Who was John Fraser de Berry?
Robert J. Fraser in As Others See Us: Scots Of
The Seaway Valley, published 1958 (p. 17), in referring to some of the Frasers who
aimed at perpetuating the clan and sept system in Quebec, noted: "They chose as their
Provincial Chief and Lord of the clan Fraser the Hon. John Fraser de Berry,
Esquire, member of the Quebec Legislative Assembly, who was a descendant of Sir Simon
Fraser [sic], the Jacobite of 1745. Noticeably but no doubt because of his French
connections, Scotsman John Fraser was also elected head of the distinct French Catholic
brotherhood, St. Jean Baptiste Society. From this one may assume that the ready adoption
into the national and cultural life of the French of Lower Canada may have been a further
recognition of the Frasers Norman blood."
Alexander Fraser [1860-1936] in The Clan Fraser in Canada, Souvenir of the First Annual Gathering, Toronto, May 5th 1894, published 1895 (pp. 17-20), refers to a report in the Quebec Mercury about a meeting of the "Frasers" of the Province of Quebec, held at Mrs. Brown's City Hotel on 8th February 1868:
At this meeting, with Alexander Fraser, Esq., Notary,
ex-Member for the County of Kamouraska, now resident in Quebec, in the chair; and Mr. Omer
Fraser, of St. Croix, acting Secretary, a number of resolutions were passed. The meeting
then proceeded to the nomination of officials. In addition to electing a Chief for the Dominion of Canada
[who would be named "The Fraser"], it was recommended that there should also be
elected one hundred and eleven subordinate chieftains of provinces, electoral divisions,
counties, localities and townships - a total of 112 Chiefs to represent all the Frasers,
estimated by John Fraser de Berry to be about 12,000. Among the officers
nominated, who were unanimously elected:
The Honorable John Fraser de Berry, Esquire, one of the members of the Legislative Council of the said Province, etc., being the fifty-eighth descendant of Jules de Berry, a rich and powerful lord (seigneur) who feasted sumptuously with the Emperor Charlemagne, and his numerous suite, at his castle in Normandy, in the eighth century.
II. For the following electoral divisions:
Lauzon - Thomas Fraser, Esquire, farmer of Pointe Levis
A report on the formation of Clan Fraser in Canada,
published in The Quebec Morning Chronicle, generated these spirited letters
to the editor, proving that Fraser history can have its humerous moments.
But there are fearless hearts which cannot be daunted by the failures of those who have gone before them. For instance, the Frasers - perhaps, in order to be more characteristic, we should say Le Clan des Frasers - have organized or re-organized for "benevolent and social purposes." We find the minutes of their proceedings, done up in decent French, in the columns of a French contemporary of the 19th inst. In fact the Frasers, as well as the minutes which relate to them, are deeply tinged with French throughout. Let not our readers be surprised. If historical records speak the truth, the ancient and highly respectable family in question is of Norman origin, settled in Scotland somewhere deep in the heart of the middle ages. The Frasers, in Frenchifying themselves have, thus, only gone back to first principles, if we may be permitted to use the expression. But let us come to the proceedings of the meeting in question.
After the first resolution relative to the organization of "le clan" on a benevolent and social basis, it was agreed to name: A chief for the Dominion of Canada, a chief for each province, a chief for each electoral division, a chief for each county, and a chief for each parish and township. Then follow a dozen resolutions or so, relative to matters of detail, from which it seems that the present arrangements are only of a temporary nature, and that the grand "gathering of the Frasers" is to be held on the fourteenth day of May next, in the Dominion capital as a matter of course. However, we glean some information from the tail-end of the proceedings, namely: the appointment of chiefs for the Province of Quebec.
The Honorable John Fraser de Berry
has been invested with the chieftainship for the Province; and there are subordinate
chiefs for the various electoral divisions. The Christian names of these new
"head-centres," if we may be thus permitted without disrespect to term them,
have anything but a Scottish smack about them. There are Alexandres and Jean
Etiennes and such like, and the Secretary of the meeting answers to the name of
Omer. In fact, there is a good deal more of the Gaul than the Gael about the concern. It
is moreover recorded, in the official minutes, that the chief for the Province of Quebec
is the fifty-eighth in descent from one Jules de Berry, who feasted the Emperor
Charlemagne, in a sumptuous manner, at his castle in Normandy in the eighth century. Would
it not have been more characteristic of a Scottish chieftain had he been descended from
that ancient warrior who, in the language of the poet,
But, fault-finding apart, the reorganized "Clan des Frasers" deserves encouragement, since its objectives are "purely benevolent and social." We shall drink success to Le Clan, in a bumper of Glenlivet, at the very first opportunity.
