JACKSON, JOHN, first chaplain to the garrison at St John’s, Newfoundland; d. 1717.
The details of Jackson’s birth, education, and early life are obscure. He may have served as chaplain for the expedition to Newfoundland under Sir John Norris* and Gibsone in 1697. In 1700 he was appointed first chaplain to the garrison at St John’s, and the following year sailed with his wife and eight children to Newfoundland. Unfortunately the arrival of Jackson at St John’s on 12 July 1701 was not to improve the already strained atmosphere there. He consistently supported the soldiers and the inhabitants against what he considered to be the tyrannical oppression of the officers of the garrison. However, many felt that his attitude and his behaviour only worsened the situation: “[he] sowed discord among the inhabitants and goaded the soldiers to mutiny.”
Soon after his arrival Jackson wrote to the Bishop of London, complaining of ill-treatment and insults from Captain Powell and Lieutenant Francis of the Independent Company. His complaint was passed on to the queen, and the Board of Trade and Plantations sent instructions that the minister was not to be abused by the military. This probably did not make for happier relations with the officers of the local forces. A little later there are reports that “Dr. Jackson . . . drank to the confusion and damnation of Captain Michael Richards, and became intoxicated.” When Thomas Lloyd became the commander of the garrison on Richards’ return to England in 1703, the battle reached its climax. Jackson complained of Lloyd’s notorious brutality and extortion to Captain Timothy Bridges, commodore of the convoy for 1704, supporting these accusations with petitions and memorials from those who had suffered at Lloyd’s hands.
Apart from his specific quarrels with the garrison commanders, Jackson did not find life in Newfoundland easy. The accommodation provided for him in Fort William was unsatisfactory, and he moved into a house rented from a local merchant, Colin Campbell. Later, difficulties arose over the rent, and eventually Jackson managed to secure a more suitable house inside the fort. He had made the point that his military commission as chaplain entitled him to the second best residence after that of the garrison commander: “Is Mr. Latham, who has no commission, and as Chief Mason ought to be preferred to a barrick, to be preferred in that place before me?”
In 1702 Jackson received a benefaction of £30 and a salary of £50 per annum from the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel, which must materially have assisted him, as he had difficulty in obtaining his official salary, and some of the inhabitants cheated him of his tithe, which was due to him according to the value of a catch of fish.
While Bridges, Richards, and Lloyd were in London in the winter of 1704–5, they reported to the Board of Trade on Jackson’s behaviour, and suggested that he was a disruptive element at St John’s. On 1 March 1705, the board wrote to the bishop of London asking that Jackson be replaced: “We are convinced that the irregular proceedings [in Newfoundland] have been in great measure occasioned by the violent temper and scandalous life of Mr. Jackson the minister.” Early in November 1705 Jackson and his family – now 11 children – left Newfoundland in the Falkland, in the same convoy as the Looe carrying Bridges and John Moody. On the night of 19 December, the Falkland was driven ashore on the long, flat sands of Sandwich Bay off Deal. There was no loss of life, but the turn of the tide flooded the ship and the Jackson family lost most of their possessions. On reaching London the family took up quarters at “Star Inn near ye Monument,” and Jackson wrote to the Board of Trade begging to be excused from immediate attendance as he was suffering from the effects of shipwreck. He received a kindly reply and indeed from this time the board seems to have revised its opinion of Jackson. In 1706 the board issued a certificate “in favour of Mr. Jackson,” and wrote to the bishop of London: “we commend this unfortunate man to your charity.”
Jackson went to Dursley in Gloucestershire in 1709 and became curate there. In 1710 he was inducted as rector of Uley, and the same year married a Mary Bissett; it is quite probable that his first wife died in Newfoundland. Jackson’s last letter to the board, in support of his old friend, Moody, is dated 2 April 1710 from Uley.
One of the most controversial characters in early Newfoundland history, Jackson has been denounced as “coarse and cruel,” and as “one whose way of living . . . did instead of hindering vice . . . rather increase it.” Yet it must be remembered that many of those who signed memorials for and against officials in Newfoundland had no idea what they were signing, and blatant forgery of documents and signatures was common. That Jackson’s task as chaplain at St John’s was a difficult one cannot be denied, and there is some indication that he tried to carry out his work conscientiously; he set to work to build a church in St John’s and attempted to curb some of the outrageous brutality that was rife in the settlement. Certificates from the soldiers and inhabitants at St John’s testify to Jackson’s “sober and peaceable life.” It seems fairly certain, however, that Jackson was cantankerous, bad-tempered and factious; his morality and personal integrity were repeatedly questioned.
Alumni Oxonienses, ed. Joseph Foster (4v., Oxford, [1891–92?]) seems to have confused the Newfoundland John Jackson with another John Jackson, who was inducted as rector of Weston Birt in 1702 and died in 1738.
Gloucester, England, Records of the Diocesan Registry. PRO, Adm. 1/1777 (captains’ letters); 51/354. Classified digest of the records of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in foreign parts 1701–1892 (London, 1893). PRO, CSP, Col., 1700, 1701, 1702, 1702–3, 1704–5, 1706–8; CSP, Dom., 1760–2. Dalton, English army lists, IV. Prowse, History of Nfld.