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BROWN, JAMES, bookbinder and businessman; b. 1776 in Glasgow; m. c. 1795 and had at least four children; d. 23 May 1845 in Montreal.

James Brown arrived in Montreal in 1797 and went to work in Quebec as a bookbinder for printer John Neilson. Several years later he returned to Montreal to set up as a bookseller and bookbinder. In November 1801 he advertised in the Montreal Gazette, inviting the public to come to his bookshop on Rue Saint-François-Xavier and see works he had bound as well as books for sale. Besides volumes in English and French, some of which were printed in Montreal and at Quebec, in particular in Neilson’s shop, he sold office supplies and such items as stockings, mittens, barrels of coal, eyeglasses, and scrubbing-brushes.

In 1804 Brown was asked to become sales agent in Montreal for Walter Ware. Ware, who was from Massachusetts, had signed a 30-year lease in 1803 with the seigneur of Argenteuil, James Murray, to rent six acres in the village of St Andrews (Saint-André-Est), and in the summer of 1804 he built a paper-mill there. Brown accepted Ware’s invitation and decided as well to collect rags, the raw material for making paper. He then asked Neilson to print 500 handbills announcing that the paper-mill in St Andrews was in business. In September 1805 he put the first wrapping-paper to come out of the paper-mill on sale in his bookshop.

In December 1806 Brown bought a share in Ware’s company. He received a 5 per cent commission on the sale of paper and 25 per cent on the raw material collected. Financial difficulties, however, led to the dissolution of the company on 29 March 1809. A few days later Brown joined with John Chesser to buy the mill, and in a short time he became its sole owner. Increasingly engaged in the enterprise, he went to live at St Andrews in October 1810. His production included wrapping-paper, blue and blotting-paper, notepaper, bonnet board, printing-paper, and cartridge-paper. He had a number of workmen, some young apprentices, craftsmen, and an engineer working for him.

On 28 Feb. 1807 Brown had told Neilson that he intended to found a newspaper. He had not yet received the printing equipment he had ordered from Glasgow but being anxious not to let Nahum Mower, an American who was working on the same idea, get ahead of him, Brown asked Neilson to print a bilingual handbill announcing his new paper. In July he launched the Canadian Gazette/Gazette canadienne. He was assisted by his brother Charles, who took charge of the printing. The bilingual weekly contained foreign and local news, as well as some poetry, anecdotes, letters, and advertisements. Brown used about 15 agents to distribute the paper in Lower and Upper Canada. At that time two other Montreal newspapers were in circulation: Mower’s Canadian Courant and Montreal Advertiser and Edward Edwards*’s Montreal Gazette. Edwards, who was heavily in debt, became unable to compete and in February 1808 sold his paper to Brown, who took the Canadian Gazette off the market. From 7 March it was Brown who published the Montreal Gazette; printing was entrusted to his brother. Beginning on 23 June he produced it in his own shop, and Charles’s name no longer appeared on it Although Brown wanted to make certain changes in the paper, the Montreal Gazette retained the same format and style it had had under Edwards. It remained bilingual, and despite some criticism Brown continued to publish all pieces solely in the language in which they were written. From 1 July 1816 the title and date appeared in English only, and most of the articles were published in that language. Between 1808 and 1822 he also printed some 50 other works. They included volumes of a religious, political, or historical nature, French and Latin grammars, police regulations, and calendars.

Brown sold his newspaper and printing shop to Thomas Andrew Turner in 1822, apparently preferring to concentrate on his paper-mill. In 1824 he decided to dispose of his bookstore also and he subsequently seems to have concerned himself solely with the mill. Ten years later the new seigneur of Argenteuil, Charles Christopher Johnson, refused to renew the lease and within a few years he bought Brown out. The paper-mill then went out of production, and Brown moved to Montreal to live. In the rebellion of 1837–38 he returned to head a group of militiamen from St Andrews but afterwards he went back to Montreal, where he died on 23 May 1845.

Lucie Chéné

ANQ-M, CE1-92, 23 mai 1845; CN1-7, 29 mars 1832; CN1-117, 31 mai 1804; CN1-185, 6 déc. 1806. ANQ-Q, CN1-262, 21 oct. 1811, 9 févr. 1815; P-193. PAC, MG 24, B1, 1: 66–67; 2: 27–29, 41–42, 115–16; 3: 336–37; 16: 22; 18: 293, 295, 297–98, 300–1, 305; 39: 1139; 137: 114; 147: 14, 114, 116, 162, 183–84, 206, 276, 310, 438, 471, 480; 148: 2, 4, 9, 20, 35, 39, 129, 193, 224, 268, 286, 301, 358, 414, 460, 497, 501; 149: 1, 6, 23, 45, 53–54, 66, 70, 82, 96, 119, 182, 187, 231, 250, 270, 281, 326, 339–40, 367, 370, 384, 411, 424; 150:5, 10, 13, 25, 41, 60, 94, 102, 119, 135, 141, 145, 147, 153, 157, 161, 163, 210, 234, 245, 268, 270–72, 288, 311; 158: 626, 638; 184: 749–846. “Les dénombrements de Québec” (Plessis), ANQ Rapport, 1948–49: 125. L’Aurore des Canadas, 27 mai 1845. Le Canadien, 26 mai 1845. La Gazette canadienne (Montréal), juillet 1807–mars 1808. Montreal Gazette, 1808–45. Quebec Gazette, 28 May 1845. Quebec Mercury, 5 Jan. 1805, 27 May 1845. Beaulieu et Hamelin, La presse québécoise, vol.1. Borthwick, Hist. and biog. gazetteer. Béatrice Chassé, “Collection Neilson,” ANQ Rapport, 1974: 25–37. Hare et Wallot, Les imprimés dans le Bas-Canada. Yolande Buono, “Imprimerie et diffusion de l’imprimé à Montréal, de 1776 à 1820” (thèse de ma, univ. de Montréal, 1980). George Carruthers, Paper-making (Toronto, 1947). E. A. Collard, A tradition lives; the story of theGazette”, Montreal, founded June 3, 1778 (Montreal, 1953). Ægidius Fauteux, The introduction of printing into Canada (Montreal, 1930). J. C. Oswald, Printing in the Americas (2v., Port Washington, N.Y., 1965). É.-Z. Massicotte, “Le premier moulin à papier au Canada,” BRH, 39 (1933): 635–37.

General Bibliography

Cite This Article

Lucie Chéné, “BROWN, JAMES (1776-1845),” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 7, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed December 9, 2023, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/brown_james_1776_1845_7E.html.

The citation above shows the format for footnotes and endnotes according to the Chicago manual of style (16th edition). Information to be used in other citation formats:

Permalink:   http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/brown_james_1776_1845_7E.html
Author of Article:   Lucie Chéné
Title of Article:   BROWN, JAMES (1776-1845)
Publication Name:   Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 7
Publisher:   University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication:   1988
Year of revision:   1988
Access Date:   December 9, 2023