McGREGOR, JOHN, businessman, politician, office holder, and militia officer; b. c. 1751 in Scotland; he had five sons and two daughters, at least six of whom were borne by Martha Scott, whom he married in August 1815; d. 12 Feb. 1828 in Amherstburg, Upper Canada.
John McGregor emigrated from Scotland in 1784 to join his uncle Gregor McGregor in Detroit. He obtained property there and engaged in trade, being active in the Ohio region in 1794. It was not until October 1796, when he was granted 600 acres in Dover East (Dover) Township, that he acquired any property in Upper Canada. Following the British withdrawal from Detroit, he drew a lot in Sandwich. He subsequently received additional land there, as well as a lot in Amherstburg.
Soon after moving to Upper Canada, McGregor formed a partnership with his cousin James McGregor to engage in general trade. By 1800 John McGregor’s trade had increased sufficiently for him to contract with John Askin* for a boat to bring down grain from the Thames River area. In 1801 he constructed the Thames, a keel of some 80 tons. As trade in grain increased, so did the need for milling facilities, which were inadequate in the area. Construction of a grist-mill at the forks of the Thames was begun by Thomas Clark. Encountering financial difficulties, he borrowed money from McGregor to finish the job. Clark fell into arrears on his debt and in 1810 McGregor, who apparently had Clark jailed as a debtor, acquired his property as settlement. The mill itself, however, had been destroyed by flooding. McGregor constructed another mill on McGregor’s Creek. Even though inadequate water levels meant that it could only operate for five months in every year and the product was probably of inferior quality, the mill became an important asset in McGregor’s expanding trade.
Since he was one of the more prominent merchants and farmers it was not unexpected that in 1804 McGregor was returned to the House of Assembly for Kent County. He was re-elected in 1808 and again in 1812 but, in the latter instance, did not actually take his seat until 1816. As a member he took part in the general business of the house, serving on various delegations and occasionally chairing committees. Like other members he was keenly interested in roads and took seriously his duties as road commissioner for the Western District.
At the outbreak of war in 1812 McGregor was called out to serve in the militia. He had joined Askin’s militia company as a private in 1791, and by 1812 was a lieutenant in the Loyal Kent Volunteers. An incident that year was only the beginning of his difficulties: invading American troops seized a large quantity of grain from McGregor’s mill and two of his vessels, including the Thames. He was in Sandwich when it was occupied by the Americans who quickly began to seize his supplies. Faced with the prospect of losing much of his property, McGregor agreed to sell them his stores. Before he received payment, the Americans withdrew to Detroit. Shortly after the capitulation of Brigadier-General William Hull, Major-General Isaac Brock*, at McGregor’s instigation, threatened that Hull would be sent to Montreal as a prisoner unless McGregor was paid at once. Hull, however, would sign only a statement of account. This episode provided grounds for charges, raised in 1815, that McGregor had collaborated with the enemy.
McGregor also encountered problems with British troops. Members of the 41st Foot tore down two of his houses in Sandwich for firewood. Moreover, they damaged an orchard, two large stores which were used as a barracks, and a house in Amherstburg. His only property left unscathed was a house in Sandwich used as a residence by Major-General Henry Procter. McGregor also had difficulties arising from a contract he had accepted to provide 1,500 cords of firewood for the naval yard in Amherstburg. He sub-contracted the agreement to a farmer in Michigan but the British had to withdraw before the delivery could be accepted. McGregor later tried to recover the £100 which he paid as an advance but a court of arbitration ruled against him in 1822.
In September 1813, when the British began to retreat up the Thames, Indians burned McGregor’s grist-mill and an adjacent sawmill to prevent them from falling into American hands. McGregor accompanied the retreat and, according to his own account, was captured by the enemy. Any captivity was of short duration, however, because on 15 Dec. 1813 McGregor and seven men participated in an attack by a combined force of militia on a small detachment of American soldiers in Raleigh Township. On 2 March he was ordered to Longwoods to provide a diversion covering the movement of some 200 Indians. He lost an arm in this engagement and was later awarded a year’s salary as compensation. By 22 April his company was again active and about this time McGregor was promoted captain. Early in July 1814 he took part in the battle of Lundy’s Lane. In October he was ordered to Chippawa and in November to Burford Township to intercept an American force. His unit was disbanded in March 1815.
McGregor was in poor health and this may have influenced his decision in August 1815 to marry Martha Scott, who had lived with him for a number of years. Financially he was in poor circumstances; much of his property had been destroyed and he had some debts with his Quebec suppliers. In the fall of 1815 he went to Montreal and Quebec where he attempted to obtain compensation for some of his losses and to straighten out his accounts. In December he obtained £3,191 2s. 1d. (Halifax currency) for claims relating to his mill and properties in Amherstburg and Sandwich, and £1,317 7s. (Halifax currency) for claims relating to his business in Sandwich. He pressed for further compensation and in 1824 received additional payments. Five years later, however, his son and executor continued to demand payment for such items as crops that had been left in the field.
With the compensation McGregor partially reestablished his trade and in 1818 he replaced the mill. He also took advantage of land grants for militia service to obtain 850 acres in Wallaceburg in 1817 and additional land in Chatham Township in 1820.
McGregor did not contest the general election of 1816 and took no further role in public life; he did, however, continue to serve in the militia. Plagued by ill health and beset by difficult financial problems, he gradually left the administration of his affairs to his sons. He died at the age of 77.
AO, Hiram Walker Hist. Museum coll., 20–151; ms 500; RG 1, A-I-6. Can., Parks Canada, Fort Malden National Hist. Park (Amherstburg, Ont.), Arch. coll., John and James McGregor, waste-book. DPL, Burton Hist. Coll., John Askin papers; Campau family papers; Labadie family papers. PAC, RG 1, E3, 100: 212–21; L3, 328: M2/59; RG 8, I (C ser.), 90: 57–58; 682: 47, 233; 688d; RG 9, I, B1, 6; B4, 1: 17–18; B7, 27, 32; RG 19, E5(a). John Askin papers (Quaife). Death notices of Ont. (Reid), 48. F. C. Hamil, The valley of the lower Thames, 1640 to 1850 (Toronto, 1951; repr. Toronto and Buffalo, N.Y., 1973); “Early shipping and land transportation on the lower Thames,” OH, 34 (1942): 48.
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