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b. 4 March 1794 in Boucherville, Lower Canada


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CLARK (Clarke), JAMES, merchant, lawyer, and office holder; b. in Quebec, probably at Trois-Rivières, son of James Clark and Jemima Mason; m. 29 Aug. 1795 Elizabeth Hare in Newark (Niagara-on-the-Lake), Upper Canada, and they had four children, three of whom survived infancy; fl. 1790–1807 in Upper Canada.

James Clark’s father, a native of Somerset, England, came to Quebec in May 1768 with the 8th Foot. He was posted to Trois-Rivières and served there until 1777, when he was appointed naval storekeeper at Carleton Island (N.Y.). Several of his children, including James, were educated “at a French and English Seminary” and were, as their younger brother John recalled many years later, “good scholars for that period.” According to John’s memoir, James and his elder brother Peter became merchants at Montreal, and Peter appears on the lists of Indian trade passes for 1782 and 1785. In 1785 Clark Sr was sent to Napanee (Ont.) to run the government grist-mill that Robert Clark* (no relation) was building there. When in 1788 western Quebec was divided into the four administrative districts that later became Upper Canada, James Clark Sr was appointed to the Mecklenburg District land board and Court of Common Pleas, and made a justice of the peace. That same year he was appointed naval storekeeper at Kingston and took up residence there, becoming a leader of the new community. This relocation may have had some effect on his sons; John Clark wrote that in 1790 James and Peter moved to Kingston where they engaged in the Indian trade.

The division of Quebec and the establishment of a separate government for Upper Canada in 1791 opened up new possibilities for patronage, and the elder Clark may have influenced Lieutenant Governor Simcoe’s appointment of Peter Clark as clerk of the Legislative Council on 29 Sept. 1792. Peter died in 1793 as a result of a duel and on 27 May of that year was succeeded by his brother James, who then moved to the provincial capital at Newark. Clark’s duties included administering oaths, supervising the copying of the council’s minutes, transmitting messages from the speaker of the council, and sending out copies of statutes to local clerks of the peace. He was the chief administrative officer of the council and in conjunction with his counterpart in the House of Assembly, for many years Angus Macdonell (Collachie), coordinated the work of successive parliaments. In 1796 the responsibility for superintending the printing of acts by the king’s printer seems to have unexpectedly devolved upon him. The following year he petitioned the Executive Council for additional remuneration since this new burden was, he believed, “distinct” from the duties of his office. But a committee of the council, headed by Chief Justice John Elmsley, refused his petition on the grounds that his salary of £125 per annum was “very ample compensation” for all the activities associated with his position.

It is possible that Clark had received some legal training. As early as 1790 he acted as his father’s attorney in civil suits before the Court of Common Pleas. In 1794 he was one of the original 16 men called to the bar by act of parliament. He was also one of the founding members of the Law Society of Upper Canada, which was established in 1797. Between 1799 and 1802 judgements against him in the Court of King’s Bench usually identified him as “one of the attornies” but it is not known whether he was a practising member of the bar.

Like most Upper Canadians, Clark petitioned the government for land, and he received 1,200 acres which he located in Murray, Pittsburgh, and Marysburgh (North and South Marysburgh) townships. In 1797, the year he moved with the government to the province’s new capital at York (Toronto), he was granted a town lot there, and also a 200-acre farm lot in the vicinity, with the stipulation that no warrant be issued for the latter parcel of land until he had actually settled on it.

Clark was a minor office holder who did his job competently and conscientiously but, unlike Macdonell for instance, made little impact either socially or politically upon York society. By 1799 debt had become a constant feature of his life. Between that year and 1804 he had five judgements against him in civil court for varying sums. His situation thereafter became increasingly desperate and by 1805 he was issuing drafts against his salary as clerk, hoping that Receiver General Peter Russell would honour them. Merchants such as George Forsyth and William and James* Crooks promptly forwarded their claims to Russell. In late 1805 Clark owed the Crooks brothers £100; they noted in applying to Russell about his draft, “We have made some sacrifice in the way of assistance to his family to obtain it.” On one occasion Clark even denied, to no avail apparently, that the signature on a particular draft was his own.

