SPENCER, HAZELTON, army officer, office holder, politician, judge, and militia officer; b. 29 Aug. 1757 in East Greenwich, R.I., son of Benjamin Spencer and Mercy Potter; m. about 1787 Margaret Richards, daughter of John Richards, loyalist, and they had six sons and three daughters; d. 6 Feb. 1813 in Fredericksburgh (North and South Fredericksburgh) Township, Upper Canada.
About 1767 Benjamin Spencer moved his family from Rhode Island to what is now Vermont; in 1775 they were living in Durham Township. A member of the provisional assembly of Vermont in 1777, Benjamin fled from the rebels with his son Hazelton in that year, leaving the rest of his family behind. They joined the British forces commanded by John Burgoyne* in July and that November, en route to Canada, Benjamin died. The following year the family’s 300 acres of land in Vermont, later valued at £3,000, was confiscated. Hazelton Spencer served as a volunteer in Sir John Johnson*’s King’s Royal Regiment of New York until 1781; he was then commissioned a lieutenant in the 2nd battalion. On 1 March 1781 he was on a list of loyalists quartered at St Johns (Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu), Que., and described as “a Hatter.” In 1783 he was stationed at Cataraqui (Kingston, Ont.) where on 25 June 1784 he went on half pay and thereafter took up land in Fredericksburgh Township.
Like most other loyalist officers, Spencer acquired a good deal of land. In 1792 he and his brother, Abel, were among a group of prominent Upper Canadians who received grants of entire townships from Lieutenant Governor John Graves Simcoe. Though this grant was later rescinded, Spencer’s total landholdings either by grant or by purchase were at least 5,000 acres, located in the counties of Lennox, Addington, Prince Edward, Northumberland, and Durham, and in the town of Kingston.
In January 1795 Spencer was commissioned captain in the second battalion of the newly formed Royal Canadian Volunteer Regiment. He was promoted major in 1797 and served as commandant of the garrison at Kingston from 1797 to 1800. He was then stationed as commandant at Fort George (Niagara-on-the-Lake) from 1800 until 1802, when the regiment was disbanded. On 1 June 1806 Lieutenant Governor Francis Gore* appointed Spencer, Thomas Dorland*, and Archibald McDonell (MacDonell) commissioners for the Midland District to administer the oath to officers on half pay and military allowances. From 1794 until his death in 1813 Spencer was colonel of the 1st Lennox Militia.
Spencer was a member of the Church of England, serving for many years as churchwarden at St Paul’s in Fredericksburgh. He was also a member of Masonic Lodge No.7. Like many loyalists Spencer was a slaveholder [see Jack York*].
Although little is known of his early life or education Spencer was regarded as a man of ability and stature in early Upper Canada. He had been appointed justice of the peace for the Mecklenburg District on 16 Oct. 1790. On 1 Jan. 1800 he received his first commission of the peace for the Midland District; the last was dated 16 March 1808. The magistracy of the Midland District met in both an administrative and a legal capacity in the Court of Quarter Sessions, which alternated its location between Adolphustown and Kingston. His military duties took him out of the district between 1800 and 1802, but Spencer attended 6 of 15 sessions of the court between 1800 and 1804. Between 1807 and 1813 he was present at 13 of 25 sessions, a much better record than that of fellow magistrates such as Thomas Dorland, Ebenezer Washburn*, and Joshua Booth. On 16 July 1792 his responsibilities had increased with his appointment to the land board of Lennox and Addington, Hastings and Prince Edward, with Booth, Alexander Fisher, Archibald McDonell, and Peter Van Alstine. The county boards were abolished on 6 Nov. 1794. Meanwhile, on 2 Sept. 1793 Spencer had been named a district judge of the surrogate court which granted probates of wills and letters of administration. He resigned this commission some time after 7 Nov. 1795 at Simcoe’s insistence because his new military commission would preclude regular attendance. Alexander Fraser succeeded him on 6 July 1796. On 2 Sept. 1797 Spencer was appointed to the first Heir and Devisee Commission for the Midland District, and was reappointed on 21 July 1800. Of four meetings between 16 Sept. 1802 and 3 Sept. 1803, he attended only one.
