ROGERS, DAVID McGREGOR, farmer, office holder, politician, jp, merchant, and militia officer; b. 23 Nov. 1772 in Londonderry (Vt), son of James Rogers and Margaret McGregor; m. first 6 Jan. 1802 Sarah Playter in York (Toronto), and they had two sons and two daughters; m. secondly 1811 Elizabeth Playter (they had no children); d. 18 July 1824 at his residence in Haldimand Township, Upper Canada.
David McGregor Rogers possessed, as he was fond of pointing out, a distinguished name. His uncle Robert Rogers* was the famous ranger leader during the Seven Years’ War; his father and two other uncles also fought in that conflict. During the American revolution, his father was major commandant of the 2nd Battalion, King’s Rangers. In 1784 James Rogers settled, with his family and corps, in Township No.3 (Fredericksburgh) of western Quebec. In 1789 young Rogers received 200 acres of land in Sophiasburg Township, Prince Edward County. By the following spring he was labouring on his farm with “ten times as much work to do as I can get thro’ with[.] I have not time to read or write, or pursue any other amusement[.] I work all day cook my own Victuals &c.”
Rogers’s background was sufficiently prestigious that he obtained a small office, clerk of the local land board, which he lost when the boards were abolished in 1794. He was interested in politics, notifying his brother in 1795 that he expected the nomination for the riding of Prince Edward in the next election: “I hardly know whether to accept or Refuse the Offer. One thing I am resolved not to be set up unless I am pretty sure of a Majority.” He was returned for the riding in the 1796 election. The following year, despite his status as an assemblyman, he failed to win for his father’s heirs the land grants to which, he argued, his uncle Robert had been entitled. The Executive Council declared, not unreasonably, that Robert Rogers had never settled in the province and therefore had no claim to lands.
In 1800 Rogers moved to a farm in Cramahe Township. There he lived alone “as usual,” but he noted that “the care of my cattle prevents me from being from home much and with my books I never want company.” Life was not easy: “I have too much business entirely for pleasure or profit, Cooking Farmer & merchant is too much business for one. . . . It is a hard strugle to get along.” His sister visited him from time to time and the addition of a housekeeper promised to make daily life a little less rigorous. His official duties added to his responsibilities. In 1800 he was re-elected to the assembly, this time for the riding of Hastings and Northumberland; he was to continue representing Northumberland County until 1816, and again from 1820 until his death in 1824. He also served as registrar for the county (1799), major in the county militia (1801), clerk of the peace for the newly erected Newcastle District (1802), registrar of the district Surrogate Court (1802), and clerk of the district Court of Quarter Sessions (1802).
By 1806 Rogers had moved yet again, establishing himself in Haldimand Township. Reasonably prosperous, from 1815 he usually had about 1,000 acres or more of wild land and anywhere from 30 to 100 acres under cultivation. He was a major figure in the Newcastle District and, as befitted one of that stature, garnered more offices: justice of the peace (1813–21), high treason commissioner (1814), alien act commissioner (1817), commissioner of inquiry into forfeited lands (1818), and member of the reconstituted land board (1819).
His real mark was made in the arena of politics where his uncompromising concern with proper procedure, correct form, and the rights and prerogatives of the House of Assembly earned him notoriety, if not prominence. Notable in his early career had been his opposition in 1798 to Christopher Robinson*’s bill that would have allowed immigrants to bring their slaves into Upper Canada. More typical was his clash in May 1801 with Mr Justice Henry Allcock* over the crown’s right to dismiss at pleasure an official holding office by patent. At issue were the limits of the crown’s prerogative, a subject of increasing dispute during Lieutenant Governor Peter Hunter*’s administration. As an obdurate champion of the assembly, Rogers established himself as a leading member of the incipient opposition. Development of the rhetoric of opposition fell to others, especially William Weekes* and Robert Thorpe*. Their criticisms, particularly of the Executive Council and senior officials, attracted the support of many assemblymen stung by the so-called administrative reforms of Hunter’s government. Rogers introduced Weekes to the house after his election in 1805 and subsequently seconded his motion to “consider the disquietude which prevails . . . by reason of the administration of Public Offices.” Rogers was more sporadic in his support of Thorpe but worked closely with the bête noire of the government, Joseph Willcocks*.
