The King’s Mills in Niagara-on-the-Lake (1784-1794)

Hi all, it’s been a while since my last post so it’s time I give an update on my research!

Things are slowly coming together here; my data set is growing and my analysis of Niagara’s early economy continues to develop. I’ve made a few ArcGIS map drafts now, and I’ll post the latest one here in this blog so you can see what I’ve been working on. Keep in mind that these maps are continually developing and still need fine tuning, but they’ve been useful so far in revealing a few things about local development that I hadn’t really considered before.

Continuing with the Servos accounts that I had written about in previous posts, I wanted to visualize these patterns of local exchange, specifically in the markets of lumber and flour which were two of the province’s main staple products during the 19th century. For the sake of brevity I’ll only discuss Niagara’s wheat economy in this blog post. Because this analysis investigates a span of only one decade (1784-1794), the results are somewhat limited; my conclusions are tentative as I continue to collect data for the next two decades. This analysis, albeit narrowly focused, reveals valuable information about Niagara’s early economy. By looking at this market I considered some of the questions commonly discussed in Canadian economic history such as:

  1. Agency, or the question of who held power within society, and how was it manifested? What does this map tell us about the choices made by farmers in Niagara, the level of British investment or the influence of merchants?
  2. What does the quantity of product and its movement through the region reveal about Niagara’s skilled labour force, reaction to market fluctuations, or the overall demand for the product? Who was involved in this supply chain and how?
  3. What was the impact of geography on settlement and rural trade patterns?

Method:

This map is a projection of the data found in Volume 1 of Niagara miller Daniel Servos’ account books, recording transactions at the King’s Mills in Niagara-on-the-Lake from the years 1784-1794. For more info on Servos and the King’s Mills, see my last post. I created an Excel spreadsheet with the name of the customer, their township of residence, the quantity of flour they had milled, and its value in shillings. Then, using historical maps of Niagara townships I determined the location of the individuals’ farms and entered the appropriate X and Y coordinates into the spreadsheet.

This method is time consuming yet rewarding, one of my main issues being the fact that not every account can be accurately pinpointed. Some names are indecipherable, some don’t appear in any maps, censuses or archival references, and some owned multiple pieces of land in different townships. These X and Y coordinates are the result of weeks of research and provide a general picture of farm locations in Niagara with a few possible outliers, which can’t be avoided when dealing with incomplete amalgamations of sources.

The GIS contains a few historical maps of Niagara townships in the late 18th century, a modern soil map, the flour and lumber sales per year, and the peninsula’s very first saw & grist mills. If you click on the arrow on the left side of the map a legend will appear and you can toggle the layers for each of the years to see who interacted with Servos at the King’s Mills, what they were selling, the quantity, price, and where their home farm was located. I’ve embedded the map below, but it is easier to work with from the ArcGIS Desktop App if you click on this link: https://www.arcgis.com/home/webmap/viewer.html?webmap=14b75b69233c4b078ae4d1e5efafea14

Map Analysis: What Does it Mean?

Communities in Niagara were centered around saw and grist mills as an economic junction where production and consumption took place. Historian Joshua MacFayden talks about this concept in his book on Canada’s 19th century flax industry, saying that a flax mill was “a place where former slave owners, Unionists, and escaped slaves worked together, not equally, and not exactly cheek by jowl, but together.” [1] The Servos accounts show a similar union of people from all walks of life; ex-slaves like Peter Long, prominent Mohawk women like Molly Brant and merchants like Samuel Street and Robert Hamilton intersected at the King’s Mills, forming a web of social and material interactions.

The King’s Mills brought people together from within Niagara township, but the map shows that for the first few years people had to travel great distances to mill their wheat and corn. In total, 65% of the 179 people that held an account with Servos between 1784-1794 lived within 10 miles of the mills. You can see this more clearly by clicking on the King’s Mill Buffer in the legend. The other 35% came from other parts of the Niagara peninsula, spanning as far west as Grimsby and as far south as Fort Erie and Port Colbourne. The escarpment didn’t prevent people from bringing their crops down to the King’s Mills, and some of these journeys would take 2-3 days. Why was this the case?

At first it was out of necessity. The map shows that in the years 1784-1789, Servos had a few customers come to NOTL from Clinton and Grimsby Townships, but they stopped coming by 1790. This was because at first there were no other gristmills in the peninsula for the settlers of these districts to use, and thus they had no other options but to travel the far distance. Once the mills on the Thirty and Forty Mile Creeks were built in 1789, Servos no longer saw those customers.

