BABY, FRANÇOIS, businessman, militia officer, office holder, politician, seigneur, and landowner; b. 4 Oct. 1733 in Montreal (Que.), tenth child of Raymond Baby and Thérèse Le Compte Dupré; d. 6 Oct. 1820 at Quebec, Lower Canada.
François Baby’s father was a fur trader who had been sufficiently successful before his death, four years after François’s birth, to enable the boy to be educated at the Jesuit college at Quebec. His mother’s family being deeply involved in the fur trade, and his eldest brother Jacques Baby*, dit Dupéront, being engaged in it by 1753, François too became active in what had become a family profession; another brother, Louis, was also a fur trader. By 1757 François was in partnership with Jacques and the youngest brother, Antoine, under the name of Baby Frères. While his brothers worked the fur-trade regions, François resided at Montreal, receiving and forwarding imported trade goods, exporting furs, and handling accounts with correspondents in Paris, Bordeaux, and in La Rochelle, where they included François Havy*, partner of Jean Lefebvre*.
During the Seven Years’ War François shared to some extent in his brothers’ military glories. He may have been at the battle of the Monongahela (near Pittsburgh, Pa) in 1755 under Daniel-Hyacinthe Marie Liénard* de Beaujeu, and he undoubtedly served under François de Lévis* at the siege of Quebec in the spring of 1760. He thus merited with Jacques, Louis, and Antoine the applause of Governor Vaudreuil [Pierre de Rigaud*], who certified in July “that the sieurs Baby brothers, merchants of Montreal, have on all occasions given the greatest proofs of their zeal and disinterest in the service of the king [and] that they have distinguished themselves by their bravery and their talents, in almost all the actions that they have undertaken against the English. . . .”
The war did not prevent the Babys from continuing in business or keeping an eye to their future interests. In February 1760, well before the capture of Montreal by the British, Simon Jauge of Bordeaux advised François by way of England, no doubt in response to queries from him, that he might make contact in London with the firm of Thomas, Thomas and Son, Jauge’s correspondent there. Taken prisoner to England in September, François likely did call on the London firm before obtaining a passport to go to France. He settled in La Rochelle, probably with the intention of remaining in France if Canada was not recovered, since, like Jacques, he had refused to swear allegiance to the king of Great Britain. The Babys, nevertheless, were selling their furs on the London market and importing English trade goods by 1762. From France, François endeavoured to ensure the supply of trade goods to his brothers and maintained contacts with British and French trading houses. When it became clear that the conquered colony would remain a British possession, he liquidated most of the family’s French assets and oversaw the transfer of commercial relations to London in order to be of consequence in the reconstituted trade. Through his French correspondents he was put in touch with a number of London firms, including Joseph and Henry Guinaud, which soon became his principal supplier.
Baby returned to Montreal late in 1763 and once again acted as intermediary for Antoine and Jacques, who were based at Detroit (Mich.). However, he soon established his own wholesale business at Quebec, importing British spirits and manufactures; by 1765 he had taken up residence there. Although he travelled often to Montreal to conduct his brothers’ business, a permanent agent was needed in the city, and the merchant Pierre Guy was chosen. Perhaps while in London, Baby had, along with Joseph and Henry Guinaud, entered into partnership with Michel Chartier* de Lotbinière, who needed financing for a scheme to buy seigneuries. But by 1766, seeing no return on his investment, Baby put an end to the association. In the same year he altered his relations with his principal London supplier-known from 1765 as Guinaud and Hankey – and established a mutual account, whereby it shared in the profits or the losses on its merchandise sold by Baby in the colony; as well, Baby received a commission on sales and another for handling all the London firm’s cargoes to and from Quebec. In 1767 Baby’s indebtedness to Guinaud and Hankey was £1,270 17s. 7d., a comment on his credit worthiness in London; that year he received merchandise valued at £2,825 4s. 6d. on behalf of the mutual account.
