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Dictionary of Miramichi Biography

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KERR, GEORGE (1805-1872)

KERR, GEORGE, lawyer, businessman, JCP, and MLA; b. Kirkbean parish, Kirkcudbrightshire, Scotland, 4 Mar 1805, s/o William M. Kerr and Isabella Little; brother of James Kerr; m. 1st, 1834, Eliza Ann Abrams, d/o William Abrams and Sarah Triglohan, and 2nd, 1850, Agnes Swayne, of Dysart, Scotland; d. Aiken, S.C., 4 Feb 1872.

George Kerr was eleven years of age in 1816 when his parents settled with their six children at Napan. He finished his schooling in Chatham and later undertook the study of law. He was admitted as an attorney in 1829 and barrister in 1832. Until 1843 he was the Chatham partner of John Ambrose Street, whose office was in Newcastle. Much of his time was given to acting as attorney for Joseph Cunard & Co.

After Street & Kerr was dissolved, Kerr practiced for some years on his own. For a short time in the early 1850s he was in partnership with Samuel Thomson, and Daniel Ferguson was associated with him prior to his appointment as deputy treasurer of customs in 1865. He was "a sound, methodical lawyer, whose good character none dreamed of calling into question," but he was "usually looked upon and consulted as an office lawyer." He had "no taste for pleading" and did not relish the "browbeating and collusion with parties" into which courtroom lawyers are drawn.

For some years Kerr was the county registrar of probate. In 1851 he was appointed a justice of the Inferior Court of Common Pleas. He had innumerable business interests. From 1836 onward he was the Miramichi agent for the Central Fire Insurance Co. After the death of his father-in-law, William Abrams, in 1844, he was the proprietor of the Abrams sawmill at Rosebank. In 1847 he was one of the directors of the Chatham Joint Stock Co. which placed the first steam ferry on the river. He was the Chatham agent for the Central Bank of New Brunswick from 1851 until a full-time agent-cashier was appointed several years later. In 1854 he was a director of the North West Bridge Co., which built the first bridge across the Northwest branch of the river. In 1860 he was president of the Miramichi and Richibucto Electric Telegraph Co., which had brought the telegraph to the Miramichi several years earlier. He continued to be active and exceptionally successful in business, as an owner, director, and agent throughout his life. In 1869 he was listed by Bradstreet's credit agency as having a net worth of $70,000-$80,000. Three years later his will was probated at $103, 888.

Kerr was appointed an ensign in the militia in 1825 and was promoted to lieutenant in the 2nd Battalion in 1830 and captain in 1839. He retired as an honorary major in 1864. He was a director of the Northumberland Agricultural Society in 1840, and when the New Brunswick Society for the Encouragement of Agriculture, Home Manufacture, and Commerce was created in 1850, he was elected as one of its vice-presidents. In 1844 he was appointed secretary of the Northumberland and Gloucester Board of Health, which was set up to manage the leprosy problem in the Tracadie area. In 1853 he was one of three commissioners of lights for the Gulf of St Lawrence. At the parish level he served as an overseer of the poor.

Kerr was an incorporator of the Miramichi Mechanics' Institute at Chatham in 1847 and one of its first officers. In the 1860s he was a member of the Miramichi Religious Tract Society. In 1865 he was elected to the presidency of the Chatham YMCA.

In 1852 Kerr defeated Peter Mitchell in the provincial by-election called to fill the seat formerly occupied by Alexander Rankin, and he was returned in six more elections, his last being in 1866, when he ran as a supporter of Confederation. He retired in 1870 due to poor health and died less than two years later while wintering in South Carolina.

There were six children born of Kerr's first marriage, including one son, George Kerr Jr, who died at age twenty-two. The daughters of the first marriage included Isabella J. Kerr, the wife of Francis J. Letson. The only child of the second marriage was Elizabeth C. Kerr, the wife of the Rev. John M. Allan. Kerr's widow, Agnes Swayne, returned to Scotland and died in Edinburgh in 1888, at age seventy-nine.


[b] LDS-IGI [m] Gleaner 27 May 1834; 22 Apr 1850 [d] Advocate 7 Feb 1872 / Advance 29 Dec 1881; Advocate 15 Feb 1888; Facey-Crowther; Fraser (C); Gleaner 1 Nov 1836, 14 Apr 1840, 13 May 1843, 20 Jun 1846, 16 Feb 1847, 13 Apr 1847, 18 Feb 1850; 20 Jan 1851, 15 Sep 1851, 10 Nov 1851, 19 Feb 1852, 21 Jan 1854, 7 Jan 1860, 21 Sep 1861, 4 Mar 1865; Graves; JHA 1853 (re. lighthouses); Losier/Pinet; NB Almanac & Reg.; PANB (probate files); tombstone; Williston Collection