The King’s Mills brought together people from different townships within the Niagara district, forming social connections that spanned regional boundaries. When Grimsby farmer Jacob Glover came to Servos with wheat and corn, he left with a milled product but also brown sugar and rum. [2] Servos also charged him for one night’s lodging, making rent income a byproduct of his milling enterprise. People who brought pine logs to Servos would leave the mills having also bought flour for their families. The exchanges in these early days are not terribly complex, but they show the formation of a greater community in the Niagara peninsula… one that did not discriminate based on class, gender or ethnicity. The map forces us to think of these people spatially and take into account the unique transportation challenges many faced.


I plotted the other mills that appeared in Niagara between 1783-1792 onto the map as well. According to Surveyor General D. W. Smith, there were 14 sawmills and 10 gristmills in the Niagara peninsula in 1792. [3] I added an escarpment layer to the map and when activated we can see that 15/24 of the mills were built atop the escarpment. While this natural feature was in many ways an impediment to transport, the settlers were still able to harness its natural power to their benefit.

Like the King’s Mills, these other mills interspersed throughout the Niagara region each functioned as a hub of socio-economic activity for their individual townships. Burch’s Mills at the top of Niagara Falls serviced the entire Stamford & Willoughby townships. We can see in the map that the King’s Mills only had two customers from that area, even though Stamford and Niagara Township bordered one another. Both the King’s Mills and Burch’s Mills annually serviced the same 10-40 families within a 10-mile radius during this first decade, creating invisible lines that formed distinct communities.

Loyalist settlers required permission from the authorities if they wanted to build a mill, but half of the mills in this first decade were built without permission. Having multiple options for milling in these communities fostered competition, exemplified in Niagara Township as there were three different families operating mills on the Four Mile Creek by 1792. If you turn on the 1784 Niagara-on-the-Lake map layer and the Secord Mill buffer, you’ll see that the northern half of the Niagara district interacted with the King’s Mills more so than the lower half.

What this means is that the Secord Mills were likely taking those customers. If you turn on the Secord Mill Buffer and turn on all of the flour sale layers post-1787 there are only eight customers living within a 3-mile radius of the Secord Mills that chose to have their products milled at the King’s Mills. The other 80% of the King’s Mill customers in the Niagara district came from the northern half. Servos’ accounts show between 11-44 customers using the King’s Mills in the first decade of settlement. This doesn’t seem like very many people, especially since some of them only came to the mill once or twice in a year, but the Secord Mills could have been getting the same number of annual customers which would mean there was actually a lot more business going on in Niagara at this time than the account books suggest. Since I don’t know of any Secord account books in existence to support this hypothesis, I am making an assumption through the map projection that they provided a significant contribution to the settlement at Niagara, especially for a few years when the King’s sawmill was out of commission.

Having three different millers (Servos, Secord & Lutes) operating in this small area within the period of a decade show the population growing at a pace that required more than one miller to process the amount of wheat, corn, and lumber being brought in. Competition is a good thing because it pushes each person to produce the best quality outputs and offer fair prices to consumers. These milling developments in Niagara indicate rapid growth, accessibility, and allowed each person to make their own choice when investing in the economy.


ArcGIS maps are useful to spatial histories in their ability to combine elements of geography and history. Topographical studies of the Niagara region including field surveys and remote sensing are generated by modern researchers but can also apply to historical analyses. For example, if you turn on the 1989 Niagara soils layer it provides another dimension to this study. How did the quality of farmland affect settlement?

Another reason why the King’s Mills received fewer customers from the southern portion of Niagara township could be because it contained poorer soil than the north. There are a multitude of soil types in the Niagara peninsula ranging from sand to hard clay, and there are not many places where someone couldn’t grow a crop… especially the hardier crops like corn, wheat, rye, and buckwheat. One would think that Niagara-on-the-Lake would be prime farmland, being known for having a microclimate conducive to growing tender fruits. However, there are parts of Niagara-on-the-Lake that have hard clay soil (indicated as light and dark green areas), especially in the southwestern portion, that make crop growth more difficult than in other areas. Hence why the land is now home to the Niagara airport and not another vineyard! I think that extending this analysis another two decades will really indicate whether soil was the issue in that part of Niagara, pushing people to engage in other forms of labour or to sell the land and move further west.

