Friday, 24 December 2010

Two Loyalist Societies

The founding of national societies by immigrant communities was not confined to Lower Canada. They could be found during the nineteenth century in the majority of the large towns of North America and more generally throughout the colonial world. These societies were established by leaders of ethnic communities with the aim of supporting existing colonists and facilitating the integration of newcomers from the same ethnic background.[1] They provided access to medical and religious services, helped new settlers to find work and gave financial support to those in need. In Lower Canada, they were especially important in 1834-1835 where they were established for precise political reasons: to oppose the aims of the Parti Patriote and promote, within their localities in Montreal and Quebec, the interests of the Anglophone business and professional community.[2]

Between 1830 and 1834, under Lord Aylmer, the relationship between the executive and the Assembly progressively deteriorated. Although the debate over control of the Civil List was at the forefront of Lower Canadian politics, it was the composition of the Legislative Council and the Patriote proposal that it should be elected contained in the 1830 Ninety-Two Resolution that mobilised loyalist opinion. The loyalist assemblies held from 1834 were composed of individuals who were to dominate the movement until the rebellions. Until 1834, the loyalist movement was dominated by administrators and seigneurs but from 1834 onwards, it was the merchants of Quebec and Montreal who took the lead. They were supported by some more moderate Patriotes who were concerned by the increasing radicalisation of the movement under Papineau and who now proclaimed their loyalty and sought to reduce the electoral influence of the Parti Patriote.

The general election in the autumn of 1834 was among the most disputed in the history of Quebec. Not only were there a record number of contested elections in the 44 comtés that elected the 84 deputies but also because it provided clear evidence of the deep ideological character of the conflict between Patriotes and Loyalists. The critical issue in the election was the Ninety-Two Resolutions and in many respects it can be seen as a referendum on this contentious document. John Neilson (Basse-ville), Andrew Stuart (Haute-Ville), William Grant (Quartier-Ouest) and Barthelemy Gugy (Sherbrooke) were among the most openly opposed to the Resolutions. Papineau unleashed a ferocious campaign against the deputies who had opposed the Resolutions the previous winter and none were re-elected for their own constituency. The election results that appeared between 3 and 12 November proved a catastrophe for the loyalists who opposed the Ninety-Two Resolutions. Not only the loyalist leaders, but those most clearly marked their opposition to Papineau (Neilson, Stuart, Debartzch and Sabrevois de Bleury) were all beaten, but the loyalist movement also suffered significant losses in anglophone strongholds such as Stanstead and Missisquoi. Only Gaspé and the Eastern Townships resisted the Patriote avalanche.

The banquets organised in the honour of loyalist candidates were many and extremely animated. Their tone was unequivocal

Let us then take a lesson from the enemy...the silence of the Constitutionalists has been mistaken for acquiescence in the measures pursued by the Resolutionists...We rejoice, under these circumstances in being able to announce that a Loyal and Constitutional Association is now on foot...[3]

It was the scale of the loyalist defeat in 1834 that marked the beginning of the constitutional movement. The lesson was quickly recognised: victory over the Patriote movement and French Canadian nationalism could not be purely constitutional and electoral. It was now essential to establish a vast coalition of loyalist forces in the colony in order to bring about the triumph of British values and rights in Lower Canada. Those who attended loyalist assemblies from this time were more radical since the more moderate, loyalist electoral strategy and rhetoric had failed. It was now a question of organising an effective extra-parliamentary lobby that rejected any further extension of the legitimacy of the Assembly and vigorously challenged the Patriote ideology.

The St George’s Society of Montreal was founded on 19 December 1834, ten months before the St George’s Society of Quebec on 12 October 1835. Although originally aimed at those of English or Welsh origin, in Montreal it was the only national society also acceptable to those of Scottish or Irish ancestry. Both societies counted on a very large majority of English members especially those from the liberal professions and the middle-class. In Montreal, the lawyer William Badgley[4] was president of the society in 1842-1843 and in Quebec Thomas Cary[5], editor of the Quebec Mercury was a founding member of its society. In Quebec, where members of English origin were less numerous, the Society deferred to the leadership of the Scottish middle-class. In Montreal, George Moffatt[6] was president of the Society from 1834 to 1841 except in 1838 when John Molson[7], the elder, occupied the post. The situation was very similar in Quebec with William Patton acting as president from 1837 to 1845 (apart from 1843) and William Price as president in 1836-1837. Patton and Price were also leading figure in the Constitutional Association of Quebec. [8]

The two organisations operated in similar ways. In Montreal, the St George’s Society required its members to pay an admission fee of two dollars and an annual contribution of at least three dollars. Members, whose admission was subject to a general vote, elected the officers of the society annually on 10 January. The president chaired the quarterly meeting of the society on the tenth day of January, April, July and October. In his absence, one of the two elected vice-presidents took his place. A treasurer administered the funds of the Society, a secretary and his assistant was responsible for correspondence with members and six organisers were charged with organising its activities. The members elected two committees: one for dealing with charitable issues and a second with responsibility for auditing the treasurer’s accounts. In addition to the elected officers, one or more doctors were also elected. As well as the St George’s Society, three other national and loyalist organisations were established in Montreal in 1834-1835: Saint Andrew’s Society, Saint Patrick Society and the German Society. According to Senior, they formed an integral part of the Constitutional Association of Montreal founded on 23 January 1835.[9]

