Discovering Local History Through Church Records of Saint-Pierre-du-Nord (1724-1758)

2003 par Earle Lockerby

Earle Lockerby

 

Saint-Pierre-du-Nord (centered at Havre Saint-Pierre) is one of five parishes which existed on Île Saint-Jean during the French regime, the others being Port-LaJoye (Saint-Jean-l’Évangéliste), Malpec (La Sainte-Famille), Saint-Louis-du-Nord-Est and Pointe-Prime (Saint-Paul).  Only the parish registers of Saint-Pierre-du-Nord and Port-LaJoye have survived.  The parish register of Saint-Pierre-du-Nord
travelled to France with a shipload of deportees, aboard a British transport in the autumn of 1758, following the capture of Louisbourg by the British that year.

Island historians have long been aware of the parish register for Port-LaJoye, but such appears not to have been the case for that of Saint-Pierre-du-Nord, the original of which resides today in an archives at St-Malo, France.1 Books, or chapters of books, dealing with Island Acadian history have referred to the register of Port-LaJoye without mentioning that of Saint-Pierre-du-Nord.  A relatively recent example of this is the book The Catholic Church in Prince Edward Island 1720-1979 which was published in 1979.

The first entry in the register of Saint-Pierre-du-Nord is dated July 19, 1724 and records the baptism of Magdelene Briand, daughter of Bernard Briand and Isabelle Saunier, both of whom were Mi’kmaq.  The priest administering these rites was Claude-François de Brevant who described himself as “prestre approuvé desservant dans la paroisse de St-Pierre en l’isle St Jean au déffaut d’un curé”.  Entries by Brevant span the period July 19 to September 16, 1724.

Of the first six entries, no less that five involve Mi’kmaq people.  Such entries may be found sprinkled throughout the register.  These confirm what is well known from other sources, namely that the French expended considerable efforts to have the native people embrace the Roman Catholic faith.  These entries not infrequently list French inhabitants as witnesses to church rites involving native people and as godparents in the case of baptisms.  This confirms the considerable degree of social intercourse which existed between the French settlers and the Mi’kmaq people.

What the first entry and other early entries also tell us is that in 1724 Saint-Pierre-du-Nord was a parish in its own right, not an adjunct to the parish of Port-LaJoye.  Moreover, a church existed in the settlement at this time.  A burial entry of August 24, 1724 reads “inhumés dans l’église”.  Several marriage entries subsequently state that the people were “assemblés dans l’église”.  The church may have been built in 1724 or possibly a year or two earlier.  We know that the church had a bell, the bell having been unearthed in 1870 near the known site of the church.2 The date 1723 was inscribed on the bell, suggesting that the church had this bell from about the time that the church was established.

The register of Saint-Pierre-du-Nord shows that until the beginning of 1732 Saint-Pierre-du-Nord only occasionally had a priest.  The situation of Port-LaJoye from 1724-1732 was not a great deal better.  With the collapse of the fishery initiative of the Comte de Saint-Pierre, Île Saint-Jean became less important in the eyes of officials in Louisbourg and Paris, and had already lost in 1723 the two resident priests who had been at Port-LaJoye since 1721.  From time to time during the 1724-1732 period, priests came to Île Saint-Jean from Île Royale, i.e. Cape Breton, or from Acadia, staying for several days, a few weeks, or perhaps two or three months.

In early 1723 Father Mathieu François Le Paige was installed as the resident parish priest and he remained here almost continuously for seven and one half years.  Le Paige not only ministered to his flock at Saint-Pierre-du-Nord, but also to people from outlying areas considered a part of the parish, including Tracadie, Havre-aux-Sauvages, Malpec and Pointe-de-l’Est.  In subsequent years, Baie-de-Fortune was added.  Occasionally the priest journeyed to these places.  The register provides us with the first known date when a priest ministered in the French settlement of Malpec, noted by Father Le Paige as being 15 leagues distant from Saint-Pierre-du-Nord.  On May 1, 1735 at Malpec he married Marie Magdeleine Arsenault and Jean de Launay, and conducted two baptisms.  This had not been his first visit to Malpec.  He had been there at least one time prior to September 1734.

