HYATT, GILBERT, township leader, office holder, and
The Hyatt family, which originally came from England, took root in North America in the mid 17th century, settling mainly in the colony of New York. Abraham Hyatt was living in Schenectady when the American revolution broke out. He joined the loyalist side, and in 1777 he enlisted in Major-General John Burgoyne*’s army with his two sons, Gilbert and Cornelius. Both sons served with the King’s Loyal Americans [see Edward Jessup*], in which Gilbert was a corporal. After Burgoyne’s surrender at Saratoga the Hyatts may have gone to the province of Quebec, and then returned to the United States. Abraham Hyatt asserted that he took his entire family, including his wife, seven sons, and three daughters, to British territory in 1780, but there is proof that Gilbert was at Missisquoi Bay by 1778.
A number of the Hyatts’ compatriots had taken refuge in the region around Lake Champlain and, relying on what the king was offering, hoped to obtain there both assistance and lands. Petitions were circulated, and when the Treaty of Paris in 1783 sealed their exile the Hyatts signed them. Their requests met with a categorical refusal from Governor Frederick Haldimand*, who wanted to fortify the border and move the American refugees away from it. This decision was maintained, despite the newcomers’ stubborn insistence. They were told to join their former officers at Sorel or St Johns (Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu) and remove to the Bay of Quinte (Ont.) or Baie des Chaleurs; if they did not, their rations would be cut off on 10 May 1784 and their homes destroyed. Even when faced with these punitive sanctions, Hyatt remained near the Rivière de la Roche with the malcontents who persisted in claiming the right to stay where they were.
Despite the royal instructions there were as yet no well-defined procedures for granting lands or laying out the clergy and crown reserves, nor were the fees to be paid established. Not until the Constitutional Act was passed in 1791 and the lieutenant governor of Lower Canada, Alured Clarke, had issued a proclamation on 7 Feb. 1792 concerning settlement on crown lands in Lower Canada, could requests for land grants again be submitted. On 29 March Hyatt sent in a petition soliciting Ascot Township for himself and 204 associates.
This was a judicious choice, because the township, located at the confluence of the Saint-François and Magog rivers, had considerable resources of waterpower and a large potential hinterland. The area was already known to travellers and surveyors, among them Hyatt’s friends Jesse Pennoyer, Nathaniel Coffin*, and Joseph Kilborn. Authorization to survey the township was given on 20 June 1792 and the fee of £15 was paid. At the urging of Chief Justice William Smith*, Hyatt at once began developing the land he would subsequently be granted. After selling his property at Missisquoi Bay, he managed with the help of Josiah Sawyer, of Eaton Township, to cut a 40-mile road through the woods so that he could bring his family and other settlers to Ascot. There he built his first settlement, which by 1794 was already viable.
For ten years, however, Hyatt had to engage in lengthy and costly proceedings to secure his letters patent. To comply with the many changes in regulations he had to reduce the number of his associates to 40; he was then authorized to take the oath of allegiance in June 1795. The obstacles that the Executive Council put in the way of those trying to get title to land were a matter of serious concern to him, since he had spent more than £1,000 for surveys, construction of a mill, and the settling of some 30 families. He joined a pressure group formed at Missisquoi Bay and set about organizing an initial meeting with his friends on 28 Nov. 1797. A committee of five was constituted to draw up a memoir for Governor Robert Prescott*. Hyatt served on it and along with eight others signed the document in the name of the representatives of 29 townships. Pennoyer was charged with taking it to Quebec, and the governor dispatched it to London. In addition to expressing their grievances, the petitioners intended to send an emissary to the king if they did not obtain justice; the authorities did not think much of this plan but it was carried out when Samuel Gale accompanied Governor Prescott to England upon his recall in 1799.
Hyatt went to Quebec on several occasions to plead his cause. On 24 Jan. 1800 he was there again and submitted a detailed report to Lieutenant Governor Robert Shore Milnes* on his family’s record of service. At the same time the land committee of the Executive Council allowed his petition and authorized his receiving, along with each of his associates, 1,200 acres. Hyatt concluded a number of agreements with his associates determining how the lands would be distributed and what share would be ceded back to him. On 28 Jan. 1801 the land committee allocated part of Ascot Township to Hyatt and 30 of his associates, the applications of the other 10 having been turned down. Since only 13 of the grants were for the anticipated 1,200 acres, the share that Hyatt would receive was reduced. Much more generous grants, however, had been made to several of his friends and to people who did not deserve them. Hyatt did not take this blow well. In numerous memoirs he demanded better terms, without success. The letters patent, signed on 21 April 1803, confirmed the existing arrangements. Fearing that he would be ruined, Hyatt worked at developing his properties, particularly those at the mouth of the Magog. A village had begun to grow around his mills there, at a place called Lower Forks, which subsequently took the name of Hyatt’s Mill, and then became Sherbrooke in 1818.
It is difficult to say exactly when Hyatt settled in the village, but in 1805 he sold the lands being cultivated for a good price. There is some evidence that a mill had been built in 1796 and that it was producing lumber in 1800. Blacksmith Felix Ward had his shop on one of Hyatt’s plots in 1804, and other businesses were getting started. At that time there was no municipal or other organization, and local administration was in the hands of the justices of the peace; in 1806 Hyatt was appointed to that office. He took an interest in all facets of economic activity and called for the transport of goods on the Rivière Saint-François to be made safer. He did not cease his requests for new grants, but they did not prevent his appointment in 1808 as commissioner to administer the oath of allegiance to applicants for land in Ascot Township.
Hyatt was unable, however, to meet his financial obligations, and his creditor Ezekiel Hart* of Trois-Rivières had some of his land sold at auction on 31 Oct. 1808. He lost his valuable lots in the village through another sale by court order on 6 May 1811, and then another 1,000 acres on 9 March 1812, again because of debts to the Hart family. The properties sold in the village included a large distillery and a potash factory. By means of deals Hyatt’s wife was able to buy back part of the lots, and around 1813 Hyatt was still considered by Joseph Bouchette* to be the principal landowner in Ascot Township, but he never recovered all his lost properties.
Hyatt attended to his family’s affairs, for example settling the estate of his brother Charles, who died in 1818. According to an 1819 census his family were among the 54 residents of the village of Sherbrooke, the name Hyatt’s Mill having disappeared. Newcomers from England were buying up the land and working to exclude American pioneers from public affairs. In 1815 Hyatt’s name had even been taken off the list of justices of the peace. Hyatt’s last transactions were connected with the final settlement of his father’s estate in 1822 and the sale of properties to two of his sons, Galen and Charles, the following year. He died of a heart attack on 17 Sept. 1823 and was buried in his wife’s presence according to the rites of the Church of England, to which he belonged.
Gilbert Hyatt had the qualities of a true pioneer and leader. In reserving for himself the site of Sherbrooke, he had shown proof of vision. His courage enabled him to found a settlement that he saw grow from a simple hamlet to become the chief town of a judicial district shortly before his death. Fortune and fame eluded him, but his name deserves to be remembered and to be better known.
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Revisions based on:
Bibliothèque et Arch. Nationales du Québec, Centre d’arch. de Sherbrooke, CE501-S32, 28 août, 15, 24 nov. 1825; 16 oct. 1827; CE501-S41, 24 juill. 1834. Eastern Townships Research Centre, Gilbert Hyatt fonds ([Lennoxville [Sherbrooke], Que.?, 1993?]).