1895 – D.W. Prowse – A history of Newfoundland – Chapter XVIII

A history of Newfoundland from the English, colonial, and foreign records (1895)

Prowse, D. W. (Daniel Woodley)
London, New York, 1895


The French Empire in North America, once a magnificent dommion that extended from the St. Lawrence to the Gulf of Mexico, today consists of a small cluster of islands off the south coast of Newfoundland.

Miquelon, the largest of the group, has a few fishermen and farmers, but no harbour; all the interest in the little archipelago centres in the port and town ot St. Pierre, a bustling little seaport, a lively little Franco-American town, containing a mixed population of about six thousand resident inhabitants. It is like a bit of Old France transported to the New World the creaking ox-cart, the click of the sabot on the ill-constructed trottoir, the Breton, Basque, and apple-cheeked Norman women, the patois, the French windows, the gay colours, and last of all the fanfare of the bugle as the town crier proclaims at each corner of the streets and squares, after a preliminary blast of the trumpet, that M, Solomon will sell some « bonnes vaches a lait » at the Quai de la Roncière punctually tomorrow at ten o’clock — all these varied sights and scenes remind us of La Belle France.


The history of St. Pierre and Miquelon is a small fragment of the history of France, a Liliputian reproduction of that ancient and tragic story. The little island has had, like the mother country, its Revolution, its Reign of Terror, its Tree of Liberty, its Jacobin Club, and under the Empire a miniature coup d’état; all, however, was on a very small scale, a veritable tempest in a teapot. The diminutive French colony in Newfoundland has suffered most extraordinary vicissitudes of fortune, and it speaks volumes for French enterprise and energy that, after all its disasters by fire and foe, it is to-day as gay, brilliant, and as bustling a little seaport as exists in the world, of its size. The early history of St. Pierre is embraced in the history of Newfoundland; it was frequented by Bretons and Normans early in the sixteenth century, and later on, from about 1545, by the Biscayans. In the list of Newfoundland harbours contained in the records of San Sebastian, the name of the island is given in the French form Pierre, and not in the Spanish Pedro, which appears to afford unmistakable evidence that it was first so named by French fishermen; it is mentioned by Cartier, and in several of the early English voyages; Captain Rice Jones fished there in 1594. Its commodious inner harbour and convenient situation early attracted the attention of the ship fishermen — English, French, and Biscayans: it was not formally taken possession of by the French until after their arrival in Placentia in 1662,’ and it appears very doubtful whether it was ever permanently inhabited until about, the end of the seventeenth century. There was a small fort at St Pierre, mounting six guns, which was destroyed in 1702 by Captain Leake, R.N., but it is probable that St. Pierre was only occupied by the French in the same way that St. Mary’s, Colinet, and a number of other places were, that is, simply as summer fishing stations. When all the French inhabitants in Newfoundlund were compelled to leave in 1713, under the Treaty of Utrecht, the official return shows only one hundred and eighty persons.

From 1713 to 1763 St. Pierre and Miquelon remained in the possession of the English. The earliest reference we have to the islands, after they passed into the English possession, occurs in 1714, when William Cleeves, the first English fishing-admiral of St. Peter’s, complained that Captain Taverner charged the French like Beloran, who had taken the oath of allegiance, fees for surveying their rooms, and also took bribes of salt, fish, wine, and brandy. Taverner was originally a Newfoundland fisherman, Wine was so cheap in those days that the Newfoundland …

Note: Charlevoix says, “Gargot, the first Governor of Placantia, was appointed in 1660, but did not obtain possession until 1662”


… fishermen complained bitterly that, in the purchase of salt, for every ten hogsheads they were obliged also to take a butt of wine.

The islands remained in English possession fur fifty years. By the Treaty of Paris in 1763, they were given to France to serve as a port of refuge for her fishermen; the history of the negotiations concerning this retrocession will be found in the portion of this history relating to that Treaty. It must be borne in mind that these colonies had then been for half a century the permanent home of a considerable English population. The Imperial Government were well acquainted with the immense value of St. Pierre as a fishing station, and especially as head quarters for the Bank fishery. They were also well aware that its dangerous proximity to Newfoundland rendered it — as Lord Chatham declared — a constant menace to our Colony, Notwithstanding these facts, under this disgraceful treaty of 1763, the rights of the Colonists and the property of the permanent English settlers at St. Pierre were ruthlessly sacrificed.

