Family arms The life of Guillaume Cousture
HERO OF NEW FRANCE
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The name «Couture» finds its origin in medieval France. Indeed, in ancient French, a «costure» designated an agricultural land. The writer Chrétien de Troyes uses this word in his famous story entitled «Perceval», which was written in 1170.

All the Coutures of North America have a common ancestor, Guillaume Cousture, who arrived in New France around the year 1640. Born in Saint-Godard-de-Rouen, Normandie, young Guillaume had chosen to offer his services to the Jésuites. We can safely assume that he was recruited in Normandie by father René Goupil. This marked the beginning of an adventurous life where he brushed with death on many occasions.

Goupil left for New France in the summer of 1640. Cousture was quite probably already here since 1637-38. As soon as 1641, Cousture had learned many Indian dialects, which made him a precious asset for the young colony. Also, his talents as a carpenter were very appreciated. He apparently built a chapel in a mission called «Sainte-Marie», near the Georgian Bay.

On June 26th, Guillaume Cousture decided to give the lands he inherited from his father to his mother and sister who had remained in France. The young man then in his twenties had already decided that his destiny would be in the New World.

In 1642, Cousture left Trois-Rivières for an expedition in the Huronie, with fathers Isaac Jogues and René Goupil and 19 Huron Indians. In the vicinity of lake Saint-Pierre, the small convoy was attacked by a group of about 80 Iroquois warriors. As the battle raged, Cousture managed to shoot one of the chiefs with his pistol, but the battle was nevertheless lost. Cousture managed to escape but, upon realising his friends had been captured, decided to return on the scene of the attack where he was captured himself.

Thirsty for revenge, the Iroquois captured the French and Hurons travellers and tortured them. Father Jogues tells us of these events in his notes. Here is an approximate translation in English.

«Cousture, who had killed one of their chiefs in the combat, was exposed to their whole fury. They undressed him and beat him up with wooden sticks. They ripped out his fingernails with their teeth and stabbed a sword through his hand. One of the savages cut off half of his right middle finger. The pain was all the more unbearable since he did not use a knife, but a piece of shell. Since he could not cut the slippery nerve, the savage twisted it and pulled with such violence, that a nerve the lenght of the arm came out. The arm became prodigiously swollen».

The two Jésuites went through similar horrible torture and Goupil was finally assassinated with an axe because he had made the sign of a cross on the forehead of an Iroquois child. Jogues will also be killed later, like many other Jésuites such as Father Jean de Brébeuf. These brave men are now known as «les Saints Martyrs Canadiens» (the holy Canadien martyrs).

Statue de Cousture
Jogues was lucky and managed to escape in November 1643 with the help of the Dutsch. Couture also had his chance then, but he decided to stay behind so he wouldn't compromise his friend's chances.

Cousture, as was required by Iroquois tradition, was sent to another village and given to the widow of the warrior he had killed. She was to decide his fate. He witnessed the torture and execution of the brave Huron warrior, Ahatsistari (he later told the tale to father Jogues who wrote it down). Afterwards, he was adopted by the widow who treated him like a member of the tribe. She saw to his recovery and treated his wounds. He later confided in his friend Jogues and told him that, despite many offers, he had remained true to his vows as a "donné".

Cousture shared the life of the Iroquois and learned about their language, culture, beliefs and traditions. He became a valued member of the village and was soon invited to join the tribe council. He thus became the first and one of the only Frenchmen to ever win the confidence and friendship of the Iroquois.

When he returned to the colony in 1645, the valiant Normand accompanied chief Kiotseaeton and his followers to Trois-Rivières. They were invited by the governor Huault de Montmagny to negociate a new peace. Upon their arrival, people hesitated to recognize Cousture who was dressed like an Iroquois and who was believed dead, but "as soon as he was recognized, everyone hugged him and he was looked upon as a resurrected man".

The summit was a great success and peace was signed between the Mohawk tribe and the French, thanks in great part to Cousture who had convinced his Iroquois friends of his compatriots' noble intentions. It is then that he realized that he was in an excellent position to negociate a permanent truce between the entire Iroquois nation and France. He decided to return with the Indian ambassadors to encourage peace.

Isaac Jogues In 1646, Cousture asked to be relieved of his vows, probably so he could marry and Iroquois woman (although no documents can prove this). He continued to negociate the peace he dreamed of with the different Indian nations. He was about to succeed when, on October 18th 1646, fathers Jogues and Lalande who had been sent as emissaries to the Iroquois were ruthlessly massacred. Negociations were abruptly stopped. The Algonquins and Hurons were pleased of this turn of event because they desired the monopoly of the commerce with the French.

