POZER, GEORGE (at birth he was named Johann Georg Pfozer; he signed Georg Pfozer but in official records was called George Pozer), merchant, landowner, and jp; b. 21 Nov. 1752 in Wilstedt (Federal Republic of Germany); m. 11 Jan. 1776 Magdalen Sneider in Schoharie, N.Y., and they had six children; d. 16 June 1848 at Quebec.
At the age of 21, George Pozer, who came from a humble family and had almost no education, left the village where he was born and went to North America. By 1773 he was living at Schoharie, near Albany, but some three years later the military situation prompted his departure for New York. There he engaged in the bakery and grocery business, profiting from supply contracts with the British army. In his old age Pozer often recalled this period of his life, the real or imaginary risks that he said he had run, the Yankees’ brutality, and his meeting with a compatriot, businessman John Jacob Astor, who would remain for him the symbol of success. In the autumn of 1783 he left with his wife and two sons for England, along with the troops and other loyal subjects forced to evacuate the city. From this decade of experience he took with him £838 in savings and a certificate of good character and faithful services.
After a short stay in Wilstedt and some time in London concluding arrangements with his correspondents, he sailed for Quebec in the spring of 1785. He settled in the town, and through endeavours that started with his first grocery store and extended to real estate operations, with money lending and discounting in between, Pozer succeeded in building a fortune over 30 years. Then, having outlived his ambitions, he had another 30 years to consolidate it. When he died, the balance sheet of all the years spent patiently accumulating wealth showed approximately: furniture and cash, £529; securities, £12,000; debts owing him, £15,029; town properties estimated on the basis of rental value, about £60,000; three seigneuries, and 6,800 hectares held in free and common socage. There is no way to assess the value of his rural properties. In any event it was a large, and highly visible, fortune, and no less visible was its owner, who still, in the mid 19th century, wore breeches, stockings with buckled shoes, a blue frock-coat, and a tricorn hat. While his heirs grew impatient and his tenants continued to bring him their quarterly rent or beg for more time, the old German, who was said to be a millionaire, became a familiar figure to passers-by. They would see him on the doorstep of his house on Rue Saint-Jean taking the air and greeting with pleasure those who stopped to chat.
His fortune had begun with trade, but nothing set Pozer apart from the many other merchants who were both importers and retailers yet were just moderately successful. He got his goods from Hardess Mantz and Company in London – glassware, crockery, wine, tea, and other groceries, which were transported by English shipowner John Brown. These imports were worth between £200 and £500 annually. Pozer retailed the merchandise himself, along with local produce. From 1806 to 1826 he sent sawn timber to Brown on a commission basis, one cargo a year, rarely more. From time to time he had contracts to supply the Quebec garrison, but he was not one of the principal purveyors.
To throw light on the shadowy area separating these modest commercial endeavours from the process of making a spectacular fortune it would be necessary to analyse another set of practices basic to most of his initial accumulation of wealth: financial trading through discounting and lending. Few traces remain of this business activity. Pozer reportedly profited from army bills, which the government made legal tender during the War of 1812, but this would have been only one operation among many. He discounted notes and bills of exchange on a regular basis and made short- or medium-term loans at the current six per cent rate. His clients were mainly merchants and businessmen, and with them the loan was generally made by private note. Consequently it is not possible to reconstitute these transactions by referring to obligations signed before a notary or debts recorded in the inventory of his estate, which were mostly arrears in rents and annuities, along with a few large debts that were long outstanding and probably not recoverable. During the period when Pozer was active, money-lending was for him an operation separate from his mercantile business and involving a diversified clientele, among whom were enough small borrowers that it is clear anyone could turn to him. A letter from one Charles Laparé, written in English, is proof: “Having made up my mind to Commence business in the Blacksmith line, but not having the Means, I have to solicit from you for the term of two years by paying interest the Sum of thirty pounds Currency. Reference can be made to Mr Rivrain as to my caracter and conduct he having known me for some time. I have the honor to be yours most obedient humble servant.”
In 1793, eight years after arriving at Quebec, Pozer bought a house on Rue Saint-Jean into which he moved his grocery store and his family. This purchase marked the beginning of his investments in town property, and in the next 20 years he purchased 17 more buildings. Seven of them brought in a good return: an inn on Rue Buade (1794), a bakery on Rue de la Fabrique (1800), the Freemasons’ Hall (1804), an inn on Rue des Jardins, the Belfast Coffee House and the London Coffee House in Lower Town (1808–9), and another large property on Rue Saint-Jean (1811). These investments absorbed the profits from trade and money-lending as they came in, and if at the beginning some purchases exceeded his liquid assets, rental payments soon were added to the other income so the momentum was kept up until 1814. After that, Pozer’s ventures in the seigneury of Aubert-Gayon (Aubert-Gallion) and problems in his family temporarily diverted his attention from the real estate market. In 1824, when he was 72, he started attending public auctions again and gradually added to his holdings 16 more properties as well as 165 rentes constituées (secured annuities) in the faubourg Saint-Roch (1825). Certain acquisitions in this period were dictated by circumstance. In addition to four attachments of debtors’ real property, Pozer filed a claim in the bankruptcy of Colin McCallum, the husband of one of his granddaughters, to whom he had lent £15,000, probably because they were family members. Through this claim he came into possession of St Andrew’s Wharf in 1839.
