JORDAN, JACOB, merchant, seigneur, and mha; b. 19 Sept. 1741 in England; m. 21 Nov. 1767 Ann Livingston at Montreal and they had at least ten children; m. secondly 2 Nov. 1792 Marie-Anne Raby at Montreal and they had one son; d. 23 Feb. 1796 at Saint-Louis-de-Terrebonne (Terrebonne, Que.).
Jacob Jordan came to Canada, before August 1761, with weighty credentials. At Montreal that year he was distributor of stamps under the Stamp Act and agent for the highly influential London firm of Fludyer and Drummond, a company with political connections and capital of the first order. It held a large contract to victual troops in America and in 1767 acquired one to supply cash for army pay and expenses in the colonies. Jordan’s part in this remitting contract gave him a command of cash not enjoyed by most of his fellow businessmen, and he was able enough to use the advantage to build up a personal empire. Already in 1765 he was the holder of a land grant in what is now New Brunswick as a member of the Saint John River Society [see Beamsley Perkins Glasier]. In 1770 he petitioned with Colin Drummond, a brother of one of the principals in the London firm and its Quebec agent, for a township on the Winooski River (Vt). In each of these ventures he was joined by John Livingston, a prominent Montreal fur-trader and possibly his father-in-law.
Perhaps to aid his army victualling Jordan entered the grain trade and in 1767 formed a partnership with Drummond and John Halstead to purchase wheat and bake biscuits. The partnership lasted two years, and both Jordan and Drummond subsequently continued in the grain trade. One of Jordan’s suppliers was Jacques Cartier*, an important trader from the Richelieu valley and grandfather of George-Étienne*. By 1770 Jordan was creditor of Jean Orillat of Montreal and had replaced Jean Dumas Saint-Martin as Montreal agent for the Saint-Maurice ironworks.
With the advent of war in 1775 Jordan was able to pick up further business on his own account. He was given a contract to provide firewood for the Montreal garrison and one to supply horses and wagons for John Burgoyne’s expedition; the government, however, was slow in arranging the latter contract and remiss in paying. On 5 July 1776 Jordan had been appointed a deputy paymaster general, and the same year Drummond’s son John succeeded his father as a deputy paymaster general and deputy commissary general. Jordan and John Drummond were also at this time agents for Harley and Drummond of London, who now had the contract to remit currency for army pay and expenses. Forewarned in the spring of 1779 of an “amazing price of wheat and flour in other parts of America”, Jordan and Drummond, joined by several other important merchants, hurried to purchase wheat before the expiry of the export embargo on 1 August. They cornered the Richelieu wheat crop and were largely responsible for the doubling of prices to the public. To buy the wheat, Jordan and Drummond had apparently used £15,000 of public money from the remitting contract. They were promptly dismissed as agents by Harley and Drummond, but they retained their official posts and probably the profits made in the speculation. Three years later Jordan was entrusted by the government with large-scale wheat purchases.
At the close of the war Jordan continued to expand his independent business ventures. He secured ownership of the Terrebonne mills in 1784 by buying the seigneury from Pierre-Paul Margane* de Lavaltrie. By 1788 the mills were apparently the second most productive in Canada, and the seigneury was “famous for its Astonishing production of wheat.” In the 1790s Jordan established Samuel Birnie, his clerk at least since 1778, in a “very eligible” baking business at Montreal, and in 1792 he was Birnie’s partner in a Montreal tobacco factory. As chief Canadian backer of the Montreal Distilling Company, Jordan had sent Birnie to the Caribbean in 1785 to purchase molasses. This combination of products – rum, tobacco, and biscuit – seems to have been aimed at the great fur-trade market. From 1791 to 1794 Jordan put his money for the first time directly behind a fur-trade firm, one which was attempting to enter the trade in the northwest as the southwest was closing to Canadians. The visible partners involved were Jordan’s nephew William Oldham and John Howard, son of the veteran trader Joseph Howard. Jordan also bought furs elsewhere, notably from the Nipigon trader Gabriel Cotté. A London broker, John Brickwood, recently bypassed by the North West Company which had formerly dealt with him, backed Jordan and may have given him promises of strong support. A second partnership in 1792, Jordan, Forsyth and Company, perhaps represents an alliance with another bypassed fur-trade interest, Alexander Ellice* and his associates. An attempt was made to bring Peter Pond* and Alexander Henry* the elder into this opposition to the North West Company.
Nearly all Jordan’s enterprises ran into trouble, however. In his later years he lacked the access to cash that his earlier banking functions had given him. The wheat market was generally hazardous from 1783 to 1793. In 1788 Jordan was forced to sue the distillery to recover his heavy advances. Six years later the bakery burned. The French revolution upset the European fur market, triggering many failures and giving the coup de grâce to Jordan, who lost £18,000 on his peltry shipments of 1793. His sufferings were increased by ill health and by reflections, apparently, on the falsity of Brickwood’s promises, which he termed a “vile (not to say worse) snare.” His obituary, however, suggests that he bore his troubles with dignity. From 1792 to 1796 he was a member of the House of Assembly for Effingham County, Lower Canada, and he was at one time considered for the office of speaker.
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