SMITH, PETER, businessman,
At the outbreak of the American revolution Peter Smith lived in Burlington, Vt, and during the conflict he served as a sergeant in Butler’s Rangers. By 16 Oct. 1784 he had settled in Township No.1 (Cataraqui) of western Quebec. Two years later, with Richard Beasley* as a partner, he was involved in the Indian trade; their major supplier was the partnership of Hamilton and Cartwright. In April 1786 Richard Cartwright* urged Beasley and Smith to take Robert Dickson as a partner but Smith did not “relish” the idea. In August 1789 Smith and Beasley were each granted 200 acres in the area of Toronto and present-day Port Hope.
By 1791 Smith was established in Kingston as one of the small group of merchants in the forwarding trade. At the first meeting of the Executive Council of Upper Canada, on 20 July 1792, he received permission to erect a wharf and build a storehouse and quay at Kingston. A major aspect of his trade was supply of the British army posts. By 1792 Smith and several others, including Cartwright and Joseph Forsyth*, had accumulated almost 4,000 barrels of flour in anticipation of high demand. When their expectations proved false, they petitioned Lieutenant Governor John Graves Simcoe* to purchase the flour for government stores. Although their request was refused (officials called them monopolists), from 1796 Smith appears frequently, either by himself or with partners, on the victualling accounts of the army commissariat. When in 1800 Upper Canadian merchants began to export flour to Lower Canada, Smith was among them. The following year he capitalized further on the new market, shipping large amounts of flour, cheese, potash, and peas to Montreal. One of the difficulties faced by merchants was the scarcity of river craft. Cartwright reported that Smith “has even sent to bring up empty Boats [from Montreal] with three men in each to carry down his Flour.”
During his career Smith had several partners. About 1796 he went into business with another Kingston merchant, John Cumming; this partnership was dissolved in 1803 when they divided their holdings. In 1811 Smith and other Kingston merchants including Cartwright purchased the Kingston Gazette, then sold it to Stephen Miles*. He was also among the group of businessmen who had by 1818 invested almost £16,000 in the steamboat Frontenac [see Henry Gildersleeve*]. Banking was another of Smith’s interests and his name appears on the lists of Kingstonians who petitioned the House of Assembly in 1817 and again two years later for authorization to incorporate a bank of Upper Canada [see Thomas Dalton*].
Like other successful merchants, Smith was involved in most aspects of community life. He was appointed to the magistracy, the land board, and the school board. He subscribed to a host of local philanthropic societies and, as befitted a man with eligible daughters, was manager of the Kingston Assembly and the first subscription ball. A benefactor of the Church of England, he served twice as churchwarden of St George’s Church. A contemporary later remembered him as “highly respected, upright in all his dealings, and free from any moral or political reproach,” a “fine specimen of an English gentleman” who “carried with him evidence that he was no stranger to good dinners, and understood the qualities of good wine.”
AO, MU 500, letter-book, January–July 1786. PAC, RG 8, I (C ser.), 115B: 70, 348; 115C: 179. QUA, Richard Cartwright papers, letter-book, 14 May 1801. “Journals of Legislative Assembly of U.C.,” AO Report, 1913: 47–48. Kingston before War of 1812 (Preston). Parish reg. of Kingston (Young). “Settlements and surveys,” PAC Report, 1891, note A: 6–7. Kingston Chronicle, 4 Jan., 19 March, 23 July 1819; 18 Aug. 1820; 23 Nov. 1821; 18 Aug. 1826. Kingston Gazette, 4 May 1814; 13 Oct., 18 Nov. 1815; 28 Sept. 1816; 29 March, 15 July 1817; 30 June 1818. Canniff, Hist. of the settlement of U.C., 437. Wilson, Enterprises of Robert Hamilton, 61.