JONES, JOHN, businessman, landowner, militia officer, and politician; b. c. 1752; d. 3 Aug. 1818 at Quebec, Lower Canada.
John Jones arrived at Quebec in 1777. By February 1780 he was announcing imported spirits for sale in Lower Town, and he subsequently engaged at least in part in wholesale trade from a “large commodious house” with cellars and a storehouse on Rue Saint-Pierre. Having bought and sold liberally on credit, however, he became one of many victims of the depression that settled on Quebec at the end of the American revolution. On 2 June 1786 he assigned all his property to James Tod as trustee for his creditors; debts owed to him totalled £5,363, but he himself owed £12,420, of which £11,000 was due to London merchants. In February 1788 Jones’s house was advertised for sale.
At the same time as his business was failing, Jones became embroiled in a dispute resulting from the formation of the Quebec Battalion of British Militia. Officer rank in the militia being a mark of social status, Jones and two other merchants were upset when they were refused commissions and subsequently avoided their duties as ordinary militiamen. When the battalion commander, Henry Caldwell, attempted to enforce regulations through the courts, he was ridiculed in a series of letters in the Quebec Herald, Miscellany and Advertiser during July and August 1790. He sued the merchants and the printer, William Moore*, for libel, but the case never came to trial, the jury having refused to return a true bill. Adding insult to injury, the accused published the defence they had prepared, appropriating a longstanding complaint of the merchant community by attacking the military for abuse of authority over civilians [see George Allsopp].
In May 1789 Jones had resurfaced in business, this time as an auctioneer and broker. He had apparently decided to profit from his experience with bankruptcy, since a major activity of the auctioneer and broker was the management and sale of bankrupt estates of individuals and companies. In 1804, for example, he advertised for auction the Labrador seal and salmon fishery that the failed partnership of Lymburner and Crawford had exploited with the Quebec merchant William Grant (1744–1805). A significant proportion of Jones’s business probably came from the auction of the effects of deceased persons. It was a common practice in the province of Quebec and Lower Canada to have a notarized inventory made of possessions at death, and then for the executor of the estate to have the effects sold at auction, the family being allowed first choice to reclaim what it wished to keep. Jones also acted as the curator of numerous estates, including, from 1795, that of the merchant Edward Harrison*. Harrison may have been his father-in-law, since he had been a witness at Jones’s marriage to Margaret Harrison on 14 May 1794 at Quebec; Jones was a widower at the time. Jones also auctioned the possessions of people returning to Britain, among them Thomas Grant, whose books he sold in 1801 after having printed 200 copies of a catalogue listing them. Jones auctioned ships and ships’ cargoes as well. New vessels were sold at the request of the builders, stranded or damaged ones at that of the owners or masters. Jones apparently imported some of the cargoes himself, while others, damaged in transit, were sold for the benefit of the underwriters.
In many cases auctions were held at the location of the goods – on the premises for the sale of estates, at various docks for ships’ cargoes – or at places frequented by merchants, such as the Merchants’ Coffee House and the Union Hotel. Jones also used his rented stores, on the King’s Wharf in 1789 and on Rue Saint-Pierre, which ran along the waterfront, by 1792. In July 1802 he bought from Robert Lester a lot, a two-storey stone house, and stores at 7 Rue Saint-Pierre, where he had been established since at least 1799. The purchase cost £1,000, of which he paid £250 cash and the rest within three years. His stores were in addition a regular retail, and perhaps wholesale, outlet for “private” sales, often for “ready money only.” There he offered dry goods and hams, cheese, and roll tobacco; he tended to specialize, however, in the sale of imported spirits, including rum, wines, gin, brandy, porter, and ale, as well as of molasses, essence of spruce, flour, sugar, salt, and teas.