Some historical maps of Niagara provide hints of what the soil was like. If you turn on the 1818 Francis Hall map layer, it shows the Louth/western Grantham area as “Black Swamp.” There was a distinct lack of customers from these areas throughout this entire period, which might have been intensified by land drainage issues. These lands on the Lake Ontario shoreline are described in primary sources as being extremely wet; people tried methods of building dams and digging trenches to dry out the ground. Elizabeth Simcoe even wrote that the Iroquois trail that ran along the bottom of the escarpment, now known as Hwy 8, was often obstructed. [4]

“The Governor thinks the country will derive great benefit by opening a road on the top of the mountain (where it is quite dry) from Niagara to the “Head of the Lake,” [Burlington] instead of going a most terrible road below, full of swamps, fallen trees, etc.”

When studying rural economies it is important to understand the geographic factors that affected settlement. In Niagara we know that the escarpment hindered north-south transportation, but historical & modern maps can show the greater extent of these issues. A snowball effect took place as wet land meant poor road construction, which meant limitations on transportation, which meant people often only went to the King’s Mill in the wintertime, which meant it was important to build good quality sleighs and own healthy oxen, but also that participation in the economy was limited by geographic features. One’s wealth and status did not matter; the playing field was leveled by these shared obstacles. Living near to a mill or waterway was a huge advantage, and these early lessons learned by Loyalist settlers formed the framework for roads that we still use today. Historian Andrew Burghart says that in Niagara the towns created the roads, not vice versa. [5] He means that although the Iroquois trail was formed by Indigenous peoples that hunted and traveled through Niagara, it was not always a viable route for a settler economy that relied on the movement of wagons with heavy bulk goods like grains and lumber. Therefore, north-south roads developed along the creeks in response to the needs of the new settlers.


The map also shows that it took at least ten years for a farm to become well-established in Niagara to the point where it could produce beyond subsistence and sell flour in bulk to merchants. Isaac Horton’s accounts provide a good example of these static numbers over the years, as he had 355lbs of flour milled by Servos in 1787, 394lbs in 1791, and 241lbs in 1794. There was a gradual rise in the number of customers at the King’s Mills per year, from eleven people in 1786 to thirty in 1793. The number of customers tripled within a decade, as did the amount of flour being milled, but the growth was not exponential. The price of a counterweight (112 lbs) of flour in 1793 was worth half of what it was worth in 1786. This meant that even though people were milling around the same quantity of flour each year, they were actually earning less as time went on.

It’s also noteworthy that during the “hunger winter” of 1787-88, Servos milled more flour than he had in previous years. Although first-hand accounts mention a poor crop yield that season, the famine cannot be completely attributed to a lack of food in Niagara. Rather, this was the year that the British government stopped sending rations to the area, resulting in a winter of rough adjustment for the Loyalists.

King’s Grist Mill Annual Figures

YearNo. of CustomersFlour Produced (cwt)Average Price per Cwt (s)Value of Flour Milled (£/cwt)
17861119.16360.1
17872027.536.650.3
17882230.834.252.7
17891820.541.742.7
17902222.440.245.1
17913063.732101.9
17922769.926.592.6
17933065.02994.1
179444Incomplete Data29.7Incomplete Data
Data gathered from “Account Book Volume I 1785-1795″. Daniel Servos Records 1779-1826. MS 538. Archives of Ontario

The ArcGIS map also hints that a large portion of the Niagara peninsula was still uninhabited by 1794, which slowed development. Although the entire peninsula had been surveyed & assigned to settlers, and many 100-acre plots had even changed ownership, much of the land in these districts were owned in bulk by retired officers of the British military. Surnames like McNab, Bradt, TenBroek, Butler, and Hare are seen often, some of them owning 1000-2000 acres. According to a 1783 census there were 46 families living in the district of Niagara with each family owning one or two 100-acre plots but each family cultivated only an average of 10 acres per year. If families could only improve that small amount of land, that means that hundreds of acres along the Lake Ontario shoreline were not being used.

Political reformer Robert Gourlay’s 1822 Statistical Account of Upper Canada shows that this was still an issue much later, land speculators buying thousands of acres and letting them lay bare for decades. Governor Simcoe and other provincial leaders encouraged settlement in Niagara, but saw the danger of having so many families in the peninsula originate in the American colonies, despite their oaths of loyalty to King George III. Gourlay argued that for Niagara to prosper it required a larger unskilled labour force to work on the farms and heighten agricultural production, but the way in which land was initially distributed retarded the potential for success as it slowed road construction and isolated localities. [6]


In this analysis the ArcGIS map suggests that farmers were greatly impacted by their geographical location both on a large and small scale, and they made choices that facilitated growth during this first decade of settlement. The developments in local milling indicated settler agency. Farmers chose who to trade and work with, made land improvements and developed capital assets without always asking for government assent. They saw the potential that Niagara had to offer including the gravitational benefits of the escarpment, a moderate climate and plenty of space for growth.

