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Dictionary of Miramichi Biography

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GILLESPIE, THOMAS FRANCIS, foundry owner, insurance agent, and MLA; b. near Mallow, Co. Cork, Ireland, 15 Dec 1828, s/o John Gillespie and Eliza Sheehan; m. 1855, Elizabeth Cormack, d/o Alexander Cormack and Ruth Pattison Hewson; d. Chatham, 9 Aug 1893.

After attending school at Rathkeale, Co. Limerick, Thomas F. Gillespie left Ireland for New Brunswick in 1848, at age twenty. He found employment with Berton Bros, retail merchants in Saint John, and was transferred to the Miramichi as clerk of a store which they opened in Chatham in the early 1850s. When this store was closed only a few years later he took a job as bookkeeper for Hugh F. Bain. He had accumulated capital enough by 1865 to buy an iron foundry which had been erected in 1852 by William Dunlop and William Johnston. In 1871 the Chatham Foundry, as it was known, was among the leading businesses in the town.

In 1873 Gillespie launched the schooner Madoc, which was in service the following year as a packet connecting with the railway terminus at Shediac. For many years he also conducted one of the largest insurance agencies on the Miramichi. He took an interest in other businesses as well and was elected president of the Chatham Gas Light Co. in 1884.

Gillespie failed in a contest with John M. Johnson in 1867 for the Northumberland County seat in the House of Commons and was also unsuccessful in gaining entry to the provincial House of Assembly in a by-election held in 1869. He won a seat in 1870, however. He was defeated again in 1874 but was elected in 1878 and 1882 and sat until 1886. He was then defeated in the 1886 election, as well as in a by-election held in 1887. From 1883 to 1886 he was a minister without portfolio and president of the Executive Council in the administration of Premier Andrew H. Blair.

Gillespie was president for many years of St Patrick's Society of Miramichi, an interdenominational benevolent society which existed from 1849 to 1882. He was a leading Mason and a founding director, in 1867, of the Grand Lodge of New Brunswick. He played an important part in the establishment of the almshouse at Chatham in 1869. He was also active in the Chatham battery of the New Brunswick Regiment of Artillery, being promoted to major in command in 1872 and lieutenant colonel in 1877. When the battery was disbanded in 1884 he retained his rank. He took an interest in public education and served as trustee and secretary-treasurer of one of the Chatham school districts for many years. He and his family were adherents of St Paul's Anglican Church, of which he was a vestryman in 1881, and the church has a stained glass window dedicated to his memory.

The roster of Gillespie's activities and accomplishments is not unimpressive, but Father William C. Gaynor, who grew up on the Miramichi while he was active in politics, saw him as a quiet, unassuming man who was slow of speech, and witty only after the need for wit had passed. He was survived in 1893 by his wife, Elizabeth Cormack, a son, and four daughters. His daughter Frances Gillespie, who took over his insurance agency, was the first woman on the Miramichi to manage such a business.


[b] Graves [m] Gleaner 18 Aug 1855 [d] Advocate 16 Aug 1893 / Advance 16 Sep 1880, 21 Apr 1881, 10 Aug 1893; Advocate 23 Jan 1868, 4 Aug 1875; Can, Parl. Comp., 1873; Fraser (C); Hutchison's; JHA 1867 (re. militia); Memories; NB Artillery; Spray (DK); World 6 Dec 1882, 5 Jan 1884