TOD, JAMES, merchant, politician, militia officer, and seigneur; b. c. 1742, probably in Scotland; d. 16 Oct. 1816 at Quebec, Lower Canada.
Details of James Tod’s early life and commercial background remain obscure. Although he was at Quebec as early as 1767, when he consigned a book for auction by Samuel Morin, he did not settle there until about 1774. Initially his business, the sale of imported goods, was small; in the fall of 1776, prior to leaving for Britain, he had a “choice” lot of books auctioned at Simpson’s Coffee House, where many mercantile transactions and gatherings took place. After his return to the city, in November 1777 he bought from Nicolas-Gaspard Boisseau for £750 a house and stores in Lower Town at a location “well situated for trade,” between Rue Saint-Pierre and the St Lawrence River. The following year Tod unsuccessfully petitioned the Legislative Council for the grant of an adjacent water-lot and for permission to build a wharf in order to stabilize the deteriorating rear wall of his riverside house. Possibly for domestic service, he bought a black slave, Tom, for £30 in 1779.
In 1782, discouraged perhaps by repeated failures to obtain the water-lot, or finding his location cramped, Tod tried to dispose of his property. Meanwhile, he had begun diversifying his business activities. As early as 1781 he had been active with Simon Fraser of Quebec (possibly Simon Fraser Sr) in exporting furs; two purchases of fur by Tod alone in 1785–86 exceeded £49,000. As well, by 1785 Tod, William Grant (1744–1805), Peter Stuart, and Mathew and Adam* Lymburner were among the principal Quebec merchants involved in, the Gulf of St Lawrence fisheries, then rife with American interlopers. Throughout the late 1780s Tod continued to import, and to sell at his sombre stone establishment, assorted commodities including West Indian and European spirits, sugar, coffee, tobacco, Irish butter, soap, and vinegar, some of which he sold wholesale to other merchants. Obliged on occasion to extend credit to customers, Tod, like most merchants of his time, suffered losses as a result of bankruptcies. His first serious loss occurred as early as 1777, but it was not until the late 1780s, during the depression brought on by the end of the American Revolutionary War, that his extension of credit appears to have become a problem for him. Particularly disquieting for him was a debt of £2,000 sterling which was owed in October 1785 by Alexander Campbell and Company of Quebec, and which it appeared he would have difficulty collecting. By November 1788 Tod was himself in debt to Peter Stuart for £636. Probably to meet with suppliers and creditors, he wintered four times in Britain between 1783 and 1789, and made several return trips in later years, a situation that enabled him to represent in Britain the interest of other Quebec merchants. In 1786, for example, he was trustee in the payment of John Jones’s debts in London. Bankruptcies were numerous in Quebec at this time, and Tod acted as a trustee, a role often filled by a creditor, on more than one occasion.
As a member of the closely knit commercial community along Rue Saint-Pierre, where his neighbours included Jones, Robert Lester, John Blackwood, and John Young, Tod followed, but did not become publicly engaged in, the political debates that engaged such vociferous merchants as George Allsopp and William Grant. In the winter of 1785–86 Tod met privately in London with Grant and William Smith* to discuss trade regulations and the mercantile lobby for securing the appointment of Sir Guy Carleton as governor of Quebec. In the election of 1792 Tod supported Lester’s candidacy in Lower Town, and he was himself elected for the lower St Lawrence constituency of Devon, along with the merchant François Dambourgès. During his four years in the province’s first assembly, Tod voted against the British minority led by Young and John Richardson* only once, in December 1792, to support the maintenance of a register for the translation into French of matters introduced in English. He also participated modestly in the sort of social institutions of which the British merchants were often founders. He subscribed to the Agriculture Society, founded in 1789, and was a director of the Quebec Fire Society in 1790 and 1793 and its treasurer in 1792. A lieutenant in the Quebec Battalion of British Militia by 1790, he rose to the rank of captain in 1804.
Although the financial situation of many Quebec merchants in the late 1780s was bleak, Tod appears to have experienced modest success in spite of his difficulties. Assisted by his recently arrived clerk, John Mure*, he was even able to expand his land holdings, particularly in the city. In 1788 he proceeded with the construction of the long-proposed wharf, although he still had not received the grant of the water-lot. Two years later he petitioned for an adjacent water-lot on which he intended to erect a larger wharf “with a Bason in the centre of it for the convenience of loading and unloading” vessels. Both grants were finally made in 1792. Over the next five years he acquired additional property in Quebec and its suburbs, including a Lower Town warehouse owned by Robert Grant, a prominent London merchant.