The extraordinary story of the alleged murder of McKeown and his crew at Miquelon, given in the following despatch of Governor Lawrence, of Nova Scotia, to Governor Webb, of Newfoundland, in 1759, sheds some light on the social condition of the quondam French islands during this period of English occupation, from 1713 to 1763. It was very much like an ordinary Newfoundland outport settlement of the period, the substantial planters all kept public houses. The story of the murder is of the most vague indefinite character; there was no legal evidence against Shaughroo and his companions, nor was the matter ever fully investigated; we can see that the accusation arose out of a drunken quarrel, and reading between the lines we easily perceive the inveterate hostility existing between the Protestant Jerseyman, Edward Grandy, and the West-country planter, Mr. Thomas Header, and his Irish servants, Shaughroo, Curtis, and Molloy : —

« Hallifax, 25 Sep. 1759. « The Deposition of Mr. Jeremiah Soward of Old York taken before Comander Crawley One of His Majestys Justices of the peace for ye County of Hallifax.
 » This Deponent being duly sworn sayeth that about a month ago he was at St. Peters in Newfoundland, when he heard Mr. Edwd Grandy of St. Peters Declair that he was afraid Mr. McKowing and his vessels crew, which was cast away upon the Island of Mechlin was murdered by James Shockney & Co. Upon their coming ashore in a boat from the vessel after she was cast away and likewise that it was ye common talk of the Inhabitants of St. Petera, that some of Shockneys people when in liquor had at several times told of the said talk and that this Deponent farther sayeth, that ye said Shockneys said to him that he bad a suit of clothes which he Took out of a Trunk not much damaged that belonged to …


… some of the Gentlemen that was cast away in that vessel this deponent further sayeth that he learnt that one Curtis was of the party concerned in ye sd murder.  » Jer. Sowerd. »

 » Sworn before Comd Crawley Halifax.
 » The Deposition of Jno. Johnson, Fisherman, taken before Commander Crawley 25th Septr 1759.
 » This Depenant being Duly Sworn, sayeth that between two & three Months ago he was Drinking at the House of Mr. Thos Meader in St. Peters Newf[d]d in company with One Curtis Alias Courting, Josh Blake and Jas Shockney, when a quarrell insued Concerning Catching fish, when Josh Blake Charg’d Curtis with Killing a Man in the Stern of the Boat coming ashore from ye Rock upon ye Island of Mechling and that this Deponant farther sayeth it was ye general talk upon ye Island that Josh Blake should say that the Body was Buried in ye Sand in a Cove on ye Back Side of Meckling Island.
 » Jn »  » The mk x of Johnston. »

 » Sworn before Comd Crawley Halifax.
 » The Deposition of Mr. Rd Viguers, taken before Comd Crawley ye 25th Septr 1759.
 » This Deponant being Duly Sworn, sayeth that about a month ago he was at St. Peters in Newf[d]d when he heard that Josh Blake should have reported that Jams Shookney fird on killed Mr. Alexr McKowin in a boat coming ashore from ye Rock on ye Island of Mechling and that James Curting had shot the remainder of the people in ye boat and this Deponent further sayeth that he was informed that one Edmond Mulloy or some such name Servant to Mr. Thomas Meader had charged one Edward Grandy of murdering one of the men and offering to show some of ye company then present where the man was buried.
 » Rd. Viguers. »

On the 14th July 1763, Baron de L’Esperance, captain of infrantry, was given possession of the islands; a considerable portion of the new settlers were Acadians who had refused to become English subjects. The local catch of fish, from 1765 to 1777, averaged about six thousand quintals a year; there being besides, according to French records, the fish caught by the two hundred and twenty fishing ships from France of twenty-four thousand tons, manned by eight thousand sailors and fishermen. St. Pierre, during this period, carried on a considerable contraband trade, both with Newfoundland and the British provinces; numerous visits were paid to the islands to catch these smugglers, chiefly New Englanders, but though the clandestine trade in French brandies, wines, silks, velvets, &c. was known to be extensive, hardly any of the smugglers, Americans or Newfoundlanders, were ever captured by the English men-of-war.

