Tag: Phineas Bagg

Don’t Believe Everything You Read About Stanley Clark Bagg

As a well-known Montreal land-owner, writer and philanthropist, my great-great grandfather Stanley Clark Bagg (1820-1873) was profiled in the Dictionary of Canadian Biography (DCB). Unfortunately, several errors appeared in that article and, when researchers look to the DCB as a reliable source of information, these mistakes are perpetuated. 

Stanley Clark Bagg

The DBC is correct in saying that SCB, as I like to call him, was the only son of Stanley Bagg, a Montreal merchant, and his wife, Mary Ann Clark. The entry adds that SCB was a notary, large landowner and president of the Numismatic and Antiquarian Society of Montreal and of the English Workingmen’s Benefit Society.

Then it states, “The Bagg family claimed to be of Norman descent. At the end of the 18th century Stanley Clark’s grandfather emigrated from England to America. At his death he left large estates in Durham County, England to his son Stanley.” This paragraph seems to refer to SCB’s grandfather Bagg.  In fact, it was SCB’s maternal grandfather, John Clark, who emigrated from Durham, England. A butcher by trade, Clark owned property in Durham and he purchased a number of farm properties in Montreal that his grandson inherited. 

Far from being wealthy, SCB’s paternal grandfather, Phineas Bagg, brought his family to Canada after he lost his farm in Pittsfield, Massachusetts to pay off his debts. On this side of the family, SCB’s immigrant ancestor was John Bagg, possibly from Plymouth, England, whose marriage in Springfield, Massachusetts was recorded in 1657.

The DCB was correct in saying that Stanley Clark Bagg married Catharine, eldest daughter of Robert Mitcheson and Frances MacGregor of Philadelphia in 1844, however, it went too far in adding that Frances was descended from the chiefs of the MacGregor clan and the old Scottish kings. This is a family story that may or may not be true. My research on Mary Frances MacGregor’s ancestry has come up against a brick wall. 

The Dictionary says that SCB and Catharine “had one son, Robert Stanley.” True, Robert Stanley Clark Bagg was their only son, but they also had four daughters: Katharine Sophia, Amelia Josephine, Mary Heloise and Helen Frances. 

The final inaccuracy in the DCB article was the statement that “his family was one of the oldest English families on Montreal Island .…”  Both the Bagg and Clark families arrived in Montreal in the late 1790s, three decades after the British conquered New France and at least a decade after many English, Scottish and Loyalist families had made their way here. 

These errors may be minor (although the descendants of SCB’s daughters might consider them quite important), but the online version of the DCB should be corrected quickly when issues are brought to their attention. The home page of the DCB invites readers to suggest corrections or additions, so I assume SCB’s biography will eventually be fixed. Meanwhile, in 2013, I wrote them and included extensive footnotes so they could verify my sources. Not long after that, without changing a word, they highlighted Stanley Clark Bagg as the Biography of the Day. (note: The article was finally revised in 2018.)

The takeaway from this article: even if you read about your ancestor in a source you consider reliable, check as many details as possible and be skeptical about sweeping or grandiose claims. 

Photo: portrait by William Raphael; private collection.

Related articles:

This article is also posted on the collaborative blog https://genealogyensemble.com.

Janice Hamilton, “John Clark of Durham, England,” Writing Up the Ancestors, https://www.writinguptheancestors.ca/2014/05/john-clark-of-durham-england.html

Janice Hamilton, “An Economic Emigrant,” Writing Up the Ancestors, https://www.writinguptheancestors.ca/2013/10/an-economic-emigrant.html

Janice Hamilton, “The MacGregors: Family Legend or True Story?” Writing Up the Ancestors, https://www.writinguptheancestors.ca/2014/03/the-macgregors-family-legend-or-true.html


The wording I have quoted here is from the online version of SCB’s biography:

Pierre Landry, “Bagg, Stanley Clark” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 10, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/bagg_stanley_clark_10E.html, accessed November 29, 2015.

This is a rewrite of the original print version of SCB’s biography, published in Volume X of the DCB in 1972, which had even more errors.

I decided to blog about this after a friend showed me an article about Robert Stanley Bagg and Stanley Clark Bagg in a book edited by Col. William Wood, William Henry Atherton and Edwin P. Conklin, The Storied Province of Quebec, Past and Present, vol. IV, Toronto: Dominion Publishing Company Ltd., 1931, 435; http://www.ourroots.ca/page.aspx?id=3660140&qryID=7ac7b13a-a7be-4ef4-9eb9-ab5b20789894, accessed Nov. 29, 2015. That article not only invented a military career for SCB, it also erroneously stated that Stanley Bagg was born in England. 

The most extensive biography of SCB was written shortly after his death and appeared in the journal to which he had been a regular contributor. The article is “In Memoriam, Stanley Clark Bagg, Esq, J.P., F.N.S.”, The Canadian Antiquarian and Numismatic Journal, vol. II, no. 2 (Montreal, Oct. 1873), p. 73, accessed through Google Books, Nov. 29, 2015.

