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SCHWARTZ, OTTO WILLIAM (Otho Wilhelm), fur-trader and local official; b. 12 May 1715 near Riga (U.S.S.R.); d. 5 Oct. 1785 in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

Otto William Schwartz, son of a portrait painter, appears to have been born into the German community which had dominated Riga and its environs for some centuries. He served a seven-year apprenticeship in the fur trade beginning in 1732 and later began travels which ended with his joining Edward Cornwallis’ expedition to found Halifax in 1749.

When Schwartz reached Chebucto Bay on 27 June in the Canning, he was 34, unmarried, and had enough working capital to establish himself in the fur trade. Most of the settlers with Cornwallis were London’s poor, enticed by the offer of government support. The few Swiss, Germans, and French who joined the expedition proved more industrious than their English counterparts, and Cornwallis encouraged further immigration of “foreign Protestants.” Of those who arrived in the next few years, some settled in the north suburb of Halifax laid out for them, some in Lunenburg, and some in the English Halifax community.

Although Schwartz’s interests lay with the English and he settled among them, he maintained a strong German identity. On 4 Dec. 1750 he married a German widow, Anna Justina Liebrich, and they had three sons and two daughters. He became the elder for life of the German religious community, which, although it formed close relations with the Church of England and began its worship at St Paul’s, soon established a church of its own, the little Dutch church (St George’s). He supported this church in a number of ways: in 1758 he made an interest-free loan to the congregation for completing the interior; in 1761 and 1764 he appealed to the governor and Council for funds promised by Governor Charles Lawrence* to erect a steeple; and he belonged to the Funeral Fees or Friendly Society, which paid burial expenses for the German poor.

Schwartz’s ability to offer this support suggests that his business as a furrier was thriving. In 1760 he had been appointed by the provincial secretary, Richard Bulkeley, “Furrier for the Indian Commerce,” an ill-defined but probably privileged and lucrative post in which he was subordinate to Bulkeley, to the commander-in-chief, and to the commissary for Indian trade, Benjamin Gerrish. Schwartz also invested in real estate. By 1782 he had 4,000 acres on the Saint John River, 1,000 on the Windsor Road, a farm in Falmouth Township, and various lots and houses in Halifax and its north suburb.

Schwartz held other offices which were not lucrative but which indicated status. He was a member of the grand jury for Halifax in 1757, rose to become captain in the militia in 1774, and was appointed one of the commissioners of sewers for Falmouth in 1776. From 1773 until his death he represented Lunenburg County in the House of Assembly. The assembly journals do not reveal his political position, but other records show that, although the success of his business depended in part on favour and influence, he had not before his election hesitated to criticize local administration. In 1753 he was associated with a deposition charging the justices of the Inferior Court of Common Pleas with partiality. Four years later he signed a petition against Governor Lawrence for his delay in establishing a representative assembly and for his arrogant attitude towards the leading inhabitants. Another petition which he signed in the same year demanded better fortifications for Halifax.

The few clues to Schwartz’s character which remain suggest a shrewd, hard-working man, strongly paternal in his family and church relationships, careful of both worldly and spiritual position. He took pride in being a founder of “the Evangelical German Church,” and one of his last gifts was a covering for the table and pulpit with his name “inscribed in Golden Letters.” His funeral was costly, and a section of the little Dutch church floor was removed for the construction of his tomb.

Schwartz’s will may reveal the vision which shaped his life. Each of his five children was generously provided for, but they were also given to hold in common a large tract of land on the Windsor Road “known by the Name of Schwartzburg.” Any one who sold or gave his share to “any person or persons Who Shall not be of the Sir name of Schwartz” was to forfeit his claim. Perhaps Otto William saw himself as founder of a family dynasty in the Nova Scotian wilderness.

Catherine Pross

Halifax County Court of Probate (Halifax), S19 (will of Otto William Schwartz, probated 1799) (mfm. at PANS). PANS, RG 1, 164, pp.120, 207; 166A, p.73; 168, pp.73, 383, 471; 211, 16 Feb. 1761, 24 April 1764; 411, docs.1 1/2, 1B, 7. St Paul’s Anglican Church (Halifax), Registers of baptisms, burials, and marriages, 4 Dec. 1750, 9 June 1752 (mfm. at PANS). “Letters and other papers relating to the early history of the Church of England in Nova Scotia,” N.S. Hist. Soc., Coll., VII (1891), 89–127. N.SArchives, I, 539, 659. Directory of N.SMLAs. Akins, History of Halifax City, 38–39, 49–50, 55, 73, 253. Bell, Foreign Protestants, 291n, 302, 307, 616, 625–26, 633n. Francis Partridge, “The early history of the parish of St. George, Halifax,” N.S. Hist. Soc., Coll., VII (1891), 73–87; “Notes on the early history of St. George’s Church, Halifax,” N.S. Hist. Soc., Coll., VI (1888), 137–54.

General Bibliography

Cite This Article

Catherine Pross, “SCHWARTZ, OTTO WILLIAM,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 4, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed October 2, 2023, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/schwartz_otto_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/schwartz_otto_william_4E.html
Author of Article:   Catherine Pross
Title of Article:   SCHWARTZ, OTTO 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:   October 2, 2023