DUMAS, ALEXANDRE, businessman, militia officer, notary, lawyer, and politician; b. c. 1726 in Nègrepelisse, France, son of Jean Dumas and Marie Favar; d. 11 July 1802 at Quebec, Lower Canada.

By means of mercantile partnerships and marriages, the large Dumas family of the Montauban region in southern France was associated with virtually all the drapers from that region involved in the Quebec trade through such ports as La Rochelle and Bordeaux during the last two decades of the French régime in Canada. Alexandre Dumas came to Quebec in 1751 with a cousin, Jean Dumas* Saint-Martin, probably as the agent of the La Rochelle merchant Jean Chaudrue. The following year Alexandre’s young brother Antoine-Libéral joined him as a clerk. They had all been preceded to the colony by Alexandre’s cousin Jean-Daniel Dumas*, who had arrived in 1750 as an officer in the colonial regular troops. A Huguenot, Alexandre represented one of the 14 or 15 French Protestant firms in the colony by 1754, a group that included Joseph Rouffio*, François Havy*, Jean Lefebvre*, and François* and Jean-Mathieu* Mounier. Between about 1755 and 1757 Dumas became directly associated at Quebec with at least two other Protestant merchants, both from Montauban: Antoine Fraisses de Long and Joseph Senilh. Although Huguenot merchants were collectively treated with suspicion by Bishop Henri-Marie Dubreil* de Pontbriand – the result of ancient religious conflict in Europe – Governor Ange Duquesne* de Menneville and Intendant François Bigot* repeatedly defended them, reporting in 1755 that they carried on three-quarters of the trade to the colony. This domination continued down to the conquest.

One of Dumas’s commercial interests during the French régime was the Gulf of St Lawrence fisheries, and it would remain a field of activity after 1759. On 1 April 1756 Pierre Révol*, a former salt smuggler of some notoriety, leased the post of Gros Mécatina, and later that month Dumas and Servant Durand, a Quebec navigator, joined him in purchasing buildings there. Révol went bankrupt that year, however, and Dumas and Jean Dumas Saint-Martin reached a settlement with his creditors, leading Révol in 1757 to accept a government appointment in Gaspé. During his absence, Dumas’s acquaintance with his wife, Marie-Charlotte, blossomed into open adultery, a much talked-about affair that ended in January 1758 in a private settlement, after Révol had returned to Quebec for the winter season. Dumas was compelled to leave Quebec until Révol returned to Gaspé, and then to go to France in the fall at the latest; he had also to provide the unfortunate Mme Révol with an annuity. The scandal overshadowed Dumas’s own financial difficulties: in May 1758 Senilh had instituted legal action to seize houses belonging to Dumas at Quebec.

Dumas was back in the colony by July 1760. At L’Islet on 6 October he renounced his faith in order to marry a Roman Catholic, Marie-Joseph Requiem, née La Roche; they would have four children, one of whom survived infancy. Dumas’s was one of only a few marriages involving formerly Protestant merchants (Antoine-Libéral abjured the following year to marry Marguerite Cureux). Alexandre’s change of faith was short-lived; two children were baptized in the Protestant church, and on 16 Oct. 1764 Dumas signed the controversial presentment of the Quebec grand jury, which in one clause objected to Roman Catholic jurors in cases involving British litigants [see George Allsopp].

Dumas had operated as a retailer before the conquest, and he continued to do so thereafter within French and Canadian trading circles. About 1762 he was joined by Jean Taché* in exploiting Gros Mécatina, and in 1764 Dumas participated with one Louis Nadeau in grist-milling on the Rivière Saint-Charles. By 1766 Dumas had entered into partnership with Henri-Marie-Paschal Fabre, dit Laperrière, known as Pascal Rustan. But as a result of the influx of British merchants and the colony’s new mercantile alignment with London, he also transacted at Quebec with such merchants as Alexander Mackenzie and William Bayne, and with the firm of Moore and Finlay [see Hugh Finlay]. At least twice in the 1760s Dumas visited London for business reasons; notarial records for that period provide revealing but incomplete evidence of his dealings with French merchants in London, Paris, and Bordeaux, usually in connection with his pre-conquest accounts and often on behalf of other correspondents in the colony. In 1766 he headed a delegation at Quebec which petitioned Governor Murray*, without success, for an ordinance to regulate unrecoverable debts incurred before 1760.

On 9 June 1767 Dumas, Christophe Pélissier*, Dumas Saint-Martin, Brook Watson of London, and five others secured a 16-year lease from the crown to a large tract of land that included the seigneury of Saint-Maurice and the Saint-Maurice ironworks near Trois-Rivières. In 1771 Dumas hired Pierre de Sales Laterrière as the company’s agent at Quebec, responsible for the sale of iron products from Dumas’s store. Despite his enterprising involvement in the ironworks, which he probably wished to develop as a secure industrial base, Dumas encountered mounting financial problems in his own business. In 1764 he had held Canadian notes and bills of exchange worth over £39,000 but in 1769, during the collapse of the paper money market, he failed, according to Laterrière, with a debt of £33,000. A year later the Bordeaux firm of Rigal and Peeholier obtained a judgement in France against Dumas on an account stretching back to 1755, and in 1771, by which time the partnership with Rustan had been dissolved, much of Dumas’s property was sold at the suit of Jean Orillat*, a Montreal merchant.

During the American invasion of Quebec in 1775–76, Dumas served as a captain in the Canadian militia and participated in repelling the assault led by Benedict Arnold on Rue du Sault-au-Matelot. As well, Dumas reportedly built a “machine” for grinding wheat in the blockaded city. On 15 Sept. 1776 he married another Catholic, the popular Marie-Françoise Meignot, daughter of Louis Fornel* and Marie-Anne Barbel*; they had no children. Within months of their marriage Alexandre and his wife, who had assumed the business interests in France of her former husband, had authorized the London firm of Watson and Rashleigh to collect a debt in Dunkerque, France.

