GIROD, AMURY, farmer, author, and Patriote; b. before 1800 in Switzerland; d. 18 Dec. 1837 in Pointe-aux-Trembles (Montreal).
Nothing definite is known about Amury Girod’s origins, which can only be conjectured. It is believed that he was born shortly before 1800 in a canton near the French departments of Ain, Jura, and Doubs and that he received his education at Hofwyl, Switzerland, in one of the schools created by Philipp Emanuel von Fellenberg. He is said to have gone to South America and to have served in Simón Bolívar’s liberation army. Supposedly he became a cavalry lieutenant-colonel in Mexico (1828–29) and fought with the Mexicans against the Spaniards, at some point also spending a year or two in the United States. Such an extraordinary past would explain why on his arrival in Lower Canada, he knew not only French, German, and Italian but also Spanish and English.
The first traces of Girod’s presence in Lower Canada date from 1831. He delivered lectures that year on the application of mathematics to mechanical engineering before the Quebec Mechanics’ Institute, and in the period from September to December he published a long series of articles in Le Canadien on the teaching methods employed at Hofwyl. Early in 1832, when an attempt was being made at Quebec to establish an agricultural school, he signed a notarized contract with Joseph-François Perrault, a promoter of education, in which Perrault agreed to provide the material basis for a model farm and college and Girod to become the actual director. Enrolment was well below their expectations, and in the summer of 1832 it was rumoured that Girod might be interested in assuming the editorship of the Montreal newspaper L’Ami du peuple, de l’ordre et des lois. The failure of the agricultural school was evinced by the cancellation of the contract between Girod and Perrault on 19 April 1833.
Girod came to live in the Montreal area, reportedly looked at the region around Saint-Charles-sur-Richelieu where the enterprising seigneur Pierre-Dominique Debartzch resided, and then rented some land at Varennes. There he became friends with Eugène-Napoléon Duchesnois, a young doctor married to Françoise Ainsse, daughter of Joseph Ainsse, the seigneur of Île-Sainte-Thérèse. On 25 Sept. 1833 in Montreal, at the Scotch Presbyterian Church (later called St Gabriel Street Church), without advance notice, ceremony, or witnesses, Girod married Françoise’s sister Zoé, who was 25 and had been widowed for two years. She was the daughter of a seigneur, but his seigneury was very small. The couple took up residence on Île Sainte-Thérèse and Girod became a farmer, but he employed a hired man and preferred the pen to the plough.
In May and June 1834 Girod sent Le Canadien a series of articles, later reprinted in a pamphlet with a dedication to Perrault, under the title Conversations sur l’agriculture, par un habitans de Varennes. Then he wrote seven long essays which came out in two parts as Notes diverses sur le Bas-Canada in June and November 1835. In these 129 quarto pages Girod discoursed with obvious skill on social life, the administration of justice, public finances, the land question, seigneurial tenure, and the means of transportation. He also dealt with the subject of the increasing tensions between Lower Canada and Great Britain. In 1836–37 he brought out the Traité théorique et pratique de l’agriculture (Montréal), his translation of a work by agronomist William Evans* published in 1835. Since 1831 Girod had been contributing to Le Canadien, La Minerve, and two papers published in Saint-Charles-sur-Richelieu, L’Écho du pays and the Glaneur, under his own name and pseudonyms such as Jean-Paul, Jean-Paul Le Laboureur, Un Habitans de Varennes, Insulaire, and Lemanus. He also gave evidence before various committees of the Lower Canadian House of Assembly, particularly on land and agricultural issues, education, the proposal to set up a normal school, and even the question of penitentiaries. It is easy to understand why his farm on Île Sainte-Thérèse did not become a model of success.
In the political sphere, Girod had links with the Patriote party from the time of his arrival in the Montreal region. He was active at Varennes and more generally in Verchères County, but also at Pointe-aux-Trembles. Over the months from spring to autumn 1836 his attack on Clément-Charles Sabrevois* de Bleury, who had broken with Louis-Joseph Papineau*’s party, turned sour for him. He finally admitted his conduct had been ill-mannered, an admission which virtually proved Bleury right. In the affair Girod so lost the confidence of his political allies that he contemplated leaving Lower Canada for Mexico. His equanimity was restored by a stay in Saint-Benoît (Mirabel), where he met notary Jean-Joseph Girouard*, Étienne Chartier*, a parish priest sympathetic to the Patriotes, and Jean-Baptiste Dumouchelle, and by the overture made to him at that time about launching a regional newspaper. In a quick response, Girod said that he could get a press and type, and thought of five or six young men he would need who could simultaneously master agriculture, printing techniques, and even arms drill! But the project – an original one to say the least – came to nothing.
