BERTON, GEORGE FREDERICK STREET, lawyer and office holder; b. 10 Dec. 1808 in Burton Parish, N.B., eldest son of George Duncan Berton and Ann Frances Street; m. 28 Sept. 1833 Delia Hooke in Fredericton, and they had three children; d. there 31 Jan. 1840.
George Frederick Street Berton was born into early 19th-century New Brunswick’s most extensive legal connection, and his brief but distinguished career illustrates the coalescence of the province’s legal profession in the 1820s and 1830s. His maternal grandfather, Samuel Denny Street*, was New Brunswick’s first lawyer. Among his lawyer uncles were George Frederick Street*, John Ambrose Sharman Street*, and Alfred Locke Street. Through his father he was related to the Ludlow family, which had provided New Brunswick with its first chief justice, George Duncan Ludlow*.
The son of the high sheriff of York County, Berton was reared in Fredericton and St Andrews. In 1822 he entered the College of New Brunswick and, taking no degree, subsequently articled for five years in the chambers of his uncle and namesake George Frederick Street. Admitted as an attorney in 1830, he went into partnership with G. F. Street and was on 3 June appointed non-resident clerk of the peace for Sunbury County in succession to his grandfather Street, who had held the office since the foundation of the province. After he was called to the bar in 1832, he established himself in Fredericton where, five years later, he commenced the successful law partnership with George Jarvis Dibblee that continued until his death. Berton filled minor public offices typical of a young lawyer with good connections and, on 15 Jan. 1838, received appointment as clerk of the crown in the Supreme Court on the ouster of William Hunter Odell*. The clerkship was a conventional stepping-stone to more prestigious legal preferment, but Berton’s early death meant that his real achievements were not overshadowed by a later accumulation of offices. He is remembered today for his role in the maturation of New Brunswick’s legal profession.
The death in 1821 of George Ludlow Wetmore* in a duel with Berton’s uncle George Frederick Street arising out of a court-room quarrel triggered a whole series of measures to safeguard the gentlemanly image of the bar. In 1823 the Supreme Court imposed on the profession the first extensive regulations for the admission of students-at-law, attorneys, and barristers. Two years later the judges and lawyers of the province strengthened peer control through the creation of the Law Society of New Brunswick; in 1826 the society established at Fredericton its ambitious Barristers’ Inn for the accommodation of out-of-town lawyers attending the sittings of the Supreme Court. Although Berton was himself too young to be involved in founding the Law Society, he did join Lemuel Allan Wilmot*, William Hayden Needham*, and Charles Fisher* as a core participant in another landmark of professionalization – the Law Students’ Society, which was operating in Fredericton by 1828. In 1834 he took part in yet another professional watershed: the bar’s grand remonstrance, at a meeting chaired by Attorney General Charles Jeffery Peters, against the appointment of Englishman James Carter* to the Supreme Court in preference to New Brunswick claimants.
By 1835 the still youthful Berton had won such respect from his peers that he was given the onerous task of preparing the first thorough consolidation of New Brunswick statutes from 1786. With the careful assistance of Chief Justice Ward Chipman* he produced a meticulous edition which remains the source of first resort for pre-1836 legislation. It was in 1836 as well that his characteristic “desire to render service to my professional brethren” led Berton to begin publication of his notes on select Supreme Court appellate decisions; reports appeared first in the Royal Gazette and were subsequently issued in pamphlet form. The usefulness of this first New Brunswick venture into law reporting was recognized the following year when Berton – already a distributor for at least two English law-book publishers – received statutory appointment as law reporter. In 1839 he collected his reports into a one-volume consolidation. Issued at “heavy pecuniary expense,” the 1839 volume was the dying Berton’s intended memorial. At his death a year later Chief Justice Chipman and his colleagues publicly voiced “great regret at the loss [to] the Court, the Profession, and the Country.” In less than 20 years the New Brunswick bar had moved from a homogeneous family connection to a large and rapidly professionalizing body. George Berton’s pioneering labours at statute consolidation and law reporting were benchmarks in that transformation.
[Berton’s compilation of the New Brunswick statutes was published as The acts of the General Assembly of her majesty’s province of New Brunswick, from the twenty sixth year of the reign of King George the Third to the sixth year of the reign of King William the Fourth (Fredericton, 1838). His consolidated law reports, entitled Reports of cases adjudged in the Supreme Court of the province of New Brunswick, commencing in Hilary term, 1835 (Fredericton, 1839), appeared in a second edition: Reports of cases decided in the Supreme Court of New Brunswick, from Hilary term, 5 Wm. 4, to Hilary term, 2 Vic . . . , ed. A. A. Stockton (Toronto and Edinburgh, 1882). This edition is still in print. Although the earliest law report series in New Brunswick, the collection is now, for reasons not important to explain, referred to as volume 2 of the New Brunswick reports. d.g.b.]
N. B. Museum, A67–A71, A75, A147, A156 (Berton and Berton–Dibblee account- and process-books); Berton–Dibblee coll.; N.B. Hist. Soc. papers, packets 5, 8. PANB, MC 288; RG 2, RS7, 98: 1144–46; RG 11, RS657, Q12. American Jurist and Law Magazine (Boston), 19 (1838): 246–48. Royal Gazette (Fredericton), 4 Oct. 1833, 5 Feb. 1840. Hill, Old Burying Ground. The New Brunswick militia commissioned officers’ list, 1787–1867, comp. D. R. Facey-Crowther (Fredericton, 1984). D. G. Bell, “The transformation of the New Brunswick bar, 1785–1830: from family connexion to peer control,” Papers presented at the 1987 Canadian law in history conference (3v., Ottawa, 1987),I: 240–56. Lawrence, Judges of N.B. (Stockton and Raymond). Jennifer Nedelsky and Dorothy Long, “Law reporting in the Maritime provinces: history and development” (report prepared for Canadian Law Information Council, Ottawa, 1981).