Search just our sites by using our customised site search engine

Click here to get a Printer Friendly PageSmiley

Click here to learn more about MyHeritage and get free genealogy resources

Chapter I - Early Life and Business Career

THE political career of Samuel Leonard Tilley did not begin until the year that brought the work of Lemuel Allan Wilmot as a legislator to a close. Both were elected members of the House of Assembly in 1850, but in the following year Wilmot was elevated to the bench, so that the province lost his services as a political reformer just as a new man, who was destined to win as great a reputation as himself, was stepping on the stage. Samuel Leonard Tilley was born at Gagetown, on the St. John River, on May 8th, 1818, just thirty-five years after the landing of his royalist grandfather at St. John. He passed away seventy-eight years later, full of years and honours, having won the highest prizes that it was in the power of his native province to bestow.

In these days, when a man becomes eminent an effort is usually made to trace his descent from distinguished ancestors, but most of the early inhabitants of New Brunswick were too careless in such matters to leave much material to the modern maker of pedigrees. Sir Leonard Tilley was unable to trace his descent beyond his great-grandfather, Samuel Tilley. At one time it was thought that his first ancestor in America was John Tilley, who came over in the Mayflower in 1620, but a closer search of the records of the Plymouth colony reveals the fact that John Tilley left no sons. But there were persons of the name of Tilley in the Massachusetts Bay colony as early as 1640, and there seems to be no doubt that Sir Leonord Tilley’s ancestors had been long in America. They belonged to the respectable farming class which has given the Dominion of Canada and the United States so many of their most distinguished sons. Samuel Tilley, the great-grandfather of Sir Leonard, was a farmer on Long Island at the time of the American Revolution. His farm was then within the boundaries of the present borough of Brooklyn, and the curious in such matters can find the very lot upon which he resided laid down upon some of the ancient maps of that locality. At the time the British occupied Long Island, after the battle which took place there in the autumn of 1776, resulting in the defeat of the Americans, the Brooklyn farmers were called upon to provide cattle for the sustenance of the troops. Samuel Tilley, being a loyal man and a friend of the government, complied, and for this he was made the subject of attacks by the disloyal element among his neighbours, and in the course of time was compelled to seek shelter within the British lines. The occupation of Long Island by the British during the whole period of the war made it secure enough for Samuel Tilley, as well        

as for all loyal men who lived in the vicinity of Brooklyn; but when the war was over it became necessary for him to seek shelter in Nova Scotia, the acts of confiscation and banishment against the Loyalists being of the most severe character. Samuel Tilley came to New Brunswick with the spring fleet, which arrived in St. John in May, 1783, and was a grantee of Parrtown, which is now the city of St. John. He erected a house and store on King Street, on the south side, just to the east of Germain, and there commenced a business which he continued for several years. He died at St. John in the year 1815. His wife was Elizabeth Morgan, who survived him for many years and died in 1835, aged eighty-four years.

Sir Leonard Tilley was not born when his greatgrandfather died, but had a clear recollection of his great-grandmother, who lived for about four years after he came to reside in St. John. James Tilley, the grandfather of Sir Leonard, was also a grantee of Parrtown, he having purchased for a trifling sum, when a boy, a lot on Princess Street, which had been drawn by some person who was anxious to dispose of it. James Tilley was a resident of Sunbury County and a magistrate there for a great many years, dying in the year 1851. Sir Leonard Tilley’s father, Thomas Morgan Tilley, was born in 1790, and served his time with Israel Gove, who was a house-joiner and builder. He spent his early days as a lumberman, getting out ship timber, his operations being carried on mainly at Tantiwanty, in the rear of Upper Gagetown. He afterwards went into business at Gagetown, and kept a store there down to the time of his death, which took place in 1870. Sir Leonard’s great-grandmother, on his father’s side, was Mary Chase, of the Chase family of Massachusetts, she having come from Freetown, in that state. Sir Leonard’s mother was Susan Ann Peters, daughter of William Peters, who was for many years a prominent farmer in Queens County, and a member of the legislative assembly. William Peters owned a large property and had one of the finest tracts of land possessed by any man in the province in his day. But he was unwise enough to sell it for the purpose of obtaining money with which to enter into lumbering with William Wilmot, the father of L. A. Wilmot, and, being unsuccessful in his operations, his whole fortune was swept away. The ancestors of William Peters were from New York state, from which they came with the rest of the Loyalists in 1783.