Jones’s business activities were not limited to retail and wholesale selling. By 1794 he was co-proprietor with William Vondenvelden of the New Printing Office at 21 Rue de la Montagne, Jones having imported the press and equipment from Alexander Young of London and engaged a journeyman printer from Britain. In August 1794 Jones and Vondenvelden published the first regular number of the bilingual newspaper the Times/Le Cours du tems. Jones’s role appears to have been largely financial and managerial, and it was perhaps because he foresaw imminent failure that in May 1795 he sold his share in the enterprise to Vondenvelden for £342; the last number of the Times appeared at the end of July.
In the first decade of the new century Jones engaged in much property speculation, especially in the undeveloped lands of the Lower Canadian townships. With 19 associates, he, as leader, obtained in April 1800 a grant of 21,600 acres in Hunterstown Township, and in June he acquired the holdings of his adjuncts for a nominal sum according to the system of township leaders and associates [see James Caldwell]; he sold 10,000 acres to James McGill for £185 in September 1801. In 1803 he and John Munro, a Quebec merchant, acquired from Joseph Bouchette* 2,200 acres in Tring Township, and Jones alone acquired another 1,800 acres. Three years earlier he had purchased for £550 from Thomas Dunn a house in Quebec’s Lower Town. Possibly by 1806 he was a shareholder in the Union Company of Quebec, owner of the Union Hotel and Coffee Room; that year he was elected administrative president of the Coffee Room, where members could read newspapers and periodicals.
As an increasingly prosperous member of Quebec’s merchant community after 1789, Jones participated in its social and professional institutions. In 1797 he was finally commissioned an ensign in the Quebec Battalion of British Militia, and he rose to the rank of captain by 1812. He was more active, however, in the Quebec Fire Society [see John Purss]. A member since 1790, Jones was elected secretary in 1791 and 1797 and president in 1803. That year the executive faced charges of negligence, which Jones apparently refuted satisfactorily since he was again elected president in 1806. In December 1808 he was one of the principal organizers of a lobby by the merchants of Lower Town to oblige the Phoenix Assurance Company to renew its fire-insurance policies there, the company’s agent, Alexander Auldjo*, having pronounced the area an uninsurable fire-trap. Two months later he was appointed by the merchant community to a committee, chaired by James Irvine*, to study a proposal from the Committee of Trade at Halifax, N.S., to establish a similar organization at Quebec. The two committees would then join in efforts to pressure Britain into according its North American colonies more advantageous conditions of trade and greater protection against American competition in the West Indies. The proposal was accepted and the Committee of Trade of Quebec was founded that year.
Until about 1808 Jones had manifested little interest in politics, limiting his activity to signing petitions that, with one exception, concerned his business. The exception was support he gave in 1787 to a petition by Canadians asking that the Jesuit college, in use as a barracks, be once again consecrated to the education of Canadians. Perhaps concerned about the increasing polarization of Canadians and British in colonial politics [see Sir James Henry Craig], in May 1808 he stood as a candidate for the House of Assembly in the riding of Lower Town and, along with Pierre-Stanislas Bédard*, a leader of the Canadian party, was elected by acclamation. In the short fifth parliament of 1809 Jones sought an independent position between the majority Canadian group and the small British party, voting three times with the former and twice with the latter. The recalcitrant assembly was dissolved by an angry Governor Craig in October 1809. In the subsequent election, Jones posed at once as the candidate of conciliation and the last hope of the British electors of Lower Town, who were, he claimed, threatened by an unnamed group with exclusion from representation in the assembly. The campaign, according to the Quebec Gazette, was “briskly contested” but “without any animosity between the individuals of either party, a circumstance highly creditable to the Lower Town.” Bédard and Jones were re-elected with 340 and 270 votes respectively to James Irvine’s 220 and Ignace-Michel-Louis-Antoine d’Irumberry* de Salaberry’s 118. In his address of thanks Jones castigated the government party for having introduced Salaberry from outside Lower Town in order to draw off his moderate Canadian support, and for having cast aspersions on his loyalty. In the assembly of 1810, however, perhaps having concluded that there was no middle ground on which he could stand, he was drawn or forced to the government side, voting seven times with the small British group and once with the Canadian majority. Craig again dissolved the legislature, and in the elections of 1810 for Lower Town Jones withdrew in favour of the merchant John Mure*.
