RITCHIE, THOMAS, lawyer, politician, judge, office holder, and militia officer; b. 21 Sept. 1777 in Annapolis Royal, N.S., son of John Ritchie* and Alicia Maria Le Cain (Le Quesne); m. first 30 June 1807 Elizabeth Wildman Johnston (d. 1819), daughter of Elizabeth Lichtenstein* (Johnston), and they had five sons, including John William*, and two daughters; m. secondly 20 May 1823 Elizabeth Best (d. 1825); m. thirdly 21 Sept. 1831 Anne Bond, daughter of Joseph Norman Bond*, and they had one son and one daughter; d. 13 Nov. 1852 in Annapolis Royal.
Little is known of Thomas Ritchie’s early life. He studied law in Annapolis Royal under Thomas Henry Barclay* and, when Barclay became British consul general in New York in 1799, Ritchie inherited his lucrative practice. In 1815 alone he was involved directly in more than three-quarters of the 600 cases which went to law in Annapolis County. His ward, James William Johnston*, received his legal training in Ritchie’s law office.
In 1806 Ritchie was elected by acclamation to the House of Assembly as member for Annapolis County. In subsequent elections until his resignation in 1824 he never faced an opponent, each time being re-elected “without a dissenting voice.” A bill he proposed in 1808 to regulate black servitude by compensating from the public treasury slave owners who would release their slaves was of questionable wisdom and never became law. Though he had ambition to be chosen speaker, he never attained that position. Despite these early set-backs he was an active member of the assembly and, according to Beamish Murdoch*, Ritchie joined Simon Bradstreet Robie, William Hersey Otis Haliburton*, and Samuel George William Archibald* in guiding the major deliberations during the 1820s. On 30 July 1812 he presented the bill which created the first revenue-producing treasury notes in Nova Scotia; these notes became the bulwark of the colony’s budget during the War of 1812. Seven years later he guided through the assembly a loan act for farmers in Annapolis and Kings counties. In 1819 he was also chairman of the assembly committee which prepared a report on the 1818 convention between Great Britain and the United States. The convention had readmitted Americans to the Nova Scotia fisheries and as a result met with vigorous opposition and criticism in the committee’s report, which has been described by historian Daniel Cobb Harvey* as one of the important steps in the constitutional evolution of the British colonies. Ritchie later served as chairman of the committee which consolidated the revenue acts and in 1821 he was instrumental in bringing about long-needed changes in the militia act. The next year he chaired the committee on fisheries, agriculture, and commerce. This appointment by his fellow assemblymen was obviously in recognition of the expertise he had developed through his work on the 1818 convention and his successful efforts in creating a loan scheme for Annapolis valley farmers.
On 10 March 1824 he became first justice of the Inferior Court of Common Pleas for the western division, one of three such positions created by the assembly and described by Nathaniel Whitworth White as an “easy chair.” The bill creating these positions had met vocal and sustained public opposition and passed by a single vote. Three of the assemblymen who supported the bill, Jared Ingersoll Chipman, W. H. O. Haliburton, and Ritchie, received the appointments. Ritchie held this post until the court was abolished in 1841 at which time he received lucrative compensation in the form of a £240 pension which by 1851 had increased to £300. In 1830 he had lobbied to be appointed attorney general but the vacancy went to S. G. W. Archibald. On 2 March 1831 Ritchie was named president of the Court of General Sessions for the western district of Nova Scotia. He performed with diligence and competence in these positions and submitted regular comprehensive reports to the lieutenant governor detailing the state of affairs in western Nova Scotia.
Ritchie had erected a mansion called the Grange in Annapolis Royal about 1810. The property befitted the stature, wealth, and landholdings of one of the old capital’s most prominent citizens. It was a three-storey, eleven-bedroom edifice directly across from a three-tiered garden. Tragedy, however, entered these pleasant surroundings. Ritchie’s first wife died in a bedroom fire just a few days after giving birth to a son and his second wife was thrown from a horse and killed.
Throughout his life Ritchie was a power in the community. He served in such positions as trustee of the local grammar school and Annapolis Academy; president of the board of health; lieutenant-colonel in the local militia; custos rotulorum; and vestryman, clerk, and treasurer of St Luke’s Church (Anglican). A local saying opined, “Annapolis belongs to the Devil, the Church, and Judge Ritchie.” He was of untiring industry, possessed keen powers of analysis, and was known for his sound ideas and logic. The “old judge” and his descendants played a distinguished role in the political, judicial, and diplomatic life of Nova Scotia and Canada.
PANS, RG 1, 236, no.90; RG 5, U, 4, 1808, “An Act for regulating Negro servitude within and throughout the province.” Elizabeth Lichtenstein Johnston, Recollections of a Georgia loyalist, written in 1836, ed. A. W. H. Eaton (New York and London, 1901). W. A. Calnek, History of the county of Annapolis, including old Port Royal and Acadia . . . , ed. A. W. Savary (Toronto, 1897; repr. Belleville, Ont., 1972). B. [C. U.] Cuthbertson, The old attorney general: a biography of Richard John Uniacke (Halifax, ). C. I. Perkins, The romance of old Annapolis Royal, Nova Scotia . . . (n.p., 1934). M. C. Ritchie, “The beginnings of a Canadian family,” N.S. Hist. Soc., Coll., 24 (1938): 135–54. C. St C. Stayner, “John William Ritchie, one of the fathers of confederation,” N.S. Hist. Soc., Coll., 36 (1968): 183–277.
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