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MONTMOLLIN, DAVID-FRANÇOIS DE, Church of England clergyman and landowner; baptized 18 March 1721 in Neuchâtel (Switzerland), son of Louis de Montmollin, office holder, and Salomé Gaudot; d. 17 Dec. 1803 at Quebec, Lower Canada.

David-François de Montmollin was the fifth of 11 children born into a family of the Neuchâtel minor rural aristocracy. His father held seats in the Grand Conseil and the Conseil Étroit, the governing bodies of Neuchâtel. David-François’s interests were not political, however; at age 17, a catechumen of the reformed church, he entered university at Basel, Switzerland, to study medicine. He seems to have completed his studies after three years. In 1744 he went to Leiden, Netherlands, where he was received into the Flemish church the following year. By 1748 he was in London, studying medicine. There on 2 June 1762 he married Jane Bell, and they would have five children, of whom three sons survived infancy.

In 1761 the Protestants of Quebec had petitioned for a French-speaking assistant to John Brooke*, the unofficial Anglican missionary there. Brooke hoped this man would “engage the Attention of those of the Popish Persuasion as well as secure the Approbation of the French Protestants that are here.” He still had not received an assistant by 1768, and it may have been decided that Brooke should be replaced by a French-speaking clergyman capable of ministering in English. Montmollin had become attached to the Huguenot parish of La Patente, Spitalfields (London). Like many London Huguenots, he had probably joined the Church of England; on 12 Feb. 1768 he was given a mandamus admitting him to the cure of Quebec. He may have owed the appointment to an influential connection; his mandamus pre-dated his ordination on 4 March by Bishop Richard Terrick of London, and he had been chosen for the post over Leger-Jean-Baptiste-Noël Veyssière*, even though Veyssière had the support of Francis Maseres*, attorney general of the province of Quebec. Montmollin arrived at Quebec, probably in June 1768, and soon encountered hostility from Governor Guy Carleton, who feared that the appointment of French-language ministers in the colony – Montmollin at Quebec, Veyssière at Trois-Rivières, and David Chabrand* Delisle at Montreal – would offend the Roman Catholic hierarchy. More specifically, Montmollin clashed with the governor over the accommodation of the Protestants at Quebec, complaining of their having to share the Recollet chapel with the Roman Catholics.

Montmollin’s congregation was extremely small, he wrote in August 1770. Of the 30 communicants in the city the most he had had at one service had been 15, and latterly he had been averaging only 3. The number of Protestants was diminishing rapidly, the French and many of the British leaving Quebec. Moreover, most Protestants in the city were Presbyterians who had their own minister, George Henry. The main problem, however, was a lack of zeal in the congregation, attributed by Montmollin to its ethnic diversity and to the previous nomadic existence of most of its members, which had left them without habits of church attendance.

Others, such as Henry Caldwell in 1775, Christian Daniel Claus* in 1782, and the Reverend John Doty the following year, felt that the problem at Quebec was symptomatic of a greater malaise; they ascribed the deplorable state of the Church of England in the colony to the policy of appointing French speaking clergy, who, they argued, knew little of the English language and less of Anglican rites. In 1785 the Reverend Charles Mongan was sent to Canada to investigate, and he forwarded to the British government an anonymous memorandum in which Montmollin was described as very old and unable to speak a word of plain English; worse, his private conduct was scandalous. “What opinion must the Canadians form of our religion,” it was asked, “when they daily see the Minister of it degrading the very name, by keeping a little dirty dram shop, and himself so scandalously indecent, as to measure out, & sell rum to the soldiers of the Garrison – And all this too in the Capital of the Province, the Seat of Government, and Residence of the french Bishop, & other dignified Clergy of that Church.” As a result of such complaints the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel recommended that the Reverend Philip Toosey*, a recent arrival in the colony, assist one of the French-speaking clergymen. When Toosey opted for Quebec, however, he was prevented from officiating regularly by Montmollin, who considered him an intruder.

By 1788 the complaints against the three French-language ministers had reached the ears of Charles Inglis, newly appointed bishop of Nova Scotia, with jurisdiction over the province of Quebec. He proposed to Carleton, now Lord Dorchester, that the French-language clergy remain titular rectors of their parishes, but be replaced effectively by English-language assistants; Dorchester recommended Toosey for such a position with respect to Montmollin. On 9 June 1789 Inglis arrived at Quebec to begin the first pastoral visit of the colony by an Anglican bishop. He found Montmollin totally unsuited to his post. There were no wardens or vestry in his parish, so that after 20 years of his ministry “the English were a number of detached individuals, wholly unorganized, and without any form of order or Government.” On 24 June he informed Montmollin of his wish that the rector retire. Although at least 68, Montmollin was horrified by the proposal and complained bitterly to Dorchester that it should even be entertained after his many years of service.

