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Robert Hamilton Vest

Curated Submission
Late 18th century
DIMENSIONS in centimetres
53 x 35
Materials & techniques
Silk, steel beads; Satin, hand sewn, beaded, embroidered
Niagara Historical Society and Museum 972.65
Ready-made clothing was scarce in Niagara in the late 1700s. While there was demand from the newly arrived Loyalist settlers, there were few skilled tailors, and clothes were expensive. An individual’s wardrobe was limited, and clothing manufactured to last for years. Moreover, cloth was expensive and difficult to obtain in Upper Canada; nearly every yard had to be imported.
This waistcoat was not designed for utility, setting it apart from the clothing worn by most of the early settlers in Niagara in the late 1700s. Adorned with false pockets, floral trim, and steel beads, this silk waistcoat is clearly identifiable as the property of a wealthy individual.
Robert Hamilton, the owner of this garment, was one of the most influential early settlers in Upper Canada. He began his business in 1780 in Queenston and made a fortune provisioning the British military and First Nations refugees from the United States. Supplying these groups required immense resources, and Hamilton was quick to capitalize on the demand. He went on to build an extensive network of merchandising and land speculation, which had a tremendous impact on the settlement pattern of Niagara, most of which he personally oversaw through his active involvement in local politics. Hamilton was criticized for using his positions as Justice of the Peace, Judge of the Court of Common Peace, and Member of the Land Board to advance his own business interests, all of which had a lasting impact on the community at Niagara. A merchant and politician, Hamilton was the main wholesaler of grain, held most of the settlers’ mortgages, supplied a majority of the goods, and was the primary purchaser of the settlers’ land.
This garment would have been worn when Hamilton served in his various court functions and is a fitting reminder of his patronage and power. Hamilton’s legacy is reflected in Niagara to this day in the settlement pattern, the roads, his mansion (Willowbank) at Queenston, and personal artifacts such as this elegant waistcoat.
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