Papers : 1764-1862.

Call Number: HIL-MICL FC LFR .P6J6P3
Category: Family
Creator: Porteous, John, d.1799.
Description: 6 microfilm textual records (8 Series) ; 35 mm
            John Porteous, trader and merchant, emigrated to America from Perth, Scotland around 1764. He engaged in the fur trade at Detroit and Michilimackinac in the partnership of Duncan, Stirling and Porteous (John Duncan and James Stirling), and later was associated with James Phyn and Alexander Ellice at Schenectady, New York. In Detroit, his duties included selling sterling, buying furs, extending credit and collecting debts.  Before the start of the American Revolution, Porteous had become established as a merchant in Montreal. During the Revolution he was one of the owners of the British privateer, Vengeance. He resided with other Loyalists in New York after the city had been occupied by the British, and carried on a business in association with Phyn & Ellice (major provisioners of the British army) until the evacuation in 1783 when he returned to Scotland. Later he emigrated to Nova Scotia to try a venture in the fishing industry out of Bear Island (Digby area), but in 1788 or 1789 he returned to New York and settled at Little Falls in the Mohawk Valley where he operated a flour mill and a trading business and also represented the interests of Alexander Ellice, his former partner. In 1790 he was naturalized, and died at Little Falls in 1799.

Robert Hamilton, (1753-1809)  came from Scotland in the late 1770s to work in the fur trade industry west of the Great Lakes in association with Alexander Ellice from London.  In 1780 he formed a partnership with Richard Cartwright at Niagara to supply goods to the British army and the Indian Department, build storehouses at Chippewa and Queenston, and later to transport goods across the province; this relationship with Cartwright lasted until 1790.  In 1786, he became the agent to the military for the purchase of flour to the Niagara garrison, the only main market for local produce, having virtual control.  With the backing of major Montreal trading companies, he, with George Forsyth and others, won the contract to transport military goods through the portage at Niagara, in 1791.  When Cartwright died at Queenston, he had become a very successful businessman.

John Richardson (1754-1831) came to be apprenticed in 1774 in the firm of his uncle, James Phyn, called Phyn, Ellice & Co. which engaged in the fur trade and general merchandise and whose North American company was based out of Schenectady, New York.  Due to the American Revolution, the company moved its supply house to London and its North American base to Montreal.  During the war, Richardson worked for John Porteous, and by 1780 had established a shop at Charlestown (Charleston) in association with Porteous and Phyn, Ellice and Co.  After the war, he was employed again with Phyn, Ellice and Co. in New York and Schenectady; 1787 was sent to Montreal to help his cousin John Forsyth reorganise Robert Ellice & Co., the successor to Alexander Ellice & Co., whose business ventures included the Montreal southwest fur trade.  In 1790 he was made a partner in the newly named Forsyth, Richardson & Co.

            The bulk of the collection contains correspondence and papers documenting the business activities and relationships of John Porteous, as it relates to commerce and trade, with a focus on the time of the changeover to British rule in Canada, through the American Revolution, and into the decade thereafter.  The commercial transactions encompassed New York, Montreal and Detroit and touched on points beyond.  The bulk of the collection contains legal documents,various financial documents and business correspondence relating to all facets of the commercial enterprises, as well as Porteous' letter book of his short time at Nova Scotia post-war; and to a much lesser extent, personal correspondence relating, briefly within, the situations of colleagues, and to the Porteous family post-war, with some poems and lyrics.  

The documents shed light on the network of commercial relationships and into the complex commercial system that developed and adapted over time, necessitated by events and trade laws.  The main topics relate to trade, within North America and with Britain, such as for example in South Carolina during the American Revolution, and in the fur trade; maritime matters: privateering and prizes, shipping, transportation such as canals and the Western Inland Lock Navigation Co.; commerce and commercial or mercantile companies; merchants or businessmen; and the military - United States Civil War bounties.

Arrangement:  There are 8 sections of material; the different sections are not mutually exclusive.  Most of the sections are paginated.

Detailed Contents

The collection is arranged in the following series: 

Reel 1.  