The celebrated astronomer Cassini’s account of his voyage in 1768 to St. Pierre and Salee, in Africa, to make experiments on M. Le Roy’s …


… chronometers, is the best contemporary account of the island; at the time of his arrival the Governor of St Pierre was M. Dangeac. Cassini says: —  » They have fixed their dwellings in & little plain along the sea coast; they have small gardens;, where, with much ado, they grow a few lettuces that never come to perfection, but which they eat greedily when they are still quite green. Owing to the prevention of all intercourse with the English, fresh meat is very scare; if by any means an English ship [American smuggler] finds means to convey a few head of oxen or other cattle, it is by eluding the vigilance of a number of vessels stationed there to prevent this contraband trade; our arrival at St. Pierre was celebrated by the death of a bullock; it was the noblest reception they could bestow upon us »

From Cassini’s narrative we gather that the Acadians soon became dissatisfied with St. Pierre and Miquelon : —

 » Many [he says] went at first, but the difficulty of subsisting in such a barren country soon determined them to quit it; the greatest part desired leave to remove to France; it was granted, but they were no sooner there than they regretted the Island of St. Pierre, and wanted to go back. A cargo of nearly three hundred arrived there just before us. Their unexpected return put the Colony in some confusion; those who were left behind had seized upon the habitations which the others bad forsaken; they had pulled down some of the wooden houses, and made use of the materials. The new comers were sent to Miquelon, which with this addition may contain 500 or 600 inhabitants, St. Pierre about half as many. »

The Acadians are very romantic figures in poetry and romance, but both France and England found them most difficult and disagreeable people to manage; essentially farmers, accustomed to the rich dyke lands of Nova Scotia, to a country ever famous for its orchards, they found themselves transported to a hopeless desert like St. Pierre, a barren rocky little islet, where nothing would grow, and where the fishery was the only possible occupation of the settlers. They bad not the luck and daring of the Normans, Bretons, and French Basques, so they longed for France; but they found, alas, that even the barren soil of Miquelon and St. Pierre, with liberty, was preferable to the conditions of a peasant under the grinding tyranny and oppression that prevailed under Louis in 1768. Cassini gives us an interesting account of the French fishery as carried on at that time. He says: —

 » The vessels destined for the [bank] fishery sail from France from the end of February to the end of April; happy those, however, who can get there by the middle of April. From that time until the 15th June the fishery most plentiful, [then] the capelin draw away the cod, who forsake the Grand Bank until the middle of September; the fishery again in September and October yields almost as much as it did in May and June. Many ships, consequently, go twice a year to the Grand Bank, and employ the interval in returning to France to dispose of their cargo and recruit their provisions and salt; few ships, except those from Olonne go twice a year to Newfoundland; the rest are stationed there for six or seven months together, and never come home till they begin to be in want of provisions, unless they have made a speedy and plentiful capture, which is seldom the case. The principal ports in France where vessels are fitted out for the codfishery are Saint Moaloes, Granville, Honfleur, St. Jean de Luz. Olonne, and Bayonne. The fishermen all complain that the fishery grows worse and worse. Before and after the war of 1744, prodigious shoals of cod flocked to the Banks of Newfoundland, and made the fortunes of fishermen and privateers; but since the last peace, the produce of the fishery is reduced to one-third of what it was before; doubtless, the bait of a small fortune has increased the number of vessels, and proportionably divided the profit.

The salt fish is landed at Bordeaux, Rochelle, or Nantz; sells dearer or cheaper, according to the scarcity or plenty of the capture. Those who are lucky as to bring the first cod make 360 livres of the great hundred, which contains 124 large fish. The second may be worth 260 livres, but the last seldom fetches more than 50 crowns. At Olonne, St. Jean de Luz, and Bayonne, the crew commonly come in for one-third of the landing; in other places, as at Granville, they have but one-fifth, but every sailor on his return, is entitled to a gratuity of 100 to 240 livres, according to the dexterity shown in fishing. Elsewhere, as at St. Maloes, the crew are hired for the whole season, as high as 400 livres per man”

During the years between 1763 and the breaking out of the American War in 1778, the inhabitants and trade had slowly increased. In the first summer after the declaration of war, Rear-Admiral Montague …


