HATT, RICHARD, businessman, judge, office holder, politician, and militia officer; b. 10 Sept. 1769 in London, England, son of Richard and Mary Hatt; m. December 1799 Mary Cooley in Ancaster, Upper Canada, and they had nine children; d. 26 Sept. 1819 in Dundas, Upper Canada.
Richard Hatt immigrated to Upper Canada in 1792. Two years later he was working in the “Mercantile business,” probably with John MacKay at Niagara (Niagara-on-the-Lake). Hatt’s family joined him in 1796. By this time he was MacKay’s partner but, with the financial backing of his father, he decided to strike out on his own. He moved to Ancaster village in the region known as the Head of the Lake (the vicinity of present-day Hamilton Harbour) where he opened a store, probably that same year. His intention was to become a miller and by 1798, in partnership with his brother Samuel*, he had completed construction of a grist-mill in the village. Prospects were not as encouraging as he had hoped, and he began to look for a new site with better potential for development.
In 1800 he purchased land for a flour-mill on the nearby Spencer Creek, three miles above its inlet to Coote’s Paradise. Here he established a milling complex, known as the Dundas Mills, that soon became the dominant enterprise at the Head of the Lake. By his death it included a distillery, a potashery, a general store, two sawmills, a coopery, a blacksmith shop, several farms, and numerous houses, storehouses, and other buildings. Most of his profits seem to have been reinvested in either the expansion or the upgrading of his enterprises, but he did engage in some land speculation. In 1808 he and his brother were involved with John Norton* in an attempt to purchase from the Six Nations a tract on the Grand River. Three years later he entered an agreement to rent a mill there from David Phelps for 12 years at $300 per annum. The brothers’ partnership continued until 1816, when Samuel moved to Lower Canada.
Hatt’s mills spurred the settlement of the valley in which they were located. In 1801 the area was surveyed and a town plot laid out for Coote’s Paradise, after 1814 Dundas. Hatt had great hopes for the fledgling community; in 1810 his name headed a petition urging the government to make it the administrative centre of the proposed new district at the Head of the Lake. The War of 1812 intervened and, when the Gore District was established in 1816, Barton Township (Hamilton) became the district capital.
During the war Hatt had served as a major in the 5th Lincoln Militia. He saw action throughout the conflict and was severely wounded at the battle of Lundy’s Lane on 25 July 1814. From the spring of 1813 until late 1814 the Head of the Lake was often occupied by British troops and their Indian allies. Although Hatt had lost some goods to invading American armies, he sustained his heaviest losses at the hands of the British and especially the Indians; his total claim for damages after the war amounted to £2,898 (provincial currency).
Hatt was primarily a businessman but he had other interests as well. He was appointed justice of the peace in 1800 and served in that capacity until his death. Before the war he was a road commissioner and after it he was appointed judge of the new district court and also of the surrogate court. In 1812 he had purchased Joseph Willcocks’s printing-press; six years later he took up his interest in newspapers again, as proprietor of the Upper Canada Phoenix. Hatt’s political involvement came late; he first entered the House of Assembly after successfully contesting a by-election in the riding of Halton in 1817. During the spring session in 1818 he chaired the important committee on public accounts. His death in 1819 ended a successful and varied career in Upper Canada.
AO, RG 22, ser.155, will of Richard Hatt. PAC, RG 1, L3, 222a: H1/66; 224: H3/161; RG 8, I (C ser.), 1219: 266; RG 19, 3747, claim 503; RG 68, General index, 1651–1814: ff.407–8, 412–16, 418, 422, 425–26, 431, 537. “Journals of Legislative Assembly of U. C.,” AO Report, 1912: 66–67, 432; 1913: 10, 208. “Petitions for grants of land” (Cruikshank), OH, 24: 77–79. The history of the town of Dundas, comp. T. R. Woodhouse (3v., [Dundas, Ont.], 1965–68), 1: 14–27.