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MOORE, WILLIAM, actor, printer, and journalist; m. 11 March 1790 at Quebec to Agnes McKay; fl. 1779–98.

William Moore began his career as an actor in England, playing at the Liverpool Theatre Royal in the years 1779–80. By 1781 he was in Jamaica with the American Company, a group of English actors managed by Lewis Hallam who had taken refuge from the American revolution. In July 1782 Moore printed at the Royal Gazette printing office a small work called The elements of freemasonry delineated, the first masonic book published in Jamaica. Following the war the members of the American Company gradually returned to the new republic. In 1785 Moore toured British North America with his one-man show, Fashionable raillery, a series of artistic impersonations. In May and June he performed in Nova Scotia, first in Shelburne, and then in Halifax, where his entertainment was so well received that he gave a command performance for Governor John Parr.

By July 1785 Moore had rejoined Hallam, who was then in Philadelphia with a small company, and in August they opened the John Street Theatre in New York. On 20 September, when Moore had his benefit, the company presented Arthur Murphy’s comedy The Citizen, the first regular drama to be performed in New York after the revolution. Moore completed the evening with his Eulogy on freemasonry. In November Moore and Edward Allen organized their own company and set off for Canada, travelling via Albany, where they remained until the middle of February. The Montreal theatre season opened in Mr Levy’s assembly room on 16 March with a performance of She Stoops to Conquer. On 7 July the company left for Quebec, Allen and Moore having previously made arrangements to rent a room there in the inn owned by Miles Prentice, an important freemason. The room, which could seat around 300 people, was made into a theatre with boxes and two galleries. The first Quebec performance took place on 21 July 1786. The disappearance of the detailed advertisements from the Quebec Gazette after a few weeks was probably the result of their cost, and also of the influence of the Catholic Church and the puritanism of some of the New England Protestants who had recently settled in Quebec. The main part of the company returned to Montreal for a few months in early 1787, but Moore remained in Quebec where he became associated with a theatrical group from the United States. The Allen-Moore company had a second full summer season in Quebec in 1787 and gave a command performance of She Stoops to Conquer that August for Prince William Henry. By November they were back in Montreal for their last season together and, performing in Basile Proulx’s room, they repeated their Quebec program. The opening night was held under the patronage of Lord Dorchester [Carleton*].

In Quebec, as in Jamaica, Moore combined his acting career with an interest in printing. In December , at the end of his company’s first season there, he had tried to find 40 subscribers for the publication of his Elements of freemasonry, but he apparently had no success. Two years later, in October, he announced the opening of his printing shop, and the first number of his Quebec Herald and Universal Miscellany appeared on 24 Nov. 1788. The newspaper, a weekly, was printed in quarto with new type purchased from William Caslon Jr of London; it was announced that “at the expiration of twelve months a title page and index will be added gratis to form an annual volume.” The paper sold for one guinea annually, to be paid half yearly. The French edition, Le Courier de Québec ou Héraut françois, ceased after only three issues, “there not being subscribers sufficient to pay for the paper.” Moore continued to publish the Herald for over four years, a period of important constitutional change in Canada and of war and revolution elsewhere. For news content he relied on American and European papers, as well as on those from the West Indies and the Maritime provinces. Politically his paper represented the new ideals sweeping the western world: freedom of the press, democratic government, and opposition to all forms of arbitrary authority. For Moore, in Canada, these ideals took the form of opposition to the seigneurs, both French and English, to the clergy reserves, and to any attempt at censorship by either church or state. The Montreal Gazette [see Fleury Mesplet] and the Herald had much in common politically, and the two papers frequently exchanged articles. In November 1789 Moore decided to print the newspaper twice a week, on Monday and on Thursday, under the title Quebec Herald, Miscellany and Advertiser. Although the Thursday edition ran for only two volumes, the other continued until early 1793.