In 1739 Le Paige was succeeded by Father Gabriel Le Moign who had already been at Port-LaJoye a couple of years and who remained at Saint-Pierre-du-Nord for five years.  It is evident from a comparison of the registers for Port-LaJoye and Saint-Pierre-du-Nord that during the 1732-1744 period, Saint-Pierre-du-Nord enjoyed more stability in terms of priests than did Port-LaJoye.  Together, Le Paige and Le Moign served 12 years continuously at Saint-Pierre-du-Nord, while during this period, no less than six different priests rotated through Port-LaJoye.  Perhaps that was a reflection of a broader social stability at Saint-Pierre-du-Nord where fishing was the major part of the economy, providing for trade and a small merchant class.  Saint-Pierre-du-Nord always had a greater population than Port-LaJoye – indeed, much greater for much of the existence of these two settlements.  Port-LaJoye was an administrative and military centre – those on administrative postings came and went and the troops garrisoned at Port-LaJoye were rotated yearly.  While the important officials lived at Port-LaJoye, Saint-Pierre-du-Nord was the wealthier community.

During the time that Louisbourg was occupied by the British from 1745 until 1749, one finds no entries in the register of Port-LaJoye.  However, there are a few entries in the register of Saint-Pierre-du-Nord.  In mid-August of 1745 Father Samuel Riou visited Saint-Pierre-du-Nord and performed a marriage and a baptism.  It is of some significance that he signed himself as a Récollet priest, “faisant les fonctions curiales de la paroisse de Malpec”.

These entries indicate two things:

1. That Malpec was established as a separate parish on Île Saint-Jean sometime before mid-1745, not in the early 1750s, as has been popularly believed.

2. That Malpec had a priest, probably resident in the community, some years before Father Dosque settled there in 1753.

The marriage which Father Riou of Malpec performed at Saint-Pierre-du-Nord on August 15, 1745 united Simon Billard and Marie Charpentier.  Though there is no hint of it in the register, there is an interesting story behind this marriage.  Simon Billard ws born in France and was a soldier in the garrison which in 1744 and 1745 was stationed at Saint-Pierre-du-Nord rather than at Port-LaJoye.  He was also a gunsmith and had some skills as a blacksmith.  While at Saint-Pierre-du-Nord he obviously fell in love with the local Acadian girl, Marie Charpentier.  Rather than evacuate to Quebec with his troop, following the fall of Louisbourg to the British in the summer of 1745, Billard chose to become a deserter and 2½ weeks later wedding bells were ringing at the church of Saint-Pierre-du-Nord.  A few years later when French administrative and military officials returned to the Island, Simon Billard as a deserter was in trouble.  However, a petition by the local inhabitants, emphasizing the valuable services that Billard had performed as a blacksmith, appears to have successfully extricated him.3 He and Marie raised a family at Saint-Pierre-du-Nord and in late 1758 found themselves in France, among the deportees from Île Saint-Jean.

Several other entries of interest took place during the period when Britain and France were at war.  On November 11, 1747 there is recorded an adult baptism of Dorothée, “négresse domestique” of Monsieur de la Borde.  This is confirmation that there were blacks on the Island under the French regime, a fact we know from other documents.  Jean Pierre Roma at Trois-Rivières had black slaves and a black “domestique” of Commandant Villejouin was deported with him from Port LaJoye in 1758.

After the war the first priest at Saint-Pierre-du-Nord was Charles de la Goudalie, who came here in 1751 at the age of 72, having had many years experience in Quebec and Acadia.  The outpost of Saint-Pierre-du-Nord must have been a challenging assignment for a man of his age and he left within a couple of months.  The next priest to practise at Saint-Pierre-du-Nord was Father Jacques Girard, who up until now has been associated only with the parish of Pointe-Prime.  He came from the parish of Cobequid (now Truro), and was at Saint-Pierre-du-Nord for four months in the summer of 1752.

