LECLERC, MICHEL, Roman Catholic priest, Sulpician, and superior of the Lac-des-Deux-Montagnes mission (Oka, Que.); b. 10 Feb. 1762 in La Prairie (Que.), son of Michel Leclerc, master blacksmith, and Marguerite Bétourné; d. 9 May 1813 in Montreal, Lower Canada.
Michel Leclerc grew up near the Indian mission at Caughnawaga, and thus learned the Mohawk language at an early age. From 1775 to 1782 he studied at the Collège Saint-Raphaël in Montreal, where every year he won one or more prizes or honourable mentions for memory work and Latin. As the college did not yet offer the final two years of the classical program (Philosophy), Leclerc continued his studies at the Séminaire de Québec from 1782 to 1784. He was given the tonsure before the holidays of 1783, possibly so he could become study master, living during the summer at the seminary’s holiday house at the “Cotteau Fortin” or Petit Cap (Cap Tourmente). Having entered the Grand Séminaire on 1 Oct. 1784, he received minor orders and the sub-diaconate from the bishop of Quebec, Louis-Philippe Mariauchau* d’Esgly, in March 1786. He then became assistant master of the pupils at the Petit Séminaire, while continuing his theological studies. The coadjutor, Jean-François Hubert*, conferred the diaconate and the priesthood on 24 and 25 March 1787.
Upon his ordination as priest Leclerc returned to Montreal, and from there Étienne Montgolfier*, superior of the Séminaire de Saint-Sulpice, sent him to join Vincent-Fleuri Guichart* at the Indian mission on the Sulpician seigneury of Lac-des-Deux-Montagnes. On 25 Oct. 1787 Leclerc replaced Antoine-Théodore Braun, a missionary there, and began his ministry among the Iroquois. On 21 Oct. 1788 he was admitted to the community of the Sulpician seminary as a member.
In addition to his missionary work Leclerc served as bursar at Lac-des-Deux-Montagnes. It was in this capacity that in 1790 he gave an account to Gabriel-Jean Brassier* of the mission’s difficulties with Eustache Trottier Desrivières Beaubien, who wanted to settle in the Iroquois village, build a house, and carry on business, despite the Sulpicians’ opposition. The case was brought before the Court of Common Pleas in November 1790, and in 1793 the provincial Court of Appeal settled the dispute in favour of the seigneurs, the Sulpicians.
Following the death of Guichart on 16 Oct. 1793, Leclerc took his place as superior of the mission, and for a year he ran it alone, since the shortage of priests throughout the Canadas prevented him from having an assistant. But with the arrival in Lower Canada in 1794 of French Sulpicians driven out of their country by the revolution, Leclerc was able to obtain the aid of two of them, Anthelme Malard and Jean-Louis-Melchior Sauvage de Chatillonnet.
As superior of the mission Leclerc had the double responsibility of being the keeper of souls and the representative of the seigneurs. His first duty was to administer the sacraments, preach, and teach his flock. His sermons, which were all in Mohawk, drew much of their inspiration from the works of his predecessors, according to Sulpician Jean-André Cuoq*. In 1797 Leclerc was the driving force behind the founding of a mission which would become the parish of Saint-Benoit. He also was in charge of the temporal administration of the mission of Lac-des-Deux-Montagnes and, like his predecessors [see François-Auguste Magon* de Terlaye; Vincent-Fleuri Guichart], he had to deal with the Indians’ demands, which had become more insistent as the seigneury developed and as the Indians became aware of the rights enjoyed by its white settlers. The mission Indians, who unlike the settlers did not own their land, wanted to choose the sites of their farms and to have a monopoly on the exploitation of the forests. They also wanted to keep for themselves the sap drawn from the maple trees on the seigneurial domain. On 6 Nov. 1805 Leclerc reached an understanding with the Indians. Henceforth the settlers would not be allowed to cut wood on the Sulpicians’ domain, make maple syrup, or harvest the hay; the Indians would not be allowed to rent their meadows or lend or rent their houses. However, the Indian claims concerning their territorial rights were to persist throughout the 19th century [see Joseph Onasakenrat*; Nicolas Dufresne*]. While the seigneury was being rapidly developed, Leclerc looked after practical matters, with the help of the bursar Joseph Borneuf. He also organized the corvées for road-building and chose the sites for mills. In 1812, when war broke out with the United States, the civil authorities, who were interested in having the Indians take part in the conflict, asked him to pass on details pertaining to military organization.
Despite apparently delicate health Michel Leclerc carried on his ministry until March 1813. He died at the Sulpician seminary in Montreal on 9 May and was buried in Notre-Dame church two days later. Jean-Baptiste Roupe* succeeded him as head of the mission. According to his colleague François-Joseph-Michel Humbert, Leclerc was “a witty, warm-hearted man, much beloved by the Indians, whose confidence he enjoyed.”
ANQ-M, CE1-3, 10 févr. 1762; CE1-51, 11 mai 1813; CN1-158, 2 août 1785. Arch. du collège de Montréal (Montréal), Palmarès, 1775–81. AP, L’Annonciation (Oka), Reg. des baptêmes, mariages et sépultures (copy at PAC). ASSM, 8, A; 24, Dossier 6. J.-A. Cuoq, “Anotc kekon,” RSC Trans., 1st ser., 11 (1893), sect.i: 137–79.