Outside the city, in 1792 Tod was one of Hugh Finlay’s associates in a petition for 1,200 acres each on the Rivière Saint-François. The same year he purchased for £18 from Simon Fraser Sr the Gaspé seigneury of Rivière-de-la-Madeleine, a prime fishing location; Tod leased the salmon-fishing rights there in 1795 to Joseph Freeman* of Liverpool, N.S. In March 1796, with Mure, Jacob Danford, and Thomas Wilson, Tod acquired the fief of Grosse-Île, in the lower St Lawrence, from the estate of Edward Harrison*. That November the same partners purchased for £50 the nearby fief of Grandville, comprising Île au Canot and Île Patience, which were valued for their hay, timber, and proximity to fishing grounds. In 1799 Tod took the oaths of fealty and homage for Grosse-Île and Grandville, then considered seigneuries. From about the late 1780s, Tod also managed the seigneury of Saint-Gilles in the district of Quebec for Arthur Davidson, a Montreal lawyer.
In 1794, probably during a visit to England, Tod secured the agency to victual the British navy at Quebec, a prized supplement to his normal round of importing, wholesaling, and retailing. Among the goods that he sold were salt, molasses, bricks, “bale goods,” and spirits, including “Old London Particular.” He was also involved in the grain trade; in July 1796, after bad harvests the year before had resulted in an embargo on agricultural exports, Tod and several other merchants sought permission to supply flour and biscuit to Newfoundland. He owned at least one schooner, the Charlotte, and, like most Lower Town merchants, served as agent for numerous vessels during the short and hectic navigation season at Quebec. The large number of occupants of his house during those months probably included several clerks and servants. By 1799 he had begun constructing a new wharf, possibly the one projected in 1790.
As Tod’s business expanded in the 1790s, the list of retail merchants indebted to him grew. Particularly problematic for Tod was the incidence of bankruptcy among those merchants; in 1794 for example, Barthélemy Faribault’s son, Barthélemy, failed owing him £868. Between 1795 and 1797 Tod was obliged to borrow £1,150 from the surgeon James Fisher*. His extension of credit, with the corresponding risk of failure, continued in the 1800s. In January 1803 the Quebec shopkeeper Pierre Dumas, who owed Tod £505, failed, and the death in insolvency of another merchant the following year left Tod able to recover only £67 from a debt of nearly £250. By December 1807, 192 debtors from Niagara (Niagara-on-the-Lake), Upper Canada, to Percé in the Gaspé (with the greatest concentration between Chambly and Kamouraska in Lower Canada) owed Tod nearly £24,000; almost one-half of this sum was considered unrecoverable or virtually so. Even among the debts considered good was one of £6,351 owed by Pierre Bruneau, who in February had acknowledged his incapacity to pay in full and to whom Tod had not only granted an extension but had promised a discount of more than £1,800 if he paid the rest on time.
By the early 1800s Tod himself was in serious difficulty. He owed £1,654 to Kenelm Chandler in 1803. He borrowed nearly £500 the following year, and soon entered a period of spiralling personal indebtedness. His obligations at Quebec were minor compared to his debts in Britain, where he owed more than £28,000. In May 1807, at the suit of Gray, Freeman and Company, a London firm of linen-drapers and Tod’s leading creditor, much of his property was seized for sale in partial payment of his British obligations. By November, however, this debt had been reduced only minimally, and it was necessary to assign to it the large sum owed Tod in Canada. The following month Tod failed, a fate, in the knowledgeable opinion of the traveller Hugh Gray, experienced by more than 95 per cent of the British merchants at Quebec since about 1767. He still owed in excess of £28,000, almost all to British suppliers, who included Gray, Freeman and Company and John Gillespie in London, John Lean and Company of Bristol, as well as Meeke, Lowndes and Company, Jones and Smedley, and William Harper at Liverpool. Although the reasons for Tod’s collapse are not known, an economic crisis in Great Britain between 1802 and 1805 may have forced his creditors to sue him. The settlement, which was entrusted to Mure, dragged on until at least 1817, a beleaguering circumstance for Tod.
After his bankruptcy Tod continued in business, much reduced, as a naval supply agent. He was compelled, however, to find new living quarters. In May 1808 he moved from Rue Saint-Pierre to the second floor of a house on Rue de la Montagne. Two years later he was renting the entire house for £100 per annum, but in 1813, after a short residence on Rue Sainte-Famille, he moved into a flat on the corner of Saint-Georges (Hébert) and Laval, where he paid only £50 per annum. He died there on 16 Oct. 1816; aged about 74 years, and was buried three days later from St Andrew’s (Presbyterian) Church. It is not known whether Tod ever married, but in 1801 he had transferred to a daughter of full legal age, Charlotte, the 1,200 acres he had bought in Tewkesbury Township. In 1808 he bequeathed to her his furniture and what little remained of his former fortune.
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Cite This Article
David Roberts, “TOD, JAMES,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 5, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed April 24, 2014, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/tod_james_5E.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/tod_james_5E.html
|Author of Article:||David Roberts|
|Title of Article:||TOD, JAMES|
|Publication Name:||Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 5|
|Publisher:||University of Toronto/Université Laval|
|Year of publication:||1983|
|Year of revision:||1983|
|Access Date:||April 24, 2014|