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ADHÉMAR, JEAN-BAPTISTE-AMABLE, merchant, militia captain, and justice of the peace; b. 29 Jan. 1736 in Montreal (Que.), son of Jean-Baptiste Adhémar* and Catherine Moreau; d. there 26 July 1800.

Nothing is known of Jean-Baptiste-Amable Adhémar’s childhood or education. As royal notary in Montreal, the centre of the fur trade, his father was called upon to draw up numerous hiring contracts for the west, and it may have been through his influence that Adhémar turned to the trade at an early age. Thus on 14 April 1758 he signed a year’s contract with the purveyor general, Joseph-Michel Cadet, to serve as chief clerk at Fort Niagara (near Youngstown, N.Y.).

On 31 March 1761, in Montreal, Adhémar married Marguerite, the daughter of merchant René-Alexandre Lemoine, dit Despins. His marriage, which made him brother-in-law to Jacques-Joseph Lemoine Despins, one of the most important merchants in the colony prior to the conquest, probably furthered his career in the fur trade. During the next 15 years his business seems to have prospered normally in the regions around Michilimackinac (Mackinaw City, Mich.), Detroit, and Lake Superior. In 1769 he invested £300 in the trade, and in 1770 £800. Four years later, in partnership with Maurice-Régis Blondeau, he sent four canoes, 29 men, and goods worth about £1,300 to Lake Superior. In 1777, with James McGill* as surety, Adhémar alone sent ten canoes, 94 men, and goods worth £5,100 to the west.

In 1777–78, for reasons that are unknown, he made his first trip to France and England. On 9 April 1778 he was in London when a petition signed by 23 British merchants in Canada was presented to the secretary of state for the American Colonies, Lord Germain. Adhémar was the only Canadian to sign this document, which sought the repeal of the Quebec Act or its amendment so that trial by jury in civil cases and English commercial law would be reinstituted and Canadian law eliminated. This petition also asked for the freeing of trade with the Indians, which since 1777 had been regulated by an ordinance requiring a licence for each trader. For some years after 1778 trader Adhémar disappears from view, but his success in the business world, however modest it may have been, and his family connections seem to have given him some reputation in Montreal society.

Adhémar was also interested in church affairs. In 1769 he had been elected a churchwarden in the parish of Notre-Dame, at that time the only parish in Montreal. In June 1783 he and lawyer Pierre-François Mézière were delegated to present to Governor Haldimand a petition signed by 300 Notre-Dame parishioners asking him to suspend the order for the expulsion of François Ciquard* and Antoine Capel, two French Sulpicians who had entered Canada clandestinely. The scarcity of priests had been felt with increasing severity within the Catholic Church since the conquest. The problem became more acute from 1778 on, when France allied herself with the rebellious American colonies and the British authorities closed the door to the immigration of French priests. Haldimand refused to rescind his decision, but he declared his readiness to let other priests from Europe enter Canada. Relying on these encouragements, the people in Montreal decided to petition London. A memoir prepared with the aid of Étienne Montgolfier, the superior of the Sulpician seminary, although probably not with the support of Briand, the bishop of Quebec, asked for permission not only to bring French speaking priests from Europe to Canada but also to establish an episcopal see in Montreal. A second memoir, however, dealing with the Canadians’ “civil rights” failed to gain the unanimous support of Montrealers and had to be dropped. The petition to the king dealt with this subject in vague terms, asking only that Canadians be permitted to participate fully in political life “under whatever form of government it . . . will please the king to set up in this Province.” It attracted a mere 130 signatures, and this small number, in addition to the fact that time constraints prevented Quebec citizens from being associated with it, considerably diminished its significance. To meet the expenses of sending a delegation to London, Adhémar wrote to the militia captains, calling upon them to take up collections in the parishes, but this plan failed because of pressure from Haldimand.