Refusing to be discouraged, Cousture left for the Huronie in 1647 to renew the truce with the Iroquois. His efforts were met with failure but upon his return to Trois-Rivières, he was welcomed as a hero by the local populations. Father Jacques Buteux gave him the nickname "the valiant Cousture" (le valeureux Cousture). In that same year, Cousture established himself in Pointe-Lévy in the seigneurie of Lauzon. He thus becomes the first settler of Lévis, where his statue stands today on Saint-Joseph street. On November 18th 1649, he married Anne Aymard who was born in the Poitou. The wedding was celebrated in the Cousture house that Guillaume had previously built himself. This union would give no less than 10 children!

Although Cousture wanted nothing more than a quiet peaceful existence spent with his new wife on their farm, the authorities asked for his help again. His experience with the Indians was very valuable and unequaled. In 1657, he served as interpreter for the Onondagas nation. In 1661, he joined an expedition whose mission was to find a way to reach the North Sea by land. Sadly, the Frenchmen had to abort the mission when they were abandoned by their Indian guides. Two years later, governor Dubois Davaugour named Guillaume Cousture commander of a new expedition towards the Greath North. On this important voyage, Cousture was joined by two Frenchmen, Pierre Duquet and Jean Langlois, and by a large number of Indians who accompanied them in 44 canoes. They left in May, paddled up the Saguenay and reached lake Mistassini on June 26th. A storm surprised them and they found themselves covered by one foot of snow! The group continued nonetheless and arrived to a river that, according to the Indians, "flows in the North Sea" (Rupert River). The Indians refused to go any further and they all headed back south. Cousture established new contacts with the northern tribes and found them to be much more peace-loving than the Iroquois and Hurons. A lake in Québec's north now bears his name.

Cousture was the owner of a lot situated in the lower part of Québec City from 1658 to 1668. Impossible to say if he actually ever lived there, but we know he started building a house on it in 1667 and sold it in 1668. It is situated on 53, Sous-le-Fort street (lot 2285).

In 1666, Cousture was sent to New Holland by the governor to protest against the murder of two French officers. He arrived in the Iroquois village and ordered that they surrendered the murderers, otherwise France would organize an expedition against them. On September 6th, he was back in Québec with the two Mohawk assassins. This expedition was to be his last.

Around 1666, he was named captain of the côte de Lauzon militia. The 1667 census informs us that he was cultivating 20 acres of land and owned 6 beasts. Cousture was then named to the very prestigious office of "Juge-Sénéchal". It appears that he might also have served as local notary on occasions. Clearly a leader of the Lauzon community, he demanded in 1675 that a priest be assigned permanently to the seigneurie. Despite the prestige of his responsibilities and of his accomplishments, in the census of 1681 he simply declared himself "a carpenter".

In 1690, during the British siege of Québec, story goes that the militia captain (then about 73 years old Cousture) and his men managed to keep the British troops from landing in Lauzon. On several occasions, he was invited to sit at the colony's Sovereign Council (Conseil souverain) when one of the regular members (the governor, the intendant or bishop) was unable to attend. The valiant Cousture passed away on April 4th 1701. The final resting place of this great hero of New France remains a mystery.

Cousture's signature
Guillaume Cousture is the ancestor of all the Coutures of America, but not all his descendants bear his name. Of his six sons, only one (also named Guillaume) will keep the original family name (from which the "s" has now disapeared). Jean-Baptiste, the older son, becomes the ancestor of the Lamonde family. Charles takes the name of Lafrenaye, Eustache chooses to be called Bellerive and Joseph-Odger will be known as La Cressonnière. The daughters will also marry, and in so doing become the ancestors of the Côté, Couillard, Marsolet and Bourget families. Guillaume's descendants can now be found all over North America, mostly in Quebec but also in Canada and in the United States. I have recently learned that some American descendants now spell their name "Cutcher".

Guillaume's statue can be seen in Lévis, on the south shore of the Sainte-Laurent, opposite Québec city.



Sources:

LAVERDIÈRE, abbé, CASGRAIN, abbé, JOURNAL DES JÉSUITES publié d'après le manuscrit original conservé aux archives du Séminaire de Québec, Éditions François-Xavier, Montréal, 1973.

RELATIONS DES JÉSUITES TOME 3: 1642-1646, Éditions Du Jour, Montréal, 1972.

PLACE-ROYALE: Les familles-souches, Publications du Québec.

La revue Nos Racines, parue dans les années 80.

Les Archives Nationales du Québec.

LEBEL, Gérard, NOS ANCÊTRES - Biographies d'ancêtres, Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupré, 1981.

GREIMAS, A.J., DICTIONNAIRE DE L'ANCIEN FRANÇAIS, Paris, 1992.

LA TERREUR, Marc (éditeur), DICTIONARY OF CANADIAN BIOGRAPHY, University of Toronto Press et Les Presses de l'Université Laval, Toronto-Québec, 1972.

Along with long researches made by myself and my father, Denis Couture.




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