New Brunswick History and Other Stuff

The New Brunswick Election of 1785

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From the blog at

The following is extracted from The London Lawyer, a Biographical Sketch of Elias Hardy, by W.O. Raymond, and is the story of the New Brunswick election of 1785. It is a tale of controversy, conflict and violence and was just one element causing unhappiness and complaint among the Loyalists of Parr Town, Saint John.

The Loyalists of that time have sometimes been thought of as malcontents, but this is not true. In fact, they were unhappy with the way in which the revolutionary war had been fought; and the terms of the final peace; and the attempt of some privileged Loyalists (the “fifty-five”) to be given preferential compensation; and the failure of the Parr and Carleton administrations to move them out of Parr Town and onto their grants of land.

The best book that I have ever read about this era is Loyalist Rebellion in New Brunswick, a Defining Conflict for Canada’s Political Culture, by D.G. Bell, Formac Publishing Co, Ltd., Halifax, 2013. This book is recommended, as are any of Bell’s books and other writings.

Raymond’s treatment of the election is very good, except that he portrays the Loyalists as a noble people with a few rowdies mixed in to spoil their otherwise spotless reputation. This portrait has long been replaced, and the Loyalists are now seen as a mixture of ordinary New Englanders who reacted to events no differently than would you or I.

Jonathan Bliss

Jonathan Bliss, one of the successful candidates

From the Walters Art Museum, via the Dictionary of Canadian Biography

Brunswick Election of 1785

[“The ruin this settlement has already suffered, is now suffering, and is likely to suffer hereafter, from the delays of locating the lands, etc.” … represented quite an element in the community, and one which made its influence felt in the first election campaign held in the city of St. John.]

The candidates at this election on the government side were Jonathan Bliss, Ward Chipman, Christopher Billopp, William Pagan, John McGeorge and Stephen Hoyt. (The place of the latter gentleman on the ticket was afterwards taken by Stanton Hazard). On the opposition side the candidates were Tertullus Dickenson, Richard Lightfoot, Richard Bonsall, Peter Grim, John Boggs and Alexander Reid.

The franchise was as broad and democratic as it could well be made. The sheriff, Wm. S. Oliver, announced in the Royal Gazette, under date October 18, 1785: “All males of full age, inhabitants of the city and county, that have resided three months therein are entitled to their votes on this occasion.”

There were several independent candidates, but the issue eventually resolved itself into a contest between the government and the opposition tickets. A variety of issues intensified the feeling. It was in a measure a contest between the aristocracy and democracy of the day. It was also in some measure a contest of Upper Cove versus Lower Cove. In regard to the political questions at issue, the government ticket in the main endorsed the conduct of the agents of the Loyalists, whilst the opposition demanded that a strict enquiry should he made into the conduct of these officials. The columns of Christopher Sower’s Royal Gazette were filled with long communications from the belligerent parties on either side. A writer who signs himself “The Lower Cove,” claims that the first act of the assembly should be the impeachment of the agents for their fraudulent conduct. In reply to the strictures of his opponents. Attorney General Bliss stated that the courts were always open with powers competent to the trial of all crimes and engaged on his part to give due attention to any person who would now come forth with a specific charge against the agents of any crime demanding a public prosecution. That if a representation as talked of should be made to the king, complaining of the conduct of the agents as a public grievance, all that could be expected would be an order to the attorney general to institute a prosecution and that he was now ready to do this without such order upon an accusation being made on sufficient grounds of any particular crime.

It is curious to note that on the government ticket were two of the famous “fifty-five” petitioners, viz: Christopher Billopp and Ward Chipman, and that the leader of the opposition was Tertellus Dickenson, one of the committee of four who waited on Sir Guy Carleton with the memorial in opposition to the claims of the “fifty-five.” An attempt seems also to have been made to secure the services of Samuel Hake, another member of the committee. One of his friends in a letter which appeared in the Royal Gazette of Nov. 1st, 1785, recommends him as “a gentleman whose judicious and spirited exertions in favor of the Loyalists both in New York and England have already procured him general applause and admiration and entitled him to the gratitude of every good subject in this province.” Samuel Hake, the correspondent, adds is hourly expected here as his majesty’s commissary of stores and provisions.

