DAVID, ELEAZAR (Eleazer) DAVID, cavalry officer, lawyer, and civil servant; b. 8 June 1811 in Montreal, Lower Canada, eldest son of Samuel David, a prominent Montreal merchant, and Sarah, daughter of Aaron Hart* of Trois-Rivières, Lower Canada; d. 1 Feb. 1887 at Coaticook, Que.
Eleazar David David, whose parents belonged to two of the most prominent Jewish families in Lower Canada, studied law and was admitted to the bar in 1832. He practised in Montreal and became legal adviser to the trustees of the Spanish and Portuguese Synagogue. From the 1820s David served in the Royal Montreal Cavalry, and by the time of the outbreak of the rebellion in 1837 he was senior captain. His younger brother, Moses Samuel, served under him as troop cornet and adjutant, while another brother, Dr Aaron Hart David, the future dean of the medical faculty of Bishop’s College at Lennoxville, was assistant surgeon in the Montreal Rifles.
At the battle of Saint-Charles-sur-Richelieu Captain David was in command of 20 troopers who acted as dispatch bearers and reconnaissance men. David’s command of both French and English and his resourcefulness made him invaluable to the British military authorities. His horse was shot from under him and his services were mentioned in dispatches by Sir John Colborne*, who shortly after the battle promoted him major. On 14 December, at the battle of Saint-Eustache, David was in command of 95 troopers of the Royal Montreal Cavalry and the newly raised Queen’s Light Dragoons.
After the rebellion, David resumed his law practice and continued his rise in the provincial military establishment. In October 1839 he was appointed extra assistant adjutant-general. However, in May 1840 he forfeited his social, legal, and military position in Montreal by eloping with Eliza Locke Walker, the wife of Captain Henry William Harris of the 24th Foot. David had formed a liaison with Mrs Harris early in 1838, and when they fled to the United States they took with them her month-old baby, whom David later acknowledged to be his child. There followed ten years of exile in the United States, France, Italy, and the West Indies, during which David apparently lived on private means.
David returned to Montreal in 1850 with Eliza, his wife after Harris’ death in 1849, and their five children. He was welcomed as a prodigal son, resuming his rank as major in the Montreal Cavalry, his law practice, and his role as legal adviser to the synagogue. For a time he practised law in partnership with the future Judge Thomas Kennedy Ramsay, but they quarrelled, probably over the financial arrangements of the partnership, and separated after litigation. From 1858 until 1863 David was registrar and treasurer of Trinity House, Montreal. He had been promoted lieutenant-colonel of the Montreal Cavalry by 1860 and, despite an accusation by troopers that he had subjected them to ridicule by giving wrong orders while on parade, a charge which was subsequently proved groundless and malicious, David was appointed assistant adjutant-general of cavalry in 1866.
David had always been extravagant and careless about money, and by the 1860s was impecunious. His independent means had likely been depleted by the ten years spent abroad, and it appears that when he returned to Montreal he was placed under considerable financial strain by several lawsuits against him for non-payment of promissory notes. The culmination of his difficulties came in 1873 when he was convicted of embezzling money from the Montreal Decayed Pilots Fund, a type of pension fund for retired pilots, which had been entrusted to him while he was treasurer of Trinity House. He was sentenced to two years in the penitentiary, which provoked his cousin, Fanny David, daughter of Abraham Joseph, to speak bitterly of him as “a thorn to my family.” Upon his release from prison in about 1876, he retired with his family to Coaticook where he lived until his death in 1887. Of his 11 children by Eliza, only four daughters survived him. His wife died in Coaticook in 1896.
David’s conduct during the rebellion gave him a place in history as a distinguished officer. His notoriety as the usurper of another man’s wife and his involvement in a fraud twice put him beyond the pale of Montreal societet the affection, loyalty, and continued respect bestowed upon him during his long life indicate a man to whom much was forgiven and from whom much was expected and received.
McCord Museum (Montreal), Hale family papers; Military papers, Misc. no.2, M5728. PAC, MG 24, I61; RG 8, I (C ser.), 749: 40; 1272: 180; RG 9, I, C4, 12; C7, 1; C8, 6. Spanish and Portuguese Synagogue (Montreal), Minutes of the meetings of trustees, 1832–73. “Items relating to congregation Shearith Israel, New York,” American Jewish Hist. Soc., Pubs. (Baltimore, Md.), 27 (1920): 76. Gazette (Montreal), 24 Oct. 1839, 19 May 1840, 3 Feb. 1877, 1 Aug. 1896. J.-J. Beauchamp, Répertoire général de jurisprudence canadienne . . . (4v., Montreal, 1914–15), I: 675. The Lower Canada jurist (35v., Montreal, 1857–91), VI: 295. Michel Mathieu, Rapports judiciaires révisés de la province de Québec . . . (28v., Montreal, 1891–1903), XXIII: 279–80. Montreal directory, 1856–62. The Jew in Canada; a complete record of Canadian Jewry from the days of the French régime to the present time, ed. A. D. Hart (Toronto and Montreal, 1926), 503. Sack, Hist. of the Jews in Canada (1945), 123, 138. “Les Israélites au Canada,” Arch. israélites de France (Paris), 3 (1842): 295–96.