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CARTWRIGHT, JOHN SOLOMON, lawyer, militia officer, author, judge, jp, businessman, politician, farmer, and architectural patron; b. 17 Sept. 1804 in Kingston, Upper Canada, son of Richard Cartwright* and Magdalen Secord; m. 11 Jan. 1831 in York (Toronto) Sarah Hayter Macaulay, a daughter of Dr James Macaulay*, and they had three sons and four daughters; d. 15 Jan. 1845 at Rockwood, his estate near Kingston.

From his father, who died when he was barely ten, John Solomon Cartwright inherited a fortune of about £10,000 and a position of power and influence. Yet there was a darker side to his inheritance. Four older brothers and a sister died in their teens or twenties, and another sister and brother also predeceased him. The cause of many of these early deaths was the disease which was also to kill John himself in his 41st year – pulmonary consumption.

Cartwright was educated in the Midland District Grammar School at Kingston, and in 1820 he went to York to enter the law office of John Beverley Robinson*, attorney general of Upper Canada. He was admitted to the Law Society of Upper Canada as a student in the Michaelmas term and was called to the bar in the same term, 1825. He may have returned to live at Kingston in the summer of 1822, when he was gazetted an ensign in the 1st Regiment of Frontenac militia. It is only in September 1826 however that the first newspaper account of him as counsel in court appears. In August that year he was noted as secretary of the Cataraqui Bridge Company committee. In January 1827 Cartwright’s mother died, and he was thus free of immediate family ties in Kingston. He decided to continue his legal studies in England, at Lincoln’s Inn, London. There he would be in easy reach of his twin brother, Robert David, who was studying for the ministry at Oxford.

Cartwright kept a journal of his trip, at least for the first months. It shows he had developed a strong and personal visual sense in his response to natural scenery and, to a lesser extent, buildings, though at times both also appealed to him for their literary or historical associations. Other qualities stand out as well: a fairness of judgement and an independence of mind. Although he had been brought up in the United Empire Loyalist tradition, he apparently bore no grudge against the Americans. On his way through New York State he stopped at Albany, which his father had left 50 years before because of the revolution, and pondered on the past, yet without a trace of rancour against his father’s persecutors. “All his contemporaries,” he wrote, “must like him have sunk to rest and may we not hope that they are enjoying happiness in that state where all dissensions are at an end and where all tears shall be wiped from our eyes.” His first impressions of London were not favourable. After four days in the English capital Cartwright noted distastefully, “Upon the whole can’t say that I admire London.” Of the Court of King’s Bench he remarked, “Could not perceive that the business was managed with less noise or more regularity than with us.” Only when he walked to the West End did he become enthusiastic: “Was very much delighted with the appearance of [Hyde] Park which must be invaluable to the Londoner – can conceive the delight after being in the noise and smoke of London with which to enjoy in half an hours walk the clear sky and all the delights of the country.” Cartwright and his brother spent July and August 1828 touring Switzerland; the following summer they travelled in Scotland.

By the autumn of 1830 Cartwright had returned to Kingston, where he resumed his law practice. His seriousness about his profession is shown by the large sum he was spending on legal books. In England he had probably laid out £250 for a “law library.” In 1834 he was appointed a judge of the Midland District Court; he was elected a bencher of the Law Society of Upper Canada in 1835 and in 1838 he was made a qc.

Another activity in which Cartwright became deeply involved was banking. In May 1832 he was elected a director of the newly formed Commercial Bank of the Midland District, and when the directors met they unanimously chose him president. For the next 14 years he presided over the bank’s operations. It was apparently the only bank in British North America which did not suspend specie payments during the 1837 rebellions. An aggressive institution, “the bank was by 1844 firmly established as the financial support of the eastern half of Canada West,” says historian Maxwell Leroy Magill.

Cartwright also engaged in far-ranging personal business activities. In 1832 he sold a large tract of land outside Hamilton to Allan Napier MacNab*, on which the latter built Dundurn Castle. In the years 1832–33 he was involved, along with John Macaulay*, in a town-planning scheme at Niagara Falls. A grander project was a large development in Montreal, where his chief partner was his great friend James Bell Forsyth*, a Kingston-born merchant who had become a major figure in the timber trade. Their Montreal plan evolved in the years 1842–43; it seems to have collapsed because Forsyth went bankrupt from other commitments. Forsyth was able to survive, but only because Cartwright rescued him.

