STERLING (Stirling), JAMES, merchant and local official; b. in Ireland; m. 9 Feb. 1765 at Detroit to Angélique Cuillerier, dit Beaubien. Three children were born at Detroit, but they may have had seven in all. Sterling died some time after 1783.
James Sterling served as an officer in the Pennsylvania forces during the early part of the Seven Years’ War. He was a commissary in the British attack on Fort Niagara (near Youngstown, N.Y.) in 1759 and in Amherst’s expedition against Montreal the following year. He subsequently became the representative in the Niagara area of the Schenectady (N. Y.) trading firm of Livingston, Rutherford, Duncan, Coventry and Syme, which in the spring of 1761 obtained from Amherst a provisional grant of 10,000 acres at the upper end of the Niagara portage. In July Sterling left for Detroit where he acted as the firm’s western agent. Success came quickly to him, for he was a shrewd businessman, and his knowledge of Indian languages and French helped him gain customers. He became a householder in Detroit in 1763 and from his dwelling sold goods and dispatched merchandise to other traders as far away as Fort Miamis (probably at or near Fort Wayne, Ind.) and Michilimackinac (Mackinaw City, Mich.).
It has been suggested that Sterling’s romantic involvement with Angélique Cuillerier, dit Beaubien, led her to tell him of Pontiac*’s plan to make a surprise attack in May 1763 on the Detroit garrison and that Sterling’s warning enabled Henry Gladwin to foil the plan. The identity of Gladwin’s informant has not been established, but Angélique was in a position to know what was occurring. Shortly after their marriage Sterling wrote that she was “used to trade from her infancy, and is generally [said] to be the best interpreter of the various Indian languages at this place; her family is in great esteem amongst the Indians, so much so that her father was suspected to have been chosen by the Indians to command here in case they had succeeded.”
During Pontiac’s siege of the garrison in the summer of 1763 Sterling was chosen by the merchants and other volunteers to command the local militia. In 1764 he and John Duncan formed a partnership to which they later admitted John Porteous. Sterling also became a king’s revenue collector and surveyor.
At the time of the American revolution, Sterling’s denunciation of the administration of Lieutenant Governor Henry Hamilton and Hamilton’s appointee, Judge Philippe Dejean*, led Hamilton to accuse him of disloyalty and official misconduct and to send him to Quebec in 1777. A review of Sterling’s record resulted in his release, and he returned to Detroit in December. Ill feeling between Hamilton and Sterling continued, however, and in 1778 the latter took his family first to Quebec and then to England.
Sterling’s correspondence from London in 1781 indicates he continued business relations with John Porteous, then at Little Falls, N.Y. Records of accounts also document business transactions between William Park of Petite Côte (Windsor, Ont.) and Sterling until 1783. Sterling is thought to have relocated in Pennsylvania after the war, but the date and place of his death are unknown.
Clements Library, James Sterling, letterbook, 1761–65. DPL, Burton hist. coll., C. M. Burton, “The Beaubien or Cuillerier family of Detroit” (typescript, n.d.); John Porteous papers, Sterling to Porteous, 18 April 1781; Registres des baptêmes, manages et sépultures de Sainte-Anne (Detroit, Mich.), 2 Feb. 1704–30 Dec. 1848 (5v. in 7, ms copy), II, 628, 775, 842, 852, 862; James Sterling papers, account book, 1779–83. PRO, CO 5/116, pp.291–96 (copy at PAC). City of Detroit, Michigan, 1701–1922, ed. C. M. Burton et al. (5v., Detroit, 1922), I, 202. John Askin papers (Quaife), I, 46–47, 108–10, 137. Johnson papers (Sullivan et al.). Michigan Pioneer Coll., IX (1886), 349; XIX (1891), 310–11. Remembrancer; or Impartial Repository of Public Events (London), 1778, 188–91. The revolution on the upper Ohio, 1775–1777 . . . , ed. R. G. Thwaites and L. P. Kellogg (Madison, Wis., 1908; repr. Port Washington, N.Y., and London, 1970), 148. Christian Denissen, Genealogy of the French families of the Detroit River region, 1701–1911, ed. H. F. Powell (2v., Detroit, 1976). Silas Farmer, The history of Detroit and Michigan . . . (2nd ed., 2v., Detroit, 1889). [H. R. Howland], “The Niagara portage and its first attempted settlement under British rule,” Buffalo Hist. Soc., Pubs. (Buffalo, N.Y.), VI (1903), 35–45.