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HART, EZEKIEL (Ezechiel), businessman, seigneur, militia officer, jp, and politician; b. 15 May 1770 in Trois-Rivières, Que., second son of Aaron Hart* and Dorothea Judah; d. there 16 Sept. 1843.
Like his brothers Moses*, Benjamin*, and Alexander (Asher), Ezekiel Hart obtained part of his education in the United States. In 1792 Aaron Hart brought Ezekiel into his store on Rue du Platon in Trois-Rivières and involved him in his fur-trade activities. The following year Ezekiel was in New York and lived for a while at the home of Ephraim Hart and his wife Frances Noah. There he met Mrs Hart’s niece, Frances Lazarus, and in February 1794 they were married. He also looked after family affairs and settled the estate of his uncle Henry Hart, who had been a merchant in Albany, N.Y.
On 2 Dec. 1796 Hart and his brothers Moses and Benjamin went into partnership “to build a Brew and Malt House for the purpose of carrying on the business of brewing Ale or Beer . . . and likewise to erect a manufactory of Pot and perlash . . . and also a Bake House for the Baking of Bread and Biscuit” in Trois-Rivières. By the terms of the agreement the three were to hold equal shares in the firm, which would operate under the name of M. and E. Hart Company and would have the financial backing of their father. The written consent of all the partners was necessary to change the agreement, which was for a six-year period. On 20 March 1797 Ezekiel Hart bought a piece of land on Rue Haut-Boc on which “hops for brewing were cultivated and flourished.” Lots near the St Lawrence were also purchased, and on 7 November the firm hired mason Dominique Gougé to build the brewery “from this date to the 30th day of next April for two shillings, Halifax currency, per day.” Gougé also contracted “to work at night when necessary without other recompense.”
The various buildings projected were soon finished, with the apparent exception of the bakehouse – at least, there is now no trace of it. Production of beer and potash reached quite high levels. On 26 March 1800 the company hired Baptiste Dubois of Bécancour “to start at the end of next April and continue until all the ash has been used up.” The terms of the contract were clear: Dubois “guarantees to make good potash. . . . The aforementioned M., E., and B. Hart promise to pay the said Baptiste Dubois eighteen Spanish dollars a month, and, if they are not satisfied with him at any time, to pay him and dismiss him.”
When Ezekiel Hart withdrew from the M. and E. Hart Company, it owned several lots on which were “a stone brewery and a potashery, with all the pumps, vats, barrels, three potash boilers, and a copper boiler of about 120 gallons capacity.” Near by stood a malt-house, and beyond it was the lot on Rue Haut-Boc “with a frontage of sixty feet and a depth of one hundred and sixteen . . . planted in hops.” Ezekiel sold everything to Moses for £338 6s. 8d., at a date unknown but apparently soon after Aaron Hart’s death in 1800. Subsequently Ezekiel followed in the footsteps of his father, who was in every respect his model. He went into the import and export trade, kept a general store, never let a good business deal pass, and acquired property. Besides inheriting the seigneury of Bécancour, he bought a great deal of land, mainly at Trois-Rivières and Cap-de-la-Madeleine.
At this period, however, Hart shared with Moses and Benjamin a passion for politics. A document held at the American Jewish Historical Society Archives in Waltham, Mass., gives the results, in order, of an election in which Louis-Charles Foucher, John Lees*, Pierre Vézina, and a man named Hart were candidates. The names of the 138 voters and their votes are listed on four pages. In fact, on 6 Aug. 1804 Foucher and Lees were elected to the House of Assembly for Trois-Rivières, which at that time was entitled to two members. The other candidates are not known, but it is clear the document refers to this election. Which Hart was involved – Moses or Ezekiel? Moses, who was on the voters’ list, voted for only one candidate – Hart, of course. His future wife, Mary McCarthy, who owned property and therefore had the right to vote, voted for Foucher and Hart. Alexander and Benjamin voted for Lees and Hart. As Foucher, Lees, and Vézina are not on the voters’ list, and neither is Ezekiel, it may be inferred that it was he who was the candidate. The inference is substantiated by an address “to the Worthy and Independent Electors of the Town of Three-Rivers,” dated 22 June 1804 and bearing Ezekiel Hart’s name, which is also held at Waltham. “My interest is connected with yours,” the candidate declared, promising to carry out the duties of the office sought after “to the utmost of my abilities and that of the interest of this my native Place.”
