JOSEPH, JACOB HENRY (he added Henry to his first name in 1832), businessman and financier; b. 14 Sept. 1814 in Berthier-en-Haut (Berthierville), Lower Canada, second son of Henry Joseph* and Rachel Solomons (Solomon); m. 3 May 1848 Sarah Gratz Moses in Philadelphia, and they had two sons and three daughters; d. 28 Feb. 1907 in Montreal.
Jacob Joseph was born into one of the most important and well-known Jewish families in 19th-century Quebec. His father, a leading merchant in Berthier-en-Haut, sold imported manufactured goods, dealt in furs, and was a partner in a tobacco-importing business. In 1830 the family took up residence in Montreal. Two years later Henry Joseph and his eldest son, Samuel, died of cholera. Jacob then took the additional first name of Henry in honour of his father.
After the death of the father, the many business interests of the family were divided. Jacob Henry inherited the tobacco-importing business and managed it with the help of his mother and younger brother Abraham*. They slowly developed it into the leading Lower Canadian company in its field. In 1851 a reporter for R. G. Dun and Company remarked that although the firm had been “cramped,” it was “now in good circumstances credit good.” The following year another observed that the firm was “doing an enormous bus[iness] & apparently always flush of money.” By October 1859 Jacob Henry was described as “one of our wealthiest Citizens.” “Sell him all you can on cr” noted the reporter, “& ask no questions.” Earlier that year Jacob Henry and Abraham formally ended a partnership of more than 20 years, although in reality it may have ceased to exist much earlier. Abraham, who had moved to Quebec City in 1836, remained there, while Jacob Henry continued H. Joseph and Company in Montreal. Jacob Henry, together with his brother Jesse, would gain considerable prestige in the business circles of Montreal.
Although frequently urged to accept directorships in various companies, Jacob Henry preferred not to allow his name to be linked to an enterprise in which he was not directly involved. He had a role in the introduction of telegraph lines in Canada and was a partner in the New York, Newfoundland and London Telegraph Company, founded in 1854, which was responsible for the first transatlantic cable, completed in 1866 [see Frederic Newton Gisborne*]. For many years he was closely associated with the Montreal Elevating Company; he was at one time its largest stockholder and he eventually assumed the presidency of the firm. He was also involved in the earliest railways, as a director of the Champlain and St Lawrence Railroad Company, which in 1851 completed an extension to Rouses Point, N.Y. In addition, he had an interest in the Industry Village and Rawdon Railroad, incorporated in 1850.
Joseph was described in various sources as one of the largest owners of real estate in Montreal. R. G. Dun and Company estimated in 1860 that his business and real-estate holdings were worth over $100,000. Through the construction of numerous buildings, especially wholesale houses, he contributed to the prosperity of the business district. According to a contemporary, John Douglas Borthwick, he erected “more buildings for his own personal holding than any other citizen.” He was responsible for the construction of the Mercantile Library building and for the development of property near the port of Montreal. An active member of the Montreal Board of Trade, he served as its vice-president from mid 1861 to mid 1863. Through his efforts, the offices of port warden and harbour inspector were established by the board.
Finance interested Joseph, and he played a prominent role in the formation of several Canadian banks. On the creation of the Union Bank of Lower Canada in 1865, he acquired over 1,000 shares of unsubscribed stock, permitting the successful organization of this financial institution. He was also one of the original stockholders of the Bank of British North America. A substantial shareholder in the Ontario Bank for many years and a founder of the Montreal Provident and Savings Bank, he came to disapprove of their policies and eventually dissociated himself from both banks, which ultimately failed. By the turn of the century, he was active in the Bank of Montreal.
Joseph maintained a substantial interest in the major political events of his time. During the rebellion of 1837–38, he served as a militia officer, conveying dispatches between the commander-in-chief of the British forces, Sir John Colborne*, and Lieutenant-Colonel George Augustus Wetherall*, in command of the troops at Fort Chambly in November 1837. The following year his regiment was among those sent to resist an attack from the American border near Lacolle.
A strong supporter of the Reform party in the era of Robert Baldwin* and Louis-Hippolyte La Fontaine* and later of the Liberal party, he participated in the defence of government officials during the burning of the parliament buildings in Montreal in 1849 [see James Bruce*]. Despite his interest in politics, he refused repeated requests that he stand as a candidate for the federal constituency of Montreal West. He also rejected an invitation to enter the provincial Legislative Council. By the federal general election of 1891, he had become disenchanted with partisan politics and, henceforth, was critical of the policies of both the Liberal and the Conservative parties.
Joseph’s parents were very religious and had made significant efforts to respect Jewish tradition. Since there were few Jewish families in Berthier-en-Haut, they had taken great care in transmitting their Jewish heritage to their children. Joseph was a observer of the sabbath and attended the Spanish and Portuguese Synagogue in Montreal for over 75 years, serving for many years as a member of its board of trustees and as treasurer of the synagogue. He also participated in numerous philanthropic initiatives, including the Montreal General Hospital, Mercantile Library Association, Art Association of Montreal, Mechanics’ Institute, and Natural History Society of Montreal, of which he was vice-president.
In 1848 Jacob Henry Joseph had married Sarah Gratz Moses, a niece of Philadelphia philanthropist Rebecca Gratz, who had been the model for the character Rebecca in Sir Walter Scott’s famous novel Ivanhoe (Edinburgh, 1819). Mrs Joseph, an important Montreal philanthropist, died a few years before her husband. Joseph remained in remarkable health until a few weeks before his own death at age 92.
Baker Library, R. G. Dun & Co. credit ledger, Canada, 4: 192. Jewish Times (Montreal), 8 March 1907. Montreal Daily Star, 1 March 1907. Montreal Gazette, 12 May 1848. Borthwick, Hist. and biog. gazetteer. Rebecca Gratz, Letters of Rebecca Gratz, ed. David Philipson (Philadelphia, 1929). “The house of Joseph in the history of Quebec,” Canadian Jewish Congress, Congress Bull. (Montreal), 13 (1959), no.5: 2. E. C. Woodley, The house of Joseph in the life of Quebec: the record of a century and a half (Quebec, 1946).
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Cite This Article
Jack Jedwab, “JOSEPH, JACOB HENRY,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 13, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed March 21, 2023, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/joseph_jacob_henry_13E.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:
|Author of Article:||Jack Jedwab|
|Title of Article:||JOSEPH, JACOB HENRY|
|Publication Name:||Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 13|
|Publisher:||University of Toronto/Université Laval|
|Year of publication:||1994|
|Year of revision:||1994|
|Access Date:||March 21, 2023|