In the mean time Jones had continued his auctioneering business, and in December 1810 he announced the introduction of auctions every Thursday and Friday at his rooms on Rue Saint-Pierre in addition to the advertised auctions held irregularly. But competition had stiffened; by 1809 Quebec counted 19 licensed auctioneers grouped into seven or eight firms. In July 1811 Jones announced a co-partnership with “his old acquaintance and good friend” John Munro. The two apparently parted ways before December 1812; in September and November Jones advertised alone that he had for sale stoves, ploughshares, iron bars, and other products of the Batiscan Iron Work Company. By June 1815 he had reduced the number of auctions in his rooms to one a week, and in May 1816 he announced his partial retirement and intention to conduct outdoor sales at the premises of any friends who would employ him. “Those that have not paid their old Accounts need not appear at his Auctions,” he added bluntly.
After 1810 Jones had also continued his property transactions and land speculation. In January 1813 he offered for sale or rent three prime properties at Quebec: 9 Rue de la Montagne, 7 Rue Saint-Pierre, and 51 Rue du Sault-au-Matelot, which he was then occupying, and early in 1814 the first two were rented, the second to a mercantile firm for £250 per annum. Jones himself took a house on Cap Diamant in April for £90 per annum. In March 1817 Jones and Munro divided evenly the land they held jointly in Tring Township, and Jones bought another 400 acres there from Munro in December; meanwhile, in June he had sold about 3,000 acres in Tring for £337 to James Godfrey Hanna*.
Jones died at Quebec on 3 Aug. 1818, and was buried two days later from the Cathedral of the Holy Trinity. Although he had not been in the first rank of merchants at Quebec, his career is of more than passing interest. The documentation he left not only provides a particularly clear picture of the auctioneer’s role in Lower Canadian society, but also illustrates the business strategy of most contemporary merchants. Though they tended to specialize, they were obliged by the fragility of the colonial economy to diversify their activities, often by general retailing, urban property transactions, and land speculation in the Eastern Townships. Like most of his colleagues, Jones went bankrupt; unlike many others, however, he apparently succeeded a second time around. At his death debts owed to him totalled nearly £5,800, and he had over £750 in hand. He still possessed two houses on Rue Saint-Pierre and land in Hunterstown Township. In 1810 he had left his entire estate to his daughter Elizabeth Vaughan Jones, wife of the merchant James Ross. Jones and his wife, Margaret, appear to have been separated for some time, since he made no provision for her in 1810, and she was absent from the colony at the time of his death.
There were several John Joneses active at Quebec and elsewhere in Lower Canada between 1780 and 1820, and some of them might readily be confused with the auctioneer at Quebec. In 1805 a John Jones, notary public by profession but apparently not practising, bought a house on Rue de la Montagne, and it may have been he who was arrested three times in 1810 for drunkenness and being a nuisance. He was dead by March 1817. Another John Jones, nephew of the auctioneer, became a notary in 1801, practising this profession until 1811; it might also have been he who was arrested in 1810. He lived in Lower Town, for a time on Rue de la Montagne, and speculated in property at Quebec and in several townships, including Tring, where his uncle also speculated. After 1811 he became a merchant at Quebec, eventually conducting business under the name of John Jones Jr and Company. He was a member of the Quebec Fire Society and a director of the Quebec Bank. By 1816 he had become an auctioneer, still conducting business under the name of John Jones Jr and Company, with stores on the Queen’s Wharf. No apparent relation to any of the above, another John Jones arrived at Quebec in 1783 and opened a school on Rue Saint-Pierre. By 1788 he was living on Rue du Sault-au-Matelot, in 1791 on Rue de la Montagne, by 1792 on Rue du Parloir, and ten years later in a house called Bandon Lodge, in the faubourg Saint-Louis. He too conducted numerous property transactions at Quebec, where he owned houses and lots on Rue de la Montagne, Rue Champlain, and Rue Saint-Louis, speculated on lands in the townships, and was a member of the Quebec Fire Society. He appears to have left for Wales in 1805, giving power of attorney to his brother Joseph, a licensed auctioneer at Quebec and partner in the auctioneering firm of Jones and White (Jones, White and Melvin from 1811). In 1810 John Jones, the auctioneer and deputy for Lower Town Quebec, was joined in the assembly by John Jones, representative for Bedford County. It was probably he who possessed the fief of Yamaska in 1788; in any case he also speculated in township lands, notably in Compton. Finally, a John Jones of Quebec was a member in July 1797 of the grand jury inquiring into charges of treason against David McLane*.
