LEBRUN (Le Brun) DE DUPLESSIS, JEAN-BAPTISTE, lawyer, notary, merchant, office holder, and pamphleteer; b. c. 1739 in Corbie, France, son of Jean-Baptiste Lebrun de Duplessis and Marie de Champigny; m. 12 Oct. 1762 Marie-Catherine Mettot at Quebec; d. 26 June 1807 in Montreal, Lower Canada.
Jean-Baptiste Lebrun de Duplessis arrived in New France in 1755 as an artillery scrivener in the Régiment de Béarn. From May 1759 to May 1760 he was a notary at Michilimackinac (Mackinaw City, Mich.). Some time between 31 August and 6 Sept. 1760 he joined up with Jeffery Amherst*, the British commander-in-chief, and assisted him as he descended the St Lawrence to attack Montreal. According to Guy Carleton, Lebrun had deserted to the British side after escaping from prison, where he had been sent by the French authorities on a charge of stealing from the army’s stores. At the end of 1760 he was taken into Amherst’s secretariat, and a little later into that of Thomas Gage*, who was military governor of Montreal.
In 1762 Lebrun acted as an attorney before the military council of Quebec, and on 29 Jan. 1765 he was admitted to the Court of Common Pleas as a lawyer. He became at that time one of the six lawyers given entry to the Common Pleas, the only court in which Canadians could then practise law. On 14 March he received from Governor Murray* a commission authorizing him to plead there, as did François Lemaitre Lamorille, Jean-Antoine Saillant*, and Guillaume Guillimin*. On 1 July 1766, after the test oath was lifted, Canadians obtained the right to practise as lawyers before all civil courts. Six days later Lebrun was granted a full commission as lawyer. Along with Joseph-Antoine Olry, Jean-Antoine Saillant, and Guillaume Guillimin, he was one of the first Canadians to be so accredited. In addition, on 12 December he was licensed as a notary for the District of Quebec.
Lebrun’s practice, however, ran into heavy weather. On 2 Feb. 1769 he complained in the Quebec Gazette that he had been subjected to “calumnies” arising from an out-of-court payment which he was supposed to have demanded from two servants who had robbed him of articles worth about £40. After an investigation, on 12 April Carleton, by then governor, annulled Lebrun’s commissions as lawyer and notary. As grounds for his action he cited “the various incidents of roguery and extortion” in which Lebrun was said to have indulged, among them the illegal detention of several persons. It is impossible to know whether, as the ex-lawyer claimed, the good relations he maintained with Francis Maseres* and the British merchants in the colony had had an influence on Carleton’s decision. Eight days after being dismissed Lebrun announced in the Quebec Gazette that he hoped to leave the province. He did not, however, carry out this intention. On 23 June 1769 he sold a two-storey stone house in the Lower Town of Quebec for 3,600 livres and retired to a farm at L’Ancienne-Lorette that he had owned for a least a year. The proceeds of this sale, together with the 1,400 livres he had received the previous year from the sale of a piece of land at Rivière-du-Loup (Louiseville), guaranteed him some degree of material comfort. According to Carleton, in the ensuing years Lebrun was found guilty of sexual offences against young girls nine or ten years of age; the most serious of these, apparently, was the attempted rape of a young girl by the name of Marie Valin on 27 May 1770. Lebrun is believed to have been sentenced to a term in prison and a fine of £20 for this offence.
On 8 Jan. 1774 Lebrun wrote to Maseres from Quebec expressing approval of his memoir proposing that the exercise of French civil law in the province should be limited through the introduction of a new legal system. Lebrun added, without providing evidence to support his assertion, that three-quarters of the inhabitants of the province shared his opinion. He also used the occasion to ask that he be reinstated as a lawyer and notary or be appointed to equivalent functions, alleging that he had lost his earlier commissions because of a “whim” of Carleton’s, solely on the accusation of having been “envious.” Maseres forwarded this correspondence to Lord Apsley, lord chancellor of Great Britain, in an attempt to win the British government’s support for his plan.
Around the same time, in a letter to the British authorities, Lebrun supported the proposal to create a house of assembly in the province, claiming that the inhabitants of the colony were in general of the same opinion. When the passage of the Quebec Act was under discussion Lord North, the leader of the British government, questioned Carleton about Lebrun’s opinions. The governor replied that Lebrun was not a man to be trusted. He stated that he had initially patronized him because of the aid he had given Amherst but had subsequently disavowed him because of his bad behaviour. He even alluded to Lebrun’s sexual misdeeds, noting that at the time he had pardoned him.
In 1776, during the American invasion [see Benedict Arnold; Richard Montgomery*], Lebrun supported the occupation forces. To secure supplies for them, he stole, with the help of his brother-in-law and another man, about 110 bushels of wheat from the seigneury of Saint-Roch-des-Aulnaies and took them to a property he owned at Cap-Saint-Ignace.
When the invasion was over Lebrun returned to Quebec, where he was active as a general merchant until at least 1782. In 1790, however, he was living in the parish of Saint-Sulpice, near Montreal. At that time he published a pamphlet entitled Mémoire abrégé ou exposition justificative du cas de Jean-Baptiste Lebrun . . . ; in it he claimed that he had lost his offices of lawyer and notary unjustly and defended himself against a charge of pecuniary theft laid by the surgeon Jean Ducondu in 1789. On 14 Jan. 1791 Lebrun petitioned Alured Clarke*, lieutenant governor of the province, to be reinstated into the practice of law. He declared that he, his wife, and nine children had been reduced to abject poverty, and recalled the services he had rendered Amherst, Gage, and Murray; he had lost his offices, he alleged, as a result of accusations made by some “jealous fanatics and despots.” He included a copy of his pamphlet and also a petition from his wife and children, dated the same day and addressed to Lord Dorchester [Carleton]. In it Mme Lebrun declared that she was impoverished and asked pardon for “some trifling, perhaps involuntary offence” committed by her husband.
On 11 Feb. 1791 eight lawyers presented to William Smith*, chief justice of Lower Canada, a petition pleading the seriousness of the grounds that had led to Lebrun’s dismissal; according to them the contents of his pamphlet and the charge of theft laid in 1789 cast considerable doubt on his conduct after he was dismissed. On 16 Feb. 1791 a ninth lawyer reached the same conclusion. In the end, Lebrun’s petition was not granted. At the time of his death in Montreal on 26 June 1807, however, he was holding the office of bailiff.
Jean-Baptiste Lebrun de Duplessis is the author of Mémoire abrégé ou exposition justificative du cas de Jean-Baptiste Lebrun, de la paroisse de St. Sulpice, dans le district de Montréal (Montréal, 1790). His minute-book containing 65 deeds drawn up between 1766 and 1769 is at ANQ-Q, CN1-168.
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