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REIFFENSTEIN, JOHN CHRISTOPHER (he also signed John Christoph or Jean Christoph Reiffenstein), army and militia officer and businessman; b. c. 1779; m. 14 June 1806 Miriam Carr in Halifax, and they had three children; d. 7 March 1840 in New York City.

According to historian Benjamin Sulte*, John Christopher Reiffenstein came from a branch of the princely German family of Thurn und Taxis. Nothing is known of his childhood or youth. He went into the British army in 1795, and on 22 May 1804 was commissioned an ensign in the 98th Foot and appointed adjutant. In 1805 he went overseas with his regiment, first to Bermuda and then to Nova Scotia. In 1807 he left that province for Quebec. Early in 1808 he gave up his commission in the 98th Foot, and on 30 June he became quartermaster of the Royal Newfoundland Regiment. He resigned at the end of 1811 after a court martial found that he had made the men in his regiment pay twice as much for some pieces of their kit as the price asked elsewhere, and also that he had lost or destroyed all the official receipts for his various transactions.

Having abandoned his army career, Reiffenstein joined the militia. On 13 June 1812 he was made staff adjutant under Lieutenant-Colonel Augustus Warburton. War with the United States took the two men to the La Prairie region, where they remained from January to March 1813, to Amherstburg in Upper Canada in April, and to Detroit and Sandwich (Windsor, Ont.) from May to September. On 5 October Reiffenstein participated in the battle of Moraviantown, which saw Warburton taken prisoner and the great Indian leader Tecumseh* killed. He himself left before the outcome was decided. Alarmed by what seemed an impending American victory he went to Burlington Heights (Hamilton), and told Colonel Robert Young that Major-General Henry Procter*’s force had been defeated. Young immediately informed Major-General John Vincent, who was near Fort George (Niagara-on-the-Lake). Vincent ordered his men to withdraw. Meanwhile Reiffenstein made his way to York (Toronto), and then to Kingston. There he reported to Major-General Francis de Rottenburg* and his colleague Duncan Darroch that Procter’s force had been taken prisoner by an American army of 8,000 which was advancing rapidly towards Burlington Heights. This story was not true. Some time later Reiffenstein got back to Quebec, and from there, probably before 25 October, he was sent to Montreal. The false rumours of which he was the author had spread panic throughout Upper Canada, and Rottenburg held him responsible for Vincent’s hasty retreat, which had seriously weakened the British military position in the Niagara peninsula. Reiffenstein was made adjutant of the 1st Select Embodied Militia Battalion of Lower Canada on 21 November, but his appointment as staff adjutant was taken from him the following 29 January, in all likelihood as a result of the efforts of Procter and Rottenburg. He seems to have served as adjutant until the end of the war.

Returning to civilian life, Reiffenstein embarked upon a business career in Lower Canada. He settled at Quebec and went into partnership with James Robinson, of London, under the name of Reiffenstein and Company. In 1814 he went to England, and in January of the following year put his first advertisement in the Quebec Gazette. He was initially established on Rue Saint-Pierre, but on 1 May 1816 he moved his business to Rue du Sault-au-Matelot and also changed partners, Quebec merchant William Phillips replacing Robinson. Their firm was dissolved on 1 May 1817 and he resumed his association with Robinson. Reiffenstein and Company remained in business until April 1820, when the partnership was terminated. Reiffenstein continued on alone, until his son John Edward came to help him around 1830.

For a quarter of a century, Reiffenstein was an important auctioneer and prosperous merchant. His army service, it seems, had given him a good idea of what to sell. He started out liquidating war surplus items, including 800 pairs of Russia duck trousers and 700 knapsacks. He often went to England and France, and to Germany where his two sisters and brother John Christian, a wine merchant, lived. Reiffenstein made at least six trips between 1814 and 1833, buying large quantities of fabrics and clothes, furniture and hardware, tea, coffee, and wine, pictures, prints, and books. Among his customers were the Séminaire de Québec and painter Joseph Légaré*, who bought about 40 pictures from him in 1823. Prior to 1825 Reiffenstein several times announced in the Quebec Gazette the arrival of consignments of 3,000–5,000 volumes, many of them written in French. He also dealt in church ornaments and sacred vessels, which brought him the custom of the clergy and the fabriques. He was the owner of the Highland Lad, a brig built at Quebec by John Goudie*, which he used for transatlantic shipments.

Reiffenstein, who owned a large lot in the faubourg Saint-Jean, sought to aid the poor by subscribing to the Quebec Fire Society and the Quebec Emigrants’ Society, and also to the Waterloo fund, which had been set up to help the families of men who were killed or wounded in the great battle. He does not seem to have been tempted to venture into politics, but in a letter he wrote to John Neilson from Paris in August 1833 he revealed his keen admiration for the 1830 revolution in France.

Claude Galarneau

[The author wishes to thank Stuart R. J. Sutherland of Toronto for information he provided relating to the military career of John Christopher Reiffenstein.   c.g.]

ANQ-M, CN1-116, 12 déc. 1817; CN1-208, 17 juin 1829; P1000-3-360. ANQ-Q, CE1-61, 2 avril 1809, 5 oct. 1855; CN1-49, 14 sept. 1812, 21 juin 1813, 6 nov. 1815. ASQ, Séminaire, 126, nos.272–75. PAC, MG 24, B1, 189: 4392; RG 8, I(C ser.), 226: 62–63; 678: 164–65; 680: 169, 216–19, 242–46, 259–60, 269–72, 290–94, 319–21; 1168: 68–72; 1203 1/2J: 18, 218. PRO, WO 17/1509, 17/1517; WO 27/99. Quebec Gazette, 1815–40. G.B., WO, Army list, 1810. Raymond Gingras, Liste annotée de patronymes dorigine allemande au Québec et notes diverses (s.l., 1975). N.S. vital statistics, 1769–1812 (Punch). Officers of British forces in Canada (Irving). Réjean Lemoine, “Le marché du livre à Québec, 1764–1839” (thèse de {{ma}}, univ. Laval, Québec, 1981). J. R. Porter, “Un peintre et collectionneur québécois engagé dans son milieu: Joseph Légaré (1795–1855)” (thèse de {{phd}}, univ. de Montréal, 1981). “Le sieur Reiffenstein,” BRH, 45 (1939): 62–63. Benjamin Sulte, “Reiffenstein,” Le Monde illustré (Montréal), 28 juin 1890: 131.

General Bibliography

Cite This Article

Claude Galarneau, “REIFFENSTEIN, JOHN CHRISTOPHER,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 7, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed October 25, 2014, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/reiffenstein_john_christopher_7E.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/reiffenstein_john_christopher_7E.html
Author of Article: Claude Galarneau
Title of Article: REIFFENSTEIN, JOHN CHRISTOPHER
Publication Name: Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 7
Publisher: University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication: 1988
Year of revision: 1988
Access Date: October 25, 2014