CAREY, JOHN, farmer, newspaperman, brewer, and printer; b. 1780 in County Westmeath (Republic of Ireland); m. c. 1806 Margaret ——, and they had at least two sons and six daughters; d. 28 Dec. 1851 in Springfield on the Credit (Erindale), Upper Canada.
Little is known of John Carey’s early life. He himself once claimed that he was bred as a lawyer. On the recommendation of Samuel Whitbread, a member of the House of Commons, he was appointed a clerk in the commissariat in 1813, serving in British North America, England, and the West Indies. Although he returned to England after the general reduction in 1816, he soon immigrated to New York City, where he became a tobacconist and his family conducted a school. In 1818 he came to Upper Canada with a letter of introduction from Colonial Secretary Lord Bathurst, deeds for 500 acres in the Perth military settlement that he had bought from an army officer in New York, and a quantity of tobacco seed. His family arrived the following year, when the yellow fever epidemic in New York broke up their school.
Carey soon discovered that the land near Perth had been forfeited by his army acquaintance, but he was granted 300 acres as a military claimant, got another 300 on the direction of Lord Bathurst, and was eventually given land in lieu of the properties he had bought in New York. He was unsuccessful, however, in getting the locations he wished. His intention of cultivating tobacco was given up, although he may have maintained some interest in the business: in 1826 Francis Collins* recommended that he “stick to Cigar making,” and three years later George Gurnett* referred to his “profitable trade in smuggling segars.”
After spending some time farming near Kingston and then on the Sixteen Mile (Oakville) Creek in Trafalgar Township, Carey moved to York (Toronto) in 1820 and reported the House of Assembly debates for the Upper Canada Gazette. He acquired the press and types of the Upper Canada Phoenix, formerly published in Dundas, and on 22 May 1820 he founded the Observer, the first newspaper in York that was not an official organ of government. Although Gurnett claimed in 1829 that the Observer’s publisher worked his press and delivered his newspapers himself, Carey was employing at least three printers in 1826. Much of his income came from job printing, especially for the government. William Lyon Mackenzie*, Collins, and Carey constantly quarrelled over the division of this work and its payment. Carey’s most ambitious printing job was Thomas Taylor’s Reports of cases . . . in the Court of King’s Bench (York, 1828), which contains almost 800 pages.
Carey published the Observer until 1831. In May 1832 he began to edit a new paper, the Sapper and Miner, published by G. W. Thompson, but his interest in farming was again aroused when he was finally granted the land he wanted on the Credit River at Dundas Street. The Sapper and Miner ceased publication before the end of the year, and Carey moved to Springfield on the Credit where he had a farm and a small brewery which burned down in 1835. Here he lived for the rest of his life, except for about a year in 1840–41, when he returned to publish another newspaper, the Globe, beginning on 28 March 1840.
Although Carey published weekly newspapers for almost 13 years, few issues have survived, and so it is necessary to depend on other sources for information about them. Henry Scadding* described the Observer as “a folio of rustic, unkempt aspect, the paper and typography and matter being all somewhat inferior.” In July 1820 Governor Lord Dalhousie [Ramsay*] called Carey “a scurrilous scribbler” who was “unworthy of notice”; 20 years later the lieutenant governor of Upper Canada, Sir George Arthur, called him “a vagabond . . . who richly deserves to be punished.” The surviving issues of his papers are innocuous, but his journalism was probably characterized by the personal vituperation usual in the period. He himself was viciously attacked by Charles Fothergill* in the Upper Canada Gazette during much of 1822 and by Gurnett in the Gore Gazette in 1829. Both called him the “Prince of Liars,” as did Samuel Peters Jarvis, and accused him specifically of fabricating speeches in his reports of assembly debates.
Many of Carey’s political views were similar to those of Mackenzie and Collins. He was against union with Lower Canada in 1822 and 1841 [see John Beverley Robinson*] and supported Barnabas* and Marshall Spring* Bidwell on the alien question, Collins in his libel case, and Judge John Walpole Willis* in his dispute with the executive. He was a member of Robert Baldwin’s committee in a by-election of 1829; he voted for Baldwin in 1830 and for Mackenzie in 1836. Although he took no part in the rebellion of 1837–38, he assisted in the legal defence of those taken prisoner and in the preparation of their petitions. He was a faithful prison visitor of the rebels, as he had been with Collins ten years earlier, and even went to see Mackenzie in prison in Rochester, N.Y. He vehemently opposed what he considered the corrupt principles and dictatorial methods of Governor Lord Sydenham [Thomson*]; he also attacked those who cooperated with him, calling Robert Baldwin “a trimmer of the very worst description.”
