SIMCOE'S FINANCIAL SECURITY
History records all kinds of human behaviour.
John Graves Simcoe, Upper Canada's first lieutenant governor, was always inexplicably preoccupied with his family's economic welfare. His fixation on finances was difficult to understand, given that he was very well off, thanks to the wealth he acquired when he married Elizabeth Posthuma Gwillim, an heiress of a considerable fortune. Despite this fact, Simcoe was preoccupied with money. He argued that because of his military service, his life was always at risk, and if perchance he were killed serving his sovereign, he was anxious to ensure the financial well-being of his wife and children. Simcoe's copious correspondence to various government officials regularly contained appeals for his own and his family's financial security. His frequent references to finances included the claim that he should have been reimbursed by the government for the large amounts of money he expended as an officer of the crown.
When Simcoe departed from Canada on a sick leave in 1796, it was expected that he there was a good chance he would return to Canada as governor general after rest and recuperation in England. This appointment was not forthcoming. Instead, to the great surprise and consternation of his wife, Simcoe accepted an assignment in Santo Domingo (Haiti). Before taking up his post in Santa Domingo, a death sentence to many British soldiers who had preceded him to that disease-infected place, Simcoe sought and subsequently received assurances from Prime Minister William Pitt himself, that should Simcoe "perish in pursuit of his country's interests in Haiti," his wife and children would be provided for by the government. Simcoe arrived at Port au Prince in March 1797.
Simcoe began his adult life with a few thousand pounds. During his service in the Revolutionary War he freely spent his own money on his personal comforts and other necessities which his military pay did not cover. He also spent a great deal of his own money on the Queen's Rangers, the regiment to which he was appointed major in 1777. He advertised for recruits and promised "all aspiring heroes" that they would be "mounted on elegant horses and furnished with clothing and accoutrements." He even paid a premium of two guineas to anyone who brought a suitable recruit to the Rangers.
Following his return from the war, Simcoe married Elizabeth Gwillim, an orphan heiress with extensive estates. Her fortune ensured that neither of them would ever want for anything. The marriage made Simcoe a wealthy landowner and permitted the purchase of the Wolford estate, four miles north of Honiton in the parish of Dunkeswell in Devon. The property included 5000 acres of rich, rolling countryside that fell away towards the Channel coast. The couple constructed a two storey, forty-room mansion on the estate, and between 1784 and 1806 they spent a great deal of money to improve the property in order to uphold Simcoe's new position as squire and large land-owner.
Simcoe's salary as lieutenant-governor of Upper Canada was 2000 pounds per annum. In addition he received half of all the fees charged on lands sold in the province. Despite this generous allowance, Simcoe maintained that his position cost him money. He declared that when he accepted it, he had no idea that much of his own private purse would be needed to enable him to live and entertain in a manner befitting the representative of the sovereign.
Following Simcoe's departure from Upper Canada on sick leave, a controversy arose over the land fees. Did the fees belong to the individual who was the administrator of Upper Canada, a man named Peter Russell, or did they belong to Simcoe, who, although he was on leave, still held the title of lieutenant governor? The question was appealled to the Colonial Secretary, whose decision was to split the proceeds between each man. There was always a considerable delay in receipt of fees from the sale of land, and money from this source was still owed Simcoe when he left the province in 1796. He delegated responsibility for its collection to his agent, John McGill.
In addition to his salary and the land fees, Simcoe received 5000 acres of land due him as "Colonel of the late Queen's Rangers in the last war." This land was granted to him by the Executive Council on July 9th, 1794. Simcoe located more than 1000 acres of it in each of York Township, the Johnstown (Cornwall) District and the Western District, all areas of greatest growth in the province and hence of greater value. Simcoe also owned 200 acres on the Don River, the Castle Frank property, which was registered in the name of his son, Francis, who died on a battlefield in Spain at the age of twenty-one.
Up to 1802 the land fee payments Simcoe received amounted to 1760 pounds. There must have been some question regarding the money being sent to Simcoe, for with one payment of 873 pounds forwarded to him sometime before 1800, his agent McGill stated that he refused to be faulted for not having sent more funds. McGill explained,In His Own Words
"If the Attorney General had done his duty, the money transmitted might very well have totalled 1000 to 2000 pounds annually." No further explanation was given. In total Simcoe received 2015 pounds from land fees. Following his death in on April 26, 1806, Mrs. Simcoe attempted to collect more money, but records indicate that no additional payments were ever made to her.
The Simcoe family retained their Upper Canadian properties until 1832, then over the next 21 years sold them all. Most were sold and receipts submitted to Mrs. Simcoe's before her death in 1850. The land sold for about $2 an acre, a meagre amount which indicated that her agent was less diligent than he might have been in procuring better prices for the properties. Undoubtedly the astute Mrs. Simcoe realized this when she received information in 1819, that lots in York were selling for as much as 1800 pounds.
Simcoe worried unnecessarily about his family's financial security. Mrs. Simcoe, who died at the age of 87, had sufficient savings and investments to provide amply for her and her family's needs for 44 years of widowhood. At her death, she left very generous bequests to various charities with the balance being paid to each of her numerous children "share and share alike."
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