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UPDATE: VENI, VIDI, VICI! (I came, I sawed, I conquered!)

(update to the original article published Nov. 14 2021)


Timber Raft on the Ottawa by W.H. Bartlett 1842

A new Wright wrinkle

NEW RESEARCH has revealed an interesting wrinkle in the oft-repeated claim that Philemon Wright's launch of his first raft was the result of the Continental Blockade of Baltic timber imposed by Napoleon in Nov. 1806.

In a contract dated Jan. 1805 – almost 2 years before the blockade - Philemon gathers the men in his township to cut timber for the 1st raft and prepare the thousands of staves that will be sold in Quebec City. Then, in a letter dated Nov. 1805 – a year before the blockade - Philemon urges his wife Abigail and son Philemon Jr. to get the associates moving on the contract so that it can be ready to go in Spring. Here is an extract:

I have every encouragement to expect meeting with good success in all my business or I shall write to you to the contrary. I must have patience and so must you, but it must be mixed with the greatest degree of perseverance, you must use your every exertion in the first phase to get in those logs to the sawmill or getting them piled at least: the people that are owing me payments if they won’t help you, tell them that your intentions is to send me their names to Montreal so that I may have an opportunity to govern myself accordingly when I arrive in the Township. I wish to engage as many in the stave business as is possible under our existing circumstances … I wish you to show this letter to Mr. Gideon Olmsted and consult him on all my business until my arrival as to provision you considerably better than I can. If Mr. Gideon Olmsted has not sold those fat oxen that he and I talked about, you had better get them. If you and he can agree I wish you to call on Mr. Daniel Wyman, L. (London) Oxford, Martin Ebert and John Turner.

(Three of the men mentioned – London Oxford, Martin Ebert, and John Turner - will accompany Philemon and his son Tiberius on the first raft in June 1806.)


So, although the blockade accelerated the trade in timber by raising the tariffs, the blockade, itself, was not what started the flow of rafts to Quebec City. Philemon was simply taking advantage of the best cash crop he had: the abundant timber on the land he owned in the valley.

Timber Duties were first imposed by Britain in the 18th century to provide revenue and Britain's tariffs on imported wood would become an integral component of the 19th-century British North American timber trade.

The tariffs fluctuated wildly and, as a result, the timber industry would become a fairly unstable industry, making both the fortune and ruin of many a lumber baron.

As the Canadian Encyclopedia puts it: "Duties increased from 1803 to 1811 in order to replenish depleted treasury coffers and in response to Napoleon's Continental Blockade as Britain established a protected market for colonial producers." [1]

 

[1] https://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/timber-duties

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