YOUNG, JOHN, merchant, entrepreneur, seigneur, politician, militia officer, office holder, landowner, and judge; b. c. 1759, possibly in Scotland; d. 14 Sept. 1819 at Quebec, Lower Canada.
John Young was an energetic champion of Lower Canada’s commercial interests. This great merchant and entrepreneur exemplified the strengths and weaknesses of the English-speaking mercantile group. What he did in aid of commerce, his city, and public finance went beyond self-interest. In politics, however, he became a self-righteous and self-serving conservative. His egotism brought about his own financial ruin and disturbed the province.
John Young first appeared at Quebec in about May 1783, having been a merchant in London. He had been engaged by the London firms of Anderson and Parr and Alexander Anderson and Davidson, as well as by the Liverpool firm of John Owen Parr and Company, to collect debts owed by Thompson and Shaw of Quebec, and probably other colonial companies there and in Halifax. In that year he formed the partnership of Fraser and Young with Simon Fraser Sr of Quebec. In 1787 Fraser retired and Young formed a new partnership of the same name with Simon Fraser Jr. The partners engaged in the wholesale and retail trade, supplying traders at Quebec, in communities down river from L’Islet to Rivière-du-Loup, and in Trois-Rivières. By 1789 their firm had acquired three or more small schooners to carry its merchandise, beer appearing to be the principal commodity. Ships were also accepted as surety or as payment from debtors. The company became a creditor to many persons for personal loans and unpaid merchandise. For example, in 1788 Alexander Fraser, a wood merchant at Chambly, owed Fraser and Young more than £4,500 and a Quebec shipowner, Jean-Baptiste Bouchette, acknowledged his debt of £1,359. The partners were also active in land transactions in the Quebec region and beyond. In September 1790 they sold 600 acres of cultivated land in Vermont for £4,000.
Young failed to recover Anderson and Parr’s claims against Thompson and Shaw in 1783–84 because of the legal manoeuvres of a rival creditor. This bitter experience with French civil law may have spurred Young to become a spokesman for the city’s English-speaking merchants who wished to change the colony’s laws and constitution [see George Allsopp; William Grant (1744–1805)]. He was a member of the mercantile group that met at the British Coffee House, where such matters were undoubtedly discussed. In 1786 the merchants elected him to a committee that pressed the Legislative Council to adopt English commercial law and weights and measures. The following year he and Robert Lester led the merchants’ public opposition to a bill introduced by Paul-Roch Saint-Ours to strengthen the position of French civil law. Young’s ascendancy was also evident from his presence on a grand jury that in May 1789 deplored the state of Quebec’s streets, the condition of the city’s poor, and the lack of rehabilitation for inmates of the prison. In the same year he was a founding member of the Agriculture Society, whose object was the improvement of farming.
Young’s emergence as a social and political leader among the merchants was confirmed in June 1792 during Lower Canada’s first elections, when he and Lester were chosen as the representatives of Lower Town in the House of Assembly. Canadian supporters of Jean-Antoine Panet, an unsuccessful candidate, charged Young with preventing others from standing for election by claiming they were aliens and with opening taverns, “where Hams were sliced and strong liquors given to Tradesmen and Labourers, who were also influenced by sundry other unwarrantable Acts of His Servants or Hirelings”; the latter, they said, had promised electors well-paid jobs and had distributed oranges, ribbons, and cockades. Young’s personal papers confirm this charge, with the correction that he had actually plied the voters with madeira, Burton ale, and turkey meat. Understandably, he did not contest the accusation; rather, he threatened the complainants with his own petition against the actions of Michel-Amable Berthelot Dartigny in Charlesbourg.
In the assembly Young became a leader of the English party and, with Pierre-Amable De Bonne, acted as its election manager before 1800. In December 1793 Governor Lord Dorchester [Guy Carleton] recommended that Young be made an honorary, unpaid member of the Executive Council, and this appointment was made by the crown in June 1794. It is ironic that in the mean time Young, who would become a defender of the executive branch of government against encroachments by the assembly, provided the lower house with its first opportunity for self-enhancement. In November 1793 he had been arrested for debt at the suit of an ironmonger. The warrant had been signed by Panet as notary; although defeated in Quebec’s Lower Town constituency in 1792, he had been elected for Upper Town and, despite Young’s opposition, chosen as speaker of the assembly. With Young’s encouragement, the assembly successfully claimed that its members enjoyed the British parliamentary privilege of immunity from civil arrest. Moreover, Panet was censured for having signed the writ and obliged to apologize to the assembloung won a personal victory, and in future the Canadian party would invoke the precedents of the House of Commons as a means of extending the colonial legislature’s powers. When Young was re-elected for Lower Town in 1796, De Bonne nominated him for speaker. Panet, however, retained that position.
