Life in Niagara: The Servos Family Enterprises (Intro)

A Primary Source Analysis of the Servos Mill Accounts 1785-1816: Part 1

I’m back! Since my last post, I’ve been working with a quite a few more primary sources, and I’d like to give an update on one particular collection of accounts that deal with an area of what is now Niagara-on-the-Lake, near the mouth of the Four Mile Creek. This collection I’m referring to are the milling records of the Servos family.

Background

The last blog post I wrote was based on a collection of writings by the Hon. Peter Russell, looking specifically at the supply of the British garrisons in Upper Canada in the mid-late 1790s and how communities like Niagara were involved. The Servos collection is quite different and allows for more of a “bottom-up” approach towards this part of Niagara’s history. The Servos collection exists as one of the best kept collections of early Loyalist records in the Niagara region. The Niagara Historical Society Museum holds 544 archival items and 309 artifacts relating to multiple generations of the Servos family here in Niagara! [1] Brothers Daniel and Jacob Servos and their families came to Niagara in 1785 as some of the area’s very first farmers and millers. During the American Revolution the Servos family lived in Tryon County in New York, eventually becoming divided in loyalties and the brothers forced to relocate.

So how did they come to settle in Niagara?

In May of 1781 the British government purchased from the Chippewa and Mississauga peoples a strip of land on the west bank of the Niagara River four miles wide and stretching from Lake Ontario to Lake Erie. The intention was to have a few families settle there and farm the land to provide for the growing refugee population at Fort Niagara. The very first saw and grist mills dubbed the “King’s Mills” were built in 1783 under the supervision of Lt. David Brass at the mouth of the Four Mile Creek on the east bank, and Daniel Servos was appointed official mill operator in 1785. These mills were destroyed by a freschet in 1790 and Servos built a second set of mills on the west side of the Four Mile Creek in 1791.

To better understand the area we are talking about here, take a look at the images below. Figure 1 is an historical map of Niagara Township circa 1784, courtesy of Brock University’s historical map collection. In Figure 2, I’ve added highlighted the land belonging to Daniel Servos (green) and Jacob Servos (yellow), and mapped the locations of the two mill sites in question (blue). I’ve also made the historical map semi-transparent so that you can see it georeferenced on the present day map of Niagara-on-the-Lake, making it easier to understand the Servos family properties in a modern day context.

Figure 1 (Click to enlarge)
“Niagara Township, plan A.” (1784) Historical Maps of Niagara. Brock University Map, Data & GIS Library.
Figure 2

Method

Fortunately, some record of the Servos mills still exist today and make great sources for studying economic activity on a rural scale in Niagara’s pioneering society. I had first heard about the Servos account books from the helpful ladies at the Friend’s of Lincoln’s History archives in Vineland. They kindly offered me a digital copy of Servos Mill Account Book Volume I 1785-1795, however, the pages are quite dark and difficult to read. A week later, I went to the Archives of Ontario (AO) at York University in Toronto and made my own digital copy of this account book. The original microfilms at the AO are still difficult to read, but I did manage to make lighter copies.

At this point I realized there was more than one account book in existence, so I ended up copying five of the account books from the microfilm reel, emitting only Vol V because the dates 1824-1826 are not relevant to my time period. This blog post is based on the contents of Account Books I-IV and the Personal Account Book of Daniel Servos. Being one of the most complete existing sets of late 18th century Niagara business records, my hope was that these volumes could tell us more about what drove Niagara’s economy in the Loyalist Era.

Account Book Volume I 1785-1795″. Index. Daniel Servos Records 1779-1826. MS 538. Archives of Ontario

As I worked my way through these account books I collected the following:

  1. QUANTITATIVE INFORMATION. I entered statistical information into an Excel spreadsheet so I can later use that data for visualizations. This includes the names of specific accounts, dates of transactions, commodities purchased and sold, quantities, units, prices, currency, and forms of labour.
  2. QUALITATIVE INFORMATION. I considered questions like:
    a. What do these accounts reveal about the types of people farming in Niagara (class, gender, ethnicity) and how they each contributed to the early economy?
    b. What did the building of capital assets look like during these first few decades?
    c. What was the reaction to market price fluctuations in commodities like wheat?
    d. Were business transactions driven by internal or external economic factors?
    e. Do we see any political motivations within business transactions?
    f. Do we see evidence of British paternalism?
    g. What was the relationship like between farmers/millers and larger merchant enterprises?

Question

Every so often I need to re-focus and think back to this over-arching thesis question: “What drove Niagara’s Loyalist Era economy?”

Analysis

I will post the results of my primary source analysis over the next few days. I still need to fine-tune a few notes before releasing them publicly. Besides, this blog post is already long enough! Stay tuned…

Sources:
[1] J. Anthony Doyle, “Loyalism, Patronage, and Enterprise: The Servos Family in British North America 1726-1942,” PhD diss., (McMaster University, 2006), iv.

Primary Source Analysis: Learning about Wheat, Peas & Corn in 1790’s Niagara

It’s been a while since my last post! I just thought I’d share some insight on a primary source collection that I’ve been working through lately, and what its been teaching me about Niagara’s Loyalist-era economy. Upon suggestion by my supervisor, I have been reading through some of the personal correspondence of the Hon. Peter Russell as compiled in three volumes by E. A. Cruikshank and A. F. Hunter for the Ontario Historical Society in the 1930s. These papers reflect a period of Russell’s life when he was appointed to fill in for Upper Canadian Lieutenant Governor John Graves Simcoe during a leave of absence in the late 1790s. The province of Upper Canada only becoming established in 1791, this was an important position still in its infancy. These volumes contain not only the correspondence of Peter Russell, but also letters that reflect the workings of the British administration in the early days of this colonial province. This means that letters from people like Joseph Brant, Governor Simcoe, John MacDonnell, and even Minutes of the Executive Council are included. While the sources themselves reflect a host of topics, primarily discussions surrounding land purchases and the relationship between the British administration and the people of the Six Nations, there is still much that can be gleaned from conversations about economic policies and matters of military supply.

These writings reflect crop growth and the distribution of wheat, peas and corn in the late 1790s, routes of transport via crude roadways and the Great Lakes network, relationships between farmers, merchants and administrators in Upper Canada, and their interactions with Americans in new neighbouring states. This information can be used to either support or contradict arguments from historians like Harold Innis, who believed that at this time the trade of furs & timber and exports of wheat & flour were fundamental to the growth of the province of Ontario, and Canada as a whole. It does the same for arguments from more recent historians like Douglas McCalla, who believes that the primary sources we draw from can change the way we understand this part of our nation’s history. He states: “the vast majority of the settlers, who actually made the new economy, necessarily invested their lives and funds into smaller projects ad specific places. When we look at the economy from their perspective, most of the patterns, timing, and momentum of development are not explained by the staples approach or the specific political events that it highlighted.” [1] Considering Peter Russell’s elevated position, are these sources more likely to support an Innisian thesis? How might the authors’ decisions about what letters to include or exclude in these volumes affect how we interpret these years in Canada’s history? These were just some of the questions I had in approaching these documents.

