Rare Benaiah Gibb's Montreal button.
This 17.29mm button was excavated in Marye's Heights, Fredericksburg, Virginia with permission from the landowner.
The front has quite a
bit of gilt remaining. The shank is intact, and the back mark reads Gibb's & Co.
Montreal. GIBB, BENAIAH, businessman; b. 6 May 1755 in Northumberland County, England,
of a Scottish family; m. first 3 Sept. 1790 Catherine Campbell in Montreal, and they
had four sons and two daughters; m. there secondly 26 Dec. 1808 Eleanor Pastorius,
daughter of Abraham Pastorius, and they had a son and a daughter; d. there 18 March 1826.
Benaiah Gibb was trained as a tailor in England and may have come from a family of
craftsmen, since his brother set up a firm specializing in ready-made clothing in London.
He immigrated to the province of Quebec as a young man in 1774. There are conflicting
accounts of the beginnings of his career. According to some, Gibb settled in Montreal
upon arrival and opened his first shop in 1775. Others claim that he came to Montreal
to form a partnership with Peter McFarlane, who was in business there, and then succeeded
him when he died. The advertisements Gibb published show, however, that his progress in
his trade was actually more complicated. From his arrival until the summer of 1784 Gibb
seems to have worked alone, perhaps on his own account; at least part of that time he
spent in Sorel. It was not until 19 Aug. 1784 that McFarlane and Gibb was founded, to
specialize in making ready-to-wear clothes for men. The firm was dissolved on 1 Oct.
1790, and McFarlane retired, leaving the business to Gibb. McFarlane probably had a
considerable influence on Gibb’s career. They had more than just a business connection,
for McFarlane lived in Gibb’s home in his old age. Except for a brief partnership with
Thomas Prior from 1795 to 1797, Gibb ran his establishment on his own until he retired
in 1815. The firm of Gibb continued to serve the Montreal élite under the management,
first of his sons Thomas, James Duncan, and Benaiah, and then of various other members
of his family, throughout the 19th century. An inventory taken in 1804 when Catherine
Campbell, Gibb’s first wife, died, tells much about the operations of the firm at the
height of his career. At that time the shop and storeroom on Rue Notre-Dame contained
an immense variety of fabrics and supplies for making men’s clothes, valued at £1,392
9s. 11d. There were thousands of yards of fabric to be made into garments for every
occasion: velvet, satin, woollens, India nankeen, cotton, flannel, as well as more than
100 pounds of thread, 40 pounds of beeswax, 800 dozen buttons, and also large quantities
of lace, binding, silk galloon, silver braid, gold and silver frogs, and gold and silver
epaulettes. Gibb’s store also offered the public a limited choice of ready-made clothing
and indispensable accessories, such as white silk stockings and kid or angora gloves.
Unfortunately no estimate can be made from this single document of the number of
apprentices and journeymen tailors who plied the needles, 18 pairs of scissors, and
4 pairs of shears that made up the stock of tools in the shop. In 1804 the business seems
to have been flourishing. There were assets of £8,820 17s. 11d., consisting of stock in
the shop and storeroom and receivables (£7,428 8s., including £2,275 0s. 10d. in doubtful
debts), and these greatly exceeded the £2,499 16s. 10d. in accumulated debts. The list of
principal creditors reveals some aspects of the way the shop functioned. For a merchant
tailor, cloth was the essential raw material and it represented the largest production
cost. Gibb imported his cottons and woollens from Great Britain, mostly dealing direct
with English companies. More than half his debts were reckoned in pounds sterling, and
the chief creditor was the London firm of Edward and Thomas Sheppard. But sometimes Gibb
bought goods put on sale by Montreal importers. Consequently the list of creditors also
includes Parker, Gerrard, Ogilvy and Company, McTavish, Frobisher and Company, James and
Andrew McGill and Company, and John and William Porteous. The prosperity of Gibb’s firm
was due to his ability to respond to the demands of very special customers. Among them
were numerous officers of the garrison. Gibb was tailor also to notaries (Louis Chaboillez*
, John Gerbrand Beek, Jonathan Abraham Cray, Louis Guy* ), seigneurs (Jean-Baptiste-
Toussaint Pothier* , Jacques-Philippe Saveuse de Beaujeu, Jacob Jordan* ), and merchant
princes (Simon McTavish* , Joseph Frobisher* , William Maitland, George McBeath* , William
McGillivray , George Garden , John Ogilvy* , Thomas Blackwood* ). Gibb’s relations with
the Montreal élite he served were complex. As a craftsman he was in another social class,
but since he was at the top of that pyramid, he was one of the few to turn out luxury articles.
In time his enterprise’s prosperity enabled him to adopt a way of life quite different from
that of his fellow craftsmen, which brought him closer to the Montreal bourgeoisie. By 1804 he
owned a two-storey stone house inside the town ramparts, and a property at Près-de-Ville north
of the faubourg Saint-Laurent that had fruit trees and a “China summer house.” Gibb’s other activities
also contributed to his rise in society. He was active as a Presbyterian, in St Gabriel Street Church,
serving for several years on the temporal committee, of which he was the vice-president in 1804. In 1820
he became a director of the Montreal Savings Bank.
By the time of his death in 1826 Gibb had become a wealthy Montrealer. The outstanding
debts owed to his estate amounted to more than £25,482, whilst liabilities amounted to
only £1,112. He had also increased considerably his investments in landed property in
Montreal and elsewhere, particularly by acquiring numerous land grants in Ashton, Sutton,
Elmsley, Ely, Eardley, and Clifton townships as well as in Roxborough Township in Upper
Canada. Benaiah Gibb’s gradual integration into the Montreal bourgeoisie was confirmed
by the careers and marriages of some of his children. His daughter Elizabeth married
James Orkney, a merchant of the firm of J. and R. Orkney. The best known of his sons,
also named Benaiah, consolidated the rise in society that had begun with his father.
He attended to the firm while devoting himself to a passion for art. He took advantage
of business trips to London to buy paintings by young artists “who were generally hard
up [and] willing to sell at a reasonable price.” His collection of 90 paintings and 8
bronzes, as well as a site on Rue Sherbrooke and a sum to be used for building a
gallery, were bequeathed to the Art Association of Montreal. Thus the son of a merchant
tailor played a fundamental role in the founding of an establishment that was closely
connected with the Montreal bourgeoisie, the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts.
Item BU8049 $24.95