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BOURG, JOSEPH-MATHURIN, priest, Spiritan, missionary, and vicar general; b. 9 June 1744 at Rivière-aux-Canards (near Canard, N.S.), eldest son of Michel Bourg and Anne Hébert and grandson of Alexandre Bourg*, dit Belle-Humeur; d. 20 Aug. 1797 at Saint-Laurent, near Montreal (Que.).

Like many other Acadians, Joseph-Mathurin Bourg, along with his family, was deported from Nova Scotia in 1755 [see Charles Lawrence*]. He probably was sent to Virginia first, but by 1756 he was in England. Seven years later he crossed to France, where he lived at Saint-Suliac (dept of Ille-et-Vilaine) before moving to Saint-Servan in 1766. The following year he went to study philosophy at the Séminaire du Saint-Esprit in Paris, under the patronage of the Abbé de L’Isle-Dieu, the bishop of Quebec’s vicar general in France. He received the tonsure on 27 May 1769 and minor orders on 9 June 1770, as did his step-brother and companion in exile, Jean-Baptiste Bro*.

Immediately after completing his third year of theology in 1772, Bourg was sent to Quebec, and on 19 September he was ordained priest by Bishop Jean-Olivier Briand in the chapel of the Hôtel-Dieu in Montreal. The following year he was sent to serve the scattered Acadian population in Nova Scotia, which then included New Brunswick, and Gaspé. He took up residence at Tracadièche (Carleton, Que.) and recorded his first act on 3 Sept. 1773 in the parish registers of Bonaventure. Shortly afterwards he travelled throughout his Baie des Chaleurs mission and even visited Memramcook and Minudie. In July 1774 he went to Quebec, where his family had been living since their return from France, and it was probably during the course of this trip that Bishop Briand appointed him vicar general in Acadia. That autumn he made his first visit to the Acadians of the Saint John River and southwestern Nova Scotia. Although these areas had been served in the past by Charles-François Bailly de Messein, some Acadian communities had not seen a priest for many years.

In 1778 Bourg became of great service to the Nova Scotian authorities by agreeing to go and restore calm among the Indians of the Saint John River, who it was feared might join the rebel American forces. That they had no missionary was, in fact, one of the causes of the Indians’ discontent, agents of the Nova Scotia government having promised the previous year to obtain one for them. In December 1777 Lieutenant Governor Mariot Arbuthnot had written to Governor Carleton* with a request that Bishop Briand be asked to send Bourg to Halifax. Briand agreed, and Bourg went to Halifax in August 1778 to receive instructions. On 24 September, accompanied by Michael Francklin, the superintendent of Indian affairs, and Gilfred Studholme, the commandant of Fort Howe (Saint John, N.B.), he met with the Malecites and Micmacs at Menagouèche, near the fort, and showed them a letter from the bishop which threatened with excommunication all those who aided the rebels. A treaty was then signed in which the Indians promised to remain neutral [see Nicholas Akomápis].

Abbé Bourg played a similar role throughout the War of American Independence. He went to the Saint John River again in 1779, and in 1780 and 1781 he participated in various meetings with the Indians. The correspondence of John Allan*, the American superintendent of eastern Indians, indicates clearly Bourg’s value to the British in their attempt to retain the Indians’ support. For his services Bourg had received in August 1778 a sum of £50, as well as a £100 pension of unknown duration and two grants of land: Heron Island, off the south coast of the Baie des Chaleurs, and a property on the site of present-day Charlo. Since he never received the title-deeds, his heirs later encountered many difficulties; in 1806 surveyor George Sproule* contested their right to the land on the grounds that it had never been cultivated.

Abbé Bourg lived at Tracadièche until 1784, making annual visits to southwestern Nova Scotia from 1780 to 1783. In 1784 Bishop Briand asked him to go to Halifax; the number of Catholics there had increased and they had been demanding a priest since 1782. Believing that Halifax would become one of the most important postings in his diocese, the bishop considered it an appropriate place of residence for his vicar general, who could, moreover, speak English. Unable to move there until 1 Aug. 1785, Bourg was well received on his arrival by the civil authorities. However, when Father James Jones*, an Irish priest, arrived 27 days later, Abbé Bourg, realizing that the population could not support two priests, decided that Jones should have charge of the parish. He left Halifax in February 1786 and, after making a final visit to the Acadians of Nova Scotia, returned to the Baie des Chaleurs. Since there were not enough French speaking priests in the diocese of Quebec, after his departure the Acadians of Nova Scotia were served by English speaking priests until the arrival of Jean-Mandé Sigogne* in 1799.

In 1784 Bishop Briand had thought of sending Abbé Thomas-François Le Roux to replace Abbé Bourg at Tracadièche, but Le Roux was too old to leave his post at Memramcook. On his return to the Baie des Chaleurs, Bourg found the mission under the direction of Antoine Girouard*, a young priest whom Bishop Louis-Philippe Mariauchau d’Esgly had sent there in 1785. The bishop then gave charge of the north shore of the bay to Abbé Bourg and the south shore to Abbé Girouard. But Bourg continued to minister to the Indians of the entire mission. Soon after his return, the New England Company, a Protestant society, offered him the post of teacher to the Baie des Chaleurs Indians, but it is not known whether he accepted.

