STREET, SAMUEL, businessman, politician, office holder, judge, and militia officer; b. 1753 in Wilton, Conn., son of Samuel Street and Elizabeth Smith; m. Phoebe Van Camp, and they had one daughter; d. 3 Feb. 1815 in Thorold, Upper Canada.
During the early years of the American revolution Samuel Street traded with the Indians on the Susquehanna River. In 1778, animated (according to his daughter) by “attachment to the British cause,” he left his family in New York and moved to Fort Niagara (near Youngstown, N.Y.). Throughout the war he operated there as a merchant, provisioning the British military and their Indian allies. On 10 July 1780 he formed a partnership with James Burnet and Francis Goring; Burnet subsequently left the company. In the late summer of the following year Goring also left and Street assumed the company’s assets of £7,315 and its debts of £5,256. Unlike Robert Hamilton and Richard Cartwright, Street never developed close ties with the British army and, after the war, the lucrative supply of the garrisons was closed to him. Consequently he fell back on the Indian trade and sales to the Indian Department.
To facilitate the latter he attached himself to the interests of John Butler*, an Indian Department official at Niagara. In August 1785 Street formed a partnership, which would last until 4 Jan. 1797, with Butler’s son Andrew. The partners maintained a shop at Fort Niagara and in their first two years of business imported goods worth about £15,000 sterling. The Indian trade, however, was rapidly declining, and they now faced competition from American traders. In 1789 the partners built a sawmill on Fifteen Mile Creek which by 1792 had been sold to John Butler. Their company had acquired the reputation of being corrupt. In 1790 Governor Lord Dorchester [Guy Carleton] ordered an investigation of their activities, which included, it was alleged, selling goods stolen from the Indian Department at their shop. Sir John Johnson* deemed their actions “very extraordinary and unaccountable,” but assurances by the partners and John Butler laid the matter to rest.
It is clear that Street was in financial trouble as early as 1788. Indeed the need to discharge his debts forced him to suspend his operations. That year, hopeful of realizing quick profits, he became involved in the land speculation of Oliver Phelps and Nathaniel Gorham in New York. Street acted as agent for his own firm and several individuals in the Niagara area, including John Butler. Known as the Niagara Company, this group purchased 15 shares in the Phelps–Gorham speculation. When Dorchester got wind of the group’s purchase, he expressed in the strongest terms his disapproval of this scheme, which would have dispossessed the Six Nations of more of their New York lands by holding out the attraction of migration to their Grand River settlement in Upper Canada. Street was one of the few unwilling to give up his claim. Although he had difficulty making payment on his share, he did not sell it until much later.
More ambitious was his connection with the land settlement scheme of William Berczy and the German Company. Street acted as their agent and in 1794 agreed to purchase one-quarter of Berczy’s share in the company. Street also formed a partnership with Elijah Phelps to supply the venture. At its dissolution in 1796 the company owed both Street and the partnership large sums but only relatively small amounts were recovered.
Street’s failure as a land speculator probably severely curtailed his mercantile operations. In 1797 Hamilton wrote that he “is at present free from the incumbrances of Business.” Street was not, however, wholly inactive as a merchant after this period. In April 1799, for instance, he supplied the Holland Land Company of New York with more than $500 worth of goods. But it seems likely that thenceforth Street relied on the revenue from his Grove Farm in Willoughby Township and the sale of his Upper Canadian lands. By 1796 he had been granted 1,200 acres, of which he claimed the following year to have improved “upwards of 300 acres.” In 1798 he sought from the Executive Council confirmation of title on 8,700 acres, probably acquired by purchase or as payment for debt. Of this land, 3,600 acres were in Willoughby. Most of his holdings must eventually have been sold, for at his death he owned only the 500 acres of Grove Farm, 300 acres immediately adjacent to it, and 200 acres of “good Land in the District of Niagara.”
In spite of his meagre success in business, Street’s early presence in the peninsula and his membership in the mercantile community gave him a public stature that recommended him for office. In 1787 John Butler suggested him for civil position, and the following year he was named a justice of the peace in the newly established administrative district of Nassau. He did not receive his next commission until 1796 and then it was at the instigation of Lieutenant Governor Simcoe; thereafter he was reappointed continuously until his death. In 1797 Hamilton urged Street’s appointment to the commission that would renegotiate the customs-sharing agreement with Lower Canada, praising him as a man whose “knowledge in the Mercantile Interests of the Province I think equal at least, to that of most of the members of our Community.” Administrator Peter Russell agreed, apparently, but was unable to reach Street, who was then in the United States. By 1801 Street had achieved an even greater measure of local prominence as Hamilton’s deputy for the county lieutenancy of Lincoln. On 7 Jan. 1807 he was appointed judge of the Niagara District court.
