DCB/DBC Mobile beta


New Biographies

Minor Corrections

Biography of the Day

SCHWATKA, FREDERICK – Volume XII (1891-1900)

b. 29 Sept. 1849 in Galena, Ill.


Responsible Government

Sir John A. Macdonald

From the Red River Settlement to Manitoba (1812–70)

Sir Wilfrid Laurier

Sir George-Étienne Cartier


The Fenians

Women in the DCB/DBC

The Charlottetown and Quebec Conferences of 1864

Introductory Essays of the DCB/DBC

The Acadians

For Educators

The War of 1812 

Canada’s Wartime Prime Ministers

The First World War

MONTGOMERY, WILLIAM, army officer; b. 25 Jan. 1765 at Edinburgh, Scotland, son of James William Montgomery and Margaret Scott; d. 25 Oct. 1800 at Hounslow (Greater London), England.

As eldest son and prospective heir to the family estate, William Montgomery was carefully groomed by his father from an early age to assume direction of the Montgomery fortune. His father, lord advocate of Scotland from 1766 to 1775 and lord chief baron of the exchequer of Scotland from 1775 to 1801, had through marriage, astute business practice, and political influence acquired substantial lands in Peeblesshire and Stirlingshire in Scotland, and by 1775 he also owned nearly 100,000 acres on St John’s (Prince Edward) Island.

Beginning in 1769, James Montgomery had set under way two major entrepreneurial ventures on St John’s Island, one a fishing and trading operation in partnership with David Higgins on Lot 59, and the other a commercial flax farm on Lot 34. Financed by Montgomery for seven years on a profit-sharing basis, a flax farmer from Perthshire, David Lawson*, was sent to the Island in 1770 with nearly 50 indentured servants from the same region. The lord chief baron was unable to settle his accounts with Lawson in 1777 because of the disruption of communication brought about by the American revolution, and indeed was forced that year to appoint Lawson general agent of the Montgomery interests on the Island, with full power of attorney, in order to maintain any supervision of the investment during the war. With its conclusion, Montgomery sought a financial statement for Lawson’s activities on the farm at Stanhope Cove (Covehead Bay) and as agent.

Realizing that Lawson was a working farmer and not an estate manager, Montgomery asked Chief Justice Peter Stewart* to assist in preparing the statement, which was further complicated by Lawson’s assumption of administration of Higgins’ estate in 1783. To his dismay, the lord chief baron learned that Lawson was a fervent political supporter of Governor Walter Patterson and outspoken opponent of the chief justice, the leader of the anti-Patterson forces on the Island. Mutual enmity between Stewart and Lawson made cooperation impossible. Moreover, it gradually became apparent from Stewart’s letters and the absence of communications from Lawson that the latter had kept few records of his financial dealings and feared an accounting could not properly reward him for his many years of sacrifice on the Island. Ultimately, Montgomery came to suspect that Lawson had become unable to distinguish between his own property and that of his partner, who had put up the capital, about £1,500 in cash advances. The proprietor was unable to gain any satisfaction until 1788, when William Montgomery, a lieutenant in the 4th Foot posted to Halifax in 1787, received a four-month leave of absence to go to St John’s Island to settle his father’s affairs.

Upon his arrival in July 1788, William was offered a number of counter-proposals by Lawson, all falling far short of a full accounting. In a letter to William, Lawson later protested that nothing would satisfy but the impossible – and “to state Every day’s labor for 18 year back with Everything purchased for the farm and Everything sold of the farm to this day and to whom sold” would produce “the longest Account Ever was on the Island.” William, under close instructions from his father, undoubtedly saw Lawson’s efforts to compromise as those of a desperate man finally confronted with someone on the spot to call him to account, and he suspected that Lawson’s continued delays were the tactics of a man who knew the young officer would eventually have to return to duty. As the end of his leave drew near and with Lawson still procrastinating, William decided on drastic measures. He appeared unannounced at Stanhope Cove in late October 1788 with three assessors who inventoried the farm’s improvements, stock, and crops. They found, not surprisingly, that the improved value of the farm did not begin to approach James Montgomery’s substantial advances. Lawson was summarily evicted and was replaced with a loyalist family named Bovyer.

Out of the fiasco came one bright point, for William was well pleased with the work of one of the assessors, comptroller of customs James Douglas*, and recommended to his father that Douglas be appointed Montgomery agent for the Island. For his part, David Lawson remained convinced that William had treated him unfairly, although in 1793 an arbitration panel composed of Island residents did not agree. But Lawson was certainly correct in his assumption that William’s actions would be fully supported by his father, whatever their merit. While he was on the Island, William’s candidacy to parliament representing Peeblesshire was successfully canvassed and arranged by his father, and he was elected without opposition upon his return to Scotland in 1790. During his years in parliament, William increasingly took over protection of the Montgomery interests in Whitehall while his father withdrew from political life. The young man was active behind the scenes in the proceedings arising from the complaints against Lieutenant Governor Edmund Fanning* and other Island officers in 1791 and 1792, assisting Fanning’s agent Robert Gray* on several occasions. He also regularly reported to his father on government discussions relating to the Island and especially to the proprietors.

Since he had obtained a safe seat in parliament and, in 1799, a lieutenant-colonelcy in the 43rd Foot, William’s career was clearly on the rise when he unexpectedly died in 1800, much grieved by his aged father. The Montgomery estates and their management passed to a younger brother, James (later the brother-in-law of the Earl of Selkirk [Douglas*]), who lacked the benefit of William’s general background and Island experience.

J. M. Bumsted

BL, Add. mss 35541, f.158. PAC, MG 23, E6, pp.30–32. Public Archives of P.E.I. (Charlottetown), Ira Brown papers, item 122. Scottish Record Office (Edinburgh), Montgomery estate papers in the muniments of Messrs. Blackwood and Smith, W.S., Peebles, Estate papers, GD293/2/21/93; 293/2/78/6, 17, 55–56; 293/2/79/10, 16, 26, 30, 31, 38; 293/2/81/2; RH4/56. University of B.C. Library (Vancouver), Special Coll. Division, Macmillan coll., James Montgomery to Edward Fanning, 30 April 1798. [William Drummond], “Diary of William Drummond,” ed. David Weale, Island Magazine (Charlottetown), 2 (1977), 28–31.

General Bibliography

Cite This Article

J. M. Bumsted, “MONTGOMERY, WILLIAM,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 4, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed September 29, 2023, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/montgomery_william_4E.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:

Permalink:   http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/montgomery_william_4E.html
Author of Article:   J. M. Bumsted
Title of Article:   MONTGOMERY, WILLIAM
Publication Name:   Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 4
Publisher:   University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication:   1979
Year of revision:   1979
Access Date:   September 29, 2023