1.  A Portion of the Papers of John Porteous, 1764-79, 1792-99, (pp. 1-139); consulted by R. H. Fleming and cited in his published study on the firm Phyn, Ellice and Company, which is included at the start of the material.  The bulk are business in nature:  the correspondence is mostly directed to Porteous from fellow colleagues, legal agreements show the development of companies, and financial paperwork gives insight into the intricacies of the mercantile industry, its commercial networks and the administrative costs of doing business.
  • Pre-war, at Detroit, the documents are mostly business contracts or agreements related to Porteous' partnerships in the fur trade with John Duncan, James Sterling (Duncan, Sterling and Porteous), James Phyn and Alexander Ellice (Phyn, Ellice and Porteous); also includes ledger accounts with Phyn, Ellice and Porteous and with Phyn and Ellice, 1769-75; goods sold at Detroit and a listing of Detroit Quit Rents.
  • During the war years at New York, where Porteous had set up a branch of the firm Phyn and Ellice, there is much documentation generated by his associates, such as Peter Fargues, merchant at Quebec, William Constable, agent at Philadelphia and New York, John Richardson, agent at New York, Charlestown (now Charleston) and Montreal, and James Sterling, merchant at Detroit. The types of topics include, for example, the following: vessels- bought, captured, insurance, goods shipped, claims, convoys required; trade- fur trade, markets and the state of at different places for various commodities; goods- prices bought and sold, customers, agents; and snippets of personal data from colleagues.
  • The post-war years concern the fishing venture at Nova Scotia and provides insight into the business environment and hurdles encountered in an area dealing with an influx of British loyalist refugees; the flour mill Porteous returned to Little Falls, New York, to manage on behalf of the firm Phyn and Ellice, including a detailed description of the mill; and some family correspondence.
  • See Electronic Finding Aid section for more details.
2.1 A British Privateer in the American Revolution, 1777-1783, article by Henry H. Howland (pp. 1-155+), also contains documents cited and utilised in his study concerning the privateer, Vengeance, formerly the Elegante; the article precedes the documents. It also contains a few extra documents at the end. Other topics included in this section are the commercial markets in Savannah, Georgia and Charlestown (Charleston), South Carolina; and war and security as it relates locally and to its affects on business, particularly at South Carolina.
  • Through the words of members of the crew on board the Vengeance, such as Captain George Deane, Marine Captain and shareholder John Richardson, and Lieutenant George Knowles, the adventures of the privateer is recounted as it captured, attempted to capture, and as it was pursued itself while at sea off the North American coast. Sightings, places, prizes, vessels and privateers, crew and passengers, cargo, engagements, and convoys are often named. Also includes, for example, financial transactions, vessel accounts with full details to help understand the costs of doing business, in privateering or otherwise; Porteous's accounts; lists of prisoners; and a provision bill which shows the 7-day menu on ship. Many vessels are mentioned, but more data is available for the Hawke, Flora, Dart, and Betsy, which are associated with Porteous.
  • See Electronic Finding Aid section for more details.
2.2 John Richardson Letters to John Porteous, 1786-1799, (pp. 156-213), with a copy of E. Cruickshank's, The John Richardson Letters, published by the Ontario Historical Society, 1905. These letters are written mostly by Richardson, but not all, and are from various places as he travelled for business as an agent for Phyn & Ellice, then for Robert Ellice and Co. whose business involved, among other things, the Montreal Southwest fur trade, and thereafter as a partner in the Montreal business of Forsyth, Richardson & Co.; for example, Oswego, Niagara, Fort Erie, Albany, Kingston and Montreal. 2.3 Robert Hamilton Letters to John Porteous, 1789-1799, (pp. 214-315), with a copy of H. R. Howland's, Robert Hamilton, the Founder of Queenston, published by the Buffalo Historical Society, 1903. Letters mostly are from Hamilton to Porteous and his business entities Porteous & Pollard, and Porteous Murdock & Co. 3. Fur Trade Papers, 1773-74, 1791-1800, includes sales book with prices of goods; mortgage of Pierre Robare (miller) to Phyn, Ellice & Porteous (both at Detroit, 1773); Bills of sale for furs and accounts relating to furs, both breakdown types of fur; and an individual's inquiry into the price of furs. Reel 2. 