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WHITE, THOMAS (1830-88) – Volume XI (1881-1890)

d. 21 April 1888 at Ottawa, Ont.


Responsible Government

Sir John A. Macdonald

From the Red River Settlement to Manitoba (1812–70)

Sir Wilfrid Laurier

Sir George-Étienne Cartier


The Fenians

Women in the DCB/DBC

The Charlottetown and Quebec Conferences of 1864

Introductory Essays of the DCB/DBC

The Acadians

For Educators

The War of 1812 

Canada’s Wartime Prime Ministers

The First World War

CALDWELL, FRANCIS XAVIER, militia officer, politician, office holder, justice of the peace, and businessman; b. 4 May 1792 in Detroit, son of William Caldwell* and Suzanne Baby, daughter of Jacques Baby*, dit Dupéront; m. 10 Jan. 1831 Mary Frances Réaume, widow of Francis Baby, and they had a son; d. 5 June 1851 in Malden Township, Upper Canada.

Francis Xavier Caldwell was raised in the Roman Catholic faith and educated in either Detroit or Amherstburg, Upper Canada, where his family had settled in 1782 or 1783. At the age of 20 he joined his father (a former captain in Butler’s Rangers) and two brothers to serve with the British army in the War of 1812. Promoted ensign in the 1st Essex Militia on 12 July 1812, Francis participated that year in the capture of Detroit and in 1813, as an officer in a ranger corps commanded by his father, in several major battles on the western frontier: Frenchtown, Miamis River, Fort Meigs, and Fort Stephenson. Retreating from Amherstburg with Major-General Henry Procter* when the fortunes of war were reversed, the Caldwells escaped death or capture at Moraviantown in October 1813 but were faced with the realization that they could not return home again as long as the American occupation of the western part of Upper Canada continued. The Caldwell name – associated in the decade following the American revolution with border warfare and the instigation of Indian atrocities in the Ohio country – was still so odious to Americans that the family property in Amherstburg was put to the torch and William Caldwell Sr pronounced a hunted man. Francis served as a volunteer with the British army’s Right Division in late 1813 in the capture of Fort Niagara (near Youngstown), Lewiston, Black Rock (Buffalo), and Buffalo, all in New York state. The Caldwells fought together again in 1814 as volunteers in the Right Division at the battle of Longwood (near Thamesville, Ont.), after which the elder Caldwell was appointed to replace Matthew Elliott* in the Indian Department. The family was reunited later in 1814 in the fighting at Lundy’s Lane and at the siege of Fort Erie.

Returning to post-war Amherstburg, Francis Caldwell engaged in farming and watched his father receive shoddy treatment from the government as the Indian Department was reduced to its peace-time level. Though elevated to captain in the Essex militia in 1819, Francis felt similarly treated when promotions for others led to a minor revolt in the regiment. With others he resigned in a huff. He was as quick as his father to react to a supposed slight or injustice, but apparently Adjutant-General Nathaniel Coffin* was able to satisfy all concerned. The resignations were withdrawn a year later and peace was re-established.

Upon his father’s death in 1822, Caldwell inherited a substantial amount of property, including water-lots on the Detroit River in front of the family homestead. To this property he added loyalist and militia grants, amassing nearly 2,500 acres of land in the Western District. He also became involved with his brothers in improving the so-called Pike Road, which ran into Amherstburg across Caldwell property, and in the late 1830s he secured the rest of the water-lots fronting his property. In 1831 he had married Mary Frances Baby, a widow with two sons, and, aided perhaps by his close association through birth and now marriage with the prestigious Baby clan, the growth in his stature continued. Appointed collector of customs for Amherstburg in 1831 and a magistrate two years later, by 1834 Caldwell was ready to enter politics.

The Upper Canadian political arena in the mid 1830s was increasingly dominated by the reform politics of William Lyon Mackenzie*, which seemed to threaten the structure of society. Responding to the call from the Canadian Emigrant of Sandwich (Windsor) for “independent and loyal representatives of tried patriotism,” Caldwell ran in 1834 for the House of Assembly in the two-seat riding of Essex, winning easily with John Alexander Wilkinson, an incumbent. The same journal accepted them as “staunch loyalists, friends of internal improvement and rational reform,” qualities certain to make them “worthy of conspicuous place in Mackenzie’s Black List.” After reviewing their initial activities in the assembly, the Canadian Emigrant boasted that Caldwell and Wilkinson were “unanimous in their opposition to Mackenzie” and the reform press branded them tories.