An attempt was also made to enlist the services of Elias Hardy, but that gentleman wisely declined identifying himself with either party, particularly as the way was open for him to obtain a seat in the assembly without the doubtful chances of election in St. John. He accordingly published the following card:

Mr. Hardy returns his thanks to such of his friends who have been pleased to declare their intention of voting for him in the election as a representative of this city; but begs that they will not reserve their votes as he does not propose offering himself as a candidate.

St. John, October 17, 1785

He was thus able to stand aloof from the riotous proceedings which characterized the first St. John election. His own return to the house as a member for Northumberland was secured by the influence of his client, Wm. Davidson, of Miramichi. This incident was not particularly agreeable to Chipman and his friends, who professed to have a poor opinion of Hardy’s abilities, and were disposed to frown upon his pretensions. The following brief record of the election in Northumberland is taken from the diary of Benjamin Marston, first sheriff of the county, and a warm personal friend of Ward Chipman:—

Wednesday, Nov. 2, 1785—Posted up advertisements for a meeting of the county to elect two members for the general assembly—one at G. Brown’s, one at Wilson’s tavern, one at McLean’s store, one at Negayack, one at Reid’s store, and one at Alex. Henderson’s.

Thursday, Nov. 17—Today held an election for two members in the general assembly. Wm. Davidson, an inhabitant of the river, an ignorant, cunning fellow (sic), but who has great influence over the people here, many of them holding land under him, and many others being in his employ was chosen for one and by the same influence Elias Hardy, an attorney of no great reputation in his profession, an inhabitant of the city of St. John, was chosen for the other. This will disappoint some of my friends who hoped that George Leonard. Esq., and Capt. Stanton Hazard would have obtained the election. But ’twas impossible. They were unknown here and we who proposed a recommendation for them were but strangers. ’Tis therefore no wonder we did not succeed against an artful man who had an influence and knew how to use it.”

The election at St. John began on Monday, the 7th day of November, and the poll was held from day to day at different places in the city and county, the voting continuing throughout the week. The first two days the election proceeded quietly, but on the evening of the third day a tremendous riot occurred at the Mallard House, corner King and Germain streets, in which the Lower Cove faction was the attacking party. A number were injured on both sides, and it was found necessary to call out the troops stationed at Fort Howe to support the civic authorities. Several arrests were made, one of the opposition candidates being included in the number. At the trial, in May following, three of the rioters were found guilty and punished by fine and imprisonment.

After the close of the polls the results of the election was in dispute, both of the contending parties claiming a majority. Sheriff Oliver, however, declared the choice of the electorate to have fallen upon Messrs. Bliss, Chipman, Billopp, Pagan, Hazard and McGeorge. The opposition did not acquiesce without a struggle; a protest was entered, complaining of an … election, and the matter came before the house of assembly, which confirmed the election of the government candidates. This decision was not accepted by some of the malcontents, who drew up and signed a petition to Governor Carleton specifying their grievances and calling upon his excellency to dissolve the house. This petition, as appears from a copy in possession of the writer, is a curious document; the sentences in many cases decidedly ungrammatical, and mistakes in spelling neither few nor far between. It was the production evidently of a man of decided views but of limited education. It bears the signatures of 174 individuals, the majority of whom belonged to the Lower Cove. Very few of the signers were prominent citizens. The petitioners assert that since their arrival at St. John they have been the victims of “a most oppressive tyranny,” which have been patiently borne “under the firm persuasion of being relieved from their bondage upon his excellency’s arrival.” Commenting on the proceedings at the recent election, they say:—