… Governor of Newfoundland, captured the islands without even a show of resistance. According to his instructions, he destroyed all the buildings, and deported to France nineteen hundred and thirty-two inhabitants — fishermen and farmers. (see note)

From the records we gather that during the various periods of English dominion between 1778 and 1815, St. Pierre contained a mixed population of English and French; there were frequent disorders. At the close of the American War, most of the inhabitants of St Pierre and Miquelon returned. One hundred and fifty, residents came back in 1783, and immediately set to work to restore their buildings, and to prosecute the fishery; even before the formal restitution the energetic French had commenced the fishery. In 1784 seven hundred and thirteen residents once more inhabited their old homes. The business was prosecuted with increased energy, as shown by the returns; three hundred and eighteen French vessels, of nearly thirty-five thousand tons, manned by nine thousand five hundred hardy French mariners and fishermen, carried on the Bank and shore

Note: The French account says only thirteen hundred.


The tragic events of 1789 found a re-echo in this little isle. The great wave of the French Revolution was felt even at distant St. Pierre. In July of that year there was a General Assembly and a Committee of Notables. Some of the commandants, strange to say, were Republicans, and acted in common with the Assembly; the first official to proceed in this remarkable manner was M. du Mesnilambert, acting Governor, then M. Danseville, incumbent since 1785. The controller and the judge also took part fn this extraordinary Parliament; and even the prefect apostolic seems to have caught the Republican fever. Meetings of the Assembly were announced from the pulpit, and were commonly held in the sacred edifice. M. Allain, the curé of Miquelon, was made of sterner stuff than the pliant prefect. He took no part in these wild Jacobin orgies and travesties of a deliberative assembly; in 1789, when required to take the oath of allegiance to the Republic, he refused to swear, and sooner than serve under the French Government, he and nearly all his flock in Miquelon transported themselves to the Magdalen Islands, They preferred living under the English dominion, where they could exercise their faith and freedom, to the infidel rule of France. The renowned Chateaubriand passed through St. Pierre about this period, and he has given us, in his …


« Memoires d’outre Tombe, » a graphic description of the little French colony.

In 1792 the affairs of the island were regulated by  » The Assemhly- General of the Commune of St. Pierre and Miquelon. » They met sometimes in the church at St. Pierre, sometimes in the hall of Government House. A decree of this Assembly, dated 13th January 1792, decided that its meetings should be held under the presidency of M. Danseville, the Commandant; M. Bordot, Interpreter and Registrar of the Admiralty Court, and ex-Secretary of the Committee of Notables, was appointed Secretary-General of the Commune. In February of this year a Jacobin club was formed, under the fantastic title of « Le Club des Amis de la Constitution »; for a short time there was a veritable reign of terror, and in a riot caused by members of the club, a woman named Genevieve Larache was killed. Order was at length restored through the firm and energetic action of the Commandant; the revolutionary club was dissolved, and the most violent of its members, in true French fashion, were expelled from the Colony in April.

Following, in a ludicrous way, the example of the Mother Country, a Committee of Public Safety was formed. When M. Pelegrin, Commander of the frigate Richemond, arrived in July, he at once put an end to some of these absurd proceedings. He pointed out to the Commandant that it was against the laws that he should be, at one and the same time, Governor of the Colony and President of the Communal Assembly; Danseville accordingly resigned. M. Bordot was appointed in his place, whilst Gachot was made Secretary-General. There was soon war between the new officers. Old Danseville had kept his stern Republican hand on the turbulent Assembly; but when once it was withdrawn, these brave « citoyens » could do nothing but quarrel. There was an immense conflict between St. Pierre and Miquelon; never, in the most stormy days of the French Chamber, even in conflicts between Deroulede and Paul de Cassagnac, have there been more violent scenes, more vituperating, or more rage and fury than between Citizen Bordot and his opponents. There were resignations and re-appointments and and dissolutions; everything but duels. The shop element was too strong for that last alternative of the bellicose Gaul. A day memorable in the annals of Republican St. Pierre was the 8th of April 1793; a big spruce tree was transported from the opposite shores of Newfoundland, and solemnly planted in the square, towards the seashore, as a « Tree of Liberty, » with all the pomp and ceremony the Colony could muster for the grand occasion.