Like most merchants in the highly unstable commercial context of the 1760s, Baby sought security through diversification. He added to his items of commerce such products as planks, peas, oats, apples, silverware, cottons, helmet plumes, and maidenhair ferns, valued for their medicinal properties. He also speculated in wheat and furs. In 1769 he was the third largest investor in the fur trade, but by the early 1770s Robert Hankey was complaining that the poor quality of Baby’s furs, obtained largely from Jacques in the Detroit area, resulted in serious marketing problems in London. In addition to these activities Baby operated at least one schooner and possibly other vessels on the St Lawrence and its tributaries, ensuring delivery of purchases to his warehouses and sales to his customers, and carrying on a cargo trade for other merchants when possible.
In 1773 grave problems in London and France required Baby’s return to Europe. No longer satisfied with Hankey (Henry Guinaud had become bankrupt in 1769), Baby transferred his accounts with that merchant to Thomas Pecholier, also of London, while maintaining long-standing relations with Thomas, Thomas and Son. Once again he crossed to France. He had wound up most of his family’s affairs there before leaving in 1763, but not until this trip was he able to close the books on his and his brothers’ holdings in paper money from the French régime as well as on certain other monetary transactions. The family, including François, had lost heavily in these matters; for example, on one occasion in the late 1760s bills of exchange drawn on Bordeaux for 11,666 livres netted François only 6,056 livres after discount. But, despite his losses, and unlike many other Canadian merchants, he had survived the difficult transition to the new economic order in the colony. Indeed, he had done quite well; in 1772 he purchased better quarters, a stone house on Rue Sous-le-Fort, at a cost of about £350.
In the course of surviving economically Baby had acquired strongly conservative political views and the social and economic credentials to become a spokesman for the Canadian bourgeoisie. His social prominence as early as 1766 is indicated by the invitation he received to sign an address of welcome that was to be offered to Lieutenant Governor Guy Carleton; his acceptance signalled his complete reconciliation to the British presence. Consequently, in 1773, with the British government labouring over a new constitution for the province, Baby was charged by the Canadian merchants and seigneurs with presenting a petition in London defining their position to the British authorities. It requested the preservation of traditional laws, privileges, and customs, the restoration of the boundaries of New France in order to include in the province Labrador and the fur trade of the west, and the distribution of patronage without distinction between British and Canadian subjects. Baby’s defence of the petition was apparently of great value to Carleton, whose views corresponded closely to those of the seigneurs; the former attorney general of Quebec, Francis Maseres*, who opposed the petition in large measure, affirmed in 1774 that it “has been made the foundation of the Quebec Act.” Baby arrived back at Quebec in May 1774 and was rewarded for his efforts with a public letter of thanks from the defenders of the act. Probably he expected more and was disappointed at having been passed over in the appointments to the Legislative Council, formed in 1775 by virtue of the Quebec Act, in favour of others who, he wrote bitterly to Pierre Guy, “thought and worked more for their own interests than for the public good.” He added, “I am very much afraid that the time is not far off when Canadians will be unable to console themselves for having asked for the new form of government.”
Baby took up the threads of his business once again and began looking to new ventures. In June 1775 he commissioned construction of a new schooner at Bécancour, paying in advance the entire cost price of about £280. He engaged in sealing and fur trading at the past of Saint-Augustin (Que.) in partnership with François-Joseph Cugnet*, Gabriel-Elzéar Taschereau, and Nicolas-Joseph de Lafontaine de Belcour. They invested £1,400 in the first year’s operations, choosing to market their products in London through Thomas, Thomas and Son. With this new enterprise, Baby transferred his interest from the old northwest to the Labrador coast.
Operations had only begun, however, when the American invasion of the colony [see Benedict Arnold; Richard Montgomery*] brought Baby’s business to a temporary standstill. On 5 Aug. 1775 he was commissioned a captain in the Quebec militia, which he helped to organize, and in 1776 he was made commissary of military transport. Following the retreat of the Americans, Carleton appointed Baby, Taschereau, and Jenkin Williams to inquire into disloyalty among the Canadians east of Trois-Rivières during the invasion. Given the circumstances, the commissioners were required to display realism, restraint, diplomacy, and sensitivity. On 22 May they set out on a tour of parishes that would last seven weeks. Beginning around Quebec and the Île d’Orléans, they proceeded upriver along the north shore as far as Trois-Rivières, and then descended the south shore to Kamouraska. In each parish they collected information from the priest, mustered the militia, replaced officers who had collaborated with the Americans, publicly burned American commissions, and harangued the assembly on their duty of loyalty. They withdrew commissions from officers in 37 of some 50 parishes and fully absolved the local captain in only two. However, apart from the withdrawal of commissions, the only punishment recorded was the confiscation of weapons from those held to be lacking in sympathy to the government; it was a markedly mild and intelligent response. Apparently about this time Baby was appointed adjutant general of militia, and in 1778 he was promoted lieutenant-colonel.
