GIBB, BENAIAH, businessman; b. 6 May 1755 in Northumberland County, England, of a Scottish family; m. first 3 Sept. 1790 Catherine Campbell in Montreal, and they had four sons and two daughters; m. there secondly 26 Dec. 1808 Eleanor Pastorius, daughter of Abraham Pastorius, and they had a son and a daughter; d. there 18 March 1826.
Benaiah Gibb was trained as a tailor in England and may have come from a family of craftsmen, since his brother set up a firm specializing in ready-made clothing in London. He immigrated to the province of Quebec as a young man in 1774. There are conflicting accounts of the beginnings of his career. According to some, Gibb settled in Montreal upon arrival and opened his first shop in 1775. Others claim that he came to Montreal to form a partnership with Peter McFarlane, who was in business there, and then succeeded him when he died.
The advertisements Gibb published show, however, that his progress in his trade was actually more complicated. From his arrival until the summer of 1784 Gibb seems to have worked alone, perhaps on his own account; at least part of that time he spent in Sorel. It was not until 19 Aug. 1784 that McFarlane and Gibb was founded, to specialize in making ready-to-wear clothes for men. The firm was dissolved on 1 Oct. 1790, and McFarlane retired, leaving the business to Gibb. McFarlane probably had a considerable influence on Gibb’s career. They had more than just a business connection, for McFarlane lived in Gibb’s home in his old age. Except for a brief partnership with Thomas Prior from 1795 to 1797, Gibb ran his establishment on his own until he retired in 1815. The firm of Gibb continued to serve the Montreal élite under the management, first of his sons Thomas, James Duncan, and Benaiah, and then of various other members of his family, throughout the 19th century.
An inventory taken in 1804 when Catherine Campbell, Gibb’s first wife, died, tells much about the operations of the firm at the height of his career. At that time the shop and storeroom on Rue Notre-Dame contained an immense variety of fabrics and supplies for making men’s clothes, valued at £1,392 9s. 11d. There were thousands of yards of fabric to be made into garments for every occasion: velvet, satin, woollens, India nankeen, cotton, flannel, as well as more than 100 pounds of thread, 40 pounds of beeswax, 800 dozen buttons, and also large quantities of lace, binding, silk galloon, silver braid, gold and silver frogs, and gold and silver epaulettes. Gibb’s store also offered the public a limited choice of ready-made clothing and indispensable accessories, such as white silk stockings and kid or angora gloves. Unfortunately no estimate can be made from this single document of the number of apprentices and journeymen tailors who plied the needles, 18 pairs of scissors, and 4 pairs of shears that made up the stock of tools in the shop.
In 1804 the business seems to have been flourishing. There were assets of £8,820 17s. 11d., consisting of stock in the shop and storeroom and receivables (£7,428 8s., including £2,275 0s. 10d. in doubtful debts), and these greatly exceeded the £2,499 16s. 10d. in accumulated debts. The list of principal creditors reveals some aspects of the way the shop functioned. For a merchant tailor, cloth was the essential raw material and it represented the largest production cost. Gibb imported his cottons and woollens from Great Britain, mostly dealing direct with English companies. More than half his debts were reckoned in pounds sterling, and the chief creditor was the London firm of Edward and Thomas Sheppard. But sometimes Gibb bought goods put on sale by Montreal importers. Consequently the list of creditors also includes Parker, Gerrard, Ogilvy and Company, McTavish, Frobisher and Company, James and Andrew McGill and Company, and John and William Porteous.
The prosperity of Gibb’s firm was due to his ability to respond to the demands of very special customers. Among them were numerous officers of the garrison. Gibb was tailor also to notaries (Louis Chaboillez*, John Gerbrand Beek, Jonathan Abraham Cray, Louis Guy*), seigneurs (Jean-Baptiste-Toussaint Pothier*, Jacques-Philippe Saveuse de Beaujeu, Jacob Jordan*), and merchant princes (Simon McTavish*, Joseph Frobisher*, William Maitland, George McBeath*, William McGillivray, George Garden, John Ogilvy*, Thomas Blackwood*).
Gibb’s relations with the Montreal élite he served were complex. As a craftsman he was in another social class, but since he was at the top of that pyramid, he was one of the few to turn out luxury articles. In time his enterprise’s prosperity enabled him to adopt a way of life quite different from that of his fellow craftsmen, which brought him closer to the Montreal bourgeoisie. By 1804 he owned a two-storey stone house inside the town ramparts, and a property at Près-de-Ville north of the faubourg Saint-Laurent that had fruit trees and a “China summer house.” Gibb’s other activities also contributed to his rise in society. He was active as a Presbyterian, in St Gabriel Street Church, serving for several years on the temporal committee, of which he was the vice-president in 1804. In 1820 he became a director of the Montreal Savings Bank.
By the time of his death in 1826 Gibb had become a wealthy Montrealer. The outstanding debts owed to his estate amounted to more than £25,482, whilst liabilities amounted to only £1,112. He had also increased considerably his investments in landed property in Montreal and elsewhere, particularly by acquiring numerous land grants in Ashton, Sutton, Elmsley, Ely, Eardley, and Clifton townships as well as in Roxborough Township in Upper Canada.
Benaiah Gibb’s gradual integration into the Montreal bourgeoisie was confirmed by the careers and marriages of some of his children. His daughter Elizabeth married James Orkney, a merchant of the firm of J. and R. Orkney. The best known of his sons, also named Benaiah, consolidated the rise in society that had begun with his father. He attended to the firm while devoting himself to a passion for art. He took advantage of business trips to London to buy paintings by young artists “who were generally hard up [and] willing to sell at a reasonable price.” His collection of 90 paintings and 8 bronzes, as well as a site on Rue Sherbrooke and a sum to be used for building a gallery, were bequeathed to the Art Association of Montreal. Thus the son of a merchant tailor played a fundamental role in the founding of an establishment that was closely connected with the Montreal bourgeoisie, the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts.
[The author wishes to thank Mrs Mary Anne Poutanen, who shared the results of her research on Benaiah Gibb and the merchant tailors of Montreal. j.b.]
ANQ-M, CE1-63, 3 sept. 1790; CE1-126, 10 févr. 1796, 27 juin 1798, 29 avril 1800, 26 déc. 1808, 11 oct. 1813, 16 janv. 1817; CN1-121, 24 avril 1804; CN1-134, 15 févr. 1822; 28 juill. 1823; 14–15 mars, 12 avril 1826; 12 déc. 1828; CN1-185, 23 déc. 1808. McCord Museum, Gibb account-books, ledger P (1906–12); Kollmyer papers, 29 July 1795. PAC, MG 22, A9, 4: 38–39; MG 24, K61; L3: 25425, 26369–90. Canadian Courant and Montreal Advertiser, 1, 5 Nov. 1815. Montreal Gazette, 13, 27 Jan. 1791; 21 Aug. 1832. Montreal Herald, 29 April 1815. Quebec Gazette, 19 Aug. 1784; 9 July 1795; 29 June, 19 Aug. 1797. F. W. Terrill, A chronology of Montreal and of Canada from A.D. 1752 to A.D. 1893 . . . (Montreal, 1893). R. Campbell, Hist. of Scotch Presbyterian Church, 113–16.