BABY, FRANÇOIS, militia officer, politician, justice of the peace, businessman, and office holder; b. 16 Dec. 1768 in Detroit, son of Jacques Baby*, dit Dupéront, and Susanne Réaume (Rhéaume), dit La Croix; m. 5 Sept. 1795 Frances Abbott, and they had eight sons and four daughters; d. 27 Aug. 1852 in Windsor, Upper Canada.
François Baby belonged to the most powerful family in the Western District of Upper Canada, and his uncle François*, who supervised his education and that of his elder brother James*, was an influential member of the governing class in Lower Canada. Tall, ramrod straight, active in mind and body throughout his long life, and fluently bilingual, François possessed both personal qualities and family connections which made him a natural choice for political and civil office. His political career began in 1792 when James advised him to stand in Essex County for election to Upper Canada’s first parliament. Since a Baby candidacy in Essex with its large French-speaking population would threaten the election chances there of Surveyor General David William Smith*, François was apparently persuaded to run in neighbouring Kent County instead. Duly elected to the House of Assembly for Kent with William Macomb, Baby may have been responsible for the order in 1793 to translate acts of the legislature into French “for the benefit of the inhabitants of the Western District.” In July of that year he was one of 15 assemblymen who signed a private petition protesting “the great inconvenience” of the contract which awarded a monopoly on army provisioning to major merchants such as Robert Hamilton*. Their petition gave stature to the province-wide opposition to the contract. In 1794 James, who had become lieutenant of Kent County, appointed his brother lieutenant-colonel of the 1st Kent Militia. Two years later François received his first commission as justice of the peace for the Western District and served almost continuously in that capacity for more than 40 years.
The position of the Baby family, Roman Catholic and French Canadian, was unique in Upper Canada. At the centre of power locally, the family enjoyed good relations with successive administrations at York (Toronto), the provincial capital. Yet within the French-speaking settlement of the Western District, it was often regarded with suspicion. In 1795, after François had become Alexander McKee*’s deputy lieutenant for Essex County, the vicar general of Upper Canada, Edmund Burke*, granted him the pew in the church of Notre-Dame-de-l’Assomption reserved since the French régime for the highest ranking government official. When Baby took possession of the pew one Sunday shortly after his marriage to a non-French convert, the congregation objected and had the “distinctive pew” removed. Lieutenant Governor John Graves Simcoe* ordered that the respect “observed formerly towards the French Commandant” be maintained, but the controversy continued. Baby finally withdrew his claim in 1797 in order to avoid further confrontations.
Baby averred that his family’s attachment to the British crown was the real reason for the opposition. Such “patriotic feeling and an anxiety to contribute his personal exertions toward the defence of the Province” would motivate Baby to join the British forces at Amherstburg when war broke out in 1812. As an assistant quartermaster general he saw action at the battles of Detroit, Frenchtown (Monroe, Mich.), and Fort Meigs (near Perrysburg, Ohio). In the fall of 1813 he accompanied Major-General Henry Procter*’s retreat from the Western District after the defeat at Moraviantown and later was to testify at his court martial. Baby saw action again on the Niagara frontier in December 1813 and was commended by Lieutenant-General Gordon Drummond for being “useful and indefatigable” in embarking troops at Black Rock (Buffalo, N.Y.). On 31 Jan. 1814 he was captured by an American raiding party led by Andrew Westbrook* on the Thames River, “shamefully and inhumanely tied with cords,” and removed to the United States. His fate was a matter of some concern since American citizens (as Detroit-born Baby was considered to be) taken in arms against the United States were to be referred directly to President James Madison. A remonstrance to the United States government, however, resulted in his return.
In 1812 Baby’s property at Sandwich (Windsor) and his newly built house had been occupied by Brigadier-General William Hull’s invading army. Baby sought damages from the enemy of £2,450, a measure of his financial well-being, but without effect. It was not until 1824 that he received compensation of £444 from the British government. More galling to his pride was the government’s decision to give him a grant of land based on the rank of captain he had held as an assistant quartermaster general, rather than on his pre-war rank as colonel of militia, conferred on him in 1807 when he acted for three months as lieutenant of Essex County in place of Alexander Grant*. Baby received 800 acres and petitioned the government repeatedly over the years – to no avail – for the additional 400 acres.
