Thursday, June 26, 2008

Meet Guillaume Couture..

Monument to Guillaume Couture in Lévis, on the south shore of the Sainte-Laurent, opposite Québec city

Have you every met anyone with the last name of Couture? Anyone? Well, if you live in North America and you have met someone with this last name. They are directly descended from this man, Guillaume Couture. My mother is of very near complete French-Canadian descent and Couture is her maiden name. Which makes this man my 8th great-grandfather. Having done much research on this man I can say without reservation that this guy was a hard-core bad ass!

As an American child I learned about the history of the pioneers of the Virginia and Massachusetts colonies and I was always jealous that I couldn't trace my lineage back to these first Americans. Before the birth my first son I became interested in Genealogy and to that end I researched the French-Canadian half of my pedigree. What I learned filled stunned me. My own lineage was here long before those 'limey' Anglos ever set foot on north American soil.

Miles Standish ain't got nuthin' on my ancestor Guillaume...

*Read on:

Guillaume Couture (or Cousture) (January 14, 1618 - April 4, 1701) was a citizen of New France. During his life he was a lay missionary with the Jesuits, a survivor of torture, a member of a Mohawk council, a translator, a diplomat, a militia captain, and a lay leader among the colonists of the Pointe-Levy (actually named (Lévis) City) in the Seigneury of Lauzon. A district of New France located on the South Side of Quebec City.

Early life and recruitment by the Jesuits

Couture was born in Rouen in 1618, Rouen was the political center Normandy, a province in Northern France, the son of Guillaume Couture Sr. and Madeleine Mallet (at this time in France married women kept their birth names). Guillaume Sr. was a respectable carpenter in the St Goddard district, young Guillaume was brought up to follow in his father's footsteps. However, by 1640 Guillaume Couture was recruited by Jesuits to be a donne in New France. A donne was a lay missionary who would assist the Jesuits in converting the natives of New France to Roman Catholicism. Couture had to take a vow of celibacy and give up his inheritance, transferring it to his relatives in Rouen.

Work with Isaac Jogues

Arriving in New France in 1640, Couture went to work among the Hurons. By 1642 Couture was working with the Jesuit leader Isaac Jogues. During this period, Couture learned several major native languages, which increased his stature, for he could now work as a translator for the Jesuits. Couture also learned much about native culture and ways during this period.

Tortured by the Mohawks

In 1642, Couture set out with Father Jogues, another lay missionary, Rene Goupil, and several Huron converts for Quebec. On their way back to the Huron missions, a Mohawk war party ambushed the group. Right before the attack, Couture saw the Hurons, who realized what was about to happen, take off into the woods; Couture followed them as Jogues and Goupil were captured. However, according to Relations des Jésuites de la Nouvelle-France (the official reports sent by the Jesuits to their leaders in France) reported that Couture soon began to regret what he did. The Relations reported that:
This young man was able to escape; but the thought of it having come to him -"no" he says, "I wish to die with the Father; I cannot forsake him; I will gladly suffer the fire and the rage of these tigers for the love of Jesus Christ, in the company of the good Father" That is speaking like a truly faithful man.
On his way to surrender himself to the Mohawks, Couture was ambushed by five Mohawks. One of them fired a gun at Couture, but he missed. Couture shot back, this time killing him instantly. The other four Mohawks, fell upon Couture and with heavy clubs beat him up. They also took a javelin and forced it through one of his hands. Later on, Couture, Jogues, and Goupil were subjected to even more torture. The Mohawks tore out Couture's fingernails, and bit the ends to cause maximum pain. Then the three men were stripped and forced to walk through a party of two hundred Mohawks; as they did, the Mohawks beat the three with sticks of thorns. After arriving at a Mohawk village, a Mohawk leader took out a dull knife and began to cut off Couture's right middle finger. When it failed to work, the chief simply pulled the finger out of its socket. At this point, Couture was sent deep into Mohawk Country (present day upstate New York in Auriesville) where he was given to a family to be their slave.

Diplomacy and release

For the next three years, Couture impressed his captors greatly. No doubt they were impressed with the fact that he withstood his torture (which would had killed most people) and performed the tasks assigned to him with dignity. So impressed were the Mohawks that they invited Couture to sit on their councils. No other European would ever get this honor.

In 1645, [[de Montmagny], the governor of New France, decided it was time to end the war with the Mohawks. He released several Mohawk prisoners and sent them into Mohawk Country to negotiate a peace settlement. The Mohawks in turn released Couture, and asked him to act on their behalf, which Couture agreed to do. Couture arrived at Trois-Rivières and, along with two Mohawk leaders, was able to put an end (for the time) the war between the Five Nations (better known as the Iroquois) and the French.

Instead of settling down after such an ordeal, Couture decided to go straight back to Huron Country. In 1646 he was reported as working in the Huron missions with Father Pijart. He only did this for only two years between 1645 and 1647.

