CUTHBERT, WILLIAM, farmer, businessman, justice of the peace, office holder, militia officer, and politician; b. 1795 in Alloway, Scotland; m. March 1832 Christiana Montgomery in New Richmond, Lower Canada, and they had one daughter; d. 3 Aug. 1854 in Rock Ferry, England.
William Cuthbert came to Lower Canada in the second decade of the 19th century. It is not known under what circumstances he settled at New Richmond, in the Baie des Chaleurs region, but a local account states that the young man was poor. There is no record of the name Cuthbert prior to the 1825 census. It is next mentioned in 1828, when he shipped more than 300 barrels of cod from Gaspé harbour to Quebec. In the 1831 census Cuthbert, who is listed as a farmer, was clearly the most important person in New Richmond. He had 50 acres under cultivation, and the previous year had harvested 40 minots of wheat, 400 of oats, 20 of barley, and 450 of potatoes. In addition he kept some 30 animals.
From then on Cuthbert was involved in all sectors of the region’s economy. In partnership with his brother Robert, of Greenock in Scotland, he formed William Cuthbert and Company, which specialized at first in the import trade. From its New Richmond store it supplied clothing and foodstuffs, as well as a variety of equipment. To further its trade with Great Britain the company soon went into the lumber trade. It obtained grants of land in New Richmond and Maria townships, in particular along the Rivière Cascapédia where it brought in Scottish and Irish settlers to work at felling trees under sub-contractors.
In 1833 Cuthbert built a “splendid” sawmill at the mouth of the Petite Cascapédia, and there pine, fir, and birch logs were made into boards, shingles, and laths. He also owned other facilities in the region, including a flour-mill and a sawmill to the east of Bonaventure harbour, which he leased out. In March 1832, by his marriage with Christiana, the daughter of Donald Montgomery, a member of the House of Assembly of Prince Edward Island, he had acquired business allies on the south shore of the Baie des Chaleurs, since two of his brothers-in-law, Hugh and John*, were also involved in lumbering and shipbuilding at Dalhousie, N.B. Like the other local contractors, Cuthbert paid little attention to strict observance of cutting restrictions in his licences. This seems to have caused him no difficulties, particularly since he was the close friend of the land agent Étienne Martel, of New Carlisle.
Cuthbert is thought to have built 14 ships at New Richmond, but it is not known whether they were for his own use or for sale. On several occasions he also bought boats from other local shipbuilders. The skilled craftsmen of William Cuthbert and Company came from Scotland, where Robert Cuthbert saw to their recruitment.
William Cuthbert was one of the major landowners in the Baie des Chaleurs region. In addition to land granted by the government or bought from individuals or at public auctions, he acquired a large number of properties for non-payment of debts. In effect he practised a credit system common to other lumbermen and to fishing companies on the Gaspé peninsula. His employees were paid in kind, and, as the value of these supplies invariably exceeded their wages, they ran into debt and mortgaged their land, which after a period of time often went to Cuthbert. In 1854 he owned 46 properties, some with dwellings, which were concentrated in New Richmond and Maria townships. A form of capitalism based on land transactions seems therefore to have been an important source of his wealth. But he was also owed money, and that year mortgage obligations, accounts, and doubtful and bad debts amounted to £22,211, contracted by 597 persons.
Cuthbert purchased crops from local inhabitants and apparently engaged in the fishing trade. Great Britain was both his source of supplies and his principal market; even after his partnership with his brother Robert ended on 29 Oct. 1849, Greenock remained his preferred port of entry. In North America, he made use of Quebec, Halifax, and St John’s.
Cuthbert was an influential man in his own region, and on 3 May 1828 was appointed justice of the peace for the district of Gaspé; his commission was renewed on 31 Dec. 1831. On 9 May 1829 he was appointed commissioner for improving the road from Bonaventure to New Richmond. At this period he joined in the conflict between the Protestants of New Richmond and the Catholic missionary, Louis-Stanislas Malo, over the construction of school houses. He became a militia captain on 8 Jan. 1833, and was later promoted lieutenant-colonel of the Bonaventure County militia.
