TAYLOR, JAMES, businessman, politician, office holder, justice of the peace, and militia officer; b. c. 1794 in Fredericton, second son of James Taylor and Jane —; m. 26 Aug. 1829 Nancy Hatfield, widow of William Fortune, a master mariner, and they had one daughter and two sons; d. 4 Feb. 1856 in Fredericton.
In 1783 James Taylor’s father was among the first loyalists to settle at St Anne’s Point (Fredericton), where he established “one of the largest and most respectable firms” in the colony. Initially involved in the mercantile trade, he later became active in the timber trade, shipbuilding, and general construction. His three sons, James, William*, and John F., formally entered into a partnership with him in August 1821, forming James Taylor Senior and Company. As a leading building firm in Fredericton, the company was selected in July 1826 as one of the contractors to construct what was to be King’s College (University of New Brunswick). Following the deaths of their brother in March 1834 and their father that December, James and John continued in partnership until January 1838.
James Taylor was also a director of the Nashwaak Mill and Manufacturing Company, founded during the heady atmosphere of the 1836 boom. When the operating manager fled to the United States in 1840 after having allowed the firm to go bankrupt, Robert Rankin and Company, which had been responsible for providing its supplies and marketing its lumber, took the business over. By the early 1840s the firm was producing between seven and eight million feet annually. In October 1835 James and John had sold two mill reserves and some land on the Tobique River to Ephraim H. Lombard of Saint John. Backed by American capital, Lombard then organized the Tobique Mill Company. He leased some 100,000 acres of crown land and made plans for the erection of several sawmills. On 9 Jan. 1838 James became president of the milling operations. Unfortunately, with only one sawmill in production, this firm also collapsed in 1840.
Taylor nevertheless remained involved in the business community. A founder of the Central Bank of New Brunswick in 1834, he had served as a director the following year and was also a director of the Fredericton branch of the Bank of British North America, which was established in 1838. In 1836 he had been one of the incorporators of the Fredericton Hotel and Stage Coach Company. Eight years later he was a founding partner in Fredericton’s first brass and iron foundry. It suffered during the recession of the 1840s, and in 1847 Taylor sold out to George Todd, who became the sole owner. Taylor was an early and enthusiastic advocate of reciprocity with the United States in 1848 following the repeal in Britain of the navigation acts. Whatever the economic climate, Taylor managed to carry on and he remained one of the most respected merchants in Fredericton until his death.
Taylor had run in 1830 for York County in the general election, but was defeated. Following his protest of the by-election results in September 1832, he was declared a winner and on 11 March 1833 he entered the House of Assembly. He continued to hold the seat for the rest of his life, frequently topping the polls for the constituency. Taylor had family connections in politics. His brother William had represented York since 1822 and his wife’s sister’s husband, Charles Fisher*, would join him in the house in 1838. A diligent parliamentarian, Taylor actively sought to advance the interests of York County. He presented innumerable petitions and served on the influential standing committee on public and private accounts. His career in the house coincided with those years in which the assemblymen achieved their greatest power; as private members they introduced and passed money bills for the benefit of their constituencies without any effective interference from the lieutenant governor or the executive. Taylor was a successful manipulator of this system, which was popularly known as log rolling. Reformers such as George Edward Fenety*, who viewed the executive’s exclusive right to initiate money bills as a central principle of responsible government, regarded log rolling as wasteful, and Fenety described Taylor as an “anti-Reformer.” During the 1830s Taylor consistently voted with the opposition against the government of Lieutenant Governor Sir Archibald Campbell*, but after 1837 he supported Campbell’s successor, Sir John Harvey. In fact, it was alleged that, as contractor for the extensive renovations made to Government House between the years 1837 and 1840, he gave Harvey £1,000 a year “under the head of repairs.” Although the charge was never proven, Taylor clearly benefited from the association with Harvey. His relationship with Harvey’s successors was less close and during the 1840s and 1850s his voting pattern showed no consistency except that he was usually found on the side which had a majority in the assembly.
As a politician, office holder, and prosperous merchant, Taylor naturally assumed a position of leadership in the community. He served, likely in 1839, as paymaster and a captain of the York County militia. In 1840 he became a justice of the peace for York County with the extensive authority that implied in the old system of county government. The same year he was one of the commissioners for the care and management of the lieutenant governor’s official residence. In 1853 John G. Lorimer, publisher of the Provincial Patriot and St. Stephen Banner, would write that Taylor was in high favour with Lieutenant Governor Sir Edmund Walker Head* and his wife and that he catered to their every whim regarding the internal arrangements of Government House. In 1848 Taylor was named a member of the public buildings committee and two years later was made a controller of customs. A strong supporter of the Fredericton St Andrew’s Society, he was also a pillar of the Church of Scotland, regularly serving as a lay preacher. He attended St Paul’s Church in Fredericton which had been built on land donated by his father; before St Paul’s was constructed, he had been a member of the Congregational Church in Sheffield. As he possessed little sympathy for the pretensions of the Anglican members of the assembly, Taylor often acted as the voice of the dissenting congregations in the capital.
Apparently Taylor was a tiny man, weighing perhaps only 112 pounds. His features were “very sharp and very lean – eyes quite small, but beaming with kindness; hair dark and thin – the forehead is high and unusually large.” “We think the whole head is a ‘Bump of Benevolence,’” Lorimer remarked, a reference both to Taylor’s personal charity and to his generosity with public money, which Lorimer deplored. Taylor died in February 1856 and his obituary in the New-Brunswick Courier confirmed his generosity. According to the newspaper, he had remained an enormously popular local figure, noted “for his many gratuitous acts of kindness, and his general benevolence to the poor.”
PANB, MC 69; RG 2, RS8, Central Bank, 1836–59; RG 4, RS24, Central Bank, 1836–59; RG 7, RS75, 1835, James Taylor (Sr); RG 10, RS108, James Taylor (Sr), 30 Nov. 1825; James Taylor (Jr), 15 April 1841. PRO, CO 188/105: 401–4. St Paul’s United Church (Fredericton), Records of St Paul’s Presbyterian Church (mfm. at PANB). N.B., House of Assembly, Journal, 1833–56. Head Quarters (Fredericton), 31 July 1844, 6 Feb. 1856. New-Brunswick Courier, 29 Sept. 1832, 6 Aug. 1847, 9 Feb. 1856. New Brunswick Reporter and Fredericton Advertiser, 8 Feb. 1856. Provincial Patriot and St. Stephen Banner (St Stephen, N.B.), 5 Aug. 1853. Royal Gazette (Fredericton), 21 Dec. 1836, 23 May 1838, 2 Oct. 1839, 13 Feb. 1856. G. E. Fenety, Political notes and observations: or, a glance at the leading measures that have been introduced and discussed is the House of Assembly of New Brunswick . . . (Fredericton, 1867). I. L. Hill, The Old Burying Ground, Fredericton, N.B. (2v., Fredericton, 1981), 2: 218–26. MacNutt, New Brunswick.