This is a transcript of the entry for RICHARD DOBIE (cir. 1731 - 1805) in the Dictionary of Canadian Biography, Vol. V. Pages 258 - 261.
DOBIE, RICHARD, fur trader, businessman, and militia officer; b. c. 1731 in Liberton, Scotland; d. 23 March 1805 in Montreal, Lower Canada.
Richard Dobie, who apparently was of quite humble origins,
is believed to have been a merchant in Scotland before he came to
the province of Quebec shortly after the conquest. In 1761 he
rented a stone house on Rue Saint-
In 1767 Dobie went into partnership with Benjamin Frobisher, who travelled to the trading posts and wintered there, while Dobie remained in Montreal. In the beginning the partners operated southwest of the Great Lakes; in 1767 they organized an expedition to La Baye (Green Bay, Wis.) and the following year they hired a number of men to go to Michilimackinac (Mackinaw City, Mich.). They endeavoured to make their first forays into the northwest in 1769 and 1770. In 1769 they received licences for five canoes bound for Michilimackinac. Benjamin and Joseph Frobisher tried to get into the northwest, but their expedition was stopped by Indians at Rainy Lake (Ont.). The following year the partners sent three canoes to Michilimackinac and Grand Portage (near Grand Portage, Minn.). In November 1770 the partnership was dissolved for reasons and under conditions unknown.
Dobie's business seems to have slowed down until 1777,
when another phase in his career began, marked by the expansion
of his role as an outfitter and financial partner. Thus, in the
years following, Dobie stood out as one of the principal fur
traders and outfitters southwest of the Great Lakes and in the
region around Lake Superior and Lake Nipigon (Ont.). From 1777
until 1790 he stood surety, on his own or with others, for a
number of expeditions carrying merchandise worth close to 100,000
Pounds. The value of the expeditions varied from 2,500 Pounds in
1777 to 22,000 Pounds in 1783, and most of them went off to
Michilimackinac, Niagara (near Youngstown, N.Y.) and Detroit
(Mich.). Only two, with merchandise worth 3,224 Pounds,
proceeded to the northwest. These were led by Jean-
Dobie apparently was most deeply engaged in the trade
southwest of Michilimackinac and the Great Lakes. He maintained
relations in this area with some of the leading merchants and fur
traders, including Etienne-
Dobie generally carried on his business as outfitter and financial backer alone, but occasionally he joined other merchants to put up surety for a fur trader. Among those merchants were John Grant and his partner Robert Griffin, William Grant and Campion, who became partners in Grant, Campion and Company in 1791, and Thomas Forsyth, one of the partners in Robert Ellice and Company. In 1788 Dobie decided to take in Francis Badgley as a partner, to reduce the burden of running his business and to permit him to devote more time and energy to the fur trade in the Timiskaming region. The company was to look after outfitting fur traders and to buy and sell furs, and Badgley was to receive a third of the profits. The association ended in 1792.
In 1787 Dobie had formed a partnership with James Grant to
go into the fur trade at Fort Timiskaming for a period of seven
years. Dobie was to supply everything that was needed, and he
was authorized to collect a commission on all transactions.
Grant was to winter at the post and take care of trading during
the first two years at least. Dobie took two-
Although by far the most important, furs were not the only staple in which Dobie was interested. For several years he bought wheat from various rural merchants and exported it through the port of Quebec. In 1773 he received a few bushels from a merchant in Varennes as payment for dry goods. Five years later he bought 2,600 bushels, and in 1786 he went into partnership with William Maitland and Alexander Auldjo to buy 10,000 bushels, which were shipped overseas.
Dobie was also interested in production. In 1769, for
example, the company of Dobie and Frobisher, bought ginseng from
Pierre Foretier. Five years later Dobie tried to organize
production of that root. He hired someone named Laforge and a
team of men to go to La Galette (near Ogdensburg, N.Y.) and stay
there, and he instructed Laforge to work "primarily at having
ginseng of the best possible quality produced." Similarly in
1784 he advanced money to Alexander Milmine, a potash
manufacturer at Ile-
Dobie imported from Great Britain a great variety of products which he sold not only to the fur traders but also to merchants in the countryside around Montreal, particularly at Chambly, Varennes, and Terrebonne. He even supplied goods to a merchant in Cornwall (Ont.).
There are numerous indications that Dobie played a role as
Around 1790 Dobie retired from business and invested his capital in order to draw a comfortable income. He lent both modest sums, such as 125 Pounds to a barber to repair his house, and much larger amounts such as 1,650 Pounds to Simon McTavish in 1795 and 6,750 Pounds to the firm of Parker, Gerrard and Ogilvy in 1804.
Dobie's participation in political life reflected his
interests as a merchant engaged in the fur trade. For example,
he added his voice to those calling for the trade to be
reorganized after the conquest, and he intervened several times
to defend the interests of the merchant-
Dobie held a place in the public life of Montreal that witnessed his success in business, his wealth, and prestige. He was a member of the grand jury of the District of Montreal on a number of occasions, and he was also active in the British Militia of the Town and Banlieu of Montreal, with the rank of captain from 1788 to 1797, and major from 1798 until 1803. He was a member of the Presbyterian congregation of Montreal, and in 1791 he was elected chairman of its prestigious and powerful committee to manage temporalities [see Duncan Fisher], an office that he seems to have retained until 1800. He became a member of the masonic lodge known as St. Peter's, No. 4, Quebec, at Montreal, in 1772 and was master several times.
Dobie accumulated an impressive fortune in business and
the fur trade that enabled him to enjoy a comfortable, even
luxurious, standard of living. This fortune also gave him the
means to see to the material well-
Richard Dobie was a man of considerable importance but he has seldom attracted the attention of scholars. This omission seems to be closely linked to the fact that he was not one of the promoters of the fur trade in the Canadian northwest and that he was not in the North West Company. He was interested in the fur trade in a region that was highly profitable and important in its time, but which after 1794 was handed over to the Americans and disappeared, as it were, from the field of interest of Canadian historians. As a merchant and outfitter Dobie contributed to the emergence of a greater concentration of both fur traders and merchants. Associated informally with William Grant and Campion, and in partnership with Badgley, he collaborated in setting up a relatively stable network of fur traders whom he outfitted virtually exclusively. This network, as well as Dobie's interest in Timiskaming, seems to have been taken over completely by Grant, Campion and Company in 1791. That firm, along with Forsyth, Richardson and Company, Todd, McGill and Company [see Issac Todd; James McGill], and Alexander Henry, subsequently negotiated the division of the trading zones with the NWC in 1792 and confronted it in the Canadian northwest after Jay's Treaty in 1794.Article signed by Joanne Burgess.