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Articles by Marie Fraser of Canada
Donald Fraser, Quebec Merchant

The story of Donald Fraser (1785-1871), merchant of Quebec, is certainly unusual but after reviewing numerous documents related to his business and personal life, several questions remain unanswered:

-Who was the mother of Donald’s eldest son Thomas (1818-1871) who died in Montreal and predeceased him by two months? 

-Why did Mary McDonald, spinster and mother of Donald’s children born 1824-38 return to Scotland in 1839?

-Why did Donald wait until he was in his 60s before marrying his Irish housekeeper Elizabeth Palmer, spinster and mother of his children born 1839-51?

The Mount Hermon Cemetery stone states that Donald Fraser was born 13 Nov 1785 at Croy, near Inverness, Scotland.  He is presumed to have married Mary McDonald in Inverness in 1817 but, according to Paul Lessard’s research, there is no proof that Thomas was her son.  According to the 1851, 1861 and 1871 Census records, Thomas was born in Quebec, but no record of his baptism has been found.  Why the 6-7 year gap between Thomas and the other children? 

The 1818 Census of the R.C. Parish of Quebec lists the following residing at 21 St Paul st (Lowertown):

Donald Fraser and an English woman; Eusèbe Aímond, aged 15
1 Catholic, 2 Protestants (no trace of Thomas)

On 15 Jan 1818 Donald Fraser gave his power of attorney to George Ross of Quebec recording “my departure from this province.” On 1 May 1819 Donald Fraser of Champlain st, merchant, was Bail and Surety for his brother William Fraser.

William Fraser married Isabella McDonald in Inverness, Scotland and their first son John Donald was baptized there in 1817; he died in 1834 in Quebec.  The other children were Donald (1819), William (1821), Isabella (1823) and Duncan (1825).   

Isabella Fraser, aged 30 years, wife of William Fraser, butcher, was buried 25 March 1827.  The St Andrew’s register contains the entry:  “William Fraser, late of the City of Quebec, Master Butcher, who, as appears from this Coroner’s warrant for burial, not being of sound mind he came to his death on the twenty first Inst by throwing himself into the River St Lawrence.”  Donald Fraser was present at both burials.  On 24 April 1828 he petitioned for an act of tutorship to the minor children of the late William Fraser.  John McBean, uncle, was named tutor.

Donald’s sister Jane had married John McBean in Inverness, Scotland.  Their children were born in Quebec; Janet Wood (1824), Æneas (1826), Donald (1828), Ann (1830) and John Jr (1832).  The McBean family lived in Quebec from 1824 to 1830 before moving to Frampton, Dorchester County.  Janet (Fraser) McBean was 60 years old in the 1861 Census at Frampton, but her husband was not listed.  When Donald Fraser wrote his last will on 22 Jan 1866, his sister Janet was still at Frampton with her son John and daughter Ann.  The Quebec Morning Chronicle reported her death on Thursday, 10 June 1869 as follows: “At Frampton, on the 1st instant, Jane Fraser, relict of the late Mr John McBean, and sister of Donald Fraser, Esq., of this city, aged 72 years.”

Donald Fraser, born in Inverness-shire in 1785, died at Quebec on 15 March 1871, having had children by three women.  I agree with Paul Lessard’s astute assessment that the eldest son Thomas, who died only two months before Donald, was probably not the son of Mary McDonald.  Furthermore, the fact that Donald Fraser had a child from a prior marriage may explain why his relationship with Mary McDonald was not recognized by the minister who baptized their children in Quebec.  I also suspect that Donald Fraser did not, or could not, marry Elizabeth Palmer until he was free to do so, perhaps after the death of the mother of his son Thomas.  The mother of his eldest son is unknown.

The Reverend James Harkness never identified Mary McDonald as the wife of Donald Fraser in the baptism records of their children.  On 22 April 1839, a separation agreement or “Arrangement” was drawn up between Donald Fraser, Merchant and Mary McDonald, Spinster, Mother of several children of whom three were then living; Mary aged 7, Margaret aged 5, Donald aged 10 months, providing an allowance for the care of said children.