Early in 1778 Dumas acquired the lease to the Saint-Maurice forges and later that year moved there to take over their management from Laterrière. This and other commercial activity appear to have resulted in renewed personal indebtedness, mainly to Alexander Davison and John Lees, and in 1779 Dumas was charged with forestalling the wheat market, which in the shadow of the American Revolutionary War was a forum for vigorous speculation. In September 1782 he petitioned Governor Haldimand for a renewal of the Saint-Maurice lease, due to expire the following year. However, on 3 Feb. 1783 it was granted to Conrad Gugy*, in part, perhaps, because the ironworks had fallen into disrepair. The decision led to pressure upon Dumas by his creditors and to a suit against him by the province’s deputy receiver general, William Grant (1744–1805), for the sale of equipment and ironware still in Dumas’s possession at Quebec.

Dumas’s failure to secure the lease forced him to withdraw from business and to consider a new occupation. He had apparently had an interest in law for some time; in 1776 he possessed nearly 90 books on law, and at an auction that September of property owned in common with his first wife, who had died probably shortly before, he bought back two-thirds of them. On 12 May 1783 he was examined as a candidate for the position of notary by Adam Mabane*, Thomas Dunn, and Pierre Panet, and three days later he was commissioned. About this time he moved back to Quebec from the forges. The next year, on 8 December, Haldimand commissioned him a lawyer as well, in response to a petition by Dumas but contrary to an earlier ruling by the governor forbidding the simultaneous holding of commissions as notary and lawyer. The move thrust Dumas into the midst of controversy over the regulation of the bar at Quebec. On 6 December the lawyers’ society, the Communauté des Avocats, had opposed Dumas’s likely admission on the grounds that the bar was adequately supplied and that, in view of his age and failures in business, he was an unfit candidate. When he received his commission despite these objections, the lawyers complained on the 11th to the Court of Common Pleas, which informed them in January that nothing could be done about Dumas but that such an abuse would not happen again. Dumas was admitted to the Communauté des Avocats on 30 March 1785; although it entered a final protest on the court register, and a regulatory ordinance was passed in April during the stormy legislative session of that year [see Henry Hamilton*], Dumas did not relinquish his commission until 9 Aug. 1787. He appears to have achieved some success as a notary; he served in the execution of Hugh Finlay’s estate, and among his most frequent clients were Joseph Drapeau and James Tod.

Dumas did not figure prominently in the political debates of the 1780s that aligned many of the British merchants desiring English laws and a British constitution against the French party, led by Mabane, which sought to protect French laws and Canadian customs through retention of the Quebec Act. An investigation in 1787 into the administration of justice in the province reveals, however, that Dumas had challenged in court the validity of the partnership of Davison and Lees on the ground that it had not been registered according to the French mercantile code, with which he was undoubtedly conversant, but which the British merchants strenuously sought to have replaced by British law and custom. Ever adaptable, Dumas probably saw, like such Canadian political leaders as Pierre Guy, that the House of Assembly, accorded by the Constitutional Act of 1791, would provide a new forum for the defence of French law and Canadian customs. In 1792, during the province’s first general election, he proudly proclaimed in the Quebec Gazette and before the Constitutional Club at Quebec his support for British constitutional principles. Despite recurring rheumatism, he represented, along with Charles Bégin, the county of Dorchester in the assembly between 1797 and 1800. On 14 of 19 occasions he voted with the Canadian party, successors to the French party in defending French laws and Canadian customs, against the English party led by John Young. He was instrumental in 1799 in securing an amendment to the Highways Act of 1796 to create more efficient administrative districts under the act.

Between about 1793 and his death Dumas was active in purchasing and selling property in the Quebec area on his own behalf, and he frequently acted as legal agent on land matters for Jeremiah McCarthy* and others. Recommended in 1800 for a land grant on account of his early service in the militia, Dumas patented lots two years later in Windsor and Simpson townships, where land was allotted only to veterans of the Canadian militia companies that had served at Quebec during the American siege. Dumas had remained active in the militia, and by 1802 he had risen to lieutenant-colonel in Quebec’s 2nd Militia Battalion.

Dumas died unexpectedly within weeks of his marriage on 15 May 1802 to Catherine Lee, daughter of Thomas Lee, a Quebec merchant, and was buried from the Anglican church at Quebec. He had demonstrated little constraint in matters of decorum and religion, a propensity not uncommon within Quebec society but which, compounded by mercantile failures, had evidently besmirched his public image. Forced out of business by the loss of the Saint-Maurice lease and his final decline within the credit structure of 18th-century commerce, Dumas transferred his mercantile contacts and legal abilities to notarial practice.

David Roberts

[Alexandre Dumas is the author of a speech which appeared first in a draft version in the Quebec Gazette, 24 May 1792, and which was apparently later published separately. He may also have written the series of articles published under the pseudonym of Solon in the Quebec Gazette from 23 February to 15 March 1792 under the heading of “Pour accompagner la nouvelle constitution.”  d.r.]

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Cite This Article

David Roberts, “DUMAS, ALEXANDRE,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 5, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed July 23, 2024, https://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/dumas_alexandre_5E.html.

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Permalink:   https://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/dumas_alexandre_5E.html
Author of Article:   David Roberts
Title of Article:   DUMAS, ALEXANDRE
Publication Name:   Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 5
Publisher:   University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication:   1983
Year of revision:   1983
Access Date:   July 23, 2024