First settler of Pointe-Levy in the Seignory of Lauzon (actually named City of Lévis since 1861)

On May 15, 1647, he became the first settler of the Seignory of Lauzon at Pointe-Levy (located in front of Quebec City) which will become the city of Lévis in 1861. However, he was not a seignor because the Seignory of Lauzon was the property of Jean de Lauzon (Governor of New France between 1651 and 1657.). In 1649, he had decided to finally settle down. The Jesuit leaders in New France voted unanimously to release Couture from his vows and to allow him to get married. The woman who Couture chose to be his bride was Anne Aymard, who was from St Andre de Niort, in Poitou region of France. The couple would have ten children during their years of marriage.

Last Mission and Last Expedition in New France

During the 1650s and 1660's, Couture acted as a diplomat, going to New Netherlands to negotiate trade and to settle boundary disputes between the two colonies.

In 1663, Couture was recruited by French Governor Pierre du Bois d'Avaugour for a mission in the North of New France. The main mission was to find the North Sea. However, Couture found the Mistassini Lake and he goes to the Rupert River. He was accompanied by Pierre Duquet et Jean Langlois and many Amerindians. This shipment consisted of 44 boats. No doubt Couture's skills with native languages came into good use. The party worked among the Papinachois, who lived in present day northeastern Quebec.

The administrator and Captain of the Militia of Pointe-Levy

Sometime around 1666, with war with the Iroquois and the English looming, Couture, now living full time in Pointe-Lévy (Lévis) since 1647. Couture was the main administrator and he has been named Captain of the Militia for the area he lived in. This was a major honor in New France, only going to those who had proved themselves, something Couture had done again and again. In 1690, when Admiral William Phips invaded Quebec City Area, Couture was able to prevent the English from attacking Pointe-Levy at the age of 72 yrs old.

By this point, Couture was also the Chief Magistrate of the Pointe-Levy (actually named Lévis) district. Among his jobs were to run the censuses, enforce government edicts, and run the local assemblies that met from time to time. Couture was also in charge of local court cases, being both judge and jury. On some occasions, Couture was invited to sit on the Sovereign Council, which ran New France for Louis XIV. The fact that the status-obsessed French government offered Couture, who was low born, a part time seat on the council shows how highly the leaders of New France viewed him.

Couture died in 1701

On November 18, 1700, Couture's wife Anne died. In the Springtime of 1701, Couture was 83 yrs old and he was sick (probably the Smallpox). He has been moved to the Hotel Dieu of Quebec City, where he died on April 4, 1701. The location of his tomb is actually unknown, as Samuel de Champlain, founder of Quebec City.

*Copied from a wikipedia entry which was translated from a French history located here.


Christian Beyer said...

Gosh, Rob. I might be one of your few guests who have heard of this brave fellow.

In Catholic grade school I had read a biography of Isaac Jogues. I became fascinated with the man and it led to a lifelong interest in the Northeastern woodland Indians and their encounters with Europeans.

I had already chosen St. Francis of Assissi as my patron saint for my pending confirmation but wanted to change my choice to Isaac Jogues. Sister said,no,if I did so then St.Francis' feelings would be hurt. Jeesh.

Kudos to you for keeping some of the less popular historical figures alive for us.

Ever heard of Simon Kenton?

Rosie Couture said...

I happened upon your blog. Guillaume Couture is my great ancestor as well. As you know, there are thousands of his descendents in the U.S. and Canada. I'm in metro Detroit, Michigan and have been doing Couture family research for more than ten years. I invite you to join our Couture Family Tree eGroup at

Rosie Couture

Glenn said...

My father and the rest of my family will be happy to know that I came upon your site. My Aunt Rose Couture did extensive research into our genealogy and we are directly descended from Guillaume. My father started a scholarship fund in Levy at the local college there just for Coutures. My grandfather Ernest Pierre Couture settle in Fitchburg, MA and worked in the steel mill there. My grandmother was Fernande Breton. Thanks for putting the site together.

Michelle (Couture) Labbe

Daniel said...

Hi, I am as well a direct descendant of Guillaume Couture. My grandmother, Colette Couture, was born in Quebec city. My grandfathers name is Denis Turmel, born in St.Marie, Quebec. They are my mothers parents, also born in St.Marie. I find this so interesting. This some how means that we are related. I'm from Florida. My full name is Daniel Rodriguez Turmel Vivas Couture.

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Sandra Couture said...

What a great page. I am a direct descendent on the paternal line from Guillaume Couture. That's dad is direct descendant. My paternal aunt) actually lives in St. Jean de Chrysostome, which is a neighborhood of Levis, and one of my Couture cousin's married an Amyont, the second family to settle Levis. It's a small world. I will post this link on our family FB group. I think they'd get a kick out of this.

Anonymous said...

I am a descendent of this lineage too. My Great grandmother was Rosalie Couture who married Olivier Dionne. I live in North Bay Ontario Canada. My Grandmother was the mother of the Dionne quintuplets. I was studying the couture line as I was interested on the Jesuit journeys.

Anonymous said...

The Couture families are alive and well. Still passing Guillaume's heritage onto my children. Couture Family, Waterford, NY