Elected as an independent, Caldwell proved himself to be in reality a moderate tory. He opposed the secret ballot, a measure enthusiastically advocated by the reformers, but in 1839 he voted against the reactionary tory element’s demand for an unequal union of the Canadas wherein Upper Canada would dominate over the lower province. Although he supported the secularization of the clergy reserves, with proceeds to go to general education, Caldwell was one of the small group which had joined Archdeacon John Strachan* in his demand in 1835 for a religious test in the appointment of staff for King’s College (University of Toronto). Usually protective of the crown and its agents, Caldwell could yet be pugnacious in promoting the payment of claims for losses suffered during the War of 1812 and in arguing that land should be granted to loyalist descendants and militia claimants without the required settlement duties. Caldwell was a strong supporter of public improvements as well. Roads, lighthouses, and harbours within his constituency benefited from his diligent advocacy in parliament. His major legislative disappointment was his failure to persuade the home government to reduce the imperial duty on Canadian-grown tobacco, of which the Western District was a major producer.

In January 1838, following the outbreak of rebellion, Caldwell was commissioned to raise and command a force for frontier service, the Amherstburg Volunteers. The situation had become very tense when, as a result of the Caroline affair in December 1837 [see Andrew Drew*], border skirmishes with such Patriots as Edward Alexander Theller threatened to escalate into open hostilities with the United States. Caldwell evidently attended parliament in Toronto during the most intense period of activity, but he doubted whether the Americans would attack Canada, adding characteristically, “Let them Come if they Dare.” By the summer of 1838 border activity had subsided and the Amherstburg Volunteers were disbanded. Regular military units were moved into the area and, when the Patriots again threatened invasion in the fall of that year, the local militia was strengthened to defend the area. Caldwell played no part in the fighting which occurred in the orchard of François Baby in Windsor in December 1838, remaining at his parliamentary duties while the flamboyant John Prince*, who had been elected along with Caldwell for Essex in 1836, returned to lead the defence of the Western District. For the election of 1841 Essex was limited to one representative and Caldwell lost to Prince, whose unhesitating execution of five Patriot prisoners in 1838 had gained him extraordinary popularity.

It was in business that Caldwell suffered his greatest disappointment. In July 1835 he had invested heavily in village lots near the Colborne Iron Works in Gosfield (North and South Gosfield) Township, Essex County, which had been founded four years earlier by Eleakim Field* and Benjamin Parker Cahoon and probably named for Lieutenant Governor Sir John Colborne*. Caldwell may have been encouraged both by the report of a Toronto founder, Amos Horton, that Colborne iron was the best in the country and by government support for an improved southern road between the Detroit and Niagara rivers, to run through the Colborne site and be some 60 miles shorter than the traditional Thames River–Chatham route. When ground was broken in April 1838 at Sandwich for the Niagara and Detroit Rivers Rail Road, the charter of which Caldwell had fought for in the assembly, the ironworks’ success seemed assured. It was not to be, however. A combination of the financial panic of 1837 [see John Henry Dunn], opposition from such railway promoters as Sir Allan Napier MacNab*, and the disruption caused by the rebellion prevented the successful development of the ironworks and the town of Colborne (Olinda). As well, Caldwell assumed liability for a portion of Cahoon’s debts, expecting that the sum “would when due be fully paid.”

Cahoon failed and fled to the United States in 1839 and, when the trusteeship arranged to clear his debts also failed as a result of fraud and mismanagement, Caldwell found himself liable. He was subsequently sued by the Michigan Farmers and Mechanics Bank for £500. Although he was able to meet his obligations, he never recovered from the financial loss. In 1842 he was forced to mortgage some of his extensive lands. Five years later, after his hope of profiting from the properties in Chicago of his late stepbrother, Billy*, proved fruitless, Caldwell found himself even deeper in debt, owing more than £900. A consolidation loan in 1847 from Thomas Fletcher Park, an Amherstburg merchant, allowed Caldwell to meet his several debts but he had to pledge all his land as collateral. He died in 1851 without clearing up this mortgage and much of his property consequently went over to the Park family. His son, William, managed to retain the family homestead but he soon went to sea in a vain attempt to recoup his family’s fortunes. William always blamed Cahoon for the misfortune of his father, charging bitterly that before Francis became acquainted with Cahoon “he was in easy circumstances and well off.”

