French Renaissance Paleography


Quebec City, 31 July 1665
Charitable donation of land to benefit the poor of Quebec City
Chicago, Newberry Library, VAULT box Ayer MS 497


This document records the donation of 40 arpents of land on the Saint Lawrence River, to benefit the poor. The recipients of the donation were two nuns, representatives of a nursing Order, the Hospitallers of the Order of Saint Augustine, also known as the Daughters of Mercy. Mother Marie de Saint Bonaventure de Jésus (Marie Forestier, 1615-1698) was Superior of the Hospitallers of Quebec in 1665; she had been one of the three founders of the Hôtel-Dieu (hospital) there in 1639. Also accepting the donation on behalf of the poor was Sister Marie de la Nativité (Marie-Renée Boulée, 1630-1677).

The plots of land owned by settlers along the Saint Lawrence were long and narrow, to allow for as many properties as possible to front on the river. So the plot donated here, as explained in the document, was 2 arpents wide (some 100 meters of river-front) and 40 arpents deep (that is, extending quite far from the river, close to a mile and a half, as measured today). It bordered on land already managed by the Hospitallers, as well as on some land that had apparently not yet been granted to a settler. The document attaches certain conditions to the donation of the land, in that the Sisters were granted the use of it but were required to pay some taxes to the Lauson family.

The donor, Charles de Lauson de Charny (1629-1689), was the son of Jean de Lauson, who had been appointed governor of New France in 1651. In 1656 Jean returned to France and his son Charles served as acting governor for a brief time. However, Charles too returned to France, in 1657, following the death of his young wife. He became a priest and returned to Quebec a couple of years later, accompanying Monsignor de Laval, sent to be the first bishop of Quebec. Charles de Lauson remained in New France until 1671. Gradually, over the years, before his final departure from the colony, Charles divested himself of all of his holdings in New France. The 1665 donation of land to “the poor” came in the wake of his appointment the year before as ecclesiastical superior of the Hôtel-Dieu. By this time, as the document indicates, he was serving as guardian to the children of his older brother, Jean, who had been killed in 1661 during an attack by Iroquoian Indians on the Ile d’Orléans.

One of the signatories to this document, Jacques de la Metairie (“Lameterie”), would later accompany Cavelier de la Salle in his voyage of exploration along the Mississippi River.


On all of these historical figures, see the Dictionary of Canadian Biography.