Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Plessis, Joseph Octave

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PLESSIS, JOSEPH OCTAVE (1762–1825), Roman catholic archbishop of Quebec, the son of a blacksmith, was born near Montreal on 3 March 1762. He received a classical education at Montreal College, and for a short time followed his father's trade; but, in 1780, he returned to his studies, entered the Petit Séminaire at Quebec, and became a teacher at Montreal College. Later, becoming secretary to Bishop Briaud, he was ordained a priest on 11 March 1786, and was appointed secretary of Bishop Hubert at Quebec. In 1792 he was made curé of Quebec and professor of ‘humanities’ at the college of St. Raphael, and in 1797 grand vicar and coadjutor to Bishop Denault. His growing power and influence were employed against the English predominance, and the English party, led by Herman Witsius Ryland [q. v.], made vain efforts to hinder his promotion. Consecrated as bishop-coadjutor on 25 Jan. 1801, he became bishop of Quebec in 1806, on the death of Denault, during the height of the discussion about the jesuit estates. An unsuccessful effort was made by Ryland and the protestant party to prevent his taking the oath of allegiance.

Plessis's position was now established. In 1810 he came into collision with the governor, Sir James Henry Craig [q. v.] But in 1812, when war with the United States broke out, he won the goodwill of the government by his efforts to rouse the loyalty of the French Canadians. In 1814 he was accordingly granted a pension of one thousand louis and a seat in the legislative council, where he proved himself an ardent champion of the rights of the Roman catholic population. In 1818 he was made archbishop of Quebec. He set himself vigorously to organise the Roman catholic church, and established mission settlements along the St. Lawrence and in the Red River territory. He was active in furthering education, but insisted on maintaining the integrity of the French tongue in Lower Canada. In 1822 he opposed the union of Lower with Upper Canada in order to avoid the possibility of amalgamating the French and English. He took a great part in the discussions on the education law of 1824. Practical work in the same direction was not neglected. He educated many young men at his own expense, and the colleges of Nicolet and Ste. Hyacinthe were the outcome of his enthusiastic appeals. He died at Quebec on 4 Dec. 1825.

[Appleton's Cyclopædia of American Biography; Roger's History of Canada, vol. i.]

C. A. H.