WOOD, ROBERT, timber culler, timber merchant, and shipowner; b. 10 Aug. 1792 at Quebec; m. there 4 Oct. 1817 Charlotte Gray, the daughter of a military clerk, and they had 11 children; d. 13 April 1847 in Savannah, Ga, and was buried at Quebec.
Although Robert Wood’s origins have been obscured and romanticized by succeeding generations, there seems to be little doubt that he was the son of Robert Wood, a servant who accompanied Prince Edward* Augustus to Quebec in August 1791. On 28 December of that year, at Quebec, Wood Sr married Marie Dupuis, dit Caton. The following year he was appointed doorkeeper of the Executive Council. At his death in November 1806 he was also a merchant. Later that month his widow appeared before the Court of King’s Bench to request guardianship of the seven children born of their marriage, including the eldest, Robert.
In April 1812 Robert Wood was commissioned culler of timber, a position which indicated that he was already involved in the burgeoning timber industry in the port of Quebec. Three years later he was appointed master culler and measurer of masts and timber. Although Wood continued to hold the post of culler until 1837, he slowly began to expand his own operations. He took his brother George into partnership on 1 May 1818. The firm of Robert and George Wood, timber dealers and carpenters, supplied wood to such Quebec shipbuilders as John Munn*. Five years later, on 31 May 1823, having taken in William Petry as partner, the firm changed its name to Robert Wood and Company. Wood’s timber cove was located at Anse Saint-Michel in Sillery.
The colonial timber trade of the early 19th century was characterized by cyclical fluctuations. Sharp rises in timber prices in 1824 and 1825 were accompanied by an increased demand for colonial shipping. In 1825 the Charlotte and Maria was built for Wood by Patrick Flemming and in 1826 two barques, the 403-ton Georgiana and the 391-ton Corinthian, were constructed for Wood’s firm. By 1826, however, prices for timber and timber products had begun to drop sharply. In May Robert Wood and Company assigned the barques to Gillespie, Finlay and Company, which agreed to advance £1,500 for their completion and to sell them in England; after having recovered its loan and costs, it would pay a debt of £8,121 owed by Wood’s firm to the Bank of Montreal and forward the balance, if any, to Wood. That autumn Wood’s company went bankrupt, owing its creditors £17,579. The two barques, sold in 1827 and 1828, probably went at a substantial loss on the glutted market. Wood seems nevertheless to have made a rapid recovery. Despite only gradual improvement in the timber market after 1827, he had begun to build an imposing three-storey house at Anse Saint-Michel by the end of 1829.
Some time in or before 1847 Wood sailed to the West Indies in an attempt to restore his health; he died in Georgia on the return voyage to Quebec. He left an estate valued at approximately £54,152, as well as a three-storey house on Rue Sainte-Ursule and three lots in Acton Township. Among his belongings was a well-stocked library of historical, biographical, and poetical works.
It is not, however, for his role as a prosperous timber merchant that Robert Wood is remembered. He is better known as one of the children said to have been born to Prince Edward Augustus and Thérèse-Bernardine Montgenet*, known as Mme de Saint-Laurent. Family tradition states that he was given to the prince’s former servant, to be raised as his son. That there is no record of Wood’s birth or baptism in parish registers (the exact date is found in his mother’s request for guardianship and on a memorial window placed in the Cathedral of the Holy Trinity, Quebec, by his children) was long considered an indication of royal descent and the absence piqued the curiosity of numerous historians. The information surrounding the family tradition of Wood’s origins has been proved inaccurate and recent scholarship has established that no children were born of the 27-year relationship between the prince and his companion. When, how, and why Wood’s parentage came to be the subject of such speculation remains a mystery.
ANQ-Q, CC1, 24 nov. 1806; CE1-61, 29 déc. 1791, 4 oct. 1817, 21 mai 1847; CN1-116, 22 févr. 1827, 29 déc. 1829, 7 oct. 1847; P-239; P1000-105-2105. PAC, RG 68, General index, 1651–1841. Quebec Gazette, 7 May 1818, 2 June 1823, 23 April 1847. Quebec almanac, 1794, 1830–38. Mollie Gillen, The prince and his lady: the love story of the Duke of Kent and Madame de St Laurent (London, 1970; repr. Halifax, 1985). A. R. M. Lower, Great Britain’s woodyard; British America and the timber trade, 1763–1867 (Montreal and London, 1973). Paul Terrien, Québec à l’âge de la voile (Québec, 1984).