W2652 TO DR. CALVIN BROOKS MCQUESTEN from his brother Isaac McQuesten
Aug 2 1884
To: Calvin McQuesten
From: Hespeler, Ont.
My dear Brother
The fearful heat of the fort-week made me conclude to take it easy for a few days at home, consequently I did not go to Hamilton as I expected last Saturday; went on Tuesday but found the city so intolerable that I attended to a few necessary matter [sic] & came home again. Perhaps nothing is lost by the delay. As to Dunn: I wish I had never seen the stupid fraud.1 As it is we may as well [needle??] what we can out of him. To bring matters to a crisis had you not better mail him enclosed letter. I would have done so & sent you copy, but it occured to me that something might have happened since last hearing from you that might make a change of [??] desirable. By mailing in envelope addressed by us he may not notice American stamp, & if he does it does not much matter. This will give him the chance to play the scamp out & out without any concealment. At the same time if he has any friend that will come to his rescue this will give him a chance. He is bound by his agreement in conjunction with former letter to yield up not only Patent paper but all [plant??], dies, tools, in fact everything belonging to or in any wise appertaining to the patented articles. In fact I suppose he is liable [as he??] infringes on the patent for having any of them in his posession. I am the proprietor of the Patent. The only rights he can shew [sic] are under [actor??] & agreement and he will not be permitted to set up non-performance on his part as an excuse for keeping them. And he is certainly liable from this time forth for making a single sale. He has no right to [1/5, 2/5?] or any other interest under any of the Patents. Now as to the forge You must do as you see fit about that: I know nothing about it & it must be a matter of independent deal on your part I believe [ideal??] to have no [further?] transaction with him unless it be taking the necessary steps to have patents models &c. transferred. He has always professed to play the honourable. He now can shew just what he is. I will write no more just now re patents but wait developments.
A few days rest make us feel wonderfully better. I think I am getting to know myself so that I can get over these [??]; but I have to watch myself at every point And that is not much fun. I had no idea what a horrible thing this want of sleep is. it is not so much the actual want of rest as the dreadful [??] you go through, & which all disappear the moment you stand on your feet. It gives one a sympathy for others and as he cannot feel without undergoing it himself.
We are all wonderfully well. Mary better than for years. [??] is in wonderful [??] and a steady week at from 88 degrees to 98 degrees has not affected the children atall [sic]. The air though hot here is very good. We have got even stock about worked up now in wool. And when times get better will soon start down. In cotton I cannot explain it. But we are getting all we can do and at our own price. One reason in using it [as??] [??] revolves in a [conjunction??] with and we can advise [woolen??] mill buying from us in a way that a cotton mill plain & simple cannot. Of course our machinery is the latest in any mill making only yarn.2
The [??] now 7.30 a.m. [??] at 1.4". Will expect to hear from N.Y. in a few days.
Yours as ever
[P.S.] Better register letter to Dunn.
1 In December of 1883, Dunn had made an agreement to repay Isaac for $600 that he had invested in Dunn's train car coupler patents, as well as patents for seal locks, band saws and boiler feeders. However, he was to have done this within six months time, and it is quite apparent that he did not accomplish this as Isaac and Calvin Brooks eventually considered suing him. It is not certain whether or not they did so or whether Dunn eventually repaid Isaac in full (see W2609 and links). For more on Dunn, see W2554a.
2 Isaac McQuesten and John Harvey were business partners in the Hespeler Manufacturing Co., which they and J. Schofield had organized in 1881. After Schofield left in 1885, Harvey and McQuesten organized the Hespeler Woolen and Cotton Manufacturing Co. The factory, a four-storey stone building with an external tower and several other buildings, had been built on the remains of the original three-storey woolen mill built by the city's founder, Jacob Hespeler, in the 1860s. (The original building had been gutted by fire in 1869.) Unfortunately, this new venture ran into significant difficulties shortly after its inception and the mill failed by the end of 1887, with liabilities amounting to $900,000 (Minnes, 1-2). A few months later, on March 7, 1888, Isaac died in the Whitehern library after experiencing a significant decline in his physical and mental health.
