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family - Dr. Calvin McQuesten
Dr. Calvin McQuesten of Whitehern
Founder Of Hamilton's First Foundry

Aug. 7, 1801 - Oct. 20, 1885

[Note to readers: Throughout this website Dr. Calvin McQuesten will be referred to as exactly that, and is to be distinguished from his son Dr. Calvin Brooks McQuesten and grandson Rev. Calvin McQuesten.] Dr. Calvin McQuesten

Dr. Calvin McQuesten was born on August 7, 1801, in Bedford Town, New Hampshire (now Manchester). He was one of the nine children of David McQuesten (1757-1829) and Margaret (Fisher) McQuesten (1760-1833). He was one of the third generation of the McQuesten family to be born in New England. His grandfather William II (1732-1802) was born in New England and had eleven children; his great-grandfather William I (1675-1769) emigrated from Scotland via Ireland to New England in 1730 and had eight children (see Family).1

Education and Medical Practice
    Calvin McQuesten was educated at the Bradford Academy in Bradford, Massachusetts where he obtained a teaching certificate in 1825. He then taught school at Stoneham, Massachusetts, for two years. In 1827 he returned to school at Bowdoin College, Brunswick, Maine to study medicine. The college was established in 1794, but the medical school commenced in 1821. Calvin's older brother David was also a medical doctor with a practice in Washington, New Hampshire, and Calvin spent some time working with him there. Calvin received his "Degree of Doctor of Medicine" in September 1830. His medical certificate is extant in the archives at Whitehern Museum. Dr. Calvin McQuesten practiced medicine in Sandbornton, New Hampshire and, in 1832, he moved his practice to Brockport, New York, where he also entered into a partnership in a pharmaceutical business known as McQuesten and Budlong. He was the medical consultant for the partnership and took very little active part in the business (W0139, July 4, 1839).
Three Marriages, Family and Home
    In 1831, Dr. Calvin married Margarette Lerned (1809-41) and they had three sons, two of whom died in infancy, leaving one son Calvin Brooks McQuesten (1837-1912), who was four years old when his mother died in 1841. Calvin Brooks eventually became a doctor and practiced in New York. He never married. Dr. Calvin married for a second time in 1844. His second wife was Estimate Ruth (Esther) Baldwin (1816-51) and they had two sons, Isaac (1847-88) and David (1849-54). David died at the age of five in a stove fire, and Isaac Baldwin McQuesten was four years old when his mother died in 1851. Isaac eventually became a lawyer, married Mary J. Baker (1849-1934) in 1873, and they had seven children (one died in infancy). The six remaining children grew up and died at Whitehern--They never married.

    By 1851 Dr. Calvin McQuesten had been widowed twice and had two young sons, half-brothers, Calvin Brooks, fourteen years of age, and Isaac Baldwin who was four. Dr. Calvin needed a mother for his boys, and Elizabeth Fuller, a teacher, presented herself in her letters, and otherwise, as a loving and kindly person, and Dr. Calvin married her in 1853. In the same year Dr. Calvin McQuesten purchased Whitehern (then "Willowbank") for £800, and moved in with his family. However, Elizabeth Fuller McQuesten was not at all interested in being a mother to the two young boys; she instructed them to call her "Mrs. McQuesten," and she promptly sent them away to school. She spent a great deal of her time traveling and shopping in the U.S. and Europe. Many of the fine furnishings at Whitehern are the result of these shopping trips.

Industry, Hamilton 1830s
    During the 1830's Dr. Calvin McQuesten formed a partnership in the foundry business in Hamilton, Upper Canada, with his cousin John Knox Fisher (who moved to Hamilton), Joseph Janes (Hamilton), Priam Hill (Brockport, New York). This was the first foundry in Hamilton, and was the beginning of Hamilton's growth to become "The Birmingham of Canada."

    In 1835, the partners purchased a property at James and Merrick Streets and built their foundry, McQuesten & Co., "a furnace and manufacturing business." It was:

    a building of not less than 18 X 24 feet and was located on the west side of James Street. The source of power for the operation was a horse-power in the basement. It was used to power a bellows that introduced a blast to the cupola. The cupola was fed scrap-iron and pig-iron by the bucketful from the top and molten iron was removed at the bottom. The shop was equipped with a lathe, planing machine and crank. The latter machines were for turning out the wooden patterns that made the impressions in sand moulds and for cutting out the various parts of the machines they planned to produce.

    They began manufacturing stoves and the new threshing machine, which was initially greeted with skepticism by the farmers, but proved a success at harvest time. The foundry burned down in1855 and a larger foundry and machine shops were built at the foot of Wellington St.

    The firm experienced some difficulties: There were partnership conflicts and Janes left the firm in 1838 (W-MCP4-6.230). Skilled labour, good quality materials, and patterns were difficult to obtain. The political situation during the Upper Canada Rebellion of 1837 and 1838 was personally threatening because Fisher and Dr. Calvin were Americans, and Fisher, who was actually living in Hamilton, felt especially vulnerable (W-MCP4-6-193). His good friend, John G. Parker, and minister of his church (Presbyterian) was taken prisoner on suspicion of being one of the rebels. Also, the company was refused a bank loan by Allan MacNab because of their American connection. There is little doubt that Dr. Calvin delayed moving his family to Hamilton until the political situation eased and the business was established, which was in 1839.

