LE MAISTRE, FRANCIS, army and militia officer and colonial administrator; b. c. 1743 on Jersey, son of François-Guillaume Le Maistre and Élisabeth Théodore; d. 13 Feb. 1805 at Quebec, Lower Canada.
Francis Le Maistre purchased a lieutenancy in the 98th Foot for 300 guineas in 1760 and fought during 1762 in the West Indies. Placed on half pay in 1763, he purchased into the 7th Foot for 300 guineas three years later and then paid £400 for the position of adjutant, which he occupied for nine years from October 1767. In 1775 and 1776 he served with distinction as brigade-major at Quebec while the province was under attack by the American rebels [see Benedict Arnold; Richard Montgomery*]. Governor Guy Carleton rewarded him in 1776 with an appointment as his aide-de-camp and that summer entrusted him with dispatches to London; in November he received a captain’s commission in the 8th Foot. Le Maistre returned from London in May 1777, and in July Carleton named him deputy adjutant general to the British forces in Canada.
In November 1783 Le Maistre sailed again for England and may have remained there until 1786 when he was appointed military secretary by Carleton, now Lord Dorchester; he would hold the post until 1794. In April 1786, in London, Le Maistre purchased for £650 a nine-room, two-storey, stone “mansion” at 12 Rue Sainte-Famille, Quebec, where he arrived in July. The following year he bought a farm, perhaps for a summer home, in the village of Fargy (Beauport), and between 1787 and 1790 he acquired several lots in and around the village. His income was no match for his social aspirations, however, and in 1787 he was obliged to borrow £200 from the deputy paymaster, Joshua Winslow. He left the army in August 1788.
In 1792 Le Maistre began petitioning for a township in the colony; he never received a land grant, but in 1794, following the death of Nicholas Cox*, Dorchester rewarded him with Cox’s positions of lieutenant governor of the District of Gaspé and inspector of trade and fisheries on the Labrador coast, for which he would receive a combined annual salary of £300. Le Maistre visited the Gaspé coast in 1795; the following year he complained that the expense of travel and of the reception at Quebec of delegations from his district necessitated an increase in his salary to £400. Perhaps because his petition was refused or because he was suffering from ill health, Le Maistre never returned to the Gaspé; nor did he ever visit Labrador. He exercised virtually no influence at Quebec in favour of his district, but the Jersey families that dominated the Gaspé economy, the Janvrins and the Robins [see Charles Robin*], were pleased with the appointment of their countryman; his very neglect of the Gaspé left them free to maintain their profitable monopoly of its trade and fishing.
Le Maistre’s social status at Quebec continued to improve in the 1790s. In 1794, at a time of considerable political ferment resulting from French revolutionary influence, Carleton commissioned him colonel of the Quebec Battalion of British Militia in succession to Henry Caldwell. Three years later he was chosen foreman of the grand jury that indicted David McLane* for treason.
Le Maistre enjoyed the social life at Quebec; in early 1798 George Thomas Landmann*, a British officer, spent many agreeable hours visiting him, his wife Margaret Stuart, their son, and two daughters. “Le Maistre was especially fond of good living, and had grown to an extra size,” Landmann observed, “and whilst engaged in the pleasures of the table, he frequently entertained his friends with many anecdotes of days, long since gone by.” His cultural tastes befitted a man of his social rank; his library of more than 350 volumes on history, military theory, law, finance, philosophy, and Greek, English, and French literature included such British authors as David Hume and Thomas Hobbes, Sir William Blackstone and Viscount Bolingbroke, the Duke of Marlborough and the Earl of Chesterfield, Tobias George Smollett and Jonathan Swift, and such French writers as Nicolas Boileau, dit Boileau-Despréaux, Jacques Necker, Charles Rollin, Guillaume Raynal, and Voltaire. His library also contained scientific works, and he possessed a telescope and a microscope.
When Le Maistre died in 1805 he was given a lavish military funeral attended by companies from the British garrison and militia and a “numerous assemblage of the most respectable citizens, and gentlemen of the Legislature, and a great concourse of persons of every description.” Within months of this impressive burial, his widow was inundated by the demands of more than 60 creditors for payment of £2,250 in debts. Among the largest creditors were Thomas Aston Coffin, inspector general of public accounts, to whom Le Maistre owed £368, and Anna Green, Winslow’s widow, who in 1806 had Le Maistre’s landed property sold at auction by the sheriff. Margaret Le Maistre was left destitute.
Shortly after the death of Le Maistre, Lieutenant Governor Sir Robert Shore Milnes* remarked of the Gaspé: “Public Concerns in that distant District have suffered very essentially through the want of an acknowledged Agent on the part of Government residing there.” Le Maistre’s inattention created a precedent for his successor, Alexander Forbes, who seems to have toured the Gaspé only once during a tenure lasting until about 1830. The position of lieutenant governor of the District of Gaspé was discontinued after that date.
ANQ-Q, CN1-26, 25 oct. 1798; 2 avril, 24 juin 1805; CN1-83, 28 août 1786; 4, 5 juin, 24 sept. 1787; 23 juill., 29 oct. 1790; 26 août 1794; CN1-256, 25 May 1795. BL, Add. mss 21743: 88 (copy at PAC). PAC, MG 8, F25, 3: 11; MG 11, [CO 42] Q, 67: 55–56; 69: 194; 78: 166–67; 94: 73–76; 96: 32–33; 97: 43–46; MG 23, GII, 17, 1, vol.15: 52–54; MG 30, D1, 9: 200–90. PRO, PRO 30/55, no.5643 (transcript at PAC). Ainslie, Canada preserved (Cohen), 94. Landmann, Adventures and recollections, 1: 284. Quebec Gazette, 13 Nov. 1783; 30 July 1786; 14 Feb., 4 July, 28 Nov. 1805; 20 May 1806. Quebec Mercury, 16 Feb. 1805. P.-V. Charland, “Le tableau de ‘l’Immaculée conception’ à la basilique de Québec,” BRH, 22 (1916): 3–13. David Lee, “La Gaspésie, 1760–1867,” Canadian Hist. Sites, no.23 (1980): 126.