Government rations were only handed out for the first 3 years, so the people supported themselves very early on, but were aided by the fact that their taxes were low and they didn’t have to pay for their land, received restitution from war loss claims, and some got half-pay as officers in the military. These benefits provided a foundation for the farmers to work with, however, they still needed money to purchase seed, pay for milling services and other farm help, as well as farm tools & miscellaneous household items. Since cash was scarce, this resulted in the debt economy for the first few years as people paid each other back mostly through exchange of goods and labour. The government also controlled the influx of people settling in Upper Canada and their initial distribution of titles for land. Some of these decisions created long-term challenges that effectively slowed progress until the mid-19th century industrial period.

Merchants were not making a profit off of the work of Niagara’s settlers quite yet. Robert Hamilton made a lot of money during this decade, but it was not because of his ties to the local market, rather his other enterprises with the portage and his connections to partners in Detroit and Kingston. Hamilton’s interactions with Servos in these ten years only indicate that Servos delivered 35 loads of unspecified goods to him between Feb-May 1787, earning a total of £3.5 for this work. If merchants were buying large quantities of flour from settlers, it would have showed up in Servos’ accounts as bulk sales in the credits section.

The typical narrative of economic historians for Upper Canada during this period focuses on the importance of either staple materials themselves or the economic relationships in forming our nation’s socio-political structures. Joshua MacFayden suggests a social constructivist approach regarding the flax industry where “all societies set out ‘paths and diversions’ to establish terms by which objects are circulated and exchanged.” [7] It certainly seems that Niagara in the first decade of settlement adhered to the latter theory as farmers exhibited this agency in many forms. We are not seeing specific products dominate the local market or societal classes form based on commercial links. As the analysis continues and flour production ramps up, I am interested to see how these patterns develop.

Sources:
[1] Joshua MacFayden, Flax Americana: A History of the Fibre and Oil That Covered a Continent, (Monreal & Kingston: McGill-McQueen’s Press, 2018), 35.
[2] “Account Book Volume I 1785-1795″. Daniel Servos Records 1779-1826. No. 42. MS 538. Archives of Ontario.
[3] Ernest Cruikshank, Notes on the history of the district of Niagara, 1791-1793, (Welland: Welland Tribune Print, 1914), 49, accessed from Internet Archive, https://archive.org/details/notesonhistoryof26crui/page/n6/mode/2up.
[4] “The diary of Mrs. John Graves Simcoe, wife of the first lieutenant-governor of the province of Upper Canada, 1792-6,” ed. J. Ross Robertson, (Toronto: W. Briggs, 1911), 319, accessed through Internet Archive, https://archive.org/details/diaryofmrsjohngr00simcuoft/page/318/mode/2up.
[5] Andrew Burghardt, “The Origin and Development of the Road Network of the Niagara Peninsula, Ontario, 1770-1851”, Annals of the Association of American Geographers, vol. 59, no. 3 (1969), 435, accessed January 2020, https://www.jstor.org/stable/2561724.
[6] Robert Gourlay, Statistical Account of Upper Canada, (London: Simpkin & Marshall, 1822), 428, accessed from Internet Archive, https://archive.org/details/statisticalaccou02gouruoft/page/n6/mode/2up.
[7] MacFayden, Flax Americana, 18.

Life In Niagara: The Servos Family Enterprises (Analysis)

A Primary Source Analysis of the Servos Mill Accounts 1785-1816: Part 2

To read Part 1, click here. To recap, this blog post is based on the contents of Account Books I-IV and the Personal Account Book of Daniel Servos in the Servos Mill Records (1785-1826) collection found in the Archives of Ontario.

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

Question

What drove Niagara’s Loyalist Era economy?”

Analysis

In reading these sources, I will identify (5) main points concerning what drove Niagara’s Loyalist era economy.

  • 1. Niagara was operating a debt-based economy.

One constant throughout these records is the fact that the people who owed the Servos mills money could take 5 or more years to make their payments. For example, in 1785 Henry Young was charged £1-13-0 New York Currency (NYC) for Servos’ services of grinding wheat into 50 lb of flour but Young did not make a payment until July 2, 1790.