All this fantastic Republican farce and playing at Parliament suddenly came to an end. On the 5th of May 1793 the Newfoundland boats brought word to the fire-eating citizens that war had been declared between France and England. On the 7th and 9th of May there were sittings of the Assembly of the Commune, the last of the puny Republic; a Committee of Defence was appointed, cannon were to be planted, and provisions procured, as their stock of food was nearly exhausted, and the Colony was on the brink of starvation. On the 14th, Vice-Admiral King, with two ships of the line, three frigates, and four other vessels, with troops under the command of Brigadier-General Ogilvie, came into the Roads. St. Peter’s and all its gallant citizens surrendered without striking a blow; all the inhabitants, fifteen hundred and two persons, were taken to Halifax, N.S., and from thence sent to France. Some of the unfortunate Acadians, by the irony of fate, were deported for the fourth time from their homes. This time St Pierre was not destroyed by the English; it was the French Republican Admiral Richery, after complete failure on the Newfoundland coast, who turned his guns against the French buildings at St Pierre. Immediately after the departure of the French many Newfoundland families from Placentia and Fortune Bay settled in the little French town. The O’Gormans of Burin, Cluetts and Grandys of Fortune Bay, lived there for many years. Subsequent to the capture of the island by Admiral King, Major Thorne, of the 4th Regiment, was left in command of the island. From Aaron Thomas, purser of H.M.S. Boston, who visited the island in 1794, we get a humourous account of a dinner party given by the gallant Governor.


In 1802, by the peace of Amiens, St. Pierre was restored to France, but war breaking out next year it wa3 again taken possession of, and not finally restored until after the final peace of 1815. On the 22nd June 1816, the Colonists returned to their old home, conveyed in the frigates La Caravane and La Salamandre. One hundred and fifty old families, numbering six hundred and forty-five souls, re-populated St. Pierre. In the same year St Malo sent four thousand six hundred fishermen to try their fortune on the perilous Grand Bank. During the remainder of the period of its history there have been no wars. The little French town has had fires to contend with, not foes. It has been seriously damaged by the devouring element in 1865, 1837, and lastly in 1879. It has risen Phoenix-like from its ashes, and now contains a very considerable population; its fishery operations are …


… large, entirely the result of the enormous bounties; practically the prime cost of the catch of codfish is paid by the French Government Its contraband trade is also extensive; in former years, whilst the imports of Newfoundland were about $36 per head, the imports of St. Pierre …

THE BAIT ACT. Page 577

… amounted to over $480 per head, at least $450 of which was smuggled into Newfoundland and Canada. The operation of The Bait Act in 1888 and succeeding years was a serious blow to the commercial success of St Pierre, a blow from which the little French Colony has never recovered. All the great trade which it boasted of in an inflated, artificial prosperity, it rests entirely on the support of the Home Government; withdraw the bounties, and St. Pierre would come down like a house of cards. La Grande Nation has always set the fashion for Europe, and latterly for America. The French have always been distinguished for their excellent taste, their art, the politeness of their manners; the French colonies in America, for this reason, had a remarkable attraction for their English neighbours. Both in Cape Breton and at St. Pierre New Englanders and Newfoundlanders carried on a large clandestine trade with their Gallic friends; in peace and war the old smuggling trade progressed with scarcely any interruption; this trade with Newfoundland rose to its height after the « Forties. » The Pierrois in this business plundered the revenues not only of Canada, Newfoundland, and the Maritime Provinces, for years they made even greater depredations on the revenues of France; thousands of quintals of English-caught fish were surreptitiously taken in St. Pierre by sale and barter, received the enormous bounty, and went to swell fictitiously the French catch of fish; later on the vigilance and superior honesty of the officials put an end to this business on a large scale, but it is impossible to extinguish it altogether. The author of the « Annuaire » of 1883 speaks of the immense benefit of the bait trade to St. Pierre, but he very judiciously avoids all mention of the smuggling. The following extract is taken from the « Annuaire » of St. Pierre for 1883 :—

 » Les grosses transactions qui ont pour objet la vente et l’achat des morues s’entament et se dénouent le plus souvent en France. Aussi le petit commerce qui grative autour du grand commerce a-t-il une action plus directe et plus immediate sur les affaires qui se traitent dans la colonie. Pour ne citer qu’un exemple, on estime à près de 800,000 francs le prix payé cette année (1883) par les pêcheurs Français aux Anglais qui ont fourni le hareng. En échange du prix de la boitte, les Anglais font des achats relativement considérables à St. Pierre, et c’est ainsi que les îles St. Pierre et Miquelon son sur la côte méridionale de Terre-Neuve un debouche très important, le centre d’affaires le plus actif par lequel s’écoulent les merchandises soit de provenance française soit de provenance américaine. Ce système d’échanges n’a pas lieu seulement que pour la boitte, mais encore pour le bois à feu apporté à l’automne par les mêmes galopeurs.”



