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HOWARD, JOSEPH, merchant and fur-trader; b. in England; m. c. 1763 Marguerite Réaume; d. 5 Dec. 1797 at Berthier-en-Haut (Berthierville, Que.).

Joseph Howard, who may have come from Bristol, arrived in Montreal in 1760 and became one of the first British merchants of that city to enter the western fur trade; he formed a trading partnership with John or Edward Chinn (or both of them) and with Henry Bostwick which sent canoes to Michilimackinac (Mackinaw City, Mich.) in 1761. Soon he was linked by marriage to a large family network of Canadian fur-traders, among whom were the Lemoines and the Couagnes. In December 1763 Howard and other Montreal merchants signed a petition to Thomas Gage, the acting commander-in-chief, asking that any peace terms made with the then hostile western Indians include the payment of their debts to the traders. After peace was eventually declared, Howard experienced difficulty because of defaulting correspondents at Michilimackinac in 1765 and 1767. He ended his partnership with the Chinns and Bostwick about the latter year, perhaps as a result of an increasingly straitened financial situation: in 1768 his business failed, leaving him with debts that included £4,506 owed to the London firm of Brook Watson*.

Howard had also entered the eastern fur trade. By 1766 he, George Allsopp*, and Edward Chinn had established unlicensed posts in competition with those of the Tadoussac trade (sometimes called the king’s posts). In August they were ordered by the Council to remove their posts, but political manœuvring delayed action until after their final appeal was rejected by the Privy Council in the autumn of 1768. Howard may have added lumbering to his business interests. In August 1765 he purchased the seigneury of Ramezay on the Rivière Yamaska, a property which had a good sawmill.

Howard was one of those merchants who became embroiled in a struggle with the British military authorities in the early 1760s. On one occasion he and Thomas Walker objected, at a merchants’ club, to making a courtesy call on the new military governor of Montreal, Ralph Burton, on New Year’s Day, 1764: “very indecent language was made use of, chiefly so by . . . Howard.” “Upon clear & undoubted proofs of His disrespect,” Howard was dismissed shortly after by Burton from his post as king’s auctioneer. Howard does not appear to have carried his opposition to the authorities as far as Walker did, and indeed they were to fall foul of each other in 1766. Walker charged Howard and five military officers in November with responsibility for the beating he had received from masked assailants in 1764. They languished in jail until March 1767 when the charges were finally dropped.

Howard’s relations with the authorities who controlled access to the western trade do not appear to have been particularly good. In 1779 Haldimand, for military reasons, delayed issuing the passes for the western traders, and Howard, afraid of missing the Indians who had come down to trade, set off for Michilimackinac without one. He was stopped at the post in June by the commandant, Arent Schuyler De Peyster, and sent back. In December he was accused of having aided the escape of Thomas Bentley, a Kaskaskia (Ill.) merchant arrested for corresponding with the Americans, and he was placed on bond. The next March Howard was fined £50 for his unlicensed trip to Michilimackinac, and in May his agent, John Sayer*, was allowed to “collect his effects” from the post but not to trade. In July 1781 Howard received a pass, too late for it to be of use. After missing three trading seasons he faced bankruptcy. He pleaded with the government in October 1781 for an early pass for the next season; he claimed that lack of one “will not only compleat my ruin but hurt some very worthy merchts in London.” The next month his request was granted.

Little is known of Howard’s later affairs, except that he continued his involvement in the western trade. He signed the 1786 petition of Montreal merchants concerning the disruption in the fur trade caused by an inter-tribal war among the western Indians. That winter he proposed to the government that the fur trade be organized into a monopoly of 100 shares, these to be sold by public auction; he was concerned in part to “restrain the Sale of Rum” to the Indians. His son John and William Oldham formed a short-lived partnership in 1791 to compete with the North West Company, and Howard may have supported the venture. In 1793 he was still sending traders to Michilimackinac (which had been moved to Mackinac Island), but in 1794 his business was bankrupt, probably from losses in the crumbling fur market. Two years later he retired to a quiet life as a rural merchant in Berthier-en-Haut.

A. J. H. Richardson

ANQ-M, Greffe de Peter Lukin, 12 juill. 1794. BL, Add. mss 21844, ff.465–68, 470, 473. PAC, MG 23, GIII, 5, ff.102–3; 8, pp.100–1; MG 29, A5, 26, James Hallowell to Simon McTavish, 24 Oct. 1791; 27, John Gregory to Simon McTavish, 24 Oct. 1791; RG 68, 238, pp.97–99 (entry listing debts of Joseph Howard, 1768). PRO, CO 42/1, ff.164–65, 180–90; 42/5, f.30; 42/26, pp.234, 242–44, 270–73; 42/53, p.162. Docs. relating to NWC (Wallace). Johnson papers (Sullivan et al.), V, 345, 755–57; X, 992–93. Michigan Pioneer Coll. IX (1886), 357–58, 363, 383–84; X (1886), 504–5; XI (1887), 389–92, 483–86, 503–4, 524–25, 662–63, 669–70; XIX (1891), 491–92, 525. PAC Report, 1885, lxxxvii, xciii; 1888, note A, 1–2; 1918, app.B., 38–39, 66. Wis., State Hist. Soc., Coll., XIX (1910), 237–38. Massicotte, “Répertoire des engagements pour l’Ouest,” ANQ Rapport, 1932–33, 267, 301; 1942–43, 326, 328. P.-G. Roy, Inv. concessions, IV, 218–19. Burt, Old prov. of Que. (1968), I, 95n, 96–98, 118–19, 122; II, 160.

General Bibliography

Cite This Article

A. J. H. Richardson, “HOWARD, JOSEPH,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 4, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed October 21, 2014, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/howard_joseph_4E.html.

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Permalink: http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/howard_joseph_4E.html
Author of Article: A. J. H. Richardson
Title of Article: HOWARD, JOSEPH
Publication Name: Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 4
Publisher: University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication: 1979
Year of revision: 1979
Access Date: October 21, 2014