The last years of Clark’s life were characterized by insolvency, dissipation, and woe. In January 1806 Russell’s half-sister, Elizabeth*, noted in her diary the possibility that Clark’s position might become vacant because of “his ill state of health or death.” Already the official families of York were scrambling to secure his office for one of their number. The clerk’s salary and contingent account were a generous reward for working only six weeks a year. In the midst of the turmoil surrounding the clerkship, Clark’s infant daughter died in March 1806; seven months later his wife died as well. Yet Clark held on to his position. He served during the legislative session of February–March 1806 and as late as November was still acting in his official capacity.

The combination of stresses, however, proved too much for Clark to bear and he turned to alcohol. Completely without influence, he became an even more tempting target for the York élite. According to Mrs Anne Powell [Murray*], early in 1806 government officials had agreed to remove him but Administrator Alexander Grant had been unwilling to initiate the change. The new lieutenant governor, Francis Gore*, however, felt that Clark “should no longer hold a responsible situation to which his vices render’d him inequal.” On 13 Feb. 1807 Mrs Powell wrote to her husband that, according to Legislative Councillor Richard Cartwright, Gore had decided to give the clerkship to the Powells’ son, John. The only problem was that “James Clarke was upon the spot, & it was painful to dispossess him entirely.” So it was agreed that John Powell should offer to share the salary with Clark. The offer was put to Clark some time on 13 or 14 February; he refused. Mrs Powell dismissed him as “long devoted to the most confirmed habits of intoxication, & for some time . . . advancing with hasty strides to that grave, which can alone cover his disgrace.” The government acted quickly. Clark’s brother later recalled that he had had to relinquish his position “from habits of indulgence, to the great regret of his family.” A regular of the law society, Clark attended his last meeting on 18 Feb. 1807. The following day, John Powell became clerk of the council. The disgraced Clark then disappeared from sight; there is no record of his subsequent whereabouts. His health, however, was very poor and it is likely that he died shortly thereafter.

In collaboration with Richard A. Preston

AO, ms 75, James Clark to Peter Russell, 23 Jan. 1803, 22 March 1806; James Crooks to Russell, 10, 27 March 1806; W. & J. Crooks to Russell, 27 Nov. 1805; George Forsyth & Company to Russell, 17 Jan. 1806; RG 22, ser. 131, 1: ff.62–63. Law Soc. of U.C. (Toronto), Law Soc. of U.C., minutes, 17 July 1797–18 Feb. 1807. MTL, William Dummer Powell papers, A93: 75–82. PAC, RG 1, L3, 90: C2/151; 91: C3/49; 92: C4/23; RG 4, B28, 115, 1782, 1785; RG 5, A1: 2186–87; RG 68, General index, 1651–1841: f.74. “Accounts of receiver-general of U.C.,” AO Report, 1914: 754–55, 763. [John Clark], “Memoirs of Colonel John Clark, of Port Dalhousie, C.W.,” OH, 7 (1906): 157–93. Corr. of LieutGovernor Simcoe (Cruikshank), 4: 192–93, 196; 5: 151–52. “District of Mecklenburg (Kingston): Court of Common Pleas,” AO Report, 1917: 211–13, 236, 349. “Early records of Niagara” (Carnochan), OH, 3: 14, 16, 22, 54, 68–69. “Journals of Legislative Assembly of U.C.,” AO Report, 1909: 162, 473–74. “The journals of the Legislative Council of Upper Canada . . . ,” AO Report, 1910: 16, 116. Parish reg. of Kingston (Young), 161. Town of York, 1793–1815 (Firth), 259. “U.C. land book C,” AO Report, 1930: 151, 153. “U.C. land book D,” AO Report, 1931: 170, 174.

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Cite This Article

In collaboration with Richard A. Preston, “CLARK, JAMES,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 5, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed March 4, 2024, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/clark_james_5E.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/clark_james_5E.html
Author of Article:   In collaboration with Richard A. Preston
Title of Article:   CLARK, JAMES
Publication Name:   Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 5
Publisher:   University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication:   1983
Year of revision:   1983
Access Date:   March 4, 2024