The phrase “maître des hautes œuvres” is a very technical way of describing the profession, if you please, of a royal executioner. His job took in all forms of corporal punishment ranging from flogging to putting hanged folks heads on poles. Naturally as you will see in the text, he and his family were about as popular as a freshly skunk-sprayed dog.
Jean Rattier, the fourth official “maître des hautes œuvres” in Canada, was originally from St-Jean-d'Angély, in the province of Saintonge Today, this town is the headquarters for the area of Charente-Maritimes. Rattier had been in Canada for quite some time when, in 1680 was offered the job of executioner, or “bourreau”.
In 1666, we find him at Trois-Rivières, where he was working for Mr. Jean Godefroy de Tonnancour as a domestic. On 6 Feb 1672, probably still working as a servant for Mr. Godefroy, Jean Rattier, was then about 20 years old, and married a girl of 26, from the burg of Cause, not far from Saintes, in the province of Saintonge, Marie Rivière. Of this union were born five children: Marie-Marguerite on 29 May 1672, Jean Baptiste on 18 Dec 1673, Jean on 18 Oct 1675 and died two days later, Marie-Charlotte on 3 Feb 677, and finally Pierre-Jean, future executioner on 9 Jul 1680.
His work as a servant was probably not enough to make ends meet for his small family, and on 26 Jan 1672 he rented from Laurent Philippe dit Lafontaine l'Outaouais, farmland at St. Francois-du-Lac, a small locality situated about 16 miles from Nicolet. Lafontaine had received this land by a grant from the seigneur of St. Francois-du-Lac, Jean Crevier, on 3 Oct 1673. This domicialary change proved fatal for Jean Rattier, because during his stay at St-Francois-du-Lac, he was implicated in a fight which resulted in his loss.
Around the 23 Oct 1679, Jean Rattier was mixed up in a fight of which Jean Crevier, seigneur of the fief of St-Francois-du-Lac was the cause, declared Pierre Gilbert dit La Chasse, another servant. So, our future hangman, in the company of Jean Crevier, Jacques Dupuy dit La Garenne, Pierre Gilbert dit La Chasse, Jacques Julien, Noël Laurence, Jacques Brunet and Pierre Gareau dit Saintonge, had a quarrel. During the argument, a girl of 20 years of age of St. François-du-Lac, Jeanne Couc dit Lafleur was mortally wounded, while her father Pierre Couc was beaten. The death of Jeanne Couc was attributed to Jean Rattier.
Rattier went through a first hearing in Trois-Rivières, which ended at the end of October 1679, by his condemnation by the regional judge “to be brought from St. François to a place designated by the seigneur at the public place, and tied to the gallows to be hung and to be exposed during 24 hours; and a fine of 25 livres to be paid to the king; 200 livres to be paid to the civil party, and to be delivered to the executioner and be submitted 'to the ordinary question' to reveal the authors and accomplices of the murder of Jeanne Couc”.
(The “question” went something like this: If they thought, under reasonable doubt that a person was guilty of a crime, and the person would not admit the crime, the executioner would torture the person until he finally did admit it).
MY NOTE: Not enough that they hung the guy, let him be aired for 24 hours, but stick him with a couple of fines. What if he did not feel up to paying those fines that day? Immediately after the reading of the sentence, Rattier declared that he wanted to appeal to a higher court, the Consul Sovereign of the new France. The King`s procurator redid the trial of the presumed murderer of Jeanne Couc.
Then on 31 Dec 1680, after many meetings, new information by the witnesses to find him guilty, the consul sovereign of the New France declared “Jean Rattier dit Du Buisson duly touched and convinced to have killed Jeanne Couc, daughter of Pierre Couc, living in the place of the said St-François, understood the great difficulty to bring the said Rattier to the place of St. François, condemned to be taken and brought from the prison and brought by the hangman to the public market place in Lower Town (Québec) to be hung and strangled on the gallows, which will be set up for this event, and a fine of 300 livres paid to Pierre Couc and 100 livres paid to the king etc….”
The public place in Quebec is found below the Château Frontenac, on the cobblestone square in front of the old church, N.D.-des-Victoires.
However, as the hangman had died, and nobody had yet replaced him, Rattier was given the choice to either wait in prison until they found an executioner, or accept immediately the office of executioner himself, and see the prison doors open up. Rattier seemed somewhat in a hurry to accept his new position , and he promised to fill out the required functions.
Jean Rattier then moved his small family and set up with them in a house situated outside of the city walls, on the Grande-Allée. It is here that his torments began, as the Québecois took pleasure in approaching his residence, and they would insult his wife, his oldest daughter Marguerite and Jean himself. The Consul Sovereign, at the demand of Jean Rattier, by means of the town crier and posted in public places and crossroads an interdiction “to all persons to go to the Rattier house and to insult him personally, or his wife and childen, under the penalty of corporal punishment”.
