GUY, PIERRE, militia officer, merchant, and landowner; b. 11 Dec. 1738 in Montreal (Que.), son of Pierre Guy* and Jeanne Truillier, dit Lacombe; m. 1 May 1764 his cousin Marie-Josephte Hervieux, under-age daughter of the late Louis-François Hervieux* and Louise Quesnel Fonblanche; d. 7 Jan. 1812 in Montreal, Lower Canada.
Pierre Guy, who lost his father when he was nine, was educated at the Petit Séminaire de Québec, and at La Rochelle, in France. He then came back to New France; having been made an ensign in the militia in May 1755, he took part in the Seven Years’ War. Following the conquest Mme Guy, who had managed the family business since her husband’s death, sent young Pierre to France with instructions to attend, among other things, to settling her affairs with merchants in La Rochelle. Between 1761 and 1763 she terminated her dealings with the merchants Jean Pascaud, Paillet, and Meynardie, entrusting her funds and any of her merchandise that remained in storage to the firm of Denis Goguet*, “the best and safest house in La Rochelle,” according to her son. In his letters to Mme Guy, Goguet, like Paillet and Meynardie, never tired of praising the exemplary conduct of Pierre, who was steadily pursuing his studies with teachers he had chosen.
Guy, who had hopes that Quebec would be restored to France, was soon faced with sad reality. As he was obliged in consequence to entrust his mother’s interests to an English firm, he sought information from Goguet about Daniel Vialars, a Huguenot merchant established in London. Before leaving for England, Guy, who no longer thought it would be possible to ship his mother’s merchandise to the colony, had written to her that he had had to resign himself to selling it at a 25 per cent loss. When he reached England in May 1763, he congratulated himself on this deal, since the merchants who were then letting their merchandise go were suffering losses running to 40 per cent.
During his stay in London Guy bought nothing because he considered prices too high. In addition he felt that the glut of English products on the Canadian market would force merchants there to offer discounts. In 1763 he returned to Montreal and set himself up as a merchant. Three years later he received from his mother 15,315 livres in merchandise coming to him from his father’s estate. He had already obtained from his father-in-law’s estate 42,628 livres in bills of exchange and payment orders and 500 livres in a single bill of exchange. On 26 Sept. 1768 he received from that estate a further sum of 6,292 livres, this time in cash. On 16 June 1770 he noted in a day-book that on the orders of his wife’s aunt he had been credited by Goguet with 35,365 livres for the rest of his father-in-law’s estate. That year Guy also inherited about 23,000 livres on his mother’s death.
The make-up of Guy’s initial capital influenced his activities as a merchant. For want of a large supply of cash in the period 1764–69, and possibly because of a greater interest in landed property, he had to content himself with handling relatively small business affairs, and he bought little in London, preferring to obtain goods through merchants in Montreal and Quebec. Vialars, who at Guy’s request in 1765 was not to send him his order until negotiations on Canada paper were completed, delivered merchandise to him but neglected to provide a detailed account of the state of his affairs. Guy was greatly displeased to learn that this firm had traded only part of his paper. On 14 Nov. 1768 Guy gave Vialars to understand that he might sue him if his orders were not respected and that if Vialars wanted to be paid, he had to send him full statements of his account. At that point, however, his bills of exchange and payment orders were liquidated. Indeed, on 1 Sept. 1767, 13,165 livres of an initial sum of 42,628 livres had been paid into Guy’s account.
From 1770 to 1774 Guy’s business prospects brightened. He was now able to buy more dry goods from London, especially textiles and clothing. Through the agency of Jean Vienne, a Montreal merchant, he entered into relations with the firm of Thomas Linch in 1772. Having built himself a house with spacious vaulted cellars the previous year, he offered to sell trade goods on commission for Daniel Vialars and his son Antoine. They accepted and continued their association with him until 1774, when Antoine Vialars came to Montreal. As the Vialars had been slow to send the statement of Guy’s current account, he had not been able to pay what he owed them promptly and was charged five per cent interest on the balance due. Feeling himself wronged, Guy refused to pay the interest. In the end he obtained satisfaction in October 1774, through a compromise deemed fair by both parties.
Guy was one of the twelve prominent citizens who on 12 Nov. 1775 signed the act of capitulation of Montreal, which was occupied by American troops under Richard Montgomery*. The following year his store was pillaged by some of the invaders. He estimated that he had lost £129 in merchandise. After the Americans had retreated, he turned his mind to replenishing his stocks. He bought goods worth more than £1,855 from the firm of Brook Watson and Robert Rashleigh in London. Subsequently the precarious state of international trade, the increased cost of merchandise and insurance, and perhaps an excess of prudence led him year after year to cancel his purchases from that company. From then on he obtained his supplies from merchants in Montreal and Quebec.
