Born Joseph Fleury de Mesplet in France, learned the printing craft in Lyon, worked in London and Philadelphia, established “The Montreal Gazette”.
Perhaps because of poor economic conditions in France, Fleury Mesplet (1734-1794) and his wife Marie moved to London, England where he opened a printing shop near Covent Garden in 1773.
Fleury Mesplet and Benjamin Franklin
Certainly aware of the increasing conflict between Great Britain and the colonies, he may have met Benjamin Franklin in England. As Colonial representative, Franklin admired the English and thought of remaining there, but eventually became disillusioned. It is likely that Franklin, also a printer, encouraged Mesplet to move to Philadelphia where he established a partnership with a local printer in 1774.
In 1775, Fleury Mesplet printed, “Letter to the Inhabitants of the Province of Québec, Formerly Known as Canada, from the First Colonial Congress Held in Philadelphia”. That bold attempt to draw the citizens into action against the British was mostly ignored.
Printer in Montreal During American Revolution
Fleury Mesplet accompanied Benjamin Franklin’s delegation sent to Montreal in an unsuccessful attempt to persuade Quebecers to support their cause. They arrived with a printing press and all supplies necessary for Mesplet to print propaganda on behalf of the Continental Congress.
One of the Continental Army’s early plans at the onset of the American Revolution was to capture Quebec and convince the people to join the Thirteen Colonies. The Americans occupied Montreal from November 1775, with their officers stationed at the Chateau de Ramezay, but failed in their attempt to take Quebec City.
Mesplet remained in Montreal in 1776 when the Americans left, and moved his press to the Chateau de Ramezay, before he was briefly imprisoned for his activities on behalf of the revolutionaries. In 1778, he opened a printing shop and founded Gazette du Commerce et Littéraire (Commercial and Literary Gazette).
With journalist-editor Valentin Jautard, Mesplet developed the weekly paper into an educational tool and a forum for debate. Mesplet’s main revenue during that period was from sale of the papers and copies of books he published, as there were very few advertisers.
Publication of the paper ceased in June 1779 when Mesplet and Jautard were convicted of sedition and imprisoned for three years. When Governor Frederick Haldimand approved a lottery to raise money for construction of a new Montreal jail in 1783, the lottery managers hired Mesplet to print the 13,000 tickets.
Fleury Mesplet Begins “The Montreal Gazette”
Fleury Mesplet began publication of La Gazette de Montreal/The Montreal Gazette in 1785, with the first edition almost completely in French. Until his death in 1787, Jautard provided translation into English, and by 1788 the paper was completely bilingual. It displayed pages with all sorts of advertisements and notices, and became a profitable business.
With local and foreign news, La Gazette covered subjects such as literature, religion, and education. Advocating for the establishment of a legislative assembly in Quebec, Mesplet openly criticized the Bishop for opposing new ideas related to education. Having begun as a French-language newspaper, The Gazette evolved over the years to become Montreal’s only English-language daily.
Fleury Mesplet was not only a master printer; he was also one of 18th-century Canada’s more enlightened thinkers.
- Historical Atlas of Canada by Derek Hayes, Douglas & McIntyre Ltd. 2006
- The Imperial Challenge: Quebec and Britain in the Age of the American Revolution by Philip Lawson, McGill-Queen’s University 1989