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Dictionary of Miramichi Biography

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STREET, JOHN AMBROSE (1795-1865)

STREET, JOHN AMBROSE, lawyer, registrar of deeds, and MLA; provincial government leader; b. Burton, N.B., 22 Sep 1795, s/o Samuel Denny Street and Abigail Freeman; m. 1823, Jane Isabella Hubbard, of Burton; d. Saint John, 3 May 1865.

A member of one of the most talented and accomplished families in early New Brunswick, John Ambrose Street studied law with his father, who was one of the province's first lawyers. He was admitted to the bar in 1819 and settled at Newcastle soon afterwards. In 1821 he was appointed a justice of the peace and in 1823 registrar of deeds, a part-time post which he held for the next twenty years. He was among the first vestrymen of St Paul's Anglican Church, which was built in 1823. In 1825 he was a member of the committee for the relief of sufferers from the Miramichi Fire. He was a school trustee for Newcastle parish in the 1820s and chaired a meeting of citizens in 1833 which called for the creation of a Newcastle grammar school. In 1826 he was secretary of the Northumberland Agricultural & Emigrant Society.

In 1829 Street entered into partnership with George Kerr of Chatham, who was admitted that year as an attorney. Street & Kerr had offices in both towns, and their biggest client was Joseph Cunard. When Cunard resigned his seat in the House of Assembly in 1833, Street was elected by acclamation to fill the vacancy. The other sitting member for the county was Alexander Rankin. The fact that both men were residents of the north side of the river caused resentment in Chatham. This became acute after Street had a falling-out with Cunard and appeared to be no longer directly representative of Chatham interests. A Chatham resident, William Carman, was a candidate in the election of 1837 but fared poorly against the incumbents. On the eve of the election of 1842 a meeting was held under the chairmanship of John Hea, one of the most vocal of the malcontents, at which it was decided that John T. Williston would be nominated to contest the election as "the people's" candidate, the 'people' being the residents of the south side of the river.

As the contest neared, deep feelings were aroused, and hostile words and violent incidents became the order of the day. In Chatham a street mob formed which smashed windows and inflicted other damage on the property of some of Street's and Rankin's supporters. Included among persons targeted were James Johnson, George Kerr, Alexander McBeath, Joseph Samuel, and the Rev. Robert Archibald. Despite the violence, the vote was held. To nobody's surprise Rankin led the poll, but Street lost to Williston by a margin of thirty-one votes. The Williston camp was jubilant. However, when Street and his supporters protested the actions of the Chatham street mob, a committee of the Assembly voided Williston's victory and decreed that another election be held.

Possibly because of the political tensions, the law firm of Street & Kerr was dissolved in May 1843, and Street formed a partnership with Allan A. Davidson Sr, who had been admitted to the bar a year previously. The second election, which was held in July, was preceded by inflammatory speechmaking by both Street and Williston and degenerated into a "horrid and sanguinary" riot, in which "sticks, stones, bludgeons, and other weapons" were used "with fearful effect." Fights broke out in the streets of Newcastle and Chatham in which hundreds of men took part, and a Newcastle tavern keeper named James Ryan was killed. Street named John Hea and eight other "leaders and ring leaders" whom he considered to have been directly responsible for the election violence and pointed a finger also at "a member of the Executive Government" (that is, at Cunard), for failing to use his influence to prevent the rioting.

The government responded to the breakdown of order by sending a detachment of 120 men of the 30th Regiment to the Miramichi and by declaring Street elected to the seat in accordance with the recommendation of the investigative committee of the Assembly. Before the next election was called the number of Northumberland County seats was increased from two to four, which reduced the political rivalry.

Street continued to represent the county until 1856, in spite of the fact that he was a full-time resident of Fredericton after 1845. In 1851 he was named to the Executive Council as attorney general and became the government leader in the house. He had been a Conservative and an opponent of reform throughout most of his career, but in his new role he introduced progressive legislation, particularly in respect to railway construction. In 1852 he was accused by Miramichi voters of being sympathetic to the concept of a future intercolonial railway being directed up the St John River rather than along the north shore of the province. Petitions were circulated demanding that he resign his seat, but he ignored them and was victorious again in the election of 1854. He was defeated, however, in 1856, as well as in 1861 and 1865, when he tried to win a York County seat. He died while visiting in Saint John, two months after engaging in his last election contest.

Street held strong opinions which he did not hesitate to express, and he was a harsh critic of his political enemies and rivals. He was a forceful and skillful debater with whom many of his contemporaries could not easily contend. None of this made him the most lovable of Miramichi politicians, but he was always fair-minded, polite and courteous, and it was evident to all that he was "a man of strong character and great natural ability."

Street and his wife, Jane I. Hubbard, were the parents of eleven children, all of whom were born on the Miramichi, and eight of whom survived to maturity. The children grew up in "a pretty and commodious cottage named 'Willow Brook'," near which there flowed "a brook of clear and sparkling water, which after pursuing a serpentine course through the fields, emptied itself into the Miramichi River." The brook was "the home of the speckled trout, and at its embouchure there was an extensive marsh, a favorite resort of plover, snipe, wild ducks, and geese." The parents "constantly exhorted their children to be truthful, honorable and industrious, to be kind and gentle, to be pious and pure minded," and they became exceptionally successful and accomplished. Among them were William W. Street, a lawyer in Saint John and Fredericton; James P. Street, a physician and army career officer who saw action in the Crimean War; Sarah B. Street, a writer who made her home in England; Charles F. Street, an Anglican clergyman and civil servant (and the author of the words quoted in this paragraph); and Henry A. Street, an officer in the Royal Navy and senior British government official in India.

Sources

[b] Lawrence [m] Graves [d] Morning News 5 May 1865 / Advance 8 Aug 1889; Cooney (H); DCB; Gleaner 27 Aug 1833, 13 May 1843, 21 Jul 1843, 28 Jul 1843, 20 Jan 1851; Mercury 28 Mar 1826; NB Elections; Spray (DK and ENC); Street family data; Williston Collection


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