DCB/DBC Mobile beta


New Biographies

Minor Corrections

Biography of the Day


b. 16 April 1760 in Lausanne, Switzerland


Responsible Government

Sir John A. Macdonald

From the Red River Settlement to Manitoba (1812–70)

Sir Wilfrid Laurier

Sir George-Étienne Cartier


The Fenians

Women in the DCB/DBC

The Charlottetown and Quebec Conferences of 1864

Introductory Essays of the DCB/DBC

The Acadians

For Educators

The War of 1812 

Canada’s Wartime Prime Ministers

The First World War

JOSEPH, HENRY (also known as Harry), businessman and militia officer; b. c. 1773 in England, son of Naphtali Joseph and of a sister of Aaron Hart*; d. 21 June 1832 in Berthier-en-Haut (Berthierville, Que.).

The Joseph family is thought to have emigrated from the Netherlands to England. About 1789 Henry and his older brothers Abraham and Judah immigrated to the province of Quebec at the suggestion of their uncle Aaron Hart, a prominent merchant in Trois-Rivières. Henry may have briefly joined the commissariat at William Henry (Sorel). However, he soon associated himself with his brothers, who had established themselves as commission merchants in Berthier-en-Haut, a strategic commercial site opposite the mouth of the Rivière Richelieu, a major artery of exchange with the United States. At Berthier-en-Haut on 28 Sept. 1803 Joseph married Rachel Solomons (Solomon), daughter of Levy Solomons*, a prominent Montreal merchant and fur trader who had died in 1792; they would have 12 children. Joseph gradually acquired considerable property in Berthier-en-Haut, including a large stone house from which he conducted business in association with his brother Judah, Abraham having gone to London as an agent for Moses Hart*. Henry and Judah were Hart’s agents in Berthier, and to him they sold a wide range of goods including beer, nails, shoes, and hats. Another client was either Francis* or James Badgley, whose severe financial problems in 1803 threatened their own position.

During the War of 1812 Joseph saw service in the militia. After the war he broadened the scope and geographical range of his commercial activities. In the summer of 1815 he left Berthier-en-Haut to travel in the upper country. He furnished supplies and trade goods to fur traders in association with his brothers-in-law Benjamin Samuel Solomons (Solomon) and Jacob Franks* and brought furs down from the western posts in his own canoes for shipment to Britain. He chartered at least two vessels, the Rachel and the Eweretta, the latter of which acquired considerable popularity among the colony’s most important businessmen as a cargo vessel and passenger carrier. One of the first merchants to charter Lower Canadian vessels directly to England and exclusively for the trade of the Canadas, he has been considered a founder of Canada’s merchant marine. In 1817 he was among those who petitioned the House of Assembly for a charter for the Bank of Montreal.

By 1818 Henry and Judah seem to have been operating separately in Berthier-en-Haut. Henry maintained a store from which he supplied manufactured goods to the important agricultural market of the St Lawrence and Richelieu valleys. That year he offered for sale 13 pairs of French burr millstones, 4 querns for grinding malt and paint colours, cast-iron blocks, cast-steel mill picks, and anti-attrition, a Patent Composition for the use of steam Engines, Mills, Machinery, Carriages.” The following year he advertised more than 200 French burr-stones.

By 1822, although still living in Berthier-en-Haut, he was a partner in Benjamin Samuel Solomon and Company, tobacco importers and manufacturers of Montreal: At the same time he evidently kept his hand in the fur business, for in December 1822 he announced in the Quebec Gazette that he was coming to Quebec with a large assortment of fur products of Montreal manufacture, including “Ladies Fur Bonnets consisting of Churchile [chinchilla], Seal, Sable, Jenet and Martin Skins, likewise Muffs and Tippets to match, Gentlemen’s Caps of Otter, Martin, Russia Cumer Seal Skin, Jenet, Fitch Skin do. with Gloves and Mitts to match, also a quantity of Cariole Robes of Racoon, Fisher, Fox and Buffalo.” His various enterprises prospered, and in January 1825 he proposed purchasing a property in Montreal at a sheriff’s sale for £3,000 if Moses Hart would spare him £1,000 or £2,000. Hart would not; nevertheless Joseph did buy a large property in Montreal on Place Près-de-Ville. By 1826 he was described as a resident of Montreal, but he still lived part of the time at Berthier-en-Haut, where he was captain and paymaster in the militia and where his eldest son, Samuel, ran the business. At an unknown date he established a branch at Quebec under the name of Henry Joseph and Company.

