As the family genealogist, I research my ancestors and write their stories. Recently, I found three generations of ancestors with the same name and the same role in an evolving Canada.
Their birth and death dates were vital as the first step to sorting them out. I noticed, however, that previous genealogists also struggled to sort them, as two of the three were sometimes labelled “Senior” and “Junior” (and sometimes in reverse order) and then “The Elder” and “The Younger” were assigned to another two. To keep things simple in my story, I will label them first, second and third – in the order of their births.
How the First William (Robert) Lindsay Founded a Public Service Dynasty
Like many first generation Canadians, my 4x great grandfather established an impressive personal and professional life in his adopted homeland. I can’t help but wonder, however, if he paid too heavy a price for his success.
In November 1828, a doctor confined him to his room writing that he needed more “rest, mentally and physically, than he has had up till now.”1
How could such a thing happen?
The First William Lindsay (1761-1834) came to Quebec, Canada from England in 1773 as a 12-year old boy to live with his uncle. Ten years later, at the age of 22, he opened a dry goods business with a partner near the St. Lawrence River harbour in Quebec City.2 At the age of 29 years in 1790, he married Marianne Melvin and they had nine children in 14 years.
While still operating his retail business, William also served as Justice of the Peace for the district of Quebec. Then he entered the public service in 1792 as clerk assistant of the new Lower Canadian House of Assembly, after the Constitutional Act of 1791 divided the British colony called the Province of Quebec,3 into Upper and Lower Canada.
In 1805, he assumed the role of registrar for the newly founded Quebec Trinity House which oversaw the safety management of the burgeoning port facilities and navigation in the harbour of Quebec.4 Also during this time, he held a position of Grand Officer with the Free Masons in Quebec, eventually becoming their Grand Secretary by 1807.5
And then life got really busy.
This first William was known above all for his role in the assembly. At the age of 48, and having gained sixteen years experience as clerk assistant since 1792, he was commissioned as clerk in 1808 and was the second person to hold that office in Lower Canada.
Initially, he received the oaths of allegiance of the members of the Legislative Council and the House of Assembly, revised and printed the rules and regulations as instructed and produced numerous reports.
Before long, his duties included purchasing needed items, hiring workmen and overseeing their work, collecting debts, and paying accounts. By 1812 the clerk’s job had become more administrative than secretarial. This new job description, however, did not include an increase in his salary.
By the time William finally received his requested wage hike three years later, he also had the added responsibility of overseeing a staff of extra workers needed to complete the required duties.
Ten years later, in 1824, when William’s obligations were already overwhelming, the salaries of all officials and writers were cut by 25 per cent and he had to enforce the work schedules as well as prevent his employees from attending to personal matters during working hours. A few years after that, William also became responsible for “filling the empty positions in the house.” However, the assembly members reserved the right to approve or reject appointments!6
Although William always managed to satisfy the members of the House of Assembly, there was a heavy price to pay. The stress from his job wreaked havoc on 67-year old William’s health. In 1828, his doctor ordered immediate bed rest, and delivered a medical certificate to the speaker.
Nowadays, we call it “burnout.”
The prestige of the job must have outweighed the ill effects on his health because, around this time, the first William recommended his son, William (Burns) Lindsay, to the assembly for the deputy clerk position. In September 1829, the second William Lindsay officially succeeded his father who then died five years later at the age of 73.
The first William Lindsay not only faithfully served the assembly for half his life but left a dynasty of loyal hard working clerks for, first his son and then his grandson, succeeded him in that very same public office.
Next: Why the second William Lindsay changed careers (to be published May 5, 2021)
1Yvon Thériault, “LINDSAY, WILLIAM,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 6, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed February 23, 2021
2Yvon Thériault, “LINDSAY, WILLIAM,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 6, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed February 23, 2021
The Province of Quebecwas a colony in North America created by Great Britain in 1763 after the Seven Years’ War. During the war, Great Britain’s forces conquered French Canada. As part of terms of the Treaty of Paris peace settlement, France gave up its claim to Canada and negotiated to keep the small but rich sugar island of Guadeloupe instead. By Britain’s Royal Proclamation of 1763, Canada (part of New France) was renamed the Province of Quebec. The new British province extended from the coast of Labrador on the Atlantic Ocean, southwest through the Saint Lawrence River Valley to the and beyond to the confluence of the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers. Portions of its southwest (south of the Great Lakes) were later ceded to the United States in the Treaty of Paris (1783) at the conclusion of the American Revolution although the British maintained a military presence there until 1796. In 1791, the territory north of the Great Lakes was divided into Lower Canada and Upper Canada.
4Ancestry, Canada – Quebec Past and Present: A History of Quebec, 1608-1876, in two parts, by J.M. Le Moine, (Augustin Cote & Co., 1876), 241.
5Ancestry, Canada – Outlines of the history of freemasonry in the Province of Quebec, Chapter V, “Ancient Freemansonry in Lower Canada”, by John H. Graham, (John Lovell and Son, 1892), 75.
6 Yvon Thériault, “LINDSAY, WILLIAM,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 6, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed February 23, 2021 http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/lindsay_william_6E.html.