DELESDERNIER (Le Derniers, Les Derniers), MOSES, landowner and “improver,” office holder, land agent, and author; b. c. 1713 in Russin (canton of Geneva, Switzerland); d. 8 Sept. 1811 in Halifax, N.S.
Moses Delesdernier and his first wife, Judith Martin (Martine), emigrated to London, England, in 1740, and ten years later came to Halifax with Gideon Delesdernier, either Moses’s brother or his uncle. In Nova Scotia Moses became involved in Abram Dupasquier’s scheme to recruit settlers from the Palatinate (Federal Republic of Germany) and returned to Europe in the fall of 1750. The venture proved most unsuccessful and he was back in Halifax in August 1751.
By early 1754 Delesdernier was at Pisiquid (Windsor), where, he claimed, Governor Edward Cornwallis* had given him a grant of land. The Acadians in the area apparently gave “their consent to Le Derniers residence among them,” and there he became probably the first non-Acadian marshland farmer in the province. During the deportation of the Acadians in 1755 [see John Winslow*] he acted as commissary agent for the New England troops. He later asserted that he and his servants had joined the troops and that their activities had resulted in the surrender of many Acadians and the procurement of their cattle for Halifax. He must initially have gained the Acadians’ trust and was sympathetic to their predicament, but he also understood and seems to have accepted the motives of the government in carrying out the “banishment.”
Delesdernier prospered at Pisiquid, where Governor Charles Lawrence* made him a present of 30 acres. At the same time, however, he borrowed heavily from Michael Francklin* and Joseph Gerrish* in order to improve and settle his lands. In 1760 he was appointed truckmaster for trade with the Indians. His first wife had died childless in 1759 and two years later he married Eleanor Bonner, née Pritchard, with whom he was to have ten children.
By 1765 Delesdernier was in trouble with his creditors Francklin and Gerrish, having been “too sanguine” in his attempts to promote settlement of his lands. They forced him to sell most of his property to them to clear his debts, but being “sensible of his great misfortune” they appointed him their agent for the settlement of the new township of Hillsborough on the Petitcodiac River (N.B.). Delesdernier moved there and in 1768 became a justice of the peace for the region; by 1770 his establishment included nine persons and 800 acres. Three years later he settled his final debts with Gerrish, but only through the loss of all his Windsor properties. In the summer of 1774 Delesdernier went to the southern colonies to recruit settlers for Hopewell Township, south of Hillsborough, and in Philadelphia met Richard John Uniacke*, his future son-in-law. That same year he returned to Hillsborough with Uniacke, and the following spring both moved to Hopewell; by this time Delesdernier had become the official agent of the Hopewell proprietors, who included Major-General Frederick Haldimand, like himself a French Swiss. Delesdernier rashly bound himself to a £500 penalty in undertaking to settle a dispute between the proprietors and the executors of the former agent and when he failed to do so lost all his cattle.
The rebellion fomented by Jonathan Eddy in Cumberland County (N.S.) during 1776 was to leave Delesdernier impoverished and discredited by government. According to him, a number of “disaffected” settlers went to New England in the spring of 1776. He himself, after drawing up a petition of loyalty, moved his family and stock to the protection of nearby Fort Cumberland (near Sackville, N.B.) before the rebels in the county took reprisals. Upon Lieutenant-Colonel Joseph Goreham*’s proclamation of 7 November ordering the population to support the king’s troops, Delesdernier offered oxen and salt to the garrison. Threats against his property and family forced him, however, to sign an “Association” against the king. After the defeat of Eddy’s force Delesdernier swore a protest against this signing, and although he “stood tryall” he was acquitted of disloyalty. The truth would seem to be that he was indeed innocent of collusion with the rebels, as Goreham explained to Haldimand in a letter of October 1778. However, a son of Gideon’s, Lewis Frederick Delesdernier, had sided with the rebels, and Uniacke had been sent a prisoner to Halifax to stand trial for treason. Delesdernier’s losses during the rebellion had left him destitute and “prejudice and Malice” prevailed against him because of his family connections with suspected rebels. Early in 1777 he was dismissed from all official employment for “disaffection to government.”
Delesdernier nevertheless continued to live in Cumberland County. In July 1779 he was elected to the House of Assembly of St John’s (Prince Edward) Island in unknown circumstances, but he did not attend a session and his seat was declared vacant in October. In the same year, at the age of 66, he went on a trading voyage to Quebec, where he applied to Haldimand for permission to ship provisions to the Bay of Fundy. He was able to restore himself sufficiently in government favour to be reappointed a justice of the peace in 1781 and to obtain grants of land in the upper Petitcodiac and River Philip areas. He gradually sold off these lands, as he did his other properties. His financial situation must have deteriorated somewhat in later years, since in 1798, with the support of Uniacke and Lieutenant Governor Sir John Wentworth, he petitioned the British government for 20,000 acres in Nova Scotia, claiming that “after the trial of Adversity . . . he is drove by last extremity to solicit . . . Protection and Assistance.” His petition was refused and he and his wife moved to Halifax to be cared for in their old age by Uniacke.
Delesdernier was the author of two manuscripts on aspects of the early history of the Maritimes which were consulted by Andrew Brown* in 1791 for his draft history of Nova Scotia. At some time between 1785 and 1790 he wrote “Observations on the progress of agriculture in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick for consideration of proprietors in both provinces.” After making some remarks on the techniques of marshland farming, he went on to propose a regularized scheme for bringing in German and Swiss redemptioners to dike and drain the marshlands of Westmorland and Cumberland counties. About 1790 he wrote “Observations on the situation, customs and manner of the ancient Acadians.” He believed that the Acadians, who were quite illiterate, had lived in a state of nature and in great harmony, and had been largely self-sufficient. Those who had returned following the deportation had maintained an “inviolate separation” from all others and had retained their “superstitious bigotry,” but were “very peaceable useful members of civil society.”
Information on Delesdernier’s land holdings may be found at the Cumberland, Halifax, and Hants county registries of deeds, whose records are available on microfilm at PANS. His two manuscripts are in the Andrew Brown papers at BL, Add. mss 19071: ff.259–64; 19073: ff.126–35.
PANS, MG 100, 134, no.6; RG 1, 134: 126; 163: 112; 212: 334; 367, docs.13, 14; 367 1/2, doc.17; RG 20; RG 39, C, 1–35. PRO, CO 217/170: 266. Bell, Foreign Protestants. E. C. Royle, “Pioneer, patriot and rebel, Lewis Delesdernier of Nova Scotia and Maine, 1752–1838” (typescript, n.p., 1972) (copy at Univ. of N.B. Library, Fredericton). B. C. U. Cuthbertson, “The old attorney general: Richard John Uniacke, 1753–1830”