BEMAN, ELISHA, businessman, JP, and office holder; b. 1760 in New York; married and had four children; m. secondly 5 Sept. 1802 Esther Sayre, widow of Christopher Robinson*, and they had a daughter; d. 14 Oct. 1821 in Newmarket, Upper Canada.
Elisha Beman settled at York (Toronto), Upper Canada, in 1795. He opened a tavern and also ran a mercantile business supplying provisions and baked goods. Beman prospered and became one of the town’s more substantial residents. During the late 1790s he was involved with several proposals which, had they materialized, would have taken him from York. First, as a result of the government’s interest in improving communications along Yonge Street to Lake Simcoe and beyond, on 6 Oct. 1798 Beman applied to Administrator Peter Russell* for 1,000 acres of land. He proposed to settle at the northern end of the Toronto portage, or on the Severn River, where he would then open an inn, clear land, and keep horses and cattle. He also offered to run a ferry on Lake Simcoe and, when settlement occurred, to build grist- and saw-mills. He thought the capital for development could be provided from the “fruits of his own Industry and the produce of the Sale of his property elsewhere.” In response the Executive Council granted him a town lot in York and 1,000 acres, in recognition of “his great and arduous exertions in providing the town with provisions at a time when no other persons had attempted it.” The following spring the councillors permitted him to buy another 1,000 acres at 6d. per acre. Secondly, Beman was associated briefly with Abel Stevens in a project to establish an iron foundry in the Gananoque area. On 11 Feb. 1799 they outlined their proposal in a petition in which they noted that in order to satisfy the government of the scheme’s soundness, Beman had been recruited as one having “an established Credit in Montreal and who being bred to the Business and having for a long time followed it in the Neighbouring States, serves in a twofold Capacity to empower them to commence the intended manufacture.”
Beman acquired a number of local offices. He was elected town assessor and surveyor of highways in 1799 and was appointed a commissioner of dry measures on 17 Oct. 1801. In order that they “might Keep good rule and order in their respective houses,” tavernkeepers such as Beman were appointed constables. He was a constable for York in 1801, the Home District in 1802, and Whitchurch Township in 1805. A greater mark of distinction was his first commission as justice of the peace for the Home District, issued on 5 April 1803; his last commission, after successive reappointments, was dated 13 March 1820.
Shortly after his second marriage in 1802, Beman and his family moved north to a house built by Peter Robinson* near the Holland River. He continued, however, to operate his business in York for some years. In 1803 he bought a lot with a mill (or he may, in fact, have built the mill that summer) on the site of present-day Newmarket; a year later he sold it to Joseph Hill, from whom he bought half of the adjoining lot on which stood a house, a mill, and a store. He moved to this lot and opened a business. In 1805 he added to this complex with the purchase of the adjacent farm lot. On 28 December he applied for a tavern licence but was refused. Subsequently, however, he built a distillery.
Beman’s business seems to have prospered. He evidently shipped furs and potash for merchants such as Laurent Quetton St George, distilled and milled grains in Newmarket for the local markets, and retailed goods obtained from wholesalers in York and Kingston. His son Eli Beman built a mill and hotel at Holland Landing and operated a ferry and boat on Lake Simcoe. Another son, Joel Beman, seems to have worked on and been responsible for Beman’s farms. Both Elisha and Eli were evidently close associates of Peter Robinson who was building a similar wholesale-retail enterprise in Newmarket and Holland Landing. An accusation has been made in the History of the town of Newmarket that Beman and Robinson were guilty of sharp business practice in their dealings with Joseph Hill. The records of the Court of Nisi Prius put a different light on Beman’s enterprises, that his businesses were not always successful. Seven judgements were won by his creditors between 1804 and 1808 for an amount totalling more than £7,000.
Little is known of Beman’s politics. He was, with Samuel Heron* and others, one of the principals protesting the impropriety of judge Henry Allcock*’s election to the House of Assembly in 1801. He was also a member of the Upper Canada Agricultural and Commercial Society which may have had an organizing role in the opposition centred around Joseph Willcocks*. That his political views were of a dubious nature, from the standpoint of government, is hinted at in a letter from his stepson John Beverley Robinson*, acting attorney general, written on 18 May 1814. Robinson was responding to Surveyor General Thomas Ridout’s assertion that Beman, in his capacity as JP, was “not being sufficiently active, in checking seditious proceedings in his neighbourhood.” Robinson acknowledged that “the observation is in my opinion just.” He went on, however, to note that Beman, though “wanting in zeal, is not a seditious or troublesome character, and except in his political opinions, is a good and exemplary member of Society – and in many duties of his situation as a magistrate considerably useful.”
Beman gradually gave up active involvement in business, transferring the responsibilities to his sons and devoting full attention to his farms. In the autumn of 1921 his health failed and possibly he suffered a stroke. On 7 October, “being weak in body but of sound and disposing mind and memory,” he made his will, dividing his land among his children; he died a week later.
AO, MS 4; MS 87; RG 22, ser.131, 1: ff.19–21. PAC, RG 1, L3, 446: S misc., 1783–1818/71; RG 5, A1: 8339–42; RG 68, General index, 1651–1841: 412, 416, 422, 430, 438. “Journals of Legislative Assembly of U.C.,” AO Report, 1909: 183. “Political state of U.C.,” PAC Report, 1892: 41–43. Town of York, 1793–1815 (Firth). Upper Canada Gazette, 1793–1821. History of the town of Newmarket (n.p., [1968?]).