In addition to his newspaper Moore published a number of works of considerable interest. His father-in-law, Hugh McKay, marshal of the Court of Vice-Admiralty, acting overseer of chimneys, and high constable, had been commissioned by the government to enumerate the male inhabitants of Quebec, and in August 1790 he printed on Moore’s press the first Canadian city directory. The second directory, for the year 1791, listed 1,347 householders, but the publishing venture ceased because of inadequate demand. In 1791 Moore printed Adam Lymburner*’s The paper read at the bar of the House of Commons . . . , which outlined the case of the Montreal and Quebec merchants for an elected assembly. Later that year he printed the text of the Constitutional Act.

Serious financial difficulties forced Moore to stop regular publication of the Herald after July 1792. He noted in it that he had been “disappointed in the receipt of sundry publications” and that a “vast number of subscriptions” to the newspaper had not been paid. In June 1793 his effects were seized for non-payment of debts. He left immediately for New York, where he returned to his music hall entertainments. Later he joined the Harper Rhode Island Company in Newport, and on 3 Oct. 1793, when he had his benefit, he again delivered his Eulogy on freemasonry, which was printed in the Newport Mercury.

Moore’s activities over the next four years are uncertain. In 1798 John Durang, a member of Rickett’s circus, noted in his diary that he had met Moore in Quebec. He may have returned to Quebec in July of that year because of the death of Hugh McKay, but nothing further is known of him.

William Moore was one of Canada’s pioneer printers. From his press came several pamphlets which have lasting historical value, and, in contrast with William Brown’s Quebec Gazette, which contains little local news, Moore’s Quebec Herald gives information on the political and social life of the province. The lively correspondence column in his newspaper is of special interest. Moore was the first Canadian actor-manager, and even if there is reason to believe that his troupe could be termed only second-rate, nevertheless for two years the company played alternate seasons in Montreal and Quebec. He was also a freemason, a member of the Quebec Fire Society, and a founding member of the Quebec Benevolent Society. During the short period of seven years that he was active in Quebec, Moore made a contribution to the political life of the city through his printing, and to its social life through his theatrical entertainments and his membership in various organizations.

Dorothy E. Ryder

ANQ-Q, État civil, Presbytériens, St Andrews (Québec) (copy at PAC). PAC, MG 24, B1, 65, 71. [John Durang], The memoir of John Durang, American actor, 1785–1816, ed. A. S. Downer ([Pittsburgh, Pa., 1966]). Montreal Gazette, 1786–93. Port-Roseway Gazetteer and the Shelburne Advertiser (Shelburne, N.S.), 12 May 1785. Quebec Gazette, 1786–98. Quebec Herald, Miscellany and Advertiser, 1788–93. Royal Gazette (Kingston, Jamaica), 6–13 July 1782. Tremaine, Bibliography of Canadian imprints. Æ. Fauteux, Introduction of printing into Canada. J. N. Ireland, Records of the New York stage from 1750 to 1860 (2v., New York, 1866–67; repr. 1966). G. C. D. Odell, Annals of the New York stage (15v., New York, 1927–49). H. P. Phelps, Players of a century: a record of the Albany stage, including notices of prominent actors who have appeared in America (2nd ed., Albany, N.Y., 1880; repr. New York, 1972). G. O. Seilhamer, History of the American theatre (3v., Philadelphia, 1888–91; repr. New York, 1968). Lionel Vibert, Rare books of freemasonry ([London], 1923). R. [L.] Wright, Revels in Jamaica, 1682–1838 . . . (New York, 1937; repr. [1969]). L.-P. Desrosiers, “Le Quebec Herald,” Cahiers des Dix, 16 (1951), 83–94. É.-Z. Massicotte, “Recherches historiques sur les spectacles à Montréal de 1760 à 1860,” RSC Trans., 3rd ser., XXVI (1932), sect.i, 113–22. Victor Morin, “Syndicalisme et mutualité,” Cahiers des Dix, 24 (1959), 51–84. R. [L.] Wright, “Freemasonry on the island of Jamaica, American Lodge of Research (Freemasons), Trans. (New York), III (1938–39), 126–58.

General Bibliography

Cite This Article

Dorothy E. Ryder, “MOORE, WILLIAM,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 4, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed April 15, 2024, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/moore_william_4E.html.

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Permalink:   http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/moore_william_4E.html
Author of Article:   Dorothy E. Ryder
Title of Article:   MOORE, 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:   April 15, 2024