Young was politically active outside the assembly. When the French revolution turned to regicide and mass executions in the winter of 1792–93, he joined others in Lower Canada in subscribing to loyal declarations to defend the existing constitution and the British empire from revolution. He had become an ensign in the Quebec Battalion of British Militia in about 1790, and he was promoted lieutenant in 1794. He supported the institution of compulsory and universal service in a standing Militia. The resistance of the country-folk to this service was interpreted by the British of the colony as a prelude to revolution. David McLane*, an agent of the French Directory, approached John Black, a Quebec shipwright known to Young, to enlist Black’s aid in a scheme to seize the city. The shipbuilder denounced McLane to Young in May 1797. McLane was arrested, brought before a commission of oyer and terminer of which Young was a member, and then tried for treason by 12 jurymen. The convicted agent was then publicly hanged and disembowelled outside the city walls as an objectlesson to those who might sympathize with revolution.
Young had testified to Black’s loyalty and services as a government agent provocateur. Black was later captured at sea by the French, and for this misfortune, his material losses, and his role in the McLane affair he was given five-sevenths of Dorset Township in 1799. He promptly mortgaged the more than 50,000 acres to Young, who was his creditor for £3,144. Ownership passed to Young, and he employed a Canadian to buy out other landowners in the township. In July 1807 Young sold the entire parcel to Simon McTavish of Montreal for £4,000.
Throughout the anti-revolutionary panic and the Anglo-French war, Young provided leadership in the affairs of the city. In 1792 he was elected a director of the Quebec Fire Society, and the following year he was its president. In 1793 he was among the first and most generous subscribers to a fund to aid victims of a fire on Rue du Sault-au-Matelot. He was also one of 13 prominent citizens who in 1799 began a voluntary subscription to help finance Britain’s war effort. In the same year he was president of a mutual aid association, the Quebec Benevolent Society. Given the public spirit he showed in civic affairs, Young could be credited with compassion in his treatment of the black slave Rubin, whom he had bought in 1795. Two years later the young black was promised a monthly salary and emancipation in 1804, to encourage his fidelity, “honesty and assiduity.”
John Young’s business fortunes reached their zenith in the 1790s. By 1792 Fraser and Young had long-term leases on prime locations in Lower Town: St Andrew’s Wharf off Rue Saint-Pierre and a building on that street. In October 1791 the partners had joined Thomas Grant, a distiller, to form Thomas Grant and Company and to buy the St Roc Brewery on Rue Saint-Charles; they paid £3,850 for it. Despite the firm’s name, Fraser and Young held a two-thirds interest. In May 1792 the associates acquired a large lot in the seigneury of Beauport from a censitaire, and the following month they purchased a majority interest in another property, buildings included, from the seigneur of Beauport, Antoine Juchereau Duchesnay. In addition to the total purchase price of £2,250, the firm invested a large sum in the construction of a new brewery and distillery on the seigneury. Grant attended to the brewing and distilling, Young to the business in Quebec, and Fraser to the company’s affairs in London.
Young quickly outgrew his partners; for example, of the ships arriving at Quebec in 1793, two were consigned to Fraser and Young and 12 were exclusively in the service of Young as carriers of coal, salt, and West Indian products. That July Thomas Grant and Company was replaced by Young and Company, in which Grant had only one share to his associates’ seven; in 1794 he sold out to Young. Meanwhile Young and Fraser Jr had acquired a new partner in Thomas Ainslie, collector of customs at Quebec. He was sold two shares in the brewing and distilling company for £6,000, to be invested in the business.