When that most excellent official, Mr. James Hayward, of Her Majesty’s Customs, visited St. Pierre in 1864, he appeared such a nice simple man that the French gave him every facility to acquire information; in his report he stated that the Newfoundland revenue was robbed every year by St. Pierre of about $50,000 ; latterly it has been quite double that sum. The amount so taken from the revenue of Canada cannot be ascertained, but it has been stated that half the spirits and tobacco formerly consumed in Lower Canada was smuggled from the French colony. Increased vigilance on the part of the Canadian cruisers has largely curtailed this clandestine business, and the imports of St. Pierre (largely through the influence of the Bait Act) show the result: from 20,199,062 francs in 1885 they have come down in 1892 to 8,560,908 francs, and the exports of fish have fallen from 46,240,817 kilos, in 1886 to 22,098,075 kilos, in 1892.

The following account of the clandestine trade between St. Pierre and Lower Canada, taken from a Montreal paper, shows the modus operandi. The writer is not correct about the price of the German gin.
Some Newfoundlanders are in the trade; they sail from St. Pierre to some unfrequented part of Canadian Labrador, where (choosing foggy weather for the run), amongst the inner islands, they meet smaller craft; these smaller boats again tranship their cargo into punts and dories farther up the St, Lawrence; and, lastly, it is distributed about Quebec by farmes in carts. It is an immense business, and has enormous evil effects on the French Canadians. The activity of the Canadian cruisers and the operation of the Bait Act has now largely curtailed this illicit traffic. The statistics of St. Pierre show that from these causes their imports have fallen from twenty million francs to eight millions.

 » Quebec, May 25. — With the disappearance of icebergs and the opening of the season of navigation to the St. Lawrence between Quebec and the gulf, the bold smugglers north have again forced themselves upon public attention by the persistence with which they have resumed their traffic of former seasons, and the readiness with which they show fight when attacked or pursued by vessels of the Canadian customs fleet. The head-quarters of the smugglers of the St. Lawrence and New England ports is at the French island of St. Pierre, Miquelon, off the south coast of Newfoundland. Hitherto their chief traffic has been spiritous liquors. This year they are extending their operations and doing a large business in tobacco. The French Government has recently reduced the taxes on all classes of tobacco landed at St, Pierre to 1 francs 70 centimes a hundred kilos. The duty previously was 50 to 150 francs, according to quality. The new duty, amounting to 41 centas a hundred pounds, means that St. Pierre is …


… practically a free port for the entry of tobacco, so that smuggling it thence to Boston, Quebec, or more convenient ports on the Atlantic coats or shores of the St. Lawrence is now quite a profitable one for coasters.

