John Kirby came to America with his parents, John and Ann Kirby, and his brother William, from Yorkshire, England. The family established a farm at Ticonderoga, New York, in 1774, but moved to St. Johns (Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu), Quebec, at the time of the American Revolution. In 1796 the family relocated to Kingston, Upper Canada. John Kirby, Jr. entered into a business partnership with Thomas Markland and Robert Macaulay (1744-1800), who married his sister Ann in 1791. After Markland's withdrawal from the company and Macaulay's death in 1800, John and his sister assumed joint control of the business, now called John Kirby and Company, which lasted until 1817. Thereafter, he continued alone in the forwarding and merchandising business. He acted as an agent for other businessmen, engaged in land speculation, and was a part owner of two steamships on Lake Ontario, the Frontenac and the St. George. Kirby's interest in financial matters led to a directorship in the Bank of Upper Canada and another in the Commercial Bank of the Midland District. In addition to his business interests, Kirby was an active member of the Church of England and a promoter of education, public health and several charitable projects. He was appointed to a number of public offices, including magistrate for the Midland District, and commanding officer of the 1st Regiment of Frontenac Militia. In 1831 he was named to the Legislative Council of Upper Canada.
The Kirby family included John's siblings, William Kirby, who married Susan Macaulay (Robert Macaulay's sister), Ann, who married Robert Macaulay, and Elizabeth, who married Lawrence Herchmer (d.1819), second son of Johan Jost Herchmer/Herkimer (1732-1795), who had been a captain in Butler's Rangers. Lawrence Herchmer traded at Penetescoutiung (Port Hope), was a magistrate, and a captain in the 1st Regiment of Frontenac Militia. John Kirby married first, Mary Nixon (nee Macaulay), and secondly, Cecilia Bethune (d.1842), the widow of Walter Butler Wilkinson and daughter of John Bethune. There were no children. Because of the relevance to the Papers, it is important to note that one of Ann (Kirby) Macaulay's sons married into the McPherson family.
The Papers of John Kirby include: correspondence, notebooks, business records, and legal documents of the Kirby family, with references to the Macaulay, Herchmer, and MacPherson families who were closely related to the Kirby family.
The following records have been microfilmed: Correspondence, with many documents after 1845 discussing the estates of the deceased John Kirby and Mrs. John MacPherson, 1815-1890; Business Papers, which include: military appointments; legal documents; documents relating to the estates of the deceased Lawrence Herchmer, John Kirby, Mary Kirby (1783-1837), George Oliver, and James MacKenzie, as well as the will of James Robins who had been a lieutenant in the Loyal Rangers and later ran an export business and a brewery, 1812-1867; John Kirby's ledger; shares in various companies, including the Bank of Montreal, Bank of Upper Canada, Gildersleeve Steamboats, British Anerican Fire and Life Assurance Company, the City of Kingston Water Works, the Trust and Loan Company of Upper Canada, and other companies, 1812-1867; Letter Book and Notebooks, including John Kirby's account book with the Bank of Upper Canada, 1836-1847; Land Lots, pertaining to lots of land either bought or sold by John Kirby, 1801-1864.