Ainslie was to be more than a powerful ally; he became Young’s father-in-law. On 2 June 1795 Young married 19-year-old Christian (Christianna) Ainslie at Quebec. Their marriage contract stipulated “that no ‘Communauté des Biens’ shall at any time . . . exist or be . . . notwithstanding the Coutume de Paris and all and every other Law, Usage and Custom of the said Province of Lower Canada.” In this stipulation there may have been some dislike of French civil law, but it was also a prudent safeguard for Christian, who had a sharp business sense and a dowry of £2,000 from her father. The pride of the Ainslies was evident in her signature, “Christian Ainslie Young,” and in the fact that all her children received Ainslie as a second name. From 1796 to 1800 four children were born to the couple: Catherine, Thomas*, Elizabeth, and Gilbert. The boys’ names were drawn from Christian’s family. Such a distinguished wife deserved better than Young’s old quarters next door to Fraser on Rue Saint-Pierre. In May 1796 Young bought a two-storey stone house on Rue Sainte-Anne, in the shadow of the governor’s palace and far from the lubricious haunts of sailors.
The same month Christian’s brother Gilbert replaced their father in Young and Companoung bought out Fraser for ten shillings and resold Fraser’s portion to Gilbert and the distiller David Harrower for £4,000. Harrower sold his one-seventh interest back to the company in 1800. On behalf of the firm and his own interests, Young petitioned the government for more dock space, a reduction in the duties on the molasses he imported from Martinique, and permission to export oats. His wheat exports helped to pay for the wines and liquors he obtained through Alexander Young of London.
The St Roc Brewery and the Beauport distillery and brewery were, as the Earl of Selkirk [Douglas] testified, large even by European standards. The building stone had come from the company’s own quarry at Pointe-Lévy (Lauzon and Lévis). For these enterprises Young made bulk purchases of barley and wheat. The barley was secured by long-term contracts with farmers and merchants in Lower Canada. Brewers and maltsters were recruited from Britain, and over time hundreds of local labourers were hired. Until 1801 the St Roc Brewery was operated by a brewer-associate, James Mason Godard (Goddard). The company’s fleet of schooners grew in order to carry grain and to deliver beer, malt liquor, and Burton ale throughout the colony. In 1798 Young also participated in a speculative venture with Black and Henry Caldwell to refit and sell a ship in Europe.
Young had always speculated in land. Since 1787 he had held the seigneury of Vitré, and he trafficked in real estate in Upper and Lower Canada. In addition to the returns from Dorset Township and sundry town and farm lots that he sold, Young realized £3,750 in 1801 by selling two-thirds of St Andrew’s Wharf to the merchant James McCallum*. While on the Executive Council’s land committee, Young sought crown grants for himself and his friends. These activities brought him into conflict with Governor Prescott, who was trying to curb land speculation. The influence of Young and some fellow councillors was sufficient to obtain Prescott’s removal in 1799. Young received crown grants in 1801, 1812, and 1817; a concession made in 1802, however, was nullified to avert a scandal. The 1812 grant was delayed for two years to allow London to signify its consent or disapproval. Young’s influence on the land board was acknowledged in April 1804 when Surveyor General Joseph Bouchette* wrote to a copetitioner, “I spoke to Mister Young, who I believe will do much in our business.”
At the turn of the century the gap between Young’s debts and credits widened alarmingly. Between 1791 and 1801 he was owed at least £5,000. On 15 occasions in the period 1793–1802, he had sheriffs seize the property of delinquent debtors. Young’s own debts were on a characteristically grand scale: in 1798 he owed nearly £5,000 sterling to two London firms, and a year later he acknowledged a debt of £1,000 sterling to a Liverpool merchant. Two creditors at Quebec were owed a total of £1,000. To these personal obligations were added the debts of Young and Company, known by 1802 as Young and Ainslie. In the counting-house at the St Roc Breweroung and Gilbert Ainslie watched their liabilities mount: in 1801 alone they contracted debts of £1,368 to Peter Stuart of Quebec and £4,383 sterling to Samuel Baker of King’s Lynn, in England. The partners responded to their crisis with expansion rather than retrenchment. In 1803, while acknowledging a debt of £6,000 to two grain suppliers, Young and Ainslie ordered another 30,000 bushels of barley on credit. In the same month they bought land behind their brewery along the Rivière Saint-Charles for 4,800 livres. The company borrowed some £2,200 in addition to making purchases on credit in 1803–4. Even Young’s father-in-law felt obliged to sue it for £668. Gilbert Ainslie had also had enough, and on 1 Sept. 1804 he sold his one-third interest to Young for ten shillings.
