DORWIN, JEDEDIAH HUBBELL, merchant and manufacturer; b. 25 May 1792 at New Haven, Vt, son of Philo Dorwin and Mary Hubbell; m. 7 April 1817 Isabella Williamson, and they had at least one son and one daughter; d. 12 Nov. 1883 at Montreal, Que.
Jedediah Hubbell Dorwin’s life is more completely recorded than those of most other 19th-century entrepreneurs who operated on a small scale because of the records and journals he kept from 1811 until the day before he died in 1883. From this collection he preserved eight large volumes of journals, reminiscences, newspaper clippings, and weather reports for their possible interest to “someone that may come after me.”
Dorwin left his father’s farm in New Haven in 1811 without capital or special training, thereafter living by his wits, always ready to change direction in pursuit of some new opportunity. From 1811 to 1814 he was in the Oswego area of New York State residing with his mother’s relatives and employed, for the most part, in various aspects of the salt trade. His stay was marred by illness and he returned home to recuperate.
In the spring of 1815 Dorwin became involved in the long-established provisions trade between Vermont and Lower Canada, fully restored now that the war was over. He made several trips to Montreal taking pork, cheese, and butter and, on at least one occasion; arranged to smuggle tea and loaf sugar back across the border. The following March he settled permanently in Montreal. For the next two years he operated small grocery and provision stores, first in the faubourg Sainte-Marie and later closer to the centre of the city. He gave up this line of business during the recession of 1818–19. In the spring of 1819 he subcontracted from Oliver Wait and Abner Bagg the levelling of the northern section of Citadel Hill. Using Irish immigrant labourers, Dorwin completed by the fall what proved to be only “a moderate paying contract.”
In December he found a more promising career when he bought cod from “some men from near Boston” and took it by sleigh to sell in Quebec City. For the next year or two, he continued buying and selling cod during the winters while also dabbling in trade with the American farmers in the Eastern Townships. During the spring and summer, however, he ventured farther afield and bought fish on the Labrador coast in exchange for unspecified goods; he also briefly entered the whaling trade in 1822 with the purchase of a ship in Labrador. Dorwin’s maritime interests and profits were growing, and he now conducted what he considered to be a very lucrative trade in fish with the Quebec City firm of Ware and Gibb. By 1825 he was shipping wheat to Chatham, N.B., in his own schooner. Later in the year his vessel assembled a cargo in the ports of Sydney, N.S., Halifax, and Saint John, N.B., for the West Indies and returned to Quebec with sugar in June 1826. Having profited immensely from this excursion, Dorwin increased his involvement in the maritime trade in subsequent years. However, he was probably not a major trader.
It is more difficult to reconstruct Dorwin’s later years. During the 1830s he, like other Montreal produce dealers, made trips into the Midwest of the United States to buy wheat and packed meats. Unspecified interests in the United States kept Dorwin away from Montreal, except for brief visits, from the autumn of 1836 until 23 May 1840 when he returned from Jonesville, Mich., “for good.” Although still listed as a commission merchant in the Montreal directory for 1842–43, he was associated with Peter McGill [McCutcheon*] in the lumber trade as early as 1840. His commission business in Montreal may have been continued for a time by his brother Lewis who had been associated with him in some of his earlier ventures. For the next two decades, Dorwin played a central role in developing the lumber trade of Rawdon, a town north of Montreal, and in 1850 was president of a proposed railway from the village of L’Industrie (Joliette) to the township of Rawdon, which would be a 12-mile extension of the line then under construction from Lanoraie on the St Lawrence to the village of L’Industrie. Difficult terrain and a shortage of funds delayed the opening of the extension and, if it ever operated, its life was short. Darwin’s success as a timber merchant is difficult to gauge; in any event he did not have sufficient resources to re-establish himself after a major fire in his mills at Rawdon in 1859.
After 1860 Dorwin acted for three or four years as a Montreal agent of the Royal Naval Military and East India Life Assurance Company. From the mid 1860s to 1869–70 he was listed in the directories as a inventor and manufacturer of barometers. Dorwin, always a man of parts, had turned to a life-long avocation for his livelihood. There are indications of further financial reverses in the journals. It is possible that Canfield Dorwin, a Montreal broker who failed in questionable circumstances in 1869, was his brother and that, although Canfield may have been able to restore to some degree his own fortunes, he did not aid his older brother. Certainly Jedediah felt his losses from this period deeply. Although his financial position probably remained unsatisfactory, by about 1880, the year in which he turned 88, he seems to have recovered his spirits and returned to Rawdon with another unsuccessful railway scheme. He had a moment of triumph in February 1881 when “Montreal in 1816,” an article based on his recollections and his “well known journal,” was credited with selling the largest printing of the Montreal Daily Star to that date as well as causing a limited second printing. The manuscript journals he left give an inside view of the small community of American businessmen who settled in Montreal after the War of 1812, as well as glimpses of the thoughts and interests of Darwin as a member of that community.
Jedediah Hubbell Dorwin was the author of “Montreal in 1816: reminiscences of Mr. J. H. Dorwin . . . ,” Montreal Daily Star, 5 Feb. 1881. His journals are at PAC, MG 24, D12 and his “Antiquarian autographs” are at McCord Museum (Montreal).
AC, Montréal, État civil, Anglicans, Christ Church Cathedral (Montreal), 15 Nov. 1883. PAC, RG 4, C1, 120, file 130. Montreal Daily Star, 1, 7, 26 Feb. 1881. Dominion annual register, 1883: 308–9. Montreal directory, 1842–83. Marcel Fournier, Rawdon: 175 ans d’histoire (Joliette, Qué., 1974). Tulchinsky, River barons. R. R. Brown, “The St. Lawrence and Industrie Village Railway,” Railway and Locomotive Hist. Soc., Bull. (Boston), 70 (August 1947): 39–43. Albertine Ferland-Angers, “La citadelle de Montréal (1658–1820),” RHAF, 3 (1949–50): 493–517. W. A. Mackintosh, “Canada and Vermont: a study in historical geography,” CHR, 8 (1927): 9–30.