STREET, SAMUEL, businessman, jp, militia officer, and office holder; b. 14 March 1775 in Farmington, Conn., eldest son of Nehemiah Street and Thankful Moody; m. 5 Sept. 1811 Abigail Hyde Ransom, and they had one son and five daughters; d. 21 Aug. 1844 in Port Robinson, Upper Canada.
Samuel Street was a shrewd, well-located merchant who, by devoting himself to business, managed to become one of the wealthiest men in Upper Canada by the time of his death. In 1787 he had come to live with his uncle, Samuel Street*, at Chippawa (Ont.), after his father had been murdered at Cold Springs, N.Y. No doubt his uncle’s membership in the Niagara peninsula’s early mercantile community benefited the aspiration of Samuel Street Jr, as he became known, and ensured him a successful start in business along the Niagara River. He was entitled to 200 acres as the son of a loyalist, but a petition sent by his uncle in October 1796 secured for him an additional 400 acres, thus placing him on a “footing with others of his description.” During this period he trained in his uncle’s forwarding business at Niagara (Niagara-on-the-Lake). The first evidence of his own mercantile activity came in 1797, when he and Thomas Dickson*, either on their own or possibly on behalf of Thomas Clark*, received a shipment of skins, handkerchiefs, and gunpowder from Charles Wilson of Niagara Falls.
Street formed a partnership with Clark, an important merchant-forwarder at Queenston, by May 1798 but the association ended the following year. By 1803 Street was involved in milling operations at Niagara Falls. In August of that year he was clerk at the Bridgewater Mills at Chippawa, then operated as a leasehold by Robert Randal* and James Durand*; the following year Street and Durand formed a partnership. Its duration is uncertain but about 1808 or 1809 Street entered into a second association with Clark, creating a business concern which would become one of Upper Canada’s largest and would last until the latter’s death in 1835. Street’s activities were so often those of Clark and Street that it is difficult to be sure when he is on his own. Even in personality the partners seem to be identical people whom the contemporary record rarely characterizes as individuals. From Street’s correspondence it is evident that because of health problems (possibly arthritis), he rarely set foot beyond the Niagara Falls area, leaving Clark to travel about the province on business. The partnership initially revolved around two milling complexes: the Falls Mills, purchased by Clark in 1805 from John Burch and sold to Street two years later, and the nearby Bridgewater Mills. These were acquired from Durand in 1810, according to Clark, who secured the crown patent on the property in 1815 . Randal contested Clark and Street’s title to the property, but it was a futile effort, his claims quickly becoming enmeshed with a lengthy political assault upon the Niagara élite, including Street.
The location of the milling complexes, at the upper terminus of the Niagara portage road, was largely responsible for the success of Clark and Street in collecting wheat and flour from interior settlements. Flour processed at their mills was trans-shipped over the portage road to Queenston, and then shipped to Prescott for forwarding to Montreal and Quebec, where the Upper Canadian contribution to wheat and flour exports was rising sharply. In the absence of complete and consecutive account-books, it is difficult to estimate the long-term profitability of the firm’s milling operations and flour sales. In 1808, 2,079 barrels of various grades of flour were sold at Quebec for approximately £4,400 to John Mure* and others. Clark’s personal account-books for the period 1 January to 30 June 1810 record the firm’s profit from flour sales at Montreal and Quebec as £11,461 15s. 6d. Both milling complexes, which Sir George Prevost* described in 1814 as the “most useful and valuable in the country,” were burned by the Americans in July 1814. The firm’s good fortune in having Clark appointed one of the commissioners for the assessment and payment of war losses in the Niagara District enabled it to recover much of its losses. Payment of most of the compensation on the Bridgewater property was delayed until 1833, however, as a result of actions taken by Robert Randal. Though only the Falls Mills were rebuilt (eventually to be turned into a woollen mill), Clark and Street nevertheless retained a monopoly on milling at Niagara Falls, according to former Niagara merchant James Crooks* in November 1814.