“Account Book Volume I 1785-1795″. No. 26. Daniel Servos Records 1779-1826. MS 538. Archives of Ontario

This pattern occurs throughout the accounts, with men and women piling up debts and not paying them off until much later. What has been extremely frustrating to me is the fact that there was often no record when, how, or if these debts were paid. The Credits section on the right hand page, which is typically meant to show payments by the customer, is often left blank or incomplete. This makes it difficult to figure out the patterns of local exchange since we don’t always know how people paid for the services that Daniel Servos provided in milling their flour and lumber. Since many of the Loyalists in Niagara came in groups from the colonies and knew each other previously, this would have made it easier to trust one another. In fact, 54% of the settlers in Upper Canada were originally from Tryon county in New York, and thus the Servos brothers would have known and trusted many of the people in the Niagara community. [1] While they had moved to a new part of the world, they were not completely isolated.

  • 2. People cared about building wealth, not gathering income.

Other historians have made this argument before, and it is quite evident in the Servos accounts. Canadian historian Douglas McCalla argues that the economy of Upper Canada in the late 18th century was not a subsistence economy. A subsistence economy is not based on money, but is a system “in which buying and selling are absent or rudimentary though barter may occur, and which commonly provides a minimal standard of living.” [2] McCalla says this is so because of the high levels of immigration, the region’s ability to survive substantial fluctuations in wheat prices, to produce commodities on a regular basis and to adapt to market concerns. [3] The Servos accounts confirm that the Niagara region was definitely functioning beyond mere subsistence.

So how did settlers in the Niagara region envision growing and prospering? Because the Servos family and other labourers operated in debt for so much of their lives, they were motivated to work towards building capital assets over a long period of time, rather than accumulating income. This meant stability for the future despite market fluctuations of staple exports. We also know that cash was scarce at this time, so debts were usually repaid via barter or personal labour. This is not to say that there was no money to be found… in fact, most Loyalists acquired money from the British government approximately 5-10 years after the war, helping them invest in capital projects like building mills, houses, shops, etc. [4] This included money from war loss claims, officer’s half pay, and annual salaries of Indian Department officers. However, Daniel Servos did not receive his war loss claims payout or his half pay for his wartime duties in the Indian Department until 1788, and his parcels of land in Niagara township were not officially granted until the 1790s. This made the first 5 years in Niagara very difficult for him as a middling-status miller, until he acquired some of this cash and started investing it in building small-scale commercial enterprises.

Daniel Servos’ farm with 50 cleared acres was one of the Niagara settlement’s top producers of wheat in 1787. [5] He also milled flour and timber for the people of Niagara from the King’s Mills, which were the first mills to ever be built in the region, and built a second set of mills by 1791 after the old ones had been destroyed. He built a shop and exchanged goods such as tobacco, rum, cloth, & dinnerware for his work in milling wheat and timber, acquiring such goods via wholesale markets. He rented his teams of horses and oxen to people to carry loads away from the mills, and he rented land to people for animals to pasture. He operated a blacksmith shop, and built items like sleighs, ploughs and farm implements. He made bags and shirts, meaning he provided weaving and sewing services as well. These were clearly all family ventures. Although it is not stated outright in the accounts, it can be inferred that his wife and children participated in this work and were vital to the family’s success.

Charges made to Street & Butler for sewing services in June & July of 1784. “Account Book Volume I 1785-1795″. No. 6. Daniel Servos Records 1779-1826. MS 538. Archives of Ontario
  • 3. Flour sales were one of the main drivers of Niagara’s early economy.

Flour was not the sole driver, but it was definitely a driver. In the first 10-15 years of settlement, flour exports from the Niagara region were insubstantial. Production was erratic due to bad weather, poor roads and communication. Excess flour produced in Niagara was sent to the local military garrisons such as Fort Erie, Fort Chippewa, Fort George, and Fort Niagara. The British government would pay high prices for Niagara produce in an attempt to aid the local economy in these nascent years. The American garrisons also provided a small market for flour, specifically Fort Niagara in 1797 which was the first summer that the Fort was in the hands of the Americans, being given to them by the British in the 1796 Jay Treaty. The third market that was not advantageous until at least 1800 was the Lower Canadian market. In the early 1800s the Niagara region became very involved in the export of this commodity, aided by [6]:
a. lower shipping costs
b. British crop failures
c. high flour prices in Quebec.

I looked for these market trends in the Servos accounts, and saw that they established a partnership in the late 1790s with William and James Crooks, lining up exactly with the Lower Canadian market trend. The Crooks brothers imported goods into Niagara and exported products such as flour, timber, potash, and furs from Niagara and beyond. Their partners in Montreal were Auldjo & Maitland, who were connected to manufacturers in London. [7] In the early 1800s, Servos’ relationship with the Crooks brothers proved advantageous as he sold flour to them in large quantities. Niagara’s settlers depended on merchant relationships to connect them with these external markets.

