McCORD, THOMAS, businessman, jp, militia officer, agricultural improver, politician, and office holder; b. 7 Feb. 1750 in County Antrim (Northern Ireland), tenth child and fifth son of John McCord and Margery Ellis; d. 5 Dec. 1824 in Montreal.
The McCords are believed to have been originally Mackays (Mac-Aoidh) of Argyllshire, Scotland, who emigrated to Antrim. Thomas McCord’s father had settled at Québec by 1764, and there he engaged in trade in association with James G. Hanna*, a watchmaker from Dublin and a relation by marriage, and eventually with his eldest son, John McCord. Thomas began operating as a merchant at Québec and Montréal in 1770, and in March 1771 he secured a liquor licence for the latter place. He entered into partnership with George King in Montreal; although the dissolution of their association was announced in April 1779, the two men were still partners in 1785. In July 1787 McCord was the director of the Montréal Distillery Company, of which the merchant and seigneur Jacob Jordan* was a major backer. It operated two copper stills in a large stone building on Rue Saint-Sacrement between Saint-Nicolas and Saint-Pierre. In 1788 Jordan had the business seized for debt, and in January 1789 it was purchased at auction by a consortium of which McCord and King were members [see Isaac Todd*]. No more successful than its predecessors, the consortium dissolved the enterprise in 1794 and sold the property to Nicholas Montour* in October. Meanwhile, in February 1793 the partnership of King and McCord was again declared ended and its “neat and convenient Dwelling House and extensive Stores in Notre-Dame street” were offered for sale, but without result.
Like many Lower Canadian merchants of his time, McCord invested and speculated in land. On 23 July 1792 he obtained from the Hôtel-Dieu a 99-year lease on the Nazareth sub-fief next to the property of the Sisters of Charity of the Hôpital Général; because the rent of £25 per annum was paid to the poor of the Hôtel-Dieu, the farm which the sub-fief constituted was known as Grange des Pauvres. Between April 1793 and April 1803 he acquired leases on lots adjoining the sub-fief from the Congrégation of Notre-Dame and the Sulpicians. McCord intended to develop the area and improve the farm. In 1795 he imported books on gardening, introduced raspberry, gooseberry, and currant roots from England, and experimented with numerous vegetable, spice, and flower seeds sent to him by his agent there, Jacques Terroux.
By the mid 1790s McCord had become a citizen of standing in Montreal. He had been admitted to St Andrew’s Lodge No.2 of freemasons in 1778, and in 1780 he was appointed secretary of St Peter’s Lodge No.4, of which he was master two years later; by 1788 he had become provincial grand secretary. In July of that year he was made a justice of the peace, an appointment renewed numerous times thereafter. A lieutenant in the British militia of Montreal by 1790, he held that rank probably until leaving the militia about 1802. In 1790 as well he was a director of the Agriculture Society. Two years later, as foreman of the grand jury, he criticized the slowness of the judicial process in the Court of King’s Bench in Montreal and denounced the resulting confinement of prisoners “beyond a proper and necessary period for their being brought to trial.” Since 1784 he had been signing petitions initiated by the merchant community requesting abrogation of the Québec Act and the establishment, among other things, of a house of assembly. In the spring of 1792 he was one of some 20 prominent merchants who supported the nominations of James McGill*, John Richardson, Joseph Frobisher*, and Alexander Auldjo as candidates in the two electoral ridings in the town for the first house of assembly. He was a member of the Montreal committee of the Association, a provincial organization founded in 1794 to support British government in the colony.
In early December 1796 McCord sailed for Ireland, partly in order to negotiate the sale of some Irish property and partly to oversee the Irish branch of his trade connections, which apparently included the firm of Houx and James Hanna and the merchant William Hanna of Newry (Northern Ireland). In November he had leased some of the Nazareth sub-fief and surrounding land to Daniel Sutherland and Robert Griffin for 14 years at £110 per annum, and in May 1800 he rented the rest to Griffin for the same length of time at £45 a year. The negotiations were carried out for him by Patrick Langan, a personal friend and the husband of his niece. Although McCord had intended to stay in Ireland only one season, political troubles and eventually rebellion there adversely affected land sales, prolonging his residence until 1805. He had already fallen into financial difficulty before leaving Montreal and, despite the profit turned by his subleases, during his absence his business interests in that town continued to decline under Langan’s management. King threatened to sue McCord for recovery of debt in 1799, and the following year both had their property on Rue Notre-Dame seized by the sheriff. McCord declared bankruptcy in December 1801. By October 1805 Langan had had the original lease to Grange des Pauvres seized by the sheriff, had purchased it himself at the subsequent auction, and had then sold it to Griffin.
