PAINTER, JOHN, merchant, office holder, and militia officer; b. c. 1745 in England; m. 1 Dec. 1786 Margaret Stuart in the Anglican church at Quebec, and they had six children; d. 11 Nov. 1815 at Quebec.
John Painter left England around 1765 and settled in the town of Quebec, probably as the representative of a British business firm. In 1771 he advertised in the Quebec Gazette that he had a stock of clothing from London. Subsequently he imported various goods, such as spirits, fabrics, shoes, and tools, which he sold wholesale or retail. In 1775 he purchased a schooner, the Marie-Joseph, for £133, probably to carry on trade along the shores of the St Lawrence. It seems reasonable to assume that for sending goods long distances he used ships belonging to the British firms he represented.
For reasons unknown Painter sold his belongings in 1776 and left the province of Quebec to return to Britain. After seven years’ absence he decided to come back to the colony in order to carry on his business there. In June 1783 therefore he arrived from Bristol, England, on board the Lively with a variety of products that he expected to sell in the town of Quebec. His business seems to have prospered, since in 1786 he bought a lot of 28,500 square feet on the St Lawrence and a two-storey house on Rue Saint-Pierre at Quebec, where he conducted business from then on.
In an address delivered to Lieutenant Governor Henry Hamilton* in 1785 Painter declared himself in favour of trial by jury in commercial suits. Two years later he was appointed to a grand jury that reported to the Court of King’s Bench in the District of Quebec. Eager for a role in politics, Painter supported the electoral campaign of Adam Lymburner* in 1792; Lymburner was, however, defeated in Lower Town Quebec.
Far from giving up business, Painter expanded his relations with merchants from abroad; in 1793 he was the representative for James Jones of Bristol and Thomas Franklin of Philadelphia, Pa. He also established links with local producers such as the Quebec distiller James McCallum*, from whom he bought 1,666 gallons of “Esprit de Beauport” for £500 in 1801. In 1799 Painter had installed his business firm in a building on Rue du Sault-au-Matelot, which he did not buy until 1803. Two years later he was one of the chief shareholders in the Union Company of Quebec, set up to provide the town of Quebec with a fine hotel and a hall for meetings. He became a director of this company, and then chairman from 1810 to 1814. These new investments obliged Painter to step up his trading activities; in this may lie the reason for his opposition to the prison bill of 1805, which imposed a tax on commerce.
Having acquired a certain reputation in the merchant community, Painter was called upon to hold key offices in institutions dedicated to promoting commerce. For example, on 16 May 1805 Lieutenant Governor Sir Robert Shore Milnes* appointed him a member of Trinity House of Quebec, which had been founded to improve navigation on the St Lawrence [see François Boucher]. In addition to being treasurer in this organization from July 1805 to September 1808, Painter also served as deputy master from November 1805. In 1812 he was promoted master to replace merchant John Young. During his years of service he and the other members set up a relief fund for pilots who were victims of accidents and for their families; he also had the first lighthouse on the St Lawrence built in 1809 at Île Verte and had some buoys installed. In 1809 Painter was entrusted by a gathering of Quebec merchants with another important responsibility; he was one of the seven merchants delegated to set up an association that would represent the interests of Quebec businessmen in dealing with the political authorities. This organization came into being at Quebec soon after as the Committee of Trade.
Painter also took part in Quebec community life. In 1790 he became a member of the Fire Society and served as its president in 1792 and 1799. In 1796 he received an appointment as a justice of the peace for the District of Quebec, a position he retained until his death. In addition to these prestigious offices he was commissioned an ensign in the Quebec Battalion of British Militia that year and was promoted lieutenant in 1801.
By all indications, John Painter gave up business in 1814; that year he sold the property on Rue du Sault-au-Matelot which served as his business premises and retired to a house on Rue Sainte-Ursule at Quebec, where he passed away on 11 Nov. 1815. The inventory made after his death reveals that he was worth more than £17,000, largely in debts owed him by the army, the navy, and merchants in Quebec and Great Britain. In addition to this considerable sum Painter owned nine houses in the parish of St Thomas the Apostle in Devon, which he had inherited from his cousin Elizabeth Painter. He also had fourteen shares – six of which were worth £100 each – in the Union Company of Quebec.
ANQ-Q, CE1-61, 1 Dec. 1786, 15 Nov. 1815; CN1-16, 17 janv., 23 mai 1811; CN1-26, 29 janv. 1806; 3 nov. 1807; 26 janv., 15 févr., 31 mai 1808; 3 mai 1810; 25 mars 1811; CN1-83, 16 déc. 1786; CN1-92, 17 mars 1794, ler mars 1799; CN1-207, 11 avril 1775; CN1-230, 25 juin 1803, 8 août 1805, 6 mai 1807, 25 avril 1811, 28 nov. 1815; CN1-262, 26 janv. 1801. Port of Quebec Arch. (Quebec), Trinity House of Quebec, minute-books, I–II. Bas-Canada, Statuts, 1805, c.16. “Manifestes électoraux de 1792,” BRH, 46 (1940): 99. Quebec Gazette, 13 June 1771; 25 May 1775; 19 Sept. 1776; 12 June 1783; 16, 23 June 1785; 8 June 1786; 17 May 1787; 11 Dec. 1788; 17 Dec. 1789; 21 Jan., 4 Feb., 25 March 1790; 14 June 1792; 16 May, 8 Aug., 12 Dec. 1805; 22 Sept. 1808; 2 May 1811; 29 Oct. 1812; 28 April 1814; 16 Nov. 1815. Quebec almanac, 1788–1815. Wallot, Un Québec qui bougeait, 57–58. O.-A. Côté, “La Chambre de commerce de Québec,” BRH, 27 (1921): 26–28.