Baby’s conduct during the invasion also won for him the coveted appointment to the Legislative Council and he was sworn in as a member on 30 June 1778. Moreover, Governor Haldimand also took him into his unconstitutional privy council, composed of those councillors on whom he could depend for support. In late 1778 or early 1779 he appointed him a justice of the peace for the District of Quebec. Although an exaggeration, it became common opinion that he was, in the words of a woman from Boucherville, “all-powerful in the service of His Excellency the General Haldimand.” Baby was one of a select few to establish a personal friendship with the usually reserved governor, and in 1780 and 1781, when Haldimand wished to buy land anonymously for a country estate at Montmorency Falls, he confided the task to Baby. Personally affable, courteous, and dignified, and now possessed of money, military rank, and political power, Baby indulged fully in the glittering social life of the upper class. In 1778 Georges-Hippolyte Le Comte* Dupré, known as Saint-Georges Dupré, wrote to him, “I imagine you are like a butterfly, flying from belle to belle. I would have been charmed to have taken part in all your celebrated festivities.” By 1786 the attentions of the now 52-year-old social butterfly had alighted on 15-year-old Marie-Anne Tarieu de Lanaudière, daughter of the seigneur Charles-François Tarieu* de La Naudière, and they were married on 27 February. The couple would have 12 children, of whom 6 would survive Baby.
Baby’s entrance into the governing class gradually reduced his commercial activities to secondary importance. In 1779 the Saint-Augustin operations suffered severe depredations at the hands of American corsairs; the same year Baby cut his connections with Thomas, Thomas and Son. However, his experience with the Labrador trade and his relations with Haldimand made him an ideal partner for the merchants George* and Alexander Davison, who wanted to wrest from Thomas Dunn, William Grant (1744–1805), and Peter Stuart the lease of the king’s posts, and with it obtain a virtual monopoly of the fur trade and fisheries along the north shore of the lower St Lawrence. The Dunn group’s lease expired in 1777 but, thanks in part to Lieutenant Governor Henry Hamilton*, they were able to retain the posts until 1786. Haldimand’s influence carried, however; Hamilton was dismissed for his action, and on 21 June 1786 Baby and his partners signed a new lease to take effect on 1 October. Baby nominally held a one-third share in the enterprise, but in fact he no longer had a merchant’s interest in the project. He had probably joined the Davisons mainly because of the political influence he could bring to bear; on 9 September, as the new lessees took over the posts, he sold his share for a pension of £150 per annum for the duration of the lease and reimbursement of his expenses for obtaining it. Thenceforth, with the exception of a small investment of £750 in the fur trade in 1787 and the posting as late as 1790 of an occasional bond for outfits sent by Jacques and Jacques’s son James Baby*, François was no longer engaged in commerce.
Politically, as well as socially and economically, Baby had drifted away from the Canadian merchants, the leadership of whom had fallen to his friend and former agent, Pierre Guy. In council, Baby was a loyal supporter of Haldimand, who shared few of the merchants’ concerns. In early 1780, for example, in opposition to merchants on council such as Dunn, Grant, and George Allsopp, Baby voted in favour of Haldimand’s proposal to fix the price of wheat. He became one of the most active and intelligent Canadian members of the French party, led by Adam Mabane*, which sought the preservation of the Quebec Act virtually in its entirety. In 1782 Mabane went so far as to promote Baby as successor to Hector Theophilus Cramahé* in the position of lieutenant governor, but Haldimand proposed Hamilton. Although Canadian and British merchants continued to have diverging opinions on some points, they gradually eliminated their more important differences and worked out a number of joint political demands requiring fundamental reform, if not a complete rejection, of the Quebec Act. Baby fought their demands, including that for an elected assembly, which the Canadian merchants adopted publicly after Haldimand’s departure in November 1784.
