JOHN FRASER de Berry [1816-1876]

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. »
[Ed: John Fraser and his father Simon were born in Quebec, and his grandfather Malcolm Fraser (1733-1815) who had served with the Fraser Highlanders (1757-63) was certainly not descended from Simon Fraser, 11th Lord Lovat (c.1668-1747) whose line ended with the death of his youngest son, Archibald Campbell Fraser in 1815, without legitimate surviving issue. Furthermore, the 11th Lord Lovat was not « Sir » Simon Fraser, never having had a knighthood bestowed upon him. Another Simon Fraser (1832-1919) who was born in Nova Scotia and knighted in 1918, a year before his death in Australia, was the grandson of William Fraser Sr. (c1760-1828), a weaver from Beauly, Inverness-shire who had emigrated to Nova Scotia with his first wife and family in 1801. « They claimed descent from Lord Lovat, Simon Fraser, who had been executed in 1747 and whose line subsequently became extinct. » [Malcolm Fraser, a biography by Philip J. Ayres, William Heinemann, Australia, 1987] As with John Fraser de Berry, the progenitor was believed to have been James Fraser, Lord Lovat, who never existed.]

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:
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I. To be the chief of the Province of Quebec:

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
Kennebec – Simon Fraser, Esquire, of St. Croix
De La Durantaye – Alexander Fraser, Esquire, farmer of St. Vallier
Les Laurentides – William Fraser, Esquire, of Lake St. John, Chicoutimi
Grandville – Jean Etienne Fraser, Esquire, Notary
Green Island Stadacona – Alexander Fraser, Esquire, Notary, St. Roch, Quebec

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.

26th February 1868 –

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,
– had a son,
Wha married Noah’s daughter,
And nearly spoilt ta flood,
By trinking up ta water.

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
(To the Editor of the Morning Chronicle)

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.
Mr. John Cran-Berry

28th February 1868 –
(To the Editor of the Morning Chronicle)

Sir, – I have been much gratified by your liberal and flattering notice of the late « gathering of the clans » at Mrs. Brown’s 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 Emperor’s 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-Cain’s 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 Japhet’s 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.
L.X. Fraser, Notaire gillie

[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: « J’ai pu établir que notre Famille des ‘Frasers’ descendant de Jules La Germain né en l’anée 216 & mort en l’année 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:

Lord Lovat
James Fraser of Strathspey m Elizabeth Murray, with issue:
William & Donald Fraser
Donald Fraser m Janet McIntosh, with issue:
Capt Malcolm Fraser & 3 daughters
Issue: [presumably of Capt Malcolm Fraser]
Alex, Joseph, Simon, Malcolm, William
Issue: [presumably of Alexander Fraser]
Malcolm, Simon, William, Edward, Alex, Elizabeth & Madeleine

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Simon, who was Malcolm Fraser’s 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 father’s 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.

Portrait of Dr. Simon Fraser [1768-1844]

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:

10 Feb 1851 – Notary Jean-Baptiste Pouliot

JOHN FRASER, Ecuyer, Seigneur des Seigneuries de Contrecour et de Cournoyer, dans le district de Montréal, Notaire Public, de la susdite partie de la dite Province du Canada, Juge a Paix, pour le dit district de Montréal; un des Conseillers Municipaux du comté de Terrebonne; President des Commissaires pour la décision sommaire des petites causes pour la Paroisse de Terrebonne et des environs; un des Commissaires des Ecoles, de la dite Paroisse de Terreboone; Deputé Régistrateur du comté de Terrebonne; Capitaine et Adjutant du premier bataillon de la Milice du dit comté de Terrebonne; president de la Société Saint Jean-Baptise, pour la Paroisse de Terrebonne; Commissaire nommé pour recevoir les affidavits, pour la Cour Supérieure du District de Montréal; Tresorier de la Société d’Agriculture, du dit comté de Terrebonne; Cultivateur et grand propriétaire des comtés de l’Ottawa, Lac des deux Montagnes, Terrebonne, Leinster et Verchères; President de la Société Anglaise de Tempérance partielle pour le dit comté de Terrebonne; Tresorier de l’Association de la dite Paroisse de Terrebonne, pour la Colonisation des terres de la Couronne; Patron de la Paroisse “St. Jean de Fraser,” dans le township de Lochaber, dans le comté de l’Ottawa; Agent de partie des Seigneuries Ramsay, Bonchemin et Langan; Membre des Sociétés de Tempérance totale, de la Propagation de la Foi, d’Agriculture; de plusiers comtés, et de diverses autres Sociétés et Associations, résidant en les Paroisse et Comté de Terrebonne, dans le dit District de Montréal.

Lequel, en sa qualité de Tuteur, dûment élu en justice, à Messieurs WILLIAM FRASER et EDOUARD FRASER enfants mineurs, Seigneurs et propriétaires du Fief et Seigneurie de la Rivière-du-Loup, dans le dit District de Québec, reconnaît par son dit Procureur avoir baillé et concédé à titre de Bail à cens et rentes Seigneuriales, foncières, et non rechetables, et promet faire jouir, paisiblement au dit tître à…

After 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-l’Évangéliste 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:

Saint-Jean-l’Évangéliste. (B. de P. “Thurso.”) Comté de Papineau.
Diocèse d’Ottawa. Desservi par voie de mission de 1842 à 1864, date de la nomination du premier curé en titre et de l’ouverture des registres de la paroisse. Erection canonique: 4 octobre 1887.
Erection civile: 9 décembre 1887. Le territoire de cette paroisse comprend une partie du canton de Lochaber… Le nom du saint patron de la paroisse rappelle la mémoire du premier missionaire, M. l’abbé John Brady, 1842-1855. Le nom du bureau de poste et du village a été donné parce que plusieurs des premiers colons venaient de Thurso, petite ville située au nord de l’Ecosse.