In 1830 Joseph retired to Montreal. He was a staunch Jew and became active in the city’s Jewish community of fewer than 100 persons. While isolated in Berthier-en-Haut he had worked out a religious calendar that enabled his family to observe Jewish festivals and had learned the ritual killing of animals for food. With Rachel he had taught his children to be observant of the practices and laws of their religion.

In early October 1831, following the death of Benjamin Samuel Solomons, Joseph became tutor of Solomons’s minor children and, it would seem, sole owner of the extensive tobacco factory and snuff import business on Rue La Gauchetière. In June 1832 Samuel Joseph contracted the dreaded cholera, which was wreaking havoc in Berthier-en-Haut. Henry rushed to be with him, but by the time he arrived his son had already died. Henry himself was struck down by the disease and died the next day at age 59. Father and son were immediately buried in the family garden but later reinterred in the cemetery of the Shearith Israel congregation in Montreal. Henry Joseph left his widow, four sons, and four daughters. After his death the business was briefly carried on by Rachel and a son, Jacob, who in honour of his father added the name Henry to his own. Henry’s second surviving son, Abraham*, joined his older brother in partnership in 1837, but this arrangement was short-lived in reality, although it was not ended formally until 1859. In 1836 an inventory had been made of the community of property between Henry and Rachel. It indicates that Henry had probably left his family in good circumstances: the household effects were worth £532 and the stock-in-trade £3,650, while stocks and debentures totalled £900. All of Joseph’s surviving children did well. His eldest daughter, Catharine, married Aaron Hart David, a prominent Montreal physician, and the youngest, Esther, married the Jewish religious leader Abraham de Sola*. Of the sons, Abraham married a granddaughter of Aaron Hart, Sophia David, and became a prominent merchant, banker, and municipal politician at Quebec; Jesse became a leading industrialist and railway promoter; and the youngest, Gershom, who married a Frenchwoman, Céline Lyons, in California, became the first Jewish qc in Canada.

Annette R. Wolff

The DCB/DBC would like to thank Professor Robert Sweeny of the Montreal Business History Research Group for his assistance.

ANQ-M, CN1-7, 6, 25 avril 1836; CN1-134, 20 sept. 1822, 7 oct. 1825, 3 mars 1826; CN1-187, 3 oct. 1831. Arch. du séminaire de Trois-Rivières (Trois-Rivières, Qué.), 0009. AUM, P 58, U, J. and H. Joseph to James Reid, 22 March 1803, 10 June 1807, 8 Dec. 1808, 5 Dec. 1831. PAC, MG 24, 161. Le Canadien, 27 juin 1832. Montreal Gazette, 3 Oct. 1803. Quebec Gazette, 2 Sept. 1813; 17, 25 June 1819; 16 Dec. 1822. The Jewish encyclopedia . . . , ed. Isidore Singer (12v., New York and London, 1901–6), 7: 254. M. G. Brown, “Jewish foundations in Canada: the Jews, the French, and the English to 1914” (phd thesis, State Univ. of New York at Buffalo, 1976), 87. The Jew in Canada: a complete record of Canadian Jewry from the days of the French régime to the present time, ed. A. D. Hart (Toronto and Montreal, 1926), 41. History of the corporation of Spanish and Portuguese Jews “Shearith Israel” of Montreal, Canada (n.p., [1918]). Martin Wolff, “The Jews of Canada,” American Jewish Year Book (Philadelphia), 27 (1925–26): 154–229.

General Bibliography

Cite This Article

Annette R. Wolff, “JOSEPH, HENRY,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 6, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed April 16, 2024, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/joseph_henry_6E.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/joseph_henry_6E.html
Author of Article:   Annette R. Wolff
Title of Article:   JOSEPH, HENRY
Publication Name:   Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 6
Publisher:   University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication:   1987
Year of revision:   1987
Access Date:   April 16, 2024