In 1848 an association of influential men in Bonaventure riding urged Cuthbert to run for the Legislative Assembly of the province of Canada. Their antipathies were directed against John Robinson Hamilton, a New Carlisle lawyer, who had been campaigning since his defeat by John Le Boutillier* in 1844. A third candidate, John Meagher, a merchant and personal friend of Cuthbert, was persuaded to enter the contest by the Carleton missionary, Félix Desruisseaux, who wanted a Catholic as member. Thanks to the division of votes and to overwhelming support in New Richmond, Maria, and Restigouche, Cuthbert was elected on 17 January, with a majority of 225 over Hamilton. The election was contested, since Cuthbert apparently did not meet the statutory qualifications and polling in Mann Township had not been supervised by a scrutineer. But by various ploys Robert Christie, member for Gaspé, managed to forestall the protest. Cuthbert was present in the assembly only during the session of 1848 and never made a speech. Until 1851 it was Christie who presented the petitions from Bonaventure. Cuthbert was kept at home by ill health and in June 1850 handed in his resignation. However, the speaker of the house, Augustin-Norbert Morin*, refused to take immediate action, and Cuthbert remained officially a member until the end of his term on 6 Nov. 1851.
Suffering from erysipelas of the neck, Cuthbert landed at Liverpool on 13 July 1854, having come by way of Greenock. He was taken to the house of a nephew, a doctor in Rock Ferry, where he made his will on 3 August. He died that day and was buried six days later in Greenock cemetery. He had been one of the most important figures of the Gaspé peninsula and northern New Brunswick, as the inventory of his assets, carried out from 22 Sept. to 10 Oct. 1854, makes clear. His estate, consisting of an immense residence, two cattle sheds, a dairy, a house, and a forge, was evidence of his wealth. In his wardrobes were the finest clothes and in his cellar the best spirits. All told, he left his wife and their only child, Ann, a fortune worth £38,500, including more than £13,000 in cash. As his wife was bequeathed only the usufruct, Cuthbert’s business passed to the firm of Hugh and John Montgomery and Company.
AC, Bonaventure (New-Carlisle), Cour supérieure, Vieux dossiers, 7 avril 1851; Minutiers, J.-G. Lebel, 5 déc. 1833; 22 janv., 12 mars, 29 avril 1834; 30 mars, 19 mai, 3 juill. 1835; 3 avril, 23 oct. 1837; 17 nov. 1838; 15 juill. 1839; 29 janv., 13 juin 1840; 3 févr. 1841; 15, 23 avril, 1er sept. 1842; 22 sept.–10 oct. 1854; Martin Sheppard, 3 mars 1828, 1er févr. 1831. Arch. de l’évêché de Gaspé (Gaspé, Qué.), Boîte Carleton, corr., 1794–1870, 24 août 1831; 3 juill., 3 août 1832. PAC, MG 30, D1, 9: 572–647; RG 4, B15, 2; B28, 134; RG 9, I, A5, 14; C1, 2; RG 16, A1, 97; RG 31, A1, 1825, 1831, New Richmond; RG 42, ser.I. Can., Prov. of, Legislative Assembly, App. to the journals, 1842, app.T. Debates of the Legislative Assembly of United Canada (Abbott Gibbs et al.), vols.7–10. L.C., House of Assembly, Journals, 1835–36, app.BB. Rapport sur les missions du diocèse de Québec . . . (Québec), no.17 (avril 1866). Mélanges religieux, 21 janv. 1848, 10 mai 1850. Quebec Gazette, 26 Jan. 1848. F.-J. Audet, “Les législateurs du Bas-Canada.” Jules Bélanger et al., Histoire de la Gaspésie (Montréal, 1981). J.-B.-A. Ferland, La Gaspésie (Québec, 1877; réimpr., 1879). J. M. LeMoine, The chronicles of the St Lawrence (Montreal, 1878). P.-L. Martin et al., La Gaspésie de Miguasha à Percé: itinéraire culturel (Québec, 1978). F.-J. Audet, “William Cuthbert (1795–1854),” BRH, 41 (1935): 112–13. Raymond Gingras, “Le district de Gaspé en 1833: qui en était responsable?” Rev. d’hist. de la Gaspésie (Gaspé), 9 (1971): 231–32.