Young alone faced the financial consequences of the firm’s reckless over-expansion, and he showed considerable ingenuity. A barley supplier who sued him was paid with 100 hogsheads of beer. An obligation to one man’s estate was reduced by transferring an account receivable to the widow. In 1805 Young resorted to land sales to satisfy his creditors. The following year, however, he withdrew from the struggle: the company’s Beauport grist-mill was leased out in August, and in December the distillery and both breweries were rented to William Meiklejohn. Joseph Bouchette’s verdict that Young and Ainslie’s enterprises had been “undertaken upon too great a scale for the consumption of the province at that period” tells only part of the storoung invested more than he could afford in a brewing and distilling business that faced stiff competition. There were other breweries in the colony; imported rum was cheap; and domestic spirits were considered to be inferior to Scotch whisky.
The collapse of Young and Ainslie did not destroy the entrepreneur’s reputation. Young’s partners in the formation of the Union Company of Quebec in 1805 twice elected him a director, and, on their behalf, Young bought a large house on Rue Notre-Dame in Lower Town, which, fitted up as the Union Hotel with coffee and assembly rooms, became a political and social gathering place.
As ever, Young was the champion of commerce. In 1799 Lieutenant Governor Robert Shore Milnes* appointed him chairman of a commission for the regulation of pilots, the improvement of harbours, and the establishment of safe navigation on the St Lawrence River. This experience led Young in 1805 to introduce a bill in the assembly for the foundation of Trinity House of Quebec, which, like its counterpart on the Thames, would regulate pilotage and navigation and erect aids to shipping [see François Boucher]. The bill passed, and in May Young was appointed the first master of the new institution. He resigned from this unpaid office in 1812.
Young’s financial troubles may have stimulated the malign spirit that began to mark his attitude toward Canadians in the legislative assembly. He was not a bigot; he used French in his private and business affairs and maintained good social relations with Canadians of similar rank and political outlook. After the French revolution the English speakers became very uneasy about the loyalty of the Canadian lower classes, and projects for cultural assimilation of the Canadians were discussed. Young’s enthusiasm for public schools evolved in this direction. In 1793 he supported William Grant’s education bill; he proposed one of his own in 1797. Two years later, as an executive councillor, he approved Anglican bishop Jacob Mountain*’s assimilationist plan for a centralized education system. In the assembly Young seconded a motion to appropriate the Jesuit estates to finance the establishment of public schools. Despite the opposition of Young and others, a bill in 1801 to place all primary and secondary education under the direction of a public body, to be called the Royal Institution for the Advancement of Learning, was amended to permit the existence of separate and independent schools. Joseph-François Perrault* still objected to the amended proposal, but his attempt to substitute an entirely new bill was defeated by an opposing group led by Young.
As a merchant, a political conservative, and a would-be anglicizer, Young was on a collision course with the Canadian party. Led by lawyers, notaries, and tradesmen, this party drew electoral support from the farming population. Young sat in the assembly for 14 sessions, with two absences on trips to Britain. In that time he became disillusioned with the legislature. To his mind, it had become a forum for ungrateful demagogues bent on usurping the prerogatives of the crown, their protector. Young’s attitude was inconsistent: he lamented that the Canadian members were ignorant of British law and custom yet derided their efforts to read and translate books on British government. He moved in 1806 “that the British Constitution should only be studied in the language of the Empire.” In 1819, when he looked back on his experiences in the assembly, he wrote, “The little Education & Knowledge that was in it lay with the English members, & without them the Canadians could not go on; it is now changed, the English members are reduced one half in number, & much more in quality, for scarcely any gentleman will go into the House; the Canadian members prove the observation that a little learning is a dangerous thing; they think they are now sufficiently instructed to walk alone. . . .
