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COCHRANE, FRANCIS – Volume XIV (1911-1920)

d. 22 Sept. 1919 in Ottawa


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LE NORMANT DE MÉZY, JACQUES-ANGE (he signed Lenormant Demesi), financial commissary (commissaire ordonnateur) of Île Royale; b. probably in France, son of Ange Le Normant, king’s secretary and chief clerk of the king’s great council, and Claude-Madeleine Gourdan; m. Anne-Marie Debrier; d. 23 Oct. 1741 in Paris, France.

Excavations for the fortifications at Louisbourg, Île Royale (Cape Breton Island), had not long been under way when Jacques-Ange Le Normant de Mézy arrived late in the summer of 1719. To this son of an important French administrative family on his first voyage across the Atlantic, the nascent New World fortress stood in stark contrast to the established might of Dunkerque where he had been financial commissary since 1701. He brought traditions from both sides of his family with him: his conflict with Governor Saint-Ovide [Monbeton], which would nearly paralyse the government of the colony in 1719 and 1720, stemmed to a great extent from the old feud between the nobility of the pen and that of the sword. It was aggravated, however, by the imbalance and overlapping jurisdictions inherent in the colonial administrative system, a system only partially implemented at Plaisance (Placentia, Nfld.) and not completely understood by Saint-Ovide.

Although the governor’s position was the more prestigious, he had little real influence in routine administration outside the military sphere. Mézy, by virtue of his commission as commissaire ordinaire on 15 April 1718, was responsible for all regular commissariat functions: the supply of stores and material, particularly for the military and the construction of the fortress. To these duties were added, on 23 April, the powers of ordonnateur which were inherent in the commission of intendant but not that of commissaire ordinaire, and which involved control of finances, including the preparation of annual budgets, the authorization of all types of expenditure, and the payment of Marine personnel. By his commissions as subdelegate of the intendant of New France and first councillor of the Conseil Supérieur (both dated 19 June 1718), Mézy exercised the same broad authority over the administration of justice as did his theoretical superior at Quebec. He was, moreover, responsible for taking censuses of population, trade, and fishing, making all contracts for the king, and administering various royal ordinances such as those pertaining to maritime conscription (les classes).

To administer the numerous areas under his authority the financial commissary was assisted by several types of officials. His principal subordinates were the scriveners or writers (general, principal, and ordinary), to whom he assigned specific tasks such as the accounts of the stores of the hospital. Below them were the clerks, copyists, and the storekeeper. Two other officials, essential to the civil administration, were not directly subordinate to him. Funds sent from France were deposited with the agent of the treasurer-general of the Marine, who was responsible for payment of salaries and bills for goods authorized by the financial commissary. The treasury agent’s accounts were private and he was personally responsible for them. Somewhat closer to the financial commissary, particularly at Louisbourg where he also generally held the rank of scrivener, was the controller. Responsible to both the controller-general in France and to the ministry of Marine, this official was expected to prevent the misuse of royal funds by verifying all receipts and expenditures approved by the financial commissary and by assisting at the calling of public tenders to ensure that the lowest bidder obtained the contract.

A working relationship between governor and financial commissary was possible within the administrative system at Louisbourg but was prevented by a clash of personalities. Saint-Ovide and Mézy were forceful men, jealous of their own prerogatives and lacking any spirit of compromise. Their first dispute arose in the fall of 1719 when Mézy opposed an attempt by Saint-Ovide to intervene in financial affairs; during the winter they came into conflict again over Mézy’s interference in matters pertaining to military justice, properly within the jurisdiction of the council of war. At a meeting of the Conseil Supérieur on 14 March 1720 the two men openly confronted each other over which of them should preside. After a stormy session a compromise was struck whereby, pending the king’s decision, the financial commissary would act as president of the chamber but the two officials would jointly sign all judgements. Mézy, however, did not let the matter rest. In subsequent months he publicly aired his views on his proper functions and openly defied the governor’s authority. Angered, the council of Marine repudiated the pretensions of both men and threatened punitive measures if their quarrels continued. Although Mézy’s position as president of the Conseil Supérieur was confirmed, he was reprimanded for his acts of defiance. The extreme tone of rebuke in the council’s dispatches shocked both officials and thereafter their relations were more civil, but never friendly.

In the area of judicial administration Mézy exhibited the same independence. Here he was at a considerable advantage for not only were his powers as subdelegate of the intendant extensive and ill defined, but the inexperienced attorney general of the Conseil Supérieur, Antoine Sabatier, was mild-mannered and his direct subordinate in the civil administration. “He is extremely rash . . . ,” wrote Sabatier. “He would like to do everything; that involves him occasionally in errors and it’s the very devil to get out of them.” Mézy used the Conseil Supérieur to extend his own influence and that of the civil authority. As early as 1719 he urged that the representational basis of the court be broadened, with fewer military men and more representatives of commercial interests. After Saint-Ovide had secured the appointment of Joseph Lartigue to the council in 1723, Mézy recommended one of his own favourites, Pierre Carrerot*, in 1724. His request was refused, but the following year his only son, Sébastien-François-Ange*, gained a seat at the tender age of 23. Mézy’s judgements, it should be noted, were not always impartial, as a case in 1724 involving the governor’s friend Lartigue showed.