The following is an account of the children by Mary McDonald:

Daniel [#1] - baptized 29 Nov 1824.  Witnesses: Donald Fraser, Father; Mary McDonald, Mother.  Daniel Fraser, aged ten months & ten days, was buried 8 Sept 1825.  Witness:  Donald Fraser.

John [#1] - baptized 9 Dec 1825.  Witnesses: Donald Fraser; Mary McDonald.  John Fraser, aged eight months & twenty-three days, was buried 13 Aug 1826.  Witness: Donald Fraser.

Isabella - baptized 13 Aug 1827.  Witnesses: Donald Fraser, Father; Mary McDonald, Mother.   Isabella Fraser, aged seventeen months, was buried 11 Dec 1828.  Witness: Donald Fraser.

William - baptized 10 Aug 1830.  Witness:  D. Fraser, Father; Mary McDonald, Mother.  William Clark Fraser, aged two years & sixty-nine days, was buried 10 Aug 1832.

Maria Clark - baptized 21 Aug 1832.  Father not present.  Witness: Mary McDonald, Mother.  Maria Clark Fraser married Alexander Watson in Scotland on 20 June 1850 and was living in Fortrose in 1871.  Of their 10 children, one was born in Cromarty, two in Inverness, three in Glasgow/Govan, Lanarkshire and four in Rosemarkie, Ross-shire.

Margaret - baptized 10 Mar 1834.  Margaret Fraser married the Reverend Ferdinand Dunn on 16 May 1861 in Inverness, Scotland.  In the Rosemarkie Parish Churchyard a tombstone reads:  Erected by Revd F. Dunn, Baptist Minister, Fortrose, in memory of Maggie Fraser, his dearly beloved wife, who died 10th Aug 1872, aged 37 years, her dying saying “Precious Jesus”; and their three dear children who died in infancy; and their very beloved daughter Annie, who departed this life 26th Decr 1885, aged 17 years; D.F. Dunn, died Oct 7th 1899, aged 33 years; Margaret Amelia Dunn, died 25th Decr 1905, aged 43 years; also to the memory of the said Revd F. Dunn, who died 22nd Aug 1906, aged 76 years. 

Daniel [#2] - baptized 17 July 1838.  Witness: Mary McDonald.  Daniel Fraser was living in Glasgow in 1871 but his death record has not been found.

Mary McDonald returned to Scotland in 1839 with her surviving children [Maria, Margaret & Daniel] and was living at Fortrose in 1871 but her death record has not been found.

The following is an account of the children by Elizabeth Palmer:

John [#2] - baptized 26 May 1839, son of John Fraser, laborer, and of Elizabeth, by her maiden name, Palmer.  Present: John Palmer, his mark.  The Mt Hermon Cemetery stone proves the discrepancy.  “In memory of Major John Fraser / late of the RCGA / son of the late Donald Fraser / born May 5th 1839 / died Aug. 15th 1919.”  The Quebec Morning Chronicle, Wednesday, 10 Sept 1890 reports the death, in Kingston, of Susan Jane Barrow, beloved wife of Major John Fraser, Regiment Canadian Artillery; not buried in Quebec.

Eliza Ann - born 13 July 1840; baptism record has not been found.  She married Benjamin Gale, a widower, of St Augustin. The marriage contract, 15 Dec 1866, is between Benjamin Gale, Clerk in the Sheriff Office and Eliza Ann Fraser, eldest daughter of Donald Fraser, retired Merchant.

Daniel Palmer - baptized 29 May 1842.  Donald Fraser, aged seven years, was buried 22 June 1849.  Present: Donald Fraser, Archd Fraser.  [see brief biographical sketch of Archibald Fraser, master mason, architect and builder, then living in Quebec, at end of this article]

Isabella - baptized 12 Jan 1845. She married James Harkness Green, son of Benjamin Green and Isabella Cameron.  The marriage contract, 13 Dec 1869, is between James Harkness Green of Mount Pleasant, Quebec City and Arabella Fraser, daughter of Donald Fraser, retired Merchant of Bona Place, Grande Allée, Quebec City.