The land developments in which Cartwright took the most personal interest were those in and around Kingston and in Napanee. He is said to have given the land for every school, public building, and church in the latter town. To his own denomination, the Church of England, he gave not only the land but the church itself, St Mary Magdalene.

Cartwright developed a personal estate at Rockwood (he may have called it Rockhurst), to the west of Kingston as it was then. By the early 1840s his farming operations had become extensive. “Mr. Cartwright has spared no expense,” reported the Kingston Chronicle & Gazette of 28 May 1842, “in stocking his well cultivated farm with the best breeds of cattle and sheep,” and he won prizes with them at the Frontenac County cattle show in October 1841. But by the spring of 1843 Cartwright decided to give up much of his farm, subdividing it into building lots. The whole area had risen greatly in value because in 1841 Kingston had become the capital of the United Province of Canada and the property was near the governor’s residence, Alwington House.

In 1834 Cartwright had entered politics, contesting the seat of Lennox and Addington which was then held by the popular reformers Marshall Spring Bidwell* and Peter Perry*. He came in third. He tried again in July 1836 with another tory, George Hill Detlor, and they beat the reformers soundly, with Cartwright taking 475 votes to Bidwell’s 370. From then until his death Cartwright represented the constituency in the assembly. He was an active member. He served on the finance committee, brought in various bills for legal reform, and sat on committees (all from 1837) concerning the Welland Canal, the improvement of the Trent River, and the survey of the Ottawa River; in 1839 he was chairman of a committee to select a site for a lunatic asylum at Kingston.

During the period of the rebellion Cartwright was a staunch supporter of the government. He was lieutenant-colonel commanding the 2nd Regiment of Lennox militia and as such was a member of the court martial in November 1838 which tried the so-called Patriots captured at the battle of Windmill Point, including the unfortunate Nils von Schoultz. More cheerful duties were helping to obtain Kingston’s act of incorporation as a town, and in March 1838, as chairman of the Court of Quarter Sessions, setting up procedures for the election of a town council. The council unanimously elected him mayor, but he declined. However, he did compose and read the address of the town’s citizens to Lord Durham [Lambton] on the occasion of his brief visit of 21 July 1838.

By 1839 there was a widespread feeling in the province that major changes would have to be made in the system of government. When a select committee of the assembly recommended legislative union with Lower Canada, Cartwright proposed a set of resolutions designed to ensure English Canadian domination of any such arrangement. He believed that without these safeguards the British connection would be endangered. The terms of these resolutions, which became known as “the Cartwright conditions,” enabled a majority in the assembly to vote for union, on 30 March 1839. They were rejected, however, by the new governor-in-chief, Charles Edward Poulett Thomson (later Lord Sydenham) who demanded, and on 19 Dec. 1839 received, the assembly’s unconditional assent to union. Cartwright continued his effort to protect British institutions, and on 13 Jan. 1840 moved an address insisting on certain conditions. It was carried, and Thomson agreed, among other things, that English would be the only official language of record under the union.

Cartwright was prepared to give the new constitutional arrangement a chance and for a time in 1840–41 considered supporting the efforts of William Henry Draper* to form a moderate conservative group. Under the influence of MacNab, Robinson, and others, however, he drew back and instead continued his alignment with the high tories. In the spring of 1842 Sydenham’s successor, Sir Charles Bagot, attempted to bring Cartwright into a cabinet he was trying to construct from politicians not associated with Robert Baldwin* and Louis-Hippolyte La Fontaine*. Cartwright was offered the solicitor-general ship but refused it. In a letter of 16 May to Bagot he set forth his reasons. The union appeared to be functioning in an unsatisfactory manner. “I am most anxious that it should be rendered, if possible, productive of every advantage to both sections of the Province,” he said. “But I do not see how it can be possible to arrive at this desirable end, without the concert and co-operation of the French Canadians.” The gerrymandering of Lower Canadian constituencies by Lord Sydenham had been reprehensible. “I cannot imagine how it could have ever been supposed that harmony could be produced by an act of the grossest injustice.” Moreover, he was totally opposed to responsible government. Such a system was incompatible “with our position as a Colony, – particularly in a country where almost universal suffrage prevails, – where the great mass of the people are uneducated, – and where there is but little of that salutary influence which hereditary rank and great wealth exercises in Great Britain.” Lastly, and perhaps it was the most important factor, he was unwilling to serve in the same ministry with Francis Hincks*, who “up to the very moment of the outbreak of the rebellion defended the conduct” of Louis-Joseph Papineau* and William Lyon Mackenzie*.

