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James Brown
Businessman and Politician

BROWN, JAMES, farmer, teacher, and politician; b. 6 Sept. 1790 at Glamis near Dundee, Scotland, son of James Brown and Janet Douglas; m. in 1817 Sarah Sharman, by whom he had four sons and three daughters, and in 1842 Catherine Gillespie, née Cameron, by whom he had four sons and three daughters; d. 18 April 1870 at Tower Hill near St Andrews, N.B.

James Brown was educated in Scotland and immigrated in 1810 to St Andrews, arriving “a friendless boy” on the brig Hector. He bought land at Tower Hill in Charlotte County where he farmed and taught school for a number of years.

Brown unsuccessfully contested a Charlotte County seat in the assembly in the 1827 general election, but was returned in 1830 and held the seat in the 1834, 1837, 1842, and 1846 elections. Like most other mhas Brown did not have strong party affiliation, though he was closest to such Reformers as Lemuel Allan Wilmot* and Charles Fisher*. He supported measures which were considered progressive and which contributed to the material development of the province, and he opposed the maintenance of special privileges. His ability and his dedication to the improvement of New Brunswick were recognized by his appointment in 1838 as government supervisor of the great road from Fredericton to St Andrews. The construction of this road to link Charlotte County with the capital was important to Brown, since he had himself often travelled from Tower Hill to Fredericton on foot and on horseback. He devoted a great deal of effort to the project, and the experience he gained in road and bridge construction was to prove useful in later years.

Brown’s experience as a teacher was called upon in 1844 when he was appointed, along with Dr Sylvester Zolieski Earle* and John Gregory, to examine the condition of grammar schools in the province. Throughout the latter part of the year he made copious notes on the numerous schools he visited in the southern and western part of the province. The report of the commissioners, presented to the assembly in February 1845, resembles Brown’s comments in his notes and diary entries in the incisive and sometimes harsh judgements of educational progress and the abilities of teachers. Brown considered the Wesleyan Academy in Sackville to be “perhaps, the very best Educational Establishment in the Province.”

His continuing interest in education and in equality of opportunity was recognized again in 1854 when he was appointed, with John Hamilton Gray*, Egerton Ryerson*, John William Dawson*, and John Simcoe Saunders* to inquire into the state of King’s College, Fredericton [see Edwin Jacob]. They examined the organization and administration of Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island, as a model. Their study and consequent recommendations resulted in the creation by an act of 1859 of the nondenominational University of New Brunswick to replace King’s College. Brown’s last major contribution to New Brunswick’s educational system was an extensive new school act relating to the administration of parish schools which he drafted and which the legislature passed in 1858.

In 1849 Brown had been authorized, along with Dr James Robb of King’s College, to accompany Professor James Finlay Weir Johnston* on his 2,000-mile tour of the province to report on the condition of agriculture. The commission was an important part of the government’s programme to encourage the development of agriculture, and Johnston’s report is a landmark in agricultural investigation, much of it remaining valid more than 100 years later.

Brown was defeated in the general election for the assembly of 1850 but was appointed to the Legislative Council. He resigned his seat in 1854 and successfully contested the Charlotte County riding in the assembly election of that year. He then became an executive councillor and surveyor general in the Charles Fisher government. The following year he was appointed to the Board of Works, and during 1855 and 1856 carried out extensive examinations of the public works of New Brunswick. His diary for the period contains a thorough report of the state of roads and bridges at that time.

In 1856 Brown resigned with the Fisher government and he was not a candidate in the ensuing general election. According to his diary he was suffering the effects of a serious and prolonged illness, as well as experiencing financial difficulties. The following year he was re-elected as a member of the Fisher government and reappointed as surveyor general. During this administration there were accusations of mismanagement in the granting of crown lands, one of the surveyor general’s major responsibilities. The legislature initiated a special inquiry and in response Brown submitted his resignation, although it was not accepted. The inquiry’s report, submitted 26 March 1861, did reveal that there were abuses on the part of officials of the department in the sale of lands, but Brown’s honesty was not seriously questioned.

In the 1861 general election Brown was defeated and resigned his office. Almost immediately he was appointed an emigrant agent and left on a year-long trip to Britain to promote immigration to New Brunswick. An account of his nostalgic return to his homeland was recorded in a report published in 1863. He also published some promotional literature on immigration to New Brunswick. In July 1864 Brown ran again for the Charlotte County seat, but was defeated probably for his opposition to confederation. He retired to his home at Tower Hill, where he died in 1870.

The constant preoccupation of Brown’s public life had been the improvement of the lot of the common man. Throughout his career he always maintained the stance of a liberal, advocating the virtues of a sound public education system, the material development of the province along the lines of the progressive American states, and a free and open society, unhampered by the strictures of a privileged class. He was brought up a Presbyterian, but as an adult joined the Universalist Church in St Stephen, which was more to his liking. On occasion he would attend a Methodist service in Fredericton, but commented in his diary that he found the “trappings” offensive. Such an attitude, typical of his outlook on life, was also reflected in his opposition in the legislature to a resolution in 1860 to invite the Prince of Wales to visit New Brunswick. Since the province was in debt, Brown declared, public money should not be spent for such an occasion. As might be expected, he was a supporter of the temperance movement.

During his years in the legislature Brown did not play a significant role in determining such constitutional issues as control of the casual revenues, responsible government, and confederation. His importance lay instead in his contributions to the social and economic development of the province through his concern for education, agriculture and land policy, transportation, and immigration. Perhaps it was inevitable that the practical Scottish immigrant should give leadership as a builder rather than as a constitutional authority.


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