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GILLESPIE, GEORGE, merchant; b. 1771 in Wiston, Scotland, son of Alexander Gillespie and Grizzel Paterson; m. 1818 Helen Hamilton, and they had five children; d. 18 Sept. 1842 at Biggar Park, Scotland.

George Gillespie was born into an active mercantile family. At least four brothers were already merchants by the time he left for the province of Quebec in 1790. Possibly he was a partner by 1796 in Dickson, Gillespie and Company of Michilimackinac (Mackinac Island, Mich.), a firm that may have been part of the North West Company operations in the Green Bay (Wis.) area, where Gillespie is said to have served for a few years. It seems more likely, however, that he was a partner, perhaps with John Ogilvy*, in Ogilvy, Gillespie and Company; this firm operated from Montreal and Michilimackinac in the years 1794–97. In 1798 Gillespie supposedly had the charge of the major NWC post at Fort St Joseph (St Joseph Island, Ont.). The following year he became a member of the Beaver Club, whose bibulous evenings he enjoyed whenever he visited Montreal.

By 1800 Gillespie and his brother John had become associates with Ogilvy, Samuel Gerrard*, John Mure*, and others in the Montreal commercial house of Parker, Gerrard, Ogilvy and Company; John handled company business in London, George at Michilimackinac. That year Gillespie was among the partners who refused to follow Ogilvy and Mure into the New North West Company (sometimes called the XY Company), formed to compete with the NWC. Gillespie moved to Montreal, probably in 1803 when Parker, Gerrard, Ogilvy and Company was reorganized to bring in Sir Alexander Mackenzie*, but he contracted to visit Michilimackinac annually on behalf of the firm. He joined the Scotch Presbyterian Church, later known as St Gabriel Street Church, which he supported generously.

In late 1806, largely through Ogilvy’s work, Parker, Gerrard, Ogilvy and Company joined with three other Montreal firms trading to Michilimackinac to form the Michilimackinac Company. Shortly after, along with Josiah Bleakley* and others, Gillespie negotiated on its behalf a division of trading territory with the NWC. In 1808 after a brigade of its bateaux was seized by American customs agents at Niagara (near Youngstown), N.Y., Gillespie journeyed to Washington to protest. Two years later he accompanied Toussaint Pothier to Michilimackinac to buy out the wintering partners; the firm was then taken over by Forsyth, Richardson and Company and McTavish, McGillivrays and Company under the name Montreal Michilimackinac Company [see John Richardson*].

In 1810 Gillespie and his younger brother, Robert*, established a partnership with George Moffatt*, a shrewd and aggressive Englishman; after several changes the firm became known as Gillespie, Moffatt and Company in 1816. By then Gillespie may already have returned to Scotland, where he purchased the estate of Biggar Park in his native Lanarkshire and where he lived in baronial style until his death in 1842. A son, Alexander, worked in the Quebec offices of Gillespie, Moffatt and Company from 1844 to 1849.

Gerald J. J. Tulchinsky

ANQ-Q, P-668. PAC, MG 19, B1; B3. Private arch., Alastair Gillespie (Toronto), Diary of Alexander Gillespie, 1849–50; Diary of Marion Patterson Gillespie, 1842–49; Family trees (pedigrees) of the Gillespies (typescripts). “Dickson and Grignon papers – 1812–1815,” ed. R. G. Thwaites, Wis., State Hist. Soc., Coll., 11 (1888): 272. Docs. relating to NWC (Wallace). Augustin Grignon, “Seventy-two years’ recollections of Wisconsin,” Wis., State Hist. Soc., Coll., 3 (1857): 250, 252. “Lawe and Grignon papers, 1794–1821,” ed. L. C. Draper, Wis., State Hist. Soc., Coll., 10 (1888): 90–91. Montreal Gazette, 4 April, 15 Aug. 1796. Campbell, Hist. of Scotch Presbyterian Church. D. S. Macmillan, “The ‘new men’ in action: Scottish mercantile and shipping operations in the North American colonies, 1760–1825,” Canadian business history; selected studies, 1497–1971, ed. D. S. Macmillan (Toronto, 1972), 44–103. R. H. Fleming, “The origin of ‘Sir Alexander Mackenzie and Company, ’” CHR, 9 (1928): 137–55.

General Bibliography

Cite This Article

Gerald J. J. Tulchinsky, “GILLESPIE, GEORGE,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 7, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed October 23, 2014, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/gillespie_george_7E.html.

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Permalink: http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/gillespie_george_7E.html
Author of Article: Gerald J. J. Tulchinsky
Title of Article: GILLESPIE, GEORGE
Publication Name: Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 7
Publisher: University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication: 1988
Year of revision: 1988
Access Date: October 23, 2014