Girard was succeeded at Saint-Pierre-du-Nord by Father Jean Marc Perronnel whose first entry was on Christmas day in 1752.  In an entry two weeks later he signed himself “curé missionnaire de St Louis du Nord Est et de St Pierre du Nord”.  The parish of Saint-Louis-du-Nord-Est had been established along the Rivière-du-Nord-Est (Hillsborough River) a year or two earlier – its church being in the present Scotchfort.  Father Perronnel had a presbytère, for in several instances he mentions conducting ceremonies there.  In this regard he was probably more comfortable than the priests or chaplains at Port-LaJoye who often had to make do with quarters in the area of the soldiers’ barracks.

In 1755 Father Perronnel performed two baptisms involving families from Pointe-de-l’Est.  From census records it is known that there were a few fishing families living near Pointe de l’Est from about 1720 to 1752, more specifically at North Lake which the French called Tranche Montagne.  The register of Saint-Pierre-du-Nord indicates that they were still there in 1755 and there is no reason to believe that they were not there right up to 1758.  Thus Tranche Montagne presumably shares with Port-LaJoye and Saint-Pierre-du-Nord the distinction of being places on the Island which had French residents during the whole of the French regime from 1720 to 1758.

Father Perronnel kept Saint-Louis-du-Nord-Est under his wing until the arrival of Father Pierre Cassiet at that parish in 1753.  However, Perronnel was forced to return to France in 1755 on account of ill health – both physical and mental.4 He was replaced by Jean Biscarret who served until the British takeover, Father Biscarret’s last entry being on August 21, 1758 four days after Port-LaJoye capitulated to British forces.  At Port LaJoye, on the other hand, it appears that the priest left that parish in May of 1758 and entries in the register of that parish cease at that time.

This is not however the last entry in the register of Saint-Pierre-du-Nord.  On September 3 and 4, 1758 a burial and two marriages were conducted by Father Girard.  Curiously, these took place, not at Saint-Pierre-du-Nord, but at Trois-Rivières, suggesting that by the close of the French regime this former French settlement again had a few settlers.  It has been said that the priests hurriedly married people that fall, as their embarkment into British transports was imminent.  Perhaps this was intended to prevent the separation of unmarried couples among different transports or somehow conferred other advantages which would be beneficial during the trip or upon arrival in France.  In any event, these two marriage entries of Girard would suggest that there may be some truth to this legend.  There may have been more such marriages, but under the chaotic conditions prevailing, it would not be surprising that they did not get recorded in the register.

One of the things which is evident from the register is that cross-parish marriages were not uncommon, suggesting a fair degree of movement of people and social intercourse between parishes.  The people of Saint-Pierre-du-Nord appear to have had a significant degree of communication with the parishioners of Malpec, despite the distance separating these two parishes.  A considerable number of baptisms and marriages involving settlers of Malpec may be found in the register of Saint-Pierre-du-Nord.

Some names stand out as frequent witnesses or godparents at baptisms, marriages and funerals, suggesting that these individuals occupied a certain position of respect, distinction or leadership.  Marie Roger’s name stands out as does that of her husband, François Douville, and others in the Douville family.  Jean Baptist Veco, Jacques Veco, Jacques Oudy, Louis Aubin LeBuff, the community doctor, Dominique DuClos, and Louis Talbot are a few others.  Talbot conducted a number of burials at times when no priest was available.

The register of Saint-Pierre-du-Nord reveals a number of place names, some of which are familiar, others less so.  Havre-à-l’Anguille was used interchangeably with Havre-aux-Sauvages, particularly during the first half of the French regime, but during the second half the name Havre-à-l’Anguille apparently fell into disuse.  Tracadie, which was initially within the parish of Saint-Pierre-du-Nord, by 1753 became part of the parish of Saint-Louis-du-Nord-Est, following the establishment of that parish.

The village of Portage is referred to on a few occasions.  It was at the head of the Hillsborough River.  Marie Gentil and her husband, Jean-Baptiste Haché, described as residents of Portage, had a child baptized in 1736.  Madame Gentil’s name became better known in Island French history through Louis Franquet’s writing of her in 1751 while travelling between Port-LaJoye and Saint-Pierre-du-Nord.  Though by now widowed, she still lived, according to Franquet, by the portage, though he does not refer to a village by that name.5 Havre-de-Bonne-Fortune is mentioned.  Presumably, this is the same as Havre-de-Fortune or Baie-de-Fortune, the “Bonne” having gotten dropped.  There was also Havre-de-Bonne-Espérance, being dependent on the parish of Saint-Pierre-du-Nord – its location is unknown.