The Servos accounts also reveal major fluctuations in wheat prices from 1784-1816. At this time millers would normally take 1/12th of the quantity of flour milled as payment for their services, but Servos instead charges a fixed rate of anywhere between 2-7 pence per 1lb of flour he milled. The currency being used here was the standard “pound, shilling, pence (£sd)” system used by Britain where there were 12 pence in a shilling, and 20 shillings in a pound. Therefore, if we assume that this 2-7 pence/lb is 1/12th of what the total quantity of milled flour was worth, we can estimate that the government price of flour fluctuated between 2-7 shillings/lb during these years. These estimates line up with the rise and fall in national wheat prices that McCalla records in his research.

Douglas McCalla, “The “Loyalist” Economy of Upper Canada, 1784-1806,” Social History 16 no. 32, 1983, 288.

As we see in the graph above, a downturn in flour prices around 1800 incentivised Niagara farmers and millers to send their flour to the Lower Canadian markets which were buying for more than double what British purchasing agents were offering in Niagara. There are two major spikes in Servos’ price for milling flour, from 1788-1790, and from 1795-1799. Alternatively, Servos was charging low prices from 1792-1794, and from 1802-1804.

If we think back to my post on Upper Canadian wheat sales in 1797-1799 based on the Russell accounts, recall that the government was irritated with the farmers and merchants in Upper Canada for selling their flour to the Americans who were offering a price 5 – 10 shillings higher than the British. In March of 1798, Niagara merchants were making demands of up to 31.5 shillings per counterweight (1 cwt = 112 lbs), and British purchasing agent John McGill felt this was outrageously high [8]. Instead, he sent cheap flour from Quebec to the British garrisons near Niagara, forcing Niagara merchants to sell for less, fearing they might not otherwise sell it at all. McGill only paid between 20 – 22.5 shillings/cwt for Niagara’s flour in 1798. The table below shows all of the prices listed in the Russell accounts.

Flour Purchase Prices 1797-1799
DatePrice (Shillings per Cwt)LocationCountry
1797-07-1420KingstonBritish
1797-07-1522.5KingstonBritish
1797-07-1625KingstonAmerican
1797-07-1727.5NiagaraAmerican
1798-02-2422.5NiagaraBritish
1798-02-2522.5NiagaraAmerican
1798-05-0822NiagaraBritish
1798-05-1220KingstonBritish
1798-05-2322.5NiagaraBritish
1798-05-3020DetroitBritish
1798-06-0520DetroitBritish
1798-06-0620KingstonBritish
1798-06-2426NiagaraBritish
1798-06-2526DetroitBritish
1799-02-1820KingstonBritish
1799-02-1922.5NiagaraBritish
1799-02-2022.5DetroitBritish
Servos Milling Prices 1797-1799
DatePrice (Shillings per Cwt)LocationCountry
1797-03-1540.3NiagaraBritish
1797-12-2544.8NiagaraBritish
1798-03-1340.3NiagaraBritish
1798-04-1540.3Niagara British
1798-10-2044.8NiagaraBritish
1798-12-1044.8NiagaraBritish
1799-01-0344.8NiagaraBritish
1799-02-0244.8NiagaraBritish
1799-02-2240.3NiagaraBritish
1799-04-0140.3NiagaraBritish
1799-09-0129.1NiagaraBritish
1799-12-0129.1NiagaraBritish

If we compare the British accounts to the Servos accounts, we see that in 1798 Daniel Servos was charging his customers 40-45 shillings per cwt. for milling their wheat into flour. After the flour was milled, it was packaged in bags or barrels. Servos charged 9 pence per empty bag, which is equal to three quarters of a shilling. [9] Prices around 40-45 shillings are some of the highest amounts Servos ever charged his customers, and it looks like farmers were only getting half of that back from the government. This means that they could not turn much of a profit on flour sales, even in years with the highest government purchasing prices.

Before 1800, the flour could then be:
1. Taken back by the customer for their own consumption, or for them to sell.
2. Sold directly to someone else. For example, Robert Hamilton paid for 300 lbs. (or 3 cwt.) of flour to go to John Hainer on April 14, 1787. In this way, the mill also acted as a grain distribution centre.

Account with Robert Hamilton, April 14, 1787. “Account Book Volume I 1785-1795″. No. 47. Daniel Servos Records 1779-1826. MS 538. Archives of Ontario

After 1800, Servos’ partnership with William & James Crooks steadily grew. Flour was transported by land to the brothers’ storehouses at the site of present-day Fort Mississauga, about four miles east of the Servos mills, or it was loaded onto their vessel at the Four Mile Pond and sent from there down the St. Lawrence to the Quebec markets.

