One night in 1837, a party of twenty-five to thirty masked men, armed with rifles, axes and sticks invaded the home of Antoine Bruneau, my three times great grandfather. They forced him to renounce his commission as a Militia Captain by threatening to destroy his life and the lives of his wife and family. “That the said party, the same evening compelled the depositor to say that he was a Patriot and to shout hurrah for Papineau three times.” 2
Antoine Bruneau, probably participated in the War of 1812 but definitely served as a Militia Captain during the Rebellions of 1837-38. He did not fight with Les Patriots under the leadership of Louis Joseph Papineau, rather his loyalty was to the governing British.
He was born in La Prairie, Lower Canada, now Quebec, in 1773. The French had earlier been defeated on the Plains of Abraham, so he grew up under British rule. Antoine farmed in St Constant south west of Montreal, married Marie Josephte Robidoux, raised his family of ten children and attended the local Catholic Church. A seemingly simple life.
When war with the United States seemed imminent in 1812, all citizens of Upper and Lower Canada banded together to fight the Americans. Sedentary Militia were organized and men 16-60 were called upon to serve. Most of the Militia Captains were career officers. Others were doctors, lawyers, notaries and seigneurs, all people of “superior backgrounds”. It was a chance to improve ones social standing and gain power. Few farmers became Militia captains so did Antoine at this time? Initially, the best, healthiest and strongest men continued to work on the farms while the unproductive men were sent to the military.
After the war, Louis Joseph Papineau, then the elected speaker of the Assembly of Lower Canada wanted self government. The Governor General of British North America ignored all demands for more local control of the Legislature. Members were elected but Britain had veto power over all legislation. Papineau began organizing protests and rallying the French citizens who became know as Les Patriots. The French farmers suffered through an economic depression during the 1830s so many willingly joined the armed insurrection. These men wanted to free themselves from British rule. The continued protest rallies and calls for armed conflicts from the radical Patriots lost the support of the French moderate wing, most of its anglophone support as well that of the Catholic Church. The Church wanted a return to calm so as to continue their control of the population and preached their position to their congregations. The revolt came to a head in 1837 with the battles of St Denis and St Charles in the Richelieu Valley and later the battle of Ste. Eustache, just north of Montreal.
Antoine didn’t remain silent. He spoke out against the rebellion and gave numerous depositions to the government against his neighbours. These depositions were all signed Antoine Bruneau with his mark and an “X”.
One deposition recorded a time when his son told him that his life was in danger so Antoine loaded his gun and kept watch all night as at least 350 men engaged in the revolt passed by. He knew which of his neighbours were rebels and that they had secret signs he wasn’t party to.
In December of 1837 Antoine reported that after a reading of a proclamation from the Governor-General and the loyalist’s address to the Queen, Etienne Longtin, a member of his militia, responded with the coarsest expressions against the Queen and the British government. Antoine said that Longtin forgot his duties as a Militia officer and attempted to excite the people by the most seditious and revolutionary speeches that one could imagine. “He is a dangerous man in a word a rebel who seeks harm at every opportunity to help the revolutionary party.” 3
Later after another revolt, he reported that Augustin Beauvais, a tanner from La Prairie, was using his utmost influence to effect a rising of his neighbours to overthrow her Majesty Queen Victoria. Antoine believed Augustin Beauvais to be a determined rebel to anything British and the British government. He knew Beauvais left the province the previous winter during the troubles and had only recently returned. Last winter he was a principal leader and disturber in furthering the view of the rebel agitators to annihilate the British population of the province. 5
Antoine wasn’t deterred by attacks on his person or beliefs and continued to serve in the St-Constant militia as did his sons Barnabé and Medard. After his flurry of depositions the depositor said nothing more.
All I knew about Antoine Bruneau, my three times great grandfather besides the BMD facts was that he was a Militia Captain. In looking to prove this fact I entered his name in the search function Advitam on the BAnQ (Bibliotheque et Archives Nationales du Quebec) website: https://www.banq.qc.ca/accueil/. After limiting the time frame to his life, up came all the depositions around the time of the Rebellions of Lower Canada.
These documents are difficult to read as they are hand written and mostly in French. Some had been transcribed and typed. The quotes are my translations of these documents.
1.Affidavit d’Antoine Bruneau, capitaine de milice, de Saint-Constant, contre Edouard Lanctot et Joserige, (dit Laplante) de Saint-Constant. 11 Decembre 1837. E17,S37,D79 Fonds Ministere de la Justice – BanQ Quebec.
2. Affidavit d’Antoine Bruneau, capitaine de Milice, Saint-Constant de de Saint-Constant, contre Charles Allard, meunuisier, de Saint-Philippe, maintenant de Montreal. 17 Decembre 1837. E17,S37,D87 Fonds Minirtere de la Justice – BanQ Quebec.
“Que le dit parti aurait le meme soir contraint le deposant de dire qu’il etait Patriote et crier Houra pour Papineau trois fois.”
3. Affidavit d.Antoine Bruneau, capitaine de milice, de Saint-Constant, contre Etienne Longtin, cultivateur de Saint-Constant, un homme dangereux. 6 Fevrier 1838. E17, S37, D78. Fonds Ministere de la Justice – BanQ Quebec.
” Que le dit Etienne Longtin est un homme dangereux en un mot un Rebelle qui ne cherche en tout que l’occasionde nuire et aider le parti revolutionnaire.”
4.Deposition d’Antoine Bruneau père, de Saint-Constant, contre Francois Camire et A. Dugas. 16 Novembre 1838. E17, S37, D1926. Fonds Ministère de la Justice – BanQ Quebec.
5.Deposition d’Antoine Bruneau pere vcontre Augustin Beauvais, de Laprairie. 20 Novembre 1838. E17, S37, D1899. Fonds Ministere de la Justice – BanQ Quebec.
Antoine Bruneau born June 2, 1773, La Prairie, Quebec to Joseph Bruneau and Marie Anne Longtin and died February 1847 in St Constant, Quebec.
He married Marie Josephte Robidoux April 15, 1796 in St Constant, Quebec. She was born Feb 10 1775 in St Phillipe, Laprairie, Quebec to Francois Robidoux and Marie Josephte Bourdeau and died in St Constant, Roussillion, Quebec.
They had 10 children:
Marie Josephte 1796-1880 m. Basile Emond
Marie Louise,1798-1885 m. Basile-Leon Lefebvre
Antoine, 1802-1844 m. Adelaide Dupuis
Vincent de Paul 1805
Joseph Barnabe 1807-1880 m. Sophie Marie Prud’homme
Medard 1811- m. Louise Dupuis then Seraphine Maigret
Leon 1815- 1839
Marie Marguerite 1816-1834
The British defeated the French on the Plains of Abraham in 1759.
The Patriots took refuge in the church in Ste. Eustache which was fired on with cannons and cannon ball damage can be seen to this day.
Queen Victoria ascended the throne June 20, 1837.