HARRISON, EDWARD, merchant, shipowner, office-holder, and seigneur; b. c. 1729 (according to a census of Quebec’s English population about 1773) or c. 1734 (according to his burial certificate); buried 17 Oct. 1794 at Quebec. He was married and had at least two daughters and possibly one son.
Edward Harrison first appeared in Canada in 1763, when he came to Quebec and Montreal to collect debts for the London merchant Charles Crokatt. He also performed this work for Crokatt’s associate James Strachan and several other London merchants grouped with Crokatt and primarily interested in trading to the Carolinas. He retained connections with them for his own trade, which he carried on from 1763 at Quebec, with an interval at Montreal in 1769–70. In the 1760s and 1770s Harrison was associated with a group of Montreal merchants including Richard Dobie* and Lawrence Ermatinger who drew funds and outfits for the fur trade from Strachan; he sometimes helped support their ventures or bought from their returns of peltries. He seemed more committed to the grain business, however, and in 1770 was described as its “greatest Shipper.” By 1772 he was “running Madd” in the trade, as James Morrison, his agent at Montreal, distributed Harrison’s cash “round the country.” Some time after 1774 he built a granary at Quebec on land he had acquired. The quantity of his purchases from the Richelieu region in 1787, and his request in 1788 that John Antrobus* not be granted a certain plot of land because access to Harrison’s granary would be obstructed, suggest that he retained a lively interest in wheat into the late 1780s. By that time, however, he was imprudently failing to take the time to examine the quality of the grain he purchased. Harrison was also involved in other business: in the 1770s several consignments of his jewellery, wine, and cloth were sold by auction in Montreal. A shipowner from the beginning of his Canadian career, in 1774 he had a “fine” vessel built in the Rivière Saint-Charles for the Atlantic run. He may well also have had an interest in one of the most popular transatlantic sailers of the period, the Peters, since he was usually the Quebec agent who allotted passenger and freight accommodation on it.
Harrison was also active politically. He served on the Council of Quebec from January 1773, and from August 1775 on its successor under the Quebec Act, the Legislative Council. He was in addition a member of the unofficial executive councils of governors Guy Carleton* and Frederick Haldimand and, from 1792, belonged to the Legislative Council of Lower Canada. A faithful workhorse on important committees such as those dealing with public accounts and land grants, he voted with the English party and occasionally took a leading part. For example, in 1777 he moved an amendment in the Legislative Council to the ordinance on civil courts to introduce “substantially, English law and English practice” in those institutions. His sympathies for the English party had already appeared in the 1760s and did not spring from an attachment to Sir John Johnson*, as one observer suggested.
In 1785 Harrison was still “among . . . the first characters” of Quebec, but late in 1788 he failed to make payment on a debt owed to the estate of Samuel Jacobs, and by 1791 his fortunes had collapsed completely. The cause of his problems is not known, but they may have been connected with the uncertainty of the grain market between 1783 and 1793. By 1791 his only income was his allowance of £100 a year as a member of the Legislative Council, and that too ceased on 26 December with the division of Quebec into Upper and Lower Canada; members of the new legislative councils were not paid. Nevertheless, in 1792 Harrison still retained his house on an important business street in Quebec, his servant, and his fief of Grosse-Île, acquired in February 1784.
In addition to his council positions, Harrison had served as an officer of the Quebec militia at least since 1775, attaining the rank of major by the time of his death. As well, in 1791 he was appointed a commissioner of oyer and terminer for Trois-Rivières. In 1786, on orders from Lieutenant Governor Henry Hope, Harrison made an inventory of crown property at the “king’s posts” on the lower St Lawrence, so careful that it is an important document for Canadian architectural history.
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