So, do you want to keep reading?

Just Kidding…

What I learned from these letters:

  1. The British government’s paternal relationship with Niagara farmers is a complicated one. When incentivising settlers to come to Upper Canada from the former American colonies, the British had to make a lot of concessions that did not necessarily help them financially, but was worth it because it meant they were getting the people they wanted for this new province. In the 1790s the government financed and built storehouses and wharfs in Queenston, Chippewa and Fort Erie for the purpose of bettering the Niagara River Portage route, they provided the majority of vessels used in shipping across the Great Lakes, they continued to buy the local produce from Niagara farmers despite the low quality, erratic supply & high prices being demanded, AND they even would pay for the cost of transport! [2]

    However, there are clear moments of frustration with Niagara farmers in the late 1790s. John McGill who was the purchasing agent for the Province of Upper Canada reveals these issues in his letters. In the spring of 1798, McGill anticipated not being able to fill the quota of flour he was required to purchase for the army storehouses in Upper Canada. In a letter from March, he wrote to James Green, Military Secretary in Quebec, estimating he would not get more than 1000-1200 barrels of flour from the Midland & Eastern districts, which was much less than he had received from those areas in previous years. [3] This was not because of any crop shortage; in fact the Niagara peninsula had actually produced a good crop that year. The reason for this low estimate was because the farmers expected to get a price for the flour that McGill felt was way too high. The price is not specified, but that same month he mentioned getting an proposal from Detroit farmers of thirty-one shillings and six pence Canada Currency per counterweight in barrels, and this being outrageously high. McGill’s suggestion to rectify this Niagara issue was for Green to order “a few hundred Barrels or even a few Bateau loads of Flour” [4] to be shipped to Kingston from the Commissary General in Quebec, being convinced that “it would have a very good effect not only in preventing a rise in the price of this Article, but likewise induce the Farmer to bring forward his Store in proper time.” [5] Two months later, McGill ordered 50 barrels of flour at twenty-two shillings per cwt. to be delivered to Fort George. As it turns out, McGill’s idea to flood the market with cheaper flour from Lachine was successful in forcing the hand of the farmers to sell their produce at a lower price, for fear of not being able to sell it at all if there was going to be other flour available. McGill wrote to Green that after getting word in April about the expected arrival of this flour, he made the news public in Niagara and “in a day or two afterwards declared that I would not give more than Twenty shillings per cwt., cask included. 296,800 pounds of flour have since been purchased on those terms, with 637 Bushels of Pease at five shillings a Bushel in Barrels, the whole to be delivered to His Majesty’s Magazines in Kingston on or before July 1.” McGill still expected to receive even more flour than this.

Thus, these letters show the complicated relationships between administrative and military bodies, merchants and farmers. While the British administrations were paternalistic, the middle men like McGill and Green were constantly struggling with how to profit in their individual roles. Roadblocks resulting from the growing pains of this new society are evident in McGill’s DCB biography where we read:

“he was often frustrated by a jurisdictional quarrel between the civil authority of the lieutenant governor in Upper Canada and the military authority of the commander-in-chief at Quebec, a quarrel which also raised similar if lesser difficulties for the surveyor general and the deputy superintendent general of Indian affairs. McGill was held accountable to the commissary general at Quebec, John Craigie*, although he and Simcoe had expected otherwise. Contracts to supply troops in the upper province were awarded over his head from Quebec, and he was ordered to limit his purchases to requisitions sent from there. Worse, his complaint about the profiteering of merchants and about irregularities in supplies from Lower Canada finally drew the rebuke from the commander-in-chief, Lord Dorchester [Carleton*], “that anything further on that head is unnecessary.” Simcoe protested in vain that McGill was being reduced to “a public Accountant without Power.”

The primary sources in these volumes sources show us that policies towards Niagara farmers, and high-level visions for the purpose and future of Upper Canada were not black and white. Administrators often disagreed with one another and the paternalism that Niagara farmers enjoyed was inconsistent.

2. Another important theme in these letters is that there were evolving relationships between farmers in the Niagara region and the Americans in New York. Historian Alan Taylor argues that late Loyalists, or those who came to Upper Canada after 1792, were often viewed with suspicion by the United Empire Loyalists who came over in the previous decade, immediately after the end of the American Revolution. [6] The reason for this is because many UELs felt that the latent ideas of republicanism that late Loyalists had grown used to in the spirit of the American Revolution impacted how they thought about relationships between governments and their people. As Taylor puts it: “Americans looked to a republic to safeguard their liberal aspirations. To their north, the British designed Upper Canada to discourage such aspirations- except within narrow bounds carefully patrolled by executive power.” [7] So what do these primary sources tell us? Well, these documents seem to suggest that the farmers were not totally loyal to the British government, supporting Taylor’s arguments.

In the spring of 1797, McGill complained that the farmers in Niagara were selling their flour and peas directly to the Americans at Fort Niagara who offered much higher prices. This was the first summer that the Fort was in the hands of the Americans, being given to them in the 1796 Jay Treaty. This was the first time the British had to deal with this new economic threat and McGill was not impressed that the farmers were choosing money over loyalty. In one conversation from May of 1797, McGill wrote to Green: “The Farmers in these settlements have been exceedingly backward in bringing forward their produce.”[8] Similar issues were taking place in the Western districts as Fort Detroit and Fort Mackinac went to the Americans in the same Treaty. There are a few reasons that these farmers give for why they are selling to Americans before their own countrymen. One argument was that there were not enough small boats available to take the wheat to mills, and then to the merchants like Robert Hamilton in Queenston or Richard Cartwright in Kingston. They also argued that the existing mills were in a poor state of repair and many of them were not running at that time due to lack of water. One final big argument was that the rumours of impending war between the French and the United States in the late 1790s would induce people to move from the States to Upper Canada, meaning extra demand and consequently they could rise the price of their wheat, peas and corn.

Despite the continual support of the British government, the Niagara farmers seemed to leave for greener pastures the moment they saw the opportunity. In the short run, the choice to supply American garrisons instead of British ones makes some sense; poor roads made it difficult for farmers to store, process, and transport their produce, while the Americans organized their own system of collection of produce and paid the farmers well. This cut McGill out of the picture, as well as merchants like Robert Hamilton who could not hope to compete with American prices for Niagara’s local produce. Alan Taylor believes that [Governor] “Simcoe had been only half successful in recruiting Upper Canada’s settlers. He had enticed families who did not particularly care for the republic, but he had not attracted people who cared deeply for the empire.” [9] The minimal taxation and easy access to land that these settlers enjoyed was expected to be met with a level of subordination to their provincial government, but this clearly was not the case in 1797. However, since McGill only refers to the “farmers” in Niagara as a whole, it is still possible that some of the early farmers were the ones selling to McGill, and it was only the later loyalist farmers who had arrived after 1792 that were selling to the Americans. A further investigation of primary sources on the local level will be necessary for understanding more specifically these divided loyalties.

