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ABRAMS, WILLIAM, businessman, jp, judge, office holder, and militia officer; b. c. 1785 in Plymouth, England; m. 1807 Sarah Trigholon, and they had two sons and eight daughters; d. 6 Feb. 1844 in Newcastle, N.B.

In 1818 William Abrams, who was in business in Greenock, Scotland, decided to open a trading establishment in the Miramichi region of New Brunswick. In February 1819 he leased some stores there for 12 months and sailed immediately for Miramichi, followed shortly afterwards by his family; they settled at Rosebank (Nordin). Within four weeks of his arrival he had purchased property to the value of over £1,300 and had established the firm of William Abrams and Company. His five partners in this venture were all resident in Scotland. After the firm was dissolved in 1830, Abrams continued in business by himself until his death.

The company had stores in both Chatham and Newcastle, but its principal establishment was at Rosebank, where Abrams had two large stores and a successful shipyard. He brought out skilled craftsmen from Scotland, and by 1825 he headed the largest shipbuilding establishment on the river. Unfortunately there are no records of vessels built before 1822, but in the years 1822–32 he built 12 ships valued at £34,570, and between 1833 and his death he built at least 15. He had two ships on the stocks at the time of the Miramichi fire in October 1825; both were destroyed along with his stores and goods worth £9,354. His total losses were estimated at £40,000, the same as those of Gilmour, Rankin and Company, the largest timber exporter in the region. More distressing were the deaths of two of his children from burns and exposure.

Abrams served with Alexander Rankin*, Francis Peabody, and others on the relief committee aiding those who had suffered in the fire, and he set about rebuilding his business. In 1826 he launched the Phoenix from his re-established shipyard at Rosebank. His master builder was John Harley*. In 1834 Harley built two vessels for Abrams without the “use of ardent spirits”; it had previously been the practice to pay the men part of their wages in liquor, which was drunk on the job.

Abrams was active in the community as well as in business. He was appointed a justice of the peace in 1821 and a justice of the Inferior Court of Common Pleas in 1824. One of the organizers of the Miramichi Chamber of Commerce, he was elected its president in 1826. In 1828 he was a member of the Chatham Joint Stock Company, which was organized to sell land in the town plot. Two years later he became a commissioner of the Seaman’s Hospital in Douglastown (of which his son-in-law John Thomson* would be superintendent for many years). A commissioner for the lighthouse to be built on St Paul’s Island in 1830, he would join Rankin and Joseph Cunard* in supervising the construction of another lighthouse at Point Escuminac in 1841. He was a captain in the 2nd Battalion of the Northumberland County militia in the early 1830s, and harbour-master of Miramichi from 1832 to 1835. In 1833 he was appointed to the Northumberland County Board of Health and also made commissioner of buoys for the port; harbour, and river of Miramichi. Active in establishing a branch of the Bank of British North America at Newcastle in 1836, he was also, along with his fellow shipbuilder Joseph Russell*, a promoter of the unsuccessful Miramichi Bank in the late 1830s. He was involved as well in local agricultural societies and gave land to Chatham for the establishment of a hospital.

Abrams’s only venture into politics came in 1827 when he stood for one of the two Northumberland County seats in the House of Assembly. His opponents were Rankin and Richard Simonds, both of whom were personal friends. Soundly defeated, he never ran for office again.

Abrams was a successful merchant and community leader as well as one of the most important of the early shipbuilders in New Brunswick.

W. A. Spray

Northumberland Land Registry Office (Newcastle, N.B.), Registry books, 14: 248–50; 15: 116–19; 27: 437–46; 30: 193–95; 31: 309–13 (mfm. at PANB). PANB, MC 216/15, notes on William Abrams [Full of errors.  w.a.s.]; RG 3, RS538, B5; RG 4, RS24, S28-P35, S36-P31; RG 10, RS108, William Abrams, 20 June 1823. 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), 86, 96, 109. [Beamish Murdoch], A narrative of the late fires at Miramichi, New Brunswick . . . (Halifax, 1825), 17, 28, 43. Gleaner (Miramichi [Chatham]), 14 Sept. 1830; 15 Feb., 2 Aug. 1831; 28 Feb., 3 April, 5 June 1832; 7 May 1833; 13 May 1834; 19 May, 8 Sept. 1835; 19 Dec. 1837; 7 Feb. 1844. Mercury, 21 Feb. 1826; 5, 26 June, 3 July 1827. Royal Gazette (Fredericton), 7 April, 8 Sept. 1830; 17 April 1833; 18 July 1838. J. A. Fraser, By favourable winds: a history of Chatham, New Brunswick ([Chatham], 1975), 30, 56, 60, 140, 157–58, 170–71. Louise Manny, Ships of Miramichi: a history of shipbuilding on the Miramichi River, New Brunswick, Canada, 1773–1919 (Saint John, N.B., 1960).

General Bibliography

Cite This Article

W. A. Spray, “ABRAMS, WILLIAM,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 7, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed September 16, 2014, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/abrams_william_7E.html.

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Permalink: http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/abrams_william_7E.html
Author of Article: W. A. Spray
Title of Article: ABRAMS, WILLIAM
Publication Name: Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 7
Publisher: University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication: 1988
Year of revision: 1988
Access Date: September 16, 2014