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MILES, ABNER (before 1794 he signed Mighells), businessman and office holder; b. c. 1752 in Massachusetts; m. Mercy – , and they had at least four children; d. 26 July 1806 in Markham Township, Upper Canada.

Abner Miles’s early life in Massachusetts remains unknown. By 1790 he had moved to the newly opened frontier settlement of Genesee Town in western New York’s Ontario County, where his combined general store, inn, and cobbling business served the first wave of settlers in the region. In response to Lieutenant Governor John Graves Simcoe’s proclamation of 7 Feb. 1792, to “such as are desirous to settle” in Upper Canada, Miles and a few hundred other “Inhabitants and subjects of the United States of America” petitioned unsuccessfully in June 1793 for a township grant on the north shore of Lake Ontario. When in the spring of 1794 William Berczy chose to move to Upper Canada with the more than 100 Germans who had arrived in the Genesee country that year under his supervision, Miles must have decided to follow. His account-books for the spring of that year show a final settlement with his New York customers. On 7 June 1794 the Executive Council of Upper Canada considered a petition from Miles, apparently on behalf of a large number of settlers, requesting a tract of land six miles square on the La Tranche (Thames) River. This was the area that Berczy initially had expected to settle. Instead the council granted Miles and his family 600 acres of land and offered 200 acres to each of the male settlers. Miles was in Newark (Niagara-on-the-Lake) by the summer of 1794 and probably became aware that Simcoe planned to shift the centre of settlement from the western end of the province north of Lake Erie to the north shore of Lake Ontario behind the townsite of York (Toronto). On 26 August Miles contracted to build a large log house there for Provincial Secretary William Jarvis. In November he purchased for himself the dwelling of William Cooper* on lot 6 at a cost of two steers and a barrel each of salmon and flour – thus Miles became one of the town’s earliest residents. In June 1795 there were still only 14 houses in York.

Miles soon opened a general store on lot 13 on King Street to provide a wide variety of foodstuffs, liquor, clothing, tools, building supplies, household goods, and sundries needed by the immigrants settling in and near York. In a society with little cash in circulation and no formal banking institutions Miles occasionally became a private banker. He also provided a cartage service, and beginning in the spring of 1796 ran the schooner York to Newark and Genesee in partnership with Samuel Heron. The following year he became a partner with Eli Granger of Handford’s Landing, N.Y., in the construction of Jemima, the first ship built by the Americans on Lake Ontario.

By early 1796 Miles had expanded his premises to include a public house serving meals and alcoholic beverages and providing lodging for travellers. In the rugged conditions of the new settlement the tavern was doubtless one of the few centres where farmers and townsfolk could gather for recreation and discussion. Since York lacked public buildings of any size it became a focal point for such social activities as auctions, dances, and special celebrations including masonic dinners. All the annual town meetings between 1798 and 1803 were held under Miles’s roof.

In 1797 and 1798 Miles was chosen overseer of highways for the town and in the latter year he also became quartermaster of the York militia. As an innkeeper he was automatically appointed a constable by the Court of Quarter Sessions. In 1800, at a meeting to choose municipal officers for Markham, Vaughan, Whitchurch, and King townships – where he held land – Miles was elected assessor of rates and collector of assessments.

Like many ambitious Upper Canadian merchants, Miles seems to have been a land speculator. Besides his initial homesteading grant and his two town lots he received in 1796 lot 21 on Yonge Street which he sold to Surveyor General David William Smith* two years later. He did, however, patent land in Markham, Vaughan, and Whitchurch townships in 1803. At his death, a local historian has claimed, he left some 2,000 acres.

