FRASER (Frazer), JAMES, businessman, jp, judge, and politician; b. c. 1760 in Farraline, in the parish of Dores, Scotland, only son of Alexander Fraser and a Miss Cameron; m. 14 Oct. 1802 Rachel Otis DeWolf in Windsor, N.S., and they had eight children; d. there 14 Oct. 1822.
James Fraser was educated in Aberdeen, Scotland, and in 1780 came to Nova Scotia. Beginning “in humble circumstances,” he soon built a small business in Halifax. Around 1785 he formed a partnership there with a fellow Scot, James Thom. They had commercial dealings with the local merchant William Forsyth* and his Scottish partners, James Hunter and George Robertson of Greenock, and with Allan, Kerr and Company, also of Greenock. Forsyth was interested in the salmon fishery in New Brunswick, and in 1785 Fraser and Thom went to the Miramichi region to establish a fishing enterprise for him. Along with George Worthington, who was a partner in their firm until 1808, they also set themselves up as merchants there and were soon supplying goods to many of the settlers on the river. Between 1785 and 1788 they imported to Miramichi goods worth £10,000, and between 1787 and 1789 they exported on Forsyth’s behalf “more salmon than has ever been known before.” They began building on Beaubears Island in 1787 and a year later they obtained title to part of it. By 1789 they had constructed a frame-house, two log-houses, and a store, valued in total at £430. In 1788 Fraser was also involved with Otho Robichaux in the construction of a sawmill, which was apparently never completed In 1789 Forsyth entered into an agreement with the lumber merchant William Davidson*, who undertook to supply him with masts and spars. After Davidson’s death the following year, Fraser and Thom took over his masting contract and were much more successful than Davidson had been. They were shortly employing a number of crews and more than 40 oxen in getting masts out. The firm expanded its activities and in 1792 the partners shipped their first cargoes of squared timber from Miramichi. They soon controlled virtually all the trade on the river and were shipping fish and timber to Halifax, Boston, the West Indies, and Scotland. They continued to build at Beaubears Island; by 1805 they owned the whole of the island and their property there was worth £1,500. Fraser and Thom were among the first to recognize the potential of New Brunswick as a shipbuilding centre. They brought shipwrights to Beaubears Island from the Clyde in Scotland and built ships which were either employed in their own trade or were sold in Halifax, Boston, and Kingston, Jamaica. Their first two vessels were launched some time before 1797, and the shipyard they established was in continuous use until 1873.
The long war with France caused temporary problems for the timber trade in the 1790s. In 1793 Fraser and Thom had 7,000 tons of timber cut, but during the next three years they were able to sell only 2,800 tons. Their masting contract with Forsyth ended in 1801; by then, however, the firm was so well established that the partners no longer depended heavily on this branch of their business operations. Although in 1792 they had been forced to mortgage some of their property at Beaubears Island and other locations to Forsyth for £3,800, they were able to pay this debt off by 1795. Their various business activities appear to have been profitable throughout the early 1790s, despite difficulties in disposing of their timber. In 1797, when the estate of William Davidson was sold, they acquired more than 14,000 acres of land, much of it unimproved but including Davidson’s mill tract, mills, and other buildings, all for the sum of £450.
Fraser and Thom also expanded their activities in other regions. Unfortunately, since none of their firm’s records have been found, it is not possible to document all their undertakings, but it is known that they had extensive fishing establishments and stores on the Gulf of St Lawrence and Northumberland Strait and at Antigonish and Arichat. After 1805 Fraser began spending more of his time in Halifax and he moved there about 1810, although he continued to visit Miramichi regularly. By that time he and Thom were both wealthy men, with a reputation for fair dealing with their employees and customers. Thom decided to retire from the business and in 1811 their partnership was officially dissolved. A year earlier Fraser had formed a new partnership with Alexander Fraser, and in 1817 the firm was reorganized as James Fraser and Company with James Fraser, John Fraser, and Alexander Fraser as partners. This new house continued in operation in both New Brunswick and Nova Scotia until James Fraser’s death.
Fraser had been a justice of the peace and justice of the Inferior Court of Common Pleas for Northumberland County from 1788. Defeated in his first bid to enter politics in 1791, he was successful four years later when he and Samuel Lee* were returned to the New Brunswick House of Assembly for Northumberland County. Fraser was re-elected in 1802, 1809, and 1816 and remained a member of the house until he was appointed to the Nova Scotia Council in 1818. His career in politics was not distinguished but he represented Northumberland County well and its inhabitants had continued to elect him after he moved to Nova Scotia. Fraser was an enterprising businessman who was successful in both provinces; at the time of his death he was a respected member of the Halifax business community.
Northumberland Land Registry Office (Newcastle, N.B.), Registry books, 1–24 (mfm. at PANB). N.S. Museum (Halifax), Museum accessions book, 1924, no.5509. PANB, MC 1156, XI: 32–33; RG 2, RS6, B2: 648, 688, 714; RS8, appointments and commissions, 2/1; RG 10, Northumberland County, petition nos.169, 208, 217, 23536, 319, 481, 569, 777. PANS, MG 3, 150:62, 82–85, 182. Robert Cooney, A compendious history of the northern part of the province of New Brunswick and of the district of Gaspé, in Lower Canada (Halifax, 1832; repub. Chatham, N.B., 1896). Winslow papers (Raymond). Acadian Recorder, 19 Oct. 1822. New-Brunswick Royal Gazette, 22 Oct. 1822. Annals, North British Society, Halifax, Nova Scotia, with portraits and biographical notes, 1768–1903, comp. J. S. Macdonald ([3rd ed.], Halifax, 1905), 101–2. Esther Clark Wright, The Miramichi: a study of the New Brunswick river and of the people who settled along it (Sackville, N.B., 1944). W. H. Davidson, An account of the life of William Davidson, otherwise John Godsman, of Banffshire and Aberdeenshire in Scotland and Miramichi in British North America (Saint John, N.B., 1947). Macmillan, “New men in action,” Canadian business hist. (Macmillan), 72–100. Louise Manny, Ships of Miramichi: a history of shipbuilding on the Miramichi River, New Brunswick, Canada, 1773–1919 (Saint John, 1960). Murdoch, Hist. of N.S., 3: 416. C. H. Morris, “Early British settlers on the north shore,” Telegraph-Journal (Saint John), 25 June 1926: 4.
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