In the wave of popular meetings that followed the news of Lord John Russell’s resolutions, Girod was everywhere: at the Saint-Marc assembly on 15 May 1837 where he made a long speech, at L’Assomption in the summer, and at Sainte-Scholastique (Mirabel) in the autumn. On 6 August he was present at a gathering of the Fils de la Liberté of Laprairie County held in Saint-Constant; he was one of the group that founded the Association des Fils de la Liberté of Montreal, and he signed the manifesto of 4 October [see André Ouimet*]. During the period when the large assembly at Saint-Charles-sur-Richelieu was being organized for 23 October, Girod served on the sub-committee responsible for presenting to it the views of the village of Varennes. He took the floor at Saint-Charles-sur-Richelieu and with Jean-Philippe Boucher-Belleville* assumed the important office of secretary to the meeting, which brought together the representatives of six counties.
The Patriotes’ activity had been more or less illegal since 15 June 1837, when Governor Lord Gosford [Acheson] had issued a proclamation forbidding protest meetings. The government sought to rely on the justices of the peace, who could prosecute them in the name of law and order. In addition Gosford asked for military reinforcements from the Maritimes. When a new list of jps for the district of Montreal, omitting those of dubious loyalty, was published on 13 Nov. 1837 and action by the forces of order was rumoured imminent, the Patriote leaders left Montreal before warrants of arrest could be issued against them. These were the antecedents of Girod’s meeting on 15 November with Papineau and Edmund Bailey O’Callaghan*. The two had come to Varennes from Montreal via Pointe-aux-Trembles on their way to the Richelieu, and they had met Boucher-Belleville. The latter knew that Girod was at the Hôtel Girard and invited him to join their group.
According to the diary that Girod kept, being careful to write in German and Italian, the four of them then went to the home of Duchesnois, who was absent. Girod noted: “I do not remember which one of us it was, but it seems to me it was Boucher[-Belleville] who proposed that a convention be summoned and a provisional government set up. We agreed to his proposal, but we added that this first measure amounted to an act of open rebellion and that it would be advisable to look for ways to organize the populace and obtain arms and ammunition. We were all in agreement with this proposal and began to talk about our departure.” Girod then proposed that his three companions go to Saint-Denis, see Wolfred Nelson* there, and try to find weapons; as for himself, he would go north and send word to them from Grand-Brûlé (Saint-Benoît). He travelled by way of Île Sainte-Thérèse, Pointe-aux-Trembles, Rivière-des-Prairies (Montreal), and Sainte-Rose (Laval), arriving in Deux-Montagnes County on 17 November. The habitants of Saint-Eustache had already taken up arms four or five days earlier.
What is known of the month that followed-Girod’s last – relates mainly to his role in the military organization of Deux-Montagnes County. The sources on which an account of what took place could be based are unreliable and often contradictory. The Journal historique des événemens arrivés à Saint-Eustache by parish priest Jacques Paquin, which was published in 1838, is strongly anti-Patriote, and Paquin could not have actually seen all that he reported. The statements by witnesses made during legal proceedings after the events tend to blacken the reputation of some in order to exonerate others. The diary that Girod wrote day by day tends, naturally, to put him in the best light, although it is worth noting that the secrecy and immediacy of this record provide a certain guarantee of exactness that statements which sometimes came long after the events cannot offer.
From this material a number of general observations can be drawn. Girod had difficulty in gaining recognition or respect despite his references to his military experience and his vague claim that Papineau had given him authority. The young Montreal lawyers and notaries, many of them members of the Association des Fils de la Liberté who had fled to the region in hopes of mobilizing armed resistance, drew the same reluctant response. Moreover, whereas Girod’s personal relations were quite good with the local leaders at Saint-Benoit (Girouard, the curé Chartier, and Dumouchelle), they were rather bad with those from Saint-Eustache (William Henry Scott* and Jean-Olivier Chénier).
Military cadres had to be formed, volunteers recruited, defences built, arms and supplies requisitioned – all delicate matters. On 23 November, at the instance of Chevalier de Lorimier, Girod was accepted as leader, a week after his arrival. Word of the victory at Saint-Denis came the next day, but at a council of war on 25 November Girod’s idea of going on the offensive by moving on Montreal was rejected. The news of the defeat at Saint-Charles-sur-Richelieu did not help sustain mobilization. Although officially the leader, Girod had no real control, particularly at Saint-Eustache, which was of greater strategic importance than Saint-Benoît. When a party went to Lac-des-Deux-Montagnes (Oka) in order to requisition arms from the Hudson’s Bay Company and persuade the Indians to give up theirs, Girod and Chénier took separate initiatives. Scott would soon withdraw from the movement. It was difficult for Girod to prevent the requisition from turning into a pillage of the families still loyal to the government and of the houses abandoned by their occupants. The final lines in his diary, written on 8 December, reveal his exhaustion and his tendency to suspect everyone.