Mézy and Saint-Ovide were particularly concerned with the social and economic problems resulting from the rapid growth of Louisbourg in the 1720s. In a community with less than 2,000 inhabitants, including the garrison, the administration was not far removed from the daily concerns of its residents. Business and government were in close communication, and in their ordinances pertaining to fishing and trade the two men always favoured business over labour, and local as opposed to metropolitan interests. Particular problems arose with the fishery, the island’s primary economic activity and one of the main reasons for the establishment of the colony in 1713. In 1720 Saint-Ovide and Mézy tried to stabilize credit arrangements between outfitters and suppliers by instituting written agreements, already introduced in 1718 for contracts between fishermen and employers. Partly to alleviate the severe manpower shortage, they forbad French merchants to engage crews on the island for the fall fishing. Since the sale of liquor to fishermen had become an instrument in the fierce competition among employers for labour, they made several attempts to regulate the trade in it. In order to place the local commercial community on an equal footing with merchants from France, where fish could be sold for nearly twice as much as on Île Royale, the price of cod was fixed at 12 livres the quintal in 1724. Further, to ensure that the resident merchants had a steady supply of fish, Saint-Ovide and Mézy decreed a first option for them on the catches which their crews received as salary. Aside from his attempts to rationalize the fishing industry, Mézy made some limited initiatives in other economic spheres, such as coal mining and the timber trade, but these efforts were without result.

The authority of the governor and the financial commissary in the area of public regulation was broad. Ordinances ranged from establishing Paris weights and measures as the standard for the colony to ordering that pigs which roamed the streets and threatened the lives of children be penned, or forbidding partridge shooting during the construction season so that soldier-workers would not wander off in search of game. Enforcement of their legislation and of royal decrees, however, was exceedingly lax. Decrees regulating both the cabarets, Louisbourg’s favourite pastime, and the consumption of alcoholic beverages were issued or reissued every year from 1719 to 1722 and again in 1727 and 1728. Yet by 1726 there were 15 taverns, excluding canteens for the soldiers, for a resident population of slightly less than a thousand, a situation explained by Mézy’s attitude that “soldiers and sailors must be able to drink [since] they work only for that.”

More difficult to comprehend is the negligence of both Saint-Ovide and Mézy in other areas. The town grew haphazardly at first since neither official bothered to see that the zoning regulations issued in 1721 were obeyed. A new royal ordinance was issued two years later which prohibited private dwellings in designated public areas, and the governor and financial commissary were ordered to expropriate, with compensation, those settled in reserved areas. Although his house was in an ideal location near the quay, Mézy did not provide close surveillance of trade or effectively prevent smuggling. But unlike Saint-Ovide he was not directly implicated in the charges of favouritism and pecuniary interest brought against the administration in 1727 and 1728 for its tolerance of trade with the English colonies. He was reprimanded, however, for his failure to insist on the enforcement of laws which were the cornerstone of imperial trade policy and for his failure to inform the ministry of what had transpired.

Mézy felt a particular responsibility for the erection of public and social facilities. He noted that the people who lived in the colonies or came there to trade lacked the public spirit evident in France. They had been motivated to leave the mother country, he felt, by “extreme avarice [and] the disorder of their business affairs; some come here as punishment for their crimes, and all want to acquire wealth in order to return to France.” In 1720, therefore, he suggested that a church, public school, and court house be constructed through taxes imposed on cod, wine, and brandy. Although only the tax on cod was levied, it was hotly contested by the local merchants and suspended in 1723 after one year of operation. Mézy also attempted to protect the interests of the crown against clerical pretensions and opposed the Recollets, who were established in the colony, on a number of occasions. He thought that secular priests would better serve the interests of church and state, but Louisbourg was considered too poor to support a secular clergy.

Mézy’s greatest deficiencies as financial commissary were in precisely those areas of bookkeeping and finances which were essential to his position. In the early years of his administration he neglected to submit his records to the ministry of Marine in the prescribed manner or to send to France annual censuses of trade and fishing. Ministerial criticism forced him to improve his performance after 1724, but he never succeeded in putting the colony’s financial records in order. When he was commissioned in 1718 he had been warned to pay particular attention to this responsibility, for there had been irregularities in the accounts of one of the former storekeepers. Ignoring this sound advice, Mézy signed bills on stores and the treasury unthinkingly, prepared his accounts hastily, and did not keep accurate records. Contrary to orders, he sold provisions intended for the troops. When Philippe Carrerot resigned as storekeeper in 1724, Mézy replaced him, despite opposition from Saint-Ovide, with Carrerot’s brother, André; he then departed from normal procedure by neglecting to make an inventory of the stores. Years later it was charged that he had concealed fraud on the part of Philippe Carrerot, an accusation to which his deviation from standard practice and the arrears in Carrerot’s accounts lend credence.