The success of the partners’ mills provided them with a large source of capital which they utilized skilfully. With only a limited amount of capital available through loans from banking facilities, Street became one of the largest money-lenders and financiers in Upper Canada. The method by which money was lent, as well as the amount, varied from person to person. Borrowers ranged from William Haun, a Bertie Township farmer who asked for a loan of £25 in 1829 to purchase seed grain, to members of the important political, ecclesiastical, and commercial circles in Upper Canada. Attorneys general William Henry Draper* and Christopher Alexander Hagerman, legislative councillor Adam Fergusson*, London District treasurer John Harris, Joseph Bitterman Spragge of the Surveyor General’s Office, Bishop John Strachan*, William Hamilton Merritt*, James Crooks, and Captain Hugh Richardson* were among those who owed Clark and Street anywhere from £100 to £15,000. Even at an interest of six per cent – the maximum allowed by British law – it is not surprising to see how the firm became wealthy. Moreover, Street had little sympathy for tardy debtors, who were dealt with strictly. John Callahan, a Welland Canal worker who owed Street but £6, was jailed for failure to repay. However, discretion was warranted with individuals such as John Strachan, who still owed money to Street’s estate in 1862.
The profits made from milling and money-lending were further invested in stocks, debentures, transportation schemes, and land. By the 1820s Street’s wealth began to show itself outwardly. On 22 Aug. 1824 he put up a £5,000 bond as security for Receiver General John Henry Dunn*. Next to the provincial government, Street was the largest stockholder in the Bank of Upper Canada in 1830 and probably the largest shareholder in the Gore Bank; as well, he held shares in the Bank of Montreal and a substantial number in the Commercial Bank of the Midland District. He possessed at least £3,500 worth of five-year provincial debentures, and owned debentures issued by both the Gore and the Wellington districts. In the business of transportation, he held at least £8,000 worth of Welland Canal Company stock, in addition to stock in the Erie and Ontario Railroad Company, Guelph and Dundas road, Stoney Creek and Hamilton road, Cobourg Harbour Company, Port Hope Harbour and Wharf Company, and Grand River Navigation Company. In 1844 the share of Street’s estate which went to his son, Thomas Clark Street*, included stocks, bonds, debentures, and debts owed worth approximately £44,390. Street was a director in a number of the enterprises in which he held stock.
In building his portfolio, Street availed himself of the opportunities that were often drawn to his attention by people close to the source. Thus, in 1841, with the aid of William Hamilton Merritt, he was able to purchase a large number of shares in the Welland Canal Company that were to be redeemed for provincial debentures. The government’s offer was a lucrative one, since the back-interest owing on the stocks was also to be credited in debentures once tolls collected on the canal surpassed £30,000. With Street’s capital and Merritt’s acquaintance with the stockholders, the two embarked on a purchasing spree. The success of the scheme rested on Merritt’s buying stocks which could be got for less than their par value or on which a large amount of back-interest was owed. On paper, the debentures to be issued in exchange would represent a substantial gain over the initial outlay when the debentures were resold. The rate of interest to be given on the debentures was at first fixed at two per cent. However, when Merritt heard of impending legislation that would raise that amount to six per cent, he secretly advised Street to hold the debentures already purchased until the bill was passed, in 1843, and, in the mean time, to purchase all the stock he could. Street did not live to profit from this scheme, which is nevertheless a revealing example of how his fortune was amassed.
