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GATES, HORATIO, businessman, office holder, jp, and politician; b. 30 Oct. 1777 in Barre, Mass., son of Benjamin Gates; m. 2 March 1814 Clarissa Adams in Highgate, Vt, and they had four children; d. 11 April 1834 in Montreal.
Horatio Gates was connected around 1802 with a number of merchants, the principal one being Abel Bellows, from Walpole, Mass. It seems clear that Gates acted as a middleman for marketing agricultural products from the regions of Vermont and New York that were oriented towards the St Lawrence valley, with Montreal as their natural centre. On 15 Dec. 1807 Bellows and Gates rented a store in Montreal on Rue Saint-Paul, the main business artery. Gates went into partnership in 1810 with Bellows, Cordis, and Jones, a Boston firm, under the name of Bellows, Gates and Company. Far from interrupting his activities, the War of 1812 gave him the opportunity to take part in a curious unauthorized trade. Faced with a sudden influx of military personnel into Upper Canada and Montreal, the British commissariat had difficulty finding all the provisions needed by the army; meat in particular was scarce, and prices were rising in the colonies. Disregarding prohibitions and backed by the military, Gates undertook to ensure that the troops had food by bringing in produce from Vermont and New York. Thanks to his network of American partners, he had no difficulty filling his orders. Historian Adam Shortt* relates that in the Kingston area of Upper Canada one of the men in charge of commissariat services was related to the officer commanding the American troops, and the two men were in constant contact by letter to share veiled information about this traffic and to organize, with every precaution, their sentries’ rounds so the exchanges would not be disturbed.
The times were, indeed, exceptional. Gates, who had been born in the United States and was not a British subject, could be suspected of disloyalty. At the beginning of the war Governor Sir George Prevost* had issued orders for all Americans living in the colonies to take the oath of allegiance. Gates had refused, not wanting to fight against his native land. After some hesitation he took the oath at the end of 1813 or early in 1814; however, he obtained exemption from bearing arms against the United States. For him the dilemma was such that he apparently had even been ready in 1812 to sell his holdings and leave Lower Canada.
The war, and supplying the army, enabled Gates, like many other Montreal merchants, to do a profitable business. His personal fortunes were distinctly improved. In 1810 he was still a tenant; in 1816 in quick succession he bought a lot with two stone houses on Rue Notre-Dame and a piece of land on Rue de l’Hôpital. He lived in one of the two houses until his death. In the world of business his prestige grew. He regularly signed supply contracts with the commissariat; at one time or another he supplied almost all the garrisons below Quebec. During the war he sometimes collaborated with merchant Reuben Miles Whitney, and furnished fresh beef. In the 1820s it was chiefly pork and flour that Horatio Gates and Company supplied. Some contracts involved large quantities: the firm contracted to deliver 1,000 barrels of flour and 900 of pork in 1826, and 1,200 barrels of each the following year.
Gates went into partnership with a succession of merchants to do business at Quebec. In 1815, for example, the firm of John Jones Jr and Company was founded by Whitney, John Jones, and Gates, and it lasted until 1818. In 1830 Gates worked through the agency of Jones, Murray and Company. Quebec remained the principal port of entry until Montreal replaced it after 1830. But his principal enterprise remained the Montreal firm of Horatio Gates and Company, which consisted of Nathaniel Jones, Charles Bancroft, and himself. It had probably succeeded Horatio Gates and Nephew, a partnership of Gates and his nephew Nathaniel Jones, which was in existence in 1818.
Around 1815 Gates apparently was quite active as an importer. He advertised in Montreal newspapers that he sold tea, assorted fabrics, shawls, blankets, and even tables “of the best London make.” He also had in stock pork, American butter, and tobacco, items that indicate the extent of his importing trade with the United States.
In the export sector Gates dealt particularly in potash, wheat and flour, pork, and staves in small quantities. In 1818 Horatio Gates and Company was in the forefront of Montreal exporters, and in 1825 it shipped the most potash, with 6,726 barrels. At that period potash was the first product from the clearing of land that could be converted into cash; made by leaching hardwood ash, it was indispensable for bleaching fabrics, and remained important until chemical methods were developed in the second half of the century. In 1832 Gates was still one of the major Montreal exporters; figures compiled from newspapers suggest that he ranked fifth. In 1833 he apparently was still trading in potash, pork, beef, wheat, flour, and butter. His advertisements indicate that these products came from the United States as well as from the Canadas. In 1834 he dealt with Festus Clark, of Sackets Harbor, N.Y., from whom he bought a large quantity of pork.
