BOSTON, JOHN, lawyer, businessman, and sheriff; b. 1786 in Scotland; d. 6 March 1862 in Montreal, Canada East.
John Boston, leaving his parents in Scotland, arrived in Montreal in June 1802, and with the aid of his older brother, Thomas, quickly joined the Montreal mercantile élite dominated by Scots like himself. Apprenticed “under written indenture” in March 1805 to David Ross, a prominent member of the Montreal bar, Boston, after five years of continued clerkship and examination, received a commission as advocate at law in Lower Canada and opened a lucrative law practice in Montreal devoted largely to land transactions. A charter member and sometime president of the St Andrew’s Society of Montreal, the Montreal Curling Club, and the Brothers in Law Club, a coterie of 15 Montreal lawyers, Boston undoubtedly profited from association with influential friends. His second marriage, on 16 Nov. 1826 to Margaret Walker, daughter of a wealthy merchant, William Walker, assured his economic and social standing and extended his economic interests. (Boston’s first wife, Isabella Stewart, whom he had married on 17 Dec. 1814 had died on 7 Dec. 1821, leaving him with two daughters.)
Boston himself possessed intelligence, talent, industry, and charm and readily gained the respect of his professional colleagues and the larger civic community. In January 1827 a public meeting named Boston to a committee of nine to advise on the incorporation of Montreal. An officer of the Montreal militia, in 1821 he held the rank of lieutenant. From 1833 until 1835 he served as president of the Advocates Library and in 1838 received a qc. In 1839 he and Hughes E. Barron became joint sheriffs of the Montreal District; he served alone from March 1841 until William Foster Coffin*’s appointment in February 1842, and again from 1851, when Coffin resigned, until his death. As sheriff his annual salary in 1855 was £857 with an unlimited expense account which some years climbed as high as £4,231, not to mention fees from subsidiary services attached to the office. In election years, for example, he was ex officio district returning officer and he also acted as commissioner for receiving affidavits. Apart from his office duties, supervising a deputy and two clerks, the sheriff was administrator of the Montreal jail which boasted an annual intake of approximately 1,600 people, some simply disorderly or homeless overnight guests. In 1852, Wolfred Nelson, inspector of jails for Lower Canada, criticized the administration of the Montreal jail, particularly its finances. Prices were often double their market value and there was “a total absence of proper management.” But he assigned the blame to the jailer, Thomas McGinn.
Boston, however, never neglected his railway, bank, and land interests. He owned shares and held directorships in, among others, the Bank of Montreal, the Montreal Provident and Savings Bank, the Montreal and Lachine Railroad Company, the St Lawrence and Atlantic Railroad, and the Grand Trunk Railway Company. He possessed extensive land in the city and the country, including the fiefs and seigneuries of Thwaite and St James. Although he purchased land primarily for its social and economic value, Boston advocated agricultural reform and experimented himself. In 1855 he sent samples of his pressed peat to the Paris exhibition.
Described as a man of “urbanity,” Boston possessed educational interests. He belonged to the Montreal Mechanics’ Institute, the Montreal Library Association, and the Natural History Society. One of the principal promoters of the Montreal High School incorporated in 1845, he served as the corporation’s first chairman.
When Boston died at age 75, still sheriff of Montreal, the Montreal section of the bar decreed a month’s mourning for a man they described as marked by a sense of integrity, hospitality, and civic duty – qualities, however, which never inhibited his Midas touch.
ANQ-M, État civil, Anglicans, Christ Church, 17 Dec. 1814; Presbytériens, St Andrews, (Montréal), 8 March 1862; Greffe de J. C. Griffin, 7 avril 1853; Greffe de J.-M. Mondelet, 22 sept. 1823. Atwater Library Archives (Montreal), Mechanics’ Institute of Montreal, minute books. BUM, Coll. Baby, Corr. générale, letters of John Boston, 13 April 1835, 29 Aug. 1836, 13 Jan., 20 July, 10 Aug. 1838. McCord Museum, The Brothers in Law minute book, 1827–33. Can., Prov. of, Legislative Assembly, Journals, 1852–53; I, app.B; IV, app.H.H.; 1854–55, III, app.B; VI, app.D; IX, app.F.F. Montreal Gazette, 16 July, 10 Dec. 1825; 20 Nov. 1826; November 1861–May 1862. Montreal Transcript, 13 Oct. 1844–1 March 1845. Pilot (Montreal), 15 Aug. 1861–15 Nov. 1861. Quebec Gazette, 10 June 1802, 24 May 1821. Quebec Mercury, 8 March 1862. Alphabetical list of merchants, traders, and housekeepers in Montreal (Doige). Canada directory, 1851, 1857–58. Montreal directory, 1845–51. Montreal pocket almanack . . . , 1859, 49. Quebec directory, 1847–48. Atherton, Montreal, II, 381, 420–31. A. W. P. Buchanan, The bench and bar of Lower Canada (Montreal, 1925). Denison, Canada’s first bank, II, 86. F.-J. Audet, “Shérifs de Montréal,” BRH, VIII (1902), 200. L.-P. Desrosiers, “Mes tablettes,” Cahiers des Dix, 12 (1947), 75–92. Victor Morin, “Clubs et sociétés notoires d’autrefois,” Cahiers des Dix, 14 (1949), 187–222.