During the winter of 1789–90 Girouard, who was ill, stayed with Abbé Bourg and was able to observe the vicar general’s manner of life. He then wrote a letter in Latin to the new bishop of Quebec, Jean-François Hubert, describing Abbé Bourg’s imprudent conduct with his servant Marie Savoye, a woman in her forties to whom the vicar general claimed to be related. Although Girouard acknowledged that she was a good servant and cook, he maintained that she ruled over the affairs of the presbytery and the parish and was the cause of quarrels between Bourg and his parishioners. The bishop admonished Bourg to be more prudent, and he promised to be so.

At the bishop’s request Abbé Bourg again took charge of the south shore of the Baie des Chaleurs after Abbé Girouard left in 1790. In the winter of 1794–95 he contracted a violent fever and was supposed, in delirium, to have “talked too much” and expressed anti-religious sentiments. His parishioners therefore demanded another missionary and took advantage of Bourg’s inactivity to remove his servant from the presbytery. In March 1795, when he had recovered, Abbé Bourg asked to be recalled, at the same time making clear his dissatisfaction and explaining his conduct to the bishop. He was given charge of the parish of Saint-Laurent, near Montreal, and in the summer of 1795 abbés Jean-Baptiste-Marie Castanet and Louis-Joseph Desjardins*, dit Desplantes, succeeded him at the Baie des Chaleurs. Bourg remained parish priest of Saint-Laurent until his death on 20 Aug. 1797.

At a time when there were few missionaries, Abbé Bourg had not stinted himself in serving the Acadians, particularly those of the Baie des Chaleurs region. Parish registers show that he frequently travelled about his mission and that he visited southwestern Nova Scotia at least five times. Not only did he bring spiritual comfort to the Acadians, but his presence undoubtedly helped to renew their confidence. An Acadian himself, he had survived the great upheaval of 1755 and had, in spite of it, maintained good relations with the British authorities. He was not the first priest who had been born in Acadia, Bernardin de Gannes de Falaise having that honour, but he was the first Acadian missionary to return after the deportation.

Éloi Degrâce

AAQ, 12 A, C, 125–26, 135; D, 106; 20 A, II, 6; 210 A, I, 131–32, 173–74; 22 A, V, 307–8; 1 CB, I, 8; II, 2, 6, 10, 15–16, 22; CD, Diocèse de Québec, I, 72a; 311 CN, VI, 1. Archives de l’évêché de Gaspé (Gaspé, Qué.), Casiers des paroisses, Restigouche, Indiens de Restigouche à l’évêque, 4 janv. 1787. ASQ, mss, 12, f.40. N.B. Museum (Saint John), Simonds, Hazen, and White papers, folder 20, item 40, William Franklin to the Indians, 14 Sept. 1778. PANS, RG 1, 212, 21 Aug 1778. Documentary history of Maine (Willis et al.), XVI, XVIII. “Selections from the papers and correspondence of James White, esquire, A.D. 1762–1783,” ed. W. O. Raymond, N.B. Hist. Soc., Coll., I (1894–97), no.3, 306–40. Patrice Gallant, Les registres de la Gaspésie (1752–1850) (6v., [Sayabec, Qué., 1968]), [VI], xxii-xxiv. Le Jeune, Dictionnaire, I, 228–29. Antoine Bernard, Histoire de la survivance acadienne, 1755–1935 (Montréal, 1935), 37–54. É.-P. Chouinard, Histoire de la paroisse de Saint-Joseph de Carleton (baie des Chaleurs), 1755–1906 (Rimouski, Qué., 1906). A. A. Johnston, A history of the Catholic Church in eastern Nova Scotia (2v., Antigonish, N.S., 1960–71), I. H. J. Koren, Knaves or knights? A history of the Spiritan missionaries in Acadia and North America, 1732–1839 (Pittsburgh, Pa., 1962), 108–21. Arthur Melanson, Vie de labbé Bourg, premier prêtre acadien, missionnaire et grand-vicaire pour lAcadie et la Baie-des-Chaleurs, 1744–1797 (Rimouski, Qué., 1921). Antoine Bernard, “Les Acadiens en Gaspésie,” LÉvangéline (Moncton, N.-B.), 31 juin-11 juill. 1932. É.-P. Chouinard, “A travers les régistres de Saint-Joseph de Carleton,” Le Moniteur acadien (Shédiac, N.-B.), 10, 20, 27 janv., 10, 24 févr., 3, 7, 10, 31 mars 1899; “L’abbé Joseph Mathurin Bourg,” Le Moniteur acadien, 17, 24, 31 août 1899; “Le premier prêtre acadien – l’abbé Joseph-Mathurin Bourg,” La Nouvelle-France (Québec), 11 (1903), 310–17, 403–11. Éva Comeau, “L’abbé Joseph-Mathurin Bourg, curé de Carleton en 1773,” Revue dhist. de la Gaspésie (Gaspé, Qué.), IX (1971), 239–42. Placide Gaudet, “Les premiers missionnaires de la baie Ste-Marie . . . ,” LÉvangéline (Weymouth Bridge, N.-É.), 9 juill. 1891, [2]. J.-M. Léger, “L’abbé Bourg, pacificateur des Indiens,” Soc. historique acadienne, Cahier (Moncton, N.-B.), II (1966–68), 243–45.

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Éloi Degrâce, “BOURG, JOSEPH-MATHURIN,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 4, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed April 19, 2024, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/bourg_joseph_mathurin_4E.html.

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Permalink:   http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/bourg_joseph_mathurin_4E.html
Author of Article:   Éloi Degrâce
Title of Article:   BOURG, JOSEPH-MATHURIN
Publication Name:   Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 4
Publisher:   University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication:   1979
Year of revision:   1979
Access Date:   April 19, 2024