Montmollin’s principal fear was that his superannuation would deprive him of much-needed income, for he was heavily in debt. He had arrived at Quebec financially secure and possessed of rent-producing property in Switzerland. He also received a salary of £200 per annum and fees for his services to the regiments in garrison. On the other hand, the governor had refused to countenance his tithing the Catholics, and Montmollin had been unsuccessful in claiming Brooke’s position and salary as chaplain to the garrison, even though Brooke had had no intention of returning to Quebec. Montmollin had first moved into a house on Rue du Sault-au-Matelot, but at the end of October 1774 he bought for £500 a three-storey stone house on Rue Buade; at the end of the year he was renting out the lower floor to a merchant. By 1782 he was in a position to make a number of small loans, but the following year he began sliding into debt as a result of efforts to establish his sons in careers: John Frederick and John Samuel were to be dry-goods merchants, and Francis Godot an officer in the 60th Foot. Thus by 1789 Montmollin could not afford to retire; although Inglis had guaranteed his salary, he needed the fees received for religious services.

Dorchester, who was informed by Inglis that the general desire of the congregation was to have Montmollin replaced, refused to intercede on the latter’s behalf, and on 31 July 1789, after “a disagreeable scene,” Montmollin bowed to Inglis’s insistence that he retire. In return he exacted from the bishop a certificate of good character and conduct, although Inglis’s personal appreciation of him was mixed at best: “[Montmollin] had some zeal and his moral courage was pretty fair, but he did not understand the discipline or the usage of our Church. He could not pronounce nor did he understand English. His mind was sordid, his manners uncouth, and his address mean and disgusting.”

Montmollin suspected Toosey, whom he described as “a Croesus, the more he has the more he wants to have,” of having engineered his misfortune, but he failed in efforts to supplant him. In the spring of 1792, however, Toosey went to England, leaving Montmollin once again in charge. After his arrival at Quebec in late 1793, the new bishop of Quebec, Jacob Mountain*, who found Montmollin “very old and infirm,” appointed his brother Jehosaphat to assist him; in fact Jehosaphat performed “the whole duty” until Toosey’s return except when on pastoral visit with the bishop, during which time Montmollin was able to exercise his functions. Between 1790 and 1795 Montmollin performed about 500 baptisms, marriages, and burials.

Early in his retirement Montmollin’s financial situation continued to deteriorate. By February 1790 John Frederick and John Samuel had fled the province, leaving their father guarantor of a debt of £1,550 to the firm of Fraser and Young [see John Young]. In 1794 Montmollin sold his house and a lot behind it for £1,224 and paid the debt. His fortunes improved thereafter. In 1796 and 1797 he received appointments as deputy regimental chaplain to the 5th Foot and the 60th Foot, and in November 1796 he began to make small loans, which by September 1803 totalled about £800. In January 1803, as leader according to the system of township leaders and associates [see James Caldwell], he had received a grant of approximately 10,000 acres in Wentworth Township.

Montmollin’s position as rector necessarily tied him more closely to the city’s British than to its Canadian inhabitants; however, his closest personal ties were with the small Huguenot community, particularly François Lévesque*, Jean Renaud*, and the merchant Pierre Fargues. Their deaths between 1780 and 1794 left Montmollin increasingly isolated until his own demise on 17 Dec. 1803. He left to his widow £650 in cash as well as debts owed to him and several properties.

It is difficult to judge of the quality of Montmollin’s ministry on the basis of testimony by his contemporaries and near-contemporaries. If Henry Caldwell and Inglis did not esteem him, George Allsopp and Chief Justice William Osgoode* apparently did. In 1822 the Quebec Gazette referred to him as a “much respected” former minister, a description confirmed about 1848 by Bishop George Jehoshaphat Mountain*, who stated that Montmollin was still at that time remembered by some “as a respectable, well-informed, and clever old man, with his old-fashioned clerical dress, and a great white wig.” However, during his lifetime Montmollin shared with Chabrand Delisle and Veyssière the scorn of the Canadians and many British inhabitants as well as neglect and virtual rejection by his own church, and afterwards the fate of historical oblivion.

James H. Lambert

[The author would like to express his appreciation to the late George Carlyle Marler and the late Élyse de Montmollin, both descendants of David-François de Montmollin, for the invaluable assistance they gave him in the preparation of this biography.  j.h.l.]

