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MARCOUX, PIERRE, army and militia officer and merchant; b. 2 Jan. 1757 at Quebec, son of Pierre Marcoux and Geneviève Lepage; d. 20 Nov. 1809 in Berthier (Berthier-sur-Mer), Lower Canada.

Pierre Marcoux’s career has often been confused with that of his father, Pierre. The latter was born at Quebec on 9 July 1731 to the mason Germain Marcoux and Geneviève Marchand; he was already established as a merchant by the time of his marriage to Geneviève Lepage on 9 Sept. 1754, and by 1769 he was living on Rue Notre-Dame in Quebec’s Lower Town. In 1773 a committee of British merchants at Quebec wanting to obtain a house of assembly invited to a meeting 15 Canadian seigneurs and merchants whom they felt capable of influencing the Canadians to support the proposal; eight, including Marcoux, attended, but their suspicions that the British were determined to exclude Canadians from election to an assembly overcame their sympathy for the measure, and they refused to endorse the campaign. The previous year Marcoux had bought a farm at Berthier, to which in March 1775 he added a lot acquired from Louis Dunière, a merchant at Quebec and his neighbour at Berthier. He became a captain of militia at Quebec in August 1775, and during the American siege of the city he commanded a company of volunteers in which his son Pierre served. It saw action in the repulse of Major-General Richard Montgomery*’s assault on the barricades of Rue du Sault-au-Matelot. In 1777 the younger Marcoux joined Major-General John Burgoyne*’s army as a lieutenant.

In the mean time, probably as early as 1776, the elder Marcoux had begun moving into maritime commerce in partnership with the Quebec merchant Louis (Louis-Martin) Marchand; they purchased a schooner for a cash payment of £900 in January 1777, and likely began making and shipping flour the following year. In 1779 Marcoux acquired from the Séminaire de Québec and the Hôtel-Dieu several lots, one of which was a beach lot, at La Canoterie in Lower Town. In February 1780 he leased the farm at Berthier for rent in kind, including half the grain. Perhaps the same year he opened a store at his property on Rue Notre-Dame, where he sold wines, porter, cider, and cheese. Marcoux had evidently become quite prosperous by this time; in September 1779 he had been able to give his daughter, Marie-Geneviève, and her new husband, his partner, Marchand, an advance of 12,000 livres on her inheritance. Marcoux’s situation rapidly deteriorated, however; in 1781 he was obliged to borrow £2,000 from Joseph Brassard* Deschenaux.

At the end of the American revolution young Pierre was placed on half pay and granted 2,000 acres of land. On 7 June 1783 he married Marie-Anne, daughter of Louis Dunière, and struck out on his own in business. The post-war context was unfavourable, however, and as early as November he and his brother Jean-Baptiste, with whom he had formed a partnership, found themselves creditors to two merchants on the brink of bankruptcy, one of whom, the younger Louis Marchand, owed them £500. Moreover, because of “the great decrease in the price and value of goods since the Peace” with the United States, by September 1784 the three Marcouxs were indebted for a total of £1,800 in imported merchandise to the London firms of Watson and Rashleigh [see Sir Brook Watson] and Rashleigh and Company, who demanded payment of at least two-thirds of the debt within three years. In October the family’s three-storey stone house on Rue Notre-Dame, now occupied by Pierre and Marie-Anne (the elder Marcoux had moved to Berthier in 1783), and the two-storey house in La Canoterie with “the large and commodious store distributed properly for a manufacture of flour” were offered for sale; they were not sold, however. In the spring and summer of 1785 all the stock-in-trade, “consisting in a compleat and valuable Assortment of Dry-Goods, Groceries and Liquors,” was put up for auction.

At the same time as the Marcouxs were struggling to pay off their British creditors, they were trying to finance a hazardous scheme to send a trading expedition to Baie des Esquimaux (Hamilton Inlet), Labrador. Trade was being conducted on different parts of the Labrador coast by such merchants as Adam Lymburner*, Thomas Dunn, and William Grant (1744–1805) of Quebec and George Cartwright and Andrew Pinson of England, but Baie des Esquimaux seemed to offer excellent prospects. It had been explored in 1743 by Louis Fornel*, and then exploited commercially in the 1750s by his widow, Marie-Anne Barbel*, and her associates, but appears to have been rather neglected since. In July 1784 the Marcouxs obtained from Governor Haldimand a licence to send eight men and £800 worth of merchandise to Baie des Esquimaux on condition that they obey the laws regulating trade with the Indians, but they did not send an expedition that year. In August 1785 the younger Marcoux formed a joint partnership with Dunière and two other Quebec merchants, Jacques-Nicolas Perrault and John Antrobus, to carry on a seal fishery on the Labrador coast and “a trade with the savages at the Baie des Esquimaux and elsewhere.” That fall, however, Marcoux was turned back by heavy winds at the entrance to the bay and wintered at Seal Islands (Seal Islands Harbour), Labrador, about 100 miles to the southeast. He brought back to Quebec three sealskin-clad Inuit, with their whalebone utensils and weapons; they met Lieutenant Governor Henry Hope*, and paddled their kayaks in the harbour before a large crowd.

