Recruiting Canada - Fleury Mesplet's French Canadian American Revolution
As the first person to establish a printing press in Montreal, Fleury Mesplet might be considered more of a Founder of Canada than of America.
However, as he was hired by the Continental Congress with the sole intention of setting up said printing press, Mesplet gets his day on this website.
The reason the Continental’s sent Fleury to Canada?
Fleury Mesplet was a French printer with middling success and republican values who decided to leave his home country.
While traveling to London in 1773 he met with Benjamin Franklin. Franklin sent the Frenchman to Philadelphia with a letter introducing him to the Continental Congress.
When he arrived in Pennsylvania the following year, Congress realized (as Franklin had) how valuable the ability to print in French could be.
Letters to the Inhabitants of Canada
Mesplet was commissioned by Congress to print the first installment of the Letters to the Inhabitants of Canada.
This was the first of three publications sent to the province of Quebec in an effort to win the favor of the Canadian people. The hope was to convince Canadians to join the ‘United Colonies’ as the 14th in rebellion.
It must be remembered that just twelve years earlier Quebec was controlled by France. It fell under the authority of Great Britain only after the French and Indian War.
Additionally, the recruitment of Canada was a large turning point for the New England colonies.
One of the Intolerable Acts that had gotten so under their skin was the Quebec Act, which allowed the Canadians to continue practicing the Catholic religion. The fact that the puritan-influenced New Englanders were now ready to join forces with Catholic Canadians sheds a light on changing feelings regarding freedom of religion.
The Canadian Delegation
By early 1776, the Continental Army had invaded Canada.
It was decided that a delegation would be sent in a further effort to win the support of the now-captured neighbors to the north. The men chosen for this mission were Benjamin Franklin (now returned from England), Samuel Chase and Maryland Catholics Charles Carroll of Carrollton and his cousin John Carroll.
The delegation was allowed to select a printer to join them and spread the word.
They chose Fleury Mesplet.
First Printer in Montreal
Mesplet left before the delegation in March of 1776.
He brought with him a team of six who transported his five carriages worth of supplies to Montreal. By the time the delegation joined him, his press was up and running.
Unfortunately, the Continental Army was already retreating by this point and the Continental Congress’ representatives left town after a few short weeks.
Mesplet, having a monopoly on the printing trade in Montreal and happy that he was in a city that spoke his native tongue, decided to remain.
The Montreal Gazette
Unfortunately for Fleury, as soon as the British came rolling through he was imprisoned.
His first stay was about a month, though he continued printing republican essays and went back to jail for three years.
When he was again released, Mesplet left radical politics and started publishing the Montreal Gazette. In addition to several books and almanacs, he continued this paper for the rest of his life.
The Gazette is still in daily publication in Montreal to this day.
Want to read about some of the other French Founders?
Check out these articles:
A large portion of the material for this article is based of a biography of Mesplet written in 1906 which can be read for free here.
Mesplet also has a more recent biography which details his politics more thoroughly.
‘Voltaire’s Man in America’ elaborates on how the politics of France effected Mesplet’s outlook on life.
If you’d like a copy you can get one through the Amazon affiliate link below (you’ll support this site, but don’t worry, Amazon pays me while your price stays the same).