The Saint Lawrence valley after the British conquest of Canada sheltered a people uncertain of its destiny. For most of the century the habitants, taught to obey the priest, the seigneur and the captain of the militia, had to adjust to an alien culture. Aaron Hart was about as alien as anybody they encountered after their royal masters returned forever to France. A Jew, an entrepreneurial merchant, an English emigre ignorant of a Catholic sense of the proper order, the newcomer to Trois-Rivieres seemed an unlikely fixture in a town of coureurs de bois, tradesmen and clerics. While the church bell rang for Sunday mass and the Ursuline sisters carried out their devotions in the convent down the road, Aaron Hart would be planning the next expedition to gather furs in the hinterland. In the Chateau Saint-Louis downstream in Quebec City even a British governor assumed that these "licentious fanatics trading here" would eventually return to their homelands.
Nevertheless, Aaron Hart, the outsider striving for wealth and security in the colony at a time when most Americans were chafing under British rule, makes two fateful choices over a span of a half dozen years. The first leads to a sojourn in London to marry Dorothea Judah, who would give him not only heirs -- four sons and four daughters survive to adulthood -- but also the implicit covenant that all his forebears had also assumed. The second decision, in 1775, is a more difficult one. Should he remember his British origins and give service to the King? Or take up the cause of the colonists opposing rule from across an ocean?
This is the first of five books that collectively trace the genesis of a dynasty ushered in duringcolonial strife. After the American Revolution three generations of Harts influenced Quebec history in many different ways. The story begins in 1769, six months after the birth of Moses, the eldest of Aaron Hart's many children, and concludes in 1852 with his death. In those eighty-odd years Quebec evolved from a feudal society spread along both sides of the mighty Fleuve Saint-Laurent into a mosaic of multilingual and urbanized communities not too different from the other societies that were emerging in the New World. Moses Hart personally mirrored that process, learning business practices from his father and yet challenging parental authority in order to develop his intellectual and commercial instincts and to live and love in his own way. Before his demise, Moses Hart was one the province's richest landlord and a leading banker, brewer and ship owner. His brothers were no less mercantilist in their outlook, albeit Ezekiel was better known as the elected official who was turned away at the legislature's door at a time when Jews were barred from official British institutions. And Benjamin, thirty years later, makes his mark as a magistrate who personally jails the leaders of the patriote rebellion. By that time, however, Aaron Hart's progeny had spawned children with loyalties, often contrary to each other, that would reshape the fate of this dynasty.