On 14 December Major-General Sir John Colborne*’s troops, with the support of volunteers from Montreal and Saint-Eustache itself, launched an assault on the rebels barricaded in the church of Saint-Eustache. Chénier died at the head of his men in the resulting combat. Girod, who was there the evening before, had gone to Saint-Benoît to seek reinforcements. While he was on his way back to Saint-Eustache, some men he met suspected him of having slipped off and there was resistance to his orders. He then fled in the direction of Sainte-Thérèse-de-Blainville (Sainte-Thérèse) and went back along the same route that had brought him from Varennes to Deux-Montagnes County. On 17 December he was at Rivière-des-Prairies. Denounced, pursued by a party of volunteers, and discovered the next morning at Pointe-aux-Trembles, he blew his brains out. A price had been set on his head, and he had always said he did not believe that the rebels’ foes would let bygones be bygones.
The following spring, settlement of Girod’s estate confirmed that he had not been rich. His widow Zoé renounced the community of property, which would have been a liability, and sold her movables. It then transpired that her father, Joseph Ainsse, who was the trustee for the estate, was also guardian of “Jhuan Girod, absent, the under-age child born of the said Amury Girod’s first marriage”! Another surprise was a letter from New York, written in English and dated 21 Sept. 1840, from a woman to a Catholic priest named O’Callaghan to ask him where she could get in touch with Edmund Bailey O’Callaghan, the former editor of the Vindicator and Canadian Advertiser, who, she believed, was acquainted with the affairs of her husband Amury Girod. She spoke of their son, of false reports of her own death, of lands that Girod was supposed to have owned in South America. In addition she declared that she had left him in 1833 because at the time she had learned of a plot and had been unwilling to denounce the persons implicated in it, including her husband, or appear to be a party to it by remaining with him. There is no other trace of this woman and this son.
According to Thomas Storrow Brown*’s statement to the librarian of McGill College around 1870, Amury Girod was a rather tall man, well built and good-looking. On the other hand, the description of his character given in historical works thus far is not pretty: he is portrayed as a man of initiative rather than perseverance, who at the last moment, through lack of courage, proved unequal to his task. This may be so. But it should also be remembered that he was a man who, having come to the colony from another culture and with other experiences, had made his contribution to Lower Canadian society. The North American, the newspaper of the Patriotes exiled in the United States which was published in Swanton, Vt, presented this side of the picture, describing Girod as “a gentleman of superior talents to whom the country is indebted for many valuable publications.”
Amury Girod is the author of Conversations sur l’agriculture, par un habitans de Varennes (Québec, 1834) and Notes diverses sur le Bas-Canada (Saint-Hyacinthe, Qué., 1835). He translated a work by William Evans and published it as Traité théorique et pratique de l’agriculture, adapté à la culture et à l’économie des productions animales et végétales de cet art en Canada; avec un précis de l’histoire de l’agriculture et un aperçu de son état actuel dans quelques-uns des principaux pays, et plus particulièrement dans les Îles britanniques et le Canada (Montréal, 1836–37). His diary for the period 15 Nov.–8 Dec. 1837 has been published as “Journal kept by the late Amury Girod, translated from the German and the Italian,” PAC Report, 1923: 370–80. A series of articles on Girod by Gilles Boileau was published in La Victoire (Saint-Eustache, Qué.), 14 oct., 25 nov. 1970; 5 avril 1973; 6, 13, 20 nov. 1975; 23 dec. 1976.
Bibliothèque nationale du Québec (Montréal), Dép. des mss, mss-101, coll. L.-J. Ainsse, nos.152–53, 160; coll. Ainsse–Delisle, nos.9, 13–14, 125, 133, 156, 159. BVM-G, Fonds Ægidius Fauteux, étude biographique sur Amury Girod accompagnée de notes, références, copies de documents, coupures concernant ce patriote. I. [-F.-T.] Lebrun, Tableau statistique et politique des deux Canadas (Paris, 1833), 189, 250. [Jacques Paquin], Journal historique des événemens arrivés à Saint-Eustache, pendant la rébellion du comté du lac des Deux Montagnes, depuis les soulèvemens commencés à la fin de novembre, jusqu’au moment où la tranquillité fut parfaitement rétablie (Montréal, 1838). Caron, “Inv. des doc. relatifs aux événements de 1837 et 1838,” ANQ Rapport, 1925–26: 149–50, 179–85, 187; “Papiers Duvernay,” 1926–27: 159, 170, 175. Émile Dubois, Le feu de la Rivière-du-Chêne; étude historique sur le mouvement insurrectionnel de 1837 au nord de Montréal (Saint-Jérôme, Qué., 1937), 122–24, 177–80. Labarrère-Paulé, Les instituteurs laïques, 50–56. J.-C. Chapais, “Notes historiques sur les écoles d’agriculture dans Québec,” Rev. canadienne, 70 (Janvier–juin 1916): 348–50. Ægidius Fauteux, “Amury Girod ou l’homme du mystère,” La Patrie, 19 juill. 1934: 16–17; 26 juill. 1934: 16–17; 2 août 1934: 16–17. L.-A. Huguet-Latour et L.-E. de Bellefeuille, “Amury Girod,” BRH, 8 (1902): 139–46. William McLennan, “Amury Girod,” Canadian Antiquarian and Numismatic Journal, 8 (1879): 70–80.