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WARREN, JOHN, soldier, merchant, office holder, and militia officer; m. Mary –, and they had at least three sons and one daughter; d. May 1813 at Fort Erie, Upper Canada.

Little is known about John Warren’s early life. On 13 Oct. 1778 Robert Mathews, adjutant of the 8th Foot, recommended Warren, then a drum major in the regiment, for the post of commissary at Fort Erie. Mathews noted Warren’s “extraordinary good behaviour during a service of near 23 years, his having numerous family to support, and his possessing a Character and abilities that will do credit to any recommendation in his favour.” Warren himself corroborated this statement about his military career. In a letter of 1797 to the surveyor general of Upper Canada, David William Smith*, Warren stated that his father had served the government for 18 years, and he himself had “served ever since the year Fifty five.”

The first evidence of Warren’s activity after his appointment as commissary is a letter dated 9 Dec. 1779 to Francis Goring, a clerk at Fort Niagara (near Youngstown, N.Y.), complaining of the difficulties he had encountered: the severe winter and the shortage of winter clothing and ammunition. By March 1780 conditions had improved and he was able to joke to Goring that “tho you should proceed from your garrett even to the top of the big house, we Fort Erie folks are much higher than any of you Niagara people.” The commissary was responsible for garrison supply, military contracts, and the trans-shipment of goods at the western end of the Niagara portage. He had to be aware of impending shortages of staples and kept a close watch on trade fluctuations, informing his military superiors when shortages in flour and wheat seemed imminent. His principal contacts were with two of the major army suppliers, Robert Hamilton at Queenston and John Askin at Detroit (Mich.). Warren’s position at an important military and commercial crossroads assured him a measure of success when he took advantage of his post and moved into private trade. In 1796 he received permission to occupy a lot on the military reserve and constructed a frame dwelling.

By the late 1780s Warren had become a figure of some local prominence in public affairs. On 27 Dec. 1787 he was on the list of men recommended by Sir John Johnson* for “civil trusts” in the proposed new administrative districts, which were established the following July by Lord Dorchester [Guy Carleton]. He was appointed a justice of the peace for the Nassau District on 24 July 1788 and reappointed in 1800 and 1806, receiving his last commission on 8 Oct. 1807. In the spring of 1790 he was named a road commissioner of the district. His most important appointment was to the district land board. On l May 1791 he and Robert Kerr* joined the original appointees: John Butler*, Hamilton, Benjamin Pawling, and Nathaniel Pettit. He was reappointed to the board’s successor, the land board of Lincoln County, on 20 Oct. 1792; of 14 meetings after his original appointment he attended 3. The board was abolished by order in council in November 1794.

On 19 Oct. 1797 Warren was named to the first Heir and Devisee Commission for the Home District with such men as Pawling, Pettit, and Hamilton and was reappointed on 21 July 1800 for Lincoln County. The evidence for his attendance is fragmentary but it is known that he attended only one of the seven sessions between 1 Oct. 1800 and 15 Sept. 1803. The legislation establishing the commission, the work of Chief Justice John Elmsley, was intended to secure titles to land based on certificates acquired “by inheritance, by legitimate purchase, or by exchange.” A problem had arisen with the wording of the certificates, which made no provision for conveyances to anyone other than the heirs or devisees of the original holder. The settlement of title was of crucial importance to major merchants such as Hamilton and Richard Cartwright who had acquired certificates through the settlement of outstanding debts. Warren’s sympathies lay with the merchants; writing to Surveyor General Smith about a meeting of the commission on 1 March 1798, Elmsley mentioned a firm refusal he had had to give to a request by Hamilton that certain warrants of council he had received be admitted for consideration: “Warren of Fort Erie argued in his [Hamilton’s] favour: & so did Dr. [Robert] Kerr, but I was inexorable; The Country Gentlemen such as Pawling, Tenbrook [Peter Ten Broeck] & [John] MacNabb said nothing, but I construed their silence into approbation of what I did.”