« Spirituous liquors are admitted into St. Pierre, Miq., free of duty. A fleet of three large three-masted schooners are constantly employed by the smugglers, conveying cargoes of alcohol, 60 over proof, from Boston to St. Pierre. There is no concealment about this part of the traffic — the difficulty consisting in landing the alcohol at Canadian ports so as to avoid the duty of $2 a gallon. There are two and sometimes three transhipments of the liquor from the time it leaves the entrepot at St. Pierre until it is safely put ashore upon the banks of the St. Lawrence. The immense profit of the traffic may be judged of by the fact that the whiskey or alcohol, which is the chief staple of the trade, sells for only $l.40 a gallon in Boston, and is worth here, with the duty added, no lees than $3.75 a gallon. Jamaican and French liquors and brandies, etc., which are also admitted duty free into St. Pierre, form a portion of most cargoes of the smuggling schooners from St. Pierre to Quebec and other points, and, as the Canadian duty upon these is very high, there is even more profit upon the smuggling of them than upon that of the whiskey.
 » The large gulf schooners that leave St. Pierre with the liquor aboard never risk a total loss of vessel and cargo by venturing as far aa Canadian inland waters. Before leaving the gulf for the mouth of the St. Lawrence river they are each met by three or four smaller craft, generally schooners of very small value, which divide among them the cargo of the larger craft. One of these may be seized and confiscated, and yet the profit upon the operations of the others will make the entire trip a lucrative one, and often they all escape capture. Small boats land the liqnor from the schooners, often under cover of the night, at some of the parishes of the island of Orleans or elsewhere in the vicinity of the city.
 » Some of the parishes of the lower St. Lawrence has become completely demoralized by the proportions to which this traffic has grown. Farmers entirely neglect their land and fishermen their nets to engage in ventures that promise so large returns, and the excitement and sailor life attendant upon it offer great attractions to the French Canadian character. The parish priests complain bitterly of the demoralizing effect upon their people and of the fearful drunkenness that prevails wherever the whiskey blanc — as the fiery alcohol is called by the Canadians — is landed or sold, and many of the country curé turn informers to the government upon the smugglers.
« There is so doubt that encouragement has been given the smugglers by the unfortunate failure of justice some time ago in the ease of the noted smuggler Captain Bouchard, who fought and compelled the retreat of a Government revenue cutter last season, and was only subdued and captured after he had been besieged in and dislodged from the smuggler’s stronghold on the Isle aux Coudres in the lower St. Lawrence. Yet when his case was brought to trial here a few days ago, he was only convicted before the court of simple assault, and got off with a fine of $25.
 » Only last week the Government cruiser Constance was set at defiance by the crew of a little smuggling schooner opposite the mouth of the Moisie river. The name of the vessel, which turns out to be the Steadfast — of St. John’a, Nfld.— had been painted over on her stem, and she refused to come to when summoned in the Queen’s name, and when about to be boarded by the Government officers bar crew fought with their axes and wounded a couple of them. Finally the crew, with her cargo of $15,000 worth of liquors, was secured, and her crew put in irons. They are now in jail awaiting trial, and the vessel and cargo are in port, and have …


… been confiscated, but her two consorts have escaped arrest, and have probably safely landed their cargoes. »

In July 1890 the schooner Mary, owned by Mr, Deady, of Fox Harbour, John Kelly master, put into St. Pierre ; and had on board freight shipped by Mr. Chafe to A. Goodridge and Son, St. John’s — six hundred and thirty quintals of dried codfish. Kelly and his crew were caught landing some cod-roes and other articles for liquor. The law of St Pierre is that « the introduction of foreign fishery products into « the Islands of St Pierre and Miquelon involves necessarily the confiscation of those products, without distinction between those which have been or are about to be landed and those which may be found in the hold of any ship which has put into a roadstead of the Colony. Under this law Goodridge’s fish was confiscated and sold, and the chooner belonging to another innocent owner confiscated and cut up, all because a rascally skipper chose to sell some cod-roes to get liquor at St. Pierre. It is a monstrous injustice to punish innocent parties for another’s technical wrong-doing. It is well known that Frenchmen, both on the north-east and west coast, and about the south coast, barter liquor, sugar, tea, tobacco, and other goods for fish and oil — the usual currency in the Newfoundland outports. One French master on the west coast wanted the magistrate at St. George’s Bay to issue process against his English debtors on the coast. Besides the usual items of liquor, tea, sugar, and tobacco, one account included bonnets and millinery. Under the old regime the government of St, Pierre was always entrusted to a distinguished admiral Amongst the more modern administrators under the Second Empire we have the names of the genial Admiral Cloué and the stately old Baron Roncière Le Noury. These fine old sailors are now replaced by a lawyer from Paris, or a press writer.

In 1857 the Baron and La Baronne paid a visit to St. John’s. The Baroness was a splendid singer and musician. I remember one evening how she astonished the amateurs who had been singing their little songs at government House. She sat down to the piano, and as she pulled off her long gloves, as a preliminary, she asked for a petit verre of brandy, and then came forth her glorious notes. The audience were earned away by her splendid performance; the unfortunate amateurs who had sung before her hid their diminished heads. We found out afterwards that she had been one of the stars of the Grand Opera at Paris.