Like Mackenzie and Collins, Carey was keenly interested in the commercial development of the province and wrote long letters proposing improvements in agriculture, milling, commercial relations with Lower Canada, roads, railways, and canals. His pamphlet Observations on the state of the colony (1821) contains many such suggestions. It also demonstrates the typical inconsistency of his thought and the illogicality of his arguments. More important, it shows the two themes that remained constant throughout his life.
His main criticism in the Observations was directed at the land granting system, which he thought misleading, dilatory, and expensive, and thus a source of great hardship for the poor immigrant. His concern for the poor and the sick was very real. Many of his schemes for their welfare were obviously too costly for the state of the colony, but most of them were eventually implemented. He had a deep compassion for all the unfortunate in Upper Canada; in a sectarian age he ignored denominational distinctions. He himself was a Roman Catholic for most of his life, but he died an Anglican.
Unlike Mackenzie and Collins, he rarely attacked the lieutenant governor or governor (except for Sydenham), or their senior advisers. To Carey, the enemy was the lower echelon of government – the magistrates, militia officers, sheriffs, postmasters, and so on – whose “ignorance and insolence” he found intolerable. His longest and most vitriolic feud was with the Magrath family on the Credit, who represented everything he most disliked in Upper Canada. In this regard Carey differed from Mackenzie and Collins, who were more concerned with the iniquities of the central government and the Colonial Office.
All three journalists were erratic, but Carey exceeded the others in eccentricity. He probably had less influence than the others, but in his concern for the poor and his aversion to the petty local tyrant, he represented the views of many of the people of Upper Canada.
[Patricia Lockhart Fleming, in the course of her research for a forthcoming bibliography of Upper Canadian imprints, discovered the only known copy of John Carey’s Observations on the state of the colony (York [Toronto], 1821) among a large collection of uncatalogued pamphlets in a turret at the Library of Parliament (Ottawa). e.g.f.]
AO, MS 78; MS 516; RG 1, A-I; A-II. MTL, Robert Baldwin papers; W. W. Baldwin papers; York, U.C., minutes of town meetings and lists of inhabitants, 1797–1822. PAC, RG 1, L3; RG 5, A1; RG 31, A1, 1851. PRO, CO 42. St Peter’s (Anglican) Church (Erindale, Ont.), Reg. of burials, 1851–73 (mfm. at AO, MS 360). Arthur papers (Sanderson), vol.3. Can., Prov. of, Legislative Assembly, Journals, 1841–51. J. K. Dean, The sayings and doings of the self-styled royal family, the Magraths of Mackenzie’s Castle, Springfield (Toronto, 1844). Town of York, 1815–34 (Firth). U.C., House of Assembly, Journal, 1825–40; Legislative Council, Journal, 1828–40. Canadian Freeman (York; Toronto), 1825–34. Colonial Advocate, 1824–34. Examiner (Toronto), 7 Jan. 1852. Globe (Toronto), 1840–41 [this newspaper is not related to the paper begun on 5 March 1844 by George Brown*]. Gore Gazette, and Ancaster, Hamilton, Dundas and Flamborough Advertiser (Ancaster, [Ont.]), 14 Feb. 1829. Observer (York), 1820–31. Sapper and Miner (York), 1832. Upper Canada Gazette, 1820–41. Dict. of Toronto printers (Hulse). Early Toronto newspapers (Firth). Patricia [Lockhart] Fleming, A bibliography of Upper Canada imprints, 1801–1841 (forthcoming) [research notes and work in progress consulted]. Charles Durand, Reminiscences of Charles Durand of Toronto, barrister (Toronto, 1897), 126. Scadding, Toronto of old (1873), 269–70.
© 1985–2023 University of Toronto/Université Laval
Cite This Article
Edith G. Firth, “CAREY, JOHN,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 8, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed June 4, 2023, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/carey_john_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:||Edith G. Firth|
|Title of Article:||CAREY, JOHN|
|Publication Name:||Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 8|
|Publisher:||University of Toronto/Université Laval|
|Year of publication:||1985|
|Year of revision:||1985|
|Access Date:||June 4, 2023|