Weekes’s motion, although defeated, had been a dramatic assertion of the assembly’s powers which would not be forgotten. In early March 1808 Rogers spearheaded an attack, largely by loyalist assemblymen, upon an attempt to remove a statutory time limit on the District School Act. When on 5 March the daily order of business was changed to allow quick passage of the amendment, Rogers denounced the step as “contrary to all rules of proceeding,” a “dangerous innovation,” and “a measure so injurious . . . to the Privilidge of the People.” Rules, he insisted, “once formed should be cautiously disposed of and strictly adhered to.” In the company of Thomas Dorland and Peter Howard* he retired from the house, depriving it of a quorum for business. The disruption was more apparent than real. But what it symbolized – collective action – aroused the fury of Lieutenant Governor Francis Gore*, who stripped Rogers of his offices; the other two culprits were dropped from the magistracy.
Gore’s action set the stage for further confrontation since Rogers, echoing his arguments in the contest with Allcock in 1801 and believing that he held office independent of the crown’s pleasure, refused to give up his books as registrar. The government sought a mandamus ordering him to surrender them and, in the ensuing battle before the Court of King’s Bench, Rogers defended himself. Chief Justice Thomas Scott and Mr Justice William Dummer Powell rejected the arguments of Attorney General William Firth* and Solicitor General D’Arcy Boulton that a great injustice had been done to the “ancient” royal prerogative and decided not to issue a mandamus. Firth and Boulton feared that the decision “will produce much harmful tendency . . . in shaking ye Royal Prerogative thro’out ye Province, within mens minds, especially among ye disaffected.” The issue was referred by Gore to the imperial law officers, who upheld the decision of the lower court. Rogers had been vindicated.
Rogers’s war work in various commissions, particularly during President Gordon Drummond*’s tenure, brought him another office in 1815: he was appointed deputy superintendent of locations, charged with settling ex-soldiers. Gore, on his return to Upper Canada, was outraged: “He is one of those persons who render themselves conspicuous by a long Course of Opposition to the Colonial Administration; and whom it has been deemed prudent to pacify – a policy in a Colony like this extremely doubtful.” Rogers blamed Surveyor General Thomas Ridout for repeated delays and continual frustration in his work. Although Gore objected to the disrespectful tone of Rogers’s complaints, Rogers received the support of Drummond, now commander of the troops in the Canadas, and Governor-in-Chief Sir John Coape Sherbrooke. But, in characteristic manner, Rogers was simply doing his job the way he thought it should be done, with due attention to procedure, form, and division of responsibilities. Wherever there was ambiguity, he sought clarification in clear and simple terms. The same blunt manner and punctilious approach were evident in his chairmanship of the land board and the Court of Quarter Sessions; there, too, they invariably resulted in misunderstanding and innuendo.
Rogers’s political star fell during the sixth parliament (1812–16). With Willcocks out of the way, the house was dominated by Robert Nichol, the most effective manager of government business to date. In the 1814 session Rogers either acquiesced in the most contentious legislation, or was absent from the house. During the much maligned session of 1816, he was generally inconspicuous except for his attempt to put a time limit on the civil list bill. Rogers stood for election again in 1820 and won. His health, however, was failing. On one occasion in 1821 he was so ill he could barely write. He was a man of the past, speaking but rarely and then only by way of peripheral comment on the debate at hand. He voted for the repeal of the Sedition Act of 1804, which had been used to expel Robert Gourlay* from the province. He supported and worked with Barnabas Bidwell, seconding, for instance, Bidwell’s assault of December 1821 on primogeniture in cases of persons dying intestate; Rogers “wished to support the constitution of this country, but he did not want that kind of Aristocracy here which deprived younger children of a subsistence.”
In his discovery of Upper Canada’s political past, William Lyon Mackenzie* largely overlooked Rogers. Even had he paid more attention to him, Rogers would not have fitted neatly into Mackenzie’s ministerialist/independent dichotomy. Some historians have singled out Rogers as representing a “liberal” or American strain within loyalism, while disagreeing on the significance of that strain. Drawing upon traditions and occasionally language which had strong roots in the transatlantic world of whiggery, Rogers represented a brand of loyalism that emphasized the king’s prerogatives and the subject’s rights brought together in constitutional equilibrium. When he retired from the magistracy in 1821, he thought others would prove more productive but “more zealously attatched to the British Constitution or more careful not willingly to encroach on the Prerogative of the crown or the Priviledges of their fellow subjects they cannot be.” Missing from Rogers’s political world was the aristocratic emphasis of a Richard Cartwright*. And, perhaps, it is more to Rogers than to him that one ought to look for the exemplar of the loyalist tradition in Upper Canada.