LARCHER, NICOLAS, merchant and colonial official; b. 18 June 1722 at Paris, France, son of Henri-Michel Larcher and Marie-Anne Marinier; d. 27 Dec. 1788 at Paris.
Nicolas Larcher arrived in Quebec in 1747 as his father’s agent in the shipping trade, but by 1751 he had moved to Louisbourg, Île Royale (Cape Breton Island), which he had visited earlier. There his association with Jacques Prevost de La Croix, the financial commissary, proved to be a useful business connection. Dissatisfied with the quality of materials sent from the royal stores at Rochefort, Prevost began to order directly from the Larchers. He also authorized Larcher to seek grain in New England when a shortage threatened Île Royale in 1752. By 1753 Larcher had built a house, storehouses, and a large wharf on a property he owned just outside the town walls. An interest in a fishing property at Petit Degrat (Petit-de-Grat Island, N.S.), which employed 39 Basque fishermen in 1752, provided Larcher with supplies of dried cod for export to Europe or the West Indies. He travelled to France most winters, leaving a clerk to superintend his affairs.
Prevost’s support made Larcher unpopular with the financial commissary’s many enemies, particularly the governor, Jean-Louis de Raymond. Larcher’s quick financial success and New England mercantile connections also brought criticism. In 1753 Raymond charged that Larcher’s wharf and storehouses might be used for foreign trade, a complaint echoed in 1754 by the minister of Marine, Antoine-Louis Rouillé. Later in 1753 some Saint-Malo merchants cited Larcher as an example of the Louisbourg merchants who were trying to drive metropolitan shippers from Île Royale by undercutting prices with cheaper New England goods.
Neither charge is entirely credible. Raymond in fact supported an increase in the foreign trade that Île Royale was authorized to conduct. In the 1750s this trade with the British American colonies, particularly Massachusetts, formed about 20 per cent of Île Royale’s commerce and involved all important Louisbourg merchants. In attacking Larcher, Raymond may have been indulging Rouillé’s suspicions of foreign links at the expense of an associate of his rival Prevost. The complaint of the Saint-Malo merchants may be related to the competition for West Indian markets between Île Royale cod and the French and Irish salt beef exported by the Malouins. The Saint-Malo traders never abandoned their trade with Île Royale, however, and they did not compete directly with the New Englanders there. Saint-Malo sent preserved foods, cloth, liquor, wine, manufactures, and salt to Louisbourg, while the British colonies sent ships, building supplies, and fresh foods. In any case, the specific complaints of the Saint-Malo merchants ring hollow. How could Larcher, a recent immigrant and a member of a Paris firm, be considered a colonial out to wreck the metropolitan trade? Despite their professed concern for the “poor inhabitants in a harsh slavery,” the Saint-Malo merchants’ prime purpose was to promote their own interests by casting suspicion on their competitors.
Despite his detractors and his brief residence at Île Royale, Larcher was one of four acting councillors appointed to the Conseil Supérieur in September 1754, probably by Prevost. The appointment, made permanent on 1 June 1755, may have been partly an attempt to strengthen the legal competence of the council. Larcher was frequently assigned to investigate complex civil and criminal cases and his detailed briefs suggest a knowledge of commercial law and a bent for analysis.
In the mid 1750s Larcher diversified his business interests by adding local industrial projects to his import-export trade. He opened a sawmill on a tributary of the Rivière de Miré (Mira River) and took over the contract for the annual supply of 12,000 large barrels (barriques) of coal to the Louisbourg garrison. Both these projects, as well as a small farm, were supervised by his associate Antoine Rodrigue, who may have initiated their development before selling to Larcher. In 1756 and 1757 Larcher supplied the required amount of coal, chartering many coastal vessels to carry it from Glace Bay and Mordienne (Port Morien) to Louisbourg. In 1758 over 16,000 large barrels were reported mined, but war and blockade prevented shipments to Louisbourg. Industry had not replaced trade in Larcher’s interests, however, and he continued shipping goods to Quebec and France, partly under government contracts.
When Louisbourg capitulated on 26 July 1758, Larcher’s North American activities ended. He had been remarkably successful. In 1752 his Petit Degrat fishery was capable of producing cod worth perhaps 35,000 livres annually, and the coal sales were worth a minimum of 50,000 livres a year. His shipping, lumbering, farming, and other business interests resist evaluation, but his claim that the fall of Île Royale cost him a business worth 250,000 livres does not seem exaggerated, and the variety of his investments in Île Royale was unmatched. Larcher rejoined the family business in Paris, married, and appears to have been relatively prosperous, though he insisted on the continuation of his pension of 300 livres as a former councillor.
Larcher’s success in Île Royale is attributable to his access to the investment capital of his family in France, which enabled him to undertake ambitious projects. Yet Larcher differed from most French merchants in his willingness to commit both. his money and his energy to Île Royale. In 1758 he was essentially a local merchant because of his property and capital investment, his council appointment, and his local residence. Perhaps Louisbourg’s fall vindicated the metropolitans’ reluctance to invest in Île Royale, but Raymond had earlier pointed out how the colony might have been strengthened had more attempts been made to develop its land resources.
AMA, Inspection du Génie, Bibliothèque, mss in-fo, 210d, no.6. AN, Col., B, 99, p.260 (PAC transcript); 101, f.5; C11B, 19, ff.283–84v; 32, ff.155, 180, 192; 33, f.79; 38, f.307; C11C, 9, ff.202–5; E, 256 (dossier Nicolas Larcher), ff.11–13; F5B, art.14, f.79; Section Outre-mer, Dépôt des fortifications des colonies, Am. sept., no.139; G1, 466, no.84, f.21; G2, 204, dossier 470, f.89; 212, dossiers 551, 576–82, 584; G3, 2041/1, 25 oct. 1749, 18 oct. 1750, 16 déc. 1751; 2044, 16 déc. 1756. Archives de Paris, Reconstitution des actes de l’état civil de Paris, paroisse Saint-Jacques-de-la-Boucherie, 18 juin 1722; paroisse Merry, 27 déc. 1788. PAC Report, 1905, II, pt.i, 32. McLennan, Louisbourg. Christopher Moore, “Merchant trade in Louisbourg, Île Royale” (unpublished ma thesis, University of Ottawa, 1977).