On 18 Aug. 1783 Adhémar and Jean De Lisle* de La Cailleterie informed the governor that they had been “lawfully elected” as delegates to London and requested his support in their dealings with the British authorities. Haldimand refused, basing his decision on a report by the judge Adam Mabane, who at his request had investigated the projected mission. The governor, who was obsessed by the fear of revolutionary plots, made a harshly critical report to Lord North, the Home secretary, comparing Adhémar’s conduct – and in particular his letter to the militia captains – with the activities of the American rebels before the revolution. Adhémar and De Lisle nevertheless left Quebec on 25 Oct. 1783 as representatives of the Canadians. They were accompanied by William Dummer Powell*, who went armed with a petition from the British merchants reviving the campaign, suspended during the American revolution, to obtain for Canada a form of government and a legal system more closely resembling those in England.

Early in December the Canadian delegates, accompanied by Thomas Hussey, Bishop Briand’s representative, handed Lord North their memoir of support for a bishopric in Montreal and the immigration to Canada of foreign priests. The moment was badly chosen, for a new government was on the eve of being formed. While waiting, Adhémar and De Lisle went to Paris at the beginning of 1784 with a view to recruiting priests for the Canadian clergy. In order to concentrate their efforts on the recruiting question, the two delegates had already decided to drop the idea of creating a bishopric in Montreal. In any event Briand doubted the wisdom of that particular proposal. Having returned from Paris and having secured Sir Guy Carleton*’s cautious support, they met North’s successor, Lord Sydney, in March. They asked him for permission to take three young schoolteachers and three young Sulpicians, all of them French, to Canada. Sydney’s negative reply led Adhémar and De Lisle, in a memoir to the government on 24 March, to assert the need and the right of the Canadians to make their own choice of priests in Europe. The next day they learned that the king would not receive their petition and that it was to be transmitted to Lord Sydney, who had little sympathy for their cause. Their failure was complete, as Sydney himself assured Haldimand on 8 April: “These gentlemen have met with very little encouragement here.” Sydney emphasized to Haldimand that the government would allow the Catholic Church to recruit all the priests and teachers needed, provided they hailed from countries independent of the House of Bourbon, such as Savoy-Piedmont. Briand had been disappointed by the mercenary attitude of several Savoyard priests whom he had tried to bring to Canada in 1781 and 1782, and he was opposed to this solution which was dear to Haldimand’s heart.

Adhémar and De Lisle remained optimistic, however, when they learned that Haldimand, whom they held responsible for their failure, was going to be replaced by Carleton. Adhémar decided to remain in London for another year, whilst De Lisle returned to Canada to report. Both of them asked Briand to support Adhémar publicly, in order to give his mission a more official character. Briand was anxious to remain discreet, but he wrote to Carleton on 30 June 1784 that although he could not publicly approve a mission he considered “hasty and somewhat ill-humoured,” he was in agreement with the idea of bringing French priests to Canada, and he asked Carleton to use his influence in support of Adhémar. On 5 November Briand sent Adhémar a letter of encouragement and even permission to write an address in the clergy’s name, provided that he did not implicate the church in any political mission.

Because of political instability in England, Adhémar and De Lisle had not succeeded in advancing the civil aspect of their mission. Consequently they, together with Powell, had spoken to Francis Maseres*, the political agent in London of the British merchants in Canada. On 13 March 1784 the four, along with Pierre Du Calvet, had declared themselves in favour of the demands of these merchants, including their request for an elective assembly. On 20 April Adhémar wrote to Henri-François Gravé* de La Rive, of the Séminaire de Québec, that the failure of the mission on immigration of foreign priests had led him to believe “that our rights of every sort will not be unquestionably assured for us until we become less dependent upon the ministry’s will, through the creation of a house of assembly.”

After his return to Canada in the summer of 1784, De Lisle sought more ample powers of representation and more precise instructions as to the nature of the reforms desired. In London the ex-Jesuit Pierre-Joseph-Antoine Roubaud, who may be suspected of having wanted to replace Adhémar as a delegate, reported that Adhémar “was residing quietly and out of sight in his inn, little known, visited by no one.” There is nothing surprising in this seclusion given that Adhémar was living with uncertain expectations and could count on only a small income to meet his expenses. Briand, who was one of those who sent him money, described his contribution as “a small testimony of the satisfaction brought [him] by Adhémar’s wise and prudent conduct” in his mission.