Managing all these properties was expensive. At least two notaries worked alternately as Pozer’s agents, receiving fees and a commission on each contract, but he was still able to keep a close eye on income, as well as on expenditures for the inevitable major repairs to these old houses. The handsome portfolio in bank and government securities that he built up from 1837 corresponded to a re-directing of his investments.
When he died, Pozer owned three seigneuries, including Saint-Normand in the Montreal area, which he had purchased in 1845 as a step in recovering McCallum’s debt. The other two, which were located in Nouvelle-Beauce, represented real estate operations that had an important place in his career. He expected much from them and spared no pains to ensure that they met his expectations. In 1807 he paid £550 for Aubert-Gayon, 9,666 hectares of land difficult to reach and virtually uninhabited. To develop it and doubtless also to impress the colonial authorities, Pozer conceived a plan for a model settlement. In Wilstedt and its environs he recruited some 40 peasants, who landed at Quebec with their families in October 1817. His goal was to get them to grow hemp on his seigneury, since the cultivation of this crop was being promoted by the government. He had heavy expenses, because he was obliged to support all these people until the first harvest, at least. The following year he proudly sent to England a large quantity of hemp prepared by the best techniques used in the Rhineland. But it did not sell well, and since he was not given the promised export subsidy, the experiment was a failure. Furthermore, the Germans, who were inexperienced at clearing land and unprepared for the isolation and harshness of the region, left Aubert-Gayon without repaying the money advanced to them. From then on the seigneury would develop at a snail’s pace. Pozer counted more on the timber reserve than on settlement, which distance and the burden of dues did nothing to encourage. His son William, who settled on the seigneury around 1829 and who scratched out a mediocre living from it, was tempted to think that he had been disinherited when he received it as his share of Pozer’s estate, along with the 6,800 hectares in the adjoining township of Shenley. But these properties would be extremely valuable in the second half of the century.
The development of Saint-Étienne, a fief of 8,900 hectares purchased for £1,700 in 1829, was a different matter. Being closer to markets and better suited to farming, it quickly attracted settlers from the neighbouring seigneuries of Lauzon and Sainte-Marie. The dues on it would always be modest but, when collected from some 200 censitaires and added to the income from the mills and sawmills, they were an attractive revenue in relation to the small investment, even after arrears were taken into account. Eventually Pozer entrusted management of Saint-Étienne to his grandson, George Pozer, but until he was over 80 he regularly went down to the Beauce to look into his affairs and shake up his relatives, to whom he had given jobs here and there in his mills and on his lands and from whom he demanded unflagging zeal in return.
Pozer’s family and community life can be followed through the court action to have his will set aside, which was unsuccessful. Ninety-seven people were called to give evidence on the old man’s conduct and opinions. He had been accustomed to speak readily of his family, but with great bitterness. While still young, the sons had been brought into his business, and were then encouraged to stand on their own feet, with financial backing. Jacob, the eldest, was the only one to make his mark but he was foolhardy, in the eyes of his father, who congratulated himself on not having backed him unreservedly. Jacob died at 45, preceded by George, who was only 25, and followed by John, who died at 35 and who, like his brothers, left nothing but debts. Pozer then had only William to count on. Although William had long been a disappointment, their relations improved when he agreed to settle at Aubert-Gayon. Pozer’s two daughters married late in life and against his wishes. Elizabeth became the wife of a small merchant, John Southeron, who made her unhappy and earned her father’s lasting hatred. Hannah ran off with a newly landed carpenter whom Pozer took into his service two years later when the wretched couple came to beg his forgiveness. He was deeply affected by his wife’s death in 1826 – it was the final blow in this series of bereavements and vexations. Subsequently he lived with Hannah, by then widowed and for ever devoted to him, and with the son born of her brief marriage, George Alford. He also took responsibility for his other grandchildren, orphans without means of support; he imposed a harsh discipline upon them that included going to work at a very early age rather than continuing in school, for which he had little use. George Pozer, the first-born of all these offspring, was the only one to enjoy an unexpected indulgence. He received secondary education but wasted his life; his grandfather, immensely hurt, nevertheless bequeathed him the undivided usufruct from Saint-Étienne. As they grew up, the others escaped from Pozer’s authority but remained near by, hoping for a fair share in the inheritance. They received quite small legacies or nothing at all. Except for properties in the country, Pozer left his fortune, both personal and real, to George Alford, who had grown up at his side and whose devotion and docility never flagged.
