Skip to main content

William Cuthbert, 1794-1854, of Cascapedia Bay

Printer-friendly versionPrinter-friendly version

William Cuthbert's lumber store, 1956. (Photo - Courtesy)One of the early settlers to whom the region, specifically the Cascapedia Bay area, is greatly indebted for its early development is William Cuthbert, a native of Scotland and descendant of that ancient Scottish family, of which theeighth century monk St. Cuthbert was a member. The family crest bore the motto “FORTIER”, meaning “Strength or Courage” and later became “NEC MINUS FORTIER” (“With no less Strength or Courage”).

William Cuthbert was born in Alloway, Ayrshire, Scotland about 1794.He may have been the son of William and Elizabeth (Guthrie) Cuthbert and, if so, his date of birth is recorded as being June 22, 1794. There were at least three other children in the Cuthbert family; Robert who remained in Greenock, Scotland and was the partner of William until their company was dissolved in 1846; Agnes, the wife of Andrew Turner, a sawyer and farmer who immigrated to Lower Canada to work for his brother-in-law; and Daniel who is said to have gone to the United States.

William Cuthbert’s early life is not documented but it is believed he came first to Prince Edward Island and then to Chaleur Bay. A short history given in his obituary stated that he came to North America in 1819 and settled in the Chaleur Bay area in 1820.If that is so, he was only 16 years of age upon his arrival in New Richmond.The first recorded proof of his existence here appears on the 1825 Census as head of a household of two males, one between the age of 18 and 25 (being William) and the other in the 25 to 40 year old group.Both men were single and neighbours of Aubain LeGouffe and John McGregor.It is possible that the second member of this household was William’s brother Robert.

By 1831, William was the head of a household of 7 people, with Felix LeGouffe and William Gillis as neighbours.His listed occupation at this time was farmer and he owned the property, having 50 acres of land under cultivation.During the previous year his land produced 40 minots of wheat, 400 of oats, 20 of barley and 450 of potatoes.There were 30 animals on his property.He was a member of the Church of Scotland but was still unmarried.

In 1828, Cuthbert contracted to ship 300 barrels of cod from Gaspé Harbour to Québec City, which indicates that he was beginning to broaden his economic base.During this period he formed a partnership with his brother Robert in Greenock, Scotland, which operated under the name “William Cuthbert & Co.” During the first few years the company operated solely as an import trade, bringing in clothing, foodstuffs, liquor, machinery and equipment primarily from Great Britain.

These items were sold to local families, usually "on account," a system used by merchants and traders of that era.Needless to say, many of the customers had difficulty to pay these bills and were often forced to mortgage their property, usually for a period of six years, to cover their debt. The bills ranged from 15 pounds sterling to 150 pounds, but the properties mortgaged against these amounts generally averaged 100 acres of land and usually contained a house, barn and out-buildings.Most of the mortgages were eventually cleared by the debtor but those that were not paid became the property of Cuthbert, thus adding to the great wealth he accumulated during his life.
At his death in 1854, his estate consisted of at least 46 properties mainly in the New Richmond and Maria areas, many of which were acquired by mortgage.Also among his holdings were at least 1 dairy, 1 grist mill, 2 sawmills,1 lumber camp, 4 stores and 1 forge.However, his accounts receivable were also quite high and included outstanding accounts, mortgage obligations and bad debts amounting to 22,211 pounds sterling.

In 1833, William Cuthbert turned his attention to the undeveloped timber industry, opening a “splendid” sawmill at the mouth of the Little Cascapedia River.Here, pine, fir and birch logs were made into boards, shingles and laths.In 1834, he contracted George Stewart Harris, a sawmill builder of New Richmond, to construct a sawmill in the district known as “Ruisseau McCormick” in the area of Ste. Hélène.This mill was in the possession of the Campbell family of Maria for several years but was later sold to Arthur Ritchie & Company of Dalhousie, N.B.During this period, Cuthbert also acquired other properties in the region which included a sawmill and flour-mill in Bonaventure.

Cuthbert was now in an excellent position to increase his monopoly on the import/export trade of Chaleur Bay and the surrounding area.He was the owner of large tracts of timber, several sawmills and grist mills to produce both lumber products and wheat, and had already established a thriving import trade with his connections in Great Britain, the Caribbean and Lower Canada.The next logical step in the building of his empire was the construction of ships to transport his wares.

It is believed that the firm of William Cuthbert & Co. constructed at least 14 vessels in their shipyard at “Duthie’s Point” (also known locally as “Shipyard Point” and “Willett’s Point”). Two of the largest vessels constructed on the Gaspé coast during the first half of thenineteenth century were products of the Cuthbert Shipyard.They were the Saxon, weighing 787 tons andbuilt in 1846, and the Cuthbert, 914 tons and built in 1848.Robert Cuthbert recruited experienced ship carpenters and workers in Scotland and, during the early 1830s George Carswell and his family arrived in New Richmond from Greenock.He was to be Cuthbert’s most renowned ship builder over the next two decades.

During the 1820s, William Cuthbert was also beginning to broaden his political horizons in the Cascapedia Bay area. In 1828, he was appointed justice of the peace for the district of Gaspé and in 1829 he was appointed commissioner for improving the road between New Richmond and Bonaventure. In 1833, he became a militia captain and was later promoted to the rank of lieutenant-colonel in the Bonaventure County militia.

In 1829, a son, Andrew Cuthbert, was born to Jane Duthie of New Richmond.His birth registration in the New Carlisle Anglican Churchlisted William Cuthbert, merchant of New Richmond, as the father.William acknowledged Andrew as his son and was training him in the operations of his various businesses when the young man died, suddenly and mysteriously, at the age of 24 years in 1853. His obituary in the New Brunswick newspaper, the Gleaner read, in part:“The hope of the County of Bonaventure is gone.Andrew Cuthbert was a young man of talent, and one who, had he been spared, was eminently qualified not only to have represented this County in our Legislative Assembly, but to have become a useful and important member of that body.His remains were followed to the tomb by upwards of 250 friends from all parts of the county, and from the New Brunswick side.”