3. A final important theme in these primary sources is that they support McCalla’s arguments about regional production being vital to economic development of Canada as a whole. I still need more data in order to fully prove this point, but the stats for 1796-1799 as shown in these letters already reveal that production for initial consumption was crucial in Niagara. This argument is made in opposition to the Innisian staples thesis that states the importance of the eastward movement of staple exports like furs, timber and flour. In February of 1798, McGill complained that there would not be enough flour to supply the garrisons by July 1 that summer because “The Quantity of Wheat in the settlement I am informed is considerable, and were it not for the stills, which consumes much of this article, there is great reason to believe, that the supplies required for the use of Government might be obtained upon more reasonable terms.” [10] Whisky as a popular commodity was driving up the price of flour in the region, showing the importance of settlers, as McCalla says, “investing their lives and funds in smaller projects and specific places.” [11] Similarly, in March of 1798 McGill estimated how much flour he had left over to give to the Upper Canadian garrisons, after “reserving what may be sufficient for the consumption of the Inhabitants in the settlements at, above, and below Kingston.” What exactly was the amount of produce being reserved here in McGill’s mind? Whatever the percentage of wheat being consumed in Niagara and Upper Canada, Niagara’s export to markets in Lower Canada in these years do not seem to be as big of a priority as was supplying the more local garrisons in Upper Canada (and New York). This then contradicts Innis’ idea that staple exports to larger markets out of the interior were the main facilitators of economic development. The decision of local farmers to sell to the American forts in 1797 also shows a powerful human agency, separate from the control of the British administration.

That’s all I’ve got for now. Stay tuned for more primary source analyses. Thanks for reading!

Sources:
[1] Douglas McCalla, “The Ontario Economy in the Long Run,” Ontario History 90 no. 2 (1998), 97.
[2] Bruce Wilson, The Enterprises of Robert Hamilton: a study of wealth and influence in early Upper Canada, 1776-1812, (Ottawa: Carleton University Press, 1983), 76-78.
[3] Compiled by E. A. Cruikshank, and Andrew F. Hunter, The Correspondence of the Honourable Peter Russell : With Allied Documents Relating to His Administration of the Government of Upper Canada during the Official Term of Lieut.-Governor J. G. Simcoe, While on Leave of Absence, Volume Two, (The Ontario Historical Society, 1932), 127.
[4] Ibid., 126.
[5] Ibid., 127.
[6] Alan Taylor, “The Late Loyalists: Northern Reflections of the Early American Republic,” Journal of the Early Republic 27, no. 1 (Spring, 2007), 19.
[7] Ibid., 2.
[8] Compiled by E. A. Cruikshank, and Andrew F. Hunter, The Correspondence of the Honourable Peter Russell : With Allied Documents Relating to His Administration of the Government of Upper Canada during the Official Term of Lieut.-Governor J. G. Simcoe, While on Leave of Absence, Volume One, (The Ontario Historical Society, 1932), 175.
[9] Taylor, “The Late Loyalists: Northern Reflections of the Early American Republic,” 29.
[10] Cruikshank and Hunter, The Correspondence of the Honourable Peter Russell Volume Two, 100.
[11] McCalla, “The Ontario Economy in the Long Run,” 2.

Library & Archives Canada – June 2019

Hi all, here’s an update on my research! Last week I went to Ottawa to look at some documents in the national archives. My first time ever going to the archives, I had to navigate the process of finding collections, requesting them, filling out various permission forms and finally getting to read through the materials. Being able to touch these documents from the late 18th and early 19th centuries is just one of the things that I love about getting to do a thesis… it creates a closer connection to the people that I’m learning about.

The Documents:

This week was all about the Hamilton family. As I’ve mentioned a few times already in past blog posts, Robert Hamilton was Niagara’s most prominent merchant during the Loyalist era, especially in the late 18th century. Unfortunately, a tidy set of Robert Hamilton’s papers does not exist in any archives, so I had to look through a few different collections while in Ottawa.

“There is now no substantial group of documentation that could be called the Robert Hamilton Papers nor is there a major set of papers for any of his Niagara contemporaries before 1812. On the other side of the coin, there is a distinct lack of census data, detailed parish registers, assessment rolls or any broadly representative collection of will dockets on which quantified studies of Niagara society could be securely based. Even significant runs of newspapers and that traditional mainstay of the historian, papers of administrators and colonial politicians are mostly prominent by their absence.”

Bruce Wilson, The Enterprises of Robert Hamilton, (Ottawa: Carleton University Press, 1983), 3.

Examining a few different collections throughout the week, I took approximately 800 photos! I look forward to reading through the material more closely over the next few months and adding the people, places, and things that R. Hamilton makes note of, into my data set. Some of these materials include:

  1. His three-part census of settlers in Niagara in 1787, which is one of the earliest available listings of households in Niagara post-Revolution.
  2. His day book from 1807-1809
  3. His ledger from 1806-1809
  4. His will, wherein he divides his land and possessions between his children, listing where he owned property and explaining what roles his sons will have in the family business after his passing (in March 1809)

I also accessed some of Hamilton’s correspondence by looking at the Francis Goring fonds and John Porteous fonds, as these men both had close ties with Hamilton in Niagara. Goring was a clerk at Fort Niagara from 1779-1781 and secretary to Hamilton from 1800-1809. Much of his work involved riding around the Niagara region and collecting debts owed to Hamilton. One particularly interesting document titled “Statement of Facts of business done for the late Hon. Robert Hamilton” provides us with an explanation of Goring’s role in Hamilton’s life for those last nine years (see document and transcription below). Similarly, Porteous was a merchant in Detroit who also had routine correspondence with Hamilton as they regularly traded goods.

