When the well is dry, we shall know the value of water.
If your last name is Archambault there is a good chance you, too, are a descendant of Jacques Archambault of Charentes Maritimes in southwest France, a 17th century pioneer who emigrated to New France in 1645 and built Montreal’s first well and participated in North America’s first health insurance scheme.
In 1605 Antoine Archambault and Renée Ouvrand gave birth to their son Jacques, my 10th great grandfather.1. On January 24th, 1629 he married Françoise Tourault at Saint Phillbert du Pont-Charault and they had 7 children.2.
He was a laborer and a wine maker by trade. About 1645 at the age of forty, Jacques, Françoise and six of their children left France for New France. One child had died prior to their departure.
At that time, it was extremely unusual for entire families to emigrate, the cost being prohibitive. One might ask what the reasons were behind this exodus? However, around that time in their home country, Cardinal Richelieu had been persecuting Huguenots. Is it possible that Jacques and his family fled to escape these events?
The family was presumably sponsored by Pierre Legardeur de Repentigny, Director of the Compagnie des Habitant. They set sail, most probably on Legardeur’s ship ‘Le Cardinal’.3 They arrived in Quebec City and stayed there for several years. Unfortunately, Jacques was indebted to the ship owner for the exorbitant amount of 898 livres and 10 sols. At the time 1 livre was equal to 1-pound sterling silver.
To pay off his debt Archambault became responsible for taking care of Legardeur’s farm where Jacques also lived with his family. In 1651 Quebec Governor Louis d’Ailleboust granted Archambault a concession of 4 arpents of frontal land “on the great river Saint Laurent in the place called le Cap Rouge”.4. a small settlement to the west of Quebec. Legardeur de Repentigny died on one of his own ships while returning to New France.
Soon thereafter, when his contract tending the farm was nearly over Jacques was contacted by Paul de Chomedy, Sieur de Maisonneuve, Governor of Montreal. There was a growing need for colonists to settle in Montreal. On November 18, 1652 de Maisonneuve gave Jacques 500 livres with a promise from him that he would live in that colony. Archambault also received large strip of land in Ville Marie, in the area that is referred to today as Old Montreal near Place d’Armes.5.
This is when Jacques Archambault enrolled in North America’s first health insurance scheme.
“During the winter of 1655 Jacques and several residents of Ville-Marie made a deal with the master surgeon, Etienne Bouchard, who was hired on March 30 to dress and give medications for all sorts of things, illnesses both natural and accidental, except for the plague. To the signers and their families for the yearly amount of 100 sols or 5 livres. If Archambault was part of the scheme, it is because he had decided that it was very useful for his family living in the territory.”5
It was in October of 1658 that de Maisonneuve agreed that Jacques would dig that historic first well in Montreal. It was to measure five feet in diameter with a guarantee of two feet of water in the bottom and was promised 300 livres and 10 pots of eau de vie (brandy). Having accomplished the first well he was asked to dig another in the garden of the hospital. His former career as a wine-maker was far behind him. He became proficient at dowsing and digging wells and was asked to construct many more.
“Near here at the Place d’Armes of the fort, Jacques Archambault (1604-1688), sole ancestor of the Archambaults of America, in 1658 constructed the first well on the Island of Montréal at de Maisonneuve’s request”.6
The first well of Ville-Marie certified by notary, 8 and dug by Jacques Archambault
Nº 58 Contract for a well
between M. Paul de Chomedey and Jacques Archambault
Dated Octobre 11, 1658
De MaiSonneuve, Bouchard L. close , BaSSet with paraphe Clerk of the court
Success in business came naturally to Jacques, winemaker turned well digger, however, he did experience several setbacks. The first being the death of his oldest son, Denis. He was killed in 1651 as a result of a canon explosion while fighting the Iroquois.9 On December 9, 1663 his wife of over thirty-three years, Françoise died at the age of 64.10
After a lengthy period of mourning, June 6. 1666 in Cap-de-la-Madeleine, Canada, New France Jacques married, his second wife, Marie Denot de Lamartinère, the widow of Mathieu Labat.11. (The brewers). They settled in Verdun. At the age of 74 Jacques was no longer able to work. His children showed deep gratitude toward their father and gave him a yearly allowance of 100 livres for life.
On February 15, 1688, after 84 years of active life, of which more than half was in New France, Jacques Archambault was buried in the Notre-Dame de Montréal Cemetery.
Extracted from the Death Registry of Notre-Dame of Montréal, dated February 15th, 1688.12
A plate in the back of the Pointe-à-Callière Museum of Montreal commemorates Jacques Archambault’s digging the first water well, near what is now known as Place-d’Armes, on October 11, 1658, upon request by Paul de Chomedey de Maisonneuve.
Important facts about water:
- Civilization has historically flourished around rivers and major waterways.
- Currently, about a billion people around the world routinely drink unhealthy water.