ANQ-Q, CE1-61, 14 May 1794; 7, 14 May 1813; 5 Aug. 1818; CN1-16, 9 mars 1811, 19 nov. 1812; CN1-25, 16 sept. 1785, 12 janv. 1786; CN1-26, 29 janv. 1807, 15 févr. 1808, 27 janv. 1817; CN1-49, 31 March, 21 June, 23 Dec. 1817; 26 May, 8 June, 24 Aug. 1818; CN1-83, 20 mars 1784, 30 oct. 1792; CN1-99, 2 févr. 1808; CN1-145, 15 Sept. 1801; 17 July 1802; 25 Feb., 1, 2 March, 15 April 1803; 1, 4 Feb., 7 March, 5 July, 5 Aug. 1805; CN1-157, 29 avril 1796; 20 févr., 2 juin 1800; CN1-171, 16 March, 27 Sept. 1809; 28 Jan. 1814; CN1-178, 21 janv. 1805; CN1-197, 29 May, 25 June 1818; CN1-205, 9 août 1781; CN1-230, 15 juin 1796; CN1-256, 1 April 1782; 5 Sept. 1783; 24 May, 19 Sept. 1785; 2 June, 7 Aug. 1786; 23 Oct. 1789; February 1793; 13 May, 16 Sept., 23, 26 Nov., 19 Dec. 1795; 13 Jan., 18 March, 6 Sept. 1796; 2 June 1797; 15 April 1799; CN1-262, 15 avril 1814; CN1-284; 19 févr., 27 avril 1797; CN1-285, 26 août 1799, 10 juin 1800, 22 juill. 1809, 30 nov. 1811. “Requête des citoyens de la ville de Québec, 1787,” ANQ Rapport, 1944–45: hors-texte II. Quebec Gazette, 1780–1818. Desjardins, Guide parl., 137. Hare et Wallot, Les imprimés dans le Bas-Canada, 28. Langelier, Liste des terrains concédés, 560–61. Quebec almanac, 1798: 105; 1805: 41. Tremaine, Biblio. of Canadian imprints, 643–44. F.-X. Chouinard et Antonio Drolet, La ville de Québec, histoire municipale (3v., Québec, 1963–67), 2: 55–59. O.-A. Côté, “La Chambre de commerce de Québec,” BRH, 27 (1921): 26–28. Hare, “L’Assemblée législative du Bas-Canada,”RHAF, 27: 382. J.-P. Wallot, “La querelle des prisons (Bas-Canada, 1805–1807),” RHAF, 14 (1960–61): 79.
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Cite This Article
In collaboration with Marianna O’Gallagher, “JONES, JOHN (d. 1818),” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 5, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed June 9, 2023, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/jones_john_1818_5E.html.
The citation above shows the format for footnotes and endnotes according to the Chicago manual of style (16th edition). Information to be used in other citation formats:
|Author of Article:||In collaboration with Marianna O’Gallagher|
|Title of Article:||JONES, JOHN (d. 1818)|
|Publication Name:||Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 5|
|Publisher:||University of Toronto/Université Laval|
|Year of publication:||1983|
|Year of revision:||1983|
|Access Date:||June 9, 2023|