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RICHARDSON, JAMES, naval officer, mariner, miller, and merchant; b. c. 1759 near Horncastle, England; m. prior to 1789 Sarah Bryant, née Ashmore, and they had at least three children; m. secondly 14 Aug. 1809 Mary Louisa McDonnell in Kingston, Upper Canada; d. 20 Sept. 1832 in Presqu’ile Point, Upper Canada.

For three years during the American revolution, James Richardson was a naval quartermaster in the West Indies. In 1782 his ship, the Ramillies, sailing to England in Commander Thomas Graves*’s squadron, sustained heavy damage in a gale and had to be destroyed. Taken aboard a merchant vessel, he was subsequently captured by an American frigate and imprisoned in France. In 1785 he was appointed a second lieutenant in the Provincial Marine on Lake Ontario, where he served for the next few years. After the regulations prohibiting private vessels on the lower lakes were revoked in 1787, Richard Cartwright* hired Richardson to superintend construction of, and later to command, the Lady Dorchester. The joint enterprise of Cartwright, Robert Hamilton*, and Todd, McGill and Company of Montreal, she was launched in 1789 and thenceforth carried furs and supplies between Kingston and Niagara (Niagara-on-the-Lake), principally for the North West Company. Richardson appears to have taken up residence in Kingston when work began on the Lady Dorchester. He remained captain of the vessel until 1793.

That same year Richardson and a number of partners, including the firms of Crooks and Company and Auldjo and Maitland, agreed to challenge the monopoly on Lake Ontario of Richardson’s former employers. Cartwright, though he respected Richardson’s qualities as a seaman, claimed that the captain “has made himself so universally abnoxious that I shall not be very sorry to get rid of him.” While Cartwright did his best to impede construction of the rival vessel, Richardson went to Montreal during the winter of 1794 to make what Cartwright called “insidious Attempts” to get a piece of the NWC’s business. Although he was unsuccessful, he and his partners nevertheless launched the Kingston Packet in 1795. Subsequently, Richardson took advantage of his status as part-owner of the Packet and as an ex-officer of the Provincial Marine to launch a succession of petitions for land, most of which were granted. The land he obtained included sites on the Kingston waterfront, in York (Toronto), and in Newcastle (Presqu’ile Point).

After the wreck of the Packet, probably in 1801, Richardson’s career temporarily took a new tack. By the early 1800s he was importing goods from the United States and appears to have begun operating as a merchant and miller. His failure at these trades prompted a reconciliation with Cartwright in 1807, and the captain assumed command of Cartwright’s sloop Elizabeth. Later he took charge of the larger Governor Simcoe, owned by many of the men originally associated with the Lady Dorchester.

It was at the helm of the Simcoe that Richardson served in the early stages of the War of 1812. On the eve of the battle of Queenston Heights on 13 Oct. 1812 he delivered a shipment of gunpowder to Niagara and afterwards returned to York with prisoners and the news of Major-General Sir Isaac Brock*’s death. Scarcely a month later, the Simcoe ran past the American fleet into Kingston. Though skilfully piloted, she had been struck by American shot and virtually sank at the wharf. When, in the spring of 1813, the Simcoe was absorbed into Commodore Sir James Lucas Yeo*’s fleet, Richardson signed on as a master. He was discharged that fall.

After his discharge Richardson quickly reestablished himself as a Kingston merchant, setting up a partnership with his son-in-law, James Lyons. Before he closed his Kingston business affairs in 1818 Richardson had run this shop on his own and in partnership with his son Robert. At some point in the immediate post-war years he moved from Kingston to the neighbourhood of Presqu’ile Point. There he began to develop the property he had accumulated 20 years earlier. By July 1816 he was advertising for sale a wharf and large store at his waterfront site in Cramahe Township. His son James* was collector of customs at Presqu’ile (he went on to become a Methodist bishop), and James Lyons became the local mha in 1824.

But before retiring to the life of country squire, Richardson once again took up command of a vessel. On 9 May 1818, less than a year after the Frontenac (the first Canadian-built steamboat on the Great Lakes) began running on Lake Ontario [see James McKenzie], the Charlotte took to the waters of the upper St Lawrence and the Bay of Quinte. For her first few voyages Richardson was at the helm. He did not complete the first season, however, perhaps because of a debilitating stroke he is known to have suffered about this time.

