected and treated as a member of the tribe. One can sum up this period of disruption in the life of Guillaume Couture thusly: "Vigorous, active, indefatable, able to stand the worst misery, yet always content, habituated in all the arts dear to the savages, excellent shot, swift runner, capable of traveling the woods or paddling a canoe, this Norman, intrepid as are all Normans, was not slow to emulate the spirit of his new companions. He conformed to their ways, learned their language so much and so well that they ended up by admitting him into the councils of the nation. While his friends deplored their lot, Couture was enthroned in dignity in the midst of the Indian Sachems."
In the spring of 1645, after three years of captivity, Couture saw the arrival of an Indian who had been captured but sent back by the French Governor de Montmagny. This Iroquois brought a message that Ononthio was desirous of negotiating a peace. Two Mohawk delegates were sent back with Guillaume Couture to Trois-Rivieres to parlay. As for his homecoming, "As soon as he was recognized everyone threw their arms around him, looking on him as a man resurrected from the dead . . ."
Guillaume, now a free man, returned with the emissaries in order to make a peace treaty acceptable to the Mohawk tribe. Returning in the spring of 1646 he was celebrated everywhere as the artisan of peace. However, he would not be content until he had revisited the Huron missions and so he went back to them with Father Pijart.
Evidently the good Guillaume had learned the Indian dialects during his trips and his captivity. He was a precise interpreter, a faithful companion to the missionaries, and a powerful ambassador of the young colony accredited to the American Indians. In 1646, the Jesuit Father Buteux put on a festival in honor of Couture at Trois-Rivieres, and gave him the Indian name of Achirra, to their great delight.
The government of that time was forever calling on the services of Couture: in 1657, in 1661, in 1663 and in 1666 they sent him in Albany, New Netherlands. In 1665 Guillaume accompanied Father Henri Nouvel to the territory of the Papinachois, along the north coast. Then on another expedition with some missionaries he was shipwrecked not far from a point of land nearby Rimouski, called the Pointe-au-Pere.
FATHER OF A PEOPLE
Guillaume Couture asked to be relieved of his vows as a lay missionary and subsequently, on April 26, 1646, the Journel of the Jesuits mentioned that the Council of the Order announced that it had unanimously approved of Guillaume's marriage. It was on November 28, 1649 that he married Anne Esmard. She was baptized on October 22, 1627, in Saint Andre de Noirt, Poitou. She was the daughter of the late Jean and Marie Bineau. Anne had two sisters in Canada: Barbe, wife of Gilles Michel dit Taillon, and after him, of Oliver Letardif; and Madeleine, wife of Zacharie Cloutier. The wedding of Guillaume and Anne took place in the house of Couture, at Pointe Levy, in the presence of Father Jean LeSeur, Chaplain of the Hospital-liers of Quebec. The couple engendered ten children: 6 boys and 4 girls.
THE RESPECTED CITIZEN
On May 15, 1647, Guillaume couture was granted a concesson, 5 arpents of river frontage by 40 arpents deep. He cleared and settled this land at Pointe levy and it became the ancestral home. His first neighbor was Francois Bissot; their property was separated by a brook. The Jesuits haad some land nearby to the east on which was built a modest shelter called the "Cabin of the Fathers." The first Mass was probably celebrated there on April 12, 1648 by Father Pierre Bailloquet. Then in 1667, they built a beautiful church on the land of Bissot, where the first priest in residence was the Abbot Philippe Boucher. It was known as Saint Joseph up until 1690. The second neighbor of Guillaume, about 1651, was Charles Cadieu dit Courville, the fellow who operated an eel fishery.
Guillaume also had a lot on which he built a house of 24 feet frontage by 40 feet deep, in the Rue Sous-le-Fort in the lower town of Quebec City, on the Place Royale.
The census of 1667 tells us that he had 20 arpents under cultivation and 6 animals. During his long absences hit tenant farmer Guillaume Durand looked after things for him.
As it was necessary to rally to the dfense of the colony when called upon to do so, about 1666 our Guillaume was named a Captain of Militia on the Lauzon coast, a very important responsibility at that time. In 1681 he had four field cannon in his force and it was reported that in 1690, at the age of 73, the Captain and his men opposed the advance of Phipps and his troops along the Lauzon coast. This Captain of Militia, because he could also read and write, was required to carry out the orders and proclamations of the Governor, command the troops, preside over census enumerations and convene citizen assemblies.
Moreover, Guillaume as Chief Magistrate of the same territory up until his death. We know that Our Ancestors were quite capable of committing misdemeanors and it was the duty of the Magistrate to reconcile problems and differences before they went up to the Sovereign Council. The Magistrate became, in most of the litigations, judge, prosecutor, jury and arbiter. He even performed the duty of what today would be called the coroner.
TO THEIR GLORY
It was the mother who was the first to go. Anne Esmard was bured at Levis on November 18, 1700. Then the patriarch Couture entered the hospital of Quebec on March 31, 1701, where he died the following 4th of April. The Notary Lepailleur took an inventory of his belongings on November 14th that same year.
Let us not forget that Guillaume Couture, in spite of all the service he rendered to the colony of New France, did not ask for nor did he receive any title of nobility or special privilege. He had only that given by the King of France to all those who had 10 or more children - a family allowance of 300 livres annually, and even that ended in 1681. During his lifetime Guillaume thought only of others; the indigenous, the French, his children. He had but on goal: Peace and Charity.
In 1947 a great celebration marked the 300th anniversary of Guillaume Couture at Pointe Levy. On this occasion the Biography of Heroes, by Joseph-Edmond Roy was republished.
In addition to the surnames of Bellerive and Lamond, the family names of Crevier, De la Cressonniere and Lafrensnaie were adopted by some descendants of Our Ancestor.
From "Our French-Canadian Ancestors" by Thomas J. LaForest