KEEFER, JACOB, merchant, miller, and notary; b. 8 Nov. 1800 in Thorold Township, U.C. the second son of George Keefer*, uel, and Catherine Lampman; m. 8 June 1829 Christina Theresa Grant, and by her had nine sons and six daughters; d. 12 June 1874 at Thorold, Ont.
Jacob Keefer was employed in his youth by a druggist in Erie, Pennsylvania, where a brother-in-law practised medicine. After a few years he returned to Upper Canada and kept general stores at Mud Creek, Beaver Dams, the Deep Cut, and Thorold. In 1826 he was commissioned to receive affidavits and began to serve the community as a notary. From 1826 to 1832 he was postmaster at Beaver Dams and Thorold.
In 1828 Keefer was granted the right to erect a sawmill on the Welland Canal in Thorold. By 1843, he estimated, the sawmill had yielded him an average annual profit of more than £209 over the past 12 years. His major enterprise, however, was the Welland Mills which he decided to construct in Thorold in 1845 after the Welland Canal had been rebuilt. When the mills were completed by 1847 they were among the largest flour mills in Canada with a capacity to grind 200 to 300 barrels of flour per day, a ship elevator capable of discharging 1,000 bushels of wheat an hour, and storage space for 70,000 bushels of wheat and 5,000 bushels of flour. After he had invested $3,000 in labour and materials, Keefer learned of Sir Robert Peel’s intention to repeal the corn laws and eliminate the preference Canadian flour had enjoyed in the British market. It was a serious blow to his financial prospects, but after considering the alternatives he concluded that the mills must be completed if loss was to be avoided. He was further disappointed when Robert Gillespie* of London, England, failed to purchase a partnership in the mills for his nephew, Alexander Gillespie Jr, as he had proposed. Faced with a shortage of funds, Keefer mortgaged the mills heavily. Scarcely had they begun operating when prices declined sharply. From 1847 to 1850 it was frequently necessary for him to obtain short term loans from the Bank of Montreal and the Bank of Upper Canada in addition to large advances from John Torrance*’s firm in Montreal with whom he did business. By 1850 he was faced with a debt of more than £8,000 and was unable to obtain further credit. He lost control of the mills in April 1850 when James Oswald and Samuel Zimmerman*, who held one of the mortgages, brought a suit of ejectment against him. He continued to hope that he would be able to repay his debts and regain possession of the mills but this hope vanished in December 1855 when Oswald and Zimmerman carried foreclosure proceedings through the Court of Chancery.
In addition to his milling operations Keefer had numerous other interests. He was president of the Thorold Joint Stock Cotton Company and, until 1847, of the Erie and Ontario Railroad. He was chairman of the common school commission for Thorold Township in 1842 and in 1846 he was superintendent of common schools in the Niagara District. After he lost control of his mills in 1850, Keefer purchased a partnership in W. H. Ward’s lumber business in Thorold, but in less than a year the partnership was dissolved. Henceforth, he occupied himself mainly with notarial work and his duties as postmaster, which he resumed in 1851 and continued until his death. In 1851 he was appointed clerk of the 4th division court of the united counties of Lincoln and Welland and in 1853 he received a commission as a notary public.
Although he was not active in politics, Keefer generally supported moderate reform principles. In the 1820s he solicited subscriptions for William Lyon Mackenzie’s Colonial Advocate, but in 1837 he served as a captain in the militia and participated in operations against Mackenzie on Navy Island. As a result of his financial experiences he had become convinced by 1849 that annexation to the United States was essential for the economic survival of Upper Canada. Beyond openly expressing his opinions in his correspondence, however, he did not agitate in favour of annexation.
Throughout his life Keefer was a staunch supporter of the temperance and sabbatarian movements, but he was not active in the leadership of either movement.
PAC, MG 24, B18 (W. L. Mackenzie papers), 1; E1 (Merritt papers), ser.1, 20, pp.3288–91; 23, pp.3905–8; I33 (Keefer papers); RG 11, ser.2, 43, f.7539. PAO, W. H. Merritt papers, 12 July 1848. “The annexation movement, 1849–50,” ed. A. G. Penny, CHR, V (1924), 236–61. J. of Education for Ont., XXVII (1874), 107. Chadwick, Ontarian families, II, 92. [W. H. Wetherell], Jubilee history of Thorold, township and town, from the time of the red man to the present (Thorold, Ont., 1897–98).