27th February 1868 -
"Je Suis Prest" - Motto of the Fraser of Laval
Sir, - Take notice that I belong to the best portion of
creation, the feminine gender, nor must you, however, judging from the motto prefaced,
imagine that I am either ready or desirous to exchange my social status or name. Oh, no! I
am satisfied with both; I merely wish to have it recorded that, on the pedigree question I
am prepared to challenge, if not "all creation," as Uncle Sam says, at least the
principal portion thereof. My fifty-eighth grandfather in the ascending line, Jules de
Berry, gave, ten hundred years ago, to the Emperor Charlemagne and suite, a most recherche
déjeuner a la fourchette, in his castle in Normandy. Tradition says that the wine
was of a superior vintage, that Carlos Magnus on leaving, under its benign influence,
actually kissed my great-grandmother, in the fifty-eighth degree ascending, and that, by
letters patent, we were allowed to add to our armorial bearing, Berries of a fabulous
size; whether Juniper, Huckle or Cran-Berries is not yet cleared up. This is why our clan
has gown to its present size. It is expected to be in full bloom of reconstruction on
Dominion Day, and ripen immense berries.
28th February 1868 -
Sir, - I have been much gratified by your liberal and flattering notice of the late "gathering of the clans" at Mrs. Browns Restaurant. At the same time, I feel it my duty to supply an omission in your account of the proceedings, and also to bring proof of a fact of which you seem to entertain some doubt.
It was decided at the meeting that the chiefs and others who should attend the gathering, in May next, should be requested to appear in full Highland costume. During the discussion, a proposal was made to have the kilts of étoffe du pays, but this was immediately quashed by our worthy chief, who has ordered a web of the real clan tartan from the "land of the Gael," so that he and the fifty-ninth descendant may make an imposing appearance on the eventful day. At the same time he strongly recommended the clansmen to learn the names of the several portions of their national costume, such as philibeg, sporran, claymore, skene-dhu, &c., and to provide the articles required. All present agreed to follow his advice, with one exception, a modest man, who is ashamed to show his legs, and who swore, with emphatic sacre that he would wear his culottes on the occasion.
With reference to your implied doubt as to the lineal descent of our chief from Jules de Berry, I am happy to say that I can bring unquestionable proof of the interesting fact. In a rare book (which may be found in the circulating library of "Circle litteraire de St. Sauveur") entitled Histoire du Clanne Fraisere depuis la Creation, par Q. Fraisere, Paris, A.D., 1168, Tome I, page 573, is an account of the identical banquet given to Charlemagne [742-814], by the nobleman above referred to. It was on this interesting occasion that the family received its name. The knight, on bended knee, presented a plate of strawberries to his guest, who, surprised at the pleasing incident - for the fruit was not in season - exclaimed (the Emperors knowledge of the French was limited) Hello! Fraises, Sir de Berry! - and condescended to partake. After enjoying the luscious fruit, he ordered that to commemorate the event, his host should for the future bear the title of Fraisere, jocularly adding (Charlemagne was fond of capital jokes), that no one could fail to see the derivation of his name, for he had it both in French and English - Fraisere de Berry. It will thus be seen that our chief is not descended from a man of straw, but from a man of strawberries.
The clan, however, existed long before this period. No reasonable doubt can be entertained of their direct descent from one of the sons of Noah, and perhaps they existed even before the deluge. Indeed, the rare work above-mentioned gives in Tome I, page 125, an affidavit from an eye-witness, who deposes that he saw Japhet going into the ark, carrying a large tin box with a brass padlock (Tubal-Cains patent, probably), on which was inscribed in white letters "Papiers des Friseurs." These were no doubt, papers relating to the clan, though some critics (envious of our antiquity), insinuate that they were only Madame Japhets curl-papers, stored away for use in the ark, and locked up to keep them from her quarrelsome sister-in-law.
Again, I thank you, Sir, and beg to inform you that
whenever you call at my house, the bumper of Glenlivet is at your service.
