MILLIDGE, THOMAS, businessman, politician, jp, and judge; b. 12 Aug. 1776 in New Jersey, son of Thomas Millidge* and Mercy Berker (Barker); m. 10 Sept. 1801 Sarah Simonds, and they had 12 children; d. 21 Aug. 1838 in Saint John, N.B.
Thomas Millidge was seven years old when he arrived in Nova Scotia with his parents as part of the 1783 loyalist migrations. His father, a major in the New Jersey Volunteers, became a deputy surveyor of Nova Scotia, served in the House of Assembly, and was active as a magistrate and a colonel in the militia. He thus provided an enviable model for his son.
As a young man Thomas Millidge moved across the Bay of Fundy to Saint John and established himself as a shipbuilder on the Kennebecasis River. The site of his operations eventually became known as Millidgeville and would be amalgamated with the city of Saint John in 1889. In 1801 Millidge married Sarah Simonds, daughter of James Simonds*, a founding member of the pre-loyalist Saint John firm of Simonds, Hazen, and White. Eight of their twelve children survived to adulthood; of these, seven married into prominent loyalist and pre-loyalist families, thereby helping to sustain the élite, Anglican and largely loyalist, in 19th-century New Brunswick.
In September 1816 Millidge successfully stood for election to the House of Assembly in the constituency of Saint John County and City. That year New Brunswick had experienced a crop failure which temporarily crippled an agricultural industry already more than subordinate to lumbering and shipbuilding as the perceived and real source of wealth. Millidge sat on the assembly committee that investigated the immediate damage inflicted by this crisis as well as the long-range implications for provincial development. The committee addressed the first problem by recommending that financial outlays be made “to provide for the relief of the poor and for the necessities of the province.” Even more important, Millidge and his assembly colleagues introduced a bill to encourage the development of agriculture. Millidge retained his seat in the election of October 1819.
Over the years Millidge became a prominent merchant and head of an important shipowning family. During the 1820s he had several vessels, at least two of them constructed for him by John Haws*; in his shipbuilding activities he was in partnership with Simeon Lee Lugrin, also a loyalist descendant. As did others of his generation, Millidge experienced the risks endemic in the world of water transport, especially as it pertained to the rocky coves along the Bay of Fundy. His father had survived a shipwreck off Musquash Cove (Musquash Harbour) in 1787. Years later, in 1836, a whale-ship Millidge had built, the Thomas Millidge, was wrecked near the same cove a few miles outside Saint John.
Millidge actively participated in many spheres of urban and business life. He was a member of Saint John’s first social club, the Subscription Room at the Exchange Coffee House, itself the site of numerous meetings held to assess means of strengthening and advancing the city’s commercial life. Population growth and commercial expansion led in 1819 to the founding, by Millidge and others, of the Saint John Chamber of Commerce. These advances also spurred the creation in 1820 of British North America’s first chartered bank, the Bank of New Brunswick; Millidge sat on its prestigious board, which also included such important businessmen as John Robinson*, William Black*, and Nehemiah Merritt. By this time, in his mid forties, Millidge was at the apex of his career, prominent as a merchant, shipbuilder, assemblyman, and magistrate for Saint John County. Subsequently he became president of the Chamber of Commerce (1828) and a founding director of the New Brunswick Fire Insurance Company (1831) and the Saint John Water Company (1832).
Thomas Millidge was a member of the Church of England. He died in 1838 and was buried in Fernhill Cemetery, Saint John. His son Thomas Edward guided the family’s business interests through the economic transformation of the mid and late 19th century, a period in which the city’s commercial decline contrasted sharply with the hope of his grandfather’s and the promise of his father’s generation.
PANB, MC 1156 (copy at N.B. Museum). N.B., House of Assembly, Journal, 1817, 1831. Royal Gazette (Fredericton), 27 April 1831. Elections in N.B. Millidge ancestors, comp. E. de B. [Millidge] Crossman (Winnipeg, 1980). N.B. vital statistics, 1784–1815 (Johnson et al.). Esther Clark Wright, The loyalists of New Brunswick (Fredericton, 1955; repr. Hantsport, N.S., 1981); Saint John ships and their builders (Wolfville, N.S., ). I. L. Hill, Some loyalists and others (rev. ed., Fredericton, 1977). Historical essays on the Atlantic provinces, ed. G. A. Rawlyk (Toronto, 1967; repr. 1971). D. R. Jack, Centennial prize essay on the history of the city and county of St. John (Saint John, N.B., 1883), 114. Graeme Wynn, Timber colony: a historical geography of early nineteenth century New Brunswick (Toronto and Buffalo, N.Y., 1981). T. W. Acheson, “The great merchant and economic development in St. John, 1820–1850,” Acadiensis (Fredericton), 8 (1978–79), no.2: 3–27. J. R. Armstrong, “The Exchange Coffee House and St. John’s first club,” N.B. Hist. Soc., Coll., 3 (1907–14), no.7: 60–78. “Board of Trade; the first St. John Chamber of Commerce: a sketch of the institution from its earliest days down to the present time,” Daily Sun (Saint John), 3 April 1889: 14.
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