McCord returned to Montreal to straighten out his affairs and quickly became established as a general merchant. He again suffered business reverses, which were probably aggravated by his indebtedness to the King estate. In 1807 he became agent for the seigneury of Villechauve, commonly called Beauharnois, where he took up temporary residence. In 1814 he recovered from Griffin the lease on the Nazareth sub-fief (then and subsequently known as Griffin-town), and he eventually moved there. Still, he had numerous bad debts; between April 1816 and November 1818 he had the sheriff seize the properties of 12 of his debtors, and in 1820–21 five more saw their properties advertised for auction. In late 1822 or early 1823 he sought authorization from the legislature to build a market on land he was leasing, but he was apparently refused.
Virtually absent from the public scene during the period of his financial distress, McCord returned in 1809 to seek one of the two assembly seats for Montreal West and, running as an independent, came second with 288 votes to Denis-Benjamin Viger*, who obtained 343. In the short but contentious session that lasted until 1810 McCord voted solidly in support of Governor Sir James Henry Craig* and the English party. In the subsequent election he withdrew early in Montreal West when former supporters berated him for signing an address welcoming Craig to Montreal and then was defeated in Huntingdon. From 1816 to 1820 he sat as a member for Bedford.
In early 1810, as a senior justice of the peace and a police magistrate, McCord was joint chairman with Jean-Marie Mondelet* of the Court of Quarter Sessions at a time when new police regulations were promulgated and a police office established in the city. That April he delivered the charge to the grand jury and with Mondelet presided over the court’s weekly sittings. At the urging of the Quebec Court of Quarter Sessions he instituted legal proceedings against Louis Bourdages of Saint-Denis, on the Richelieu, for distributing a tract that tended to undermine the credibility of the government and incite disaffection. In 1812, as a police magistrate, he led a contingent of British troops to Lachine to disperse a crowd that had gathered to free a number of habitants arrested for refusing to perform their militia duty. The situation deteriorated rapidly, shots were exchanged, and a Canadian was killed and another wounded in what proved to be the only serious incident of resistance to militia enrolment during the War of 1812. Six years later McCord was a prime mover behind a law passed by the assembly in April 1818 to establish a regular paid police force in Montreal; as a result, in August Louis-Nicolas-Emmanuel de Bigault d’Aubreville was hired to head a force of night watchmen and lamplighters. In connection with his work as police magistrate, McCord had prepared an index to provincial ordinances and statutes in 1815. Judge James Reid considered the work so valuable that he urged McCord to prepare a similar abstract of provincial criminal law for the benefit of the county magistrates.
In the years following his appointment as police magistrate McCord received a number of commissions: in 1811 to superintend the house of correction at Montreal, the following year to receive oaths of allegiance, in 1815 for the improvement of internal communications in the district of Montreal, three years later for effecting repairs to the court-house and prison and to act as a warden of the House of Industry, and in 1819 for building churches and parsonage houses. Some time before 1821 he was named a director of the Montreal Library. Most of these appointments were related to his duties as police magistrate and many were unpaid. Francis-Joseph Audet*’s harsh description of McCord, on the basis of these nominations, as a creature of government is unjustified, for others, French- and English-speaking, received the same commissions; few, however, took their responsibilities as seriously as McCord. The establishment of a house of industry, for example, had been a matter of personal commitment by McCord to an enlightened concept of prisoner rehabilitation. In 1815 he had refused an appointment as trustee of the projected house because the institution was being modelled on the English poor-house, for which he felt there was no need in the colony even were “the evils of the English system . . . not so apparent.” Rather he insisted that it be designed “for the unfortunate objects coming out of the House of Correction, . . . who, altho willing to endeavour at reform and be industrious, are thrown back upon the World for want of a plan of trial.” The esteem in which the citizens of Montreal held McCord is indicated by his nomination in November 1823 as chairman of a public meeting called to examine fire prevention and fire-fighting in the city and by his election during the meeting to a committee which would lobby to have the legislation overhauled and take over fire prevention and firefighting until a permanent body was established.
In 1824, many complaints having been received about the organization of the police in Montreal, McCord and Mondelet were removed as police magistrates and joint chairmen of the Court of Quarter Sessions in favour of Benjamin Delisle, appointed by Governor Lord Dalhousie [Ramsay*] high constable of the Montreal district and chairman of the Quarter Sessions. When McCord died of cancer in December, the editor of the Montreal Gazette wrote of his private virtues and charity to the poor, and, commenting on his public conduct, declared that “no honest or judicious man has ever ventured to accuse or even suspect him of malversation or neglect of duty.” For many years a street in Griffintown bore McCord’s name.
