HENRY, EDME (Edmund), notary, politician, militia officer, land agent, businessman, and office holder; b. 15 Nov. 1760 in Longueuil (Que.), son of Edme Henry, surgeon-major in the Régiment Royal Roussillon, and Geneviève Fournier; m. first Eunice Parker; m. secondly 9 Oct. 1828 Marie-Clotilde Girardin in La Prairie; d. there 14 Sept. 1841 and was buried in the crypt of the parish church.
After the Seven Years’ War, Edme Henry’s father settled on Saint-Pierre and Miquelon, leaving his wife and family in Montreal. Henry attended the Collège Saint-Raphaël from 1772 to 1778 and studied law for three years under Simon Sanguinet*. Commissioned a notary on 2 July 1783, he began practice in Montreal. His career was interrupted between 1787 and 1793 when family matters took him to Saint-Pierre and Miquelon. After the islands were captured by British forces under James Ogilvie* in 1793, Henry pleaded his status as a British subject and was allowed to return to Lower Canada with his family and possessions.
After being re-established in his commission on 17 Feb. 1794, Henry resumed his practice, settling in La Prairie, where he quickly rose to local prominence. He was elected to the House of Assembly for Huntingdon County in 1810. He held the seat until 1814, but attended few of the sessions. In response to a private solicitation of his opinion by the governor-in-chief, Sir George Prevost*, on the reasons for the Canadians’ alienation from the administration, Henry replied that jealousy over patronage was a major source of discontent, and that those who were dissatisfied had in turn created doubts in the mind of the clergy as to the government’s plans. The two groups therefore acted in concert to oppose the administration’s projects. Henry proposed as solutions a greater decentralization, and especially an attempt by the government to gain more support in the countryside, among the common people rather than the élite.
Henry’s absence from the assembly was due in part to his military commitments. A major in the Beauharnois battalion of militia since 15 May 1812, he fought at the battle of Châteauguay in October 1813 [see Charles-Michel d’Irumberry* de Salaberry] and commanded the Boucherville battalion of militia after Lieutenant-Colonel Charles William Grant was made prisoner by the Americans in December. On 2 July 1822 he was promoted lieutenant-colonel in the 2nd Battalion of Huntingdon militia. His services were rewarded on 27 July 1825 by a grant of 1,000 acres in Kilkenny Township.
Henry’s period of greatest activity as a notary was between 1794 and 1814 when he drew up a total of 4,352 acts. From 1800 to 1804 his nephew Louis Barbeau studied under him, and after Barbeau was commissioned in 1804, they worked as partners. Henry’s early clients had included the seigneur Gabriel Christie*. In 1803, after Christie’s son Napier Christie Burton had succeeded to his father’s estate, Henry, together with Samuel Potts, was given power of attorney to collect the debts due to it. In 1815, when it was clear that Christie Burton would not be returning to Lower Canada, Henry was appointed his land agent, a position he retained until the seigneur’s death on 2 Jan. 1835. On 15 Jan. 1821 Henry was made crown agent for the seigneury of Prairie-de-la-Madeleine. Although he kept his commission as a notary until 1831, his activities as land agent took up much of his time, and after 1815 he notarized only 20 acts.
Henry’s role as a land agent contributed to his influence in the La Prairie region, as did his marriage in 1828 to Marie-Clotilde Girardin, widow of prominent local merchant Jean-Baptiste Raymond*. He became one of the largest proprietors in La Prairie, using his position as agent to acquire land for himself and to favour family and friends with advantageous grants. His own property included a steam-powered grist-mill, perhaps located on the seigneurial reserve at Napierville which he claimed as his own, a mill site in Stanbridge Township, 60 houses in Sherrington Township, a large stone house in La Prairie, and over 2,500 acres in various parts of the province, including the grant in Kilkenny Township.
Not surprisingly, the development of roads and projects such as the Chambly Canal received Henry’s support. He was twice made a commissioner of roads and bridges, on 28 May 1829 to open a road between Dorchester (Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu) and La Prairie and on 1 June 1830 to supervise the macadamization of roads in La Prairie. In the Christie seigneuries he was responsible for the survey of a main road cutting diagonally through Bleury and Sabrevois.
As Christie Burton’s agent, Henry established the villages of Christieville (Iberville), Napierville, and Henryville in 1815. He had the remaining land in the seigneuries surveyed, granted some of it, and leased out the reserved mill sites to interested merchants and sawyers. The censitaires complained that he sold ungranted lands instead of conceding them freely. Henry does not appear to have kept accurate records during his administration, and his practice of giving receipts on “scraps of paper” which were easily lost meant that some censitaires would later claim that they had been forced to pay more arrears than they owed. As long as Henry was agent, however, complaints were muted. Robert Hoyle*, member of the assembly for L’Acadie, preferred to keep his position on seigneurial tenure quiet, saying, “I should regret, to provoke or offend Mr Henry the agent, unnecessarily, by saying much publickly.” Henry’s administration ended in 1835, but as executor of Christie Burton’s will he remained responsible for the collection of arrears in rent. He arranged for these to be sold, at a heavily discounted rate, to his wife’s grandson, Montreal lawyer Alfred Pinsoneault, son of Paul-Théophile Pinsonaut*. The push to collect these arrears and their transformation into interest-bearing obligations added to resentment of seigneurial tenure in Christie Burton’s seigneuries and contributed to social tension, especially in Léry and Bleury; both seigneuries were heavily implicated in the rebellions of 1837–38.
Not all of Henry’s activities were related to land development and promotion. He was also an owner, with his stepdaughter’s husband, Joseph Masson, and others, of the steamboat Edmund Henry. In 1837 he founded Henry’s Bank at La Prairie, with a branch in Montreal. That summer, when his cashier (general manager) “decamped with the ready cash,” $130,000, he was forced into bankruptcy, but he was eventually able to pay all claims, several properties he had previously owned having mortgages in favour of the bank. It seems unlikely that his personal fortune recovered from this blow. In 1840 his wife filed a suit against him, probably to protect her own property rights; his land in Kilkenny, the house in La Prairie, and a mill site in Napierville were sold by the sheriff. Henry died the following year leaving her all of his remaining possessions. Since he had waived the necessity of an inventory, the size of his estate at that time is unknown. Henry’s influence and social position in the La Prairie region had clearly been much greater than the value of his estate in 1841 might have indicated. Through his profession and his personal ties he had occupied a key position in the social network of the area.
ANQ-M, CE1-2, 9 oct. 1828; CE1-12, 20 janv. 1760; CM1, 1/8, 14 janv. 1842; CN1-107; CN1-134, 8 oct. 1828; CN1-233; CN1-299; CN4-20. PAC, MG 8, F99; MG 19, A2, ser.3, 183; MG 24, B141, 20 Dec. 1832; MG 30, D1, 15: 426–44; RG 1, L3L: 18706–23, 43541–53, 51572–82, 73487–97, 83161–80, 97121–30; RG 4, B8: 127–29, 268–75, 546–51, 10445. Can., Prov. of, Legislative Assembly, App. to the journals, 1843, app.F. Quebec Gazette, 2 May 1838. Officers of British forces in Canada (Irving). Françoise Noël, “Gabriel Christie’s seigneuries: settlement and seigneurial administration in the upper Richelieu valley, 1764–1854”