The lack of cash in the colony and Miles’s probable expansion of his land holdings put a strain on his business. These problems were common to other early York merchants such as Heron and William Willcocks. On 31 Aug. 1799 he placed an advertisement in the Upper Canada Gazette demanding payment from his debtors, and the following spring one of his creditors obtained a writ to sell Miles’s share in the Jemima. By 1801 he had turned over the management of his York tavern to James Playter, his son-in-law, and Ely Playter; he eventually sold it to another former resident of the Genesee country, Dr Thomas Stoyell. Whether motivated by financial difficulties or by the advantages awaiting an enterprising merchant in the new settlements north of York, Miles moved up Yonge Street during 1800 to lots 45 and 46 on the boundary of Markham and Vaughan townships, a spot 16 miles from York which became known as Miles’ Hill (Richmond Hill). In 1802 he again opened a store, carrying on the same trade as he had at Genesee and York. He also ran a potashery, and by 1805 was again operating a tavern. After his death in 1806 his son James continued the business on Yonge Steel.

Craig Heron

AO, ms 87; MU 2115, 1864, no.2; RG 1, A-I-6: 1964–65; RG 22, ser.155, will of Abner Miles; RG 53, set. 2-2, 1. MTL, William Allan papers, Abner and [James] Miles, account-books, 1793–1809; [William Berczy], “Narrative concerning an expedition in Upper Canada for settling a part of that province with Germans from Europe and the United States, volume I, 1794–1812”; “Documents and vouchers s[h]ewing to prove the facts related in volume the first, volume II, 1792–1812”; William Jarvis, estimates, accounts, and contracts with Abner Miles and others for building a house at York, also a plan of the house, [Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont.], 26 Aug. 1794–7 May 1795; William Jarvis papers, B52: 72, 109; Abner Miles, day book B, 1 Sept. 1795–15 Dec. 1796; ledger A, August 1803–6 March 1809; York, U.C., minutes of town meetings and lists of inhabitants, 1797–1803. PAC, MG 23, HII, 6, vol. l: 8–9; RG 1, L3, 283: Ll/1, 73; 327a: M2/18, 41.. ...      “Grants of crown lands in U.C.,” AO Report, 1929: 66, 104, 160. “Minutes of Court of General Quarter Sessions, Home District,” AO Report, 1932: 10, 23, 29, 32, 49, 52, 78–79, 82. “Rev. William Jerkins of Richmond Hill,” ed. A. J. Clark, OH, 27 (1931): 15. Town of York, 1793–1815 (Firth), 69, 223. U.S., Bureau of the Census, Heads of families at the first census of the United States taken in the year 1790: New York (Washington, 1908; repr. [Spartanburg, S.C., 1964] and Baltimore, 1966), 138. “U.C. land book B,” AO Report, 1930: 50–51. “U.C. land book C,” AO Report, 1930: 150. “U. C. land book D,” AO Report, 1931: 128. Upper Canada Gazette, 8 Dec. 1798; 2 Feb., 31 Aug. 1799; 11 Jan., 8, 22 March, 26 April 1800; 29 Nov. 1806. ...      John Andre, Infant Toronto as Simcoes folly (Toronto, 1971), 1213, 8384, 87. Centennial history of Rochester, New York, ed. E. R. Foreman (4v., Rochester, 193134), 1: 276. E. C. Guillet, Pioneer inns and taverns (5v. in 4, Toronto, 195462), 1: 6769; Pioneer life in the county of York (Toronto, 1946), 4748; Toronto from trading post to great city (Toronto, 1934), 210, 29597. G. E. Reaman, A history of Vaughan Township: two centuries of life in the township (Toronto, 1971), 33, 11719, 273. Robertsons landmarks of Toronto, 1: 445. H. E. Bryan, “King’s or Hanford’s landing,” Rochester Hist. Soc., Pub. Fund Ser. (Rochester), 14 (1936): 173..

General Bibliography

Cite This Article

Craig Heron, “MILES, ABNER,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 5, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed April 21, 2014, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/miles_abner_5E.html.

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Permalink: http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/miles_abner_5E.html
Author of Article: Craig Heron
Title of Article: MILES, ABNER
Publication Name: Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 5
Publisher: University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication: 1983
Year of revision: 1983
Access Date: April 21, 2014