The house in Gagetown in which the future governor of New Brunswick and finance minister of Canada was born, is still standing and is now used as a hotel. Gagetown was at that period, and still is, one of the most beautiful places in New Brunswick. The river St. John flows in front of it, and Gagetown Creek, which is almost as wide as the river, laves its shores. The land in the vicinity is fertile, and fine old trees line the streets, giving an air of beauty and refinement to the locality. Sir Leonard was named after his uncle, Samuel Leonard Peters, and the latter was named after an‘ English schoolmaster named Samuel Leonard, who was a great favourite with William Peters, the grandfather of the subject of this biography. Samuel Leonard, after leaving Gagetown, appears to have removed to Nova Scotia, and probably died in that province. When Sir Leonard was five years old he was sent to the Madras School in Gagetown, of which Samuel Babbitt was the teacher. He attended this school from 1823 until 1827, when the grammar school was instituted in Gagetown. The Madras school system was at that time in high favour with the people of the province, and these schools received large grants from the government, it being thought that this system was more advantageous than any other for the instruction of youth. This idea, however, did not prove to be universally correct, for in the course of a few years we find the legislature declaring that while they believed the Madras system suitable to towns and populous places, it did not answer so well in rural districts. Samuel Babbitt, the teacher of the Madras School, was clerk of the parish, and, according to the custom of that day, led the responses in church. The rector of Gagetown at this period was the (Rev. Samuel Clark. The teacher of the local grammar school which young Tilley attended from 1827 to 1831 was William Jenkins, a graduate of Dublin University. Jenkins was a very severe man, and believed in the doctrine that he who spares the rod spoils the child, and Sir Leonard had a very vivid recollection of the vigour with which he applied the birch. He removed from Gagetown-shortly after 1831, and took up his residence in Quebec, where he conducted a large school for many years, dying about the year 1863. Sir Leonard, after he had become a well-known political character and a member of the government of New Brunswick, had the pleasure of paying him a visit some time in 1858.

An interesting incident occurred in 1827, at the time young Tilley commenced to attend the grammar school. Sir Howard Douglas, who was then governor of New Brunswick, paid a visit to Gagetown and was the guest of Colonel Harry Peters, the speaker of the House of Assembly. While the governor and his host were walking through Gagetown, they met young Tilley and a son of Harry Peters returning from school, and the boys were introduced to His Excellency, who presented each of them with a Spanish quarter-dollar. Sir Leonard could remember and often spoke of the appearance of Sir Howard Douglas, dressed in a blue coat with brass buttons, a fine-looking gentleman, with a pleasant face and a kindly smile. Little thought the then governor of New Brunswick that the boy to whom he was speaking, a lad of nine years of age, would fifty years later sit in his own chair in the government house.

Young Tilley was not the kind of youth likely to be satisfied to reside all his life in Gagetown. Other boys of less ambition might be content to settle down on the farm and to fulfil their destinies within the comparatively limited sphere of action which that little town in Queens County afforded, but *he had within him longings for a higher destiny than he was likely to attain as a resident of a rural district.

Young Tilley came to St. John in May, 1831, at the age of thirteen. He at once entered the drugstore of Dr. Henry Cook, as a clerk, it being the fashion of those times for medical men to have a dispensary in connection with their professional practice, so that they could give advice, and dispense their own prescriptions with equal facility. He continued as clerk with Dr. Cook until February, 1835, when he entered the service of William O. Smith, who, in later years, was mayor of St. John. It was while a clerk with Smith that Tilley became a member of the St. John Young Men’s Debating Society, an organization which, if it has no other claim to the remembrance of posterity, at least has that of giving one distinguished statesman to British America, and a governor to New Brunswick. It was in this society that he made his first attempt at public speaking, and it may be said that from the very beginning he showed a remarkable aptitude for debate and public discussions.

