THE HONOURABLE RICHARD CARTWRIGHT
History is a guide to enlightened leadership.
In His Own Words
So wrote Richard Cartwright one of the foremost merchants in Upper Canada, a conscientious public servant and one of colony's brightest minds. Born in Albany, New York in 1759 Cartwright was the son of a wealthy and influential citizen. Richard attended the best private schools where he studied the "classics and higher branches of education." He had great intellectual ability and an unquenchable thirst for knowledge and despite a badly deformed left eye he read extensively and used his photographic memory to excellent advantage. Cartwright always expressed himself in clear, sharp, oftimes stirring prose unencumbered by the florid phrases so characteristic of the time which "pirouetted about the business with curtsies and bows."
Throughout his life Cartwright stressed the importance of education and never failed to foster the virtues of "reading, writing, thinking or conversing sensibly."
His Loyalist leanings resulted in his departure for British territory in 1777 becauseIn His Own Words
"In my native country all Government is subverted and caprice is the only rule and measure of usurped authority. It is a place where all distress is exhibited that power guided by malice can produce." Despite Cartwright's denunciation of his native country, his father's connections enabled Cartwright to travel north comfortably and peaceably protected as he was by a special passport from the Albany committee of safety.
Cartwright served as secretary to John Butler of Butler's Rangers and took part in armed raids in northern New York. His experience in military provisioning permitted him to make valuable commercial contacts which served him well when he left the military and went into business with Robert Hamilton in 1780.
The partnership lasted until 1790 at which time Cartwright established his own highly successful business at Kingston. Cartwright shipped goods from Montreal to supply the Great Lakes garrisons and fur-traders and sending back furs in exchange. He supplemented these trade activities by selling food, clothing, housewares and rum to the Loyalists, taking wheat, corn, potash and port in return. Hard work and a passion for detail ensured Cartwright controlled every aspect of his thriving businesses involving a fleet of lake traders, several mills and the export of Upper Canadian produce.
Cartwright quickly realized that diversification and flexibility were critical to business success and he branched out into a wide variety of trades including a general store in Kingston which was described as "the most important business centre" in the community. He owned as well a blacksmith's shop, a cooper's shop, a flour mill, a sawmill, a distillery, a tavern and "various other buildings." He constructed his own scows and shipped flour from his mill in Napanee directly to Quebec. He manufactured canvas for the British navy and distributed locally knitted goods. His various business ventures were intended "mutually to assist and to play into each other."
While Cartwright's commercial achievements were made possible by hard work and single-minded determination his remarkable success resulted largely from his absolute honesty in all his business dealings. He never took unfair advantage of others and expected similar treatment in return. As part-owner of the Kingston Gazette he used the newspaper to influence the outlook and sharpen the values of the colonists by emphasizing the Loyalist and British traditions which he considered to be at the core of Upper Canadian society.
Cartwright's success in business resulted in his appointment to the Legislative Council and to a number of other important positions including a judgeship on the Court of Common Pleas, colonelcy of the 1st Frontenac Regiment and Lieutenant of Frontenac County. Simcoe also picked him for highly sensitive assignments, twice appointing him commissioner to negotiate revenue sharing between Upper and Lower Canada. While he recognized Cartwright's important contribution to the life of the province Simcoe was often enraged by what he called Cartwright's unpredictable behaviour by which Simcoe meant Cartwright's independent spirit and his annoying habit of differing with the governor. Simcoe brooked no opposition and branded Cartwright a republican.
Nevertheless Cartwright never hesitated to disagree with the Governor and opposed Simcoe on a number of issues. Cartwright was openly critical of some of Simcoe's plans for the development ofIn His Own Words
"a Town Plot which Simcoe has called York. Notwithstanding this plot he does not scruple to say that he has his Eye fixed on the River Tranch (Thames) and though he may put up with the Town of York and the River Humber he seems determined to be satisfied with nothing less than another Thames and a second London. Seriously our good Governor is a little wild in his projects."
Simcoe fumed at Cartwright's dissension which, said Simcoe, "springs from the spirit of vanity and sordidness in the man rather than from any disaffection." He attributed Cartwright's contrariness to his "republican education," charging that Cartwright was constantly offering "sentiments diametrically opposite to the British Constitution." The Colonial Office echoed Simcoe's opinions of Cartwright declaring that his conduct certainly did not entitle him to the favour or attention of His Majesty's government in Canada. His conduct was "inimical to the government."
Such criticism infuriated Cartwright for as far as he was concerned there was not a more loyal or useful subject and no amount of "little pitiful jealousy" would make him otherwise. It seemed to him that unless one agreed to be "a mere tool and pay implicit respect to the caprice and extravagance of a Colonial governor," he would be the "object of jealousy and malevolence."
"Is this why," he angrily asked, "he was given a seat in the Legislative Council?" He had assumed that it was because of his knowledge of the country and his awareness of the needs of the inhabitants. Regardless, he absolutely refused to approve measures or be silent on proceedings he considered inappropriate or inapplicable to society.In His Own Words
"I did not expect or wish for the place I hold in the Legislature nor do I care how soon I resign it. But while I do retain it I will most certainly do my duty regardless of the smiles or frowns, favours or calumnies of any person whatsoever. Were I to act differently you would despise me and I certainly should despise myself."
Undaunted by pressure, scorn or ridicule Cartwright had the courage to speak his mind and the fortitude to do his duty as he saw it. He lived to see "a wilderness converted into fruitful fields comfortably inhabited," and helped to lay foundations that would see the province "grow with our growth and strengthen with our strength." He made this comment about the colony in 1799.In His Own Words
"This province furnishes little political novelty that can interest any but ourselves. We are too obscure to attract attention but obscurity like that of private life does not preclude us from enjoying those substantial comforts not always found in more dazzling situations."
During the War of 1812 Cartwright served with distinction as senior colonel of the militia at Kingston even though he was in failing health. Major-General Isaac Brock said of himIn His Own Words
"Mr. Cartwright possesses the influence to which his firm character and superior abilities so deservedly entitle him."
In recognition of his public service a new township in the district of Newcastle just opening for Loyalists was named Cartwright. When Richard Cartwright died in 1816 a newspaper commented on his exemplary behaviour in private life. "Kind to his friends, affectionate to his family he passed through life distinguished for virtuous and dignified conduct maintaining the exalted character of a true patriot and a great man."
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