To combat the apparent decline in the quality of members in the assembloung worked for the election of “loyal” candidates and opposed the payment of salaries to members. He also proposed a literacy test in order to exclude uneducated persons, since a few deputies could not sign their names. He believed that membership in the legislature ought to be limited to literate gentlemen of independent means. When his efforts to alter the composition of the house failed, he tried to persuade his correspondents, including Prince Edward Augustus, to have the Constitutional Act of 1791 amended to curb the assembly’s powers. In 1805 Young prepared a memorandum for Milnes, the departing lieutenant governor, recommending the union of the legislatures of Upper and Lower Canada to overcome “the present difficulties.” As a merchant he had been offended that year by the assembly’s decision to finance the building of prisons through increased duties on commerce and not by land taxes, which would have affected farmers.
Young’s conflict with the Canadian party went on outside the assembly. In 1807 he was sued for debt by Juchereau Duchesnay’s widow, Catherine Le Comte Dupré, whose lawyers were Panet and Pierre-Stanislas Bédard*, leaders of the Canadian party. On Young’s behalf, Attorney General Jonathan Sewell* argued that the will upon which the widow’s claim was based had not been proved in accordance with English common law. The will had only been deposited with a notary, as was customary under French law. The newspaper Le Canadien reported the case in detail and treated it as an attack on Canadian traditions. The judges, De Bonne, Jenkin Williams, and Chief Justice Henry Allcock, found in favour of Young.
In the assembly Young’s political enemies had the upper hand, his attempts to prevent their ascendancy having miscarried. He knew that, as a member of the minority, he was no longer of service to his friends in commerce and the administration. Therefore, in 1808, he decided not to run for re-election. However, he was induced by a petition, allegedly signed by 81 electors, to stand for Upper Town in the election of October 1809. He polled only 33 votes before withdrawing from the contest.
Young remained mired in debt. In 1807 he admitted owing 22 creditors more than £4,600. Increasingly, he turned to the government for his financial salvation. In May he went to Britain, presumably to seek a salary as master of Trinity House and appointment as assistant collector of customs at Quebec. These rewards were not forthcoming, although Young was given a salary as a regular member of the Executive Council. In 1808 Governor Craig endorsed a petition by Young for a land grant, while opposing another request for a salary as master. According to Craig, Young’s treatment of his creditors was a scandal at Quebec.
Christian intervened to save the family’s remaining assets. The St Roc Brewery had been leased to the merchant Jacob Pozer in October 1808. In December this establishment, along with the Beauport facilities and the Youngs’ own home, was seized by the sheriff at the suit of two English creditors, Baker and John Walter. To make matters worse, the St Roc Brewery was damaged by fire in January 1809. At the public auction of Young’s assets in May, Christian bought all the properties. She had managed Young’s concerns during his absences; now she was manager and owner, with her husband’s agreement. In April 1810 the Beauport properties were again seized while Christian endeavoured to revive the St Roc Brewery, where she had undertaken major repairs. In 1811 she contracted for the building of a new wharf. She also arranged for a large purchase of barley on credit from one of the brewery’s old suppliers, James McCallum. In April 1812 Christian leased a two-storey stone house outside the Saint-Louis gate for £160 a year. The substantial rent indicates that, whatever their situation, the Youngs were not willing to live with frugality.
Christian also set about to eliminate her husband’s debts. In 1811 she paid the widow of Peter Stuart £200 against a debt of £1,300. In June 1813 she used Pozer as an intermediary to recover a £704 debt acknowledgement to the estate of Robert Wood by giving Wood’s widow £228. The St Roc Brewery must have disappointed her, for in the same month she sold it to her creditor McCallum for £16,000. McCallum also bought Young’s long-awaited land grant in Sherrington Township soon after Young received it in 1812. When Pozer had 50,000 acres owned by Young in Tingwick Township seized, Christian was obliged to buy the land back in 1817.
