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BOSTWICK, JOHN, surveyor, office holder, militia officer, politician, jp, and businessman; b. 24 Feb. 1780 in Great Barrington, Mass., son of Gideon Bostwick and Gesie Burghardt; m. first c. 1802 Mary Ryerson, and they had four sons and three daughters; m. secondly after 1821 Polly —; d. 9 Sept. 1849 in Port Stanley, Upper Canada.

In 1788 John Bostwick’s father, a Church of England minister, joined Edward Jessup* and others in petitioning, unsuccessfully, for a tract on the Ottawa River. Gideon Bostwick was granted Oxford Township, in southwest Upper Canada, in 1793 but he died that year before he could move there from Great Barrington. A resourceful pioneer, John came to Upper Canada four years later, settling in the Long Point area on the north shore of Lake Erie. He became apprenticed to the surveyor William Hambly, who between 1793 and 1812 laid out more than 30 townships, including several in the London District.

Bostwick rapidly established himself in the district’s incipient society, which was concentrated in the Long Point area around Vittoria, the district’s capital, and included a large proportion of American-born settlers. His personal progress is reflected by his appointment as high constable of the district in October 1800 and as deputy sheriff by April 1801. He patented 600 acres at the mouth of Kettle Creek, in Yarmouth Township, in September 1804. That same year he joined three other prominent residents of the London District, including Thomas Talbot*, on a commission to recommend a route for a new road from Port Talbot to the Long Point area. The Bostwick Road, as it was called, was not completed because of a lack of funds but a trail followed its route. In 1805, at the age of 25, he succeeded as sheriff Joseph Ryerson, prominent Charlotteville loyalist whose daughter he had married.

At the outbreak of the War of 1812 Bostwick volunteered for service. As captain of a flank company of the 1st Norfolk Militia, he quickly acquired experience at the capture of Detroit in August 1812. In September Major-General Isaac Brock*, in a request for reinforcements from Talbot, who supervised the militia in the London District, declared, “You cannot send a better Capt. than Bothwick.” Two months later his company took part in the battle of Frenchman Creek, near Fort Erie, suffering severe losses and earning the praise of Lieutenant-Colonel Cecil Bisshopp*. At Nanticoke 12 months later, after British regulars had withdrawn to the head of Lake Ontario, Bostwick narrowly escaped being shot in the capture of a band of marauders by a volunteer force under his brother Henry.

Bostwick continued surveying after the war but was not officially examined as a surveyor until 1819. In 1816 he performed two assignments on his own in the surveys of Westminster Township and the Talbot Road. The following year he moved from Long Point to his land at Kettle Creek. The Bostwicks were the first settlers at that location, their nearest neighbours being eight miles away on the Talbot Road east.

Bostwick remained sheriff of the London District until 1818. Two years later he and fellow surveyor Mahlon Burwell were elected to the House of Assembly for Middlesex. Both tories and members of the regional oligarchy which supported Thomas Talbot, Bostwick and Burwell were opposed by candidates backed by the Scottish settlers of Aldborough Township, to whom Talbot had issued few deeds. Because these settlers technically held so little land, they were not allowed to vote. Bostwick did not run for election in 1824 and was defeated in 1830 and again in 1836.

In 1821 Bostwick’s first wife, Mary, died, leaving him with considerable responsibilities including the care of 7 children ranging in age from 5 to 20 years and the task of settlement at Kettle Creek. That same year Bostwick received a grant of 1,200 acres as a consequence of his promotion to lieutenant-colonel of the 3rd Regiment of Middlesex militia. In 1824 he became secretary of the innovative but short-lived Talbot Dispensatory at St Thomas, a medical institution proposed by John Rolph* and Charles Duncombe*. As well, in 1829 he received his first commission as a justice of the peace. In 1837, by which time he had become colonel of his regiment, he was involved in extinguishing the uprising led by Duncombe.

Bostwick’s activities at Kettle Creek harbour, first called Port Stanley in the late 1820s, were in part entrepreneurial. By 1822 he had constructed a small warehouse and was dealing in ashes, grain, and other products. Bostwick was anxious to develop the settlement into what appeared to be its rightful place as the major port for the Talbot settlement. His pressing financial needs at this time were reflected in the mortgaging of some harbour-side property in late 1827. Several small lots, some of which bordered the creek, were sold by him two years later at prices ranging from £12 10s. to £25. The remaining water-lots, however, he refused to sell for less than £100 each. Bostwick’s role in the village’s development may have been limited. The leading commercial figure there was almost certainly James Hamilton, a St Thomas merchant. Edward Ermatinger*, an early historian of the Talbot settlement, regarded Bostwick as an excessively modest man who “had no turn for speculation, and no faculty for money-making.” Contemporary critics of Port Stanley’s slow growth assigned varying degrees of responsibility to him because of his sale of lots at prices which reportedly discouraged commercial and residential development. Others identified the harbour as a major drawback.