In all French colonies l’administration is always more at less of a despotism. In St Pierre the surrounding Anglo-American atmosphere …


… has had a marked influence, and there has always been a sturdy resistance to absolute government. About nine years ago it took the form of a struggle against the strict rebuilding laws enacted after the fire of 1879. A French bourgeois does not make much fuss over the curtailment of his individual liberty, but he is terribly touchy about his pocket. Clapboards were not to be allowed; all houses in certain streets were to be faced with brick or covered with iron. When the edict went forth to pull down the clapboards there was for a time a fierce resistance. Then, and especially the hardy Norman and Breton women, struggled with the officers; all the available force had to be called out to quell the rebellion, known in the annals of St Pierre as « the Clapboard Revolution. » I have spoken of the coup d’état. It was on a small scale, a travesty of the tragic events of the 2nd of December 1851; it followed, however, the Napoleonic method of silencing political opponents by imprisonment and deportation. Amongst the sturdy sea captains who largely compose the society of the little French colony, there were many earnest Republicans in the days of the Empire. The fear of the Administration kept them, however, mute and inglorious. One dashing « capitaine aux long cours » was not to be repressed; he was an able man, and, though only a sea captain, he acted as the principal lawyer of the little port. As oracle of the café, he held forth nightly on the corruption and imbecility of the miserable Government; the Governor, a relative of Paul de Cassagnac, vowed vengeance on his rebellious head. At last the opportunity came; our Republican hero became mixed up in an insurance case at Miquelon. In some technical way he infringed an article of the Code. Complaisant judges at once condemned him to the maximum punishment — twelve months’ imprisonment, and to be deported from the Island. On the advent of the Republic, this corrupt decree of the Colonial tribunal was promptly quashed by the Court of Cassation at Paris. In the meantime, however, the sturdy opponent of absolute government was ruined. For neatness and despatch there is nothing like the French method of silencing a political opponent. About the same time as this occurred, a rich merchant of St. Pierre shot one of the disciplinaires dead in his hall; the poor hungry prisoner was coming forward to ask for bread. The murderer was sentenced to one …

Note 1. Discipliaires are military prisoners who have committed offences against the discipline of the army; they are always a number of them at St. Pierre; they are employed on public works, and are always accompanied by guards with loaded rifles.


… month’s imprisonment, which he spent interned in his own luxurious house. In the June number of the « Revue Maritime et Coloniale, » 1894, Doctor Du Bois Saint Sevein, after giving a graphic account of the state of the French fishing fleet in Newfoundland, Iceland, and the North Sea as regards medical aid and appliances, strongly recommends the adoption of a service on the model of the « Deep Sea Mission. » Reading between the lines in this excellent article, one can see clearly that « Les Armateurs, » the fitters out of the French fishing fleet, are all powerful with the French Government. To satisfy the greed of these merchants, the carrying of medicine chests and doctors in the fishing fleet has been practically swept away until quite recently. The wretched state of the French bank fishermen is quite as deserving of charity as the pour Labrador men; anything so dirty, poor, and miserable as their condition on board the banking vessels can hardly be imagined.

In the preparation of this chapter I have freely used the excellent « Annuaire » of St Pierre. Other information has been obtained from the Colonial Record and miscellaneous sources. The account of Major Thome’s dinner party is from a MS. volume belonging to Mr, James Murray, written by Aaron Thomas, purser of H.M.S. Boston — a very curious production. I have not mentioned the affair of the Commercial Bank notes, unique in the annals of crime. Personal association prevents me from describing this remarkable transaction: besides I do not wish to say anything that might in the least offend the feelings of my numerous kind friends of St Pierre.


In taking leave of this bravo little island, monument of the indomitable industry, energy, and recuperative powers of the French people, I will conclude with the words of the St Pierre historian;

« After many misfortunes this small group of St. Pierre and Miquelon, the last parcel afloat out of the great wreck of the French dominion in North America, can with legitimate pride sum up its position thus: Six thousand inhabitants, trade amounting to thirty millions of francs ‘a year, and a public revenue of half a million francs. »

Grand Colombier

Le GrandColombier.com est un site recensant tout document historique ayant un lien avec les îles Saint-Pierre-et-Miquelon : traités, cartographie, toponymie, archives, sources primaires, études, recherches, éphémérides. Le site est dirigé par Marc A. Cormier.

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