Conservative though he was, Cartwright was not afraid to associate himself with ameliorative measures. In October 1843 he introduced a resolution in the house concerning “Juvenile Houses of Refuge.” “No greater benefit could be conferred on the country than by the establishment of institutions where the vagrant and vicious of the juvenile population would be preserved from contact with those influences which are destructive of morality, and by labor and attention to their moral culture, they would become good members of society.” “Maudlin sensibility,” said Dr William “Tiger” Dunlop; he would whip the children and send them to bed. But others in the assembly, especially Thomas Cushing Aylwin*, solicitor general for Lower Canada, supported the proposal and it was referred to a select committee. When the La Fontaine–Baldwin ministry resigned in November on the issue of responsible government, Cartwright was indignant, not only because he opposed the principle – “humbug,” he called it – but because he saw his cherished motion for “Juvenile Houses of Refuge” being abandoned. The idea of reform schools, as they came to be called, was not finally adopted for 15 years.

Cartwright’s last political venture was also, temporarily, a failure. In November 1843 the assembly had passed a resolution moving the capital from Kingston to Montreal. Believing that its removal to a non-British part of the union would endanger the continuation of British parliamentary institutions in Canada, on 2 March 1844 he set out for England to present a petition to the queen on behalf of 16,000 Upper Canadians requesting that the capital be retained in their half of the colony. Despite all his attachment to British institutions, however, Cartwright was first and foremost a Canadian, as a later comment by his sister-in-law shows. Unlike his twin brother, she wrote, John “ever had a warm attachment and preference for Canada and though he greatly enjoyed his abode in England and loved and admired the country, yet it never rivalled his native land in his affections.”

Even before the trip Cartwright’s health was deteriorating. It is a measure of his convictions, and sense of public duty, that he undertook such a journey. By October 1844 he realized that he must leave public life. Governor Sir Charles Theophilus Metcalfe expressed his deep regret. Cartwright had been an adviser of his, albeit an unofficial one, and the governor had undoubtedly hoped to bring him into his cabinet. In a farewell address to his constituents Cartwright alluded to the forthcoming general election. His remarks contained no party rancour. “It is to be desired” he said, “that in the choice of their Representatives, the people of Upper Canada would keep in mind the advice given by Jethro to Moses, and select persons ‘fearing God and hating covetousness.’ We might then reasonably expect that our unhappy dissensions would be healed, and that we would become a virtuous, and consequently a happy and contented people.”

In making John Strachan* a guardian of his children many years before, Richard Cartwright had instructed, “I am particularly anxious that the boys should have such an education as will qualify them for being useful to their friends, their country, and by a taste for literature ensure them an unfailing source of personal employment.” John Solomon had clearly fulfilled his father’s hopes for him. At his death he received universal praise. The Reverend Saltern Givins lamented, “Surely, Brethren, the society he was permitted to adorn for a time has lost in him no ordinary ornament – the poor and needy no common benefactor.” Judge Stafford Frederick Kirkpatrick paid homage on behalf of his colleagues: “To the bar he was indeed a loss not to be replaced . . . beloved and respected by every member.” At St George’s Church, Kingston, in his funeral sermon, the Reverend Robert Vashon Rogers exclaimed, “A great man has fallen! – great in all that constitutes true greatness.”