The port’s facilities were rudimentary in the 1820s. A provincial statute of 1827 authorized the construction of wharfs and the dredging of the shallow harbour. Supervised by a commission which included Bostwick, the building of piers was completed by 1831 but further development was delayed by gales, silting, and excessive costs. Bostwick was appointed collector of tolls in 1831; three years later, when Port Stanley became a port of entry, he became collector of customs, a post that he retained for 10 years. Though it grew gradually as a forwarding and milling centre and transfer point for immigrants, William Pope, the naturalist and artist, was disgusted in 1835 by its “dirty miserable appearance” while Henry Dalley of Malahide Township dismissed it as a “miserable abortion” with a silt-choked harbour.

By the 1840s Bostwick had accumulated considerable real property as well as varied responsibilities within his family and community. He was the head of a large household – 12 people according to the census of 1842. In 1826 he had given land for an Anglican church but a congregation was not organized until 1836. Bostwick’s efforts continued with his chairmanship of the building committee in the early 1840s, leading to the completion of Christ Church in 1845. His property in several townships was by and large undeveloped for farming, because his principal efforts had been directed into Port Stanley. Trade there increased tremendously during the 1840s, but the prospect of railway communication between London, Toronto, Montreal, and New York threatened to disrupt the flow of trade through small riparian settlements such as Port Stanley. Bostwick died in 1849, never to see the new form of transportation in his area. At his death his assets were quite limited – a reflection perhaps of the diversity of his interests and the direction of his energy into a number of channels rather than into the pursuit of entrepreneurial success alone.

Alan G. Brunger

AO, MU 2136, 1938, no.6; RG 1, A-I-6: 5687, 12223–32; RG 22, ser.155. Christ Church (Anglican) Cemetery (Port Stanley, Ont.), Tombstone inscription, John Bostwick. PAC, RG 1, L3, 34: B7/34; RG 5, A1: 110173–78; RG 68, General index, 1651–1841: 182, 465, 666, 668. “Minutes of the Court of General Quarter Sessions of the Peace for the London District . . . ,” AO Report, 1933: 17, 81, 166. William Pope, “William Pope’s journal . . . ,” [ed. M. A. Garland], Western Ontario Hist. Nuggets (London), no.18 (1953): 26. The Talbot papers, ed. J. H. Coyne (2v., Ottawa, 1908–9). U.C., House of Assembly, Journal, 1828: 95–96; 1831, app.: 109–10. Farmers’ Journal and Welland Canal Intelligencer (St Catharines, [Ont.]), 28 Jan. 1829. Armstrong, Handbook of Upper Canadian chronology (1967). Land surveys of southern Ontario: an introduction and index to the field notebooks of the Ontario land surveyors, 1784–1859, comp. [R.] L. Gentilcore and Kate Donkin, ed. C. E. Heidenreich (Toronto, 1973), 39–101. W. H. Smith, Canada: past, present and future . . . (2v., Toronto, [1852]; repr. Belleville, Ont., 1973–74), 1: 93. “State papers, [1761–99],” PAC Report, 1890: 213. Booklet on the local history of Elgin County, comp. George Thorman and Ralph Parker (St Thomas, Ont., [1965?]). A. G. Brunger, “A spatial analysis of individual settlements in southern London District, Upper Canada, 1800–1836” (phd thesis, Univ. of Western Ont., London, 1974). Brian Dawe, “Old Oxford is wide awake!: pioneer settlers and politicians in Oxford County, 1793–1853 (n.p.1980). Edward Ermatinger, Life of Colonel Talbot, and the Talbot settlement . . . (St Thomas, 1859; repr. Belleville, 1972). D. J. Hall, Economic development in Elgin County, 1850–1880 (Petrolia, Ont., 1972), 83–84. F. C. Hamil, Lake Erie baron: the story of Colonel Thomas Talbot (Toronto, 1955). Historical sketch of the village of Port Stanley, comp. A. M. Hepburn ([Port Stanley, 1952]). History of the county of Middlesex, Canada . . . (Toronto and London, 1889; repr. with intro. by D. [J.] Brock, Belleville, 1972). Patterson, “Studies in elections in U.C.” Read, Rising in western U.C C. J. Taylor et al., History of Great Barrington (Berkshire), Massachusetts . . . ([new ed.], 2 pts. in 1, Great Barrington, 1928), pt.i: 178–79, 345. N. J. Thomas, “Port Stanley,” A pioneer history: Elgin County, ed. J. S. Brierley (St Thomas, 1896; repr. Petrolia, 1971), 137–44. E. A. Cruikshank, “The county of Norfolk in the War of 1812,” OH, 20 (1923): 9–40. A. M. Hepburn, “Early visitors and explorers to Port Stanley,” Western Ontario Hist. Notes (London), 14 (1957–58), no.4: 29–30.

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Alan G. Brunger, “BOSTWICK, JOHN,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 7, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed July 28, 2014, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/bostwick_john_7E.html.

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Permalink: http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/bostwick_john_7E.html
Author of Article: Alan G. Brunger
Title of Article: BOSTWICK, JOHN
Publication Name: Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 7
Publisher: University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication: 1988
Year of revision: 1988
Access Date: July 28, 2014