Jacques Archambault, the first well digger of Ville-Marie

House of the ancestor Jacques Archambault in Saint-Xandre,

House where Jacques Archambault was born (1604-1688), Saint-Xandre, France

“When the well is dry, we shall know the value of water.”

Benjamin Franklin. 

Jacques Archambault

The first well digger of Ville-Marie

Son of Antoine and Renée Ouvrard, Jacques Archambault was born in 1604 at L’Ardillière, which is now part of the community of Saint-Xandre, near La Rochelle (Charente-Maritime).

In the 17th century, religious services, baptisms, weddings and burials were celebrated in Dompierre-en-Aunis (known today as Dompierre-sur-Mer).

Around 1629, Jacques Archambault married Françoise Toureau who, from 1630 to 1644, gave him seven children, two sons and five daughters, one of whom died in infancy in France.

Labourer and winegrower, the ancestor lived from the revenues of the land and the vines. Some researchers in France have in-fact  found the existence of a sale contract tat stated that he had sold three barrels of white wine to Hiérôme Bonnevye, a merchant from La Rochelle. Frane, on August 15, 1637. This detail tends to confirm the fact that Jacques Archambault lived from the produce of the land.

Jacques Archambault in Québec City

He was probably recruited by Pierre Le Gardeur de Repentigny, Director of Embarkations at La Rochelle from 1645 to 1647 and who was also Commander of a ship named Le Cardinal. Jacques Archambault crossed the Atlantic in 1645 or 1646 with his wife and children. The emigration of an entire family was exceptionally rare during that era, but we do not know the motives of the move. Is it not unreasonable to suspect that it may have been because of political or religious reasons? Just think, it was only fifteen years earlier (1628-1629) that Richelieu, the First Minister of Louis XIII’s , had besieged the Huguenots of La Rochelle, and tensions had still remained in the surrounding countryside for some time thereafter.

As far as we know, upon his arrival at Québec City, Jacques was hired by Le Gardeur de Repentigny to run his farm starting on October 16, 1647. This property, superimposed over the actual plan of the streets in the upper part of Québec, largely followed the layout of the Grande-Allée, Salaberry Street, the hillside to the north-west, and an imaginary parallel line to Claire-Fontaine Street, Sutherland and Deligny Streets.

The contract of this farm lease provided the Archambault family with a dwelling, two oxen, two cows, one heifer and pigs.

It was in Québec City that Jacques Archambault witnessed the marriages of three of his daughters. First Anne, on July 29, 1647, to Michel Chauvin, from Sainte-Suzanne, Maine, France. She was 15 or 16 years old. Convinced of bigamy, Chauvin was forced to return to France on the sly. The following year, on September 28, 1648,  Marie, aged 10 or 11, married Urbain Tessier, also referred to as Lavigne, of Château-en-Anjou, near Tours, France and Jacquette took  Paul Chalifou as a spouse, Paul was from Périgny, in Aunis, France. She was 14 or 15 years old. She was the only one of the family that would stay rooted in Québec.

Two years after Repentigny’s death, the Governor of Nouvelle France, Louis d’Ailleboust, ceded Jacques Archambault a plot of land at Cap-Rouge on September 15, 1651, which he worked under constant  Iroquois attacks.

Jacques Archambault in Montréal

There was an urgent need being felt in Ville-Marie, Jacques Archambault Felt instantly obliged to say goodbye to Québec. On February 15, 1654, the colonist accepted an offer in exchange for a promise that he would settles in Montréal (in the country). and a lot in the city on November 18, 1652, three days after that of Cap-Rouge. The lot was 2 arpents by 15 and superimposed over the actual plans of the streets of Vieux-Montréal, it was situated between St. Jacques Street to the South and Ontario Street to the North. Towards the East, it went along Saint-Laurent Street and towards the West, it finished slightly east of Place d’Armes and a bit to the North, and a bit East of Saint-Urbain Street. The lot in town adjacent to the parcel of land, stretched from St. Jacques Street towards and almost to Notre-Dame Street. The lot measured 2 acres wide by 1 acre in length.

Land of the Archambaults, their children and sons-in-law. Data added to a plan produced in 1997 for Pionte-à-Callière, Museum of Archeology and History of Montréal. Gilles Lauzon, September 2004.

The master well digger

Drawing by Pierre Archambault, archivist of the Archambault d’Amérique, inspired by a drawing by Franklin Arbuckle (1909-2001), for the Labatt Brewery.

In the 1650s, the “Montrealers” witnessed the formation of a coalition of  Iroquois Nations who had every intention to attack Ville-Marie. They also witnessed the Governor, Mr.  de Maisonneuve taking every necessary measure to set up a strong defense against the dreadful Iroquois attacks.