François Douville’s burial entry in 1757 is interesting in that it claims that Douville was the first resident of Île Saint-Jean.  Another interesting entry occurred in February 1758 when Father Biscarret married Paul Devaux and Marguerite Potier.  Both are described as refugees in the parish.  The groom’s parents, from Beaubassin, were said to be prisoners of the British.  The bride’s mother, formerly from Beaubassin, was living at Havre-aux-Sauvages, but the bride’s father was also a prisoner of the British.  Quite probably, the three parents were being held at Fort Cumberland, formerly Fort Beauséjour.

Though the last register entry made on Île Saint-Jean occurred in September 1758, there is one subsequent entry.  Made on April 18, 1759 at St-Malo, it gives a fleeting glimpse into the register’s journey to France.  On that date Marie Roger, Louis Talbot, Louis Aubin LeBuff and our friend, Simon Billard, ex-soldier, lover and blacksmith, and several others appeared before two notaries at St-Malo.  Charles de la Borde, formerly of Saint-Pierre-du-Nord and quite likely the man who owned the black slave, Dorothée, needed a baptismal extract concerning his son who had been baptized in Île Saint-Jean in 1750.  Marie Roger and Louis Talbot had been the godparents.

In testimony given before the notaries, it was stated that following the fall of Île Saint-Jean to the British, the register had come to St-Malo aboard one of the transports and had been given to a St‑Malo church official.  It was retrieved from the official in order to have a baptismal extract prepared, but the relevant baptism could not be found in the register.  It was stated that during the crossing from Ile Saint-Jean the transport was frequently buffeted by heavy seas and as a result the register had become wet, and unfortunately several pages within the 1750 section had gotten torn and mouldy or rotten.  Those appearing before the notaries remembered that the baptism was in October, who the officiating priest was, and who the witnesses and godparents had been.  This was good enough to produce a baptismal extract, even though the date in October was unknown.  Ironically, it turns out that the baptism probably never had been recorded in the register of Saint-Pierre-du-Nord.  The officiating priest was based at Port-LaJoye and it was in the register of Port-LaJoye where he chose to record it.  The record of the baptism, which occurred on October 5, is quite intact to this day!

Knowledge of who the priests were on Île Saint-Jean during the French regime and where and when they served, has been developed over the past 100 years or so without the benefit of information from the register of Saint-Pierre-du-Nord.  Indeed it has been the register of Port La‑Joye which has been the main source of information.  The compilation by D.C. Harvey is quite accurate in relation to the priests serving Port-LaJoye, but is somewhat less accurate regarding the other four parishes, including Saint-Pierre-du-Nord, for which only the period after 1752 is addressed.6 By taking into account the information provided by the register of Saint-Pierre-du-Nord, a greatly expanded and more accurate picture for that parish can be developed (Table 1).

Similarly, by using information from both parish registers, as well as certain other data, it is possible to present a more accurate and comprehensive compilation showing the service of priests at each of the three smaller parishes (Table 1).  It is unfortunate that the registers of Saint‑Louis-du-Nord-Est, Pointe-Prime and Malpec have not survived, for like the register of Saint-Pierre-du-Nord, they, too, could no doubt shed light on local history during the French regime.

