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LAVIOLETTE, PIERRE – Volume VIII (1851-1860)

b. 4 March 1794 in Boucherville, Lower Canada


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JACOBS, SAMUEL, merchant; date and place of birth unknown; d. 3 Aug. 1786 at Quebec, and was buried there two days later.

According to American historian Jacob Rader Marcus, Samuel Jacobs was probably of Alsatian origin. He arrived in Canada with the British army during the Seven Years’ War and did business as a purveyor to the troops, especially the officers. Some promissory notes and receipts confirm his presence in January 1758 at Fort Cumberland (near Sackville, N.B.), where he apparently engaged mainly in the liquor trade. From 1759 to 1761 he was in partnership on equal terms with William Buttar and Alexander Mackenzie in a brewery at Louisbourg, Cape Breton Island. Jacobs seems to have devoted little time to it, choosing instead to take his schooner Betsey and follow the British fleet when it sailed for Quebec in the summer of 1759. That autumn he was preparing to send his vessel to Oporto (Porto), Portugal, but General James Murray requisitioned the little ship to ply between Île d’Orléans and Quebec. He later requested compensation for the losses he had suffered in consequence.

The end of the war led Jacobs to try his luck in the new British colony. A few papers which seem to be in his handwriting, in particular a large invoice made out to Laurent Bertrand (Bertrend) dated 20 Oct. 1760, suggest that Jacobs spoke French. He seems to have been a wealthy merchant already, since by the transaction Bertrand consigned £2,525 worth of furs to him and Jacobs sold him wine, spirits, salt pork, coffee, sugar, and salt, for £1,444. By 3 November Jacobs had paid what he still owed Bertrand.

Jacobs evidently was at home among both old and new subjects of His Britannic Majesty; he did business with the Canadians as easily as with the British or his fellow Jews. Around 1760 he was trading with Aaron Hart, who later set up business in Trois-Rivières, and with Eleazar Levy, who after settling for a time in Quebec finally moved to New York about 1771. Through his Jewish connections Jacobs established firm commercial relations with New York, where Hyam Myers was his principal agent. Myers also travelled frequently to Quebec and in 1772 lived in Levy’s house before returning to New York, after which there is no trace of him.

Jacobs early grasped the importance of the Richelieu route. He set up stores along it from Crown Point (N.Y.) to Sorel. In 1763 he thought it advisable to open a store at Saint-Denis, which he entrusted to Charles Curtius. Jacobs’ account books show the extent of his trading activity. In the single month of November 1763 he received at least 18 different shipments, carefully noting the names of the ships and captains. These deliveries included coffee, salt, and sugar, and especially a large number of pipes of wine and spirits. He exported mainly wheat, apples, and furs.

While living in Quebec, where he owned some property, he concentrated his activity along the Richelieu. In a document dated 3 April 1770 he listed the plots of land he had bought at Saint-Denis from 31 Jan. 1769 on, valuing them at £2,700. On 1 July 1770 he made a list of his accounts at his store in Sorel: 183 debtors owed him £5,270 18s. 11d. He also did a good deal of business at Saint-Ours and Saint-Charles.

Jacobs finally settled at Saint-Denis. In addition to buying and running a general store, he operated a distillery and had an interest in pearl-ash, which he exported to England. One of his business associates at that time was George Allsopp*. As well as being Allsopp’s partner in these various industries, Jacobs acted as his supplier of wheat in exchange for wholesale goods.

Innumerable letters bear witness to the attention that Samuel Jacobs paid to his children’s education. Although English seems to have been the language used at home, he entrusted at least two of his daughters to the Ursulines of Quebec and wanted them to learn French thoroughly. Thus, in a letter of 16 March 1763 he exhorted his daughter Mary Geneviève, who was living in Charles Grant’s home, to continue to be “a good girl, virtuous, obediant,” adding “I charge you to write to me at least once a month in french.” His oldest son, Samuel, boarded for a time in Elias Salomon’s home and studied at John Reid’s private school in Quebec. Writing to Samuel’s father, on 2 Nov. 1780, Salomon emphasized that the son was, at 16, beginning to be almost a man and asked that the father increase his board and also his pocket money. The two failed to reach agreement, however, not least because Jacobs accused Salomon’s two daughters of having been “very generous” under their mother’s lenient eye: the three of them had spoiled his boy for him. Samuel moved to Reid’s home, and Charles Grant was asked to keep an eye on him.