In December, 1837, he took one of the most important steps of his life in espousing the cause of total abstinence. Having taken up this movement, he threw his whole energy into it, and from that time down to the day of his death he was a consistent temperance man, and a strong advocate of the principle of total abstinence. It was, perhaps, -this strong advocacy of the cause of temperance, more than anything else, that brought him before the public as a suitable person to become a candidate for the House of Assembly,, and led to his first election as a representative for the city of St. John in the local legislature thirteen years later. Certainly the fact that Tilley, from that time until the close of his public career, had always the support of the temperance societies, gave him a strength which he hardly would have obtained otherwise, and rallied around him a phalanx of friends, who, # for fidelity to his interests and zeal for his political advancement, could hardly have been surpassed.

Tilley commenced business on his own account in 1838, before he had attained the age of twenty years, as a member of the firm of Peters & Tilley, and he continued a successful career until 1855, when he transferred his business to Mr. T. B. Barker, the founder of the present firm of T. B. Barker & Sons. It is unnecessary to say anything more in regard to Mr. Tilley’s life as a business man than that it was a highly prosperous one. He showed so much energy and enterprise that when he entered political life he was comparatively wealthy. There is no doubt that if he had continued in business instead of devoting his energies to the service of the province and Dominion, he would have made far more money than he obtained as a politician.

The movement in behalf of free trade, which was changing the fiscal policy of the United Kingdom in the closing years of the first half of the nineteenth century, did not meet with much favour in New Brunswick, because it seriously affected the leading industry of the province. Colonial timber had long enjoyed a preference in the British market, but this preference had been seriously impaired by imperial legislation and was likely to be taken away altogether if free trade principles should prevail. Many remonstrances had been sent to the British government against the reduction or abolition of the duty on foreign timber which came into competition with the colonial product, but these remonstrances proved wholly unavailing, and it was seriously believed that the colonial timber trade would be destroyed. This led to the annexation movement of 1848, which affected all the provinces, while it also caused the formation of organizations pledged to resist the free trade movement. Tilley was in sympathy with these efforts to preserve colonial trade, and it was in consequence of this that he first made his entrance into political life.

At a meeting of the electors of St. John in favour of protection, which was held previous to the general election of 1850, Tilley was nominated as one of the candidates for the city of St. John. He was not present at the meeting and had no knowledge whatever of the intention of the electors to make such a nomination. A meeting was called a few nights later in Carleton to confirm the nomination, and at that meeting Tilley was present. He then made the strongest possible protest against the nomination, but the electors present would not take “No” for an answer, and he eventually consented to stand as a candidate, informing them at the same time that he had an engagement to be in Boston on the day fixed for the nomination, and could not be at the hustings on that day. Notwithstanding this statement they still persisted in his nomination, but as Tilley was absent in the United States, his nomination speech on that occasion was made by Joseph W. Lawrence, who afterwards was found among his strongest political opponents. At the general election of 1850 all the candidates elected for the city and county of St. John were avowed opponents of the government. Tilley was returned at the head of the poll, while W. H. Needham, who ran with him, was likewise elected. The members elected for the county were R. D. Wilmot, William J. Ritchie, John H. Gray and Charles Simonds; while J. R. Partelow, Charles Watters and John Jordan were the three defeated candidates. The list of candidates for the city and county of St. John included two future governors, a future chief-justice of the supreme court of Canada and two other judges, to say nothing of the provincial secretary, Mr. Partelow, a speaker of the House of Assembly and a future mayor of St. John. It must be admitted that few elections that have ever been held in any part of British North America have had so many candidates presented to the electors who were afterwards eminent in public life. This election took place at an important epoch in the history of the province, when the old order was passing away and men’s minds were prepared for- a great change in political affairs. It was a Reform House of Assembly, and, although all the members elected for the purpose of upholding Reform principles did not prove true to their trust, still it contained a larger number of men of Liberal views than any of its predecessors.

Among the members of this House were several who had taken a very important part in public affairs, or who afterwards became members of the executive. The county of York sent among its representatives, Lemuel A. Wilmot, who had been a member of the House for sixteen years, and who had taken a leading part in many measures of importance for the improvement of the system by which the country was governed.