Account with Wm. & J. Crooks. Charges for transport of flour to their vessels in April, 1801. “Account Book Volume 3 1798-1816”. No. 27. Daniel Servos Records 1779-1826. MS 538. Archives of Ontario
  • 4. Labour and goods in Niagara were expensive.

Since Niagara was so far from the ocean, it makes sense that imported goods cost more, due to the price of transportation. To acquire enough money or credit to pay for these goods, the price of produce in Niagara had to be a higher as well. Comparing the prices of a few commodities that appear regularly in the Servos accounts, we can see the relative value of these goods. Here are the average yearly prices on a few commodities over two decades.

Price of Goods in Niagara
ItemUnit (shillings)1787 Price1797 Price1806 Price
Flourper cwt. (112 lbs.) 32.83824
Wheatper bushel8107
Cornper bushel1085
Branper bushel422
Oats per bushel654
Tobaccoper pound455
Rumper gallon162420
Oxper oneN/A300280
Pigper oneN/A50N/A
Calfper oneN/A24N/A
Shoesone pair of men’s41014

These numbers show a decrease in the price of grains such as wheat, corn, bran and oats by the mid 1800s. The market trends that affected the sale of flour, such as lower shipping costs and higher prices in Quebec had the same affect on the sale of these commodities. After 1800, Servos sold grains in larger quantities to the Crooks brothers to send to Lower Canada so they could take advantage of this market.

Account with Wm. & J. Crooks. Charges to the customer for various items 1808-1810. “Account Book Volume 3 1798-1816”. No. 114. Daniel Servos Records 1779-1826. MS 538. Archives of Ontario

The accounts also show how important animals were for the survival of a family farm. A yoke of oxen cost around 600 shillings, which is equal to £30. Teams of oxen were used by Servos to transport goods by land across Niagara, often to merchants located along the Niagara River. The loss of cattle or horses in peak season, especially before 1800, was a great impediment to any family’s development.

The price of labour is more difficult to chart because it relies on multiple factors such as the type of work, gender of the labourer, their skill level, if they required lodging, or what season they were in. Here are a few examples of labour that appear in the Servos accounts:

YearType of LabourPrice (Shillings)Unit
1784Making a fine shirt10per shirt
1784Making a calico shirt4per shirt
1786Unspecified work4per day
1791Cutting wood4per day
1791Transporting corn12per day
1791Work in the shop6per day
1794Thrashing wheat4per day
1801Work at the sawmill4per day
1803Splitting rails62per 1000 rails
1803Unspecified work3per day
1805Making a long coat24per coat
1806Cradling oats6per day
1806Carding wool 80per cwt
1807Work in hay8per day
1807Work on the roads6per day
1808Unspecified work6per day
1808Weaving linen1per yard
1808Cradling wheat8per day

Putting this data into a line graph will not tell us much about the price of labour over time because each type of work is different. However, what this data does show is that working could earn someone between 3-12 shillings per day. Usually, Servos records men and women working for a few days or weeks in a row, doing so to pay off the debts that they owed him. Having a large family helped to divide these types of labour in the colonial period. When Daniel Servos took over operation of the King’s Mills in 1785, he had a wife and three children under the age of 12, so it was a while before he was able to rely on his family for help. However, I have read a story online by a local woman that a black man named Robert Jupiter worked with Servos, and it is unknown whether he was slave or free at this time. He is buried in a little cemetery next to the Four Mile Creek. I did not see this full name anywhere in the Servos accounts, so I do not know what to make of their relationship. However, I have seen at least three references to a “Bob” which could very likely be Jupiter.

Account with William Claus. Mention of a delivery to Claus by “Bobb the Negro”. “Account Book Volume 2 1797”. No. 2. Daniel Servos Records 1779-1826. MS 538. Archives of Ontario

It also helped to have a variety of skills, to work hard, and to work smart. By working smart, I mean that new settlers seemed to invest in equipment and machinery to make their work more efficient. In 1785 Servos made two sleighs and a plough. In 1804 he sold part of a stove for £2-8s. In 1805 he sold a packing machine for £5-12s.

What all of this tells us is that Niagara’s Loyalist era economy depended on local exchange, labour, and investments. Yes, Niagara’s entrance into the Lower Canadian market after 1800 shows that economic development still required external inputs in the form of British government expenditures, commercial credit from merchant firms in Montreal, and export earnings, BUT external forces were not enough to establish successful farms and businesses in Niagara. People like the Servos family invested external funds into building capital in the form of mills, blacksmith shops, roads, etc., and they created links between neighbours through local exchange. The Servos accounts support McCalla’s arguments about the importance of household production for economic development in the Loyalist era.

