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DESCHAMPS, ISAAC, merchant, office holder, judge, and politician; b. c. 1722; by his first marriage he had one son; m. secondly 17 Oct. 1758 Sarah Ellis in Halifax, N.S.; d. 11 Aug. 1801 in Windsor, N.S.

Isaac Deschamps is usually described as a Swiss, although he may have been born in England and almost certainly lived there at least briefly. He came to Nova Scotia in 1749, but he was not among the contingent of settlers with Edward Cornwallis*. At the time of his arrival Deschamps seems to have been a man of some substance, and may have had previous business experience, possibly in association with Joshua Mauger*. He acquired land and evidently opened a general store in Halifax; two additional grants of land the next year suggest a measure of industry and success. By 1751, however, he was employed by Mauger, then victualler to the navy. Late in 1753 Deschamps seems to have been sent to Lunenburg on undisclosed official business, either to aid in the settlement there or to investigate the recent riots [see Jean Pettrequin*; Sebastian Zouberbuhler*].

The following year Deschamps was placed in charge of Mauger’s truckhouse at Pisiquid (Windsor), where he traded with Indians, Acadians, and the garrison of Fort Edward. Fluent in French and English, he was given permission “to do any little business the French Inhabitants want without any particular appointment.” He was also called upon to interpret, and to translate such documents as petitions from the Acadians, an oath of allegiance, and the deportation order of 1755 [see John Winslow*]. In 1759 he received one-sixth of a large tract of land near the fort, and on the hill below the fort he erected a house and barns. During the next few years he was given additional land, including that on which his buildings stood, and he also received grants in the new settlements at Falmouth, Newport, and Horton.

In June 1760 Deschamps began his career as a provincial official when he received the dual appointments of truckmaster for the Indian trade at Fort Edward and justice of the peace for Kings County. The following year he was named judge of the Inferior Court of Common Pleas and judge of probate for the county, and in 1764 he took office as custos rotulorum as well. He had also become involved in colonial politics: with the creation of counties in 1759 he became the first member of the House of Assembly for Annapolis County, and between 1761 and 1770 he served for Falmouth Township.

During these years Deschamps was busy with a multitude of official and semi-official tasks, which included providing horses for the military, assisting at Indian treaty ceremonies, welcoming back those Acadians who elected to return to the Minas Basin region, and arranging land grants and interim provisioning for new settlers. In addition to holding numerous minor offices in the administrations of several townships, Deschamps was often employed by the Council as their liaison in the Windsor area. His connections with the Halifax élite secured his inclusion in several land grants throughout the province, as well as appointments in May 1768 as judge of the Inferior Court of Common Pleas, judge of probate, and superintendent of settlement in the short-lived administration established by Lieutenant Governor Michael Francklin* on St John’s (Prince Edward) Island. He took his duties on the Island seriously and apparently carried them out well, but he was required to return to Nova Scotia in 1769 when the Island became a separate colony.

The 1770s saw Deschamps plunge into a new round of official tasks. Named second assistant judge of the Supreme Court on 24 May 1770, four years later he became one of the three judges of the newly created Court of Exchequer. Between 1770 and 1783 he represented Newport Township in the assembly, and also acted as clerk of the house. On the local scene, Deschamps served as a trustee for school lands at Horton, Falmouth, and Newport, and a prime mover in the establishment of a chapel at Windsor in 1771. The onset of the American revolution brought new duties: in 1776 he was made barrack master at Fort Edward, and on 27 August of the same year he became first assistant judge of the Supreme Court. In 1781 he was appointed a justice of the peace and judge of probate in Hants County.

Deschamps was elevated to the Council in 1783, but his many duties, some involving the settlement of loyalists, prevented him from attending more than a quarter of its meetings. His connections with the Council allowed him to acquire two large grants in 1784, one at Windsor and the other in Cumberland County, but there is no evidence that he made illicit profits from such patronage.

On the death of Chief Justice Bryan Finucane in August 1785, Deschamps, as senior judge, became acting chief justice. Although he had not received any legal training, he had had years of experience in various courts and had entered in his diary extensive notes on previous decisions. Nevertheless, Deschamps and his colleague James Brenton had an all but impossible task in trying to provide biannual circuit courts in six townships throughout the province. Accusations of partiality against the judges, and the assembly’s own dissatisfaction with their performance, led the house in 1787 to request of Lieutenant Governor John Parr* and the Council an investigation into the judges’ behaviour. Thus started the so-called “judges’ affair” [see James Brenton]. During the dispute lawyers Jonathan Sterns and William Taylor published letters early in 1788 attacking both the Supreme Court and the Council, and Deschamps struck their names from the roll of attorneys for contempt of court. Despite the appointment of Jeremy Pemberton as chief justice the same year, the “judges’ affair” flared up again in 1790 when the assembly impeached Brenton and Deschamps. The Privy Council heard the case early in 1792 and, although it cleared the judges of all but having “mistaken the Law” in a few instances, it recommended that the position of chief justice be held by a person fully trained in the law.

During the latter part of his life Deschamps was plagued by personal difficulties. Not only did three grandchildren die between 1776 and 1778, and his daughter-in-law in 1779, but he was also saddened by the deaths of his wife’s orphaned nephews. During the late 1780s a Halifax newspaper published an excerpt from a French book which made what Deschamps considered to be accusations about his role in the expulsion of the Acadians. With Richard Bulkeley* he wrote a refutation of the offending piece, but he had to face the problem again in 1790 when the Nova-Scotia Magazine republished the excerpt. Two years later only Deschamps’s last-minute appeal to the Council saved his son George from being branded a public debtor and imprisoned, but his undertaking to pay his son’s debts proved too ambitious and he was forced to ask that they be liquidated in yearly instalments of £50. By this time Deschamps’s activities had become more limited, although as late as 1799 he accepted an appointment as road commissioner for Kings County. His wife had died in April 1798 after a long illness, and three years later Deschamps himself died at the age of 79.