As adjutant general of the militia Baby was responsible for the application of the first militia law, passed in 1777. The ordinance established a hierarchy of officers consisting of a commander-in-chief, and an adjutant general, colonels and subordinate officers at Quebec, Montreal, and Trois-Rivières, and captains and subordinate officers in the parishes. As well as assisting the regular army in the defence of the colony, the militia was required to provide it with transport and other services, collectively known as the corvée, not all of which were subject to remuneration. The vagueness of the ordinance left much latitude for arbitrary actions and despotism on the part of the army and the militia officers; Baby was the channel through which the resulting wave of complaints poured into Carleton’s, and later Haldimand’s, office. But Carleton and the seigneurs, who formed the backbone of the French party, had been extremely embarrassed by the failure of the habitants to fight the Americans. They (and Baby shared their view) systematically opposed reforms suggested mainly by Hugh Finlay, Henry Caldwell, and Allsopp to reduce arbitrariness, on the grounds that the militia had to be taught to submit to constituted authority. Not until 1787, with the French party much weakened following Haldimand’s return to Britain, were changes finally introduced in a general militia law and in another more clearly defining the corvée. In 1788 Baby was lieutenant-colonel in the Canadian militia at Quebec.
By May of that year, through an inheritance from the estate of his father-in-law, Baby had become one of several co-proprietors of the seigneuries of Saint-Vallier and Saint-Pierre-les-Becquets. In January 1790 his revenues from these seigneuries were estimated at only £40, but Baby expanded his holdings in them shortly after. In June he purchased a farm in Saint-Vallier for about £300, and two years later he paid another co-seigneur Pierre-Ignace Aubert* de Gaspé about £125 for his one-eighth share in Saint-Pierre-les-Becquets. Yet, when appointed by Dorchester in 1790 to a committee of council charged with reporting on seigneurial tenure, Baby and another seigneur, Charles-Louis Tarieu de Lanaudière, were among those who urged its abolition. Thus, while Baby was no longer a merchant, neither was he, in his own mind, a full-fledged seigneur.
Baby was above all an office holder, and like many office holders he conducted some property transactions, although on a relatively small scale. Being wealthy and a devout Roman Catholic, he preferred to lend money through the purchase of life annuities, a form of lending acceptable to the church. He paid the borrower a certain sum in return for an annuity yielding six per cent per annum of that sum (the legal rate of interest at the time) for as long as the borrower kept the capital; the latter could buy the annuity back at any time. Between 1789 and 1806 Baby purchased at least 22 annuities for a total of 147,134 livres, or approximately £6,130. He had an excellent and wide-spread reputation for fairness among the élite of the colony; the largest annuities were purchased from seigneurs, merchants, and priests from Saint-Jean-Port-Joli to Montreal.
In 1792 Baby cut perhaps his last remaining link with the merchant community when he sold his house on Rue Sous-le-Fort and moved to Upper Town, at first on Rue du Parloir, then by 1795 on Rue Buade. In 1791 he was appointed to the Executive Council and in 1792 to the Legislative Council, both bodies having been created by the Constitutional Act of 1791. In 1794, 1802–3, and 1806–7 he was speaker of the Legislative Council. He was given the opportunity to act as administrator of Lower Canada in the governor’s absence, but he declined on the grounds that he could not comply with the Test Act. He did receive two lesser appointments, however, those of commissioner to administer the Jesuit estates (1800) and commissioner for the relief of persons owing lods et ventes (1801).
During the 1790s and early 1800s Baby was prominent in the movement to promote loyalty in the city at a time when sympathy for revolutionary France, then at war with Britain, ran high [see David McLane*; Robert Prescott]. In June 1794 he was a member of the directing committee of the Association, formed that year to support British rule in the colony, and he signed its public declaration of loyalty to the constitution and government; in January he had signed an address to Prince Edward Augustus on his departure from Quebec. By 1795 he was colonel of a newly formed battalion of Canadian militia at Quebec. In June 1799 he and Jean-Antoine Panet were the only two Canadians among 13 leading citizens who launched a voluntary subscription campaign to support Britain’s war effort.