Obituary 20 Nov 1876 – Quebec Morning Chronice

The Hon. John Fraser de Berry, Legislative Councillor for the division of Rougement expired at his residence, St Marc de Cournoyer, on Wednesday evening. Mr. Fraser had been in ill-health for some time, but he insisted upon proceeding to Quebec to be present at the opening of the session. He was seized with an alarming attack upon the floor of the House, and had to be removed to his hotel, and subsequently home. His decease has not been wholly unexpected therefore, and very general regret will be felt at the loss of a man who has been before the public for many years. He will be especially missed from the Legislative Council, where, despite many eccentricities of manner and style, he imparted to the deliberations most of their life.

Mr. Frazer claimed descent of such antiquity as makes the genealogy of the Plantagets appear as but of yesterday. “Julius de Berry,” says the Parliamentary Companion, whose descendants became seigneurs of Troile, in Brittany, came from Germany to France A.D. 250; members of the family removed to Scotland and the Isle of Man, as ambassadors to Charlemagne, A.D. 784.” The deceased Councillor was son of Dr. Simon Fraser, a lieutenant in the 42nd Royal Highland Regiment, the famous “Black Watch,” an officer who took part in all the engagements in which that corps was engaged from 1795 to 1803; and one of the descendants of that Lord Lovat, who fought at the capture of Quebec and the battle of St. Foy in 1760.
[Ed: He was not descended from Lt.Colonel Simon Fraser of Lovat (1726-82) who raised the 78th Regiment (Fraser’s Highlanders) for service during the Seven Years War in Canada; nor did Lt.Colonel (later Lt.General) Simon Fraser ever succeed his own father, 11th Lord Lovat (c1668-1747), as Lord Lovat.]

He was born in St. Martin, P.Q., in 1816, educated in Terrebonne and Montreal, and embraced the notarial profession. He was, by inheritance, Seigneur of Cournoyer and Contrecour, and during his career he filled several civil and municipal positions. He was President of the St. Jean Baptiste Society. One of the efforts of his life was to organize the « Clan Fraser, » by gathering all descendants of « Fraser’s Highlanders » scattered around the country into one association. He was as much a French-Canadian as a Fraser; all his feelings and sympathies were French, though he commanded both languages, and spoke with equal ease in French and English. He was devoted to antiquarian research, and has written a good deal of curious matter at various times. The Fraserian Almanac was one of his productions. Under the elective system he was a candidate for Montarville in the Legislative Council in 1858, but was defeated. In 1867 he was nominated by the Crown, and, on taking his seat, assumed the ancient French name of his family, de Berry.

Mr. Fraser was a man of the most profound courtesy in his manner, a veritable specimen of the courtly school. He was under the medium height; his head was uncommonly large, and as he was robust, he appeared to be shorter than he really was. He was a Conservative of the independent order – so much so, that he constituted himself the leader of the Opposition in the Upper House. Originally a Protestant, he embraced the Roman Catholic religion many years ago, and died in that communion. – Montreal Star.

The Hon. John Fraser de Berry died 15 Nov and was buried 22 Nov 1876 in St Marc de Cournoyer, aged 60 years. Elizabeth Fraser, his widow and first cousin, died 18 July and was buried 20 July 1901 in Notre-Dame de Montréal, Cote des Neighes Cemetery, aged 85 years and six months. According to La Presse, Saturday, 20 July 1901, her brother William Fraser (1830-1908) and other family members attended the funeral but she was living at the home of Hector Renaud. Further investigation revealed that Hector Renaud married Elizabeth de Tilly 15 Nov 1892 in St Jean Baptiste de Montréal. Elizabeth Ernestine de Tilly or Dutilly, d/o Antoine de Tilly and Pélagie Lévesque, was born 8 Oct 1863 at St Marc de Cournoyer. In the 1871 census she was living with John Fraser de Berry and Elizabeth Fraser. In Elizabeth Fraser’s last will, dated 9 April 1888, Elizabeth de Tilly was described as her adopted daughter and sole heiress.

Fact vs. Fiction

John Fraser (1816-1876) was the son of Dr. Simon Fraser (1768-1844) by Marie Semur (1798-1883), although no Fraser-Semur marriage has been found in Quebec records. Simon Fraser was the fourth child and third son of Malcolm Fraser (1733-1815) by Marie Allaire (1739-1822). There is no evidence of a Fraser-Allaire marriage in Quebec records, making it obvious why John Fraser wanted to make it appear that he was the lineal descendant of Lord Lovat, rather than the grandson of Malcolm Fraser, who had been an ensign, then lieutenant, in Fraser’s Highlanders during the Seven Years War (1757-63) between Britain and France.

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.

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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.