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CAMPBELL, JOHN SAXTON, businessman, justice of the peace, and seigneur; b. c. 1787, son of Archibald Campbell, a merchant, and Charlotte Saxton; m. first 11 March 1817 Jane Hamilton in London; m. secondly Mary Carne Vivian; d. 25 April 1855 in Penzance, England.

John Saxton Campbell was apparently not born at Quebec, for his birth is not recorded in the parish registers of the town. But since his younger brother Archibald* is listed there as born in 1790, he was probably at Quebec from the age of two or three. Campbell came from a well-to-do family. His father, a loyalist who had immigrated to the province of Quebec after the American revolution, prospered in the timber trade. In light of the attractive prospects at that time for the export of Canadian forest products from Quebec to England, Campbell decided in 1811 to assume the management of his father’s business. By 1808 he was active in business and had become an inspector of staves at the port of Quebec.

Around 1815 Campbell went into partnership with his brother-in-law William Sheppard* to trade in timber. They first set themselves up at Wolfe’s Cove (Anse au Foulon), and then bought Anse Woodfield from Mathew Bell* in 1816, a short distance upstream from Quebec. There they received the timber which was then loaded on ships bound for Great Britain. For unknown reasons the partnership was dissolved in 1823. In 1824 and 1825 Campbell worked for John Caldwell* as agent in charge of his sawmills near Chutes Etchemin at Saint-Nicolas, on the south shore of the St Lawrence.

At the beginning of 1825 Campbell transferred his base to Anse des Mères, closer to the town; there, as well as fitting out wharfs for loading ships, he built a steam-driven sawmill and a shipyard. Since 1816 he had been investing in the purchase and construction of ships, and had already registered two ships, two brigs, and a barque at the port of Quebec. His involvement in this activity expanded considerably between 1825 and 1835, when he registered 24 vessels: 14 brigs, 9 sea-going ships, and a two-master. Several of them had been built by George Black, but the exact nature of the business relationship between Campbell and Black is not known. It seems that Campbell financed the building of ships and placed his shipyard at the disposal of Black and other shipbuilders. His vessels were sometimes sold to local merchants, but more often he dispatched them to England with a cargo of timber. In these same years Campbell had connections with several merchants in Upper and Lower Canada who routed to his cove large quantities of white and red pine, either squared or sawn. The measuring and grading that determined the price of timber often gave rise to disputes between buyers and sellers. Campbell was closely concerned with this problem, and from 1823 to 1837 served on a board of examiners set up to ensure that candidates were accepted as cullers impartially.

In 1831 Campbell was one of the original shareholders of the Quebec and Halifax Steam Navigation Company [see Sir Samuel Cunard*]. It was at his shipyard that the company built the Royal William. Once again the work of George Black, this 618-ton steamer was equipped with a 200-horsepower engine installed by the Bennet and Henderson Ironworks of Montreal. Its launching on 27 April 1831 “was so important that a public holiday had been proclaimed. The governor general [Whitworth-Aylmer*] and Lady Aylmer presided at the ceremonies, and the participants included a guard of honour and the band of the 32nd Foot.” From the top of Cap Diamant, which jutted out over the shipyard, the painter James Pattison Cockburn* recorded the event in a fine water-colour.

At that time Campbell was one of the important figures in the town. From 1826 to 1828 he had served as an adviser to the Quebec Committee of Trade [see John Jones*]. Like other prosperous merchants, he was interested in the field of banking. Elected a director of the Quebec Bank in 1828, he remained in this office until 1831. He also sat on the board of directors of the Quebec Savings Bank in 1829 and 1830 and from 1835 to 1841. On 14 Oct. 1830 he had received a commission as justice of the peace which was renewed three years later. Campbell lived on a vast estate on the Grande Allée, just opposite that of the well-known timber merchant William Price*. In his spare time he took an interest in literature; moreover, he was listed as one the founders of the Literary and Historical Society of Quebec in the royal charter incorporating it in 1831.

From 1835 Campbell progressively relinquished his business ventures at Quebec. On 19 January he acquired by auction the seigneury of Îlet-du-Portage at Saint-André, which he shrewdly sensed had potential value for timber, water-power, and harbour facilities. He built a magnificent manor-house there, a number of other buildings around it, a sawmill, and a great wharf a quarter of a mile long, with an extended 200-foot pier to allow large vessels to dock. In order to make these investments, he put up for sale some 20 properties in various townships of Upper and Lower Canada. In January 1837 he also divested himself of the holdings he had acquired at Anse du Cap around 1829; the majority of them were bought by George Black for £5,437. Campbell maintained business relations with Black, according to a document dated 1838 which mentions the existence of a company called Campbell and Black. In 1840 they were joint owners of a ship. Apparently at the behest of his second wife, John Saxton Campbell decided around 1842 to leave the colony and go to England. He settled at Penzance, and continued to purchase ships built in North America.

The varied and changing nature of Campbell’s undertakings well illustrates the kind of economic activity characteristic of the timber merchants in 19th-century Lower Canada.

Pierre Poulin

ANQ-Q, CE1-61, 1er août 1790, 19 avril 1809; CN1-49, 2 juill. 1824; 5 mars, 28 juill., 4 déc. 1825; 20 juin 1826; 22 déc. 1827; 1er août, 11 oct., 5 nov. 1829; 13 janv., 10 juill. 1830; 21 juin 1831; 11 juin, 24 nov. 1832; 18 sept., 12 oct. 1833; 3, 22 avril, 24 juin, 15 juill. 1834; 17 janv., 18 mars, 4 juin 1835; 16 janv., 12 avril, 17 juin, 14 déc. 1836; 3 févr., 26 oct., 9 nov. 1838; 23 mai, 22 juill. 1840; CN1-67, 14 mars, 25 avril 1840; CN1-116, 24 janv. 1837, 23 oct. 1840; CN1-212, 20 août 1832; CN1-230, 27 nov. 1815, 21 sept. 1816. Morning Chronicle (Quebec), 15 May 1855, 18 July 1862. Quebec Gazette, 19 May 1808; 5 July 1810; 2 May 1811; 20 Feb., 12 May 1823. E. H. Dahl et al., La ville de Québec, 1800–1850: un inventaire de cartes et plans (Ottawa, 1975), 125, 159, 212. Quebec almanac, 1828–41. Quebec directory, 1822; 1826. Christina Cameron et Jean Trudel, Quebec au temps de James Patterson Cockburn (Quebec, 1976), 33, 38–39. J. M. LeMoine, Monographies et esquisses (Quebec, 1885), 276. Rosa, La construction des navires à Québec. J.-E. Roy, Hist. de Lauzon, 5: 144. Georges Desjardins, “Un chantier naval à la Pointe-Sèche de Kamouraska,” SGCF Mémoires, 21 (1970): 215.

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Cite This Article

Pierre Poulin, “CAMPBELL, JOHN SAXTON,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 8, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed June 23, 2024, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/campbell_john_saxton_8E.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/campbell_john_saxton_8E.html
Author of Article:   Pierre Poulin
Title of Article:   CAMPBELL, JOHN SAXTON
Publication Name:   Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 8
Publisher:   University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication:   1985
Year of revision:   1985
Access Date:   June 23, 2024