Gates’s commercial activities also extended, not unnaturally, to instruments of payment. In his dealings with the United States and Upper Canada, and probably in part with Lower Canada as well, he had become thoroughly acquainted with the principal methods of paying for trade goods, and he had developed a large network of correspondents. In 1815 he announced in one of his advertisements that he would continue, on a commission basis, to conduct transactions involving bank notes, cash, and bills of exchange. He added that he had on hand £10,000 in British government bills of exchange and £5,000 in private ones.
It was not surprising, therefore, that Gates helped found the Bank of Montreal. The want of a bank was being felt more and more by the mercantile community in Montreal. From the moment that the urban economy began to be less reliant, on furs and more dependent on varied trade with the swiftly developing hinterland, institutions for settling matters of credit and permitting the exchange of bills of payment became indispensable. After an unsuccessful attempt in 1808, in which Gates may have participated, the Montreal merchants organized a private company in 1817 to found a bank.
Gates was a charter member, and with others was commissioned to assemble the capital for the Bank of Montreal. His position as agent for the New York bank of Prime, Ward, and Sands and his American contacts proved valuable, since he succeeded in finding takers for nearly 50 per cent of the shares in New York, Boston, and other parts of New England. This involvement shows the importance of American capital in the institution and of the strategic bridging role that Gates played. He served as a member of various committees of the bank, and as a director. He thus dealt with hiring personnel, renting the first premises, buying a lot, and constructing the first building. He was also president in 1826 and from 1832 until his death. In the period 1830–34 he worked with John Fleming and Peter McGill* at reorganizing the bank.
But Gates had further involvement in banking. In 1818, a year after the founding of the Bank of Montreal and while he was on some of its committees, he helped found the Bank of Canada. He signed the deed of partnership and was president from 1826 until 1831. According to Shortt, this bank was originally to specialize in trade with the United States, as the participation of Gates and of Montreal merchant Jacob De Witt* suggests. Both banks received their charters from the government in 1822. From 1823 Gates worked on a merger of the two, which was effected in 1831. However, there was evidently still a need for another bank, since in 1835 De Witt went into partnership with Louis-Michel Viger* to found the Banque du Peuple.
Gates was also interested in communications and transportation. In the field of communications he was for several years engaged in making the general conditions of Canadian trade known in the United States through his correspondence and circulars. His reports, which furnished information on prices, crops, and inventories, were reprinted in a number of American and Canadian newspapers. But he did not confine himself to commercial matters. For example, at the time of the cholera epidemic in 1832 Horatio Gates and Company did not hide the seriousness of the situation and its repercussions on trade in Montreal, for the firm considered it a duty to warn correspondents of the imminent dangers. It also acted as an agency for supplying credit information on Montreal and Quebec businessmen, a function for which Gates was well placed. He was connected with the Bank of Montreal, and his own market activity put him in touch with anything of importance in trading in Montreal. A glance at contemporary notarial acts gives some idea of the impressive number of businessmen who had dealings with him. His importance in the commercial world is also attested by the role he played as public trustee in some major bankruptcies. For example, when the Montreal firm of Maitland, Garden, and Auldjo, which fell victim to the 1825 economic crisis, created a stir by going bankrupt in 1826 [see George Auldjo*], he was one of the trustees responsible for liquidating its debts.
By 1810 Gates had become interested in the port of Montreal, and with his partners unsuccessfully sought permission to build wharfs. Facing resistance from various quarters, he turned to shipping, a sector expanding rapidly with the introduction of the steamship. He participated in the shipping boom on the St Lawrence that began in 1815 and ended with the takeover of the entire sector by the Molson family in 1822. Gates was a shareholder in the ships Telegraph and Car of Commerce. His interest in transportation had also drawn him into a project to build a canal linking Saint-Jean (Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu) with Longueuil or La Prairie. In 1826 he signed a petition to the House of Assembly for legislation to that effect. In 1828 the project was changed into a plan to build a railroad, and Gates was again among the promoters. Such an interest comes as no surprise, since Gates had long been involved in improvements to the route from Montreal to the American border.
