HALL, GEORGE BENSON, naval officer, office holder, politician, jp, militia officer, and merchant; b. 1780 in Ireland; m. 1 Feb. 1806 Angelica Fortier in Amherstburg, Upper Canada, and they had four sons, including George Benson*, and one daughter; d. there 9 Jan. 1821.
During the French revolutionary wars George Benson Hall served in the Royal Navy for four years as a midshipman and occasionally as a master’s mate. Following the Treaty of Amiens in 1802 he left the navy and signed on a merchant ship as chief mate. A voyage that year to Quebec ended abruptly when the vessel became stranded in the St Lawrence. In December 1802 he accepted an offer from the assistant quartermaster general, Captain William Robe, to serve as mate on the government yacht Toronto in Lake Ontario. A vacancy was created in April 1804 in the Provincial Marine by the death of an officer, and Hall became a lieutenant in command of the brig General Hunter, on Lake Erie. In October 1806, following another death, he was placed in command of the scow Camden, and by 1811 he was captain of the Queen Charlotte.
The Provincial Marine, which was administered by the quartermaster general’s department, was intended to provide transportation for troops in both war and peace. As time passed, increasing attention was paid to its being used as a fighting force. The Queen Charlotte was thus constructed in 1809 with the intention of its being armed with guns and carronades in case of war. In peace-time, however, the vessels provided transportation for goods, including commercial cargo, on the Upper Lakes. This duty provided Hall with an opportunity to establish links with local merchants, especially John Askin* and his family. While Hall provided a vital service for the merchants, they in turn were occasionally able to provide him with needed supplies.
Prior to 1812 Hall gradually became a respected resident of Amherstburg. He acquired property in town, including a storehouse which was used by the Provincial Marine. In February 1812 he also obtained six lots, or 1,200 acres, in Colchester (Colchester North and Colchester South) and Aldborough townships. His future thus seemed secure, particularly since he was regarded as the most efficient officer in the Provincial Marine on Lake Erie and perhaps in the entire branch.
That year Major-General Isaac Brock*, anticipating the outbreak of war, ordered the removal of Alexander Grant* as commodore of lakes Erie, Huron, and Michigan, and Hall was appointed in March in his stead. It was typical of the Provincial Marine, however, that when war broke out in July the Queen Charlotte was carrying commercial cargo, including a quantity of heavy-duty cloth for a merchant in Philadelphia. As commodore, Hall had to oversee the preparation of his vessels for military action. This included the positioning of guns and carronades on board the various vessels, as well as the integration of the newly arrived members of the Royal Newfoundland Regiment and the 41st Foot into the crews.
Hall’s first major engagement came in August 1812 at the attack on Detroit when he was placed by Brock in charge of the batteries. Brock was satisfied with his conduct and he was awarded a medal for his service at Detroit after his death. Following the town’s surrender, the Provincial Marine helped to transport the British troops to the Niagara frontier and to provide support for them. With the advent of winter Hall was authorized to go to Quebec to arrange for the sending of seamen, skilled carpenters, and essential supplies for both Lake Erie and Lake Ontario.
Because of his absence in Quebec, Hall did not take part in the engagement at Frenchtown (Monroe, Mich.) on 22 Jan. 1813. He was, however, in command of the Provincial Marine during the attack on Fort Meigs (near Perrysburg), Ohio, in May 1813, when again his performance received official approval. Even after experienced officers of the Royal Navy arrived and Lieutenant Robert Heriot Barclay* was given control of Lake Erie, Hall was confirmed in his command of the Queen Charlotte by Sir James Lucas Yeo*, commander of naval forces on the lakes. It would have been more satisfactory if the military had found some administrative position for Hall, because as soon as Barclay reached Lake Erie he used his position to take command of the Queen Charlotte on 9 July. Without any official position, Hall contented himself with waiting till the squadron was absent to go down to supervise the dockyard. Before Barclay would find a position for Hall, he insisted that the latter acknowledge that he would rank below all the officers of the Royal Navy. When Hall, who was as conscious of status as Barclay, insisted on being recognized as a junior commander, he was dismissed from the Provincial Marine on 15 August. He did not have sufficient influence to have his dismissal reversed, but he was promptly appointed superintendent of the dockyard and naval stores at Amherstburg with the same pay and allowances he had received as commodore. In addition, Barclay was given a pointed notice by Captain Noah Freer, the military secretary, that he had no authority to annul any appointment made by Governor Sir George Prevost*’s warrant.
Hall carried out his duties until the autumn when he and his family were forced to retreat from Amherstburg with the British forces [see Henry Procter]. With others from the Amherstburg dockyard, Hall arrived in Kingston in late October and was offered his choice of three positions. As he was still on full salary, he preferred to go to Quebec, where he probably expected that patrons such as Freer would find him an important post. He was indeed appointed on 24 Dec. 1813 as naval storekeeper at Montreal. However, he decided that “with the limited assistance that was to be afforded to him” he would not be able to carry out his duties properly and the appointment was cancelled on 24 Jan. 1814.
Without position or substantial income, Hall was in a critical financial state. His principal sources of revenue were a half-pay allowance, granted on 1 Oct. 1814, and prize money, awarded in 1815 for the capture of goods and vessels in 1812. Following the end of hostilities Hall returned to Amherstburg, where he quickly became the complete representative of the local élite. By using his pre-war connections, in 1816 he was elected to the House of Assembly as one of two members for Essex County. The same year he was appointed a magistrate, and on 21 Sept. 1818 he was commissioned major in the 1st Regiment of Essex militia. As an mha until 1820, he devoted much of his time to local issues, including an attempt to move the county seat from Sandwich (Windsor) to Amherstburg. In Amherstburg he busied himself with trying to obtain the services of an Anglican minister and to have land titles confirmed for the occupants of town lots. Relying on his experiences as a naval storekeeper, he traded in hardware, and also supplied bricks and stone. But despite his political connections, Hall’s financial position remained poor. In 1821, following his death, his widow was granted £25 per annum by the Treasury, but she remained in financial difficulty for the remainder of her life.
AO, Hiram Walker Hist. Museum coll., 20–107. PAC, RG 1, L3, 226A: H10/36; 228: H11/66; 252: H misc., 1797–1820/72; RG 8, I (C ser.), 76, 86, 678–79, 688A, 725, 729–31, 1202, 1220, 1224, 1726; RG 19, E5(a), 3728, claim 242. John Askin papers (Quaife). “List of vessels employed on British naval service on the Great Lakes, 1755–1875,” comp. K. R. Macpherson, OH, 55 (1963): 173–79. W. A. B. Douglas, “The anatomy of naval incompetence: the Provincial Marine in defence of Upper Canada before 1813,” OH, 71 (1979): 3–25. C. P. Stacey, “The ships of the British squadron on Lake Ontario, 1812–14,” CHR, 34 (1953): 311–23.