CUTHBERT, ROSS, co-seigneur, lawyer, politician, and pamphleteer; b. 17 Feb. 1776, baptized 25 February in Montreal’s Christ Church (Anglican), third son of James Cuthbert* Sr, from whom he inherited the seigneuries of Lanoraie and Dautray, and Catherine Cairns; m. Emily Rush, at Philadelphia, and they had at least three children; d. 28 Aug. 1861 at Berthier-en-Haut (Berthierville), Canada East.
Ross Cuthbert received his secondary education at the English Catholic college in Douai (dept of Nord), France. He was called to the bar of Lower Canada in 1803 and apparently practised law at Quebec (1803–4), Montreal (1805–6), Trois-Rivières (1807–10), and then again at Montreal. The swift expansion of international trade and growing urban problems prompted Governor Sir James Henry Craig*, in January 1810, to appoint him inspector of police and president of the Court of Quarter Sessions at Quebec with an annual salary of £500; he continued to hold these offices until 1815. In his work, for example during the special sessions of the court dealing with the streets of Quebec (1816, 1818, 1819), Cuthbert showed his concern for stricter control of urban life. At the beginning of the War of 1812 Sir George Prevost* appointed Cuthbert an honorary member of the Executive Council, a post he held until 1824. In this capacity he helped draft an address of thanks to Prevost in 1813, and an address of support for Jonathan Sewell* in 1814 following criticisms by the assembly. Cuthbert was a member of the assembly at various times and also held numerous offices: commissioner for the administration of the Quebec penitentiary (1811–29); justice of the peace, at various times between 1810 and 1824, in the districts of Quebec, Montreal, Trois-Rivières, Saint-François, and Gaspé; commissioner for oaths from 1812 on; and member of the Royal Institution for the Advancement of Learning (1818–22?). He also took part in various movements and contributed to numerous causes: the Quebec Fire Society (1812), the Loyal and Patriotic Society (1813), commissions for the education of all classes (1815) and for the instruction of the poor (1816), and the Quebec Emigrant Society (1820). In 1817 he went to London to obtain from the cabinet an appointment as judge, which Craig and Prevost had allegedly promised him. After 1829 he seems to have retired from public life.
As representative for Warwick County in the House of Assembly of Lower Canada (1800–10, 1812–16, 1820), Cuthbert led an active political life. In 1815 some even thought of him as a candidate for speaker of the assembly. He systematically opposed the Parti Canadien (in 1809 he went so far as to denounce secretly a contributor to Le Canadien), and advocated the enlightened assimilation of French Canadians. In L’aréopage, published at Quebec in 1803, he deplored the ignorance of the French Canadian population, its blind attachment to a system of antiquated, dusty French laws, and the unscrupulousness of its lawyers. In 1809 he published An apology for Great Britain . . . to answer Denis-Benjamin Viger’s Considérations . . . (published earlier that year) and the arguments of the Canadiens in defence of their survival as a separate “nation.” According to him, their dream was fanciful: they failed to recognize the basic fact that Lower Canada, a barely emerging colony, would be gradually developed by primarily British immigrants. The French Canadians, a tiny minority in the empire and ultimately in their own province, an unambitious and listless people, had every interest in cooperating in their inevitable assimilation, which would bring a more homogeneous society and access to positions and trade. In 1810 Cuthbert tackled a totally different subject with his New theory of the tides, in which he attempted to explain the tides as the result of the evaporation of great bodies of water. In 1817, in London, he worked on another political pamphlet, “The character of passing events,” which does not seem to have been published.
Seigneur, lawyer, active citizen, militant Britisher, Cuthbert was, like many merchants, a typical member of the British party in the House of Assembly of Lower Canada in the early 19th century.
Ross Cuthbert, L’aréopage (Québec, 1803); An apology for Great Britain, in allusion to a pamphlet, intituled, “Considérations, &c. par un Canadien, M.P.P.” (Quebec, 1809); New theory of the tides (Quebec, 1810).
BUM, Coll. Baby, Corr. générale, lettres de Ross Cuthbert, 17 oct. 1806; 13 avril 1807; 22 janv., 13 juin, 25 oct. 1808; 5 avril 1814 (copies at PAC). PAC, MG 8, G19, 22; MG 24, B1, 1, p.419; RG 4, A1, S; B8, 18, pp.6446–49; RG 8, 1 (C series), 284, p.104; 374, p.71; 387, pp.58–59; 688E, pp.376, 438, 440; 689, p.137; 694, pp.34–36; 1218, p.414; 1221, p.96. PRO, CO 42/141, pp.173–76; 42/157, pp.75ff.; 42/170, p.110; 42/172, p.90; 42/177, pp.97, 118 (mfm. at PAC). Bas-Canada, chambre d’Assemblée, Journaux, 1791–1837; Conseil spécial, Journaux, 1838–41. Can., prov. du, Assemblée législative, Journaux, 1841–61. Le Canadien, 1809. Quebec Gazette, 1800–20. John Hare et J.-P. Wallot, Les imprimés dans le Bas-Canada, 1801–1840, bibliographie analytique (Montréal, 1967), nos.55, 194, 228. Le Jeune, Dictionnaire, I, 457. Morgan, Bibliotheca Canadensis, 88. Wallace, Macmillan dictionary, 168. Christie, History of L.C., II, 166. Édouard Fabre-Surveyer, “James Cuthbert, père, et ses biographes,” RHAF, IV (1950–51), 74–89. Régis Roy, “Cuthbert,” BRH, XL (1934), 627–29.