QUATREPATTES, Pierre (ca 1795 – ?)

Pierre Quatrepattes
, a Mi’kmaq, was probably born in Gaspésie to the late eighteenth century. He married Anne Millier, also a Mi’kmaq, in Rimouski on January 2, 1815. The couple had already had one child, Marie, in August 1814 and had at least five other children afterwards. Anne Millier died in 1839 at the age of 50 years. Like many poor people in Quebec before the mid-nineteenth century, Quatrepattes does not seem to have received much schooling: at his daughter’s wedding in 1830, he declared that he couldn’t sign the register.

In August 1849, Quatrepattes was arrested for killing his son, Jean-Baptiste Caplan, also of Mi’kmaq origin. The murder took place in the cabin they lived in together at Métis, during a quarrel over who was in charge. Both men were drunk; they came to blows; and Quatrepattes mortally wounded Caplan with a knife which he was using to eat. Marie Quatrepattes, Pierre’s eldest daugher and Caplan’s wife, was also present, along with the Caplan-Quatrepattes couple’s children.

Pierre Quatrepattes fled the scene, but returned two days later and was arrested. The local magistrate, André-Elzéar Gauvreau, future mayor of Rimouski, sent Quatrepattes to Quebec City to be imprisoned in the common gaol awaiting trial. For reasons unknown, the trial was not held until January 1851. Quatrepattes thus spent nearly eighteen months in the prison’s forbidding cells.

Quatrepattes was tried for murder before the Court of Queen’s Bench. At the time, a conviction for murder necessarily led to a death sentence. During the trial, his daughter Marie testified against him. While confirming that her father had indeed killed her husband, she said that it was Caplan who had instigated the quarrel and that if Quatrepattes had not killed Caplan, it was he who would have been killed. The jury was convinced, and found Quatrepattes guilty of manslaughter, rather than of murder. This verdict led to the judge in the case, Philippe Panet, sentencing Quatrepattes to 18 months imprisonment with hard labour, instead of condemning him to death.

The case epitomizes the changing relationship between Quebec’s Aboriginal population and the colony’s criminal justice system. Until the early nineteenth century, Natives accused of crimes were treated quite differently, in an almost parallel justice system, and even more so when it came to crimes that only involved Natives. With the nineteenth-century rise of attempts to “civilize” Natives, they were increasingly considered as being entirely subject to ordinary criminal justice.

After his sentence, Quatrepattes was returned to the Quebec common gaol to serve out his time. In the fall, his daughter, Marie, travelled on foot to Quebec City, a distance of over 350 km, accompanied by her children. She delivered a petition to Lord Elgin, the governor of the Province of Canada, written with the help of Charles Secretan, a young criminal lawyer from Quebec City. In the petition, Marie begged that her father be released. She reiterated that the fight was the fault of Caplan, her late husband, a man who was both very violent and an alcoholic. She also argued that without her father, she was left alone to support a large family. In their reports to Elgin, Justice Panet and Attorney General Lewis Thomas Drummond emphasized both the involuntary nature of the homicide and the lengthy time Quatrepattes had spent in prison awaiting trial. Elgin then exercised his prerogative and ordered the immediate release of Quatrepattes, on November 18. We then lose sight of Quatrepattes, and his later life remains unknown.

– Donald Fyson, June 2015


Primary sources

  • Bibliothèque et Archives nationales du Québec, «Le fichier des prisonniers des prisons de Québec au 19e siècle», <http://www.banq.qc.ca/archives/genealogie_histoire_familiale/ressources/bd/‌instr_prisons/prisonniers/index.html> (transcription of the Quebec common gaol registers, the originals of which are in Bibliothèque et Archives nationales du Québec, Centre de Québec, E17,S1).
  • Library and Archives Canada, RG4 C1, vol. 304, file 2149 <http://heritage.canadiana.ca/view/‌oocihm.lac_reel_h2640/326>
  • Quebec Mercury 25 and 27 January and 22 February 1851 <http://collections.banq.qc.ca/ark:/52327/1875218>

Secondary sources

  • Fyson, Donald. “Minority Groups and the Law in Quebec, 1760-1867”. In G. Blaine Baker and Donald Fyson (ed), Essays in the History of Canadian Law. Volume XI: Quebec and the Canadas (Toronto: Osgoode Society for Canadian Legal History and University of Toronto Press, 2013): 278-329.