STEVENSON, DAVID BARKER, businessman, justice of the peace, office holder, and politician; b. 17 Nov. 1801 in Clinton (Hyde Park), N.Y., son of Timothy Stevenson and Phoebe Barker; m. 14 Dec. 1830 Agnes Rebecca Dougall of Hallowell (Picton), Upper Canada, and they had one daughter; d. 3 March 1859 in Picton.
David Barker Stevenson’s father died when he was ten, leaving a widow with three small children. David received a “limited education in . . . Poughkeepsie,” N.Y., before moving in 1824 to Hallowell where he secured employment at the general store of his uncle, Abraham Barker. On the latter’s death in 1828 Stevenson carried on the business with his widowed aunt until 1833. He then operated independently until 1848 when he went into partnership with Thomas W. Nichol.
By the late 1830s Stevenson’s business operations were becoming increasingly diversified. Like most general merchants of the time, he maintained credit accounts with his customers and often received payment in produce. These arrangements were extended to his dealings with Montreal wholesalers and forwarders such as George Moffatt* and Samuel Crane, who provided him with letters of credit to buy and forward grain or accepted shipments of pork and flour in partial payment for their dry goods. Stevenson also sent timber rafts to Quebec, dealt in real estate, and operated a distillery and an ashery in Picton. He was a shareholder in the Montreal-based Canada Inland Forwarding and Insurance Company and in 1836 became the first president of the Mutual Fire Insurance Company of the Prince Edward District. Despite the variety of his enterprises Stevenson suffered many business reverses, including the destruction twice by fire of his Picton store, and he eventually died in modest circumstances. The major source of his financial difficulties was the trade stagnation of 1847–49 which Stevenson experienced along with the Montreal merchants and forwarders and from which he never recovered.
Stevenson’s involvement in politics began in 1834 when he was appointed a magistrate for the newly created Prince Edward District. He represented Hallowell Township on the district council between 1842 and 1849 and was district warden from 1847 to 1849. After the passage of the Municipal Corporations Act, he was reeve of Picton (1850–53), county warden (1851–53), and mayor of Picton (1854). A moderate tory, Stevenson was elected to the Legislative Assembly for Prince Edward in 1848 and again in 1851 and 1854 with the help and encouragement of the rising young politician John A. Macdonald*. Prior to the 1851 election Macdonald wrote to Stevenson that “the Rads are working like blazes,” and exhorted him to “take the stump manfully.” He promised in return to see all the Kingston residents eligible to vote in Picton and “send them on to you.” True to his word, Macdonald and a group which included Alexander Campbell* and Henry Smith* crossed the treacherous ice over the Bay of Quinte on foot to vote for Stevenson. His win secured a sweep of the region for the conservatives.
Stevenson’s parliamentary support for Macdonald was unswerving, particularly on issues unpopular in Upper Canada. He supported a separate school system for Upper Canada (he was himself a communicant of the Reverend William Macaulay*’s Anglican church). He also spoke and voted against representation by population and backed Kingston as the seat of government. In 1856 he reluctantly joined the committee appointed to investigate Macdonald’s accusations that George Brown* had falsified evidence and suborned witnesses while secretary of the 1848–49 commission inquiring into abuses at the Kingston penitentiary. Stevenson prepared the committee’s majority report which mildly rebuked Macdonald for laying the charges but did not clear Brown. The ensuing debate in the assembly witnessed a series of bitter exchanges between Stevenson and Brown, who described the former as one of “my bitterest enemies in this house.” When Stevenson lost his seat the following year to Willet Casey Dorland, the Toronto Globe gleefully noted the defeat of “the most despicable Ministerial creature in [the] last Parliament.”
Stevenson’s career in parliament was undistinguished. His major speeches mirrored his business interests: trade and tariffs as they affected the commerce of the St Lawrence. He decried the reformers’ “free trade notions” and “the tendency of our commercial legislation . . . to drive all trade from Montreal to New York and Toronto, or Hamilton.” As late as 1856 he still believed that the St Lawrence “was destined soon to be a great medium of transport for western trade to the sea.” Though not an important politician or businessman, David Barker Stevenson was one of a small group of moderate tories who provided Macdonald with the original nucleus of his support. His business career reflected in microcosm the decline of the commercial empire of the St Lawrence.
ACC-O, St Mary Magdalene Anglican Church (Picton, Ont.), reg. of marriages, 1830. AO, MU 479, Alexander Campbell to Parker Allen, 3 May 1892; Allen to Campbell, 6 May 1892; MU 2884–90; RG 21, Prince Edward District, minutes, 1842–56; RG 22, ser.83, 1. PAC, MG 26, A. QUA, D. B. Stevenson papers. Can., Prov. of, Legislative Assembly, Select Committee Appointed to Inquire into Certain Charges Against George Brown, Proceedings and minutes of evidence . . . (Toronto, 1856), 145–46. Debates of the Legislative Assembly of United Canada (Abbott Gibbs et al.), vol.8. “Parl. debates,” 1854, 1856. Globe, 1 Jan. 1858. Hallowell Free Press (Hallowell [Picton]), 4 Jan. 1831; 24 July 1832; 23 July, 12 Aug. 1833; 31 March 1834. Picton Gazette (Picton), 15 July, 12 Aug. 1836; 9 July, 3 Sept. 1847; 14 July 1848; 18 March 1859 [the last issue cited was consulted in transcript in the Lennox and Addington County Museum (Napanee, Ont.), Lennox and Addington Hist. Soc. coll., T. W. Casey papers]. Pioneer life on the Bay of Quinte, including genealogies of old families and biographical sketches of representative citizens (Toronto, 1904; repr. Belleville, Ont., 1972). J. M. S. Careless, Brown of “The Globe” (2v., Toronto, 1959–63; repr. 1972), 1: 218–27. D. [G.] Creighton, John A. Macdonald, the young politician (Toronto, 1952; repr. 1965). Canniff Haight, Country life in Canada fifty years ago . . . (Toronto, 1885; repr. Belleville, 1971), 297–98. J. S. Barker, “A brief history of David Barker, a United Empire Loyalist,” OH, 3 (1901): 168–70.
© 1985–2023 University of Toronto/Université Laval
Cite This Article
James A. Eadie, “STEVENSON, DAVID BARKER,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 8, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed May 29, 2023, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/stevenson_david_barker_8E.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:||James A. Eadie|
|Title of Article:||STEVENSON, DAVID BARKER|
|Publication Name:||Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 8|
|Publisher:||University of Toronto/Université Laval|
|Year of publication:||1985|
|Year of revision:||1985|
|Access Date:||May 29, 2023|