Hart’s victory in the 1807 by-election in Trois-Rivières precipitated an important political episode and controversy that would cause much ink to flow and give rise to many interpretations. In the contest, held to replace Lees who had died that year, four candidates took to the hustings: Mathew Bell, Thomas Coffin, Pierre Vézina, and Ezekiel Hart. Historian Benjamin Sulte* relates that “judge Foucher, assemblyman, started off the affair with a rather long speech entirely partial to Coffin.” At the first show of hands Vézina had the fewest votes and immediately withdrew in favour of Coffin. Hart none the less took the lead, with 59 of 116 votes. Coffin, with 41, and Bell, with 16, in turn withdrew before the day was ended. It was Saturday, 11 April 1807. Hart, the successful candidate, was asked by the returning officer to sign certain documents but in great embarrassment, again according to Sulte, he requested that the signing be delayed until the Sabbath was over. When pressed, he simply signed Ezekiel Hart, 1807, disregarding the formula “in the year of our Lord.”
As the session at Quebec was coming to an end, Hart had to wait until a new one began on 29 Jan. 1808 before he could be sworn in. Foucher and Hart, who had been opponents in Trois-Rivières riding, now found themselves together at Quebec, and both were in serious difficulties. They were regarded as politicians favouring the English party, and their right to sit in the assembly was contested by the members of the Canadian party, who were anxious to secure a stable majority for themselves in the house. Since most of them could not afford a prolonged stay at Quebec, with neither salary nor living expenses being supplied, they decided to expel from the assembly two vulnerable members of the opposing party: the judge, who in their opinion could not both pass laws and see to their enforcement, and the Jew, who had not been able to take the prescribed oath. Consequently, Hart could not “attend, sit, or vote.” He was excluded from the assembly by a resolution. Contrary to the claim often advanced, the Canadians and the English-speaking members did not vote en bloc on the question. Attorney General Jonathan Sewell, for example, voted in favour of Hart’s expulsion. Paradoxically, Hart, who had been elected by a riding with largely Canadian and Catholic voters, was expelled by an assembly controlled by a majority that was also Canadian and Catholic. “I rather suspect,” traveller John Lambert* commented, that “they [the Canadians] wished to keep the majority on their side, and if possible, to get a French, instead of an English member in the House.”
The resolution mentioned that Hart was of the Jewish religion and that he had “taken the Oath in the manner customary only for persons of that persuasion.” Hart had in fact put his hand on his head and substituted the word Jewish for Christian. In the debate it was emphasized that a Jew does not believe in the New Testament, which is an integral part of the Bible. In short, Hart had taken an oath that was being disputed as invalid. This reason, which some thought a pretext, was used to justify his expulsion. He protested, in vain, and had to return home. In any event, the session was coming to an end. Four years having passed since the last general election, Governor Sir James Henry Craig* dissolved the house on 27 April 1808.
In these elections Hart again received the 59 votes he got in the previous one. Judge Foucher, whose presence in the house had stirred up another lively debate, was fourth with 32. Joseph Badeaux* obtained one more vote than Pierre Vézina. This time Hart took the oath “in the Christian manner.” Nevertheless the debate resumed when the legislature opened on 10 April 1809 and went on longer. On 19 April, after several votes, the assembly resolved that Hart was the same person who had already been expelled “as he professes the Jewish religion.” The debate became more complicated. In the end, he was denied the right to sit and to vote because of his religion. Faced with conflicting opinions, Craig turned to London on 5 June. On 7 September the colonial secretary, Lord Castlereagh, confirmed that a Jew could not sit in the assembly. But Craig, who was determined to bring the Canadian members to heel, had dissolved the house on 15 May and announced new general elections. What would Hart do?
Some historians have claimed that Hart again stood as a candidate. A Mr Hart did indeed come in fourth, with 32 votes – Moses Hart, according to the Quebec Gazette of 2 Nov. 1809. As for Ezekiel, judging from available documents he was turning his attention resolutely to his business affairs at that time. It would be up to his sons to continue the political struggle. Samuel Becancour, Aaron Ezekiel*, and Adolphus Mordecai* Hart would have a strong influence on the 1831–32 legislation that gave Jews in Lower Canada full recognition of their rights as citizens.