The partners subsequently secured a licence from Hope to establish fishing posts at Indian Island, between Seal Islands and Baie des Esquimaux. Marcoux set forth in the fall of 1786 with fishing gear, lumber, and the Inuit family. After an unfortunate wintering at Seal Islands, he finally got away in June 1787 for Baie des Esquimaux and established himself in an old French post at North West River, about 120 miles inside the bay. Two other Canadian traders, George Plante and Baptiste Dumontier, had wintered there the past two years and they protested, but ultimately the parties agreed to settle on opposite sides of the river, and let the natives choose the post with which they would trade. Marcoux had a successful winter, the natives “exerting themselves amazingly to kill seals to exchange for woollens, iron mongery, bread, etc.” In the summer of 1788, however, Plante brought suit at Quebec against Marcoux, alleging that he had broken provincial ordinances by settling and trading in Indian country without a licence and by selling liquor to the natives. The case was held over until the following summer when Marcoux, in defence, argued that he had obtained licences, that Inuit were not Indians, and that since he was in Hudson’s Bay Company territory provincial regulations did not apply anyway. The outcome of the case is unknown.

In spite of the court battles, in the winter of 1788–89 Marcoux and his partners had two vessels in Baie des Esquimaux and a third fitting out to go in the spring. Moreover, they joined forces with John MacKenzie and Company of London to approach the authorities in both England and Quebec for exclusive rights of fishing and trading in Baie des Esquimaux. Their petition of January 1789 to Governor Lord Dorchester [Guy Carleton] claimed that a monopoly was essential to their lives and property, for if competition made it necessary to give liquor to the natives in the bay, “all attempts to improve it [would have to be] dropt for ever.” Dorchester referred the petition to the land committee of the Legislative Council, Composed in part of Quebec merchants, it had rejected a similar petition from Cartwright two years earlier but was sympathetic to the request of Marcoux and his associates. Although the committee felt it could not grant a monopoly, it praised the petitioners for their enterprise and recommended that they have the preference for the sites in the bay they effectively occupied; however, the matter seems to have gone no further. Marcoux apparently continued to trade in the area in the 1790s but without great success.

Meanwhile, by 1788 the house and store on Rue Notre-Dame had been sold to Dunière and Joseph Duval, and the elder Marcoux had begun pursuing a public career. About 1789 he became lieutenant-colonel of militia for the region between Berthier and Matane. Though not taking a leading part, since 1784 he had been supporting the campaign of the Canadian merchants at Quebec to obtain a house of assembly and English commercial law [see Jacques-Nicolas Perrault]. From 1792 to 1796 he and Dunière represented Hertford County in the first house of assembly. Marcoux supported the Canadian group which developed in opposition to deputies backing the colonial administration. On 3 July 1797 he married Geneviève Alliés, but six days later he died; he was buried on the 11th under his pew in the first row of the parish church of Notre-Dame-de-l’Assomption at Berthier. He left a net debt of nearly 16,000 livres.

The Marcoux farm was divided equally among Pierre, Jean-Baptiste, and Marchand. In 1799 Pierre acquired Jean-Baptiste’s share, and the following year sold the two-thirds for £640 to Dunière, who had already acquired Marchand’s share. Marcoux seems to have settled for a time at Montreal, where in 1799 he was a member of the Club des Apôtres, a gastronomic group that Lieutenant-Governor Robert Shore Milnes* wrongly suspected of subversive activities in favour of France. By 1804, however, Marcoux was living at Berthier on the former family farm, which he was renting from Dunière. That April he received a grant of 400 acres of land in Mégantic Township.

In 1796, when Lord Dorchester had created the Royal Canadian Volunteer Regiment, Marcoux had been named captain in the first battalion; on its disbandment in 1802 he was placed on half pay as a lieutenant. He later became major in the militia and assistant to the adjutant general, François Baby. On 19 Sept. 1809 he succeeded Gabriel-Elzéar Taschereau as overseer of highways of the District of Quebec. Marcoux’s health, however, had been adversely affected by his expeditions to Labrador, and on 20 November, before being able to take up his functions, he died of pleurisy at the age of 52. His burial took place three days later in the parish church of Notre-Dame-de-l’Assomption. He left his wife with a small and precarious income.