Warren seems, however, to have had little inclination for landholding on the grand scale of local speculators such as Hamilton, William Dickson*, Robert Addison*, or Samuel Street. He had successfully petitioned for l,540 acres of land and by 1796 had patented all but 100 acres, these holdings being located in Bertie Township. On 17 June 1800, Warren and his wife sold 500 acres for $632.90 and on 4 Dec. 1805 he sold another 500 acres. His only purchase was a complementary lot of 226 acres on 23 Aug. 1804.

In 1801 the Upper Canadian legislature had passed an act which regulated trade with the United States, providing for customs duties and designating 11 ports of entry. Fort Erie was one of them and on 6 August Warren was appointed collector of customs there, a position he held until his death. The same year Ebenezer Washburn* and Richard Beasley* had introduced a bill authorizing the appointment of inspectors of flour, pot and pearl ashes. Warren had been made an inspector on 1 August and served until 7 April 1809 when he tendered his resignation to William Halton, Lieutenant Governor Francis Gore*’s private secretary, because “advanced Age renders me incompetent to the Duty.”

Throughout his life Warren had a community of interest with the Niagara merchants. The election of 1800 provides a demonstration. The year before, Hamilton and his associates, Thomas Clark* and George Forsyth, had attempted to secure from the assembly improvements by road and canal to the Niagara portage, anticipated costs to be covered by increased tolls, and subsequently David McGregor Rogers* introduced a bill to this effect. The bill was put over till the next session. In the mean time the election was called and it provided a focus for the opposition in the Niagara region to the merchant interest. In Lincoln the merchants’ candidates, Samuel Street and William Dickson, were opposed by Ralfe Clench* and Isaac Swayze*. A number of merchants, including Warren, Hamilton, and James Crooks*, attempted to get the powerful Surveyor General Smith elected in the riding of Norfolk, Oxford and Middlesex; Warren, indeed, conveyed letters from them to the politically active Norfolk merchant Thomas Welch, personally urging “that you will exert your interest in his favour.” Smith prevailed but the merchant candidates in Lincoln were defeated. A massive campaign by petition against the portage bill as “monopolous and oppressive” ensured that it was not revived.

The clash between interests had not abated when in 1806 Warren became involved in justice Robert Thorpe*’s opposition to the administration of Lieutenant Governor Francis Gore. On 3 October Thorpe presided over a civil case at the Niagara assizes brought against Magistrate Warren by a Mr Hawn. Hawn had been jailed by Warren for plundering part of the cargo of a ship wrecked on Lake Ontario, and had been subsequently released by justice William Dummer Powell* because of the “Irregularity” of the commitment. In the trial at the assizes, Hawn called as witnesses Clench and Swayze, the old antagonists of the merchants, and his counsel, William Weekes, was allowed by Thorpe to berate Warren as “a man of turpitude without and turbulence within the Court.” Warren’s conduct was held up by Weekes as an example of the necessity “to curb the power of these petty Tyrants [the magistrates].” Hawn was awarded £100 damages by the jury.

This treatment of Warren led an outraged magistracy including Hamilton, Street, Thomas Dickson*, and William Claus* to petition Gore, requesting that “in future [the magistrates] be protected from such unwarranted abuse.” In a separate letter to Halton, Hamilton described Warren’s situation as “one of the hardest that has ever occurred among us.” Hamilton feared “that if the Bonds of respect from the People to the Magistrates are once broken there is an end to all order and to all well doing.” The execution of the judgement in the Hawn case was pending for some years. It was the subject of charges of misconduct by John Mills Jackson* in 1808 and was raised by Gore himself in 1810 on behalf of Warren when he wrote to the secretary of state for War and the Colonies, Lord Liverpool, asking for authorization “to pay the Damages and Expenses incurred by Mr. Warren.” It is not known whether any action was taken upon Gore’s request.

For many years Warren had served as lieutenant-colonel of the 3rd Lincoln Militia. The War of 1812 increased his duties as commissary and militia officer. The strain proved too much; on 7 April 1813 he offered his resignation to Adjutant General Æneas Shaw because of the “rapid decline of my health from the two months last past.” He died “two or three days before the actions at Fort George [(Niagara-on-the-Lake), 27 May 1813].” His sons Henry and John succeeded to most of his official positions.

