It can be easy to see historical figures as people who seem somehow disconnected from a personality. Sometimes you just can’t get excited about the old guy in the portrait, despite the laurels to his name, and history starts to appear ever more dull. Well, that doesn’t always have to be the case. To spice things up a bit – inspired by this Tumblr and others – I bring you five men from Kingston and the area who not only made history, but looked great doing it. Yes, it’s Hunky Guys of Kingston’s Past!
Due to the surprising amount of stuff that these guys did in their lives, I’ve needed to break up this post into two sections. The next one will be coming shortly. They’re arranged broadly in chronological order, for lack of a better method.
Anyway, here is Part One. Enjoy!
Colonel Joel Stone, founder of Gananoque
Joel Stone was born into a middle-class family in Connecticut in 1749. He became a merchant, and after signing a contract with the immensely wealthy trader Jabez Bacon, set up a branch office in Judea, Connecticut. With this lucrative contract, Stone was able to build a fabulous two-storey house at the age of only twenty-five, and felt he was living the good life. However, it wasn’t to last long: “the dreadful horrors of an unnatural war,” he wrote in his memoirs, soon filled “the pleasant land with desolation and blood.” In the midst of the American Revolution, Stone wished to remain loyal to the Crown, which rapidly lost him friends and business.
But let’s face it: Stone was a badass. When New York City Mayor David Mathews was imprisoned for plotting to assassinate George Washington in 1776, Stone helped him break out of jail. When a warrant for Stone’s own arrest was issued in January 1777, he escaped the mobs and fled to New York. There, he began recruiting for the Loyalist army, but was captured once again, sent to prison in Fairfield, Conn., and charged with high treason. Faced with the possibility of hanging, Stone did what apparently came naturally to him: he escaped.
The story just gets better. Back in New York without property or money, Stone joined a British ship and literally became a privateer (essentially a sanctioned pirate), plundering a Rebel ship which allowed him to pay his debts and get re-established as a merchant. He married Leah Moore, who belonged to a wealthy New York City family, and in 1783 travelled to England to clear up an issue with her inheritance. There, he heard about incentives to settle the land north of the St. Lawrence River and Great Lakes. Stone was hopeful, but there was trouble back home, where his wife and children, one of whom had died, had become an afterthought. “[I]t seems you have forgotten you ever had a family,” Leah wrote, after two years apart from her husband.
Finally in 1787, Joel, Leah, and their son William moved up to New Johnstown (Cornwall). But it was too late for their marriage: Leah, accustomed to city life and angry with her fly-by-night husband, left him. (Leah had also been unpopular with Joel Stone’s family, who called her “Black Bets.”) Their children William and Mary were placed in the care of Stone’s sister in Hartford, Conn.
In 1790, Stone was able to claim 700 acres of land west of the Gananoque River, despite competition from Sir John Johnson, and establish a sawmill there. Over the next several years, he achieved great success with his various businesses and became a Justice of the Peace and a colonel in the 2nd Leeds Militia. His children, now older, returned to Canada (at some point he also fathered an illegitimate child; make of that what you will), and in 1799 he remarried, after an epistolary courtship, to the widow Abigail Dayton.
However, by 1812 war was again on the horizon. When the Americans raided Gananoque on September 18, 1812, they ransacked the town, targeted Stone’s house, and shot his wife who was inside. To protect against further attacks, Stone had a blockhouse built, but he struggled with the changing loyalties of the townspeople and his militia.
Until the end of his life, Stone was deeply saddened by the conflicts between the Americans and the British, and by the memory of the family he left behind in Connecticut (they communicated regularly, but Stone went many years without seeing them). Entering into a quieter lifestyle in his old age, Joel Stone died peacefully in 1833, having lived a long, important, and colourful life.
