#46 - THE RISE AND FALL OF LOUIS A. SURETTE
Yarmouth Vanguard, November 14, 1989
Louis Athanase Surette was born on Dec. 29, 1818, at Saint-Anne-du-Ruisseau, then known as Eel Brook, the son of Athanase (son of Pierre IV and of Hélène Godin dit Bellefontaine) and of Louise d'Entremont (daughter of Joseph and Agnes Belliveau).
At an early age, he proved to be a very intelligent boy, so much so that Father Sigogne took him to Church Point to give him a superior education. He was then seven years of age. He was to stay with Father Sigogne 12 years. In a series of letters that he wrote to my uncle Henry Leander d'Entremont, in the latter part of his life, which are in my possession, he tells of the years that he spent with Father Sigogne. In one of those letters, dated March 9, 1887, he tells "of the Abbe Sigogne who educated me in 12 Years' time, devoting all his spare hours to me. Every night, between 12 and 2, as regular as the clock, he was up preparing my lessons for the next day. I slept with him, and at 5 a.m. I would have "Louis, il est temps de se lever" (Louis, it is time to get up). I studied till 9 at night, and probably received the best education ever acquired by an Acadien youth."
The famous geologist of St. John, N. B., George Frederick Matthew, in a conference that he gave in 1884, which was published in the "Saint Croix Courier" of St. Stephen, said that he met one day Louis Surette in a restaurant in Digby, and asked him where he had gotten his education. "From Abbé Sigogne" was his reply, "and I can well remember his teaching me to translate Quintius Curius (a latin author), as we sat by the fire on which a piece of pitch pine was occasionally thrown, so as to furnish us with light enough to enable us to read. We had not even candles in those days. The Abbe wanted to make me a priest: but I left him and went off the United States."
In the November, 1907 issue of the "Putnam's Monthly" (New Rochelle & New York) we read, that, among the anecdotes that two American ladies had gathered during their stay in Church Point, Father Sigogne used to say to Louis Surette: "I am doing the best I can for you, but you will die Protestant." Not only was he very intelligent, he was also very strong-headed.
In March of 1841, he went to Boston where he obtained a situation with the then well-known firm of Ladd & Hall, who were doing a commission business with the fishermen of yarmouth County. In 1846, he engaged in business for himself and kept on dealing with the Nova Scotia fishermen for a number of years. In 1877, he wrote: "At one time my name was gold in every West Indies Island, and I controlled all the salt work of the Antilles. I had agents in the principal parts of South America. Had the Brig J. M. Sigogne running to Marseilles and other ports in the Mediterranean. I had my packet line to London for three years, and the vessels that I did not own in Digby County were few and far between. At one time I owned in whole or in part over 30 ships, barques, brigs and schooners."
From 1851 to 1858, and from 1863 to 1867, he was Worshipful Master of the Corinthian Lodge of the Free Masons of Concord, Massachusetts. In 1859, he published By-Laws of Corinthian Lodge of Ancient, Free and Accepted Mason, of Concord, Mass., of 191 pages, in which, among other things, he gives the biography of 23 Past Masters of the Lodge including his own as having been the twenty-second Master, and 28 biographical notices of other prominent Masons. He devotes a whole chapter to the Acadian history, to which he consecrated many years of research. He and my uncle Leander are those who furnished George S. Brown with most of the genealogies of the Acadians of Yarmouth County, that he published in his work "Yarmouth, Nova Scotia: A Sequel to Campbell's History" (1888).
In this book, there is a picture of himself, taken surely at the time the book was published, when he was 41, his hair fleeing already from his forehead, while covering slightly his ears and running down his neck, which is gripped in a stiff high collar, kept in place by a [w-----?] tie buckled in front in a butterfly bow. He has a full face, thick eye brows and a black bushy mustache, running down slightly each side of his mouth. He wears a pair of oval eyeglasses. Under the picture is his signature, in a long- drawn artistic penmanship.
May 15, 1849, he married Francis Jane Shattuck, daughter of Hon. Daniel Shattuck, a banker, and Clarisa Baxter. They settled in Concord, Mass., and lived in one of the most luxurious mansions of town. They had twelve children, to whom were given Acadian names as Evangeline, d'Aubré, even LaTour and d'Entremont. In the family, only French was spoken at meal time. Some of these children became prominent musicians. Their last surviving grandchild, Dorothy V. Clay, died in 1973, being 86 years of age. Some of their descendants are still to be found in Delaware and Pennsylvania, none bearing the name Surette.
Louis Surette's prosperity reached its climax while the Treaty of Reciprocity lasted between 1856 and 1876; it was an agreement to carry on Free Trade between the U.S. and the Canadian provinces. It marked the booming period for the fishermen of Nova Scotia, which lasted some 25 years, after the middle of the last century. But when the Treaty was abolished, it marked the downfall of the fishing industry in Nova Scotia. It marked also the downfall of Louis Surette's business, so much so that during the 1880's he lost practically everything that he had, so much so, we are told, that he had to earn his living by attending to a railroad crossing nearby.
He died Oct. 2, 1897, at the age of 78. He is buried in the Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, in Concord, in lot 50, between Glen and Glade Avenue, one of the farthest to the east, along with most of the members of his family.