Statement of Facts of business done for the lat Hon. Robert Hamilton Esq. by Fras. Goring
“My first commencement to do business for Mr. Hamilton was in 1800. Mr. Hamilton asked me if I could make it convenient to assist him, and he would make it worth my while, to which  I complied, he then held a Bond against me for £ 51-9-3 N. Y. Cy. dated Jan 11th 1798 (Note). Interest is charge me on bond from Nov. 1st 1799 until Nov. 1st 1808 which is a certain proof I could not be in debt. 1 Years Interest to Nov 1st 1810 is afterwards charged me by the Estate.
For the Three first years, that is, 1800 1801 & 1802 my employment was to write the accompts and letters to those indebted to him, dating the amount of their accompts and other writing business; the letters directed within 12 miles I mostly delivered and received their answers- which I entered in a memorandum book I kept on purpose, the distant letters were send in packets to someone in the different neighbourhoods to be distributed. After doing the above business for Mr. Hamilton Three years, and he finding by sending those letters by indifferent persons they frequently miscarried and he received no answer, he asked me on the fourth year, after writing them if I would undertake to deliver them myself, which I Promised to do, and procured their answer to Mr. Hamiltons satisfaction. This business I followed for Eight years, besides frequently writing for him at his House three and four weeks at a time and once in particular six weeks.
The first six years I traveled on foot and it being always in Winter made it very tedious, the Inclemency of the weather never stoped me, except Rain during the whole time, tho I must own I frequently suffered much. The usual time it took me was generally Six weeks in distributing between 5 and 600 letters and procuring answers with my own remarks (for at Mr. Hamiltons request I kept a Journal of all occurrencies). I have on one Winter traversed over Twenty two Townships, and have traversed to Ancaster twice in one Winter. (I say traversed for I was seldom on the direct road.) I have even in Harvest left my own to attend on Mr. Hamiltons business, and obliged to hire an other in my stead.”

Library and Archives Canada, MG 24 – D4, pg. 171, microfilm reel H-1.

Most of the Hamilton collection at the national archives is dated after Robert’s passing. From 1809 onward, his sons George and Alexander tried to collect the debts that were owed to their father, evident in the stacks of invoices and receipts found in one of the folders. According to historian Bruce Wilson, £16000 of the £69000 owed to Hamilton was unrecoverable. £23000 was still outstanding as late as 1823.

Dozens of records of money owed to the Estate of the late Robt. Hamilton Esq.

I was still able to examine one day book and one ledger that date pre-1809. Day books contain entries of accounts with multiple people in the same day, while ledgers contain entries on individual accounts over a period of weeks and months. These books were written in by Robert and his sons, since both books extend into November and December of 1809. The day book was from his Queenston store and records the purchase of material goods like tobacco, beef, and tea, payment for farm labour, and the portage of barrels of flour up the Niagara river to Chippewa and Fort Erie.

Library and Archives Canada, MG 24 I 26 Volume 24.

When reading the names of the customers in this day book, I note the variety of people that interacted with the Hamiltons in this burgeoning economy. Scattered amongst the dominantly male Anglo names were accounts like “Polly servant girl” who ordered 5 yards of cloth, a cash payment for “5 Frenchman hoeing Corn”, “1 pair shoe packs” for “Black Tom” and a hasty note that says “paid Indian for sugar” (costing 4 shillings). It is important to see how these figures fit into the story of economic and material development in Niagara’s Loyalist era and I am excited to dig deeper into these connections.

As I continue to work through these photos and scans, stay tuned for a future post on my discoveries from the Hamilton papers!

The last time I was in Ottawa was about 8 years ago. When I wasn’t in the archives, I was able to see some of the city… Ottawa is beautiful in the summer!

Jess Goes to the Digital Humanities Summer Institute

Here’s a little post about what I did last week.

Since my thesis includes a spatial history element, I have been slowly learning how to use ArcGIS and how it can be used specifically for the humanities. Scholars in the humanities have been incorporating digital technologies into their research for the past few decades now, and one of the fantastic results of these advances is the Digital Humanities Summer Institute held annually at the University of Victoria in British Columbia.

What is the DHSI? Well, according to their website:

“The Digital Humanities Summer Institute provides an ideal environment for discussing and learning about new computing technologies and how they are influencing teaching, research, dissemination, creation, and preservation in different disciplines, via a community-based approach. A time of intensive coursework, seminars, and lectures, participants at DHSI share ideas and methods, and develop expertise in using advanced technologies. Every summer, the institute brings together faculty, staff, and students from the Arts, Humanities, Library, and Archives communities as well as independent scholars and participants from areas beyond. Described by one participant as an event that “combines the best aspects of a skills workshop, international conference, and summer camp,” the DHSI prides itself on its friendly, informal, and collegial atmosphere. We invite you to join the DHSI community in Victoria for a time of focused practice, learning, and connecting with (and making new) friends and colleagues.”

I attended the DHSI last week in order to gain some intensive, hands-on experience with ArcGIS. The classroom setting allowed me to ask questions and learn from experts about how to use GIS for visualizing both quantitative and qualitative data, and as a form of exploratory analysis for identifying patterns that help us understand our data on a spatial level. I signed up for Lancaster University professor Ian Gregory’s course on how to use GIS in the Digital Humanities and it has given me a deeper understanding of how to use the program, and a much better idea of the potential that GIS holds for my research. I now have a little more direction as I head into the archives this summer. You can check out the wide range of courses offered here.

We learned a LOT in five days. Through daily lectures and tutorials, I learned how to produce high quality maps, use tabular data and join tables, and properly format Excel spreadsheets to input my data into ArcGIS. I learned overlay and buffering techniques for integrating data from different sources, how to find coordinates for place names and convert them into shapefiles, how to georeference historical maps, and how to create 3D visualizations of our data with Google Earth. The best part was that we were encouraged to use our own data by the end of the course, so we could work with our new skills to produce some basic maps specific to our research. Brock University has some great resources in their map library where I have learned a few of these things already over the last year, but the DHSI classroom format was something that I think pushed all of us to the next level in our research.

The DHSI is not just about going to class though; there were a ton of opportunities for us to collaborate, share knowledge and make new acquaintances. There were participants there from every continent but Antarctica! Opportunities included the Conference & Colloquium, offered in a variety of formats from oral and poster presentations to mini workshops during the lunchtime “Unconference.” I presented on my thesis one evening and felt very welcomed by the event organizers and those who attended the talks. Although I was not sharing research conclusions as many other presenters were, this shows the versatility of the DHSI in that they offer a chance for academics at all levels to share knowledge and ask questions. I was approached by a few people after my talk and was given helpful titles of books and papers to read, people to connect with, interactive mapping software, and GIS tools & techniques to try.

I listened to a number of interesting presentations throughout the week. A few people in my GIS class shared the work that they’d completed in the course with their own data, and others spoke about their research during the evening lightning talk sessions. I heard from people in history, english, music, education, and more. During one lunchtime workshop I even learned how to create a virtual museum tour, which I thought could be useful for the work that I do locally with Nelles Manor.

I am thankful to everyone at the DHSI for organizing the event and allowing me to be a part of it, and am especially grateful for the tuition scholarships they offer that helped with this process financially. I definitely recommend the DHSI to anyone interested in learning more about the digital humanities. The conference runs for two weeks, so you can follow along with the attendees for week 2 if you’re interested by checking out the #dhsi2019 and #dhsi19 hashtags on Twitter.

PS: UVic’s campus is beautiful and this was my first time ever visiting B.C. I also got to visit my brother who recently moved out there and do some sightseeing… Here are some non-conference pics!