Abner Bagg: Black Sheep of the Family?

Abner Bagg seems to have been the black sheep of the Bagg family, although I am not sure why. My great-aunt even insisted he was not related when, in truth, he was the brother of my three-times great-grandfather Stanley Bagg. Perhaps the problem was that Abner’s business had gone bankrupt.

Abner was born on August 5, 1790 in Pittsfield, Massachusetts. He was the son of farmer Phineas Bagg and Pamela Stanley. His mother died around 1793 and several years later the family left the United States, settling in La Prairie, near Montreal, Lower Canada. 

Abner Bagg of Montreal?

 By 1810, Abner was in business as a manufacturer and importer of hats. At his store in Montreal, he sold “ladies’ bonnets and gentlemen’s fine hats” as well as military hats. A few years later, he opened a hat-making factory in Terrebonne, northeast of Montreal, then a second store in Montreal and one in Quebec City.

On October 22, 1814, Abner married Mary Ann Wurtele, daughter of Quebec City shopkeeper Josias Wurtele, at the Anglican Cathedral in Quebec City. According to the marriage record, Abner was 25 and Mary Ann was 19. The couple eventually had six children, three of whom died as babies. 

With his business doing very well, Abner purchased an empty lot in a suburb just west of Montreal. Between 1819 and 1821, he constructed a large stone house on the property, later adding a warehouse attached to the family home. 

Meanwhile, Abner diversified his business interests. While running the shop, he was also buying white pine from the forests of the Chateauguay Valley, southwest of Montreal. He transported the logs to Montreal and to Quebec City. The big timbers were shipped to England and the smaller logs were cut into firewood. In the early 1820s, when his brother Stanley was one of the main contractors for the excavation of the Lachine Canal, Abner supplied goods such as gunpowder, food and timber to the canal builders. In the 1820s, he bought and sold shares in several steamboats that carried people and goods across the St. Lawrence River.

Abner always kept an eye out for real estate deals, especially at sheriff’s auctions. Sometimes he made improvements to the buildings and then sold them at a profit, sometimes he kept them as rental properties. 

In the mid-1820s, however, things unraveled: his wife died in 1827, and his hat business went bankrupt. He had expanded too rapidly, using unsecured personal notes rather than cash, so when a large-scale commercial crisis reached Canada around 1825, sales fell and he was unable to repay huge debts to suppliers in England, or to others. 

Bankruptcy was not unusual. There was never enough hard cash circulating in British North America, nor was there an extensive banking sector, so merchants had to rely on credit and promises to back up their friends’ and relatives’ loans. And after he went bankrupt, there were no rules to protect his creditors or to help him through the crisis. Abner’s personal credit was ruined. 

After his business failed, Abner’s main source of income was rent from the houses he owned. He transferred these properties to his brother Stanley to hold in trust while the income went toward paying off his debts. Eventually, however, Abner had trouble feeding his family, and Stanley had to start selling the properties, including the family home.

Mary Ann Mittleberger Bagg

On February 12, 1831, Abner remarried. His second wife’s name was also Mary Ann: Mary Ann Mittleberger. They married in Montreal’s Anglican Christ Church, and, although Mary Ann was Catholic and remained so all her life, their nine children were baptized Anglican.  

Two months later, Abner and Stanley were both baptized at Christ Church. Along with a number of other New England-born Montrealers, Abner had previously been a member of the city’s Scotch Presbyterian Church. Perhaps the Anglican religion was now more in line with his beliefs, or perhaps he looked at the Anglican Church as a step up socially. 

In his remaining years, Abner tried unsuccessfully to reopen the hat factory. He travelled a great deal, buying flour and salt pork as far west as Ohio, and selling it to military posts in Upper Canada. 

Abner died on March 21, 1852, age 64. The church record of his funeral referred to him as “gentleman,” so he must have restored some of his reputation in society. I have yet to find out where he was buried. He was survived by his widow, one daughter from his first marriage and four children from his second marriage. At the time of his death, the youngest was just four years old. The widowed Mary Ann lived until 1896. 

Photo Credits:

eBay; Mrs. A. Bagg, Montreal, QC, 1862; I-4366.1 © McCord Museum; news.google.com

See also:

Janice Hamilton, “Stanley Bagg’s Difficulties” Writing Up the Ancestorshttps://www.writinguptheancestors.ca/2014/01/stanley-baggs-difficulties.html

Janice Hamilton, “An Economic Emigrant”   Writing Up the Ancestors, https://www.writinguptheancestors.ca/2013/10/an-economic-emigrant.html


Here is a list of Abner’s fifteen children, seven of whom lived to adulthood. I do not have all their marriage and death dates, only what I can find easily on Ancestry.com and in family records. Two of the daughters married two brothers, Henry and Samuel Shackell, who came from England.