Although not a major merchant himself, Street was part of the district’s mercantile community and, as such, sensible of its interests. In 1792 he sought election to Upper Canada’s first parliament but was soundly defeated by a former officer of Butler’s Rangers, Benjamin Pawling. The merchants, however, were ascendant in the peninsula during the election of 1796 and Street was returned for 2nd Lincoln. There is little that is particularly noteworthy about his participation in the second parliament, but he did vote with the majority supporting Christopher Robinson*’s bill to extend slavery within the province. On 5 June 1800 he was elected speaker, replacing Surveyor General David William Smith*, in spite of the unanimous opposition of Eastern District members, such as John McDonell (Aberchalder). The speakership was an important position with a tidy yearly allowance of £200 Halifax currency.
In the election of 1800 the merchant candidates, Street and William Dickson*, were defeated by Ralfe Clench* and Isaac Swayze* as a result of the furore over the proposal by Hamilton and others to make extensive improvements to the Niagara portage. According to the poll clerk, Robert Nichol*, Street lost by 22 votes “though every Exertion was made by his friends.” Nichol regretted the unfortunate turn of events because Street’s “long Acquaintance with the publick business & active talents would have been of great service to the Country & added respectability to the Legislature.” According to some sources Street tried for election again in 1804.
The rise of a parliamentary opposition associated with William Weekes and Robert Thorpe* ended the old division in the peninsula between the merchants and the coalition of office holders and loyalist officers that had opposed them. Street was returned for the riding of 3rd Lincoln in the election of 1808 and, once again, became speaker. On 12 Feb. 1810 the opposition, led by Joseph Willcocks, caused an even division on the School Bill, forcing Street to cast the deciding ballot in its favour. The best-known incident of his speakership was the imbroglio that resulted from the house’s contempt proceedings against Nichol. The latter’s subsequent arrest on a speaker’s warrant led to a ruling by Chief Justice Thomas Scott* that the warrant was invalid since it “appeared in all respects as the personal Act of Mr. Street under his seal, supposing Authority vested in him personally by the House of Assembly.” Nichol was released and immediately brought suit against Street. The assembly was outraged by what seemed judicial interference with their privilege. The administrator of the province, Isaac Brock, supported Nichol against the “inordinate power assumed by [the house]” and regarded its action as a “palpable injustice.” The stage was set for a major confrontation that was averted only by the outbreak of the War of 1812.
Street had been a captain in the 3rd Lincoln Militia since 1809, and on 9 Oct. 1812 he was appointed paymaster of the flank companies of the 1st Oxford and 2nd, 3rd, and 5th Lincoln militia. On 22 Oct. 1813 he applied for, and later received, the position of acting deputy paymaster of the militia, and he served in that capacity until 24 May 1814. During the war he held several commissions: on 24 July 1813 he was one of several prominent local figures appointed to take charge of abandoned farms and their produce, and on 24 March 1814 he became a district commissioner to execute the provisions of the recent bill to secure and detain traitors. The Niagara area suffered heavy property damage during the war and Street’s holdings were no exception. He claimed £1,878 2s. 6d. provincial currency for his losses, of which £750 resulted from the actions of British troops and their Indian allies; his estate was later awarded £1,333 in compensation.
Unlike his nephew Samuel Street* (usually known as Samuel Street Jr), who lived with him for many years, Street never achieved great commercial success. He was unable to develop an effective post-war economic strategy in the manner of Robert Hamilton. On balance, he was probably more important as a political spokesman of the Niagara merchants. Of the private man, little is known. His will hints at a personal repose based on family, faith, and farm. Such documents often make a perfunctory allusion to religion; Street, however, resigned his soul to the “Great God who made it in hopes through my blessed Saviour Jesus Christ to have a joyful resurrection to life Eternal.” He left his beloved farm to his daughter, Mary, “to be quietly and peaceably possessed and enjoyed by her during her natural life.” Finally, the man who had dispensed the funds of the Loyal and Patriotic Society to the poor during the war also made provision for them in the event he had no heirs.
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