    Over the years as the firm expanded, they were able to replace the horse-drawn power in the basement with a steam engine. He and Fisher formed an equal partnership and by 1845 they were able to pay off the mortgage, and the business became successful. In 1853 Dr. Calvin sold a portion of his interest in the firm to his two nephews, Luther & Payson Sawyer and a cousin William McQuesten. Another nephew, Samuel Sawyer was an engineer with the firm.

    John Fisher entered politics in Hamilton, and was elected Mayor in 1850; in 1856 he sold his portion of the business and returned to the U.S. and settled in Batavia, N.Y, and in 1868 he was elected to the 41st congress as a Republican. In 1857, Dr. Calvin McQuesten retired from active ownership of the company, putting the three Sawyer brothers in charge as active partners. They operated the company under the name of L. D. Sawyer and Co. In 1889, H.A. Massey of the Massey-Harris Co. Ltd., became a part of the company, and by the turn of the 19th century, the firm became known as the Sawyer-Massey Co.

Retirement, Church, Social, and Cultural Contribution
    In 1857 Dr. Calvin McQuesten sold his business to his three nephews and retired with a fortune of $500,000, but retained the deeds to the foundry lands and buildings, and had other investments. He put his son Isaac, a lawyer, in charge of many of his financial interests. Dr. Calvin became director of the Gore Bank in 1862 and vice-president in 1867.

    After retirement, Dr. McQuesten proceeded to indulge himself in his favourite avocation, the study and practice of Evangelical Protestant theology, and in the building and design (architecture, acoustics) of Presbyterian Churches in Canada and the U.S. He was a financial benefactor and prime mover in the establishment of MacNab Street Presbyterian Church, Hamilton, St. Paul's Presbyterian Church in Hamilton, and Knox Presbyterian Church in Dundas; and he assisted in the design of Central Presbyterian Church in Hamilton. He was an elder and trustee in the MacNab Street Presbyterian Church, an elder in the Central Church, and a generous contributor to the missionary work. He was treasurer of the Hamilton Branch Bible Society (1844-49) and vice-president (1849-85). Dr. Calvin was also involved in the establishment of the Wesleyan Ladies' College in Hamilton in 1861 and served as vice-president (1861-72) and president until his death in 1885. In spite of its name, Wesleyan College granted a non-sectarian degree. The ladies' college reflected the McQuesten's commitment to education for women as well as for men, which was influenced by their Scottish Enlightenment philosophy.

Old Age and Death
    As Dr. McQuesten aged and his health began to fail, his wife Elizabeth Fuller and two sons, Isaac and Calvin Brooks, became increasingly involved in a legal struggle over the disposition of his estate upon his death. As Dr. McQuesten began to grow senile this struggle became urgent and the letters between Isaac and his half-brother Calvin demonstrate the legal strategies that became necessary in order to thwart Elizabeth, which they achieved with Dr. McQuesten's full co-operation. In 1880, Dr. Calvin McQuesten drew up a legal declaration to transfer control of his estate to his two sons, stating that his wife, Elizabeth Fuller McQuesten: "has become more indifferent, intolerable and unkind . . . and has absented herself from house for a lengthened period recently without the consent and contrary to the wishes and directions of said Calvin McQuesten." He had already (in 1863) deeded the house "Willowbank" (later named "Whitehern") to Isaac. After Dr. Calvin's death Elizabeth was granted an annuity and she returned to the U.S. Dr. Calvin McQuesten died in his bed on October 20, 1885, and is buried in the family plot in the Hamilton Cemetery.
The Decline of the Family Fortune
    Dr. Calvin McQuesten's son, Isaac, took control of the estate while Dr. Calvin Brooks continued his medical practice in New York. Unfortunately, Isaac lost the family fortune through bad investments and alcoholism, and died very suddenly in 1888, leaving his estate in bankruptcy. He lost his father's fortune, most of his half-brother's share, and much of his wife's inheritance from her father, Rev. Thomas Baker. His widow, Mary Baker McQuesten (1849-1934), became the matriarch of Whitehern and raised her six children there in a state of genteel poverty. None of the children married and, in 1959, the house "Whitehern" was deeded to the City of Hamilton. In 1968, when the last remaining member of the family died, Rev. Calvin McQuesten, Whitehern reverted to the City to be used as a Museum. Dr. Calvin McQuesten's home is intact today, open to the public, and complete with all family furnishings and possessions from three generations of the McQuesten family, including thousands of books, artworks, letters, diaries and documents. It is a virtual time capsule.

1 We are indebted to Georgina Minnes, formerly an Historical Interpreter at Whitehern, for much of the information in this sketch. Minnes compiled a series of biographical sketches of the McQuesten family (November 1999, unpublished).

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Copyright 2002 Whitehern Historic House and Garden
The development of this website was directed by Mary Anderson, Ph.D. and Janelle Baldwin, M.A.
Please direct questions and comments to Mary Anderson, Ph.D.

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