[Ed: Charlemagne (Charles the Great or Charles I), son of Pepin the Short, was emperor of the West (800-814), king of the Franks (768-814). Legend enhanced and distorted his actual achievements. Surrounded by his 12 legendary peers, Charlemagne became the central figure of a cycle of medieval romances or chansons de geste, poems of medieval France (11th-13th cent.) composed by trouvères.]
Pedigree of John Fraser de Berry [1816-1876]
In February 1871, John Fraser de Berry asked his cousin to provide the names of the family members and other pertinent information to complete the genealogy of his grandfather, Colonel Malcolm Fraser, which he had been working on since 1866. Based on various books and other documents in his possession, he claimed: "Jai pu établir que notre Famille des Frasers descendant de Jules La Germain né en lanée 216 & mort en lannée 250." He also commented on his third election as Chief of the Frasers of the Province of Quebec, and his recent invention of a perpetual "Calendrier Fraserien, qui est fondé sur la date de la mort de notre Seigneur" [based on the date Christ died]. Unfortunately, he left little documentary evidence of his ancestral research.
A handwritten document among the Fraser Papers in the National Archives of Quebec lists the following pedigree:
Simon, who was Malcolm Frasers youngest son by Marie
Allaire, was baptized on 10 Jan 1768, in St-Étienne de Beaumont. The priest did not say
when he was born. [John Fraser gave two dates for his fathers birth: 1 Jan and 3 Jan
and also believed that he was born in Jan 1769.] Simon Fraser had two children with
Marie Semur, daughter of François Saumure and Marguerite Sanché - John, and Marie
Marguerite who died at 4 years.
John Fraser de Berry spent a lifetime inventing and reinventing his ancestry and genealogy, as evidenced by the following examples from published sources in Quebec.
John Fraser was acting as tutor to the sons of his deceased uncle Alexander Fraser by Pauline Michaud, namely, William [1830-1908] and Edouard Fraser [c1832-1874] of Rivière-du-Loup. He was represented by Alexis Morin, then married to Pauline Michaud [see chart of the Frasers of Mount Murray & Rivière-du-Loup, Canadian Explorer , December 1999]. As usual, John seized the opportunity to display all his titles, in 25 lines, extracted from the notary document:
Feb 1851 - Notary Jean-Baptiste Pouliot
discovering that John was the patron of St-Jean-de-Fraser, Quebec researcher
Paul Lessard observed that he had never heard of this parish and wonders if it was ever
officially accepted as such. However, he
speculates that it could be the parish of St-Jean-lÉvangéliste de Thurso, which
was named after John Brady, priest and missionary between 1842 and 1855, according to Dictionnaire Historique et Géographique des
Paroisses, Missions et Municipalités de la Province de Québec (1925) par Hormisdas Magnan:
Although Malcolm Fraser's grandson may have been prone to delusions of grandeur, and the elaborate constitution and intangible purposes of his "New Clan Fraser" failed to attract any public attention whatsoever, and ceased to exist, John Fraser de Berry laid the foundation for our clan society.
In the spring of 1894 Alexander Fraser noted that there was little diminution of the clan feeling and he believed there was room for a less pretentious and more practicable organization. Invitations were sent to members in Ontario, Montreal, New York, Buffalo and Detroit, to attend the first annual dinner of the Clan Fraser in Canada on 5th May 1894 and 300 replies were received, expressing hope for the successful revival of the Clan Fraser organization.
Alexander Fraser, 17th [now 18th] Lord Saltoun [1820-1886], in his 3 volume The Frasers of Philorth, Lords Saltoun (1879) clearly rebuts two fanciful stories of the origin of the Fraser family, that of Pierre Fraser migrating from France to Scotland in the time of Charlemagne, and that of Julius de Berri serving a dish of strawberries to the King of France. "Both accounts may be discarded as fabulous, and the only particle of truth in either would appear to be the French or Norman origin assigned to the family." However, such fanciful stories have taken on a life of their own, often being quoted as fact, even in articles about the 1997 Fraser Gathering, held at Castle Fraser, Aberdeenshire under the authority of Lady Saltoun and Lord Lovat, and sponsored by the National Trust for Scotland who own and operate the castle as a major tourist attraction in the Grampian Region.
Source: CFSC Canadian Explorer, Dec. 1997, Dec. 1998 & Dec. 1999.