Like many merchants Gates was active in real estate. In 1825 he owned property estimated to have brought in £320 a year, and this made him one of the major landlords in Montreal. When he died, he was sole owner of six building sites in the city. On occasion it was his commercial activities that had led him into land deals. Thus, when he had sought to build wharfs for the port of Montreal in 1810, he took care to buy a farm near by on the eastern edge of the town; when his initiative failed he rented the farm, and then sold it in 1820.
Because of his importance to the economy of Montreal Gates held various offices in bodies connected with the business world. He was on the board of examiners of applicants for the posts of inspectors of flour and meal and of pot and pearl ash in Montreal. This responsibility was quite in keeping with the bases of his trade. He was also appointed warden of Trinity House, which was responsible for the administration of port activities, commissioner for the Lachine Canal, and commissioner for building the Montreal market. In 1822, when the merchant community felt a need to create an agency for itself, he took part in the movement and served on the board of directors of the Committee of Trade, the body that became the Montreal Board of Trade.
Gates never stood for election; he was always appointed to the offices he held. As a justice of the peace he helped administer Montreal. Before 1840 the city enjoyed no autonomy, and except for the years 1833 to 1836 when Jacques Viger* was mayor, it was managed by magistrates who formed a special court. In 1833 Gates was called to sit on the Legislative Council. Louis-Joseph Papineau* apparently had doubts about his loyalty. Obviously the confused situation in the years 1812–15 had not been forgotten in certain circles. In the 1820s, however, Gates seems to have played a conciliating role between Papineau’s party and the Montreal merchants, persuading the two groups to work together to obtain municipal incorporation and greater autonomy for the port of Montreal. In 1823 he had given Papineau and John Neilson* a letter of recommendation to one of his London correspondents, when the two went to England as delegates to oppose the union of the Canadas that business circles were promoting. But Gates retained his loyalist sympathies, as his participation in the constitutional movement proves.
Through his religious, social, and cultural commitments Gates was thoroughly integrated into Montreal society. He was a member of St Gabriel Street Church from 1808 to 1813, and then became active in St Andrew’s Church. Like many of the town’s middle class he belonged to the Montreal Auxiliary Bible Society. He played a part in the founding of the Montreal General Hospital, and in 1820 he was one of its governors. He also devoted time to the House of Industry, of which he was a trustee in 1829. A freemason, he held several offices, including that of treasurer of the Provincial Grand Lodge of the District of Montreal and William Henry. He was a member of the committee appointed to set up the Theatre Royal, and in 1825 he acted as trustee. In 1828 he helped found the Mechanics’ Institute of Montreal and in the 1820s also was president of the British and Canadian School Society of Montreal.
Gates’s death, following a stroke, plunged the Montreal business community into mourning. His funeral on 14 April 1834 was attended by a large part of the bourgeoisie. During the service cannon were fired by two ships at minute intervals. Le Canadien reported that “a great many of the stores were closed, and his death seemed to have cast a veil of mourning over the whole of the city which was losing him.” Shortly afterwards Bancroft, one of Gates’s partners, died, leaving Nathaniel Jones alone at the head of Horatio Gates and Company. When Gates’s estate was found, on inventory, to have sizeable liabilities, his widow renounced it for herself and her children. In July 1834 the firm proceeded to liquidation.
The career of Horatio Gates well illustrates the economic development of Montreal in the first third of the 19th century. Starting from a weak economic base, the urban middle class improved its commercial prospects by exploiting a developing hinterland, thereby transforming the small town into a hub for the trade of much of the St Lawrence basin. The Montreal merchants amassed fortunes for themselves, but they also strove to enhance the town’s economic power. Gates had early grasped the importance for the mercantile community of setting up institutions and instruments that enabled business to function more efficiently.
[Henry Griffin’s notarial minute-book, kept at ANQ-M, CN1-187, is an indispensable source for a detailed analysis of Horatio Gates’s activities. It contains nearly 150 instruments on various matters dated from 1815 to 1834, and after that date as a result of his estate. j.-c.r.]
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