Few Upper Canadians could have matched the efforts of Thomas Clark and Samuel Street as land speculators. Street owned land, or had a mortgage on land, in virtually every district of the province. His methods of accumulating land again demonstrate his means of succeeding as a pioneer merchant. Farms were accumulated through default on mortgages, bonds, or promissory notes. Maintaining agents in areas such as the Grand River valley enabled him to purchase the best lots under the most favourable circumstances. Moreover, in land matters as in stocks and debentures Clark and Street utilized the efforts of informed people, among them John Harris, the London District treasurer. Clark and Street advanced Harris money for use by the London District for works such as the district jail and court-house in 1829. In return, Harris provided Clark and Street with favours regarding land they held or wanted to sell. Furthermore, he reported to them on tax-delinquent lands that would become available at sheriff’s sales throughout the district. Clark and Street often sent agents, among them William and Walter Dickson, to buy such lands for them. The Dicksons would meet with Harris and travel to the sales, crediting purchases against the money the district owed Clark and Street. At tax sales in 1831 the firm purchased some 3,436 acres in the London District. In December 1839 Clark and Street deposited some £450 to meet the balance of purchases at tax sales, demonstrating that they could buy more than they lent.
A large speculator in loyalist land rights, Street was able to obtain locations with the help of John Radenhurst and Joseph Bitterman Spragge, clerks in the Surveyor General’s Office. Both men were accused of suspicious practices involving the location and patenting of loyalist lands. Coincidentally Spragge was personally indebted to Street for £284, though there is no direct evidence of impropriety on Street’s part. No doubt both clerks gave their full cooperation in any land dealings in which Street required assistance.
In a manner similar to their vigorous collection of money owed by debtors, Clark and Street were relentless in disputes over land they had purchased or sold. Their rate of success in suits involving land was high. Aside from their strong legal and political connections – they often consulted men of such stature as Attorney General Henry John Boulton* – they also took the trouble to appear in court or, if necessary, to pay the expenses of witnesses prepared to testify on their behalf.
It is difficult to estimate the total amount of land owned by Street. In 1832 a group of investors who included Clark and Street, William Allan*, and William Forsyth purchased, along with 407 acres at Niagara Falls, the Pavilion Hotel, which was designed to become a model tourist resort known as “City of the Falls.” The project eventually failed but the property was probably a profitable investment. Street acquired in 1832 a large number of town lots at Dunnville, at the junction with the Grand River of the feeder ditch to the Welland Canal. Added to his ownership of part of the hinterland of the Grand River, his directorship in the Grand River Navigation Company, and his substantial holding of Welland Canal stock, the Dunnville purchases neatly completed a monopoly in the development of that area. In 1839 he made one of his larger purchases, 14,777 acres in Sarnia Township. Five years later the share of his estate that went to his son included 15,680 acres throughout southwestern and central Upper Canada.
As a prominent member of the Upper Canadian financial community, Street was often solicited to act as an agent for various business concerns. Clark and Street acted in 1826 on behalf of Forsyth, Richardson and Company of Montreal in transactions involving Niagara merchants and millers. In the fall of 1836 Street was empowered to act for Robert Gillespie* in financial and land matters, subject to an agent’s fee of 10 per cent at least in land dealings. Gillespie, a partner in a Montreal firm, was Thomas Clark’s brother-in-law and owned significant tracts of land in the Western District. In estate matters Street was called upon to act as the executor for important Niagara figures, to settle accounts, and to disperse lands. Estates, as was the case with those of John and William Crooks, brothers of James, were frequently complicated and took a number of years to sort out. Often, in instances of prior involvement with the deceased, including the Crooks brothers, Street’s participation in the settlement of their estates may well have been for reasons of self-interest.
Unlike his partner, Thomas Clark, who served as a legislative councillor, Street shied away from politics. He held local appointments not uncommon for a person of his stature – magistrate from 1796 and deputy-registrar – but seems to have stayed clear of direct political involvement. Street’s magisterial opposition to Robert Gourlay*, however, led Gourlay to name him, a Connecticut native, as “heir direct of the blue-laws” ascribed to New Haven’s Puritan government in the 17th century. As well, Gourlay assailed the “wretched dependence” of Clark and Street on government patronage, particularly under Francis Gore*. No doubt Street’s time was consumed with business, but even there, as in the case of the dispute over the Bridgewater Mills, Clark and Street were the focus of reform ire.