Mr. Charles Fisher, who had been a colleague of Mr. Wilmot in the county of York, was defeated at the general election, but soon afterwards became a member of the House. Mr. Fisher had not the oratorical gifts possessed by Mr. Wilmot, but he was even stronger in his Liberal views, and as a constitutional lawyer he had no equal, at that time, in the province. Although his manners were somewhat uncouth and his address far from polished, Fisher had strong individuality and a singularly clear intellect. His services in the cause of Liberalism in New Brunswick can hardly be overestimated, and these services were rendered at a time when to be a Liberal was to be, to a large extent, ostracized by the great and powerful who looked upon any interference with their vested rights as little short of treason.

Tilley’s colleague from St. John city was William H. Needham, who afterwards represented the county of York in the legislature. Mr. Needham had some remarkable gifts as a speaker and a public man, and he might have risen to a much higher position than he ever attained had it not been that his principles were somewhat uncertain. In truth, Needham never succeeded in getting sufficiently clear of the world to be quite independent, and this misfortune hampered him greatly in his political career.

One of the members from St. John County was William J. Ritchie, a lawyer who had risen by his own efforts to a commanding position at the bar, and who became chief-justice of Canada. Mr. Ritchie had been a member of the House of Assembly for several years, and always a useful one. He possessed what few members at that time had,—a clear knowledge of the true principles of responsible government. He had an eminently practical mind; he was a forcible and impressive speaker, and he was bold in the enunciation of the Liberal principles to which he held. It was a serious misfortune to the province that at a comparatively early age he was transferred to the bench, so that his great abilities were lost at a critical period when they might have been useful to New Brunswick in many ways.

John H. Gray, a new member, also sat in this House for the county of St. John. Mr. Gray was a man of fine presence, handsome appearance, and had a style of oratory that was very captivating and impressive. His fluency, however, was greater than his ability, and he injured himself by deserting the Liberal party, which he had been elected to uphold. Gray never quite recovered from the unpopularity connected with this action, and he never became in any sense a real leader. Tlje party he had deserted soon obtained the control of the province, and his final appearance in the legislature was as a supporter of Mr. Tilley, content to play a secondary part during the great confederation conflict.

Robert Duncan Wilmot, another of the St. John County members, a first cousin of L. A. Wilmot, was not new to the legislature, and his mind being naturally conservative, it is in connection with the Conservative party that he is best known in the history of the province. He was elected as a Liberal, however, in 1850, but seems to have forgotten that fact as soon as he reached the House of Assembly. This was not the only occasion on which Wilmot contrived to change his principles, for he performed a similar feat during the confederation contest, and left the anti -confederate government of 1865 in the lurch at a moment when its existence almost depended on his fidelity. Wilmot never was an eloquent man, and he entertained some highly visionary views in regard to an irredeemable paper currency, but he was a useful public servant, and he afterwards became a member of the government of Canada and eventually lieutenant-governor of New Brunswick.

The Hon. John R. Partelow, who was defeated in St. John but elected for Victoria, was a man who might have acquired a great political reputation had the stage on which he appeared been a larger one. Partelow’s qualifications for high public position did not depend upon his oratory, which was not of a high order, but upon his moderation and good sense. Partelow’s origin was humble, and his early days were spent as a clerk in a store on the North Wharf, St. John. In that subordinate position he made himself so useful and displayed so much ability that he was marked for promotion. The idea of bringing him forward as a candidate for the city of St. John seems to have originated with his employers, but when he gained a seat in the legislature he speedily made his influence felt. Partelow spoke but seldom, but when he did address the legislature it was generally with good effect, and after the subject had been to a large extent exhausted by previous speakers. He then had a faculty of drafting a resolution which seemed to express the general sense of all, and which was usually accepted as a solution of the matter. He was a good business man, understood accounts thoroughly and, therefore, had a great advantage in legislative work over those who were not so well equipped in this respect. New Brunswick may have produced greater men than he in public life, but none whose talents were more useful to the province, or better fitted to serve its interests at a critical period in its constitutional history.

Return to Book Index Page

This comment system requires you to be logged in through either a Disqus account or an account you already have with Google, Twitter, Facebook or Yahoo. In the event you don't have an account with any of these companies then you can create an account with Disqus. All comments are moderated so they won't display until the moderator has approved your comment.