In 1792 Spencer had been elected to the House of Assembly for the riding of Lennox, Hastings and Northumberland. His election to the first parliament was not without incident. On 2 Sept. 1792 Ebenezer Washburn swore before a magistrate that Spencer “did obtain the said Election through the Partiality of the Returning Officer.” Spencer commented derogatorily upon the character of Washburn, who had falsely accused him of usurping his property in 1786. Spencer’s remarks led to an action on 15 Jan. 1793 in the Court of Common Pleas which culminated on 30 March with Washburn’s withdrawing because of his inability to produce out-of-district witnesses. Little is known of Spencer’s efforts as an assemblyman but in 1794 Simcoe described him as “one of the most respectable Members.” In July 1796 Simcoe designated Spencer, Hugh McDonell* (Aberchalder), and Hector McLean as alternates for Richard Cartwright, John McDonell (Aberchalder), and John Munro*, the commissioners appointed in 1794 and reappointed two years later to negotiate with Lower Canada agreements to share the customs revenue of the port of Quebec.
The position which best reflects Spencer’s local prominence and the esteem in which he was held by Simcoe was his appointment to the lieutenancy of the county of Lennox on 23 June 1794. This office, modelled on the lord lieutenancies of counties in England, Simcoe conceived as “making a due provision of Power for that legal Aristocracy, which the Experience of Ages has proved necessary to the Ballance & Permanency of her inestimable form of Government.” In accordance with British practice the office was conferred upon those “who seem most respectable . . . for their property, Loyalty, Abilities, . . . and who from a Combination of such Possessions and Qualities acquire that weight, respect, and public confidence which renders them the natural support of constitutional authority.” The first Upper Canadian appointments had been made in 1792; appointments in other counties came later when their population had grown sufficiently. Usually the lieutenants were chosen from among the legislative councillors or the local senior militia officers. Their duties were to superintend the magistracy and the militia and to appoint or to recommend the magistrates and nominate the officers of militia, subject only to the lieutenant governor’s approval. The experiment was a failure. The appointments were for life but no new ones were made after 1807 and by 1812 changes in the militia laws rendered the post largely honorary.
AO, MU 3054, “Returns of loyalists quartered at St. Johns, Canada, March 1st, 1781 . . .”; RG 1, A-II-1, 1: 217; A-II-5, 2, 16 Sept. 1802; 2 May, 1, 3 Sept. 1803; RG 22, ser.04, 6: 15, 30 Jan. 1793; ser.54, 1–2; RG 53, ser.2-2, 2: f.245. Lennox and Addington County Museum (Napanee, Ont.), Lennox and Addington Hist. Soc. Coll., T. W. Casey papers: 11411–16 (mfm. at PAC). MTL, William Dummer Powell papers, B85: 66–67; B87: 21. PAC, MG 11, [CO 42] Q, 306: 150; MG 24, D49; RG 1, L3, 447a: S misc. 10; 448: S1/158; 450; 451; 452; 453; 494: S misc., 1788–95/140; RG 5, A1: 2178–79; RG 68, General index, 1651–1841: ff.248, 250, 292, 329, 406, 411, 419–20, 538, 542. Corr. of Lieut. Governor Simcoe (Cruikshank), 1: 245; 2: 297–98; 3: 47, 234–35, 259; 4: 131, 327; 5: 234, 327. Kingston before War of 1812 (Preston), 210. “Notes on land tenure in Canada to A.D. 1800,” AO Report, 1905: cviii. “Rev. John Langhorn’s records, 1787–1813: burials,” OH, 1 (1899): 63. “United Empire Loyalists: enquiry into losses and services,” AO Report, 1904: 421, 460. “U.C. land book C,” AO Report, 1931: 35, 91. Armstrong, Handbook of Upper Canadian chronology, 58. Reid, Loyalists in Ont., 305. J. R. Robertson, The history of freemasonry in Canada from its introduction in 1749 . . . (2v., Toronto, 1900), 1: 402. T. W. Casey, “Our first representatives in parliament,” Lennox and Addington Hist. Soc., Papers and Records (Napanee), 4 (1912): 29–33.
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Cite This Article
J. K. Johnson, “SPENCER, HAZELTON,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 5, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed March 30, 2023, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/spencer_hazelton_5E.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:||J. K. Johnson|
|Title of Article:||SPENCER, HAZELTON|
|Publication Name:||Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 5|
|Publisher:||University of Toronto/Université Laval|
|Year of publication:||1983|
|Year of revision:||1983|
|Access Date:||March 30, 2023|