DAVISON (Davidson), GEORGE, entrepreneur, officer-holder, and agriculturist; son of Alexander Davison, a prosperous farmer, and Dorothy Neal, of Kirknewton parish, Northumberland, England; d. 21 Feb. 1799 in London.
George Davison first came to Canada about 1773, and by the early 1780s he had accumulated an extensive tract of land in the seigneury of Rivière-du-Loup, near Trois-Rivières, largely as a result of the business dealings of his older brother, Alexander. A justice of the peace in 1780, Davison was appointed to the Legislative Council in 1783 as a protégé of Governor Haldimand, who was, along with the Duke of Northumberland and Evan Nepean, undersecretary of state for the Home Department, his most important political friend. He was frequently absent from council meetings and made few important contributions to those he attended, but he generally voted with the French party through loyalty to his patron and in line with his own deeply conservative outlook. He opposed the introduction of jury trial, favoured by Lieutenant Governor Henry Hamilton and his supporters, on the grounds that “in all small communities as well as in this there must necessarily be a degree of connection or dependance thro’ Interest, alliance or friendship, which argues strongly against the Impartiality of the Trial by Jury.”
During his stay in Canada Davison accumulated a sizeable fortune, largely through government patronage and by deals in which his brother Alexander took the initiative and the risk. In 1786 the two brothers, in partnership with François Baby*, obtained a lease of the king’s posts for 16 years. They thereby acquired a monopoly on the fur trade and fisheries on the north shore of the lower St Lawrence, one of the choicest morsels of government patronage available since it demanded almost no risk or managerial skill on the part of the lessees and produced at least £2,500 per annum. This lease had been held by William Grant* and Thomas Dunn*, political allies in the English party of Lieutenant Governor Hamilton, who had in 1785 caused a scandal by renewing it for them although it was widely known that he would shortly receive orders from London to award the lease to the Davisons. The brothers had their triumph in 1786, despite the replacement of their friend Haldimand by the unsympathetic Lord Dorchester [Carleton*].
George was in London in 1787 when Sir Thomas Mills, the receiver general, appointed him his deputy for a term of five years. The position promised to be lucrative and he rushed back to Quebec in August. He was disappointed, however, for a financially embarrassed Sir Thomas dismissed him within two months. Sir Thomas was himself soon ousted, but the support of Lord Lovaine, a relative of the Duke of Northumberland, did not secure the position of receiver general for Davison. In partnership with David Monro* and Mathew Bell*, Davison obtained the lease of the Saint-Maurice ironworks from his brother in 1793. These crown-owned ironworks proved highly profitable under the management of Bell, who took care of most of Davison’s Canadian affairs.
In 1791 Davison returned to England and remained in London until his death except for one short visit to Lower Canada. However, he continued to derive revenue from Canada and to interest himself in Canadian affairs. His brother was supply agent to the British forces in North America and George assisted him, partly by carrying on a correspondence with Governor Simcoe* of Upper Canada. While Alexander’s attentions were totally occupied by the Continental wars and the enormous fortunes to be made by military suppliers, the younger brother took full charge of the Canadian market, obtaining in 1794 a contract to supply 855,012 pounds of flour and 6,000 bushels of peas to His Majesty’s forces. These purchases were actually made by his agents in Canada and earned for Davison a five per cent commission.
Throughout the last 20 years of his life George Davison was chronically ill; he had had to excuse his frequent trips to England from Canada on the grounds of poor health. However, he was always ready to return when a profitable situation presented itself. Between 1788 and 1793 he crossed the Atlantic no fewer than eight times, and he quit the province for good only when a realignment of political forces lessened the influence of his protectors. Davison’s career, then, was not that of a man firmly attached to Canada.
Although business and politics occupied a great deal of Davison’s time, especially in the later years of his life, he was always much more interested in agriculture. His favourite residence in the 1780s was the 400-acre Lanton Farm, near Saint-Antoine-de-Padoue, Rivière-du-Loup (Louiseville), where he maintained a large household. He considered himself an agricultural innovator and a model for his Canadian neighbours. His farms were run by English managers who made use of some of the latest British and Continental improvements. Lanton had a threshing machine (then still a novelty in parts of England) and apparently produced an exceptionally high yield of good quality wheat. Davison also owned or leased at least three mills, one of them quite substantial, in Saint-Antoine-de-Padoue and Sainte-Anne-d’Yamachiche (Yamachiche) as well as a great many censives scattered throughout the area.
Davison’s interest in agriculture was not limited to that practised on his own estates. He was chairman of a committee of the Legislative Council concerned with the cultivation of hemp. Furthermore, when the Quebec Agricultural Society was formed in 1789, he was elected to the board of directors and was by far the most active member during the first few months of the society’s existence. He arranged for seed grain to be sent from abroad and agreed to have certain experiments with wheat performed on his lands. Within a year, however, his interest waned and the society later declined in importance. Still, it is in the realm of agriculture more than in other areas that George Davison appears as an independent and public-spirited citizen.
[Two short biographical articles on George Davison have been published. Both are confused and riddled with errors: Turcotte, Le Cons. législatif, 43–44; Charles Drisard, “L’honorable Georges Davidson,” L’Écho de Saint-Justin (Louiseville, Qué.), 7 juin 1934, 1. a.g.]
Information on George Davison’s life was found scattered throughout a number of primary sources, most of them manuscripts: ANQ-MBF, Greffe de Joseph Badeaux, 8 janv. 1800; Greffe de Benoit Le Roy, 17 sept. 1791, 12 oct. 1793. ANQ-Q, AP-G-323. BL, Add. mss 21715, 17 July 1782; 21717, 12 June 1783; 21718, 25 Oct. 1784; 21723, 4 March 1783; 21727, 16 July 1782; 21735/2, 1 March 1784 (copies at PAC). PAC, MG 11, [CO 42], Q, 25, pp.246–94; 49, pp.36–41; 74/2, pp.291–305; MG 23, HI, 1, ser.3, 2, p.63; 3, pp.206–7, 220–21, 234, 275–76, 284–86; 4, pp.105–6, 281–83; 5, pp.3–5, 139–40; RG 14, A1, 2–8. [Joseph Hadfield], An Englishman in America, 1785, being the diary of Joseph Hadfield, ed. D. S. Robertson (Toronto, 1933), 163–64. [Robert Hunter], Quebec to Carolina in 1785–1786; being the travel diary and observations of Robert Hunter, Jr., a young merchant of London, ed. L. B. Wright and Marion Tinling (San Marino, Calif., 1943), 27–28. PAC Rapport, 1889. Quebec Gazette, 5 June, 18 Dec. 1783, 27 Oct. 1785, 30 Aug., 6 Sept. 1787, 11 Dec. 1788, 23 April 1789, 25 March 1790, 5 May, 20 Oct. 1791, 11 July 1793, 11 June 1795, 2 Aug. 1798, 21 Aug., 4 Dec. 1800, 25 Aug. 1803.