Unlike most Jews of the period, Samuel Jacobs married a French Canadian, not a Jewess. In 1784 he regularized his situation with Marie-Josette Audette, dit Lapointe, the marriage licence being issued by Governor Haldimand on 15 October. How old Jacobs was at that time is not known. He may not have been in good health. In any case, he made his will that day: “If I die at St. Denis aforesaid,” he wrote, “my will is that I be Buried at Sorel, . . . near to some old soldier there.” He bequeathed his furniture and household goods to his wife, as well as the usufruct of £1,500, with the obligation to bequeath the capital to at least three of his children. He left the rest of his estate to his “two eldest natural daughters, Mary Geneviève and Mary Marianne,” and his son Samuel. He did not forget his other children: John Levy, John Baptist, Baptist Samuel, and his youngest daughter, Angélique. On 3 Aug. 1785, after having threatened Mary Geneviève that he would cut her off with nothing but a shilling if she married Stanislas Vigneault without his consent, he did in fact cut off her inheritance, except for the shilling, and forbad his wife, on pain of being herself disinherited, to give her any assistance whatever.

Jacobs died on 3 Aug. 1786. He left his executor, Edward William Gray*, a heavy task, since the value of the property involved made it necessary for him to guard the rich merchant’s papers carefully. Jacobs’ widow took as her second husband Jean-Baptiste Rieutord*, a doctor from Trois-Rivières. She in turn died in 1806. An extremely complex notarial deed, now in the Baby collection, again left Edward William Gray the task of settling the delicate question of the inheritance, raised this time by the new will left by the widow, in which she is called “mother and step-mother” of Samuel Jacobs’ children.

The Saint-Denis merchant was a colourful man and his correspondence shows an original mind. A musician in his leisure, he was fond of reading plays and was not unwilling to use a theatrical style himself. Even though he did not attend the synagogue in Montreal and had made a Protestant marriage, he gave proof of his Jewish conscience on many occasions. He knew a little Hebrew and enjoyed signing certain letters “Shemuel,” shaping the final “l” in the Hebrew manner. He even left a long account of the American invasion in Hebrew characters, which no one so far has succeeded in fully understanding. The learned Dr Marcus and his colleagues at Hebrew Union College and the American Jewish Archives in Cincinnati have not been able to decipher much of it.

Samuel Jacobs left numerous business papers which shed some light on the earliest Jews in Canada, with whom he had throughout his life maintained close relations. To those previously mentioned should be added his brother Thomas, Gershom and Isaac Levy, Simon Nathan, Lazarus David, Samuel Judah, and Abraham Jacobs. He remains, however, an enigmatic personality. More knowledge of him could not fail to provide new insights into “the morrows of the conquest.”

Denis Vaugeois

[The Jacobs papers at the PAC (MG 19, A2, ser.3, 1–246) are the most important primary source. They form part of the Ermatinger family collection; one of the Ermatingers was the executor for Edward William Gray, who was himself responsible for Samuel Jacobs’ estate. The papers permit a close examination of Jacobs’ commercial activities but tell us little about his family situation. At the Archives du séminaire de Trois-Rivières, the Fonds Hart, 1760–1865, contains numerous references to Jacobs, and the parish archives of Saint-Denis (Saint-Denis-sur-Richelieu, Que.) include documents (23 oct. 1772, 6 août 1776, 14 mai 1780, 27 juill. 1781) concerning Jacobs’ children, who were raised as Catholics. Additional information is to be found in ANQ-Q, Greffe de P.-L. Descheneaux, 13 déc. 1787.

The most important printed sources and studies include: American Jewry: documents; eighteenth century; primarily hitherto unpublished manuscripts, ed. J. R. Marcus (Cincinnati, Ohio, 1959); J. R. Marcus, Early American Jewry (2v., Philadelphia, 1951–53), I, 240–51; II, 497; David Roberts, “George Allsopp, Quebec merchant, 1733–1805” (unpublished ma thesis, Queen’s University, Kingston, Ont., 1974); Denis Vaugeois, Les Juifs et la Nouvelle-France (Trois-Rivières, 1968), 118–28; Canadian Jewish Archives (Montreal), I (1959), nos.4 and 5; P.-G. Roy, “La maison Montcalm sur les Remparts à Québec,” BRH, VIII (1902), 265. d.v.]

Revisions based on:
Bibliothèque et Arch. Nationales du Québec, Centre d’arch. de Québec, CE301-S61, 5 août 1786.

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Cite This Article

Denis Vaugeois, “JACOBS, SAMUEL,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 4, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed March 4, 2024, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/jacobs_samuel_4E.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:

Permalink:   http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/jacobs_samuel_4E.html
Author of Article:   Denis Vaugeois
Title of Article:   JACOBS, SAMUEL
Publication Name:   Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 4
Publisher:   University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication:   1979
Year of revision:   2020
Access Date:   March 4, 2024