Richardson had been a generous benefactor and controversial churchwarden of the Church of England congregation in Kingston. When, in 1795, he proposed the rather radical step of abolishing pew rentals, the Reverend John Stuart* was incensed, describing Richardson as a “little blustering Sea Captain” and “a turbulent ambitious man . . . willing to try his Power & Influence.” Turbulent and ambitious Richardson certainly was, with a mean streak for good measure. Twice he was found guilty of assault by the Midland District assizes. Yet Cartwright, a year after being “rid of him,” described his replacements as “destitute in a great measure of that Energy, or perhaps Violence of Temper, which enabled [Richardson] to get the Duty better done by the People under him.” From the introduction of private enterprise on the lower lakes to the first years of steam, these qualities made Richardson one of the most successful, though certainly not loved, captains on Lake Ontario.

Walter Lewis

AO, MU 500, Richard Cartwright, letter-book, 1793–96; MU 2099, 1795, no.10 (advertisement from Quebec Times, date not available). Northumberland East Land Registry Office (Colborne, Ont.), Brighton Township, abstract index to deeds, broken concession, lot 1; concession 1, lot 1 (mfm. at AO). PAC, RG 1, L3, 423: R1/30, 59; R3/5, 32, 60; 424: R4/14; 425: R7/22; 446: R misc., 1793–1840/37; RG 8, I (C ser.), 723: 27, 144–46; 740: 15; 741: 5; RG 16, Al, 133. QUA, Richard Cartwright papers, letter-books, 1798–1801 (transcripts at AO). James Crooks, “Recollections of the War of 1812,” Women’s Canadian Hist. Soc. of Toronto, Trans. (Toronto), no.13 (1913–14): 16. “District of Mecklenburg (Kingston): Court of Common Pleas,” AO Report, 1917: 192. Kingston before War of 1812 (Preston). Parish reg. of Kingston (Young). James Richardson [Jr], “Incidents in the early history of the settlements in the vicinity of Lake Ontario,” Women’s Canadian Hist. Soc. of Toronto, Trans., no.15 (1915–16): 13–38. “U.C. land book C,” AO Report, 1931: 64. Christian Guardian, 26 Sept. 1832. Kingston Gazette, 17 Nov. 1812; 4 Dec. 1813; 18 March, 20 July 1816; 27 Nov. 1817; 12 May 1818. Montreal Gazette, 12 Oct. 1795. Quebec Gazette, 26 Feb. 1795. Upper Canada Gazette, 19 June 1817. Legislators and legislatures of Ontario: a reference guide, comp. Debra Forman (3v., [Toronto, 1984]), 1. K. M. Bindon, “Kingston: a social history, 1785–1830” (phd thesis, Queen’s Univ., Kingston, Ont., 1979). Canniff, Hist. of the settlement of U.C. Centennial of the incorporation of the village of Brighton, 1859–1959 (n.p., n.d.). Scadding, Toronto of old (1873). C. P. Stacey, “The defence of Upper Canada, 1812,” The defended border: Upper Canada and the War of 1812 . . . , ed. Morris Zaslow and W. B. Turner (Toronto, 1964), 11–20. W. M. Tobey, The history of Brighton, Ontario, ed. W. M. Sprung and Barbara Nyland ([Kingston], 1975). Thomas Webster, Life of Rev. James Richardson, a bishop of the Methodist Episcopal Church in Canada (Toronto, 1876). Wilson, Enterprises of Robert Hamilton. E. A. Cruikshank, “Notes on the history of shipbuilding and navigation on Lake Ontario up to the time of the launching of the steamship Frontenac, at Ernesttown, Ontario, 7th September, 1816,” OH, 23 (1926): 33–44. C. P. Stacey, “The ships of the British squadron on Lake Ontario, 1812–14,” CHR, 34 (1953): 311–23.

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Walter Lewis, “RICHARDSON, JAMES (d. 1832),” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 6, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed October 23, 2014, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/richardson_james_1832_6E.html.

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Permalink: http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/richardson_james_1832_6E.html
Author of Article: Walter Lewis
Title of Article: RICHARDSON, JAMES (d. 1832)
Publication Name: Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 6
Publisher: University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication: 1987
Year of revision: 1987
Access Date: October 23, 2014