Isaac Deschamps had a long and busy life in Nova Scotia, and few spoke ill of him. In the middle of the “judges’ affair” a correspondent to the Nova-Scotia Gazette and the Weekly Chronicle commented, “A Gentleman of a more tender and benevolent Heart than Justice Deschamps, does not at this Day exist in Nova-Scotia.” Deschamps’s honesty can hardly be questioned: in a day when many profited from patronage open to them, he left only a tiny estate. Kindly and compassionate to all persons, he was an untiring public servant, and it is noteworthy that there were so few complaints about his work in so many commissions and duties. One of his wife’s nieces remembered Isaac and Sarah Deschamps as “of hospitable dispositions, polite and agreeable manners, of easy fortunes . . . surrounded by numerous . . . friends and acquaintances, who loved and honored them; while the humble classes . . . many of whom largely shared their bounty as well as their sympathy in the welfare or afflictions to which . . . they were subject – loved, respected and prayed for them.” The description is a suitable tribute to a man who, at the same time, played a significant public role as an official in the early days of British settlement in Nova Scotia.

Grace M. Tratt

BL, Add. mss 19069, 19071–73 (transcripts at PANS). Dalhousie Univ. Arch. (Halifax), MS 2-164, Isaac Deschamps, diaries. Halifax County Court of Probate (Halifax), D52 (will of Isaac Deschamps) (mfm. at PANS). Hants County Registry of Deeds (Windsor, N.S.), book 2: 48, 66, 74, 76; 3: 73, 76, 83, 94, 98, 103, 141, 217, 242, 267; 4: 22, 48, 127, 138, 178–79, 203, 302–3A, 304–5; 5: 145; 6: 189, 212 (mfm. at PANS). N.S., Dept. of Lands and Forests (Halifax), Crown land grants, book 2: 53; 3: 191; 4: 100, 243; 7: 194; 15: 63 (mfm. at PANS); Halifax allotment book, index: 40, 56, 126, 176, 372 (mfm. at PANS). PANS, MG 1, 258; 281: 5; 731A-B; 828; MG 9, no.109; MG 100, 134: 97–100 (Isaac Deschamps, “Description of agricultural systems of the Acadian French in their system of dyking”); RG 1, 35, doc.1; 51: 296–97; 135; 163–69; 204: 14–15; 209–14; RG 39; C, 1. Acadiensia Nova (1598–1779): new and unpublished documents relating to Acadia . . . , ed. W. I. Morse (2v., London, 1935), 1:45–47. “The case of the Acadians stated,” Nova-Scotia Magazine (Halifax), 2 (January–June 1790): 287–89. [Nova Scotia archives, I:] Selections from the public documents of the province of Nova Scotia, ed. T. B. Akins and trans. Benjamin Curren (Halifax, 1869). [G.-T.-R.] Raynal, “Historical account of Nova-Scotia,” Nova-Scotia Magazine, 2 (January–June 1790): 82–87. [Stephen Skinner], “Diary of Stephen Skinner, 1783–1787,” PANS, Board of Trustees, Report (Halifax), 1974: 23. [John Winslow], “Journal of Colonel John Winslow of the provincial troops, while engaged in removing the Acadian French inhabitants from Grand Pre . . . ,” N.S. Hist. Soc., Coll., 3 (1883): 165. Nova-Scotia Gazette and the Weekly Chronicle, 25 March 1788. Nova Scotia Royal Gazette, 3 April 1798, 4 July 1809. Directory of N.SMLAs. S. E. Titcomb, Early New England people; some account of the Ellis, Pemberton, Willard, Prescott, Titcomb, Sewall and Longfellow, and allied families (Boston, 1882). Akins, Hist. of Halifax City. Arsenault, Hist. et généal. des Acadiens (1965), 1: 167. Brebner, Neutral Yankees (1937). Duncan Campbell, Nova Scotia, in its historical, mercantile and industrial relations (Montreal, 1873). “Family of Deschamps,” [William Courthope], Memoir of Daniel Chamier, minister of the reformed church, with notices of his descendants (London, 1852), 56–91. G. V. Shand, Historic Hants County (n.p., 1979). L. F. S. Upton, Micmacs and colonists: Indian-white relations in the Maritimes, 1713–1867 (Vancouver, 1979). F.-J. Audet, “Isaac Deschamps (1772–1801),” BRH, 41 (1935): 175–78. Margaret Ells, “Nova Scotian ‘Sparks of liberty,’” Dalhousie Rev., 16 (1936–37): 475–92. Hants Journal (Windsor), 23 Dec. 1974: 3. R. E. Kroll, “Confines, wards, and dungeons,” N.S. Hist. Soc., Coll., 40 (1980): 93–107. G. V. Shand, “Windsor, a centre of shipbuilding,” N.S. Hist. Soc., Coll., 37 (1970): 39–65.

General Bibliography

Cite This Article

Grace M. Tratt, “DESCHAMPS, ISAAC,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 5, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed May 21, 2024, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/deschamps_isaac_5E.html.

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Permalink:   http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/deschamps_isaac_5E.html
Author of Article:   Grace M. Tratt
Title of Article:   DESCHAMPS, ISAAC
Publication Name:   Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 5
Publisher:   University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication:   1983
Year of revision:   1983
Access Date:   May 21, 2024