It is possible (though not certain) that Isaac's death was caused by an overdose or other complications from drug or alcohol use, as it appears that Isaac had struggled with addictions during various periods of his adult life. During his university years, his drinking had nearly destroyed his relationship with his future wife, Mary Baker McQuesten, who eventually married him on June 18, 1873, despite her opposition to his habit.
In the late 1880s, Isaac's mental health took an alarming down-swing and his physician, Dr. Mullin, wrote very gingerly of Isaac to his brother, Dr. Calvin Brooks McQuesten (W1559, W2511, W4327, W4331).
It is not clear exactly why the mill failed so badly, but Isaac's poor health may have contributed to his business troubles. Additionally, his behaviour over the years may lend some clues as to how he handled, and possibly mishandled, his affairs.
To begin with, Isaac, a lawyer by trade, had a tendency to manipulate the affairs of his family. Starting in the early 1870s, he battled his stepmother, Elizabeth Fuller McQuesten, over control of his father's estate and will. He tried to convince his father to separate from Elizabeth and considered causing "a rupture between them" (W2383). He convinced his father, Dr. Calvin McQuesten, to sign documents intended to alter Elizabeth's inheritance and prevent her from exerting too much influence over her husband, but in 1885 Dr. McQuesten signed yet another document in which he retracted some of his earlier statements (W0234, Box 14-103, W-MCP5-6.351).
Interestingly, it seems that Isaac already had unlimited access to his father's considerable wealth, from which he drew funds for his own and his brother's use, even though both were working professionals. However, it seems that Isaac received the greatest advantage from this money, and although he promised to increase his brother's allowances from the estate, he later made excuses for not sending money as promised (W2398, W2428). It appears that Calvin Brooks distrusted his brother; in letters to his lawyer he indicates that he felt Isaac had not been honest about financial matters and had even taken advantage of him (W1652, W1755). Additionally, Isaac was sometimes abusive and insulting towards Calvin Brooks in his letters, but often completely changed his tone within a few lines and proceeded to act the part of the sweet and affectionate brother (W2389, W2503, W2504).
In the late 1870s, Isaac provided money to William Dunn, who was attempting to sell his machine patents to industrialists for profit, although he never made much money and was always apologizing for his poor performance. It is hard to determine whether Dunn was merely an incompetent salesman or whether he was taking advantage of Isaac, but eventually, the McQuesten brothers contemplated suing him (W2554a). It is not clear whether they were able to recover all of the money they had invested.
To date, we have not located any letters to or from John Harvey, but one letter from Isaac to his brother provides an interesting and remarkably unflattering picture of Isaac's character and business practices. He writes:
"I have had the pleasure of Harvey being in the sulks half the time because I have docked off all revenue to him in the shape of profit on stock, buying nearly all elsewhere & from the same source that he would buy, & in some cases even cheaper than he could get it for. So far there has been no open quarrel between us. But I hold the stronger hand ... I know his hand in a way & to an extent that he has no suspicion of" (W2504).
This suggests that Isaac may have been in a position to manipulate the finances of the mill and even use Harvey's share of profits without his consent. In this letter, he seems to be gloating about having the upper hand. Later, while deep in a depression, Isaac writes to his brother about Harvey, and although he appears to take the blame for the business failures, he claims that "[Harvey's] influence has been in every way for evil" (W2511).
In general, Isaac appeared to be manipulative if not outright controlling in money matters, and his relationships and business suffered for it. While his suspicions of Elizabeth Fuller McQuesten, William Dunn, and John Harvey may have been justified to some degree, it is interesting to note that he never ceases to end up in adversarial relationships. Considering that his own brother deemed him to be untrustworthy, this likely has as much to do with Isaac's personal failings as it does his unfortunate choices in business ventures.