The First Canadian To Become An American Citizen

Article No: 39

The First Canadian To Become An American Citizen
Yarmouth Vanguard, Tuesday, September 26, 1989

There was Louis Benjamin Petitpas from Chezzetcook, born in the vicinity of Louisburg around 1726, surely the son of Claude and of Françoise Lavergne. He was married twice, first to Madeleine Poujet, then to Marie-Joseph Dugas. He was an interpreter of the Indians. For some time he carried a business between Halifax and Boston with his vessel.

At the beginning of May, 1781, he sent a petition to the Honorable Senate and House of Representatives for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, asking for "a permit to withdraw his property from Nova Scotia into this Commonwealth and a passport to proceed on his business with Security from Capture by American Cruisers". The reason for this petition was that he was "unwilling to submit to the Oppression (of the British Government) and desirous of becoming a Subject of a Nation in Alliance with his own."

A few days later, May 7, the Chamber of Representatives of Massachusetts gave him permission to go to Nova Scotia to get his personal belongings to move to the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, in order to make this his permanent residences without being able to return to Nova Scotia after that without an explicit permission of the Court. A safe-conduct was given him so that he would not be molested at sea by any American vessel. As guarantee, he was to pay to the officer of the port of Boston a bail in duplicate of five hundred pounds. The next day, the Senate approved this "Resolution", which the legendary signature in penmanship of the Governor, John Hancock.

Having paid his bail, he left for Halifax and Chezzetcook on the 9th with his vessel, the "Longsplice", of 35 tons, which had cost him 100 pounds and the riggings 20 pounds.

In Halifax, unfortunately, he expressed too openly his sympathy for the American colonies and came to be considered an enemy of the Government. Threatened with imprisonment, he left Halifax towards the beginning of July (1781) with his luggage, valued at one thousand pounds.

Leaving Halifax, it seems that he went to Chezzetcook. It could be that he had his wife and his children embark with him. Instead of going directly to Boston, he continued north, as far as Cape Breton, maybe to take a last glance at his native place. At about three miles and a half before reaching Cape Breton, he was accosted in the evening of Aug. 10 by Nathaniel Webb of Salem, Massachusetts, in command of the "Hazard"; he had been commissioned by the American Congress to seize all foreign vessels. Webb first hoisted the American flag. But, when he saw that the "Longsplice" was moving away, he hoisted the British flag. He finally reached Petitpas and compelled him to board his ship. When Petitpas declared that he was from Chezzetcook, Webb said that he, himself, was from Halifax. But Petitpas retorted that it was not true, as he knew everybody in Halifax. It is then that Webb revealed his commission and that Petitpas showed his papers from the Court of Boston. Webb then asked him why he was going to Cape Breton, instead of going directly to Boston.

What followed is not clear. According to a number of testimonies, it was not before Oct. 31 that Webb seized the "Longsplice". He sent her to Salem. But, on her way, she was seized by a vessel armed by the "king of Great Britain". She then fell into the hands of Indians and fishermen, and was finally sold in New York.

Louis Benjamin Petitpas succeeded in reaching Boston, where he brought Webb to Court, accusing him of having robbed him of a value of 2240 pounds; that amount, added to the damages he suffered, came up to 3500 pounds. The trial was to last from Jan. 1, 1782, to July 1 of the following year. Webb, as a means of defense, testified that Petitpas had no papers with him when he seized him, or again that he was at that date a subject of the King of England; or again that he carried on a illegal trade between Nova Scotia and Boston. However, it was maintained all through the trial that Petitpas was "well and good" an American subject and citizen of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts since the month of May, 1781, according to an act of the Court. He thus finally won his case.

Later, Louis Benjamin Petitpas had still to contend with the Court of Boston, but this time as a defendant. On Dec. 13, 1782, he had signed a bill for the sum of 18 pounds, 18 shillings and interest, in favour of Joseph Webbed, tailor, of Boston. Was it to pay a suit or was it because he had borrowed money from Webber to pay his lawyer? In any case, on May 2 of the following year, 1783, Petitpas not having honored his commitment, Webber asked that his property be confiscated for the value of 25 pounds, in view of a trial which was to open on July 1; it happened that it was on that very day that Petitpas had asked the Court that Nathaniel Webb be prosecuted for having robbed him of his possessions. I was not able to find out the outcome of this other trial.

He was asked again to appear in Court on Apr. 30, 1784. On Nov. 28 of the preceding year, he had bought a pair of boots from Thomas Bradlee, shoemaker, for two pounds, 14 shillings. Over two months later, Feb. 4, Petitpas had not yet paid for his boots. So, on that day, Bradlee asked the Court to summon him to appear for a trial. The next day, Feb. 5, Petitpas paid his bill, plus the fine, which amounted in all to three pounds, 12 shillings.

What happened after this to the newly naturalized American citizen Louis Benjamin Petitpas and his family? I was unable to find out, notwithstanding my research in the Massachusetts archives, the files of the Courts and the Selectmen's Minutes of the City of Boston.

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