That the presidents of each of these national societies supported the direction of Constitutional Association, added to the fact that these various societies paraded together during their various national festivals, illustrate the bonds that linked the various loyalist institutions. [10] George Moffatt chaired the executive committee of the Constitutional Association of Montreal. He was accompanied by other officers of the St George’s Society including its vice-presidents, John Molson and Henry Griffin, Turton Penn, member of the Committee of Accounts and James Holmes, one of the society’s organisers.[11] The St George’s Society of Montreal, with the support of the other societies, was ready for conflict with the Patriote rebels. It had already begun to mobilise its members when Gosford authorised the formation of a body of volunteers on 16 November 1837. According to Senior, all of the national societies in Montreal were amalgamated into district battalions and served as the source from which the volunteers were formed in Montreal.[12]

St Andrew’s Society of Montreal was established on 6 February 1835, followed on 30 November by a similar society in Quebec. The society was exclusively founded for colonists of Scottish descent. That community has attained a considerable place in the colony largely because the Scots were the first British immigrants to settle in considerable numbers in Quebec.[13] The Scots quickly formed the economic elite in Lower Canada with an active role in the fur trade and in the creation of financial institutions to support their trade and industries. They played a major role in the Banque de Montréal, founded by two Scots James Leslie and Robert Armour and with Scottish merchants Peter McGill and John Fleming both acting as president in the 1830s and with fellow Scot John Boston acting as one of its administrators. [14]

The two St Andrew’s Societies functioned in similar ways. The Montreal Society based its constitution on that of the St Andrew’s Association of New York. [15] To be a member of the Montreal Society members had to pay a two dollar admission fee, five dollars if an honorary member, and then an annual fee of two dollars payable on 1 May. The Society was composed of members resident in the comté de Montréal, honorary members and officers elected by secret ballot. Among its officers, the Society elected a president who was responsible for chairing quarterly meetings held on the second Tuesday in February, May, August and December. These meetings had a quorum of thirteen out of an initial membership of two hundred though this total fell year on year because subscriptions were not renewed. The two vice-presidents stood in for the president if he was absent. Seven administrators met once a month to deal with calls for charity and with distributing money. A treasurer administered the funds and held the accounts of the Society and a secretary and his assistant dealt with correspondence. The society also required the services of two almoners and one or more doctors.[16]

Peter McGill[17], president of the St Andrew’s Society, John Boston, vice-president from 1835 to 1838, and Charles Tait, treasurer between 1835 and 1838, were members of the committee of the MCA.[18] Adam Thom, the virulent anti-French Canadian editor of the Montreal Herald was elected second vice-president in 1837. Certainly, Adam Ferrie[19], vice-president in 1836 and a founder member of the Society, argued strongly against anti-French Canadian radicalism within the MCA and the St Andrew’s Society impressing many moderate loyalists.


[1] James, Kevin J., The Saint Patrick’s Society of Montreal: Ethno-religious Realignement in a Nineteenth-Century National Society, mémoire de maîtrise, (McGill University), 1997, p. 29.

[2] Muzzo, Johanne, Les mouvements réformiste et constitutionnel à Montréal, 1834-1837, Mémoire de maîtrise, (UQAM), 1990, p. 77, ICMH (53911), Institut canadien de micro reproduction historique, St. Andrew’s Society of Montreal, pp. 3-4.

[3] Quebec Mercury, 20 November 1834

[4] ‘William Badgley’, DCB, Vol. 9, pp. 40-42.

[5] ‘Thomas Cary’, DCB, Vol. 9, pp. 115-116.

[6] ‘George Moffat’, DCB, Vol. 8, pp. 553-556.

[7] ‘John Molson’, DCB, Vol. 7, pp. 616-621.

[8] ICMH (13303), Institut canadien de microreproduction historique, The Act of Incorporation and Bye-laws of the St. Geroge’s Society of Montreal, pp. 2-3, ICMH (47497), Institut canadien de microreproduction historique, Constitution and by-laws of the St. George's Society of Quebec, pp. 2-11, ICMH (18584), Institut canadien de microreproduction historique, St. George's Society, Quebec, founded 1835, p. 3.

[9] Ibid, Senior, Elinor Kyte, Redcoats & Patriotes: The Rebellions in Lower Canada 1837-38, p. 12, ibid, Muzzo, Johanne, Les mouvements réformiste et constitutionnel à Montréal, 1834-1837, p. 79.

[10] Ibid, Senior, Elinor Kyte, Redcoats & Patriotes: The Rebellions in Lower Canada 1837-38, p. 11.

[11] Montreal Gazette, 5 February 1835; 14 January 1836.

[12] Ibid, Ibid, Senior, Elinor Kyte, Redcoats & Patriotes: The Rebellions in Lower Canada 1837-38, p. 12-13.

[13] Cowan, Helen I., British immigration to North America: The First Hundred Years, (University of Toronto Press), 1961, p. 7.

[14] See DBC, Vol. 8, pp. 23, 600 and Vol. 9, p. 67

[15] ICMH (53911), Institut canadien de micro reproduction historique, St. Andrew’s Society of Montreal, p. 6

[16] Ibid, pp. 45-53.

[17] ‘Peter McGill’, DCB, Vol. 8, pp. 540-544.

[18] Montreal Gazette, 5 February 1835

[19] ‘Adam Ferrie’, DBC, Vol. 9, pp. 284-285

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