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ALLSOPP, GEORGE, businessman, office holder, politician, and seigneur; b. c. 1733 in England; d. 14 April 1805 in Cap-Santé, Lower Canada.

George Allsopp served in the British Quartermaster General’s Department during the 1758 expedition against Louisbourg, Île Royale (Cape Breton Island), and in 1759 as secretary to Lieutenant-Colonel Guy Carleton, quartermaster general at Quebec. Following this service Allsopp entered the trade between Britain and Quebec, one of the earliest British merchants after the conquest to realize the commercial potential of Canada. In 1761 he came from Bristol to be junior partner, first at Montreal and then at Quebec, in the mercantile supply firm of Jenkins, Trye and Company. Since specialization often meant failure in the unstable colonial economy, Allsopp formed additional partnerships and diversified business interests, participating in the wheat, fur, and timber trades, the Gulf of St Lawrence fisheries, the manufacture of potash and spirits, and the production of iron at the Saint-Maurice ironworks. “A person of the most extensive Correspondence of [any]one in this Province without exception,” Allsopp began about 1767 his lengthy association with the powerful London house of Olive, Watson and Rashleigh [see Sir Brook Watson]. That firm soon became his principal financial support and commercial supplier, while Allsopp became the central agent in its consolidation of significant commercial interests in Quebec.

Allsopp’s trading activities were complicated after 1761 by his conflict with James Murray*, military governor of Quebec, who had a strong aversion to the exploitative activities of the British merchants. They responded to the governor’s attitudes by vilifying his numerous interventions to regulate economic activity. Personally provoked by Murray’s interference with his trade and misrepresentation of him to imperial authorities in a manner capable of damaging his commercial reputation, Allsopp soon became the governor’s most vehement critic.

Similar antagonism to the military prevailed elsewhere in North America following the Seven Years’ War, but in Quebec the merchants also deplored Murray’s attempt to gain Canadian support by attenuating the anglicizing policy of the Royal Proclamation of 1763 and his instructions, both of which were designed to assimilate the province into the British empire. The merchants supported the proclamation’s exclusion of Roman Catholics from public office yet still expected the colony to be endowed with the full range of political and judicial institutions characteristic of British colonies. Allsopp and other merchants were consequently angered when, after the introduction of the long-awaited civil government in August 1764, Murray refused to institute an elected assembly, preferring to govern with an appointed council only. Tension mounted in September following Murray’s ordinance establishing civil and criminal courts. The merchants felt that the resulting judicial system offered too many concessions to French civil law. They were increasingly concerned as well about the continued absence of a definite statement of property law, and precise regulations to govern complex commercial dealings. The most opinionated of the British community responded to Murray’s policy in October 1764 when the first grand jury of Quebec, with James Johnston* as foreman, delivered its ill-judged presentment, part of which Allsopp had drafted. The presentment criticized the judicial system and implicitly condemned Murray’s entire administration by demanding temporary recognition of the grand jury as the only representative body in the colony, with a right to review public accounts. An appended clause, later attributed to Allsopp, opposed Roman Catholic participation on juries. The irascible merchant may also have inspired the presentment’s recommendation that a garrison order compelling civilians and some soldiers to carry lanterns outside after dark be amended. In March and twice in October 1764, Allsopp had been arrested for violating this order. Each encounter was marked by violence, Allsopp’s vociferous denunciations of the military, and, in October, his rapid prosecution of the soldiers involved.

Allsopp vigorously campaigned for Murray’s recall. In 1765 and 1766 he, the London merchant Anthony Merry, Joseph Howard*, and Edward Chinn protested Murray’s restrictions of trade at the government-controlled king’s posts. The resulting controversy exposed the inconsistencies of official policy, which vacillated between monopoly operation and free trade. In the midst of this debate Allsopp was appointed deputy provincial secretary and assistant clerk both of the Council of Quebec and of provincial enrolments on 15 Jan. 1766. Purchased from the absentee office holder, Henry Ellis, these largely clerical positions provided Allsopp with the security needed in a fluctuating commercial career. The appointments reached Allsopp in April, but Murray refused to install him because of his factious behaviour. The governor, however, returned to England in June, a recall for which Allsopp claimed much of the credit. Following the arrival of Guy Carleton as lieutenant governor and a thorough investigation of Allsopp’s behaviour, the suspension was lifted in April 1768. The British community had been divided in its support of Allsopp’s grievance over his exclusion from office. Several merchants, especially in Montreal, questioned his impartiality and disliked the militancy with which he had opposed Murray’s administration. Others, such as Chief Justice William Hey*, resented the close relationship between Brook Watson and Carleton and scornfully termed Allsopp a “fallen angel.” Yet by 1768 Allsopp, financier, estate executor, and local property owner as well as merchant, had become a conspicuous member of the mercantile community in the Quebec district. On 22 Dec. 1768 he married Anna Marie, the only daughter of another early merchant, John Taylor Bondfield. The Allsopps were to have ten children of whom seven, six boys and a girl, would survive infancy.