Flora - born 8 Dec 1847; baptism record has not been found.  She married William Lee, merchant taylor, widower.  The marriage contract, 17 Sep 1869, is between Flora Fraser, daughter of Donald Fraser and Elizabeth Palmer and William Lee, son of John Lee of Cork, merchant taylor, and of Ellen Reerdon.  The Quebec Chronicle, Saturday, 8 June 1935 reports: “The funeral of Mrs. Flora Lee, of Moose Jaw, Sask., widow of the late William Lee, for many years Mayor of Notre-Dame de Quebec (now part of Montcalm Ward), was held yesterday from Union Station to Mount Hermon Cemetery.”

Isabel Jane - baptized 2 Nov 1851.  Sponsors: Ann Palmer; Esther Palmer, her mark.  Isabel Fraser married Robert Nathan, widower, tobacconist.  Witness: John Fraser.  In the 1881 Census for St Jean Ward, Quebec City, Isabel Nathan was married, had a child, and resided with her mother and aunt; her husband was absent.

On 31 Dec 1857 a marriage contract was signed between Donald Fraser, merchant, residing d’Artigny st and Elizabeth Palmer.   In a joint letter [now missing], Donald was over 60 years; Elizabeth was in her 39th year.  He was owner of 68,000 Arpents in Mont Louis.

Donald Fraser died 15 March 1871, aged 85 y, 4 m (86th year).  His remains are interred in Mt Hermon Cemetery Lot Q296. Elizabeth Palmer died 9 Sept 1886, wife of the late Donald Fraser, merchant.  Although the Mt Hermon Cemetery register lists her age as 84, the Mt Hermon Cemetery stone states she was 75.  According to the Census records, she was about 67.

However, the most useful information was obtained from the last will and testament of Donald Fraser, 22 Jan 1866, wherein he refers to the surviving members of his family:

To my son Thomas Fraser, having transferred to him the first day of May 1851 my entire business.

To my grandson Donald, the son of Thomas Fraser aforesaid.

To Mary McDonald, formerly of Quebec but now of Fortrose in Scotland, residing with her two daughters, Maria and Margaret.

To Maria and Margaret, daughters of the said Mary McDonald.

To Donald Fraser, son of Mary McDonald, now of the Bank of Mona at Douglas in the Isle of Man.

To my wife Eliza Fraser; my house and property situated on the said Grande Allée or Saint Louis Road where we now reside. [William Lee, 42 Grande Allée, who had married Flora Fraser, resided in Bona Place until 1903/04-1909 when H.B. Bignell is listed.  The house is situated at the corner of Du Parc ave & St Louis road, in front of the Battlefields Park.]

To my daughters: Eliza Ann, Arabella, Flora and Isabel Jane.

To my son John.

To my sister Jane Fraser, widow of the late John MacBain (sic), now residing at Frampton.

To my half-sister Mary Fraser, wife of William McDonald in Edinburgh, which halfsister I have never seen.

The 1st Codicil to the Last Will of Donald Fraser, dated 18 May 1867, refers to various family members; and the 2nd Codicil, dated 11 Feb 1871, gives updated information on family members. 

On 29 March 1871 an Inventory is drawn up of the effects belonging to the Estate of the late Donald Fraser.  On 3 April 1871 a power of attorney is prepared, whereby Elizabeth Fraser appoints Wm Walker her true and lawful attorney; followed by documents of Quittance from family members in Canada, Chicago and Scotland.

Thomas Fraser (1818-1871) inherited the bulk of Donald’s estate, although he died in Montreal on 18 Jan 1871, having predeceased his father by two months. 

The Quebec Morning Chronicle, Tuesday, 13 March 1866, gives notice that Thomas Fraser, East India Wharf, 4 Arthur st Lower Town, having acquired, by purchase from his father, the Seigniory of Mont Louis, situated on the South Shore of the River St Lawrence, in the District of Gaspé, is offering this property for sale.  The 1866/67 Quebec Directory lists Thomas Fraser at 41 St Ursule st Upper Town.   In 1867 he came to Montreal and resided at 32 McGill College, where his widow lived until her death in 1895, with her son Septimus, a blind pianist and teacher of music. 

The following is a brief account of the children of Thomas Fraser Sr and Elizabeth Hamley Thomson; both were present at the baptisms of their children in Quebec Congregational Society. 