The executioner Rattier was not yet out of hot water. He was obliged, on 5 Jul 1695, around 8:00 AM, to put his own wife, Marie Rivière, in the stocks. She was found guilty of theft, in the company of her daughter Marie-Charlotte and a soldier of the company of Maupeou, René Arnault dit LaSalle, at the home of the widows Gourdeau, Beaulieu and Pellerin St. Amant, a certain number of pots, which she and her daughter tried later to sell to passerbys. Unluckily, the daughter of the widow Beaulieu recognized her mother`s pots, and got hold of the constable who quickly arrested the two vendors. The Provost Judge of Québec comdemned firstly, Marie Rivière to be whipped, and her daughter to be shut in a room in the general hospital for 15 days, and René Arnault dit la Salle to be put in prison. But they appealled to the Consul Sovereign and re-established the facts.: personally Marie Rivière and her daughter, did not steal any pots, they only tried to sell them to the passersby, according to their testimony, the pots were given to them by René Arnault, with whom they had a deal: they would give him a percentage of their sales. According to the ladies, he never told them that he had stolen them. But, René Arnault, upon hearing this, offered unsuccessfully, to marry Marie-Charlotte Rattier and to team up with her father as executioner. He declared also that he had never seen them, never talked to them, and added that they got the pots from a certain La Franchise, who, had since deserted. So, Marie Rivière was found guilty of the resale of stolen goods, and not theft, and on 5 Jul 1695, the people of Québec assisted at a strange and amusing spectacle: a husband putting his wife in the stocks. And, from 8:00 to 9:00 AM, the hangman`s wife, having a sign on her stomach on which was written RECELEUSE (Receiver) to put up with jeers, being spit upon, eggs, and rotten vegetables by the people going by. As for her two accomplices, Marie-Charlotte and René Arnault dit LaSalle, the first one was reprimanded by the consulors while the second, the Consul having accepted his explanation, set him free, under the conditions that he remain at the disposition of the Justice just in case the La Franchise felow showed up.
The following year, Marie-Charlotte married a certain Daniel Boit, of the Bordeaux region of France.
Jean Rattier coninued to exercise his ignominious trade without any other trouble, spending his time between the royal prison of Québec and the public places, more often in Québec, but occasionally in Montréal, where he applied corporal punishment to the criminals. He died in the Hôtel-Dieu-de-Québec after a 21 day illness, on 21 May 1703 at the age of 56 years.
From the Couc family, Pierre Couc dit Lafleur and his wife Marie Mite8ameg8k8e, we have the Montour line. The two best known were Louis, who was killed by the gang of Chabert de Joncaire around Albany, N.Y. and his sister, Elisabeth “La Chenette” Montour. Both were translators and worked in the N.Y and Pennsylvania in conjunction with the fur trade. Elisabeth died, blind, at Harris Ferry.
Ref: Cahiers d'Histoire, No.18, Le Bourreau de Canada sous le régime français, p.65-68.
Email Message : Wed 11 Apr 2001
The following was sent by my cousin Diane Paré Szabo in an email Feb 2010:If the life of Gabriel Benoist LaForest had been troubling some dozen years earlier by the hazards of an inquiry on the trading of brandy, the years 1679 and 1680 would be even more troubling for him. On October 23, 1679, Jeanne Couc was assassinated and Pierre, her father, beaten. Two days later, the young woman was buried at Trois-Rivières. The royal jurisdiction of this city was in charge of the trial and on the 31st of the same month, sentenced the murderer, Jean Rattier du Buisson, to be taken to St-François-du-Lac, the scene of the crime, to be hanged. The same day, the condemned man appealed his sentence and his case was transferred to the supreme court of the Sovereign Council of New France. On November 3, Rattier was taken to Québec to attend the hearing of his second case. At the beginning of September 1680, several witnesses appeared, one of whom was Gabriel, resident of the "chenal Tardif." Gabriel was interrogated by the councilor Claude Bermen de la Martinière about the knowledge he had of the murder of Jeanne Couc, particularly on what he had heard Pierre Gilbert-La Chasse say. All witnesses were poor folks who had not been paid for their travel and lodging expenses. They had been housed at the home of the edgetool maker, Pierre Normand-Labriere, whose wife claimed her due. It was said that Gabriel received 27 livres and ten sols for eleven days "at the rate of" 50 sols for each day.
The sentence of the Council finally came down on the last day of 1680. Jean Rattier's appeal was dismissed and he was again sentenced to death.
LaForest books, "Our French-Canadian Ancestors"
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Excerpts in French of an article appearing in Le Soleil, Article 21 Sunday, 3 Aug 1997.
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D294 Jeanne Couc