Street seemed conscious of his standing in the Niagara community. At one time or another he was a secretary of the Niagara Bible Society, to which he supplied free bibles, a member of the Niagara Turf Club, a life member of the Niagara District Agricultural Society (on account of a “liberal donation”), and a member of the Canada Emigration Association. He also took an active role in military affairs, becoming a captain in the 3rd Lincoln Militia in September 1812, lieutenant-colonel in April 1822, and colonel in 1839.
Yet, no matter how deeply one explores Street’s interests, it is difficult to escape the notion that his life focused on his business. His “incessant industry and attention to business” enabled him to become “the wealthiest individual in the Niagara District,” according to his obituary in the St. Catharines Journal. It also noted that he had been in the “habit of exacting the last penny of interest,” which does not seem as harsh a judgement of his character as that of a Thomas Lundy, who had accused Street in 1824 of selling flour to the Americans during their occupation of Fort George (Niagara-on-the-Lake) in 1813.
Street died at Port Robinson, on the Welland Canal, on 21 Aug. 1844. His fortune was left to his son, who managed to increase his share, and to his four surviving daughters, who married prominent personages, including Thomas Brock Fuller*, later the first Anglican bishop of Niagara, and Josiah Burr Plumb*, a future speaker of Canada’s Senate.
AO, MS 500; RG 22, ser.155. MTRL, Samuel Street papers. Niagara Hist. Soc. Museum (Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont.), H.VI. 1 (mfm. at AO). Niagara South Land Registry Office (Welland, Ont.), Abstract index to deeds, Stamford Township, lot 174 (mfm. at AO). PAC, MG 24, B18, 13: 2319–21; D18; E1, 7; I26, 52; RG 1, E3, 108; L1, 20: 211–12; 28: 15–17, 121–62; L3, 448a: S2/70; 449: S2/202; 473: S21/107; RG 5, A1: 8938–45, 9889–90, 18532–33, 21450–52, 29634, 29678–79, 29715, 35561–62, 35924–27, 36249–52, 123939–40, 139227–29; RG 68, General index, 1651–1841: 402, 425. UWOL, Regional Coll., John Harris papers. Doc. hist. of campaign upon Niagara frontier (Cruikshank), 1: 177. “Early records of St. Mark’s and St. Andrew’s churches, Niagara,” comp. Janet Carnochan, OH, 3 (1901): 37, 40. Select British docs. of War of 1812 (Wood), 3: 147. Statistical account of U.C. (Gourlay; ed. Mealing; 1974). British Colonist, 8 Jan. 1847. Canadian Emigrant, and Western District Commercial and General Advertiser (Sandwich [Windsor, Ont.]), 3 Nov. 1835. Colonial Advocate, 10 June 1830, 3 March 1831. Niagara Gleaner, 23 April, 31 Dec. 1825; 27 Aug. 1827; 26 June 1830; 2 July 1831. Niagara Spectator (Niagara [Niagara-on-the-Lake]), 11 Dec. 1817. St. Catharines Journal, 3 Dec. 1840, 23 Aug. 1844. Chadwick, Ontarian families, 2: 175–76. Death notices from “The Christian Guardian,” 1836–1850, comp. D. A. McKenzie (Lambertville, N.J., 1982). H. G. J. Aitken, The Welland Canal Company: a study in Canadian enterprise (Cambridge, Mass., 1954). R. C. Bond, Peninsula village: the story of Chippawa ([Chippawa, Ont., 1964]). E. A. Cruikshank, A memoir of Colonel the Honourable James Kerby, his life in letters (Welland, 1931), 13. William Kirby, Annals of Niagara, ed. Lorne Pierce (2nd ed., Toronto, 1927), 116. J. C. Morden, Historic Niagara Falls; corroborated by information gleaned from various sources, with portraits and illustrations (Niagara Falls, Ont., 1932). B. G. Wilson, Enterprises of Robert Hamilton. Ernest Green, “The Niagara Portage Road,” OH, 23 (1926): 260–311; “Some graves on Lundy’s Lane,” Niagara Hist. Soc., [Pub.], no.22 (1911): 57–60.