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Villages & Entrepreneurs (1840-1860)

William Miller's Ambrotype

William Miller

A mid-19th Century ambrotype of William Miller, a prominent Napanee businessman

William Miller grew up on a farm just north of Bath. His grandfather, Andrew Miller, one of the area's first settlers, had served with the King's Royal Regiment of New York during the Revolutionary War. At the age of eighteen, William moved to Kingston, finding work as a clerk in Gunn's General Store. After several years of serving his employer, William developed a keen business sense. His father was so impressed that he helped William establish his own business in Napanee's East Ward in 1856. Assessment Rolls list him as a tenant on lot 2, north side of Dundas Street. DISCOVER MOREReadmore Arrow

William married Elizabeth MacGillivary, only daughter of William MacGillivray and Nancy's Asselstine . Their wedding was performed by Reverend W.B. Lauder June 8, 1858. William's in-laws, William and Nancy McGillivray, had moved to Napanee from Asselstine Factory by 1855. The McGillivray's frame house was in the Mill Reserve on Thomas Street, east of East Street. William McGillivary was a member of the first Village Council.

In 1859, Miller built a brick store in East Ward on lot 3, north side of Dundas. His store shows in a Benson glass plate taken about 1864. Shortly after he built his new store, William's brother, Davis H. Miller, came to Napanee to operate as a grain merchant. Although the brothers often consulted each other, they were never officially business partners. Business records were kept in a handsome neoclassical style secretary desk (ca. 1850) with an upper-book case, locking doors, interior drawers and compartments. The desk folds out using two large brass hinges.

Advertising on crockery from the store indicates that Miller dealt in dry goods, groceries and liquors. These crocks often included hand painted decorations. A store tea caddy once held gunpowder and hyson (green) teas.

In 1865, William became a member of Napanee's first Town Council. His father-in-law was Deputy Reeve. In 1871, Miller represented Napanee on County Council and was elected Warden.

William Miller retired from the mercantile business in the 1870's but kept an office in the Miller block. He turned his activities to money lending and real estate dealings. In 1874, William purchased the block of land adjacent to the Court House, bounded by Isabella, East, and Thomas Streets, from the Cartwright Family. The following year, he built a large Italianate-styled brick house with servants' wing, on the corner of Thomas and East Streets, just west of the MacGillivray's where his mother-in-law Nancy lived. His father-in-law had died in 1869.

He acquired a finely carved and proportioned Gibbard sideboard for his new home. Family tradition relates that the sideboard had won an award at a Provincial Exhibition in Montreal before being acquired. The sideboard, with detailed relief carvings of snipe, fox and lion heads, reflects William Miller's favorite pastime of hunting. William regularly went on large hunting expeditions and in November 1898 survived four days alone in the wilderness after becoming separated from his hunting party. He survived only by chance, finding an abandoned cabin to provide shelter until he was rescued by another hunting party.

William Miller also loved horses. He owned a team of roadsters and enjoying nothing more than riding behind his horses on a fine day. William Miller and several other public-spirited citizens, among them His Honour Judge Wilkison, Nelson Doller and Stephen Gibson, established a beautiful a driving park in the west end of Napanee.

On May 10, 1903, William Miller passed away after a long illness, but was fondly remembered by those who knew him for his keen business sense and his commitment to the local community.

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