In collaboration with Bruce A. Parker

AO, ms 75, John Warren to Peter Russell, 12 Oct. 1801; ms 537, T. Ridout to S. S. Ridout, 24 Jan. 1799; RG 1, A-I-I, 1: 99; A-I-6: 1054–55; A-II-5, 1: Niagara District reports, 1800–3; C-I-9, 1; C-IV, Bertie Township, concession 1, lot 4; concession 2, lot 4; concession 3, lot 5; concession 4, lots 9–13; concession 11, lots 10–12; RG 4, A-I, 1; RG 22, ser.134, 2: 92–93; ser.6–2, Lincoln County, will of John Warren. BL, Add. mss 21851: 14–17 (copies at PAC). Donly Museum, Norfolk Hist. Soc. coll., Thomas Welch papers, 1044–45, 1476–77, 1525–26, 1624–26, 1744–45 (mfm. at PAC). MTL, U.C., Court of Common Pleas, Nassau District, minutes. Niagara South Land Registry Office (Welland, Ont.), Abstract index to deeds, Bettie Township, 28, 63, 98, 133, 143, 153, 164, 274–78, 291–95 (mfm. at AO, GS 2794). PAC, RG 1, 13, 523: W3/73; 524: W6/23 (mfm. at AO); RG 5, Al: 3995–96, 3862–63, 3966–67, 4859–60; RG9, 1, B1, 1: 294–95, 297; RG 16, A1, 84; RG 19, 3751, claim 1139; RG 68, General index, 1651–1841: ff. 182, 249–50, 289–90, 292, 326, 408, 410, 416, 418, 525. PRO, CO 42/350: ff. 12, 76-9, 175. UWO, Thomas Walsh papers, John Warren to Thomas Welch, 21 July 1800. Corr. of Hon. Peter Russell (Cruikshank and Hunter), 2: 109. Corr. of LieutGovernor Simcoe (Cruikshank), 4: 140–41. “District of Nassau: minutes and correspondence of the land board,” AO Report, 1905: 295–306. [J. M. Jackson], A view of the political situation of the province of Upper Canada, in North America . . . (London, 1809), 11–12. John Askin papers (Quaife), 1: 583–84, 587; 2: 42, 289–90, 360, 756. “Journals of Legislative Assembly of U.C.,” AO Report, 1909: 104, 106–7, 110–11, 114, 135–36, 139. Loyal and Patriotic Soc. of U.C., Report, with an appendix, and a list of subscribers and benefactors (Montreal, 1817), 382. “Notes on land tenure in Canada to A.D. 1800,” AO Report, 1905: xcii, cviii. “Records of Niagara . . . ,” ed. E. A. Cruikshank, Niagara Hist. Soc., [Pub.], 39 (n.d.): 119; 40 (n.d.): 62; 41 (1930): 113; 42 (1931):50; 44 (1939):30. U.C., House of Assembly, [A bill intituled an act to amend and improve the communication by land and water between the lakes of Ontario and Erie] (Niagara [Niagara-on-the-Lake], 1799). Janet Carnochan, “United Empire loyalists,” Niagara Hist. Soc., [Pub.], 37 (1925): 13. E. A. Cruikshank, “The old fort at Fort Erie,” Welland County Hist. Soc., Papers and Records (Welland), 5 (1938): 96–97. “The settlement of the township of Fort Erie, now known as the township of Bertie: an attempt at a Domesday Book,” comp. E. A. Cruikshank, Welland County Hist. Soc., Papers and Records, 5 (1938): 30–32, 35,80–81.

General Bibliography

Cite This Article

In collaboration with Bruce A. Parker, “WARREN, JOHN,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 5, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed September 22, 2014, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/warren_john_5E.html.

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Permalink: http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/warren_john_5E.html
Author of Article: In collaboration with Bruce A. Parker
Title of Article: WARREN, JOHN
Publication Name: Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 5
Publisher: University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication: 1983
Year of revision: 1983
Access Date: September 22, 2014