Donald - baptized 26 Sept 1845.  The 1869/70 Montreal Directory lists Donald Fraser, M.D., 21 Beaver Hall Terrace.  On 5 Aug 1871 Donald Fraser of Chicago, Illinois is a Physician and Surgeon.  The 1881 Census lists Donald Fraser, aged 34, divorced, born Canada.  He was a witness at the wedding of his sister, Elizabeth H.

Charles Thomson - baptized 29 Aug 1847.  He married Sarah Ann Kirkpatrick, daughter of Andrew Kirkpatrick and Mary Quigley. 

Elizabeth Hambly & Thomas [#1] - baptized 3 Dec 1849.  Thomas died 9 Sept 1850, aged 10 months and a few days; his remains are interred in Mt Hermon Cemetery, which had opened in June 1848.  His twin sister Elizabeth married William Wright.

Emma Wood - baptized Sept-Oct 1853.   Emma Wood Fraser married John Henry Elliott of Montreal, son of John and Elizabeth Elliott. According to the newspapers, John Henry Elliott was missing since Monday, 26 Sept and the body was discovered on Sunday, Oct 2.  “The deceased was about thirty years of age and leaves a wife and small family to mourn his loss.”   In 1892-93 Emma was living with her brother Septimus and mother Elizabeth.  About 1901 Emma married Clephane Kerr, an engineer.  Mrs. E. Kerr may have died outside Quebec.

Thomas [#2] - baptized 26 Mar 1854.  He married Mary Elizabeth Bulmer, daughter of John Bulmer and Elizabeth Ladd.  The Montreal Daily Star, Monday, 30 Nov 1928 reports the death of Thomas Fraser in his 78th year.  “He leaves his widow, Mary Elizabeth Bulmer; three sons, John Gordon, Campbell Clephane (Happy) and Leslie Sutherland; a fourth son Thomas Reginald having died four years ago; four daughters, Miss Mabel Fraser, Mrs Olive Mann, Mrs Charles F. Morison, and Miss Gertrude Fraser; one brother, Septimus, and one sister, Mrs Clephane Kerr.” 

Septimus - baptized 24 Dec 1856.  He married Emily Georgina Moore, daughter of George and Mary Moore (née Moore) formerly of England and now of Montreal.

However, without knowing the identity of his mother, the story of Thomas Fraser (1818-1871) can only be regarded as incomplete, as evidenced by the genealogy of many families, in Scotland and elsewhere.

Parents of Donald Fraser
The Quebec Gazette, 29 Feb. 1840, reported: At Campbell Town, North Britain, aged 85, Mr. John Fraser, the father of Mr. Donald Fraser, merchant of this city.  Such news often took time to travel from Scotland to Canada, as evidenced by the following monumental inscription: 

Old Churchyard, Petty, Inverness-shire MI #145 - {Slab}  In memory of John Fraser, late of Campbelltown, who was born on the 20th day of September in the year of our Lord 1753 and departed this life on the first day of Septr. 1838, aged 85 years; and of Isabel Clark, his first wife, the only child of John Clark of Dores by his first wife, who departed this life on the [blank] day of March 1796, aged 39 years.  This stone has been raised by their son Donald Fraser, merchant of the City of Quebec, North America 1845.

Archibald Fraser, Master mason, architect and builder

Archibald Fraser was present with Donald Fraser at the burial of Daniel in 1849.  Kathleen M. Toomey in Alexander Macdonell The Scottish Years 1762-1804 (The Canadian Catholic Historical Association, Toronto, 1985) refers to Archibald Fraser, who came from Edinburgh ca 1819 at the request of the Reverend (later Bishop) Alexander Macdonell (1762-1840) to build St Raphael’s church.  He built “Fraserfield” for Col. Alexander Fraser and several government and private buildings in Kingston, Cobourg, Colborne and Quebec. According to Quebec City: Architects, Artisans, and Builders, he was bankrupt by 1851 owing money to Donald Fraser of Quebec and Mont Louis seigneury in the Gaspé Peninsula (a relentless creditor). Archibald Fraser left Quebec ca 1851, went to New York, then to Philadelphia (where his sons Robert and John were merchants), and in 1852 to Austin, Texas; he died ca 1853, probably in Texas. 


The above article was originally published in the Clan Fraser Society of Canada newsletter, Canadian Explorer, March 2004, and may not be reproduced, without written permission.

Marie Fraser, Clan Fraser Society of Canada

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