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PATTEE, DAVID, farmer, businessman, justice of the peace, judge, and politician; b. 30 July 1778 in Goffstown, N.H., son of John Pattee and Mary Hadley; m. c. 1803 Clarissa Thomas, and they had three sons and five daughters; d. 5 Feb. 1851 near Hawkesbury, Upper Canada.

David Pattee received some medical training as a youth but the loss of an eye apparently prevented him from practising. In 1803, on the advice of his father, he left New Hampshire to escape both indebtedness and prosecution for forgery. He was drawn to Upper Canada by the presence of a cousin, Moses Pattee, and the large community of other New Englanders and New Yorkers who had settled on and about the lands of Nathaniel Hazard Tredwell. on the lower Ottawa River. Arriving on 3 June 1803, Pattee turned to the major economic opportunities offered by the district, farming and lumbering. An ambitious young man, he cleared land for a farm near the head of the Long Sault Rapids and in 1805 entered into partnership with Thomas Mears, a fellow American and an experienced mill proprietor, to exploit the water-power there for the purpose of milling lumber. In July of that year, with a Montreal merchant, John Shuter, Mears secured from the Algonkin and Nipissing Indians a long-term lease of two islands which could provide anchors for dams. He and Pattee soon acquired a 1,000-acre tract in the adjacent township, constructed wooden dams with flumes, and built the first sawmill on the Upper Canadian side of the Ottawa River to produce deals for the British export market. It was around this mill that the town of Hawkesbury developed.

By 1809 Mears and Pattee had contracted with the Quebec City firm of George* and William Hamilton to supply oak and elm timber, including deals, in exchange for mercantile goods, to be sold at Hawkesbury, and a series of mortgages and advances to finance their operation. Failure to fulfil the contract and financial strain eventually forced Mears and Pattee to sign over the mill to the Hamiltons, who appear to have taken possession by October 1811. The take-over ended suspiciously, however, for the mill and its stock burned on 20 April 1812. The Hamiltons quickly rebuilt the mill.

Pattee returned successfully to full-time farming. His prominence, combined with his close connection with Mears and other leading members of the American community, the fact that he had some education, his membership in the Church of England, and an interest in public affairs, ensured his acceptance into the élite which dominated the area. Thus, when the Ottawa District was formed in 1816, he became a justice of the peace and a judge of the district’s Surrogate Court, positions which he held until 1849. Mears, who had continued in lumbering, was appointed sheriff.

Pattee’s position as a district official brought him once more into another, unhappy confrontation with the Hamiltons. The flash-point was the provincial election of 1820 in Prescott and Russell, but the problem stemmed from the long-festering friction over economic and political control in the two counties. Because rebuilding the Hawkesbury mill had left the Hamiltons in a precarious financial position, they were particularly aggressive in their attempts to establish their hegemony in the lower Ottawa valley. A rugged entrepreneur and an inveterate tory who was prepared to use innuendo and bullying to get his way, George Hamilton in particular viewed members of the American community such as Pattee and Mears as potential business rivals and as propagators of seditious democratic ideals who had access to political control. Hamilton also feared that Pattee and other officials might expose the fact that he and his brother, in common with most other lumberers, were illegally cutting timber on crown lands. To the American community, George Hamilton appeared a petty tyrant and, in the opinion of one settler, was “the greatest Blackguard in the said District.”

When the election of 1820 was called, the Hamiltons were ready to reduce the political power of the American community. Pattee, fully supported by Mears, was opposed as a candidate by William Hamilton; Joseph Fortune, an associate of George Hamilton in the militia, was appointed returning officer. The campaign was a heated affair and the weeks-long poll tumultuous and violent, each side charging the other with intimidating voters. Pattee espoused the necessity of the people keeping power in their hands while the Hamiltons supported the “Executive Govert of the Country.” George Hamilton attempted to ensure his brother’s election by recalling the 1803 charge against Pattee of “forging & uttering conterfeit Bank Notes.” Despite this disclosure, Pattee still polled a majority of votes and only when Fortune illegally annulled a number of them did Hamilton secure election.