ANQ-Q, CE1-61, 19 Dec. 1803; CN1-16, 3 janv. 1803; CN1-25, 30 oct., 7 déc. 1774; 12, 21 mai 1781; 24 mai 1782; 18 déc. 1788; CN1-99, 2 sept., 29 oct. 1804; CN1-178, 7 nov. 1796; 16 mai, 7 nov. 1797; 9 févr., 30 mars, 4 avril, 5, 11 mai, 8 nov. 1798; 29 mai 1801; 10 avril 1802; 2 sept. 1803; 20 juin, 24 juill., 6, 11 août, 29 oct. 1804; 22, 23 déc. 1808; 1er févr. 1809; CN1-224, 2 avril 1787, 30 déc. 1788, 17 mai 1790; CN1-230, 6, 28 nov. 1794; CN1-256, 20 Jan. 1790; CN1-262, 14 nov. 1797, 16 mai 1801. AP, Cathedral of the Holy Trinity (Québec), fonds A. R. Kelley, Montmollin à Lord Dorchester, juin 1789. Arch. de l’État (Neuchâtel, Suisse), fonds S.-P. Andrié, actes perpétuels, 1754–91, 65–66; fonds Abraham Bourgeois, 1: 223; fonds C.-F. Bovet, 7: 79; fonds Boy de la Tour, lettre no.3752. BL, Add. mss 21665: 184–85 (copy at PAC). Lambeth Palace Library (London), Fulham papers, 1: ff.106, 110–12, 167, 169–70; 38: 22, 58. PAC, MG 11, [CO 42] Q, 21: 64–68; MG 23, A1, 2: 1432–53; A4, 14: 26, 42; 18: 33–34; C6, ser.1, 1: 69, 93; GII, 1, ser.1, vol.2: 182; RG 1, L3L: 4093, 36207; RG 4, A1: 6211–12, 4 May 1818, 18 June 1819; RG 8, I (C ser.), 828: 104–5; 931: 3. Private arch., G. C. Marler (Montreal), G. C. Marler, “David Francis de Montmollin, 1721–1803: a short biography”; Edmond Perret (Geneva, Switzerland), Charles Biéler, “Heurs et malheurs du premier pasteur anglican de Québec, David-François de Montmollin de Neuchâtel (Suisse)”; Edmond Perret, “Rev. David-François de Montmollin (1721–1803), first rector of Quebec: essay for a revised estimate.” PRO, CO 42/28: ff.388–89; 42/49: ff.46–47; 42/92: f.118; 42/96: f.186; 42/100: f.400v. QDA, 60 (B-14), doc.2; 83 (D-2), 15 Jan. 1783; 84 (D-3), 9 June, 27 Aug. 1789; 25 June 1792. USPG, C/CAN/Que, I: 1 Nov. 1764, 5 Aug. 1770, 9 Oct. 1782; Journal of SPG, 16: 280–82. A collection of several commissions, and other public instruments, proceeding from his majesty’s royal authority, and other papers, relating to the state of the province in Quebec in North America, since the conquest of it by the British arms in 1760, comp. Francis Maseres (London, 1772; repr. [East Ardsley, Eng., and New York], 1966), 148–49. Docs. relating to constitutional hist., 1759–91 (Shortt and Doughty; 1918), 1: 72. Quebec Gazette, 26 Feb., 13 Aug. 1784; 21 Feb. 1788. Kelley, “Church and state papers,” ANQ Rapport, 1948–49: 307; 1953–55: 99–101, 103–5. Registers of the church of La Patente, Spitalfields, ed. William Minet and W. C. Waller (Lymington, Eng., 1898), 153. R.-P. Duclos, Histoire du protestantisme français au Canada et aux États-Unis (2v., Montréal, [1913]), 1: 36. Ernest Hawkins, Annals of the diocese of Quebec (London, 1849). “David-François de Montmollin,” BRH, 42 (1936): 104–5. Roger de Montmollin, “Un Neuchâtelois, premier pasteur de Québec,” Soc. d’hist. du canton de Neuchâtel, Musée neuchâtelois (Neuchâtel), nouv. sér., 37 (1950), no.1: 26–28.

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Cite This Article

James H. Lambert, “MONTMOLLIN, DAVID-FRANÇOIS DE,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 5, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed May 26, 2024, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/montmollin_david_francois_de_5E.html.

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Permalink:   http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/montmollin_david_francois_de_5E.html
Author of Article:   James H. Lambert
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 26, 2024