Between 1768 and 1773 Allsopp attended to both his prospering business interests and his lucrative but demanding official duties, which included the annual and often controversial issuance of tavern and fur-trade licences. Although hindered by assistants either incompetent or less scrupulous than himself, Allsopp sought to exercise his functions impartially and efficiently, conscious of his own commercial reputation and Carleton’s increasing scrutiny of official fee structures in the province [see Thomas Ainslie]. The positions brought Allsopp an annual salary of £200 from the British Treasury; he paid Henry Ellis £400 and pocketed the fees. Allsopp also served from 25 Oct. 1769 until 24 Oct. 1772 as deputy commissary general, charged with allocating provisions to garrisons throughout the province, a post in which his commercial knowledge proved invaluable. His own activities as a wholesale merchant were dependent on the credit accorded him by Watson and Rashleigh, for whom he was also, as early as 1769, the agent responsible for collecting the accounts of various retailers. Foremost among these was Samuel Jacobs*, a merchant and grain dealer in Saint-Denis on the Rivière Richelieu. In 1766 Allsopp and Jacobs combined with John Welles under the name of Jacobs, Welles and Company to exploit a potash works in Lower Town Quebec at the former king’s forges, which they leased from the crown. The enterprise was soon plagued by technical and managerial problems and failed in 1772, although without serious loss to Allsopp.

Like other British merchants, Allsopp was gradually specializing in the grain trade, revived following the war, and after 1766 he began to acquire increasing amounts of wheat from Jacobs. In September 1773 Allsopp and his brother-in-law John Bondfield purchased the adjoining seigneuries of Auteuil and Jacques-Cartier about 30 miles upstream from Quebec; the property included the seigneurial gristmill on the Rivière Jacques-Cartier. Two years later Bondfield relinquished to Allsopp his share in the seigneuries. Following the acquisition of the gristmill, Allsopp began making flour, and his grain purchases resulted in a steadily increasing debt to Jacobs and other suppliers.

From 1768 to 1773 Allsopp’s trade and milling operations, official duties, and cordial relations with Carleton diverted him from public debate over colonial government. During this same period, however, it was becoming increasingly clear that the merchants’ political views were vastly different from those of Carleton, who as commander-in-chief was preoccupied with provincial security and Canadian loyalty under veiled threats of French retaliation and growing restiveness in the American colonies. The Quebec Act of 1774, which Carleton had largely inspired, profoundly disappointed the merchants by providing for exclusive use of French civil law and by eliminating trial by jury in civil suits. The act also dashed all hope of an assembly and provided for an appointed legislative council which the merchants felt was too small to be representative, too susceptible to Roman Catholic influence, and too dependent on the governor. Allsopp’s own ill-concealed disappointment over the absence of provisions for an assembly and English commercial law stirred up opposition to him among government supporters. He was nevertheless appointed to the Legislative Council and was sworn in on 17 Aug. 1775.

During the American siege of Quebec Allsopp held the important post, between 25 Jan. 1775 and 24 Aug. 1776, of commissary general for the Quebec garrison. His misgivings about the Quebec Act, however, were being misinterpreted by Carleton and others as disloyalty, particularly since a number of Allsopp’s former business associates, including Joseph Howard, Thomas Walker*, Pierre Du Calvet*, John Welles, Christophe Pélissier*, and John and Acklam Bondfield, supported the American cause. Suspicions of Allsopp’s loyalty may have been partially responsible for his removal in 1777 as deputy provincial secretary and assistant clerk of provincial enrolments; the provincial secretary and clerk, George Pownall*, had been in the colony since his appointment to those offices in 1775, but Allsopp had continued to act as deputy until 1777. Allsopp’s quarrelsome nature, blatant commercial bias, perceived disregard for provincial security, and desire for more English law contributed to his radical reputation, and in 1778 he was publicly assaulted as a “rebel.”

Embittered by his dismissal from all his official posts by 1778, Allsopp, in spite of the pressures, was until 1791 the most consistent and militant opponent of the provincial administration. The peak of his opposition came in March 1780. Influenced by the views of the absent chief justice, Peter Livius*, and his own commercial preoccupation, the contentious merchant erupted during the near-violent session of the Legislative Council that year in a bitter but sophisticated indictment of the judicial and administrative systems sanctioned by Governor Haldimand. He condemned the elimination of jury trials and habeas corpus, the unauthorized privy council introduced by Carleton and continued by Haldimand, the absence of a clearly defined legal code to regulate commercial transactions and suits, and the inadequacies of the court system established under the Quebec Act. To combat the “seditious spirit” displayed by Allsopp and to counter growing support within council for reform, Haldimand suspended him in January 1783.