George Hamilton, knowing the impropriety of the situation and aware that a petition from Pattee to the House of Assembly was inevitable, moved immediately to make charges against the various officials who supported Pattee in an effort to secure their dismissal and preserve the election of his brother. Throughout the late summer and fall of 1820 Hamilton attempted to compile full cases, most of a petty nature, against the officials. Attorney General John Beverley Robinson* reported in October that the charges, save that against Pattee, had little substance. Pattee, recognizing the seriousness of the charge against him, wrote early in the new year to the provincial civil secretary in his own defence. Maintaining that he had been falsely accused in 1803 by an admitted felon turned state’s evidence, he claimed that officials in New Hampshire had refused him immunity to return to clear his name. In the intervening years he had sorted out his affairs and paid all his debts. Further, he offered to relinquish his offices if the lieutenant governor wished him to do so, but prayed that he not “gratify, the Spirit of Revenge and persecution” which, Pattee believed, lay behind the acts of George Hamilton.

Although Hamilton had dispatched an agent to New Hampshire to seek out the court records condemning Pattee, the assembly on 24 March overturned the election and gave the seat to Pattee. This victory was followed on 16 May by the Executive Council’s decision that all the papers forwarded by Hamilton concerning Pattee’s case did not contain “such Proof of Guilt of the Charge of forgery as to weigh against or outweigh eighteen years of irreproachable Conduct in this Province as certified by so many respectable Inhabitants.” The council further recommended that Pattee retain his public offices since citizens of the district had indicated that he had more than satisfactorily filled them.

Politically, John Beverley Robinson loathed Pattee who, he stated in 1821, formed the “scum,” along with Barnabas Bidwell* and Robert Randal*, which represented the “rascals of the Province.” Pattee completed his term in parliament but did not seek re-election in 1824. His only other venture into provincial life took place in 1834 when, as a reformer, he sought election for Prescott but placed behind Charles Waters, another reformer, and Alexander Greenfield Macdonell*, a tory. Having reconciled his differences with the Hamiltons, Pattee remained a respected citizen of the Hawkesbury area, where he continued to farm until his death at his residence in 1851.

Robert Peter Gillis

AO, MS 78, J. B. Robinson to John Macaulay, 18 Nov. 1821; MU 1129, Pattee family genealogy; RG 1, C-I-1, petition of David Pattee, 20 Feb. 1826; C-IV, West Hawkesbury Township, concession 2, lot 8, petition of David Pattee, 4 Jan. 1832. PAC, RG 1, E3, 61: 49–53; L3, 234: H17/53; 239: H20/30; 404a: P13/39; RG 5, A1: 23703–6, 23925–28, 24277–84, 24370–73, 24490–93, 25055–88, 25157–58c, 25163–65, 25177–79, 25182, 25373–85. Prescott Land Registry Office (L’Orignal, Ont.), Abstract index to deeds, West Hawkesbury Township (mfm. at AO, GS 5092–93). Armstrong, Handbook of Upper Canadian chronology. Lucien Brault, Histoire des comtés unis de Prescott et Russell (L’Orignal, 1965). S. J. Gillis, The timber trade in the Ottawa valley, 1806–54 (Can., National Hist. Parks and Sites Branch, Manuscript report, no.153, Ottawa, 1975). M. A. Higginson and Mrs J. T. Brock, The village of Hawkesbury, 1808–1888: the era of “Hamilton Brothers” (Hawkesbury, Ont., 1961). Cyrus Thomas, History of the counties of Argenteuil, Que., and Prescott, Ont., from the earliest settlement to the present (Montreal, 1896; repr. Belleville, Ont., 1981).

General Bibliography

Cite This Article

Robert Peter Gillis, “PATTEE, DAVID,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 8, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed October 31, 2014, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/pattee_david_8E.html.

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Permalink: http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/pattee_david_8E.html
Author of Article: Robert Peter Gillis
Title of Article: PATTEE, DAVID
Publication Name: Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 8
Publisher: University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication: 1985
Year of revision: 1985
Access Date: October 31, 2014