Between 1766 and 1777 Guy had made purchases amounting to more than £4,880 from London firms; this figure represented but half of the market value of his imports, which largely consisted of textiles and clothing. During that period he had had occasion to complain many a time: the products received did not necessarily match what he had asked for; he was charged higher prices than other merchants; orders were shipped to third parties, who forwarded them after long delays; his invoices and statements of account contained errors detrimental to his interests. Guy therefore kept a watchful eye on his affairs, and hence was extremely demanding of his suppliers.
Guy’s commercial activities extended far beyond the usual run of business. Although he had not engaged much in the fur trade on his own account, he had collaborated with Jacques Baby*, dit Dupéront, and François Baby, who were in business at Detroit and Quebec respectively. Guy served as middleman for the two brothers. François forwarded the merchandise needed for the fur trade to Montreal. From there Guy saw that it was sent to Detroit. Jacques sent the furs to Guy, who followed the instructions given him to verify the contents of the packages, pay the men working for the Babys, and arrange for the furs to be stored.
As a landowner Guy had houses and land in the town of Montreal and in the suburbs. Between 1766 and 1768, for example, he bought the Ranger and La Bourgogne lands in the faubourg Saint-Antoine and the faubourg Saint-Joseph for 12,805 livres. The La Bourgogne property, which was encumbered with payments owing to the Séminaire de Saint-Sulpice, brought Guy into conflict with the seminary’s superior, Étienne Montgolfier*, over extinguishing these payments. Unable to reach a compromise with Montgolfier, Guy had to make them for 12 years. As a result of this misadventure he became extremely distrustful in business matters and was prompted to act with caution when dealing with the seminary.
Guy nevertheless devoted much of the money earmarked for extinguishing the payments on La Bourgogne to putting his two farms back into shape. He purchased agricultural implements, repaired the farm buildings, and had the land fenced, cleared of trees and stones, and manured. Then he increased his development capital and invested large sums to make the farms profitable. In the period from 1774 to 1781 there was a real scarcity of hay, an essential commodity for the army. Guy took the opportunity to put most of his farmland into hay. When the price dropped, he again diversified production. Since, given his storage for crops, he could speculate on prices, he found that slumps in farming and crop failures were advantageous and enabled him to make substantial profits in some years. The greater part of the income his farms produced came from his hayfields and orchards, which he managed himself as owner. He received supplementary income from market-gardening, growing grain, and raising livestock – cattle, sheep, horses, and poultry. For this work he sometimes used hired hands or tenant farmers, and often both together.
Beginning in the 1790s Guy bought other lands in the faubourg Saint-Joseph and the faubourg Saint-Antoine, and on the Coteau Saint-Louis; he also bought a few lots on Rue Saint-Éloy, Rue Saint-Laurent, and Rue Saint-François. From his wife he had acquired a site on the Place du Marché which he exchanged for half of a house belonging to his sister on Rue Saint-Paul.
Guy’s case illustrates well the economic choices open to the Canadian petite bourgeoisie under the British régime. If his real estate purchases would serve to build up the family estate that he was bent on bequeathing to his children, they also fitted in with investment and development goals. The attention that he gave to improving the Ranger and La Bourgogne lands and the exemplary way in which he managed to run them leave no doubt about his capitalistic and enterprising spirit. Consequently, only after he assured himself that the money he had put into real estate was earning a profit did he turn from the general store inherited from his parents, and even then he did not give it up completely. This evolution became more evident during the War of American Independence, a period which gave him the opportunity to benefit from his production, so that when peace returned his preoccupations as a farming entrepreneur clearly took precedence over his other activities.
The rationality of this choice cannot be analysed solely in terms of a personal option without obscuring the impact that the conquest had had upon the import trade from Europe organized by his father under the French régime and continued by his mother until the end of the Seven Years’ War. Personal inclination and interest in real estate investments were assuredly not the only factors leading to the transformation of his parents’ trading house into an ordinary retail business that was up against the competition of the rising bourgeoisie. The constraints imposed by the British merchants’ stranglehold on commercial exchanges between the colony and the mother country were too keenly felt by Guy for them not to enter into his decision.
Guy had become aware of the consequences of the separation from France while still a young man. As he was living there when the Treaty of Paris was concluded in 1763, he experienced the effects of the complete breaking off of trade. He was obliged to liquidate the goods held by his mother on consignment in the port of La Rochelle and thenceforth had to turn to new suppliers in London. Belonging to a social milieu directly affected by the change of mother country and experiencing the difficulties in resuming commercial operations within a new imperial framework, he was prompted, once back in the colony, to strengthen his ties with his compatriots of the Canadian petite bourgeoisie. Through his marriage with his cousin he was related to a family of merchants involved in the same business network as his father and father-in-law had been.