 

Table 1

Service by priests at five parishes during the French regime on Île Saint-Jean7

 

Port-LaJoye

René -Charles de Breslay : April 17, 1721 – April 29, 1723

Louis de Metivier : July 25, 1721 – July 14, 1723

Louis Barbet Dudonjon : August 19, 1723 – June 11, 1724

Félix Pain : July 1 – July 3, 1725

Leonard Patin : July 26, 1725

Félix Pain : November 27, 1725 ; March 6, 1726; June 5, 1726 ; September 8 – September 21, 1726 ; Pierre-Joseph de Kergariou8 ; January 18 – January 24, 1726

Ignace Joseph Flamant : June 27 – June 29, 1727 ; December 24, 1727

Juan Despirac : December 13, 1727

Félix Pain : November 26 – December 4, 1727 ; February 2, 1728 : September 9 – November 7, 1728 ; April 21 – May 21, 1729 ; October 24 – October 31, 1729 ; May 14 – May 22, 1730 ; October 17 – November 3, 1730 ; May 9 – July 10, 1731 ; November 3, 1730 ; May 9 – July 10, 1731

Mathieu François Le Paige : December 3 – December 8, 1731 : February 23, 1732; April 23, 1732 : October 17 – October 31, 1732 ; January 31, 1733 ; April 7 – May 3, 1733 ; October 25, 1733

L.G. Bienne : October 10, 1733

Athanase Guégot : November 26, 1733 – June 20, 1735

Mathieu François Le Paige : October 20 – October 23, 1735

Anathase Guégot : December 12, 1735 – August 20, 1736

Angélique Collin : October 11, 1736 – July 21, 1737

Gabriel LeMoign : September 24 – October 27, 1737

Mathieu François le Paige : November 13, 1737

Gabriel Le Moign : December 17, 1737 – January 3, 1739

Ambroise Aubré : January 28, 1739

Gabriel Le Moign : March 12 – July 28, 1739

Ambroise Aubré : August 11, 1739 – June 30, 1741

Elie Kerviche : August 16, 1741 – May 11, 1744

Patrice LaGrée : September 15, 1749 – January 22, 1751

Alexis de Buron : January 15 – January 24, 1751

Patrice La Grée : January 26, 1751 – September 25, 1752

Isidore Caulet : August 16, 1752

Ambroise Aubré : October 9, 1752 – July 16, 1754

Pierre Cassiet : August 7, 1754

Père Orast (?) : August 25, 1754

Gratien Raoul : September 15, 1754 – July 30, 1755

Père Laforce : August 16, 1755

Gratien Raoul : August 17, 1755 – May 30, 1758

 

Saint-Pierre-du-Nord

Claude-François de Brevant : July 19 – September 17, 1724

Leonard Pain : August 4 – August 15, 1725

Pierre-Joseph de Kergariou : February 4 – February 5, 1726

Félix Pain : May 18 – May 26, 1728 ; August 22 – August 28, 1728 ; October 10 – October 19, 1728 ; July 6 – July 22, 1729 ; September 9, 1729 ; September 8 – September 19, 1730

Mathieu François Le Paige : January 6 – February 4, 1732 ; May 21 – June 2, 1732 ; September 8 – September 27, 1732 ; February 11 – February 25, 1733 ; May 14 – October 6, 1733 ; October 14, 1733 ; November 26, 1733 – October 17, 1735 ; November 16, 1735 – September 27, 1737 ; January 14, 1738 – June 21, 1739

Gabriel Le Moign : August 4, 1739 – September 3, 1740

Elie Kerviche : September 4, 1739 ; September 10, 1740

Gabriel Le Moign : September 11, 1740 – October 11, 1744

Elie Kerviche : October 18, 1744 – August 15, 1745

Samuel Riou : August 15 – August 16, 1745

Pierre Maillard : November 7 – November 12, 1747

François Marganne de Chapt de Lavaltrie9 : Date unknown, but included some time leading up to September/October 1748

Ambroise Audré : November 11, 1749

Charles de la Goudalie : May 26 – July 7, 1751

Alexis de Buron : March 18, 1751

Jacques Girard : July 13 – November 6, 1752

Jean Marc Perronnel : December 25, 1752 – August 18, 1755

Pierre Cassiet : August 29, 1755

Jean Biscarret : September 18, 1755 – August 21, 1758

 

Saint-Louis-du-Nord-Est

Jean Marc Perronnel : December 1752 – 1753

Pierre Cassiet : 1753 – September 1758

 

Malpec

Pierre-Joseph de Kergariou : March 26, 1725 (Mi’kmaq mission)

Mathieu François Le Paige : Prior to September 1734 ; May 1, 1735 ; November 3, 1738

Père Duguay10 : Date unknown, but before 1753

Samuel Riou11 : Date unknown, but included a period of time leading up to August 1, 1745

Bernard Sylvestre Dosque : 1753 – August or September 1758

 

Pointe-Prime

Jacques Girard : 1752 – September 1758

__________________________________

1 Transcripts of the parish regiser of Saint-Pierre-du-Nord are available at the Prince Edward Island Archives and Records Office, at the Centre d’études acadiennes (CEA), Université de Moncton, and at the National Archives of Canada (NAC), Ottawa.  Microfilm copies of the original register are held by the CEA and NAC.

