ROMA, JEAN-PIERRE, director of a sedentary fishing venture; b. at Bordeaux, France; m. Marie-Madeleine Moreau of Paris, and had two daughters and two sons; fl. 1715–57.
Jean-Pierre Roma is chiefly remembered for his activities in Île Saint-Jean (Prince Edward Island); little is known of his life elsewhere. He wrote in 1741 to the minister of Marine that in 1715 his fortune had been ruined by one M. Desmarets, that the Duc d’Orléans had then frustrated his attempts to re-establish this fortune by reuniting to the royal domain a concession he had had on the south coast of Saint-Domingue (Hispaniola), and that in 1726 the French ambassador at Turin had prevented him from entering the employ of the king of Sardinia.
On 17 July 1731 a grant signed by Louis XV of France and his minister of Marine, Maurepas, was made to Sieurs Claude Cottard, Joseph Du Boccage, Joseph-Philippe Narcis, and Jean-Pierre Roma, who was described as a merchant of Paris. These four men formed the Compagnie de l’Est de l’île Saint-Jean. Their concession, of 3,500 arpents frontage and 40 arpents depth on the eastern coast of Île Saint-Jean, included the lands drained by the modern Brudenell, Montague, and Cardigan rivers; the site was known as Trois-Rivières, and occasionally “La Rommanie.” The grant was to be held “en franc aleu noble,” with no royal dues, but homage was to be paid at Louisbourg, Île Royale (Cape Breton Island), and justice was reserved for the king. To establish a sedentary fishing operation, the company was to settle 80 persons in 1732 and 30 annually thereafter; these settlers were to clear land and construct buildings. Fish-drying stations and storehouses could be established on the north coast, where land would be granted in proportion to the number of boats used there.
Roma, who was appointed director of the company, arrived at Trois-Rivières in June 1732. He envisaged the colony becoming not only a fishing venture trading with France but also the centre of trade between Quebec, Île Saint-Jean, and the West Indies. In the West Indies he would sell cod, planks, and beer from Trois-Rivières in exchange for molasses and rum which he would then sell in Quebec in return for supplies such as flour.
In April 1733 Roma was named commandant in the concession, under the administration at Louisbourg. Almost immediately, however, he encountered difficulties. Relations with the priest, Abbé Bierne (Byrne), deteriorated rapidly as the two quarrelled over the boundaries of temporal and ecclesiastical power. Equally stormy were Roma’s relations with his partners in France. They complained of his management, his independent spirit, and his ambitious plans; and when no profits were derived from the company’s first year of operation, they refused further financial assistance. Roma defended himself, pointing out that expense had been unavoidable in establishing the colony, disclaiming responsibility for financial losses, indicating that he had accomplished a great deal considering his financial backing, and warning of the deterrent effect his failure would have on others contemplating similar ventures. To demonstrate his industry, he made a detailed report of every project undertaken, its purpose, and the manner in which it had been accomplished.
By August 1734 Roma had levelled the cape at Trois-Rivières, built two piers, cleared an area of about 1,700 by 1,200 feet, and constructed nine buildings. Five were houses and the remaining four were a storehouse, a bakery, a forge, and a stable. Wells were dug and an ice house was built. Gardens were set out, and fields of wheat and peas planted. A large cellar was made for storing food, and two water reservoirs and several small boats were constructed. Roads were cut to Saint-Pierre (St Peters) to the north, to Rivière des Esturgeons (Sturgeon River), to the Rivière du Nord-Est (Cardigan River), Souris, and Port-La-Joie (Fort Amherst). At Saint-Pierre houses and drying platforms were built for the 55 people involved in operations there.
Despite favourable accounts of his activities from Jacques d’Espiet* de Pensens and Saint-Ovide [Monbeton], officials in Île Saint-Jean and Louisbourg, Roma was unable to convince his associates of the value of the enterprise. He negotiated with them in France during the winter of 1736–37, and the next May became sole proprietor of the concession. His problems, however, continued. In 1737 he complained that the father superior of the Recollets at Louisbourg had helped lure away two girls he had brought from France, and that these girls had in turn enticed away three of his men and a badly needed cooper. In 1738 a plague of mice ruined the crops. Because settlers could take up free land elsewhere from the crown, Roma found them difficult to attract and he was forced to bring in several convicted salt smugglers. In January 1740 fire destroyed some buildings and cattle, and in 1741 Roma lost a ship and its cargo in a wreck. By September 1741 he was forced to ask the minister for an advance of 500 livres.
Roma’s venture in Île Saint-Jean ended on 20 June 1745, when New England troops, sent by William Pepperrell from the victorious expedition to Louisbourg, destroyed his establishment. Roma, his son, daughter, and five servants escaped first to the woods, then to Quebec. At Quebec Roma was employed in the magazines but his records were kept in such an unorthodox fashion that many had to be redone. In 1752 he was considered for, but not appointed to, the post of subdelegate of the intendant in Île Saint-Jean, once again in French hands. From Quebec Roma went to Martinique where, in 1757, he was director of the domain of Guadeloupe.
Roma’s venture was the second attempt by a chartered company to establish a settlement in Île Saint-Jean, and, like that of the Comte de Saint-Pierre, it failed [see Gotteville* de Belile]. Roma was widely regarded as headstrong and partial, and his explanations of his problems frequently suggest a persecution complex; nevertheless one must admire his perseverance and acknowledge that many of his misfortunes and his final failure were the result of factors largely beyond his control.
Few signs of Roma’s efforts remain; much of the shoreline has washed away, and when, in 1968 and 1969, archaeological investigations at the site were conducted by the National Historic Sites Service, only a few bits of foundation and masonry were found to remind us of the ambitious project Roma began there.
AN, Col., B, 55, ff.59v, 569, 585; 57, ff.602, 740; 58, ff.518v, 565; 59/1, f.434v; 61, ff.616v, 617–17v; 62, ff.9, 45v, 54v; 63, f.563; 64, f.466; 65, ff.53, 455, 480v–81; 66, f.304; C11B, 13, ff.53, 79, 195, 197; 14, ff.22, 379, 387, 403, 405; 15, ff.84, 211; 16, ff.161, 165, 169, 173, 224, 252; 19, ff.35, 67, 76, 248; 20, ff.52, 122, 271; 23, ff.220, 222; 28, f.10; 29, ff.356–84, 400–27; 30, f.294; 32, f.220; Section Outre-Mer, G1, 466/2 (recensements de l’île Saint-Jean, sept. 1734, 1735); G2, 190/2/D, f.2; G3, 2038/1 (8 juin 1732); 2045 (28 juin 1757). Harvey, French régime in P.E.I., 73–89 [This is the fullest secondary account available, and it seems to be accurate. m.c.].