Although heavily engaged in politics, Allsopp did not neglect his wheat and flour trades or his agency for Watson and Rashleigh. In 1781 he had contracted with the seigneur James Cuthbert* to buy all his available wheat for 14 years. Three years previously Allsopp had begun building a large, expensive, stone grist-mill near the mouth of the Rivière Jacques-Cartier. By 1783 this project had contributed substantially to his indebtedness, already worsened by wartime trade restrictions and strained financial relations with Watson and Rashleigh. Business matters involving his agency for the London company took Allsopp to New York that year. In 1784 he went to England to negotiate a financial settlement with the firm, promote trade for his mills, and contest his exclusion from council.

In London Allsopp was drawn almost instinctively to the lobby for the repeal of the Quebec Act. He laid his arguments before various politicians, including Thomas Powys, member of parliament for Northamptonshire, Evan Nepean, an under-secretary in the Shelburne ministry, and Lord Sheffield, a recognized authority on commerce and agriculture and an opponent of William Pitt’s proposed relaxation of the navigation laws. The merchant’s case for administrative and judicial reform, and the reconsideration of his suspension, nevertheless fell prey to the indecisive preoccupation of the Pitt ministry with constitutional change in Quebec. In business matters he was more successful, but only after much negotiation and self-assertion. Before he returned to Quebec in the fall of 1785 he had arranged, partially through a mortgage on his new mill, to repay a debt of more than £8,660 to Watson and Rashleigh and had made agreements to supply flour and biscuit to merchants involved in the Newfoundland and Gulf of St Lawrence fisheries.

During Allsopp’s absence from Quebec, reform had become a popular issue through the initiative of Lieutenant Governor Henry Hamilton* and others. Allied with Deputy Postmaster General Hugh Finlay, Chief Justice William Smith*, and William Grant (1744–1805), Allsopp supported measures debated between 1785 and 1787 for judicial reform, notably those favourable to commercial activity. In 1787, during a formal investigation into the administration of justice, Allsopp sharply condemned the inconsistency of decisions in commercial cases rendered by the Court of Common Pleas. Since 1777 this court had been handling all civil cases, and Allsopp, because of its inconsistency, had made every effort to avoid it. He argued that the variability in its decisions resulted from the lack of a definite legal code for the judgement of commercial transactions. Instead there was the confusing use of legal elements from the outdated French mercantile code and even from the laws of New France and of the colony of New York. Between 1787 and 1791 he continued to play a leading role in the efforts by British and Canadian committees to convince Governor Carleton, now Lord Dorchester, and the British parliament of the necessity for a representative assembly and English commercial law.

Agitation within the province over constitutional change was marked by a bewildering variety of opinion. Many merchants learned with dismay of the government’s intention, stated in the Constitutional Act of 1791, to divide the colony, thus separating them politically from the loyalists in what became Upper Canada. Nor did the new act completely repeal the Quebec Act or provide for a commercial code. Encouraged, however, by the provisions for an assembly balanced by a legislative council, and less concerned with the political and commercial implications, Allsopp enthusiastically claimed partial responsibility for having “produced a most excellent Constitution for Canada, preferable in several respects to that enjoyed by the other Colonies.” He contested the election of 1792 for Upper Town Quebec but was defeated by his former reform associate William Grant. Allsopp was further disappointed when Dorchester’s recommendation for his appointment to the first legislative and executive councils under the act was rejected by William Wyndham Grenville, the Home secretary.

In business throughout the period from 1786 to 1791 Allsopp concentrated almost exclusively on wheat buying, milling, and marketing, and the shipment of flour and biscuit from Jacques-Cartier and his Lower Town Quebec warehouses and wharf. He undertook much custom grinding in addition to the production of his own flour and biscuit. His principal markets were Montreal provisioners, the Gulf of St Lawrence fisheries, the West Indies, government supply contractors, and local consumers in Quebec. By 1788 Allsopp’s milling complex, capable of producing 65,000 minots or 22 per cent of the colony’s annual production, ranked first in the province. Fully aware of the intricate mechanics of the grain trade, he repeatedly advocated the exportation of flour rather than bulky wheat. Although Quebec merchants such as Allsopp were hampered by the negative effects of the Canadian climate and current agrarian practices on the quality of wheat and flour produced, they hoped to find compensation in the severance, following the American revolution, of supplies to the empire from American sources. In 1789, after a British act of the previous year had failed to establish reciprocal trade between Quebec and the British West Indies, Allsopp led a delegation of millers, bakers, coopers, and merchants in the presentation to Dorchester of a proposed amendment to make the act operative. Supported by the Legislative Council, the proposals were referred to Britain but lost in more pressing constitutional debates.