Constructed of wood and situated at the extremity of a point formed by the confluence of the little  River Saint-Pierre River and the Saint-Laurent – which is known today  as Pointe-à-Callière – the little primitive establishment of Ville-Marie was exposed to the attacks by the “savages”.

It was during this dangerous context that Mr. de Maisonneuve had Jacques Archambault build well, five feet in diameter (1.52 m), “on the fort at Place d’Armes”. Jacques guaranteed at least two feet (60 cm) of stady water in the bottom of the well. The contract signed  on October 11, 1658 before the Notary Bénigne Basset stipulated that the well digger would collect 300 livres and 10 pots of eau-de-vie (brandy) for his work.

This was the first well constructed on the island of Montréal.

Ville-Marie's first hospital
The first hospital, built in 1645 a few feet from the fort. Drawing by historian-architect Aristide Beaugrand-Champagne from old documents.

Certainly gifted as a well-digger, Jacques acquired the reputation of a dowser, if not that of a sorcerer! Because the following spring, on June 8, 1659, Mr. Gabriel de Queylus, Sulpician and founder of the Saint-Sulpice Seminary of Montréal, asked the colonist Archambault to dig a well “…in the garden of the hospital …”.

As a true dowser, he guaranteed “at least two feet of stady water… “. Here again, the worker received 300 livres and 10 pots of eau-de-vie (brandy) in exchange for the source of water.

On May 16, 1660, Jacques Leber, Charles Lemoyne and Jacques Testard asked the ancestor to build them a well of the type that he had dug for the use of the commune.

The depth will be between 15 to 18 feet (5 to 6 m), for which the laborer would receive his usual 300 livres and 10 pots of  eau-de-vie (brandy). However, it took Testard 16 years to pay his share of 100 livres and 3⅓ pots of eau-de-vie (brandy). The patience of Jacques!…

On November 16, 1664, it was Claude Robutel who offered the ancestor 150 livres to dig a well. On July 11, 1668, the Surgeon Étienne Bouchard ordered one from him for the sum of 250 livres.

There were at least five jobs by Jacques that were the subject of notarized contracts, for construction between 1658 and 1668. He undoubtedly dug others, because we presume that the settlers would not do without a supply of drinking water. The well built nearby and sometimes in the cellar of the house, conceived as a domestic fortress and built in the fashion as to withstand a siege. The settler would build his own house, but the building of the well was entrusted to an acknowledged well-digger. This was the case of Jacques Archambault in Ville-Marie.

Meanwhile, a number of events occured during the laborious life of the Archambault family:

On July 26, 1651, the eldest son Denys died at age 20 from a cannon explosion during a battle at the hospital against a hord of 200 Iroquois.

On February 3, 1654, Anne, deceived by her first spouse, Michel Chauvin, a bigamist; remarried Jean Gervaise, master baker. The couple will had 9 children.

 On March 30, 1655, Jacques and a number of other colonists contracted the services of Surgeon Étienne Bouchard. He was undertaken to treat them and their families for all types of illnesses, except the plague, for a yearly fee of 5 livres or 100 sols.

On November 27, 1656, the boiler maker Gilles Lauzon, of Caen, France married in Montréal another daughter of Jacques, named Marie, 10 or 11 years old, who should not be confused with her sister of the same name, who married Urbain Tessier, also referred to as Lavigne. The relative rarity of her name in the archives is because, she died before her spouse at 41 years of age; unlike her sister, there seemed that she never was occupied with any succession.

On January 7, 1660, the second son, Laurent, married Catherine Marchand in Montréal. A young orphan from Faubourg Saint-Germain in Paris. The couple had 12 children, six sons and six daughters.

On December 9, 1663, the body of the courageous spouse, Françoise Toureau, was burried. She was 64 years old. On the 15th of December, in the presence of his son-in-law Jean Gervaise, Jacques leases his farm to Pierre Dardenne for three years.

On June 6, 1666, Jacques remarries, signing a contract in Trois-Rivières with Marie Denot de la Martinière, she was a three-time: Étienne Vien, of Marennes, Mathieu Labat, also known as Fontarabie, ancestor of Labatt brewers, and Louis Ozanne, also known as La Fronde.

 In 1678, at the age of 74, Jacques was no longer able to work. That is the reason why his children and their spouses promised to pay him an allowance of 100 livres each year for life; giving him the opportunity to live wherever he wishes. The Notary Basset mentioned the motive of that gesture on the certificate: it was “because of the love theay always had for him as…”.