3. Fur Trade Papers continued (nos. 10-14); includes memo book concerning furs and merchandise; promissory note payable in muskrat skins; cargo list for 8 canoes for the Grand Portage; inventory of sundries belonging to Phyn, Ellice & Porteous at Detroit (1774); and ledger balances of Phyn, Ellice & Porteous at Detroit (1774). 4. Old Ship Papers, 1780-84, includes insurance policy pertaining to the goods of Alexander Milne of New York on schooner Daphne (at New York); cargo receipts for vessels, Salina and Betsey at New York providing lists of articles and where ship is bound; documents pertaining to the schooner Sally: cargo book and portage bill at New York showing data on the vessel and crew, certificates to allow it to carry non-enumerated goods at Savanna La Mar (Jamaica) showing goods and amount of men on board, permit to take on board provisions and rum at Savanna La Mar showing goods, sale of sundries property of Porteous & Co. by William Greig; and insurance policy for the ship Patty. 5. Niagara Hold-Over Period, 1767, 1772-3, 1776, 1781-3, 1789-98; contains 23 documents relating to trade and commerce in the District of Niagara: letters generated from Niagara and mostly from George Forsyth, and a letter each from Robert Kerr, Col. A. Gordon, Adam Vrooman; from London, Edward Pollard and James Sterling, and John Duncan from Hermitage. Other documents include, a bill of Peter Clark against Lt. Hanson of late corps of Rangers, affidavit of Lt. Richard Hanson, receipt for figure head and a bill of exchange signed Robert Hamilton, and pay orders by Alexander Ellice and John Porteous. Returns of barrack bedding and furniture for Fort William Augustus at Oswegatchee, New York are available at the end of the documents for 1772-3. 6. Porteous Papers, Folder 1, 1771-1832 (pp 1-219); relating to various aspects of Porteous' career with the bulk of the documents dated 1789-99, the years back in New York. The other periods of time contain: for the pre-war years (1771-2)- Phyn, Ellice & Porteous, statements of account with Phyn & Ellice (2 documents), and statement of account, Pfister & Studman for portage of goods; from the war years, one document- a letter from Commerill & Lubbock to Porteous concerning M. Gantier; approx. 10 documents for the period immediately after the war- many from William Bell concerning financial matters and a letter concerning the schooner Dolphin and its cargo; and approx. 20 documents after Porteous' death in 1799, much related to William Alexander. Overall, many documents were generated by William Bell, Forsyth Richardson & Co., John Richardson, Samuel Ring, Isaac Roach, John Robertson and Alexander Ellice. Separately organised papers pertaining to canal orders, and a substantial number pertaining to the Western Inland Lock Navigation Co. (1793-6) appear at the end of this section. 7. Porteous Papers Folder 2, 1806-62, (pp. 220-236); containing a bill of sale for a slave, Ira Crane to Simeon Ford, Dec. 19, 1807 (p. 220); an English-Huron glossary (2 pp); and 15 receipts from H.P. Alexander for Civil War enlistment bounties, Little Falls, Herkimer County, New York, (p. 222-236) Reels 3 - 6 8. Porteous Papers Miscellaneous, consisting mainly of correspondence, 1771-1857 (Nos. 1-600; 601-1000, 1001-1400, 1401-1639)
Originals: The original records are held by the Buffalo and Erie County Historical Society, Buffalo, New York.
Archival Ref. No.: Library and Archives Canada also holds a microfilm copy of this collection: MG23, GIII7
Finding Aids:
            A brief table of contents has been microfilmed at the beginning of each reel.

A listing of documents is found preceding the following sections, and includes minimally the data for type of documents, correspondents, and dates: Fur Trade; Old Ship Papers; Niagara Hold-Over; Porteous Papers, Folders 1 and 2; and Porteous Papers, Miscellaneous.  The Fur Trade Papers and Old Ship Papers also include a brief content note; Porteous Papers, Folder 1 is arranged alphabetically by author and correspondence includes the main subject term.  These are available in print in the Loyalist red binders.
  • Online: Library and Archives Canada has scanned the document listings for sections 5-8, Niagara Hold-Over Period, Porteous Papers, Folder 1 and 2, and Porteous Papers Miscellaneous See Microforms staff for digital version.
Electronic Finding Aid Record: Porteous Document Listing vol. 2.1.pdf
Porteous Document Listing vol. 1.pdf
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