HAY, CHARLES, merchant; fl. 1770–83.
Charles Hay, a Scottish merchant, seems to have settled in Quebec some years after the treaty of Paris, since his name is not on the list of heads of Protestant households in the District of Quebec drawn up on 26 Oct. 1764. The first document referring to Hay’s activities that we have found is a bond dated 9 Feb. 1770 and signed by Pierre Dextreme, dit Comtois, an innkeeper, in favour of Hay for deliveries of rum, brandy, wine, and other hard liquor. In it Hay is described as a master cooper. He also had a flourishing trade, importing rum and wine and exporting wood, especially barrel staves. Alfred Leroy Burt, the historian, presents him as a prominent Scot in Quebec, but there is little trace of his commercial activities except for the 1770 document. It seems surprising that if Hay were an important merchant his name was not on the petitions of the British merchants for the abrogation of the Quebec Act and for the creation of a house of assembly.
At the time of the American revolution the numerous commercial contacts that he seems to have had with the American colonies made the authorities suspect his loyalty. The evidence for suspicion increased, especially when Charles and his brother Udney stayed outside the city during the American siege of Quebec. Following Richard Montgomery’s defeat, Charles returned to Quebec, but Udney joined the American army as a colonel and served as quartermaster at Albany, New York.
After the American troops withdrew in 1776, the colonial authorities adopted severe measures against supporters of the American cause who were thought to have been agents provocateurs or traitors. These measures reached a climax some years later, when Governor Haldimand in 1780 intercepted letters revealing a new invasion scheme. The principal suspects, including Pierre Du Calvet, Fleury Mesplet, and Charles Hay, were taken into custody, Hay being one of the few English speaking persons arrested as a traitor. In a letter of 21 March 1780 Brigadier-General Allan Maclean stated that Hay was an out-and-out rebel and that he maintained close contact with the enemy.
The prisoners, confined without trial, were well treated. Pierre Fabre*, dit Laterrière, Valentin Jautard, Hay, and Mesplet had a room 30 feet square, were well fed, and were allowed visitors. These imprisonments without trial engendered a wave of protest, especially in Charles Hay’s case. His wife Mary went to England to defend his interests. In February 1782 she presented a statement to Welbore Ellis, the secretary of state for the American Colonies, which led Lord Shelburne, the new secretary of state for the Home Department, to ask Governor Haldimand for an explanation some months later. Despite these steps, Charles Hay had to wait more than a year to regain his freedom. He was released in May 1783, and no further trace of him has been found.
[The catalogue of minute books at the ANQ-Q was checked for all those notaries who practised at Quebec between 1760 and 1785 and the minute books of the following were consulted: Antoine Crespin, Sr, 1750–82, Antoine Crespin, Jr, 1782–98, J.-C. Panet, 1744–75, and J.-A. Saillant, 1749–76. g.d.] Doc. relatifs à l’hist. constitutionnelle, 1759–91 (Shortt et Doughty; 1921). “A list of Protestant house keepers in the District of Quebec (Octr. 26th, 1764),” BRH, XXXVIII (1932), 753–54. PAC Rapport, 1890, 135. Burt, Old prov. of Que. (1968), II, 17–18. J. N. McIlwraith, Sir Frederick Haldimand (London and Toronto, 1926), 279.