Despite his reversal of fortune, Francis Caldwell had remained a respected member of the community, reaping the prestige of the family’s fighting tradition, which continued to grow over the years. Local accounts may have exaggerated or confused some of his feats, but Caldwell had time and again risked his life for his country. In a testimonial to his services, signed by 89 of the area’s most illustrious personages upon his retirement from politics in 1841, this “gallant and brave” man was honoured with the supreme compliment of his time: “always in the forefront in the field.”

Larry L. Kulisek

AO, MS 392, 20–135 (G. F. Macdonald papers) (mfm. at Hiram Walker Hist. Museum, Windsor, Ont.); MU 1771, 6: 855–56; RG 22, ser.310, reg.D: 20–22 (will of William Caldwell); ser.311, no.199 (F.-X. Caldwell). Can., Parks Canada, Fort Malden National Hist. Park (Amherstburg, Ont.), Arch. coll., Caldwell family papers; Francis Caldwell papers; H. M. Stancliff papers; Information files, Caldwell family; roads. Essex Land Registry Office (Windsor), Abstract index to deeds, Gosfield Township, concession 5, lot 22 (mfm. at AO, GS 894); Malden Township, concession 5, lots 3, 22, 26, 101 (mfm. at AO, GS 936). PAC, MG 24, B147; RG 1, L1, 35: 322, 349; L3, 114: C18/174; 117: C19/31; 120: C20/145; RG 5, A1: 60472; RG 8, I (C ser.), 84: 320; 255: 139–40; 257: 150–62; 258: 80–81, 86, 89–89a; 678: 19; 1202: 2; 1219: 61–68; RG 9, 1, B1, 11, Essex folder; 42: 289–92; B2, 3–4; B5, 8; RG 68, General index, 1651–1841: 182, 482, 501. William McCormick, A sketch of the Western District of Upper Canada, being the southern extremity of that interesting province, ed. R. A. Douglas ([Windsor], 1980). Mich. Pioneer Coll. (Lansing), 23 (1893): 42–43. John Prince, John Prince: a collection of documents, ed. and intro. R. A. Douglas (Toronto, 1980). U.C., House of Assembly, Journal, 1831–40. Canadian Emigrant, and Western District Weekly Advertiser (Sandwich [Windsor]), 19 April, 18, 25 Oct. 1834; 7, 16 Feb. 1835. Western Herald, and Farmers’ Magazine (Sandwich), 31 March 1841. Commemorative biographical record of the county of Essex, Ontario, containing biographical sketches of prominent and representative citizens and many of the early settled families (Toronto, 1905), 121–22. Christian Denissen, Genealogy of the French families of the Detroit River region, 1701–1911, ed. H. F. Powell (2v., Detroit, 1976), 1: 26–27, 176; 2: 985. Officers of British forces in Canada (Irving). D. P. Botsford, “The Caldwell family of Fort Malden,” Essex County Hist. Assoc., Radio sketches of periods-events-personalities from the Essex-Detroit area: transcriptions ([Windsor], 1963), broadcast of 30 July 1960. F. H. Armstrong, “The oligarchy of the Western District of Upper Canada, 1788–1841,” CHA Hist. papers, 1977: 87–102. John Clarke, “The role of political position and family and economic linkage in land speculation in the Western District of Upper Canada, 1788–1815,” Canadian Geographer (Toronto), 19 (1975): 18–34. J. I. Poole, “The fight at Battle Hill,” London and Middlesex Hist. Soc. Trans. ([London, Ont.]), 4 (1913): 7–61.

General Bibliography

Cite This Article

Larry L. Kulisek, “CALDWELL, FRANCIS XAVIER,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 8, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed April 21, 2024, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/caldwell_francis_xavier_8E.html.

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Permalink:   http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/caldwell_francis_xavier_8E.html
Author of Article:   Larry L. Kulisek
Publication Name:   Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 8
Publisher:   University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication:   1985
Year of revision:   1985
Access Date:   April 21, 2024