MOUNIER, JEAN-MATHIEU, merchant; baptized 2 Oct. 1715 at the parish church of Saint-Pierre in Jarnac, near Cognac, France, son of Adam Mounier and Suzanne Liard; d. in or after 1774.
Jean-Mathieu Mounier was born into a large scattered family of Huguenots with connections at Cognac, Saint-Maixent (Saint-Maixent-l’École), La Rochelle, Limoges, and elsewhere. He lived at Quebec from 1736 to 1758 as a wholesale importer in association with various Huguenot firms of La Rochelle and Bordeaux, especially the brothers Jean and Pierre Veyssière, originally from Limoges, with whom he was linked in a partnership. Bills of lading for shipments in the years 1744 to 1756 show that Mounier imported shoes and other leather goods, guns, mirrors, paper, cotton, draperies from Montauban, soap, oil, and, of course, wine and brandy. During those years he was joined in Quebec by several Huguenot relations who were also in business: three nephews, Henry, Jean, and François* Mounier; and two cousins, Pierre Glemet and François Maurin*, both of Jarnac. By the Seven Years’ War, Jean-Mathieu Mounier had a considerable reputation and was the agent to whom Pierre-François Goossens, a Paris merchant banker and shipping agent, addressed three shiploads of food sent for the crown from Dunkerque in 1758.
In that year Jean-Mathieu Mounier returned to France by way of Spain and soon bought various properties at La Rochelle, including a house on the Place d’Armes for 15,000 livres where he lived with an English maid and a black slave. With a fortune of 300,000 livres gathered in trade at Quebec, he intended to continue trading to Canada but these hopes were dashed by the British conquest and after various efforts to establish himself he went bankrupt in 1773. His bankruptcy was due in part to the French government’s cunning manipulation of the Canadian bills after its own financial failure in autumn 1759, and in part to the bankruptcies of his cousin, Pierre Glemet, and two of his brothers, Michel Mounier in Cognac and Jean Mounier in Limoges.
It is only fair to add that Mounier did not share the single-minded devotion to business usual in French merchants of his time. He bought maps, microscopes, telescopes, and other scientific equipment and gathered a library of some 1,500 works on Newtonian science, astronomy, physics, mechanics, navigation, agriculture, history, and so on. At his bankruptcy, when these books were put up for sale, they were estimated to be worth 8,633 livres. Mounier also travelled a great deal in France during the 1760s and spent two years in Paris where he took an interest in the intellectual life of the time. He had business dealings meanwhile with the Paris banker Louis Jullien, and with various merchants of Quebec, Montreal, and the West Indies, but the character and extent of these affairs are difficult to assess, and the bankruptcy of 1773 shows what they all came to. He reported to his assembled creditors, in a balance sheet of 8 Nov. 1773 entitled “État à Peu Près de mes Malheureuses Affaires”: “The habit of useless, frivolous spending, purely for pleasure, so easily adopted in comfortable circumstances such as I enjoyed before my reversal of fortune: this is, I believe, the only thing for which I need reproach myself. By useless spending I mean all which has dissipation as its object, and occasions for it are unfortunately only too frequent. Among them are the theatre, the ball, the country party, and the little games of polite society. With these I rank also the expenses occasioned by my experiments in physics and agriculture etc. These last are perhaps more excusable. I took them up because of the idleness forced upon me by my overwhelming losses of the last few years which took from me all means for trading enterprises, after the loss of Canada on which I had founded all my hopes.”
Mounier was a prominent member of the Huguenot merchant group so important in Canadian trade during the 1750s; like others, he went bankrupt after the loss of the colony, either because he was unable to turn his hand to any other business once back in France or because all his funds were lost during the war or tied up in the ill-fated Canadian bills. But Mounier was not typical in his intellectual pursuits.
AD, Charente-Maritime (La Rochelle), B, 1754 (Mounier’s seals dated from 21 Oct. 1773 to 15 Jan. 1774); 1757 (Mounier’s bankruptcy balance sheet signed 8 Nov. 1773 and turned in to the authorities on 28 Jan. 1774); Minutes Fleury (La Rochelle), 14 janv. 1774 (Mounier’s inventory including a catalogue of his books). Archives municipales, Jarnac (dép. de la Charente, France), État civil, Saint-Pierre, 2 oct. 1715. PRO, HCA 32/253, Vainqueur (including several letters by and to members of the Mounier family). J. F. Bosher, “French Protestant families in Canadian trade, 1740–1760,” Social History, VII (1974), 179–201.