McCord had married Sarah Solomons (Solomon) in the parish church of Shoreditch (London) on 27 Nov. 1798. She was the daughter of the Montreal Jewish merchant Levy Solomons* and Louise Loubier, and by her mother’s earlier liaison with the merchant Jacques Terroux* she was a half-sister of their son Jacques Terroux, McCord’s London agent. By his marriage McCord had five children, of whom only two, John Samuel and William King*, survived; both became judges of the Superior Court of Lower Canada.
ANQ-M, CN1-29, 31 juill. 1787; CN1-185, 29 nov. 1817, 26 mai 1818; CN1-187, 24 nov. 1814. AUM, P 58, U, McCord to Reid, 17 June 1796; 22 Sept. 1799; 7 Oct., 25 Nov. 1805; McCord to Loring, 2 March 1816; McCord to McDonald, 10 Oct. 1816. Centre de documentation du Service de police de la Communauté urbaine de Montréal, Jean Turmel, “Premières structures et évolution de la police de Montréal, 1796–1909” (copie dactylographiée, Montreal, 1971). McCord Museum, Thomas McCord papers, marriage certificate, Thomas McCord and Sarah Solomon, 27 Nov. 1798; Nazareth fief. PAC, MG 11, [CO 42] Q, 30: 140–41; MG 23, GIII, 8; MG 30, D1, 20: 611–19; RG 68, General index, 1651–1841. Docs. relating to constitutional hist., 1819–28 (Doughty and Story), 22–23. Montreal Gazette, 24 May 1792; 30 Oct., 6, 13 Nov. 1809; 5, 12, 19 March, 9, 23, 30 April, 26 Nov. 1810; 15, 29 Nov. 1823; 29 May, 2, 5 June, 8 Dec. 1824. Quebec Gazette, 21 June 1764; 13 Oct. 1774; 15, 29 Oct. 1778; 15 April, 6 May 1779; 16 June, 3 Nov. 1785; 28 Feb., 4 Sept., 13 Nov., 11 Dec. 1788; 5 Feb. 1789; 28 Oct. 1790; 16 June 1791; 19 July, 13 Sept. 1792; 7 Feb., 11 April 1793; 17 July 1794; 1 Jan. 1795; 9 Oct. 1800; 7 April 1803; 6 July, 16, 30 Nov. 1809; 12 July 1810; 23 May, 26 Dec. 1811; 16 May, 8 June, 30 Nov. 1815; 11, 18 April, 1 Aug., 14, 21 Nov. 1816; 8 May, 5, 19 June, 27 Nov. 1817; 15, 22 Jan., 26 March, 6 April, 18, 28 May, 26 Nov. 1818; 21 Jan., 4 March, 19 April, 27 May, 28 Oct. 1819; 27 April, 8 June, 3, 10 Aug., 21 Sept., 5 Oct., 23, 27 Nov., 7 Dec. 1820; 4, 25 Jan., 1 March, 19 April, 31 May, 5, 12, 26 July, 2 Aug., 6, 20 Sept., 25 Oct., 19, 26 Nov. 1821; 15 Aug., 24 Oct., 5 Dec. 1822; 13 Feb., 10 April 1823; 31 May 1824. F.-J. Audet, Les députés de Montréal, 196. J. D. Borthwick, History and biographical gazetteer of Montreal to the year 1892 (Montreal, 1892). Desjardins, Guide parl., 124, 135. Giroux et al., Inv. des marchés de construction des ANQ-M, 1, nos.763–64, 896. Montreal directory, 1819. Quebec almanac, 1791–1804. R. Campbell, Hist. of Scotch Presbyterian Church, 149. Graham, Hist. of freemasonry, 50–51. Augustin Leduc, Beauharnois; paroisse Saint-Clément; 1818–1819; histoire religieuse, histoire civile; fêtes du centenaire (Ottawa, 1920), xv. A. J. B. Milbourne, Freemasonry in the province of Quebec, 1759–1959 (n.p., 1960), 40. Hare, “L’Assemblée législative du Bas-Canada,” RHAF, 27: 385. É.-Z. Massicotte, “Fief Nazareth–Griffintown quartier Sainte-Anne,” BRH, 51 (1945): 73; “Les tribunaux de police de Montréal,” 26 (1920): 180–83. J.-P. Wallot, “Une émeute à Lachine contre la ‘conscription’ (1812),” RHAF, 18 (1964–65): 133–35.
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Cite This Article
Elinor Kyte Senior, “McCORD, THOMAS,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 6, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed March 21, 2023, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/mccord_thomas_6E.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:||Elinor Kyte Senior|
|Title of Article:||McCORD, THOMAS|
|Publication Name:||Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 6|
|Publisher:||University of Toronto/Université Laval|
|Year of publication:||1987|
|Year of revision:||1987|
|Access Date:||March 21, 2023|