By 1790 Allsopp’s seigneurial revenues of £600 per annum made him the eighth most important individual seigneur in the colony. His commercial stability was seriously threatened in 1793, however, when fire destroyed his main grist-mill near the mouth of the Jacques-Cartier. Allsopp was forced to renegotiate his financial obligations to Brook Watson, whose rigid control of Allsopp’s financial base spurred the merchant’s contempt. In 1795 a settlement was concluded. Between that year and 1798 operations were largely restored at the stone mill; from 1795 as well Allsopp leased the nearby Portneuf baronial mill. The Jacques-Cartier seigneurial mill, which in June 1796 had also burned down, was reactivated, and a third grist-mill was added to the complex.

Although Allsopp still entered into other smaller but profitable transactions, he now viewed the processing and sale of flour as the “only eligible trade.” Allsopp supplied flour to his bakeries at Jacques-Cartier and in Lower Town Quebec for the local market; he also sold flour and biscuit to the exporters Lester and Morrogh [see Robert Lester] and to Monro and Bell [see David Monro*], suppliers to the government contractor Alexander Davison. Allsopp was able to rely increasingly on the advice and assistance at Jacques-Cartier of his eldest son, George Waters Allsopp*, but his plan to expand his trade through the placement of his other sons in foreign market centres did not materialize. By the time of his death, John, Robert, and William had participated in the family trade at Quebec; Carleton became a merchant abroad and James entered the British army. Allsopp’s wife and daughter spent much of each year throughout the 1790s at Cap-Santé near the mills, while Allsopp reluctantly resided for lengthy periods at Quebec where his business was conducted.

At Quebec Allsopp pursued various other interests ranging from the Quebec Fire and Agriculture societies to large-scale land speculation in the Eastern Townships. Complications in the controversial land-granting system prevented the family from exploiting much of Allsopp’s granted land until after his death, particularly in Farnham and Maddington townships. On tire basis of his knowledge of commercial law and past experience as a Court of Appeals judge (a duty of legislative councillors), Allsopp petitioned for a judgeship in 1794. This position was denied, but on 12 June 1799 he was appointed a justice of the peace for Quebec.

Governed by bitter memories of his political humiliation, Allsopp had apparently avoided any involvement in provincial politics after 1792. He nevertheless retained his faith in the British constitution, the theoretical foundation of his earlier reform campaign. In response to the French revolution he praised the constitution’s balance of monarchy, aristocracy, and democracy as the most effective means of controlling an elected body. According to available evidence, Allsopp refrained from any assessment of Lower Canadian politics during the 1790s and his response to the emerging political contest between Canadian and ministerial groups for legislative control is uncertain. During the 1796 election campaign of his son George Waters, however, he did express concern over the vigour of Canadian opposition.

The longevity and extent of Allsopp’s business activities establish him as a principal commercial figure in Quebec between 1760 and the 1790s. Through partnerships and diverse wholesale trading interests he quickly prospered, and as the principal agent in Canada for Brook Watson he figured significantly in that powerful merchant’s penetration into virtually all aspects of the Quebec trade. Secured by this association and the apparent availability of long-term credit, Allsopp specialized increasingly in the wheat trade but gradually declined in prominence as a wholesaler. Following the construction of the Jacques-Cartier grist-mill, the turning-point of his career, Allsopp emerged as a major industrialist and, by 1788, the province’s largest flour producer. Intense competition from other producers and wheat exporters, the demands of full-time management, and heavy financial obligations to Watson eventually forced him to forsake plans for retirement to England. He remained active as a businessman and magistrate until at least 1804. On 26 March 1805 the death in Quebec of his wife, who was long a stabilizing influence upon him, came as a severe blow, and he died in Cap-Santé less than three weeks later following a series of crippling strokes. The business was continued by George Waters Allsopp, but in 1808 the grist-mills were offered for lease.

David Roberts

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Cite This Article

David Roberts, “ALLSOPP, GEORGE,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 5, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed May 28, 2024, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/allsopp_george_5E.html.

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Permalink:   http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/allsopp_george_5E.html
Author of Article:   David Roberts
Title of Article:   ALLSOPP, GEORGE
Publication Name:   Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 5
Publisher:   University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication:   1983
Year of revision:   1983
Access Date:   May 28, 2024