DEBLOIS, SARAH (Deblois), merchant; b. 29 Dec. 1753 in Boston, daughter of Lewis Deblois and Elizabeth Jenkins; m. 25 Dec. 1771 George Deblois, and they had nine children; d. 25 Dec. 1827 in Halifax.
Sarah Deblois was of Huguenot stock. Her great-grandfather, Louis Deblois, settled in England around the time of the Glorious Revolution in 1688, and her grandfather, Stephen Deblois, was born and educated in Oxford. Stephen emigrated to New York City in September 1720 and then moved in 1728 to Boston, where he became the organist at King’s Chapel. Stephen’s two sons, Lewis and Gilbert, pursued successful careers as dealers in imported goods in Boston. However, by the mid 1770s their loyalty to the crown had made them highly unpopular and they left for England in 1777.
Sarah, Lewis’s daughter, had in 1771 married George Deblois, her father’s first cousin and an English immigrant who had established himself in Boston as a merchant. In 1774 the couple moved to Salem, but their stay there was short. Like Lewis and Gilbert Deblois, George was known for his loyalist principles, and in April 1775, having become “obnoxious” to local patriots, he fled with Sarah to Halifax. Two years later they took up residence in New York City, where George became involved in a copartnership with Sarah’s family, importing and selling foreign goods. Along with his family, he returned to Halifax in 1781 to engage in a commission trade. During the next two decades he built up a prosperous business in general merchandise ranging from Irish linens and hats to locks, kettles, and soap. By the time of his death, his firm was importing £1,227 17s. 0d. worth of articles, a figure that was the second highest – the firm of Foreman and Grassie [see James Foreman*] boasted the highest figure – among 90 Halifax merchants. Not surprisingly, his success as a merchant enabled him to occupy a prominent position in Halifax society: in 1793 he became a justice of the peace, and at St Paul’s Church he acted as a churchwarden from 1785–86 and as a vestryman in 1788, 1793, and 1797.
Sarah apparently assumed supervision of her husband’s firm upon his death on 18 June 1799. The business continued under the name of George Deblois until 1801, when, for the first time, it was referred to as the store of “S. Deblois,” selling imported dry goods and hardware. According to one source, Sarah, with her sons Stephen Wastie* and William Minet and her daughters Lydia and Ann Maria, sailed from Halifax on 8 May 1802 on the schooner Mary to make her home once again in Massachusetts. The next month the sons returned to Halifax but Sarah and daughters reportedly remained at Dedham. At Halifax the business continued in Sarah’s name. At least twice yearly ships commissioned by the Deblois firm and other merchants brought back a wide assortment of goods from Britain and India, particularly dry goods such as “superfine navy blue, black and fashionable broad cloths and cassimeres . . . cambricks, lawns, plain and figured cottons, lutestring ribbons, etc.” By 1805 there was greater emphasis on teas, particularly “Bohea Tea . . . likewise Hyson and Souchong Teas.” In early 1808 Stephen Wastie Deblois seems to have taken control of the business, importing goods worth £1,324 from London on the Britannia and selling merchandise under the name “S. W. Deblois and Co.” It is not known for certain in what year Sarah returned to Halifax but she died there (probably at the house of her son Stephen Wastie) on 25 Dec. 1827 at the age of 73.
The extent to which Sarah controlled her late husband’s business is uncertain, but her short term as merchant was significant. Until the mid 19th century a woman merchant in Halifax was something of a novelty: the only other besides Sarah was Phebe Moody, who, like Sarah, assumed control of her deceased husband’s affairs. Sarah of course came from a strongly mercantile background in an age when merchants formed an élite, serving as the leading laity of the more prestigious churches and monopolizing executive positions in various fraternal organizations. It is also important to note, however, that she was active at a time when economic conditions fluctuated and many merchants lost their businesses. In particular, the years 1805 and 1806 saw severe commercial stagnation, although they were followed by a marked recovery in 1807–8. Between 1800 and 1815, 117 individuals became merchants, but of the 159 merchants who were active at the peak of wartime prosperity, only 87 remained in business in 1822–23 at the conclusion of the post-war slump. One of the firms still in existence was S. W. Deblois and Company. It may be argued that the family business might not have continued even into the early years of the 19th century had it not been for the efforts of Sarah Deblois, woman merchant.
Halifax County Court of Probate (Halifax), Estate papers, D33 (George Deblois); D34 (Sarah Deblois) (mfm. at PANS). Halifax County Registry of Deeds (Halifax), Index to deeds, 1; Deeds, 19–20 (mfm. at PANS). PANS, MG 5, 12–13; MG 9, no.109; RG 1, 444; RG 31, boxes 6–7 (1799–1808); RG 35A, 1, 1817, 1821–22; RG 39, C, 1809, box 94, Sarah Deblois v. Augustus Fallack; 1817, box 127, Deblois et al. v. Church; J, book 15, 1803–9, Sarah Deblois v. Hugh Ritchie. PRO, AO 13, bundles 25, 50 (mfm. at PANS). St Paul’s Anglican Church (Halifax), Reg. of baptisms, marriages, and burials (mfm. at PANS). Glimpses of Nova Scotia, 1807–24, as seen through the eyes of two Halifax merchants, a Wilmot clergyman and the clerk of the assembly of Nova Scotia, ed. C. B. Fergusson (Halifax, 1957). “United Empire Loyalists: enquiry into losses and services,” AO Report, 1904: 491–93. Nova-Scotia Royal Gazette, 1790–91; 1793; July 1799–17 Oct. 1810. W. E. Boggs, The genealogical record of the Boggs family, the descendants of Ezekiel Boggs (Halifax, 1916). A. W. H. Eaton, “Old Boston families, number one: the De Blois family,” New England Hist. and Geneal. Reg. (Boston), 67 (1913): 6–23 (also published as a separate pamphlet, [Boston, 1913]). F. B. Fox, Two Huguenot families: De Blois, Lucas (Cambridge, Mass., 1949). Jones, Loyalists of Mass. Stark, Loyalists of Mass. (1910). D. A. Sutherland, “The merchants of Halifax, 1815–1850: a commercial class in pursuit of metropolitan status” (phd thesis, Univ. of Toronto, 1975). G. F. Butler, “The early organisation and influence of Halifax merchants,” N.S. Hist. Soc., Coll., 25 (1942): 1–16. D. [A.] Sutherland, “Halifax merchants and the pursuit of development, 1783–1850,” CHR, 59 (1978): 1–17.