Guy’s concerns were not confined to the realities of the new economic situation; he soon was made aware of the social and political problems engendered by the establishment of a civil government for the province under the British régime. In the autumn of 1764, after the Quebec grand jury affair had prompted the first serious confrontation with representatives of the English-speaking minority over the fundamental issue of the conquered people’s rights [see James Johnston*], Guy made common cause with his compatriots in Quebec town; in an address initiated by the Canadian members of the grand jury they appealed to the “kindness and sense of justice” of the new king, George III. Guy’s support on this occasion seems especially noteworthy since few French-speaking Montrealers followed his example, except for the members of his wife’s familet the cause was crucial for the future of the new British subjects, as their first political manifesto declared. “What would become of the general prosperity of the Colony, if those who form the principal section thereof, become incapable members of it through difference of Religion?” they demanded. From this principled position, Guy would support and then promote his compatriots’ rights until recognition by the imperial government was attained. If at a period prior to 1774 he limited his solidarity to supporting their petitions, after the American revolution he engaged in militant activity to obtain constitutional reforms.
Until the Quebec Act the intransigent attitude of the Protestant minority prevented any political alliance between the members of the Canadian petite bourgeoisie and the British merchants. Since, according to Guy, the demands of the latter were “entirely opposed to ours,” any attempt at reconciliation was futile and the new subjects were obliged to make “separate representations.” These took the form of a petition and memorial to the king which the leading citizens of Montreal signed early in the autumn of 1773. In addition to requesting that their former laws and customs be retained, they begged their “generous sovereign” to preserve “the glorious title of sovereign of a free people” by granting them “in common with your other subjects, the rights and privileges of citizens of England.” François Baby, Guy’s friend, was given the mission of going to London to plead with the ministry “the common cause” of all the Canadians.
The leading representatives of Montreal society, drawn from both the merchant and professional petite bourgeoisie and the seigneurial class, rallied to the “common cause,” but the behaviour of some of the seigneurs after assent had been given to the Quebec Act made Guy indignant. Seeing them act like perfect courtiers of the colonial administration, he confided to Baby: “I believe that they seek rather to secure protection of people in high places for themselves than to show themselves patriots and to inform the government of what might be conducive to the people’s happiness and the encouragement of trade.” To which his Quebec confidant replied: “It is probable, as you have pointed out to me, that your [Montreal] politicians and ours have given more thought to their own interest and worked more for it than for the good of the public. . . . I very much fear the time is not far off when Canadians will not be able to console themselves for having asked for the new form of government.” But unlike Baby, who, once in the Legislative Council, adapted to the system of government set up under the Quebec Act, Guy remained true to his principles and to the interests of the Canadian petite bourgeoisie. Not only did he disapprove of the régime of favours and privileges granted to the seigneurial élite; he was also indignant at the abuses of power by the colonial government, which, when it was under the tutelage of governors Guy Carleton and Frederick Haldimand, was labelled the “system of the generals” by people at the time.
Nothing was more instrumental in demonstrating the need for constitutional reform than experience of that system, which was kept in place until the end of the War of American Independence by the critical revolutionary situation. The British merchants hastened to assert themselves as soon as peace had returned, but the Canadian petite bourgeoisie waited until Governor Haldimand left before following their example by endorsing openly the plan for reforms put forward by Pierre Du Calvet* in his noted indictment, Appel à la justice de l’État; ou recueil de lettres au roi, au prince de Galles, et aux ministres; avec une lettre à messieurs les Canadiens, . . . une lettre au général Haldimand lui-même; enfin une lettre à milord Sidney (London, 1784). Guy was one of the most active and fervent members of this reform movement which rallied the English – and French-speaking bourgeois forces about its main objective, the setting up of an assembly “made up, without distinction, of old and new subjects.” Judging by the militancy that he displayed until the advent of the 1791 constitution, Guy may be considered to have had the interest of the public at heart and to have devoted himself to this cause as a “true patriot and friend of humanity,” as notary Jean De Lisle, a compatriot and fellow Montrealer, put it.
Guy also devoted much of his energy to the militia. On 3 May 1787 Lord Dorchester [Guy Carleton] commissioned him lieutenant-colonel of the Canadian militia raised in the town of Montreal. Fifteen years later, on 21 April 1802, Sir Robert Shore Milnes*, lieutenant governor of Lower Canada, granted him a commission as colonel of Montreal’s 2nd Militia Battalion.