Analyzing Textual Data with Voyant Tools

The second half of this assignment for my Visualizing Historical Research class is a textual analysis of a book that pertains to my research, using a program called Voyant Tools. Voyant Tools is a web-app that uses interactive analytical tools to facilitate a more efficient reading of groups of text. By showing the frequency of the use of certain words as well as where they appear in the text, one can gather a general idea of what a corpus is about without having to read everything from cover to cover. I wanted to analyze a text I have not yet read, and that would further my understanding of Niagara’s economic history. The book that I chose to analyze is titled The correspondence of Lieut. Governor John Graves Simcoe: with allied documents relating to his administration of the government of Upper Canada.

John Graves Simcoe was the first Lieutenant Governor of Upper Canada from 1791-1796, and this book reveals much of his influential work as the British administrative foundations of the Niagara region took shape. It is a collection of primary sources from 1789-1793, compiled by Canadian historian Ernest Cruikshank in 1923. Cruikshank was A Brigadier General in World War I, influential in the establishment of Ontario’s Bureau of Archives, and originally from Fort Erie. Placed in charge of the province’s military documents for a few years, but never formally trained as an historian, he wrote a number of brief histories about the Niagara region during the Loyalist era. Cruikshank’s archival expertise is evident in this work, as he selected particular letters either written by or addressed to Simcoe, to be included in the corpus.

By downloading the full text, copy and pasting it into Voyant Tools and clicking “Reveal”, this is the resulting initial output. In the following paragraphs, I will explain my analysis of this text using Voyant Tools.

1. Cirrus & Terms

Below, you can see the word cloud that Voyant Tools has created based on the words in this text. The more frequently a word appears in the text, the larger it appears in the word cloud. Digital humanists Geoffrey Rockwell and Stefan Sinclair, the creators of Voyant Tools, describe the Cirrus tool as follows:

“One gets the impression of a birds-eye view of all the important words. Words appear next to other words serendipitously, which can rightly or wrongly suggest combinations to explore. The word cloud provides a different visual synthesis of the information. It has different affordances for interpretation.” [1]

So what does this visualization tell us about Simcoe’s correspondence? Well, the word “simcoe” is the most frequently used term in this corpus. This is not surprising, considering the text we are working with, so we can move on to other words. To maximize the efficiency of this tool, one of my suggestions for best practice is to switch the view from “Cirrus” to “Terms.” This lists the terms in order from most used to least used.

A few of the terms that immediately stand out to me are the terms “Indians”(#4) and “Indian” (#16). The words clearly hold value to Simcoe; he is either writing about Indigenous peoples or he is receiving information about them. The frequency of the word alone does not tell us their meaning in context, but some assumptions that could be made are that:

  1. Lt. Governor Simcoe is discussing land agreements. The American Revolution had ended less than a decade prior, and the British government ceded traditional lands of their Six Nations allies, mainly the Mohawk, Cayuga, Onondaga and Seneca nations, to the new United States. As white Loyalist families were resettled in the Niagara region and elsewhere in British North America, Simcoe and British officials also tried to resettle their Indigenous allies into new regions around Upper Canada.
  2. Lt. Governor Simcoe is discussing military alliances. Although the British were not at war between 1789-1793, Simcoe might have thought it wise to discuss the strategic benefits of placating specific Indigenous people groups in order to further their military alliances.

Another best practice that I suggest for using Voyant Tools is to look for the names of people and places as a way of determining a few key themes from the text. Thus, I typed in some of the names of individuals that pertain to my study. The name “Hamilton” appears a total of 83 times, but considering the popularity of this surname, I cannot assume that all mentions are with specific reference to Robert Hamilton the Niagara merchant. Alternatively, “Robert Hamilton” appears 14 times throughout the corpus. Similarly, the name “Richard Cartwright,” one of Kingston’s most prominent merchants, appears 14 times, and the full name of Detroit merchant “John Askin” appears 59 times. This is good news for me, since I now know that there are references to some of the individuals that were heavily involved in the economic development of Niagara during the Loyalist era.

Some of the most common places mentioned in this text include: Detroit(289), Quebec(231), Britain(208), Niagara(207), America(125), Erie(125), Ohio(99), Philadelphia(95), Kingston(81), and Ontario(58). What stands out to me here is the emphasis on the southwestern peninsula of Upper Canada, the doubly frequent mention of Lake Erie compared to Lake Ontario, and the prevalence of American cities like Detroit and Ohio. Lt. Governor Simcoe was a staunch British patriot who at one point had tried to make London the capital of Upper Canada, and was interested in facilitating trade towards the interior regions of the continent in the ultimate goal of colonial expansion. [2] The frequent mention of these central locations further substantiates their importance to Simcoe.

2. Contexts

While the Cirrus and Terms tool can show the frequency of word usage, they do not reveal the contexts in which these terms are used. In this way, the Voyant Tools’ Contexts pane takes textual analyses to the next level. By viewing certain words in their contexts we can determine their meaning within the corpus. For example, the words “Indian” and “Indians” actually hold very different meaning when contextualizing them. “Indian” is often used as a reference to government roles like an Indian Agent, the Indian department or the Superintendent of Indian affairs. This shows the intended use of the word as a reference to a British institution, rather than an example of actions by or references to Indigenous peoples.

The term “Indians,” however, holds a much different meaning. The term clearly incites fear for a few individuals. For example we read:
“of fighting in which the indians Excell [sic]”
“expert & more savage than the indians themselves”
“the Wabash or other hostile indians”

At times we see mentions of violence towards them:
“he will get the indians out of the way”
“of awing and curbing the indians in that corner”
“hope we shall give the indians a thorough drubbing this summer”

The term is also often used in the context of British paternalism:
“distribution of Presents to the indians”
“deficiency of Presents for the indians in Public stores”
“British officers in furnishing the indians with arms & ammunition”

Due to the disjointed format of the text, we are seeing divided opinions about Indigenous peoples. One particularly intriguing sentence was written to Lt. Gov. Simcoe by none other than Robert Hamilton as he discussed the impact of the American Revolution on colonial trade as a new national border was created and both European settlers and Indigenous peoples were shifted into new territories. Suggesting what was likely an unpopular opinion at the time, he writes:

“In extending their Territory in this quarter, some degree of moderation and justice has been shown in the purchase of the lands from the Native Indians, however inadequate the sum paid may be to the value.” [3]

In a similar vein the word “women” is only mentioned 21 times throughout the text, and the Contexts tool reveals that this is almost always conjunction with “and children.” In this particular analysis, showing the context of certain words demonstrates the official attitudes towards particular groups in society. The mention of Indigenous peoples and women reveal their relative value to the colonial administration, and how they are made useful in the bigger picture of expanding empire.