Pierre Marcoux and his father touched the society of their times at many points. They cooperated with the new régime after the conquest, entered into mercantile ventures with British partners, and were personally brave and enterprising, but they were perhaps not sufficiently cautious or astute to make successful businessmen. In his daring effort to exploit Baie des Esquimaux the younger Marcoux had worked in a vast and lonely region, under conditions too difficult to allow him to reap the rewards that his courage and enterprise deserved.

W. H. Whiteley

[Personal details of Pierre Marcoux’s life and military service can be found in his wife’s pension petition (1823) in PAC, RG 8, I (C ser), 197: 60–65. The place of the young Marcoux in the siege of Quebec is recorded on page 101 in volume 1714 of the same collection. The list of those who served in the militia on that occasion was compiled by Gabriel-Elzéar Taschereau and later printed as “Rôle général de la milice canadienne de Québec passée en revue le 11 sept, 1775 . . . ; aussi, nouveau rôle de la milice canadienne qui a fait le service pendant le blocus de Québec . . . ,” Literary and Hist. Soc. of Quebec, Hist. Doc., 7th ser. (1905): 269–307.

Francis-Joseph Audet* and Édouard Fabre Surveyer published an article on Marcoux in La Presse (Montréal), 20 août 1927: 45, as part of a series on the members of the first parliament of Lower Canada. It contains details of Marcoux’s last will and testament and a facsimile of his signature. In their article, however, Audet and Fabre Surveyer state that Pierre Marcoux Jr was deputy of Hertford, when in fact it was his father who represented the county. This error was corrected by Fabre Surveyer in “Les deux premiers députés du comté de Hertford (Bellechasse-Montmagny): Pierre Marcoux et Louis Dunière,” Le Canada français (Québec), 2e sér., 32 (1944–45): 404–17.

The business activities of the Marcouxs at Quebec are detailed in a large number of notarial acts, listed below, in the possession of the ANQ-Q. Their involvement in the trade and fisheries of Labrador is documented in petitions, licences, correspondence, legal depositions, and statements gathered together in G.B., Privy Council, Judicial committee, In the matter of the boundary between the Dominion of Canada and the colony of Newfoundland in the Labrador peninsula, joint appendix (12v., London, 1927), 7: 3356–90. The memorial for an exclusive grant of Baie des Esquimaux and the report of the Quebec land committee are in PAC, RG 1, L1, 1: 283–86. George Cartwright’s Journal of transactions and events, during a residence of nearly sixteen years on the coast of Labrador . . . (3v., Newark, Eng., 1792), 3, has some interesting glimpses of Marcoux on the coast. Background information on the Labrador posts is found in James White, Forts and trading posts in the Labrador peninsula and adjoining territory (Ottawa, 1926) and in William Henry Whiteley, “Newfoundland, Quebec, and the Labrador merchants, 1783–1809,” Newfoundland Quarterly (St John’s), 73 (1977), no.4: 18–26.  w.h.w.]

ANQ-Q, CE1-1, 9 juill. 1731, 9 sept. 1754, 2 janv. 1757; CE2-2, 7 join 1753; 3, 11 juill. 1797; 23 nov. 1809; CN1-25, 30 avril 1779; 8, 19 avril, 25 juill. 1782; ler sept. 1783; CN1-26, 4 mars 1801; CN1-205, 9 août 1774; 10 avril 1775; 11 janv., 13, 29 mars, 19 sept. 1777; 12, 20 févr., 18 avril, 25 mai, 21 déc. 1778; 28 avril, 15 juin, 17 sept. 1779; 17 févr. 1780; 24 juill., 24 nov. 1783; 6, 21 sept. 1784;16 avril, 23 août 1785; CN1-207, 8 sept. 1754, 10 févr. 1775; CN1-256, 31 May 1791; CN1-262, 29 sept., 10 nov. 1804; CN2-7, 30 juin 1797, 19 mars 1798. Quebec Gazette, 29 Sept. 1766; 18 June 1772; 29 June 1775; 28 Dec. 1780; 5 Feb., 14 Oct. 1784; 21 April, 30 June, 29 Dec. 1785; 29 June 1786; 19 April, 28 June, 20 Dec. 1792; 5 Jan. 1797; 5 Oct., 30 Nov., 7 Dec. 1809; 18 Jan. 1810. “Les habitants de la vine de Québec en 1769–1770,” F.-J. Audet, compil., BRH, 27 (1921): 121. Hare, “L’Assemblée législative du Bas-Canada,” RHAF, 27: 373.

General Bibliography

Cite This Article

W. H. Whiteley, “MARCOUX, PIERRE,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 5, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed August 23, 2014, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/marcoux_pierre_5E.html.

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Permalink: http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/marcoux_pierre_5E.html
Author of Article: W. H. Whiteley
Title of Article: MARCOUX, PIERRE
Publication Name: Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 5
Publisher: University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication: 1983
Year of revision: 1983
Access Date: August 23, 2014