DE LISLE, JEAN (he sometimes signed De Lisle de La Cailleterie), notary and merchant; b. c. 1724 in Nantes, France, son of Jean-Guillaume De Lisle, a merchant, and Angélique Chevalier; d. 11 March 1814 in Montreal, Lower Canada.
In the 1750s, for unknown reasons, Jean De Lisle emigrated to New York. There, in 1756, he married Ann Denton, and the next year they had a son, Jean-Guillaume. In April 1764 De Lisle was with his son at Quebec, where he declared possession of 280 livres 15 sols in card money. Three years later he enrolled Jean-Guillaume in the secondary school that Sulpician Jean-Baptiste Curatteau* was opening in his presbytery at Longue-Pointe (Montreal). Curatteau, who also came from Nantes, and his superior, Étienne Montgolfier*, assumed responsibility for the expenses of the boy’s education and board. On 15 July 1768 De Lisle received from Governor Guy Carleton a commission to practise as notary in the District of Montreal. In the same year he was authorized to draw up survey reports, a line of work he carried on for three years. In 1771 he is supposed to have witnessed a miraculous event: on the evening of the death of Mme d’Youville [Dufrost*] he saw a “perfectly formed” cross shining above the Hôpital Général.
In 1783 De Lisle and Jean-Baptiste-Amable Adhémar* were chosen as Canadian delegates to London, England, where they were to present to George III a petition for the reform of the government and the judicial system. With the tacit consent of Bishop Briand*, and despite Governor Haldimand’s opposition, they were also to ask on behalf of the Catholic population for a bishopric in Montreal, as well as for permission to bring priests from France, since clerics were badly needed in Canada. The delegates reached London late in November. They delivered a memoir on the religious aspect of their mission to Lord North, the Home secretary, the following month. While waiting for his reply, De Lisle and Adhémar went to Paris early in 1784 with the intention of recruiting priests there. They were back in London in March, and with Carleton’s support they met North’s successor, Lord Sydney; Sydney refused to allow any French priests to enter Canada, even those already living in London. Nevertheless, because of Haldimand’s impending recall and the anticipated reappointment of Carleton, De Lisle’s report to Bishop Briand on the religious issue, made after his return to Montreal in the summer of 1784, was quite optimistic. Although Adhémar and De Lisle had failed to accomplish the political objectives of their mission, the latter continued to work actively for constitutional reform. He joined the Canadian reform committee established in Montreal in November 1784, which brought together notary Joseph Papineau* and merchants Maurice-Régis Blondeau, Pierre Guy, Joseph Périnault, Pierre Foretier, Joseph-François Perrault*, and Jean Dumas* Saint-Martin.
In 1787 De Lisle gave up his notarial practice, which was taken over by his son. It was then, apparently, that he became a merchant. He imported various wares from England, such as hardware, building materials, tools for sundry trades, kitchen utensils, dishes, and cutlery, which he stored in a shed built on to his house on Rue Saint-François-Xavier.
De Lisle was elected a churchwarden of the parish of Notre-Dame in Montreal on 27 Dec. 1787 [see Jean-Guillaume De Lisle]. On 15 Oct. 1790 he joined other leading Montreal citizens in signing a petition that requested from Carleton, now Lord Dorchester, a charter for the creation of a university. Two months earlier, on 3 August in Montreal, he had been married again, to Suzanne Lacroix-Mézière, sister of Henry-Antoine Mézière. The couple were to have a daughter and three sons, only one of whom, Augustin*, would reach adulthood. In 1795 De Lisle had an 18-year-old black slave baptized in the church of Notre-Dame, giving him the name Guillaume.
De Lisle’s erudition and knowledge of mathematics and physics astonished his contemporaries. He wrote a manuscript entitled “Hydrostatique, 1798,” which contains numerous calculations, problems with their solutions, a method (illustrated by a drawing) for determining the specific weight of bodies lighter than water, and tables of the specific weights of various metals and alloys. His library was well stocked with literary works and monographs on history, philosophy, theology, mathematics, physics, electricity, magnetism, geography, astronomy, and chemistry. In addition he owned many laboratory instruments, which his son Augustin inherited. De Lisle seems to have followed the political evolution of his native land with interest. Among his papers were found copies of the French republican calendar, as well as of newspaper articles favourable to the future emperor Napoleon I, letters exchanged between the latter and Pius VI in 1797, and a speech delivered by the emperor on 2 Jan. 1805.
Although not a figure of major importance, Jean De Lisle served his adopted country with intelligence and devotion. The journalist who announced his death rightly called him a “respectable man who combined deep and wide knowledge with all the social virtues, who in short delighted in the study of philosophy [the sciences] and always promoted it with success.”
ANQ-M, CE1-51, 3 août 1790, 13 mars 1814; CN1-313, 1er juill. 1790, 28 déc. 1809. ASQ, Fonds Viger-Verreau, Carton 48, nos 3–10. “Le gouverneur Haldimand et les prêtres français,” BRH, 12 (1906): 248–52. “MM. Adhémar et Delisle,” BRH, 12 (1906): 325–41, 353–71. Georges Bellerive, Délégués canadiens-français en Angleterre, de 1763 à 1867 . . . (Québec, ). [François Daniel], Nos gloires nationales; ou histoire des principales familles du Canada . . . (2v., Montréal, 1867), 2: 250, 424. [É.-M. Faillon], Vie de Mme d’Youville, fondatrice des Sœurs de la charité de Villemarie dans l’île de Montréal, en Canada (Villemarie [Montréal], 1852), 318–21. Galarneau, La France devant l’opinion canadienne, 290–91. Lemieux, L’établissement de la première prov. eccl., 16, 22. Maurault, Le collège de Montréal (Dansereau; 1967). J.-E. Roy, Hist. du notariat, 2: 44–45. Tousignant, “La genèse et l’avènement de la constitution de 1791,” 309. Léon Lortie, “Deux notaires amateurs de science: Jean De Lisle et son fils Augustin-Stanislas De Lisle,” RSC Trans., 3rd ser., 55 (1961), sect.i: 39–47. É.-Z. Massicotte, “Les arpenteurs de Montréal au xviiie siècle,” BRH, 24 (1918): 340; “La famille de Jean De Lisle de la Cailleterie,” BRH, 25 (1919): 175–86; “Jean De Lisle et Jean-Guillaume De Lisle,” BRH, 150–52; “Une page de l’histoire du collège de Montréal,” BRH, 23 (1917): 207–11. Benjamin Sulte, “La délégation envoyée en Angleterre en 1783,” BRH, 7 (1901): 213–16.