His failure to organize the colony’s financial accounts proved to be Mézy’s undoing. In 1720 the director of fortifications, Jean-François de Verville*, accused Saint-Ovide and Mézy of misusing funds which had been earmarked for fortifications although they had not been separated from funds for regular expenses. The agent of the treasurer-general of the Marine, François-Marie de Goutin (described by Verville as Mézy’s “weak-willed creature”), refused to show the engineer his accounts. At the same time discrepancies were discovered in France between Mézy’s financial statements and those submitted by Verville. Verville’s suggestion that a clerk of the treasurers-general of fortifications be appointed was rejected as a solution, but the budgets for the fortifications account and for regular expenses were thereafter kept strictly separate. To guard against further irregularities Louis Levasseur was appointed controller in 1720.

Year after year, however, the ministry continued to find errors and omissions in the Louisbourg accounts. In 1724 and 1727 Mézy sent his son to France with his excuses. Finally, in 1728, his negligence and incompetence caught up with him. Having exceeded his budget he borrowed from the fortifications fund. When the engineer Étienne Verrier came to make payments from it, the treasury agent’s strongbox was found empty. Mézy admitted to some failings but tried to cover himself by blaming the treasury agent, his limited staff, and the confusion which had resulted from Verville’s failure to submit annual accounts. Although Goutin was indeed later found to be over 48,000 livres in arrears, Maurepas, the minister of Marine, refused to accept Mézy’s rationalizations. “I must tell you,” he wrote in 1729, “that such an administration is inexcusable and if I had informed the king you would be severely punished for it.” Closing his accounts for 1722–28, Mézy went to France in 1729 to justify his behaviour. The following year he asked permission to resign but he returned to Louisbourg one more time before the ministry recalled him in 1731. His official date of retirement was given as 1733 and he was accorded a pension of 2,400 livres. Nothing is known of his life after his return to France.

Lacking the administrative ability of Jacques Prévost* de La Croix, the initiative of Pierre-Auguste de Soubras*, and the imagination of François Bigot*, Le Normant de Mézy was the least competent of Louisbourg’s financial commissaries. His administration was chaotic and lacking in substantive innovation. Pugnacious and irascible, convinced that “men act only through rivalry,” he not only interfered with the work of others but never effectively organized his own staff. Instead he relied on a few favourites such as the Carrerots, Levasseur, and Jacques-Philippe-Urbain Rondeau. Over the years Mézy’s son began to assume greater responsibilities and in 1729 replaced his father temporarily. The ministry realized, however, that a more thorough change was needed and on 21 Feb. 1731 it appointed Pierre de Belamy, an experienced civil administrator who was then financial commissary at La Rochelle, to replace Mézy. For unknown reasons Belamy did not come to Île Royale. It was only slowly and hesitantly that Maurepas permitted Sébastien-François-Ange Le Normant de Mézy to replace his father, the beginning of a career which would reach its summit when he was appointed deputy minister of Marine in 1758.

T. A. Crowley

AD, Nord (Lille), État civil, Dunkerque, 28 nov. 1702. AN, Col., B, 4055; C11B, 413; 20, ff.31112v; C11C, 15, ff.23, 177, 210, 212, 234; D2C, 60, p.7; 222/2, p.117 (PAC transcripts); F2C, 3, ff .88, 155; F3, 59, ff.75, 8687, 167; Marine, C2, 55, p.6 (PAC transcript); C7, 180 (dossier Le Normant de Mézy); Section Outre-Mer, G1, 466, pièce 67 (recensement général de l’île Royale, 1724); G2, 190/1, ff.55–56; 192/1, f.5; G3, 2038/2 (1 sept. 1733); 2057 (23 mai 1721); 2058 (18 oct. 1721); Minutier central, Étude XV, pqt.377. Select documents in Canadian economic history, 1497–1783, ed. H. A. Innis (Toronto, 1929), 81, 88, 98–99, 104–6, 117 [The originals must be checked as the editor does not always indicate when he has not transcribed the complete document.  t.a.c.]. Édouard Le Normant Des Varannes [Édouard Burton], Généalogie de la famille Le Normant (Orléans, France, 1853), 57–59. T. A. Crowley, “French colonial administration at Louisbourg, 1713–1744” (unpublished ma thesis, Duke University, Durham, N.C., 1970). La Morandière, Hist. de la pêche française de la morue, II, 659–60, 671, 673–74. McLennan, Louisbourg, 45, 50, 54, 59, 78–80, 87, 92.

General Bibliography

Cite This Article

T. A. Crowley, “LE NORMANT DE MÉZY, JACQUES-ANGE,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 3, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed September 22, 2023, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/le_normant_de_mezy_jacques_ange_3E.html.

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Permalink:   http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/le_normant_de_mezy_jacques_ange_3E.html
Author of Article:   T. A. Crowley
Publication Name:   Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 3
Publisher:   University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication:   1974
Year of revision:   1974
Access Date:   September 22, 2023