On 5 Jan. 1785 Adhémar wrote a letter, later signed by De Lisle, in which he harshly criticized the Canadian bourgeoisie’s timidity in both their requests and their way of presenting petitions to the king alone, when these could really be dealt with and debated only in the House of Lords and the Commons. He also condemned them for having thought only of their class interests. “Since the farmer, the craftsman, and the workman form the most useful and most necessary class of men, their interests must not be neglected,” he wrote, adding that inequality would soon lead to “complaints, discouragement, hatreds, and a dangerous separation among all the estates.” But the Canadian bourgeoisie itself had become divided over the reform movement: business and professional people supported it, while the seigneurs and the Canadian officials fell back upon the Quebec Act. The Canadian merchants seemed increasingly to prefer acting through London merchants, who probably had more influence than Adhémar. Moreover, in February 1785 their committee in Montreal regretted the publication of a letter by Adhémar containing “a reflection which seems rash and very much out of place.”

Towards the end of the winter of 1785 Adhémar realized that his mission had failed. However, he was on the scene when the news arrived of Briand’s resignation as bishop, and he was able to thwart the efforts of Haldimand, now back in London, on behalf of two English monks, both totally unsuited to the circumstances, as potential successors to Briand. Adhémar took advantage of Haldimand’s return to accuse the erstwhile governor on 8 March of being responsible for his misfortune and to ask him to show him the kindness of obtaining for him a commission as judge of the Court of Common Pleas. Receiving no reply, Adhémar changed his tactics, admitting on 17 September that he had been wrong in agreeing to be a delegate of the Canadians against Haldimand’s wish. “I no longer feel sufficiently vigorous,” he wrote, “to undertake again the labours of the Indian trade; a modest salary, the position of judge at Detroit or any other that is within my feeble powers will suffice for me.” Haldimand refused to help him but assured him that he would not say or do anything that might harm him.

For unknown reasons, Adhémar does not seem to have left England until the beginning of 1786, to go to New York. When the ship was wrecked, Adhémar was detained in Lisbon and he did not reach Quebec until early June. He brought the papal brief authorizing Hubert’s consecration as coadjutor bishop of Quebec. Back in Montreal, Adhémar found himself once more in financial difficulties. In 1785 he had written to Haldimand that he had already lost “through a commercial set-back the modest fortune amassed through a long period of work.” He probably attempted to engage in trade again, but his business does not seem to have prospered. In April 1789, even though the merchant Jean-Baptiste Lemoine Despins owed him 9, 520 livres, Adhémar’s debts amounted to 16,858 livres including 7,577 owing to the Sulpicians and 3,521 to the merchant Charles Lusignan* (Carolo Lucciniani); nevertheless he had 300 masses sung on credit for his wife, who had just died. The belongings in his stone house and his stable on Place d’Armes were worth 3,212 livres; he also owned a frame-house on Rue Saint-Joseph and an orchard at Coteau-Saint-Louis. Despite his difficulties Adhémar remained a figure of note in Montreal. Thus in February 1788 he was appointed captain of the town’s militia, a post he retained until around 1797. In 1790 he turns up as a justice of the peace for the District of Montreal, and three years later as a commissioner in Montreal for administering oaths of office, both posts he held until his death on 26 July 1800. As a result of a legal action brought by Lusignan, the Court of King’s Bench of the District of Montreal ordered the sale of his property in December 1800.

Adhémar, who died in poverty, deserved a happier end. Although his mission to England was destined to failure from the beginning because of Haldimand’s opposition, it enabled him, as well as many other Canadian bourgeois, to discern the need for constitutional revision and above all for an elective house of assembly. Adhémar had devoted himself unselfishly to the interests of his compatriots, but they do not seem to have remembered him with any great gratitude.

Jean-Guy Pelletier

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Jean-Guy Pelletier, “ADHÉMAR, JEAN-BAPTISTE-AMABLE,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 4, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed November 1, 2014, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/adhemar_jean_baptiste_amable_4E.html.

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Permalink: http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/adhemar_jean_baptiste_amable_4E.html
Author of Article: Jean-Guy Pelletier
Title of Article: ADHÉMAR, JEAN-BAPTISTE-AMABLE
Publication Name: Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 4
Publisher: University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication: 1979
Year of revision: 1979
Access Date: November 1, 2014