HOYLE, ROBERT, businessman, militia officer, justice of the peace, office holder, and politician; b. 16 Sept. 1781 in Lancashire, England; d. 15 Feb. 1857 in Lacolle, Lower Canada.
In 1806 Robert Hoyle emigrated from Great Britain to the United States and settled near Keeseville, N.Y. There he developed an estate, later claimed to be worth £30,000, which produced lumber for the market at Quebec. His prosperity was temporarily checked in 1812 when he declared his interests to be with Great Britain and, abandoning his estate, fled northwards to Lower Canada. During the War of 1812 he and William Bowron were said to have obtained the contract to supply beef to the British garrison at Île aux Noix in the Rivière Richelieu. They made large profits by buying American cattle cheap, smuggling them across the border, and selling them at high prices to the British authorities.
Hoyle settled in the area near Lacolle and Odelltown in the Richelieu valley just north of the American border. He engaged in agriculture, the lumber trade, and other “business persuits,” probably with his brother Henry, who became usufructuary seigneur of Lacolle. They apparently invested in land and developed sites for carding- and fulling-mills in Huntingdon County. Robert suffered a few set-backs in the 1820s. On 26 Aug. 1823 fire broke out in his store opposite Île aux Noix and, despite the efforts of the entire garrison which turned out to combat the blaze, the property was completely destroyed. It is not known if he rebuilt the store, but by 1825 he was operating a ferry service across the Richelieu at Noyan. Three years later he acquired Île aux Têtes (Île Ash), intending to cut a channel across the island, which blocked the ferry’s most direct route. In 1825 his wife Pamelia Wright died, leaving him with three small children.
Because of his economic and social position, Hoyle rapidly became part of the community’s élite. In 1820 he was appointed second major in the 1st Battalion of Townships militia and thus began a long career in the local militia. In 1821 he was named justice of the peace and in the following year commissioner for the summary trial of small causes. Ten years later he married Elizabeth B. Nye, whose brothers were important merchants in the Lacolle area. Hoyle had been elected to the House of Assembly in 1830 as one of the representatives for the new riding of L’Acadie. Though he was in a position to view the political strife in the assembly, his letters reveal a preoccupation with local interests and his business affairs, rather than with provincial politics. A tory, he voted in 1834 against Louis-Joseph Papineau*’s 92 Resolutions, thus incurring the displeasure of some of his constituents. He did support improvements which would benefit his riding, but was more concerned with obtaining a government appointment. In April 1834 he was named collector of customs for Stanstead in the Eastern Townships and therefore did not contest the general elections held later that year. In 1835 he was made joint county registrar for L’Acadie.
Hoyle’s new positions did not fulfil his need for financial security and social standing. He moved to Stanstead, but his wife and children stayed behind in Lacolle, and he missed them, his friends, and his business activities very much. He had been promised 50 per cent of the custom duties he collected, up to a maximum of £100. Unfortunately, the assembly cut or abolished many duties and his salary never reached £100. He nevertheless continued in his support of the government, playing an active role in the Townships militia, especially during the unrest of 1837–38 when he raised two cavalry troops and was made a lieutenant-colonel.
Hoyle did not receive any additional posts after the union of the Canadas in 1841. The next year he sent a memorial to the government asking for a more “lucrative position” than his present one. Nothing came of the petition and he retired from public employment in 1844, returning to live in the Lacolle area. Almost nothing is known of his activities after this date, except that he continued in the militia. He was buried in Glenwood Cemetery, Champlain, N.Y.
Brome County Hist. Soc. Arch. (Knowlton, Que.), Seignory of Beaujeux, bond to Michel Morin, 27 Oct. 1825. PAC, MG 8, F99, 14; MG 24, B141; MG 30, D1, 16: 117; RG 4, B58; RG 68, General index, 1651–1841: 181, 256, 258, 354. Quebec Gazette, 26 Oct. 1820, 8 Sept. 1823. Jules Romme, Odelltown, 1823–1973 (Saint-Bernard-de-Lacolle, Qué., 1973). Robert Sellar, The history of the county of Huntingdon and of the seigniories of Chateaugay and Beauharnois from their first settlement to the year 1838 (Huntingdon, Que., 1888). W. D. Lighthall, “The manor house of Lacolle,” Canadian Antiquarian and Numismatic Journal (Montreal), 3rd ser., 12 (1915): 18–26.