Ezekiel Hart was admitted into the militia in June 1803 and served as a lieutenant in the 8th Battalion of Trois-Rivières militia, which was placed under Lieutenant-Colonel Charles-Michel d’Irumberry* de Salaberry in 1812. He may or may not have been at the battle of Châteauguay, since about that time he was posted to a unit that did not take part in the engagement, the 1st Battalion of Trois-Rivières militia, in which he became a captain in 1816. On 16 May 1830 he was promoted colonel of the 1st Battalion of Saint-Maurice militia.
When Hart died in 1843, he was accorded an impressive funeral. The stores in Trois-Rivières closed, and the 81st Foot paid him final honours. He was buried in the second Jewish cemetery in Trois-Rivières, which was on a lot that he himself had given for it. Hart is believed to have had 10 children. At the time he dictated his last will on 20 June 1839, his wife had been dead for 18 years, and he left his possessions to Samuel Becancour, Aaron Ezekiel, Ira Craig, Adolphus Mordecai, Esther Eliza, Harriet, and Caroline Athalia. On 30 Nov. 1843 notaries Laurent-David Craig and Joseph-Michel Badeaux set about inventorying the estates of Hart and his wife. It took them nearly three months to go through the belongings in the house and the store on Rue du Platon. Hart had been rich. He had lived in an enormous, comfortable, and well-furnished house with 16 rooms.
Craig and Badeaux took more than three days to make a partial list of the books in Hart’s library. Often they merely marked down a batch of old books. Yet their inventory of books, valued at £80, ran to 17 pages and listed dictionaries, including a Hebrew-Latin one, a world history in 23 volumes, the Encyclopædia Britannica in 17 volumes, works on law, medicine, geography, and history, among them a history of the Jews in two volumes, the laws of Moses, a German Bible, an annotated history of the Old Testament, travel accounts, and, of course, treatises on brewing beer alongside classics such as Don Quixote and the Thousand and one nights.
Ezekiel Hart had undoubtedly been a remarkable person for his time and place. Like his father, he had maintained good relations with his associates, but he mixed more easily with the upper class. Famous travellers stayed in his home. Ezekiel had also been a good husband and father. In addition to large holdings in real estate, he had given his children a refined and careful upbringing that would be passed on to his descendants.
[The basic sources for this biography are the Hart papers at ASTR (0009), the Hart family papers at the American Jewish Hist. Soc. Arch. in Waltham, Mass., and the Hart family papers at the McCord Museum (M21359). The Château Ramezay (Montreal) owns an oil portrait of Ezekiel Hart.
The inventory of the joint estate of Ezekiel Hart and Frances Lazarus is nearly 200 pages long, about one-quarter of it being a list of household goods. The original is at the archives in Waltham; a copy is in the minute-book of notary Laurent-David Craig (ANQ-MBF, CN1-19, 30 nov. 1843). Historian and archivist David Rome supervised the compilation of an important set of documents relating in particular to the political ventures of the Harts; this extensive work was published as “On the early Harts,” Canadian Jewish Arch. (Montreal), 15–18 (1980).
Several historians have taken an interest in Ezekiel Hart’s career as a member of the assembly, including Jean-Pierre Wallot in Un Québec qui bougeait, 149–53, 163–64, and in “Les Canadiens français et les Juifs (1808–1809): l’affaire Hart,” Juifs et Canadiens, Naïm Kattam, édit. (Montréal, 1967), 113–21; and Benjamin Sulte in “Les miettes de l’histoire,” Rev. canadienne (Montréal), 7 (1870): 426–43, and in Mélanges historiques . . . , Gérard Malchelosse, édit. (21v., Montréal, 1918–34), 19: 47–56.
The following works are also useful: John Lambert, Travels through Lower Canada, and the United States of North America, in the years 1806, 1807, and 1808 . . . (3v., London, 1810); Frederic Gaffen, “The sons of Aaron Hart” (ma thesis, Univ. of Ottawa, 1969); Denis Vaugeois, “Bécancour et les Hart,” Le Mauricien médical (Trois-Rivières, Qué.), 4 (1964): 65–71. d.v.]