With his election to the House of Assembly in 1820 as one of the two members for Essex, Baby resumed his political career. Advocating positions perhaps unexpected for the brother of a well-known member of the “family compact,” who had himself repeatedly received appointments to government office, François became increasingly reform-minded. He voted against the expulsion of reformer Barnabas Bidwell* from the assembly in 1822 and the following year affirmed Marshall Spring Bidwell*’s eligibility to run for election in his father’s stead. He strongly opposed the union of Upper and Lower Canada, a move which he thought “would prove fatal to both Provinces & perhaps to the Mother Country.” His own political efforts seem to have been punctuated by failure. Attempts in 1824 to secure the offices of surrogate court judge and registrar of Essex County were unsuccessful, and in the general election of that year he tied for second place with the result that the attending magistrate, William Hands, returned only one member for Essex. Baby protested, a new writ of election was issued, and Baby was returned to the assembly the following year. He was elected once again in 1828, but the re-emergence of discord in the parish, this time over church finances and the failure to provide suitable housing for the girls’ school, begun by Sister Marie-Clotilde Raizenne* and supported by the Babys, contributed to François’s political undoing in 1830. When in late October Baby was defeated at the polls, he blamed the local priest, Joseph Crevier, dit Bellerive, and the pastor at Amherstburg, Louis-Joseph Fluet, and tried to have both removed. Baby’s defeat was a source of outrage for the vicar general, William John O’Grady*, and for Bishop Alexander McDonell*, who described Baby as “the most independent, and most upright, and . . . the most honest member” who ever sat in the assembly.
Crevier, however, had strong support from his congregation, which resented Baby’s boast that he had more influence with the bishop than “all the parishioners put together” and which feared that he would use that influence to have Crevier replaced by an “English priest.” These fears were realized in November 1831 when the bishop’s nephew Angus MacDonell was appointed to the predominantly French-Canadian parish. But Baby’s troubles were far from over. His refusal to turn over the deeds to the church which O’Grady had entrusted to him in 1830 caused the bishop to listen more sympathetically to local complaints. The result was a bill passed in the assembly in February 1834 which allowed removal of the deeds from trustees such as Baby, “whose views and intentions were hostile to the interest of the Catholics of Sandwich, and their Religion.” Friction between Baby and Angus MacDonell continued until the latter was replaced by Pierre Point in 1843.
Baby lived as a gentleman on his inherited wealth and the income derived from his property. He had, however, made some efforts to acquire more land. In 1799 he patented a grant for 1,200 acres in Yarmouth Township and that same year received 360 acres in Malden Township. But his most important holdings were in Sandwich Township, lots 79 and 80 in concessions 1 and 2 which he received from his mother in 1800 and their extensions in concession 3 granted in 1805. In 1836 he received the adjacent water lots on the Detroit River to build wharfs for the village being developed there. His land holdings were thus relatively modest in scale; however, in qualitative terms his Sandwich property was most significant since the village there was to become the future city of Windsor. On 4 Dec. 1838 the so-called battle of Windsor was fought in Baby’s orchard. Critical of the summary executions ordered by Colonel John Prince* for the first five Americans captured in the abortive Patriot invasion, Baby and his son-in-law, James Dougall*, were among those who cancelled their subscriptions to the Sandwich Western Herald, and Farmers’ Magazine for its support of Prince.