Hugh C. Thomson, newspaperman and founder of Kingston Penitentiary
Hugh Christopher Thomson was born in Kingston in 1791, but his family soon moved to Niagara, and then to York. In his late teens, Thomson began working for the royalist emigré merchant Laurent Quetton St. George (see my post on emigrés in Kingston!) and by 1810 was posted at Quetton St. George’s Kingston branch. Already, Thomson was showing skill as a fair and diplomatic man, able to settle client disputes with grace.
In 1813 he married a Kingston girl, Elizabeth Spafford, but she died the next year of an illness. Distraught, Thomson began busying himself in various committees and boards, including the Midland District School Society and the Frontenac Agricultural Society. When he learned of Quetton St. George’s decision to return to France in 1815, Thomson bought the Kingston branch of the business and expanded it with a colleague, George H. Detlor. In 1816 he remarried to Elizabeth Ruttan. Although it was a happy marriage, there was tragedy: of the couple’s ten children over the years, only three survived early childhood.
By 1819, Thomson was a successful merchant, and the bank he had helped found during the War of 1812 was reorganized in 1818 as the Bank of Upper Canada. All this, and he was only twenty-eight. Yet it wasn’t enough. Thomson was interested in politics and loved reading and writing, and so he decided to begin a liberal newspaper, the Upper Canada Herald, which began in September 1819.
Thomson shone as a newspaper editor. Although he was politically liberal, Thomson printed all sides and opinions of issues, and was passionate about defending people’s right to express themselves freely in the press. Later on in 1828 he even printed his own indictment for defamation. (Why was he indicted? It was a long story involving salt pork.) After being reprimanded in the House of Assembly in 1822 for publishing a “libellous” article, Thomson became determined to restore his reputation. In 1824, he became a member for Frontenac County.
Meanwhile, as the Upper Canada Herald was being praised as one of the finest newspapers in Canada, Thomson was also publishing various pamphlets and books. In 1824, he published St. Ursula’s Convent, or the Nun of Canada by Julia Beckwith Hart, wife of a Kingston stationer. It was the first novel written by a native-born Canadian to be published in Canada (and had been written when she was only seventeen!). Thomson also published his own compilation A Manual of Parliamentary Practice (1828) and, with John Macaulay of the Kingston Chronicle, a revised Statutes of Upper Canada (1831).
So where does Kingston Pen fit into all this? In 1826, Thomson introduced a motion to consider building a provincial penitentiary. This motion languished for a while, but was finally taken up in 1830. That year, Thomson drew up a report, in which he suggested that prisoners should be given productive work to offset the costs of the penitentiary and encourage a spirit of reform. With John Macaulay, he visited prisons in New York and Connecticut to get ideas for the penitentiary. In February 1833, the House acted upon this report, and plans were made to begin building the prison, which was to be located in Kingston.
But sadly, it was too late for Thomson to see his idea realized. Having been in weak health for much of his life, he developed a severe cough and fever in late 1833, and subsequently endured a lung haemorrhage. His condition briefly improved, but he died on April 23, 1834 at the age of just forty-three. Despite his short life, he had made a considerable impact in the growth of Canada as a young country.
In closing, a word should be said about Thomson’s widow, Elizabeth. When Thomson was in York for politics, Elizabeth managed the Upper Canada Herald herself, and took over the paper after her husband’s death. She ran it for three more years, and was the first woman to publish a newspaper in Canada.
Make sure to come back for Part Two of Hunky Guys of Kingston’s Past!
Joel Stone website created by the Arthur Child Heritage Museum in Gananoque. Although the Then and Now map appears to be no longer working, the rest of the website has tons of information including a transcription of Stone’s sister’s diary.
Biography of Joel Stone in the online Dictionary of Canadian Biography.
Gundy, H. Pearson. “Hugh C. Thomson: Editor, Publisher, and Politician, 1791-1834.” In To Preserve and Defend: Essays on Kingston in the Nineteenth Century, edited by Gerald Tulchinsky. Montreal and London: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1976.
Biography of Hugh C. Thomson in the online Dictionary of Canadian Biography.