“We have publicly seen British subjects confined in irons, carried into a garrison and there examined under the authority of a military guard: and prosecutions still hanging over their heads for supposed offences. One of our legal representatives (i.e., in the assembly ) confined in a sentry-box at the discretion of a private soldier—the military introduced and unnecessarily and unlawfully patrolling the streets during an election to the terror and alarm of the peaceable, inoffensive inhabitants—crown officers neglecting and refusing to discharge their duty—the freedom of election violated by corrupt and undue influence in the most public manner—the returning officer behaving with the most unconstitutional and unprecedented conduct—irreligion and immorality, instead of being punished, incoraged both by precept and example—the house of assembly declaring the election for this city and county to have fallen upon Jonathan Bliss, Ward Chipman, Christopher Billopp, William Pagan, Stanton Hazard and John McGeorge whom they have admitted and sworn in as members for the city and county notwithstanding Turtullus Dickenson, Ritchard Lightfoot, Richard Bonsall, Petter Grim, John Boggs and Alexander Reid were chosen by a decided majority, according to your excellency’s own regulations.”

The petitioners appealed to the governor for a dissolution of the house, which, they add, “will give his majesty’s affectionate people an opportunity of manifesting their zeal for the constitution by a nomination of men who will regard the honor of the crown and support the rights of the people.” The petition concludes with the somewhat defiant words: “As we by no means think we are represented in the present house of assembly, we can on no account conceive ourselves bound by any laws made by them so unconstitutionally composed.”

Governor Carleton declined to interfere in the matter. Indeed, as a constitutional ruler, he would not have been justified in so doing, in view of the fact that Attorney General Bliss and his colleagues had been returned by the sheriff as duly elected, and that the house of assembly, after due consideration of the protest entered against the election, had confirmed the Sheriff’s return.

In his speech at the opening of the first house of assembly at St. John, January 3rd, 1786, the governor refers to the great necessity of “discouraging all factions and party distinctions, and cauleating the utmost harmony and good will between the newly arrived Loyalists and those of his majesty’s subjects formerly resident in the province.” There cannot be the slightest doubt of the governor’s wisdom in the advice here tendered both as regards the necessity of discouraging the factions spirit which had shown itself in the ranks of the Loyalists themselves, and also as to the desirability of cultivating friendly relations between the Loyalists and the old inhabitants of the country. True the latter had not always been the most loyal subjects of old King George and many of them during the revolutionary war had shown more than an inclination to side with the majority of their New England neighbors, but to have banished these old settlers from the St. John River, and to have confiscated their lands on this account, would have been an act of short-sighted folly, equal to that of which the American people were guilty, when by edicts of banishment and acts of confiscation they drove out the Loyalists from their old homes to build up a rival nation at their very doors.

The riotous proceedings which characterized the first St. John election, will, perhaps, shock the tender susceptibilities of those good people who are wont to suppose that the loyal founders of New Brunswick were an ideal class of men and free from all ignoble passions. The fact is otherwise, and in the interests of historic accuracy we may as well admit it. True, the general character of the Loyalists stands high, and will bear a more than favorable comparison with that of their enemies in the revolutionary war. As a body they displayed admirable self-sacrifice and devotion to duty, but in their ranks were many whose reputation is not unstained. At a time when common misfortune should have united one and all in the effort to advance their mutual welfare the spirit of selfishness and of jealousy and suspicion were by no means wanting. When the old province of Nova Scotia was divided and the new province established there ensued, on the part of many of the more educated and aristocratic class, an undignified scramble for office. Amongst the disbanded soldiery and uneducated class of the community a spirit of discontent prevailed, combined with disrespect for lawfully constituted authority, and in many instances a tendency to intemperate habits.

[W.O. Raymond then continues with his biographical sketch of Elias Hardy.]


Written by johnwood1946

September 2, 2015 at 9:06 AM

Posted in Uncategorized

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