Abner Bagg’s children with Mary Ann Wurtele:

  • Sophia b. 1816, d. 1850; not married
  • Abner Wurtele b.1818; d. 1818
  • Mary Ann Louisa, b. 1819; m.
  • John Porteous, 1856
  • Caroline Eleanor b.1820; d. 1820
  • Clarissa Matilda  b. 1822; d. 1848; not married
  • Catherine Pamela b. 1824; d. 1826

Abner Bagg’s children with Mary Ann Mittleberger:

  • George Augustus Frederick Edward b. 1832; d. 1845
  • Margaret Elizabeth Charlotte Eleanor b. 1833; d. 1834
  • Emma b. 1835; d. 1835
  • Alfred Solomon Phineas b. 1836; m. Priscilla Carden, 1876, Abbotsford, QC ; d. 1912 (he was sometimes referred to as A.S.P. Bagg, sometimes as Alfred S. Bagg)
  • Charles Stanley Roy b. 1838; d. 1838
  • Mary Eliza b. 1839; m. Samuel Shackell; d. 1915
  • Emma Adelaide  b. 1842; d. 1842
  • Margaret Pamilla Roy b. 1844; m. Henry Shackell 1865
  • Emily Caroline Stanley  b. 1848; m. Charles William Radiger of Winnipeg, 1885

Abner’s exact date of birth is unclear. The record of his adult baptism in 1831 gives his date of birth as August 5, 1790, however, calculating his sister Sophia’s birthday from her age at death, she was born around February 20, 1791. At least one of those dates must be wrong. At his death in 1852, Abner’s age was recorded as 64, which would have meant he was born in 1788, the year brother Stanley was supposed to have been born. When he was married in 1814, Abner gave his age as 25, which would have meant he was born in 1789. 

There was a portrait of Abner Bagg for sale on eBay a few years ago, so I made a screen shot of it. Unfortunately, the resolution is terrible. Also, I do not know whether this was the Abner Bagg of Montreal, since there were two other Abner Baggs in the United States at about same the time. They were all related, although I haven’t worked out the family tree.  

There is lots of solid information on Abner’s business activities and financial difficulties. The pay records for his hat business, copies of letters and an 1816 inventory of his possessions are part of the Bagg Family Fonds at the McCord Museum in Montreal. In 1970, historian Donald Fyson used those records to prepare an article about Abner for the museum, and I used his paper as a source for this story. The Fonds also recently acquired material from the estate of Joan Shackell, a direct descendant of Abner. 

Abner’s business agreements can be found among the notarial records at the Bibliothèque et Archives nationales du Québec. For example, the act of notary N.B. Doucet 134-11205, 31 October 1823 is one of many wood contracts Abner signed. Jobin 215-4778, 30 March 1829 is a document in which Abner rented out a three-storey stone house he owned. Crawford 102-178, 9 July 1830 was an act in which Abner transferred the ownership of his properties to his brother and Stanley agreed to advance the funds to pay Abner’s debts.

Newspapers provide snapshots of people’s activities. This ad from The Montreal Herald, Oct. 14, 1826 is at https://news.google.com/newspapers?id=apgxAAAAIBAJ&sjid=likDAAAAIBAJ&pg=942,6061397&dq=bagg+montreal&hl=en. The Montreal Star archives came online on Newspapers.com in 2022.

Notices in the Canada Gazette referred to a variety of topics from property sales to official appointments. For example, a notice dated March 24, 1847 announced that Abner was a captain in the third battalion of the militia: http://www.collectionscanada.gc.ca/databases/canada-gazette/093/001060-119.01-e.php?image_id_nbr=138&document_id_nbr=1601&f=p&PHPSESSID=j1au0sblq8sejaol266jar2vp4

Digitized books can be an excellent source of information about the past. For example, I consulted Thomas Doige, An Alphabetical List of the Merchants, Traders, and Housekeepers residing in Montreal, to which is prefixed a descriptive sketch of the town. Montreal: printed by James Lane, 1819. https://archive.org/details/cihm_36464

Another book about the period is Robert Campbell, A History of the Scotch Presbyterian Church, St. Gabriel Street, Montreal. Montreal: W. Drysdale, 1887. https://archive.org/details/cihm_00397

The Centenary of the Bank of Montreal, 1817-1917, published by the bank in 1917, https://archive.org/stream/centenaryofbanko00bankuoft#page/78/mode/2up, shows that Abner was one of the bank’s original shareholders. Doige’s directory indicates that, two years later, he was one of the directors of the Bank of Canada. In 1826, the Bank of Montreal issued protests against Abner because he had not paid his debts (Griffin 187-6273 1 March 1826).      

The Canada, British Army and Canadian Militia Muster Rolls and Pay Lists, 1795-1850 database on Ancestry.com shows that Abner Bagg was paymaster for the volunteer militia during the 1837-1838 rebellion in Lower Canada.