Baby reaped a number of rewards for his public expressions of loyalty and his years of service to the British colonial administration. In 1792 he applied for land on the south shore of the St Lawrence, and it was recommended that he be granted 1,200 acres; however, an application for Templeton Township in October 1793 was dismissed. In 1802, on the recommendation of Lieutenant Governor Sir Robert Shore Milnes*, he was granted a life pension of £150 per annum. Six years later his salary as adjutant general was raised from £91 to £320 sterling. Moreover, as an executive councillor he was entitled to 12,000 acres of land: in 1809 he received 7,340 acres in Sherrington Township, and the remainder was granted in Tingwick Township in 1818. The following year he also received 1,800 acres in Chester Township for his militia service during the American invasion and occupation of 1775–76.
By 1810 age and ill-health had begun to impair Baby’s abilities. With war in the air, in October 1811 he accepted the invitation of the commander-in-chief, Sir George Prevost, to resign as adjutant general in return for the sinecure of chief road commissioner, which carried a salary of £150. He was replaced as adjutant general by François Vassal* de Montviel. In 1812 Baby also resigned as commissary of militia transport. He remained attached to the militia, however, as colonel of the Cap Santé battalion.
Baby had also ceased to play an active role in the affairs of state. Although he supported Prevost in his conflict with the English party, his support was probably passive, both because of his age and of his political ties with members of that party. He remained relatively active in business, however. By 1811 he had apparently acquired a number of life annuities sold by habitants of the faubourg Saint-Roch to the estate of the merchant William Grant. Between 1814 and 1820 Baby purchased life annuities costing a total of £4,643. In addition, he came to the rescue of his son François by paying a debt owed by François of £700.
Baby remained to the end a highly sociable man, and his home was renowned as a rendezvous of the Quebec élite. He and his wife conducted themselves socially in a manner that the church found exemplary given their rank; at the numerous gatherings she hosted, Marie-Anne invariably dressed with a modesty that contrasted with the stylish finery of her female guests. Bishop Plessis*, ordinarily critical of the worldliness of the colony’s governing class, found that Baby’s piety commanded his respect and friendship. At Baby’s death, the directors of the Séminaire de Québec, wishing to express their gratitude for his active support of the institution, had him buried in their chapel, the fabrique of Notre-Dame Cathedral having closed its church to burials the year before.
To many Canadians of his time, Baby had been anglicized. He seems to have counted among his closest friends three of the most prominent members of the English party, Jonathan Sewell*, Herman Witsius Ryland*, and William Smith*, all of whom signed his burial record. Politically, he was much more comfortable with the authoritarianism of his British colleagues of the Executive and Legislative councils than with the democratically inclined politics of the Canadian party in the House of Assembly. But if some thought he had sold his birthright to preserve his economic well-being, others felt that he had genuinely sought to serve Canadian interests as a leading member of the governing clique for almost half a century.
[The prime source for studying François Baby is the voluminous Baby collection at AUM, P 58. Transcripts and microfilm copies are available in PAC, MG 24, L3. Dale Miquelon made full use of this collection in his study of Baby’s business career in “Baby family.” The journal kept by Baby, Gabriel-Elzéar Taschereau, and Jenkin Williams is at the Bibliothèque nationale; it has been edited by Ægidius Fauteux* and appears in ANQ Rapport, 1927–28: 435–99; 1929–30: 138–40, under the title “Journal par Messrs Frans Baby, Gab. Taschereau et Jenkin Williams. . . .” It has also appeared separately as Journal de MM. Baby, Taschereau et Williams, 1776 (Québec, 1929). The author is grateful to the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada for its financial assistance and to James H. Lambert for his contribution. j.c.]