On February 15, 1688, after 84 years of active life, more than half of which was spent in Nouvelle France, Jacques Archambault was buried in the Notre-Dame Cemetery in Montréal.

Extract from the register of burials of Notre-Dame de Montréal, February 15, 1688.

The first well of Ville-Marie certified by notary, and dug by Jacques Archambault


Extract from the register of burials of Notre-Dame de Montréal, February 15, 1688.

First well dug in 1658 by the ancestor Jacques Archambault

Drawing by Pierre Archambault, archivist of the Archambault Association of America, from the dimensions specified in the contract kept at the Bibliothèque et Archives nationales du Québec (BAnQ) in Montreal.

The first well of Montréal, found

The Bourdon Plan, detail of Fort Ville-Marie. This drawing was found in 1956 on the rare book market in New York.

In 2002, archaeologists began excavating the soil of Pointe-à-Callière, formed by the confluence of the Saint-Laurent and the Saint-Pierre River in Old Montreal, based on an ancient document found in New York in 1956, “Bourdon’s Plan”. Today, the Saint-Pierre River is part of the city’s water and sewer system. Now, it is on that point of land that the site of Fort Ville-Marie and the well dug in 1658 by the ancestor Jacques Archambault were recently uncovered.
The first settlement built in 1642 by the fifty or so settlers who arrived on the island under the direction of Paul de Chomedey de Maisonneuve, the fort was demolished in 1683. We knew, without having to verify it, that the fort had a series of common accommodations, the house of Governor de Maisonneuve and, in the center, a well, all of which surrounded by a fence.

Building located at 211 de La Commune Street West, with 214 Place D’Youville as its main rear address.

The last relics of the birthplace of Montréal remained dormant for three centuries in the basement of an old shed at 214 Place D’Youville, acquired a few years ago by the Montréal Museum of Archaeology, located nearby. It was next to the museum that the Archambault d’Amérique had a replica of ancestor Jacques’ well constructed in 1984.

Annual Report 2004
Pointe-à-Callière Society

Pointe-à-Callière’s Archaeological Field School: another successful summer.

As part of the third dig campaign at Montréal’s birthplace, the Archaeological Field School set up by Pointe-à-Callière in collaboration with the Université de Montréal once again welcomed a number of archaeological interns to the site at 214 Place D’Youville.

The season was eagerly awaited, as this time the work was aimed at levels more than 2.5 metres deep, associated with the era of Fort Ville-Marie. The expectation was not disappointed. The northern portion of the excavated area revealed a rectangular excavation measuring 2 by 6 meters, probably the sanitary space of a large building. Further south, a dense set of remains was uncovered: a latrine pit, backing onto the building, a circular pit 20 centimeters deep, like a water or compost basin, and a third, rectangular pit, combined with highly organic soil in which a multitude of raspberry seeds surrounded a green glazed bowl. These pits punctuated a small courtyard, littered with the remains of meals (bones of domestic and wild animals) themselves covered with ash mixed with scales – perhaps the emptying of a barrel in which fish oil soap was made.

The building and enclosed garden could be associated with a building constructed in 1643 within the fort and inhabited for 30 years by its owner, this would be the manor house of Paul de Chomedey, Sieur de Maisonneuve, founder and Governor of Montréal.

The end of the season was marked by the fascinating discovery, south of the garden, of a pit sinking deep into the natural ground, where remains of wood impregnated with iron oxide suggest a circular formwork. It could be the well gordered in 1658 by Sieur de Maisonneuve Jacques Archambault for his seigneurial manor.

The excavation of the pit stopped at 5 meters below the current ground level and at one meter from the water table, without yet reaching the bottom of the well and the deposit of objects that we hope to find. In all likelihood, future excavations in the heart of Fort Ville-Marie will yield other major discoveries about this little-known period in the early history of Montreal.

“In 2004, excavations finally brought the discovery of a well that we associate with the notarized act of 1658 making work such as the digging in the fort official.”

Photo 1
Photo 2 – Photos 1 and 2, courtesy of Mr. Alain Vandal, Pointe-à-Callière’s archaeologist.

“In 2005, new discoveries and their relationship with those of previous years finally allowed the archaeologists to conclude that they were truly at the location of Fort Ville-Marie and were able to put forward a hypothesis for the location of the excavations in the northeastern portion of the fort.”

“In 2006 the students and archaeologists discovered a greater number of artifacts than in previous years (animal bones, clay objects, stoneware, etc.) in addition to the discovery of a masonry wall.

The reproduction of the well at Pointe-à-Callière can be found a few steps to the North of the original one dug by the Archambault ancestor.

The discovery of these remains represents a major enrichment for the historical heritage of Montrealers.