During the 1840s Baby operated a government-leased ferry service to Detroit and ran an inn. He maintained his reform party contacts and in 1843 was recommended for a seat in the Legislative Council by Louis-Hippolyte La Fontaine*. Though not appointed, he remained influential in local politics, chairing a rally at which Malcolm Cameron* spoke in 1849 and serving as a conduit for party patronage right up until his death three years later. A raconteur, Baby had regaled the American historian Francis Parkman* in 1845 with tales of his father’s friendship with the Ottawa war chief Pontiac*. Parkman left a vivid description in his journals of Baby’s “fine old brick house” (now the Hiram Walker Historical Museum), referring to its “waste and picturesque air – books, guns, neglected tables, old clocks, chests of drawers, and garments and Indian equipment flung around” as well as to “the little Negro girl, and the strange-looking half breed, who were sunning themselves among the hens and hogs in the back yard.” Perhaps the life and comportment of this Upper Canadian gentleman was best captured by his grandson: François Baby “lived in a feudal sort of way and was very proud and, I might say, arrogant.”
AO, MS 392, 20-11 (Baby family); 20-135 (G. F. Macdonald papers); MS 498; RG 22, ser.155, will of François Baby. Archdiocese of Detroit, Chancery Office, Reg. des baptêmes, mariages et sépultures de Sainte-Anne (Detroit), 2 févr. 1704–30 déc. 1848 (transcripts at Detroit Public Library, Burton Hist. Coll.), 17 déc. 1768. Arch. of the Archdiocese of Toronto, Ser.1, AB03, 09, 20–21, 36, 39, 45, 47–49, 58; AC21–23; CA01–2; CB07, 10. Arch. of the Diocese of London (London, Ont.), Assumption Church (Sandwich [Windsor, Ont.]), Reg. of baptisms, marriages, and burials, 5 Sept. 1795, 28 Aug. 1852. AUM, P 58. MTL, Robert Baldwin papers; W. W. Baldwin papers. PAC, RG 1, L1; L3; RG 5, A1: 2668–69, 20799–811, 31701–3, 35694–95, 35704–10, 36398–99; RG 8, I (C ser.); RG 68, General index, 1651–1841. PRO, CO42/317: 189. The John Askin papers, ed. M. M. Quaife (2v., Detroit, 1928–31). “Journals of Legislative Assembly of U.C.,” AO Report, 1909: 23; 1914: 152–53, 314–15. Francis Parkman, The journals of Francis Parkman, ed. Mason Wade (2v., New York and London, 1947). The Windsor border region, Canada’s southernmost frontier . . . , ed. E. J. Lajeunesse (Toronto, 1960). Canadian Correspondent (York [Toronto]), 25 Jan., 8 Feb. 1834. Colonial Advocate (York), 1 May 1828; 7 Oct. 1830; 17, 24 July 1834. Upper Canada Gazette, 3 June 1824.
Armstrong, Handbook of Upper Canadian chronology. P.-B. Casgrain, Mémorial des familles Casgrain, Baby et Perrault du Canada (Québec, 1898). [A. J. Dooner], named Brother Alfred, Catholic pioneers in Upper Canada (Toronto, 1947). E. J. Lajeunesse, Outline history of Assumption parish (n.p., ). J. E. Rea, Bishop Alexander Macdonell and the politics of Upper Canada (Toronto, 1974). F. H. Armstrong, “The oligarchy of the Western District of Upper Canada, 1788–1841,” CHA Hist. papers, 1977: 87–102. John Clarke, “The role of political position and family and economic linkage in land speculation in the Western District of Upper Canada, 1788–1815,” Canadian Geographer (Toronto), 19 (1975): 18–34. R. A. Douglas, “‘The Battle of Windsor,”‘ OH, 61 (1969): 137–52. C. C. James, “The second legislature of Upper Canada – 1796–1800,” RSC Trans., 2nd ser., 9 (1903), sect.ii: 167–68.
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Cite This Article
John Clarke, “BABY, FRANÇOIS (1768-1852),” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 8, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed March 23, 2023, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/baby_francois_1768_1852_8E.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 (1768-1852)|
|Publication Name:||Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 8|
|Publisher:||University of Toronto/Université Laval|
|Year of publication:||1985|
|Year of revision:||1985|
|Access Date:||March 23, 2023|