ANQ-M, CE1-51, 4 oct. 1733. ANQ-Q, CE1-1, 27 févr. 1786, 9 oct. 1820; CN1-16, 8 juin, 2, 4, 26 juill., 14, 19 sept. 1816; CN1-83, 9 sept. 1786; 6 mai 1788; 11 août 1789; 31 mai, 28, 30 juin 1790; 11 déc. 1791; 18 mai, 21 juin 1792; 6 mars 1793; 10 juin 1794; CN1-99, 29 mars 1811, 20 juin 1814; CN1-107, 1er août 1817; CN1-202, 4 oct. 1765; CN1-205, 29 avril 1779; 9 mai, 13 juin 1780; 23 janv. 1783; CN1-207, 28 mars, 30 oct. 1770; 16 juin 1772; 4 oct. 1773; CN1-212, 4 avril, 7, 25 mai, 20 juill. 1818; 6 févr., 8, 22 juin 1819; 25 mai 1820; CN1-224, 13 oct. 1790; CN1-230, 8 juin 1795; 25 févr. 1797; 26 févr., 14 mai, 15 août 1798; 15 mars 1805; 26 mars 1806; 18 mars 1816; CN1-248, 29 mars, 23 juin 1775; CN1-253, 28 Sept. 1811, 26 April 1813; CN1-262, 9 oct. 1795; 16 juill. 1796; 9 mars, 13 avril 1797; 16 févr. 1798; 11 mai 1802; 12 mars, 14 août 1805; 20 mai 1806; 8 mai, 18, 19 août 1817; CN1-284, 14 sept. 1787. PAC, MG 11, [CO 42] Q, 24: 67; 88: 193; MG 30, D1, 3: 88–115; RG 1, L3L : 45–57, 111, 168, 863–66, 1095, 1140–41, 1325, 1557–58, 1587, 2136, 2170, 4061, 4420, 18095–96, 18148–51, 18156–60, 18166, 18170–83, 33206, 72228, 97930; RG 4, A1: 22954, 23798, 24145, 27580; B28, 110; RG 8, I (C ser.), 32: 208; 372: 206, 208; 1169: 98; 1714: 1, 13, 95. PRO, CO 42/46: f.262; 42/47: 259 (mfm. at PAC). “Les dénombrements de Québec” (Plessis), ANQ Rapport, 1948–49: 71, 120, 170. Quebec Gazette, 29 Sept. 1766; 19 May 1774; 22 July 1777; 14 Jan. 1779; 24 Nov. 1785; 28 Sept. 1786; 14 Aug., 11 Dec. 1788; 23 April 1789; 2 May, 28 Nov. 1793; 13 Feb., 3 July 1794; 27 June 1799; 4 Dec. 1800; 7 May 1801; 14 June 1804; 10 Oct. 1811; 27 April, 24 Dec. 1812; 30 Dec. 1813; 19 Oct. 1815; 14 May, 13 Aug., 5 Oct. 1818; 12 Oct. 1820.
[É.-A.] Baby, Mémoire de famille: l’honorable C.-E. Casgrain . . . (Rivière-Ouelle, Qué., 1891). P.-B. Casgrain, Mémorial des familles Casgrain, Baby et Perrault du Canada (Québec, 1898). Miquelon, “Baby family.” Neatby, Quebec, 23–24, 66, 73, 149, 156–57, 165, 181, 189, 198, 200, 202–3. Tousignant, “La genèse et l’avènement de la constitution de 1791,” 167–69, 227. Michel Brunet, “La Conquête anglaise et la déchéance de la bourgeoisie canadienne (1760–1793),” Amérique française (Montréal), 13 (1955), no.2: 19–84. P.-B. Casgrain, “L’honorable François Baby,” BRH, 12 (1906): 41–46.
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Cite This Article
John Clarke, “BABY, FRANÇOIS (1733-1820),” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 5, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed June 1, 2023, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/baby_francois_1733_1820_5E.html.
The citation above shows the format for footnotes and endnotes according to the Chicago manual of style (16th edition). Information to be used in other citation formats:
|Author of Article:||John Clarke|
|Title of Article:||BABY, FRANÇOIS (1733-1820)|
|Publication Name:||Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 5|
|Publisher:||University of Toronto/Université Laval|
|Year of publication:||1983|
|Year of revision:||1983|
|Access Date:||June 1, 2023|