2 John C. MacMillan, The History of the Catholic Church in Prince Edward Island from 1835 till 1891 (Québec, 1913), pp. 295-296; The Weekly Examiner and Island Argus, Charlottetown, 23 November 1883, p. 1.

3 Archives Nationales (Paris), Archives des Colonies, Série C11C, Vol. 8, pp. 191-192, “Inhabitants’ [of Saint-Pierre-du-Nord] petition to Monsieur Benoit”.  The document is undated, but from its context can be determined to have been written in September or October 1748.

4 L’Abbé L’Isle-Dieu au Président du Conseil de Marine, 23 déc. 1755, Rapport de l’Archiviste de la Province de Québec, 1937/38, p. 173.

5 Louis Franquet, Voyage de Franquet aux Iles Royale et Saint-Jean, Rapport de l’Archiviste de la Province de Québec, 1923/24, pp. 118 et 121.

6 See D.C. Harvey, The French Régime on Prince Edward Island (New Haven, 1926), pp. 240-243.  Harvey’s compilations are echoed in Henri Blanchard’s two books, Histoire des Acadiens de l’Ile du Prince-Edouard (1927), pp. 75-76 and The Acadians of Prince Edward Island (1964), pp. 53-55.  However, in the case of Saint-Pierre-du-Nord, Harvey’s errors have been compounded in Blanchard’s second book.

7 With a few exceptions, dates are those on which baptism, marriage or internment rites were conducted.  The dates on which priests began and finished their service in any given parish may be somewhat earlier or later, respectively, than the dates indicated, since rites would not necessarily be performed on the first and last days of service.  Prior to 1749 some rites which are recorded in the register of Port-LaJoye involved residents of Saint-Pierre-du-Nord, and some of these rites were no doubt conducted at Saint-Pierre-du-Nord.  Thus, the extent to which Saint-Pierre-du-Nord was visited by priests based at Port-LaJoye is probably greater than indicated in this compilation.  This appears to be particularly true during the tenure of Father Patrice LaGrée, 1749-1751.  The information upon which this compilation is based is drawn largely from the registers of the parishes of Port-LaJoye and Saint-Pierre-du-Nord.  For Port-LaJoye the compilation largely reproduces that first published in D.C. Harvey, The French Regime in Prince Edward Island, New Haven, 1926, pp. 240-242.  Copies and transcripts of the registers are available in Canada at the Prince Edward Island Record Office, Charlottetown, the Centre d’études acadiennes, Université de Moncton, and the National Archives, Ottawa.  At the later repository the citations for these registers are:

Port-LaJoye:  MG1, G1, Vol. 411, Microfilm reel no. F-595 (original) and C-1472 (transcript)

Saint-Pierre-du-Nord:  MG6, A4, Ser. E, Microfilm reel no. F-817 (original) and C-2970 (transcript)

8 Information concerning Father Kergariou is from a small register kept by him and now residing in the Fonds Casgrain, Archives du Séminaire de Québec.

9 Inhabitants’ [of Saint-Pierre-du-Nord] petition to Monsieur Benoît, Archives Nationales (Paris), Archives des Colonies, C11C, Vol 8, pp. 191-192.  The document is undated, but from its context can be determined to have been written in September or October 1748.

10 Letter of Abbé L’Isle-Dieu to Mgr H.-M. de Pontbriand, 20 June 1754, Rapport de l’Archiviste de la Province de Québec 1936/1937, Québec, 1937, p. 377.

11 See register of Saint-Pierre-du-Nord.