In addition to Voyant’s Contexts, tapor.ca is a site that holds hundreds of web tools for similar textual analyses. If you are not satisfied with the Voyant Tools version of contextual visualization, TAPoR 3.0 lists a number of alternate tools such as KWIC (Key Word in Context) and concordance TAPoRware that perform similar functions in detecting specific words anywhere in an HTML document. The concordance is not a new concept, as Rockwell & Sinclair discuss in their book Hermeneutica: Computer-Assisted Interpretation in the Humanities. The concordance is actually one of the innovations that influenced the development of their tools, as “its roots reach back to the Bible.” [4] They argue that context analyses developed by focusing on keywords as opposed to the earlier focus on key concepts, which was popularized by biblical indexation.

3. Bubblelines & Trends

Bubblelines is a useful comparison tool that visualizes the frequency of use of certain terms throughout a corpus, also showing the places in the text where they are mentioned. Bubblelines does not work well with corpora that have multiple documents because there are too many trends to accurately chart, so considering the fact that this text is a compilation of letters written by different individuals, this tool is not the best choice for analyzing this specific type of text.

Click “Separate Lines for Terms” to see a better output.

The results are similarly skewed in the Trends tool. As a best practice, I suggest using tools like Bubblelines and Trends only when analyzing one or two specific sources.

Conclusions

Voyant Tools has other options that could be used to explore this text, but so far I have learned that Lt. Governor Simcoe is focused on establishing trade networks in the southwestern regions of Upper Canada, whilst also managing the sensitive relationships between British officials, Loyalist immigrants, Indigenous peoples, and their new American neighbours. By doing this distant reading, one gathers a general sense of how Simcoe and those writing to him felt about certain groups of people. Many of these authors did not fully respect Indigenous people as human beings, but rather saw them as tools of empire or impediments to progress.

Voyant Tools can also be used to compare two or more texts. This means that this analysis could go a step further by comparing this text with, for example, a compilation of primary sources from the succeeding Lt. Governor of Upper Canada Peter Hunter who served from 1799-1805, or Francis Gore who served from 1806-1811. This is, of course, assuming that such compilations even exist. One could compare their correspondence with Simcoe’s, exploring what was important to the British government at different times, what legislation was implemented, who held power in colonial relationships, and how society was being formed from the “top down.” Voyant Tools provide useful visualization techniques for digital humanists. While the traditional close reading of a book holds its own value, it is important to recognize alternative forms of scholarly interpretation. Why not choose a text and try it yourself?

Notes:
[1] Geoffrey Rockwell and Stefan Sinclair, Hermeneutica: Computer-Assisted Interpretation in the Humanities, (Massachusetts: MIT Press, 2016), 35.
[2] Mary Beacock Fryer and Christopher Dracott, John Graves Simcoe 1752-1806: A Biography, (Toronto, Dundurn Press, 1998), 120.
[3] Ernest A. Cruikshank, The Correspondence of Lieut. Governor John Graves Simcoe: With Allied Documents Relating to his Administration of the Government of Upper Canada, vol 1, (Toronto: Ontario Historical Society, 1923), 98, accessed from the Internet Archive, https://archive.org/details/correspondenceof01simc.
[4] Rockwell & Sinclair, Hermeneutica, 47.

Visualizing Historiographical Data

Hi there, it’s been a while. This semester is coming to a close and thank goodness we are finally getting some spring weather!

This post and the next one are a little different from all of my posts so far in that they are also assignments for a required course I am taking at Brock as part of my Master’s thesis. The course is entitled Visualizing Historical Research and the aim is to work with different tools of data visualization to engage with history in a way that we as historians are not quite as familiar with. This course fits neatly with my current research as I work to visualize the spatial relationships between colonial settlers in the Niagara region, and I have learned a few useful things from this course this past semester.

If you’ve been following this blog, you’ll know that over the past six months I have been studying the scholarship of Canadian economic history, and now I need to organize the historiography in a clear manner. Of course, I could do this textually by simply writing down names and titles of books, describing the themes and categories that have appeared over the past century, but another helpful way of organizing such information is by using visualizations. This first blog post will discuss the benefits and limitations of the Timeline and the Venn Diagram when presenting historiographical information.

In his 2006 paper on the history of data visualization, American psychologist and statistician Michael Friendly states that the timeline was first used as an educational tool by natural philosophers and physicists of the 18th century, namely men like Joseph Priestly and Jacques Barbeau-Dubourg. [1] They were used to chart the progression of an individual’s biography, indicating the most noteworthy moments in the person’s life. Timelines are a good way of showing influential moments, and thus I thought it might be a good idea to create one that shows the different categories of historiography that appeared over time, pertaining to my area of research. Using Microsoft PowerPoint and aided by Carl Berger’s The Writing of Canadian history: Aspects of English-Canadian Historical Writing since 1900, I organized some of who I felt were the most influential historians into distinct categories. The result looked like this.

Click to enlarge

Timeline Overview
As you can see, I began with the 1930s and Harold Innis, a scholar that I have written about multiple times already in this blog. I grouped Innis, Creighton, Lower, and Careless into the category of “traditional economic history,” since the staples thesis and the Laurentian thesis largely form the basis for contemporary studies of Canadian economic development. Economic history became overshadowed by political biographies, and eventually became popular again by the 1960s when historians like W. L. Morton began to look at economic developments as regional studies, understanding that patterns of growth and decline are subject to their own environments. This is clearly important for my study, since I am putting a regional focus on these questions of enterprise and transfers of commodities. Out of that came work influenced by the Annales school, and a re-emerging interest in political economy, and eventually social history. Histories involving a closer look at ethnicity, gender, sexuality, labour, and religion gave another dimension to how we view Canada’s past. However, as Canada entered into a new millennium, fragmentation within the study of Canadian history had reached a crisis point. Ian McKay eventually wrote the essay “The Liberal Order Framework” which argues that historians should approach Canada “not as ‘an essence we must defend or an empty homogenous space we must possess,’ but rather as an ongoing ‘project of liberal rule.’”[2] In other words, instead of looking at Canada within its geographical boundaries, this framework investigates how liberalism as a specific worldview affected the way in which colonial peoples interacted, made decisions, and saw the world. Finally, one of the most popular ways that we approach history today is with a post-colonial consensus that Indigenous people are integral to any study of Canadian history; that we should not just view them as victims but rather try to understand how they displayed agency through their daily choices.

Issues
Although I used colour coding techniques to match the authors with their categories and produced a timeline that I felt adequately reflected some of the most basic moments in the historiography of Canadian economic development, I found the timeline visualization to be problematic when demonstrating the existing scholarship of my more specific topic. This timeline shows the viewer a basic categorization of developments over time, but it is far too broad to help me visualize the nuances of my Loyalist-Era, Niagara based project. One problem is that placing an historian into rigid, one-dimensional categories assumes that they are incapable of exploring more than one topic in their writing; an absurd presumption. For example, I placed Allan Greer under the category of “Annales school” even though he could also fit under the umbrella of “Regionalism.” I began to realize that imposing a specific beginning or end date to these categories does not accurately reflect the hundreds of people who might adhere to tenets of “Regional” or “Social” or “Traditional” histories outside of the boundaries I had prescribed here. Am I not currently in 2019 working on a regionally focused history of my own? Am I not also basing some of my assumptions on “traditional” theories?