Guy and his wife had 14 children, of whom five reached adulthood. They seem to have had little contact with the children in infancy, entrusting them rather to nurses. This practice probably explains the apparently detached and laconic notes Guy wrote in his ledger on their deaths and the cost of burying them, and also the itemized account he kept for each home where they were nursed. Yet he was not always so unfeeling in the presence of death, and he was far from devoid of paternal affection. When his eldest son died at the age of six, he confided his pain and sorrow to François Baby, observing that Baby “did not yet know how sad it is to lose children of that age. And nothing teaches us better not to spoil them and love them too much, regrets are [then] less intense.”
As a new British subject Guy thought his children’s education and future could not be assured unless they knew English. He therefore sent his sons Louis* and Étienne to study at the College of New Jersey, in Princeton. The youngest son, Joseph, who was a poor student, did not go there for further education. He signed on to work as a clerk at Michilimackinac (Mackinac Island, Mich.) in 1798. Guy was somewhat anxious about letting him go. He penned innumerable letters reiterating a great many edifying recommendations. He explained that a man should “be more pleased with what he earns than with what he inherits.” In 1802 Joseph returned to Montreal, rented a store from his father on the Place du Marché, and set up for himself. Two years later he opened a second store at Michilimackinac, but his ventures were far from flourishing. Soon he was short of cash and could not pay his creditors. Being very attached to his family and aware that his life was drawing to a close, Guy longed to leave the surviving members happet he was to be an impotent observer of the blighted hopes of his youngest son. Joseph concentrated his business at Michilimackinac, but he went bankrupt and left for a self-imposed exile in Baltimore, Md. There he vegetated in a clerical job. He no longer dared even to write to his father, knowing the hurt he had inflicted on him. His hope was that the legacy coming to him at his father’s death would put an end to his exile by enabling him to pay his creditors.
However, when Pierre Guy drew up his will some days before his death in 1812, he decided otherwise. His assets were divided into five equal shares. Those going to Louis and Étienne were encumbered with two life annuities of 600 livres each, to be paid annually to their sisters until they were provided for by marriage or in some other way. Anxious to prevent Joseph from being deprived of his heritage by his creditors, he took all possible steps to ensure that his share would be immune from seizure, and in so doing he condemned his son to a lifetime of exile. For it was Joseph’s children who would inherit; their father would receive only the usufruct from the legacy.
ANQ-M, CE1-51, 11 déc. 1738, 30 avril 1764, 23 déc. 1765, 30 oct. 1770, 9 janv. 1812; CN1-290, 4 avril, 8 oct. 1766; 6 déc. 1770; CN1-363, 4 juin 1785. AUM, P 58, A1/22, 58, 158; A2/19, 23; A3/62; A4/60; A5/252, 271; C2/157, 165; 62/113, 124, 128, 133, 154, 192; H3/21; P1/19, 28, 43; P2/55–56, 82; U, Goguet à Mme Guy, 8 févr. 1762; Pierre Guy, reg. 37; Paillet et Meynardie à Mme Guy, 28 févr. 1762, 15 mars 1763; Pascaud à Mme Guy, 1er mai 1761. PAC, MG 23, GV, 7: 49. Docs. relating to constitutional hist., 1759–91 (Shortt and Doughty; 1918), 1: 223–26, 504–6, 508–10. Montréal en 1781 . . . , Claude Perrault, édit. (Montréal, 1969). F.-J. Audet, Les députés de Montréal, 226, 228–29, 354. Louise Dechêne, Habitants et marchands de Montréal au XVIIe siècle (Paris et Montréal, 1974). J. E. Igartua, “The merchants and négociants of Montreal, 1750–1775: a study in socio-economic history” (phd thesis, Mich. State Univ., East Lansing, 1974). Miquelon, “Baby family.” Neatby, Quebec, 23–24, 73, 132–33, 145, 239, 247. Benjamin Sulte, Histoire de la milice canadienne-française, 1760–1897 (Montréal, 1897). F.-J. Audet, “1842,” Cahiers des Dix, 7 (1942): 215–54. J. E. Igartua, “The merchants of Montreal at the conquest: socio-economic profile,” SH, 8 (1975): 275–93. Jacques Mathieu, “Un négociant de Québec à l’époque de la Conquête: Jacques Perrault l’ainé,” ANQ Rapport, 1970: 27–82.
© 1983–2023 University of Toronto/Université Laval
Cite This Article
Ginette Joannette and Claire Joron, “GUY, PIERRE (1738-1812),” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 5, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed March 25, 2023, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/guy_pierre_1738_1812_5E.html.
The citation above shows the format for footnotes and endnotes according to the Chicago manual of style (16th edition). Information to be used in other citation formats:
|Author of Article:||Ginette Joannette and Claire Joron|
|Title of Article:||GUY, PIERRE (1738-1812)|
|Publication Name:||Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 5|
|Publisher:||University of Toronto/Université Laval|
|Year of publication:||1983|
|Year of revision:||1983|
|Access Date:||March 25, 2023|