Pozer had at first hoped for social recognition commensurate with his loyalty to the crown, his success, and his efforts to become integrated into the British and Anglican society with which he brushed shoulders. It was refused him. He was shut out of the system of promotions and favours that normally rewarded even minimal success in the business world. For example it was only after ten years of negotiations that the government agreed to let him keep the land in Shenley as part of an exchange. A commission as justice of the peace, received when he was 70, could not obliterate past disappointments or make him forget that in the eyes of polite society he was just that fellow Pozer, the miser, the usurer. He had led a simple and well-ordered existence – perhaps the eccentricities he affected in his old age were a way of provoking those who had always kept him at a distance. His quarrel with the municipality about porches and steps is an example. In 1842 Pozer refused to comply with the regulation obliging owners to remove at their own expense those encroaching upon the sidewalks. Having lost in court, sooner than pay the costs he let furniture be seized, whereupon he gave a banquet for the whole neighbourhood.
By his way of life especially, George Pozer, an uneducated man of the people, who was too rich and a foreigner to boot, set himself apart from the bourgeoisie which for these reasons had forced him to remain on the fringes. Rejecting the privacy that goes with wealth, Pozer created around him the sociability of the village. People had only to open the door, which had no knocker, to be welcomed as friends. Those who all day long trooped into the ground-floor room were craftsmen and small businessmen with the same social background as his. Among them was a group of fellow Germans, and Pozer was never so happy as when he could speak his own language and reminisce about his native land.
Because he was the owner of numerous buildings at Quebec and a money-lender, and because he received annual payments secured on 165 plots in the faubourg Saint-Roch, George Pozer is mentioned every year in a great many notarial acts held at the ANQ-Q. The other party to the contract sometimes chose the notary, and so a few of these transactions are in the records of Jean Bélanger (CN1-16), Archibald Campbell* (CN1-49), John Greaves Clapham (CN1-67), Pierre-Louis Deschenaux* (CN1-83), Edward Glackmeyer (CN1-116), Roger Lelièvre (CN1-178), Louis Panet (CN1-208), and Joseph-Bernard Planté* (CN1-230), but most of the contracts were signed before Pozer’s own notary. Jacques Voyer acted in that capacity from 1803 to 1842, and there are 167 acts under Pozer’s name in his minute-book (CN1-285). From 1842 John Childs dealt with Pozer’s affairs, drawing up 217 instruments for him and for his heirs (CN1-64). Acts relating to his estate are in Child’s minute-book and include wills dated 27 Oct. and 15 Nov. 1847 and 29 April 1848, the deeds of gifts to George Alford dated 17, 28 July, 5 Oct. 1846 and 4 March, 18 Sept. 1847, and the inventory begun on 6 July 1848 after Pozer’s death.
ANQ-Q, P-240, 2; 45; 52; T6–1/44. AVQ, VII, E, 1; Viii. McCord Museum, M21968, corr., invoices, and copy of proceedings to set aside a will, Court of Queen’s Bench, no.2150, 30 April 1849, Alford vs Southeron. PAC, RG 1, L3L: 2464–73, 78339–83. Cadastres abrégés des seigneuries du district de Montréal . . . (3v., Québec, 1863). Cadastres abrégés des seigneuries du district de Québec . . . (2v., Québec, 1863). “Les dénombrements de Québec” (Plessis), ANQ Rapport, 1948–49: 1–250. Rapport des commissaires nommés pour s’enquérir de l’état des lois et autres circonstances qui se rattachent à la tenure seigneuriale dans le Bas-Canada, et appendice (Montréal, 1844), 163, 177, 291–92. Recensement de Québec, 1818 (Provost). Morning Chronicle (Quebec), 19 June 1848. Quebec Gazette, 16 Oct. 1817, 1 Aug. 1825, 17 June 1848. Quebec almanac, 1822–41. Philippe Angers, Les seigneurs et premiers censitaires de St-Georges-Beauce et la famille Pozer (Beauceville, Qué., 1927). George Gale, Historic tales of old Quebec (Quebec, 1923). J. M. LeMoine, Picturesque Quebec: a sequel to “Quebec past and present” (Montreal, 1882), 156, 236. Honorius Provost, Sainte-Marie de la Nouvelle-Beauce; histoire civile (Québec, 1970). J.-E. Roy, Hist. de Lauzon. Robert Vézina et Philippe Angers, Histoire de Saint-Georges de Beauce (Beauceville, 1935). Philippe Angers, “Le docteur William-Ernest Munkel,” BRH, 33 (1927): 350–51. Louise Dechêne, “La rente du faubourg Saint-Roch à Québec, 1750–1850,” RHAF, 34 (1980–81): 569–96. “Les disparus,” BRH, 35 (1929): 539. “Le millionnaire Jean-George Pozer,” BRH, 42 (1936): 358–59.