[b.1768 - d.1852]
History is a guide to enlightened leadership.
Tall, ramrod straight, active in mind and body throughout a long and illustrious life, Francis Baby (Baubee) was born in Detroit in 1768. He was a member of the most powerful and prestigious family in the Western District of Upper Canada. Baby was fluently bilingual and possessed personal qualities and family connections which made his life in politics and public office a natural choice.
The Babys were unique in Canada. This influential French family while highly esteemed by the various governments of Upper Canada, was regarded with suspicion by the French community. When Francis was granted the pew in the local church reserved for the highest ranking official, the parishioners protested to such an extent that the distinctive pew was removed. Francis attributed their jealous hostility to the French community's prejudice against the English Family Compact of which the Baby family was were aconspicuous member.
Francis's political career began in 1792 when he decided "to set up," that is, to contest the election for the riding of Essex. However, in order not to jeopardize the election in Essex County of the'government' candidate, David William Smith, Baby was persuaded to run in neighbouring Kent County. Francis was one of two elected from Kent County to Ontario's first Legislative Assembly.
Baby served in the Assembly for a number of years, latterly representing the county of Essex. He originated bilingualism in Canada by having the legislative acts translated for the benefit of French constituents in the Western District. Baby was described as "the most independent, the most upright, the most honest member" who ever sat in the Assembly. Despite his brother's membership in the Family Compact, Francis established a reform-minded reputation and frequently supported prominent reformers. He opposed the union of Upper and Lower Canada, fearing it would "prove fatal to both provinces."
Francis was appointed lieutenant-colonel of the 1st Kent Militia, deputy lieutenant for Essex County and justice of the peace, a position in which he served continuously for forty years. He unsuccessfully sought the offices of surrogate court judge and registrar of Essex county, and although he was recommended for a seat on the Legislative Council, he was never appointed to it. He did, however, receive a positive response to his land petition. Simcoe believed the possession of land added to the dignity and influence of government members and for this reason said, "I see no objection to Mr. F. Baby having twelve hundred acres."
Governor Simcoe believed the numerous French Canadians in southwestern Ontario represented an important source of military might. He proposed the creation of a Canadian Regiment with a captain's commission for Baby as "the proper person" for this rank. In response Baby said that while he was "highly flattered" he was not interested in accepting "the honour."Baby declined the appointment because it was "not permanent" nor would it entitle him to "provincial rank or half pay" when the regiment was disbanded. Besides, Baby added, he did not believe his fellow Canadians would answer a call to arms that paid a bounty (allowance) "not equal to that allowed for established (English) regiments." Baby graciously concluded his letter of regret by assuring Simcoe of his continuing support of the King's government "to the full extent of my abilities." And he did. Baby continued to serve in a variety of other capacities. In 1800 he was appointed commissioner for administering the oath of allegiance to persons claiming land in the Western District. In 1807 he was designated Lieutenant of Essex County for three months by Lieutenant-Governor Francis Gore, who mistakenly assumed that the incumbent lieutenant, Alexander Grant, had wished to be relieved of the position when he had not.
During the War of 1812 Baby served as assistant quartermaster general and saw action at Detroit, Frenchtown and Moraviantown. He was cited for being "useful and indefatigable" on the Niagara frontier. He was captured by an American raiding party on the Thames River and hauled off to the United States "shamefully and inhumanely tied with cords." Because of his importance in the province, Baby was quickly repatriated. Baby's home at Sandwich (Windsor) was occupied by General Hull's invading American army and it was badly damaged in the process. Baby sought compensation from the enemy totalling 2450 pounds but to no avail. He ultimately received reimbursement in the amount of 444 pounds from the British government. Following the war of 1812 Baby received a government grant of 800 acres based on his rank as captain. He protested that it should have been 1200 acres because of his pre-war rank as colonel of the militia. In spite of repeated petitioning over the years, he never received the additional 400 acres.
After the Rebellion of 1837 periodic invasions from the United States occurred in the boarder areas of Upper Canada. The invaders were largely Canadian patriots who had fled to the United States as well as Americans who sympathized with the Canadian cause. The last of these so-called Battles of the Patriots with Upper Canadian militia took place on Francis Baby's farm. Called the Battle of Windsor, it was fought on the 4th of December 1838 in the western part of Baby's orchard which today is bounded by the Sandwich River and Chatham Streets and Dougall Avenue in Windsor. The skirmish was of short duration, a volley from the militia scattering the invaders who made for the woods. Five of them were captured and the commander of the militia forces, Colonel Prince, ordered the "brigands and pirates" shot upon the spot. "It was done accordingly." Baby was highly critical of these summary executions and in protest promptly cancelled his subscriptions to any papers that supported Colonel Prince.
Baby was quite a story-teller and he delighted the American historian Francis Parkman with tales of his father's friendship with the Ottawa war chief, Pontiac. Parkman left a vivid description of Baby's home.
Francois Baby died in Windsor in 1852. He lived as a gentleman on his inherited wealth and on the income he derived from his property. While his land holdings were relatively modest in quantity, their qualitative value was high for his Sandwich property became the future city of Windsor. Baby had eight sons and four daughters. One of his many grandsons provided this final word on Francis.
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