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!

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.

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.

 

A Bumpy Start

So the past two weeks have held the typical grad school workload of reading, applying for grants, reading, TA-ing, reading, writing papers, and of course… more reading. I have been trying to gain  an understanding of the general layout of the historiography of colonial Canadian economics up until this point. This process is clearly going to take a while, but through all this reading I’ve already picked up a few themes and made a few connections where I think my research will make a contribution. Here’s just a handful of the books I’ve read since my last blog post:

Clarke, John. Land, Power, and Economics on the Frontier of Upper Canada. Montreal and Kingston: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2001.

J. K. Johnson. Becoming Prominent: Leadership in Upper Canada, 1791-1841. Kingston and Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1989.

McCalla, Douglas. Consumers in the Bush: Shopping in Rural Upper Canada. Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2014.

McCalla, Douglas. Planting the Province: the economic history of Upper Canada, 1784-1870. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1993.

Samson, Daniel., ed. Contested Countryside: Rural Workers and Modern Society in Atlantic Canada, 1800-1950. Acadiensis, 1994.

Wilson, Bruce. The Enterprises of Robert Hamilton: a study of wealth and influence in early Upper Canada, 1776-1812. Ottawa: Carleton University Press, 1983.

Much of this research was propelled by the deadlines for SSHRC and OGS applications for funding next year. To be honest, working through all of this material was difficult. It was an information overload, and I had a hard time piecing together the authors’ arguments.  I took notes and extracted what I felt was pertinent, but was left with multiple sets of separate notes with no comprehension of how they related to one another.

Thanks to the past four years of university, I knew it was possible to power through this mental block. I just needed to take a step back and start over, assembling one theme at a time. Eventually, a few major arguments became clear and I’ve since gained a basic level of understanding from these Canadian historians. This GIS-driven project is fundamentally about merchant networks, but situates itself within Canadian historiographical arguments about power dynamics in burgeoning colonial societies. I’m excited by the fact that Niagara was a strategic location for the British due to its place within the St. Lawrence and Great Lakes network.

This study also aligns itself with discourse on the “staples thesis” (economic development being driven by staples like wheat, fish, and furs), promoted by Harold Innis in the 1930s, since Niagara was a region that produced materials for both local and national consumption. Debates surrounding the significance of rural consumption have arisen in the past few decades to counter staples theorists’ claims (McCalla, 1993 and Clarke, 2001). The manner by which early local development occurred in Niagara fits into these larger conversations, and due to its significant location on the American border includes transnational, military, and fur trade dimensions. The relationships between the existing merchant elite and the authorities designated by an overseas government are also ripe for further exploration.

This was me on Tuesday, when everything finally clicked:


My advice for other students experiencing mental blocks:

1) Don’t give up! Try another approach, different scenery, take a walk, read something completely different for a while, take some time to recharge, but don’t quit.
2) Ask for help! My supervisor is the one who suggested I take a break and read something else. Guidance in these ways is crucial to your success, and you won’t get as far on your own, no matter how independent you think you are (this is coming from someone whose actual first words were “do it myself”). Don’t be afraid to ask for help- collaboration is key!