MERCURE, LOUIS, army officer, courier, guide, and settler; b. 11 May 1753 in Port-La-Joie (Fort Amherst, P.E.I.), son of Joseph Mercure and Ann-Marie Bergeaux, née Gautier, dit Bellair; m. c. 1773 Madeleine Thibodeau, and they had one son, Louis-Michel; d. June 1816 and was buried 8 Dec. 1817 in Saint-Basile, N.B.
Louis Mercure came from a family with a strong military tradition and reasons to resent the British régime. His parental grandfather, François Mercure, had been a captain in the colonial regular troops in Canada, as was his own father, and his maternal grandfather, Joseph-Nicolas Gautier*, dit Bellair, had lost all his possessions as a penalty for fighting the British in Nova Scotia. The family left Île Saint-Jean to escape deportation and moved to Quebec, where their presence was recorded in the 1760s at Sainte-Anne-de-la-Pérade (La Pérade), near Quebec, and in the Kamouraska area on the south shore of the St Lawrence. By 1774 Louis had married and was living at Sainte-Anne (near Fredericton, N.B.).
The military tradition proved stronger than any resentment against the English, and during the American revolution Louis joined the British army, becoming a lieutenant in Lieutenant-Colonel Robert Rogers*’s King’s Rangers, a unit that was never fully embodied and saw no action. By 1780 Mercure was employed as a courier and guide travelling between Halifax, N.S., Penobscot (Castine, Maine), and Quebec with military dispatches. According to Madawaskan tradition, he was on one occasion nearly killed by Indians and owed his escape to knowledge of their language and customs. In 1782 he was sent by General Frederick Haldimand, governor of Quebec, to report on the progress of the new military road between Halifax and Quebec. Louis and his brother Michel, also a courier, must have been exceptionally skilled, for Haldimand’s correspondence contains frequent references to the expense of their services and the difficulty of finding anyone to replace them.
The Mercures apparently profited considerably as couriers: for one trip between Halifax and Quebec in 1782, Louis claimed 100 dollars, and was paid 80. They evidently also took advantage of the army authorities. One officer maintained that the brothers carried letters for merchants while on army business, and that Louis had an agreement with the Canadian canoemen to cheat those he was guiding and share the profits. However, complaints of overcharging eventually ceased, and by the end of the war the Mercures were in favour with both Haldimand and Governor John Parr* of Nova Scotia.
The Mercure brothers had acquired land in the area that was to become Fredericton, N.B. Louis may have originally settled in the central part of the future town, but by 1780 he was installed at the mouth of the Keswick River near his brother. By July 1783 he had a good house and 12 acres of land cleared. The commissioners who reported his situation to Brigade-Major Gilfred Studholme* recommended him for special consideration when lands were laid out along the Saint John River for loyalist settlers. He had a mill on the Keswick by 1784 and that year, in response to his requests and as a special mark of favour, Parr gave him 200 acres on nearby Bagweet (Lower Shores) Island.
Because he was in official favour and was able to write fluently, Louis became a spokesman for the small group of French settlers in the area, many of whom lacked title to their land. In 1783 he had told Haldimand that a number of Acadians wished to go to Quebec, in order to worship freely. Haldimand wanted to settle them on the Saint John, above Grand Falls, so that they could protect the military road to Quebec, but no action was taken to move them there. In 1785 Mercure wrote to Major Samuel Johannes Holland, surveyor general of Quebec, asking for the land in the Madawaska region that Haldimand had suggested for him and 24 heads of families. He must have made a similar request to Thomas Carleton, governor of the newly established province of New Brunswick, which also claimed this border region, since on 21 June 1785 Carleton and his council gave him permission to settle the petitioners on land of their choice in the Madawaska region. Each family could claim 200 acres. Both Mercure brothers left for Madawaska and took up land on the north bank of the Saint John River between the Iroquois and Madawaska rivers.
Louis retained a position of some authority during the early years of the settlement. In 1786 he wrote to Carleton asking for permission to assign land to Canadians entering the region, and to single men between 16 and 25 years of age “in like manner as to fathers of families on condition that they improve them.” The following year he reported to Jonathan Odell, provincial secretary of New Brunswick, on the cultivation of lots. However, his influence in Fredericton was waning: he was told that petitioners for land must apply directly to the government, and Odell asked Surveyor General George Sproule to speed up the designation of lots, because he suspected Mercure and his friends of taking the best land, regardless of the claims of others.
Apparently no official position was given to Mercure in either the civil or the militia establishment of Madawaska. Carleton wanted him to be a magistrate, but as a Catholic he was not willing to take the necessary oath of allegiance. In spite of his convictions, he apparently took no part in the negotiations for a church and a resident priest. In the early 1790s disputes arose between the militia officers, jointly appointed by Quebec and New Brunswick since it was not clear which province controlled the area, and the magistrate, Thomas Costin, appointed by New Brunswick. Mercure’s continuing authority was shown when Costin tried to enlist his help with a letter, supposedly from Sproule, asking Mercure to arrange the election of new militia officers. Mercure was elected himself, but his office was never officially recognized; Lieutenant Governor Carleton denied that militia elections could have taken place in New Brunswick, where, as elsewhere in British North America, militia officers were appointed by government. Although Mercure in his turn proceeded to criticize Costin, the dispute was eventually smoothed over. Costin told Edward Winslow, a member of the New Brunswick Council, that those who opposed him were trying to make Madawaska part of Lower Canada. Mercure’s views on this boundary dispute were never clarified, but he received no more favours from the New Brunswick government.
Mercure did try to move to Lower Canada; he made several applications after 1791 for the land grant due to a former lieutenant there. Since there are no references to his presence in Madawaska between 1800 and his burial in 1817, it may be that he took up residence in Lower Canada, returning late in life. It is also possible that he died in Lower Canada and that his brother and son had his remains reinterred at Saint-Basile.
Mercure has been seen by the American historian Charles Collins as a victim of English persecution who should have desired to join the United States, but the New Brunswick historian William Odber Raymond* has shown that Mercure had at least been far more fortunate than many other Acadians in his dealings with government. He was able to work with the British authorities, and used his position and education to gain personal advantage from the régime. His leadership in the Acadian community depended on his literacy and on government favour. When the favour was withdrawn, leadership passed to others in the community.
BL, Add. mss 21810 (mfm. at UNBL). CÉA, Fonds Placide Gaudet, 1.33-8, 1.33-9, 1.33-11, 1.33-12, 1.33-13, 1.33-20, 1.69-6. PAC, MG 30. C5. 1: 28, 33. 35, 38, 96, 124, 169; 2: 24, 35; 3: 40, 176 (transcripts; mfm. at PANB). PANB, RG1, RS330, A2, no.26; A3, no.21 (copies at UNBL). PRO, CO 188/2: 105–10 (photocopies at UNBL). “Sunbury County documents,” N.B. Hist. Soc., Coll., 1 (1894–97), no.1: 100–18. Thomas Albert, Histoire du Madawaska d’après les recherches historiques de Patrick Therriault et les notes manuscrites de Prudent L. Mercure (Québec, 1920). Antoine Bernard, Histoire de la survivance acadienne, 1755–1935 (Montréal, 1935). C. W. Collins, The Acadians of Madawaska, Maine (Boston, 1902). [W. O.] Raymond, “The first governor of New Brunswick and the Acadians of the River Saint John,” RSC Trans., 3rd ser., 8 (1914), sect.ii: 415–52.