Having in the last two contributions to The Dispatch
spoken of our first representatives in the provincial parliament it may be of interest to mention some of the chief incidents in the early legislation of the province connected with the history and development of the St. John river region. As the newly established province of New Brunswick had in 1784 new [no?
] laws of its own, it will readily be imagined that the first session of the House of Assembly was an arduous one. However there were no obstructionists in those days and the members set manfully to work and at the expiration of a ten weeks session sixty-one acts were placed upon the statute book. Many of these were largely based upon similar acts of the province of Nova Scotia.
At the second session of the House which opened Feb. 15, 1787, Governor Carleton in his opening speech made the important announcement of the arrival of commissioners to examine into the losses and services of the Loyalists:-- this his Excellency said would prove of great benefit as they would now be enabled to establish their claims without leaving the province, and numbers to whom the national bounty could not otherwise have been extended would in consequence be enabled to carry on the work of improving their settlements with double ardor. All must admit that the British government displayed a very generous spirit in rewarding the services and compensating the losses incurred by the Loyalists during the war. The commissioners spent seven years in dealing with the claims submitted to them, a period not too long in view of the magnitude of the interests involved. They examined in all 4,118 claims and awarded £3,292,455 stg in the way of compensation for losses. In their report to the Imperial Parliament the commissioners stated that as a rule they had met with the utmost honor, veracity and candour on the part of those who presented the claims of the Loyalists. The sums awarded were of course in proportion to the losses sustained; men who in England had been respectable farmers usually receiving an award of £200 stg, or say $1,000, which though not a large sum, proved a great boon to hundreds of families in the province who were struggling with the difficulties of their situation. The commissioners who came out to New Brunswick supplied the Loyalists with a printed form of which the following is a copy:
"To the Commissioners appointed by Act of Parliament for enquiring into the losses and services of the American Loyalists. The memorial of A. B. sheweth:
First (Claimant should here state acts of loyalty and services).
Secondly (Losses sustained in consequence thereof, or of the claimant's attachment to the British government. A schedule whereof is desired to be subjoined giving very particularly and accurately the description and value of the property lost).
Your memorialist therefore prays that his (or her) case may be taken into consideration in order that your memorialist may be enabled under your report to receive such aid or relief as his (or her) losses and services may be found to deserve."
A foot note attached to the above states the commissioners will require the best evidence of which the case will admit in support of the claim presented.
The compensation awarded the Loyalists at this time was all the more acceptable as the king's bounty of provisions ceased at the end of 1786. The compensation money with the half pay of the disbanded officers sufficed to put in circulation quite an amount of ready money and this was a great boon to the early settlers. The cash medium was chiefly Spanish silver dollars and the value of property was estimated in dollars after the custom of New England; pounds, shillings and pence came in later.
In July, 1788, the House of Assembly met for the first time at Fredericton, previous sessions having been held in St. John. Governor Carleton in his opening speech referred to the rapid progress of the settlement and congratulated the house on the few criminal cases that had come before the courts. The next session was held in October 1789 in which bounties were offered to settlers who in each county should raise the greatest quantity of good clean merchantable wheat weighing not less that 58 pounds per bushel; the first competitor to receive £20, second £15, the quantity raised to exceed 200 bushels or no prize to be given. Prizes were similarly offered for the greatest quantity of barley and hops. The award was to be made in all cases by the county magistrates at the court of general sessions of the peace.
Feb. 20, 1792. A bill was introduced fixing bounties to encourage the destroying of wolves, £1 for each full grown wolf and 10s. for a whelp wolf. People yet living remember when wolves were quite numerous; their melancholy howls round the little clearings of the first settlers were not conducive to sound slumbers.
Feb. 26, 1793. Major Murray presented a petition from James Moore of St. Mary's, stating that he had invented a mcahine for threshing grain, and praying some compensation for the same. At the same session the following revenue tariff was adopted, viz: Rum duty, 2d. per gallon; wine, 3d. per gal.; brown sugar, 2s. per cwt.; coffee, 1d. per lb.; wheat or rye flour from the United States, 2s. per bbl.; horses, cattle, hogs, poultry and meat from the States, 10% on cost.
This was a very modest revenue tariff, certainly. The legislature now began to take measures to encourage emigration to New Brunswick. The roads also received increasing attention. Grants were expended under the supervision of the county members who submitted annual reports to the House of Assembly. The road from Fredericton to the Meduxnakik received special consideration as joining an important link in the route communication with Quebec, the completion which was felt to be of great importance in consequence of the war with France. The governor made special mention of the war in his speech at the opening of the legislature, Feb. 4, 1794, and in consequence of his recommendation a militia bill was speedily introduced and passed. The militia was reorganized, fortifications improved, etc. Fears of invasion were entertained, but these were soon after dispelled by the magnificent victories gained by Lord Howe and other British Admirals over the French fleet. Meanwhile the King's New Brunswick regiment was organized for the defence of the province under the command of Lt. Col. Beverley Robinson with Daniel Murray as Major. The officers and most of the rank and files were veterans of the Revolutionary war. The roll of the officers include such familiar names as Captains Dugald Campbell, James French, and Gerhardus Clowes; Lieutenants John Murray Upton, John Simonson, Adam Allan, Xenophon Jouett, Obadiah Clements, Garret Clopper, John Jenkins, Malcolm Wilmot and William Turner; Ensign Wm. Barry Phair; Chaplain John Beardsley; Surgeon Charles Earle M. D.
The progress of the country was seriously retarded by the war. Many of the able bodied yeomanry of the province were enrolled in the King's New Brunswick Regiment and in consequence there was a scarcity of labor. Considerable losses were experienced through the capture of trading vessels by French privateers.
The danger from external sources however did not prevent the occurrence in the year 1796 of a fierce wrangle between the House of Assembly and the Executive Council as regards the payment of members. The House of Assembly included in the various appropriation of the session a certain amount for salaries of the members. The council refused to sanction this expenditure contending that as the government of the province was modled on that of England the members of the Assembly should imitate the English House of Commons and serve without pay. The House of Assembly replied that the circumstances of many persons qualified most worthily to represent their constituencies rendered it impossible for them to serve gratuitously and that the action of the executive council declined to pass the bill unless the objectionable clause was struck out and this the House of Assembly refused to do. The council then threw out the entire bill. For four yars the dead lock continued, the Assembly at each session insisting on the insertion of the clause providing for the payment of ten shillings a day to each member during the session and the council thereupon throwing out the bill. The situation at length became intolerable. There was a general outcry. The construction of roads and bridges was at a stand, even the oridinary expenses of government could not be met. Yielding to strong representations of the secretary of state for the colonies and to the urgent need of the province the Council at length gave way and on the 8th of February 1799 supplies were voted for the years 1796, 1797, 1798 and 1799 and the members of the House of Assembly thenceforth were allowed their modest salaries of ten shillings a day. During all this time the only legislation in behalf of the farmers was the introduction in 1796 of "a bill to prevent the growth of thistles" (which got the three months hoist), and a bill introduced the following session "to encourage the killing of Bears and Loup-cerviers."
W. O. Raymond