A timeline’s singular categories do not permit engagement with multiple groups, but they also do not take into account the wide variety of economic and communication theories that historians have created and adapted over time. Scholars placed in different categories, while focusing on different topics can still share theoretical approaches to studies of economy. For example, both Ian McKay and Allan Greer display Marxist approaches to their writing of history. This timeline does not show these authors’ theories about how trade functioned, who held the power in economic relationships, and what drove the business networks in a certain place at a certain point in history. These categories alone show nothing of historians’ engagement with theories of environmental determinism, materialism, Marxism, economic determinism, or liberalism.

Another issue that arose was with the broad categorization of “social history.” From around the 1960s onward, gender history, Indigenous peoples’ histories, labour history, histories of religion, and more were all becoming more prominent in academia and despite their vast differences are all grouped under the same category. Ultimately, I realized that the timeline is far too general, squeezing historians into one-dimensional categories and ignoring their multi-faceted approaches to history that encompass a variety of geographical areas and time periods. Because of this, I wondered if there could ever be an ideal way of visually presenting historiographical information.

Solution
However, dealing with the issue of overlapping categories made me consider the solution of using a Venn Diagram. I wanted to show how my thesis fit into existing scholarship, so I substantially narrowed my focus. While researching the historiography of my topic, I realized that historians have studied Canadian economic development, the Niagara region, and the Loyalist era before, but few have studied all three simultaneously. This diagram shows the three areas that my project covers in terms of space, time period, and category of analysis. Canadian historians have always been fascinated by Loyalist history, many publishing studies of loyalism in Ontario, but these studies are mostly socio-political in nature, discussing the structural development of Upper Canadian government, the Family Compact and the tensions leading to the 1837-38 Rebellions. A general trajectory of Canadian economic history has developed over time, encompassing the growth of trade networks, migration patterns and industrialization throughout the large geographic area, but does not accurately reflect the economic development of Niagara itself. Finally, those historians that do look at the economic history of Niagara in most cases study the area in its early industrial years, focusing on the building of the Welland Canals and the railway system. These historians are completing their studies upon scholarship that has a weak substructure. There is a clear need for more in-depth studies of the very economic foundations of the Niagara region.

Placing the work of Canadian historians within classifications of:
1) Space (Niagara)
2) Time (Loyalist era)
3) Category of Analysis (Economic)

This Venn diagram eliminates the issue of singularly categorizing historians, allowing them to fill as many as three categories here. By looking at this diagram, you can see that there are a lot of Canadian historians who have studied Canadian economic history in the colonial period, but studying the Niagara region in a more specific lens is less common. You can also see that there are a couple of historians that do analyze all three areas. Bruce Wilson especially has contributed to this area of study in his 1983 book about the enterprises of Robert Hamilton, who was Niagara’s most prominent merchant in this time period. There are still issues with a Venn diagram, like the fact that it only allows for three categories. However, it is possible to make more complicated Venn diagrams with four or five circles if you want to get really specific.

What is a Mind Map? Taken from iMindMap.com

Other Ideas
There are many other ways that historiography could be visualized. Mind mapping is another effective way of organizing one’s thoughts, showing the relative importance of each point based on its size or location on the page, and showing how the points relate to one another.

Check out this video featuring Tony Buzan, the inventor of the Mind Map, as he explains some of the best practices for creating your own.


Notes:
[1] Michael Friendly, “A Brief History of Data Visualization,” in Handbook of Computational Statistics: Data Visualization, eds. Chen, Hardle & Unwin (Berlin: Springer-Verlag, 2006), 7.
[2] Jean-Francois Constant and Michael Ducharme, “Introduction: A Project of Rule Called Canada,” in Constant and Ducharme eds., Liberalism and Hegemony: Debating the Canadian Liberal Revolution, (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2009), 4.

Mapping New Knowledges Conference

Last Thursday, Brock University held its 14th annual Mapping the New Knowledges Student Research Conference, where graduate students from all departments are welcome to share their research in either oral or poster presentations throughout the day.

I was pleased to present my poster, share my research, and gather advice throughout the day, making it a successful first-ever conference appearance for me.

My fellow MA history students shared their work as well. It was a great way to meet new people and form new connections in a trans-disciplinary atmosphere. Thank-you to Brock’s Faculty of Graduate Studies and the Graduate Students’ Association for organizing the conference!

Navigating the Historiography Part 2

Okay, another round of secondary sources, here we go.

Last month I was working through some of the more traditional economic histories of early Canada that most Canadian history buffs are familiar with (Innis and Creighton). This month, I’ve read some more recent work that puts the focus on regional studies. In the process, I learned the importance of understanding history in a more localized context, and not always viewing the past with a broad lens.

Two of the authors discuss similar histories, focused on rural nineteenth century Nova Scotia, and one author provides a gendered approach to this subject which has been traditionally dominated by studies of men.

Bittermann, Rusty. “The Hierarchy of the Soil: Land and Labour in a 19th Century Cape Breton Community” Acadiensis 18, no. 1 (1988): 33-55. https://journals.lib.unb.ca/index.php/Acadiensis/article/view/12258/0.

Morgan, Cecilia. Public Men and Virtuous Women: The Gendered Languages of Religion and Politics in Upper Canada, 1791-1850. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1996.

Samson, Daniel. The Spirit of Industry and Improvement: Liberal Government and Rural-Industrial Society, Nova Scotia, 1790-1862. Montreal: McGill-Queen’s Press, 2008

Rusty Bittermann and Daniel Samson study the history of rural Nova Scotia, and each tackle topics of power dynamics in society, examining how farmers responded to industrialization, capitalism, shifts in labour and demographics in the mid 1800s. (Danny Samson also happens to be my supervisor… which made our discussions about these books easier in some ways, and harder in other ways, haha). Bittermann argues that the settlement of Middle River, NS experienced differentiation of wealth and influence over time. The initial distribution of resources to colonists created divisions that just became deeper throughout the 19th century. As people born into slightly more privileged circumstances put that wealth into investing in resources like land, tools, and labour, they created assets that could be passed onto future generations, therefore entrenching the wealth disparity (p. 34). Samson argues that the development of rural economies in Nova Scotia is slightly more nuanced, seeing farmers not as proletarians succumbing to the inescapable confines of capitalism, but as men and women who occasionally achieved success by other means. In this book we see examples of both successful farmers and poorer “backlanders” making choices that allowed for improvement within society (agricultural, educational, etc.), therefore suggesting that social stratification was fluid rather than entrenched.