In 1832, William Cuthbert married Christiana Montgomery, born in Prince Edward Island to Daniel and Ann Montgomery, in the Anglican Church of New Carlisle.On the day of the marriage a lengthy marriage contract was drawn up and signed by William and Christiana in New Carlisle.Hugh Montgomery was a witness to the signing of the contract. Both Hugh and his brother John were involved in lumbering and shipbuilding operations based in Dalhousie, N. B., and were no doubt close business associates of William. Only one child was born of this marriage, a daughter Ann, bornin 1834.

During the following years, Cuthbert continued to expand his business ventures in this area.He seemed to have few problems with cutting any amount of lumber he required, without following the terms of his license very closely, but this was not unusual among lumbering contractors on the Coast at that time.Being a close friend of Etienne Martel, the Land Agent of New Carlisle, was no doubt a factor in his favour.The shipbuilding yard was producing vessels which sailed to other parts of North America and Britain laden with goods, primarily lumber products from his sawmills as well as fish products.They returned with cargoes of food and materials which Cuthbert then sold in his store.

The partnership of William Cuthbert and his brother Robert in Greenock, Scotland, ended officially in 1849, with the agreement being drawn up by notary J.G. LeBel.Andrew Turner, the husband of William’s sister Agnes, represented Robert Cuthbert at the signing.

In 1848, at the urging of a group of influential men from Bonaventure riding, William Cuthbert turned his attention to provincial politics.Cuthbert's supporters were much opposed to having John Robinson Hamilton, a New Carlisle lawyer, represent them in the Legislative Assembly in Quebec City.Cuthbert agreed to run against Hamilton but a third party soon entered the contest.A close friend of Cuthbert, John Meagher, a Carleton merchant, was also persuaded by the Carleton missionary, Félix Desruisseaux to stand for election. Curé Desruisseaux wanted a Catholic representative in the Assembly.Three candidates divided the votes but, due to overwhelming support for Cuthbert in New Richmond, Maria and Restigouche, he was elected.

According to Assembly records, Cuthbert was present at the Assembly only during the 1848 session and never once made a speech.For the remainder of his term, his good friend, Robert Christie, represented Bonaventure County.Due to poor health, Cuthbert resigned as Member for Bonaventure in 1850.His resignation was not accepted immediately by the Speaker of the House, so Cuthbert officially remained a member of the Assembly until 1851.

During the summer of 1854, Cuthbert travelled to Greenock and then to Liverpool, England.He was seriously ill with erysipelas and was taken immediately to the home of his nephew, a doctor living in Rock Ferry. He made his will on August 3, and died later that day at the age of 67 -- just over one year after the death of his son Andrew.He was buried in Greenock, Scotland, on August 9, 1854.

William Cuthbert’s estate was very large for the times and listing of the inventory was performed by Joseph Meagher and Richard Brash, a task that took many days to complete.His personal holdings consisted of a dry goods store, a fish store at the beach, a blacksmith’s forge, an “old house” used for storage of merchandise, an “old barn” used for storage, a “new barn”, two dairies, coal house, large dwelling house, sawmill, storage shed at Crawford’s Beach (in Black Cape), the “Iron Store” at the shipyard, sawmills known as “Pritchard’s Mill” and “Beaver Dam Mill” and numerous cattle, sheep, oxen and horses.These assets were valued at 38,500 pounds of which 13,000 pounds were in cash.According to the terms of his will, these assets were divided equally between his widow, Christiana, and his daughter, Ann.

After her husband’s death Christiana continued to live in her comfortable home with Ann until Ann was married in 1856, but her brothers Hugh and John Montgomery, were now owners and operators of the various Cuthbert businesses.

There is very little information available on Ann’s life, with the exception of her marriage in 1856 to Dr. Hastwell Thornton, a surgeon and native of Bradford, Yorkshire, England. The family returned to England for some time as their oldest child, Jane Isabella, was born there about 1856 or 1857.Shortly after this the family returned to New Richmond, where Ann’s husband Hastwell died in 1858, at the young age of 29 years.He was buried in the United Church Cemetery in New Richmond.Less than one month after his death a son was born to his widow Ann on July 19, 1858.He was named Hastwell William for his late father and grandfather, William Cuthbert.

Ann Cuthbert Thornton was widowed at the time of the 1861 Census, and she and her two small children were living with Christiana. Also in the household were, Christiana’s sister Flora, the housekeeper, her brothers Robert H. and Hudson, both single men, and two servants.

In 1871, Ann was living alone with her children, Christiana and her brothers, Robert and Hudson, were in the old Cuthbert home.Ann died in 1879 and is buried in New Richmond United Church Cemetery.Jane and Hastwell again went to live with their grandmother, Christiana, and Elizabeth Montgomery, another of Christiana’s sisters.

Hastwell William Thornton also became a doctor and was quite active in local politics, serving as school commissioner and municipal councillor for a number of years.He never married and diedin 1907 at the age of forty-nine as a result of injuries received when a fire destroyed his home and office. It is not know what happened to Jane Isabella Thornton.

Christiana Montgomery Cuthbert died at the home of her grandson Dr. Hastwell Thornton 1891 at 99 years of age and is buried in St. Andrew’s United Church Cemetery in New Richmond. Beside her grave is a stone erected in memory of her husband William Cuthbert, who was interred in Greenoch, Scotland.

Thus ended the saga of one of the most influential and wealthy settlers of Cascapedia Bay.