The only known portrait of Cartwright, painted by William Tinsley in 1842, speaks of an intellectual with scholarly interests. His library contained books on a vast range of subjects – history, literature, the classics, religion, architecture, painting, gardening, botany, optics, geology, and agriculture. It also included a substantial collection of law-books. These Cartwright saw not merely as a personal possession but as a community resource. Some months before his death he advertised in the Chronicle & Gazette asking borrowers to return volumes from his law library because he was selling it. The buyer was the young John A. Macdonald*, to whom it was sold at a great discount, because Cartwright characteristically hoped that it would stay in the area. But Cartwright was not just an intellectual; he was a man of action, as his careers in business, politics, and the militia show. A devoted Anglican, he was also an energetic freemason and rose to be senior warden of Ancient St John’s Lodge No. 3, Kingston. He liked horses and equipages and was steward of the Kingston Races in 1839. He played cards for high stakes and loved elegance and the comforts of life, including good food and wine.

As a Regency “man of taste,” Cartwright had a passion for architecture which is still evident in his native town. The choice of a fine architect is not automatic; he might easily have selected lesser men. He began with commissions to Thomas Rogers*, probably the most competent and versatile architect of Upper Canada in the 1820s and 30s. From him he commissioned large town houses for himself and his brother, and likely the Commercial Bank building in Kingston and St Mary Magdalene Church in Napanee. In 1841 George Browne* came to Kingston as government architect. Cartwright recognized the superiority of this younger man, perhaps the most distinguished figure in his profession in Canada in the first half of the century. For Cartwright, Browne produced the villa of Rockwood, a masterpiece of design. Browne’s greatest building is the city hall, and Cartwright almost certainly had a hand in helping him gain that commission. He may also have influenced the choice of Browne as a designer for the local branch of the Bank of Montreal and perhaps a house of John A. Macdonald’s. Some of the finest of the 19th-century buildings that continue to grace the city of Kingston are thus Cartwright’s most visible legacy.

J. Douglas Stewart and Mary Stewart

William Tinsley’s portrait of John Solomon Cartwright is in the Agnes Etherington Art Centre, Queen’s Univ. (Kingston, Ont.).

QUA, 2199a; 2254; 2256. Saltern Givins, A discourse delivered in StMary Magdalene’s Church, Napanee, on Sunday, the 2nd of February, 1845, on the occasion of the death of John Solomon Cartwright . . . (Cobourg, [Ont.], 1845). R. V. Rogers, Confidence in death: a sermon preached in StGeorge’s Church, Kingston, Canada West, on Sunday, January 26th, 1845, on the occasion of the death of John Solomon Cartwright . . . (Kingston, [1845]). British Whig, 6 Jan., 17 Nov. 1836. Chronicle & Gazette, 1833–45. Church, 31 Jan. 1845. Kingston Chronicle, 1822–33. Heritage Kingston, ed. J. D. Stewart and I. E. Wilson (Kingston, 1973). J. D. Stewart, “Architecture for a boom town: the primitive and the neo-baroque in George Browne’s Kingston buildings” and M. L. Magill, “The failure of the Commercial Bank,” To preserve and defend: essays on Kingston in the nineteenth century, ed. G. [J. J.] Tulchinsky (Montreal and London, 1976), 37–61 and 169–81. Adam Shortt, “Founders of Canadian banking: John Solomon Cartwright, banker, legislator and judge,” Canadian Bankers’ Assoc., Journal (Toronto), 30 (1922–23): 475–87. J. D. and Mary Stewart, “John Solomon Cartwright: Upper Canadian gentleman and Regency ‘man of taste,’” Historic Kingston, no.27 (1979): 61–77.

General Bibliography

Cite This Article

J. Douglas Stewart and Mary Stewart, “CARTWRIGHT, JOHN SOLOMON,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 7, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed April 21, 2014, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/cartwright_john_solomon_7E.html.

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Permalink: http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/cartwright_john_solomon_7E.html
Author of Article: J. Douglas Stewart and Mary Stewart
Title of Article: CARTWRIGHT, JOHN SOLOMON
Publication Name: Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 7
Publisher: University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication: 1988
Year of revision: 1988
Access Date: April 21, 2014