These arguments have clear ties to my own research of 18th and 19th century Niagara, and showed me that these types of regional studies hold lot of potential for valuable discovery. Did the same social stratifications exist between farmers in Niagara? Did wealth disparities become entrenched or was equality easier to obtain? How did geographical features like the “Black Swamp” on the south shore of Lake Ontario (see map above) affect settlement patterns and subsequent crop growth? In a similar vein, how did merchants interact with farmers, and what was the role of paternalism in their relationship over this short but turbulent time period? Doing these readings has brought up a lot of new, but important questions that I hope to answer as I begin looking through primary sources.

Cecilia Morgan’s book provides an interesting look at Upper Canada from a more socio-political standpoint, dismissing the traditional argument that men and women of the nineteenth century operated only within their own public and private spheres of life. She examines gender roles throughout the century, arguing that masculinity could be defined both at home and in the workplace, and that females exerted influence in public places like temperance parades and church bazaars. She relies heavily on newspaper accounts for evidence, which I thought was a fascinating avenue of understanding the politics, religion, and social standards in this time period. I am currently TA-ing a Post-Confederation Canada history course at Brock where just this past week the students completed an assignment that forced them to think about the ways in which newspapers can prove useful to historians… well here’s another good example!

Thanks for reading!

Navigating the Historiography Part I

It’s time for another update! Since my last post, I’ve been spending most of my time on MA course material and TA responsibilities, leaving little room for thesis work. Still, I managed to make a little headway in my background reading.

Understanding the scholarship regarding the development of colonial Upper Canada has been an interesting process. A solid understanding of how historians have interpreted this era is critical for creating thoughtful research questions, and the more I read the more I grasp the general arguments about its early economic and political growth. My Zotero “Must Read” collection still vastly outnumbers my “Have Read” collection, but hey… one book at a time.

For anyone studying Canadian history, Harold Innis and Donald Creighton will undoubtedly come up at some point in the conversation. These men have provided some of the most fundamental arguments about the economic development of Canada with their examination of the fur trade and the movement of staple products like cod, timber, and wheat from the 17th century onward. I’ve learned the basics of their “staples thesis” and “Laurentian thesis” in the past, but have never actually read their books! Thus, I read the following:
(Craig is influential as well, and a little more recent)

Innis, Harold A., and Arthur J. Ray. 2017. The Fur Trade in Canada : An Introduction to Canadian Economic History. The Canada 150 Collection. Toronto : University of Toronto Press, 2017

Creighton, Donald, and Donald Creighton. 2002. The Empire of the St. Lawrence : A Study in Commerce and Politics. Toronto : University of Toronto Press, 2002.

Craig, Gerald M. 1963. Upper Canada : The Formative Years 1784-1841. The Canadian Centenary Series: V. 7. Toronto : McClelland and Stewart, 1963.

Innis’ book was originally published in 1930, Creighton’s in 1937, and Craig’s in 1963. Historians generally will take information that was published almost a century ago with a grain of salt. That being said, the advanced age of these texts does not mean that their scholarship is invalid. On the contrary, I found these books to be extremely useful in my understanding of the early Upper and Lower Canadian economy, as they situate the St. Lawrence River and the Great Lakes in the broader context of a trans-Atlantic trade system. Innis argues in his “staples thesis” that Canada developed the way it did because of the lateral movement of staple products from the continent over to Britain, forming a cultural connection that impacted the building of socio-political and industrial structures in Canada. According to Creighton, it was specifically the St. Lawrence river system that facilitated this British merchant class monopoly on the market economy via staple exports. For more information, see Dr. Daniel MacFarlane’s excellent present-day analysis of the Laurentian thesis.

These three authors also discuss the relationship between Canada and the United States. With the 1783 Treaty of Paris, the American Revolution ended and a border was created, resulting in major consequences for the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence trade system. The fact that Niagara is a border region holds exciting potential as I look into the relationship between the two nations during this period of transition. The authors also discuss the political relationship between the merchant class and the growing agricultural communities in Niagara after 1800. The class struggle that culminated in the 1837-38 Upper and Lower Canada Rebellions was seeded in the polarization of merchant and farming classes as the second generation of Loyalists matured. As I comprise my geospatial database of merchants, trade routes, and commodities, I am interested to see how my results align with these standard theories.

Next on the agenda is to read some more recent studies from the 1980s and 90s. I expect to see some revisions!

 

Ontario’s Bureau of Archives Reports

Happy New Year!

With one week of vacation left before school starts again, I spent some time looking through the very first reports ever made by Ontario’s provincial archives.

The Archives of Ontario were officially founded in Toronto in 1903 and originally titled the Bureau of Archives. The Bureau was first stationed in the Ontario Legislative Building, and now exist in their own site on Toronto’s York University campus. The first head archivist, a man named Alexander Fraser, was met with the enormous task of inventorying the items in the province’s collection, and deciding on a vision for their future preservation. The Bureau of Archives initially produced one report every year, detailing the inventories of documents in their possession, and even including full-texts of major collections.

The focus of these early reports was largely upon the late 18th and early 19th century formation of Upper Canada. The Legislative Assembly journals documented in the 1909 Sixth Report of the Bureau of Archives only record the years 1792-1804 (the first three parliaments), and the 1910 Seventh Report of the Bureau of Archives contains only Legislative Council records from 1792-1819. Clearly it took time to organize the collections and the archives eventually grew to include much more material. For my purposes however, these first reports are wonderful sources of information since I am working between the approximate dates of 1775-1822.

I came across some fascinating files, one example which I will post here. This image is from the 1904 Second Report of the Bureau of Archives Part I. In 1783, a Commission was assembled to “enquire into the Losses and Services of all such Persons who have suffered in their Rights, Properties, and Professions, during the late unhappy dissentions in America, in consequence of their Loyalty to his Majesty and Attachment to the British Government” (p. 13). It looks like their first wave of 2,063 claimants listed a total of almost £10 million (close to $50 million) in wartime losses. Can you imagine having this job??

Inkedwar losses_LI

In addition to Commission reports, the Bureau Reports include a variety of documents such as the meeting minutes of the first Land Boards, Government Proclamations, interactions with the Huron people, proceedings of the Legislative Assembly and Legislative Council, maps, personal collections, and other sundries. These Reports from 1903-1920 can be read here on the Internet Archive… you don’t even have to leave your house!

There is so much primary source information to work through here, but after looking through the Reports as well as scouring every inch of the Archives’ website, I now have a better idea of what is available online, what I can access via Interloan at Brock, and what I’ll actually need to go there for in person. Knowing where to look for specific information on shipping ports, shop locations, trade routes, merchant families, commodity production and consumption, and laws and regulations surrounding trade is time consuming, but vital to the foundations of my spatial project. These reports are just one avenue of data collection that I am excited to explore further.