Even as Christian manœuvered to avoid insolvencoung remained active in the public affairs of Lower Canada. As a justice of the peace, he co-signed the warrant for the arrest of Bédard in January 1810. Bédard was an editor of the newspaper Le Canadien, which Governor Craig regarded as a treasonous publication. Young’s expertise in law placed him in the Court of Appeals as a judge for four years, and his knowledge of finance earned him a seat on the committees of the Executive Council that dealt with lands and public accounts. At the outbreak of the War of 1812 he was placed in charge of a committee to devise a circulating medium to supplement the moneys available for the civil administration and defence of the Canadas. In July 1812 the committee recommended the creation of interest-bearing “army bills” with values of from $1 to $400. The issue of this currency between 1812 and 1815 created an emergency fund of £250,000. Measures taken by Young assured the acceptance of the bills in Lower Canada, where the population was mistrustful of paper money, and even in the state of New York. He was prevented from overseeing the circulation of the bills, however, when critics suggested that he would profit from their issue and redemption. After 1811, when Craig’s successor, Sir George Prevost, deferred to majority opinion in the assembly and would not submit to his council, Young joined others of the English party in successfully conniving at his removal. This action, along with its role in the earlier downfall of Prescott, makes it clear that the English party was only loyal to the governor as long as he shared its viewpoint, as had Craig.
In April 1812 Young had written to the Colonial Office asking to be appointed either collector or controller of customs; this was his third such petition. Feeling that a representation in person would be more effective, he sailed with his family for London in July 1814. Lord Bathurst, secretary of state for War and the Colonies, and Henry Goulburn, under-secretary, would not grant Young an interview, nor did they accept his offer to act as an adviser during the negotiations leading to the Treaty of Ghent. Young suspected that his enemies had turned these officials against him, and he begged to answer any charges. Meanwhile, because of his prolonged absence from Quebec, his yearly salary of £100 as an executive councillor was being challenged. In 1816 he gave the British government yet another account of his services and declared that “his Slender funds are exhausted by the Expences of his family & the education of his Children since his arrival in England, & he has not the means of replacing them.” In apparent defeat, he and his family returned to Quebec in the summer of 1817.
Having resumed his place on the Executive Council, Young gave advice on taxation, duties, and other fiscal matters to governors Sir John Coape Sherbrooke* and Charles Lennox, 4th Duke of Richmond and Lennox. In Richmond he found a most pliant governor. The duke placed the preparation of accounts and budgets completely in the hands of Young, who in 1819 led him into a confrontation with the assembly over government finances. Through Richmond, Young was able to influence Bathurst, the duke’s brother-in-law. The historian Helen Taft Manning described Young as Richmond’s “finance minister” and “one of the arch-intriguers and troublemakers of the English party.”
Currency, commerce, and banking still occupied Young’s mind as he lay dying in the summer of 1819. He drew up a proposal for a “Royal Bank of British North America” for all the colonies. He had renewed his requests for some extraordinary reward for his past services to government and for originating the army bills, but apart from two lots in Tingwick, granted in 1817, all he received was a commission to administer oaths to half-pay officers.
The estate inventory made after Young’s death reveals how low his fortunes had sunk. Except for a piano, a chequers table, and 36 bottles of white wine, his effects were undistinguished; no books or paintings were enumerated. His furnishings and clothes were valued at £215, and he had only £12 on hand. His debts surpassed £7,000, of which £2,800 were owed to John Richardson* of Montreal and £1,000 to Christian. She had paid off more than a score of his debts, and she was now left to raise three young children with the aid of her eldest son, Thomas Ainslie. Young left her nearly £470 in personal effects and money, the Tingwick grants, and the tiny seigneury of Vitré, as well as 1,800 acres of land in Upper Canada. Of about £1,300 owed to Young, £900 were considered “doubtful” or beyond recovery.
Young had one posthumous victory. A few months after his death, Thomas Ainslie Young received the post of controller of customs at Quebec, which his father had persistently sought. Thomas was destined for a prominent place in government and, as inspector of police after 1837, would zealously pursue the rebel Patriotes, who were the spiritual heirs of the Canadian party that had outraged his father. It was, however, the self-righteous and intransigent conservatism of such men as John Young that had driven many liberal reformers in Lower Canada to rebellion.
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© 1983–2023 University of Toronto/Université Laval
Cite This Article
Peter N. Moogk, “YOUNG, JOHN (d. 1819),” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 5, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed June 3, 2023, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/young_john_1819_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:
|Author of Article:||Peter N. Moogk|
|Title of Article:||YOUNG, JOHN (d. 1819)|
|Publication Name:||Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 5|
|Publisher:||University of Toronto/Université Laval|
|Year of publication:||1983|
|Year of revision:||1983|
|Access Date:||June 3, 2023|