  •  5. The days before the arrival of Governor Simcoe in 1792 could be exploited to the people’s advantage.

It can be argued that since Daniel Servos took more chances under an absent government, this allowed him to establish a solid foundation of enterprises for his family to build on throughout the next few decades. So what are the steps that Daniel Servos took to determine success in his enterprises? What “chances” did he take?

He ignored government regulations on the building of mills, erecting a saw and grist mill on lands in 1791 that were technically not yet owned by him. In fact, four of the six mills on the Four Mile Creek in 1792 were not authorized by the government, who had been contending with settlers over the last ten years in an attempt to establish a seigneurial system wherein settlers could not legally own the mills on their land. [10] Servos also dammed a section of the Four Mile creek, cutting a passage of water through properties he did not own, without asking permission to alter the landscape. I see this as a reflection of the republican lifestyle he had growing up in Tryon county, believing in inherent principles of individual liberty. No doubt he was also frustrated by the British government’s inability to keep their word; the lands reserved for the crown between Lake Ontario and the first survey line were meant for the building of mills for the settlement, but the government did not make this a priority. Many other sources show frustration from settlers in the 1780s over the fact that they could not construct these facilities without the proper equipment, constantly waiting for supplies from Quebec. Servos felt that an “it’s better to beg for forgiveness than to ask for permission” approach was his best option, for the good of his family and the people of Niagara.

By 1792, Daniel Servos had built a new house on the west side of the Four Mile Creek, nearer to his new mills. He and his family operated the mills, tannery, store, weaving facility, and blacksmith shop. A potash works was added later, and by 1799 another potash works was begun on the Fifteen Mile Creek. In 1797 he acquired legal title to the mills he constructed. Entrepreneurial activities like these were key for success in Niagara’s Loyalist era economy. His legacy left throughout the 19th century reflect the initial choices he made in the Loyalist era.

Notes to Conclude with:

1) It was not loyalism or patriotism that motivated Daniel Servos in his business dealings. He was worried about survival, about establishing a good life and thriving businesses for his family. He disregarded many British mill regulations, fought against land ownership laws throughout the 1790s, and demanded high prices for his services. We could assume that his children carried these same values, but his eldest son John Dease Servos mysteriously wrote “God save the King” four different times in one of the volumes. He would have been in his early twenties. Why did he do this? Perhaps being raised and educated in Upper Canada would have made him subject to patriotism more than it did his father who had been raised in a different environment.

2) There seems to be a disconnect between the elite operating the Niagara portage (Robert Hamilton), and the middling folk operating small businesses on their own property. Distance was not an issue, as Hamilton lived in Queenston which was not far from the Servos mills, yet the two don’t really cross paths more than once or twice in these accounts. The Crooks brothers were middle men for many people in Niagara, reaching between the Niagara River and Ancaster, operating a distribution business that connected the people to external markets. Hamilton was part of a much larger system that reached beyond Niagara into the continental interior, but he too had merchant shops in the region that allowed him to trade with locals. The Servos-Crooks connection shows us that elite merchants did not have a monopoly on Niagara’s exports. Instead, farmers and millers were able to make choices about who they wanted to partner with.

Sources:
[1] J. Anthony Doyle, “Loyalism, Patronage, and Enterprise: The Servos Family in British North America 1726-1942,” PhD diss., (McMaster University, 2006), 10.
[2] Webster’s Definition. https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/subsistence%20economy.
[3] Douglas McCalla, “The “Loyalist” Economy of Upper Canada, 1784-1806,” Social History 16 no. 32, 1983, 303.
[4] Doyle, “Loyalism, Patronage, and Enterprise,” 222.
[5] Ibid., 183.
[6] Bruce Wilson, The Enterprises of Robert Hamilton: a study of wealth and influence in early Upper Canada, 1776-1812, (Ottawa: Carleton University Press, 1983), 83.
[7] Doyle, “Loyalism, Patronage, and Enterprise,” 196.
[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 Two, (The Ontario Historical Society, 1932), 126.
[9] Charges made to Street & Butler for sewing services in June & July of 1784. “Account Book Volume I 1785-1795″. No. 6. Daniel Servos Records 1779-1826. MS 538. Archives of Ontario.
[10] Doyle, “Loyalism, Patronage, and Enterprise,” 278.