PYKE, JOHN GEORGE, businessman, office holder, jp, militia officer, and politician; b. c. 1743 in England, son of John Pyke and Ann Scroope; m. 27 Aug. 1772 Elizabeth Allan, a sister of John Allan*, in Halifax, and they had 13 children, 9 of whom survived to adulthood; d. there 3 Sept. 1828.
The seven-year-old John George Pyke arrived in Nova Scotia with his parents in August 1750. In later years it was claimed that his father had arrived in 1749 with the settlers brought by Colonel Edward Cornwallis* to establish the town of Halifax, but there is no record of him in the passenger lists for that year. Almost certainly, John Pyke arrived on the Alderney, whose passengers became the first inhabitants of Dartmouth. Tragedy struck the family soon afterwards: in May 1751 John Pyke was killed by the Micmacs during a raid on the Dartmouth settlement, leaving the young John George and his mother in difficult circumstances. Fortunately, Ann Pyke remarried within two months of John’s death. Her new husband was Richard Wenman*, soon to become a prominent figure in Halifax. Thanks to this match, John George came to maturity in comfortable circumstances.
Following the lead of his stepfather, Pyke established himself as a merchant. By 1773 he had built a wharf near the foot of Prince Street to carry on trade. Though it cannot be proved, it is almost certain that Richard Wenman provided his stepson with capital to establish himself in business. In any event, Pyke’s position improved considerably when he inherited Wenman’s properties, which included a brewery, in 1781. He retained ownership of the brewery until his death, and it likely provided a major portion of his income.
By the outbreak of the American Revolutionary War the young Pyke was a rising member of the circle of merchants, officials, and churchmen that held a tight grip on the affairs of Halifax. He was also increasingly influential as a politician. In 1779 he was elected as an mha for Halifax County, a seat he was to retain until 1799. He was later to serve as mha for Halifax Township from 1799 to 1800 and from 1802 to 1818. His political views were ardently conservative, and he fitted comfortably into the select group of pre-revolutionary Nova Scotians who sought to maintain their influence against loyal late comers. Beamish Murdoch* praised the “ready powers of debate” displayed by Pyke, Charles Hill, and others in the assembly of 1789–90.
Active as well in the municipal affairs of Halifax, Pyke was probably best known to the inhabitants of the town as magistrate in charge of the new police department, but he also served as a fire warden, roads commissioner, commissioner for the jail, and custos rotulorum. Militia, church, and charitable activities occupied a substantial portion of his time. He rose to the rank of colonel of the 1st Halifax Militia Regiment, and as an Anglican was a member of the congregation at St Paul’s Church. He was also active in the Charitable Irish Society, occupying the presidency in 1808. Freemasonry was another of Pyke’s enthusiasms. He was grand master of the masonic order from 1784 to 1785, and served another term as grand master from 1810 to 1820.
From the period immediately before the Revolutionary War to the time of his death in 1828, Pyke was a central figure in the growth of Halifax. He was in many ways typical of the men with connections of office, commerce, and church who led the development of the town. He left his heirs not only a substantial estate, but a very considerable record of service to his town and province. One of Pyke’s daughters, Ann, married James Irvine, a prominent Lower Canadian merchant and politician; one of his sons, George*, became a judge on the Court of King’s Bench in Lower Canada.
Pyke’s obituary notice in the Novascotian, or Colonial Herald claimed that “in the discharge of his Magisterial powers, great firmness, the utmost prudence, and the kindest forbearance marked his conduct. – He was always generous to the poor, and the lives of few individuals exhibited more genuine traits of benevolence.” In his History of Halifax City Thomas Beamish Akins* gives us a picture of Pyke in office. “Old Colonel Pyke,” Akins wrote, “presided as Chief Magistrate for many years, and was usually to be seen in the little police office in drab knee breeches with gray yarn stockings and snuff colored coat.”
Halifax County Court of Probate (Halifax), Estate papers, P97 (J. G. Pyke) (mfm. at PANS). N.S., Dept. of Lands and Forests (Halifax), Crown land grants, general index, 1730–1937 (mfm. at PANS). PANS, MG 100, 211, no.416; RG 1, 35 (transcripts); 163. Acadian Recorder, 1818, 1828. Nova-Scotia Gazette, and the Weekly Chronicle (Halifax), 1781. Novascotian, or Colonial Herald, 4 Sept. 1828. Royal Gazette and the Nova-Scotia Advertiser, 1792. Directory of N.S. MLAs. Akins, Hist. of Halifax City. W. S. Bartlet, The frontier missionary: a memoir of the life of the Rev. Jacob Bailey, A.M., missionary at Pownalborough, Maine; Cornwallis and Annapolis, N.S. (Boston, 1853). A. W. H. Eaton, The history of Kings County, Nova Scotia . . . (Salem, Mass., 1910; repr. Belleville, Ont., 1972). “Masonic grand masters of the jurisdiction of Nova Scotia, 1738–1965,” comp. E. T. Bliss (typescript, n.p., 1965; copy at PANS). T. M. Punch, “The Halifax connection, 1749–1848: a century of oligarchy in Nova Scotia”