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McMILLAN, JOHN, merchant, politician, and office-holder; b. 4 Aug. 1816 at Brodick, Island of Arran (Strathclyde), Scotland; m. in 1850 Mary Stewart McNutt, and they had five children; d. 12 Sept. 1886 at Saint John, N.B.

John McMillan came to northern New Brunswick in 1832 with his father, who settled at Campbellton. The younger McMillan was virtually self-educated and first worked in lumbering. He later became a successful merchant and with a partner, Jeremiah Travis, established the lumber firm of McMillan and Travis Company. The partners also had a general store in Campbellton. In addition to sending crews to cut timber on their own berths, they supplied goods on credit to other operators and purchased their timber when it came down the rivers. They shipped the product, chiefly in the form of deal, to Liverpool, England. Although they had competitors in nearby Dalhousie, N.B., McMillan claimed in 1858 that from Campbellton he and Travis controlled 80 per cent of the timber trade in Restigouche County.

McMillan was appointed a justice of the peace in 1845 and in 1857 was elected to the assembly for Restigouche County as a supporter of Charles Fisher* and Samuel Leonard Tilley*. He worked hard to build his support in the county and recommended to Tilley in 1858 that restraint be used in removing from minor government offices men who had engaged in political activities for the previous government of John Hamilton Gray and Robert Duncan Wilmot*. When in November 1858 John Mercer Johnson* was forced to resign as postmaster general because of a scandal in his department, McMillan opposed the appointment of Charles Connell*, who subsequently embarrassed the government by issuing stamps bearing his own likeness rather than that of Queen Victoria. McMillan had suggested that Peter Mitchell*, the member for Northumberland, be appointed because he was better qualified and his selection would have pleased the northern part of the province.

Re-elected in 1861, McMillan became surveyor general in Tilley’s administration on 26 July. McMillan’s business partner, Jeremiah Travis, objected to his involvement in politics because it took too much of his time. Travis had been residing in Liverpool for several months each year to handle all the company’s business outside the province, and he relied on McMillan to carry on the business in New Brunswick. This disagreement led to the breakup of their partnership in 1862 and was followed by charges from Travis that McMillan had hired men to cut timber illegally since he had become surveyor general. Travis asked Tilley to dismiss McMillan, but Tilley refused and McMillan continued in office till 1865. He improved the efficiency of his department by changing operating procedures and clarifying the duties of its employees, though opponents accused him of neglecting his duties in Fredericton to tend to his own business interests in the north of the province.

In March 1865 Tilley’s government was defeated by Albert James Smith and the opponents of New Brunswick’s entry into confederation. One of only six pro-confederates elected in 1865 and the only member of Tilley’s government to be re-elected, McMillan offered to resign his Restigouche seat and permit his defeated party leader to run in a by-election there. Tilley declined the offer. With Abner Reid McClelan, McMillan then led the small opposition in the assembly and defended confederation against its opponents in the Smith government.

The French-speaking Roman Catholic voters in Westmorland, Kent, and Gloucester counties had voted against confederation in the March 1865 election, and the following October McMillan encouraged Tilley to seek allies in Canada who might influence the French-speaking clergy in New Brunswick to support union. McMillan felt there was more hope of turning them from their opposition than there would be of changing the views of Irish Catholics, who had also opposed confederation in 1865. His analysis, however, proved faulty. Tilley was able to win over the Irish clergy, especially Bishop James Rogers* of Chatham, and in the election of May–June 1866 many Irish Catholics supported the pro-confederates. The Fenian raids and the resignation from the Smith government of the Irish Catholic spokesman, Timothy Warren Anglin*, also aided the Irish switch. French-speaking voters, however, maintained their opposition to confederation. In this 1866 election McMillan’s immense popularity assured his personal success in Restigouche, which had a majority of English-speaking voters.

McMillan became postmaster general in the administration of Tilley and Peter Mitchell which succeeded Smith’s government. Like many leading New Brunswick politicians, however, he withdrew from the provincial scene after 1 July 1867 and in September was chosen by acclamation as the first representative of Restigouche County in the House of Commons. His decision to run caused confusion because in August he had been appointed federal post office inspector of New Brunswick. Alexander Campbell*, the postmaster general in the government of Sir John A. Macdonald*, felt that he could not hold this office and simultaneously sit in parliament. McMillan therefore resigned the office, but after spending only one session as an mp he vacated his seat and in 1868 again took up the position of post office inspector, living in Saint John. Until his death in 1886 he supervised the operation of all post offices in the province, checked accounts, investigated complaints, and hired all employees.

John McMillan was described as a Liberal in politics. Although a firm supporter of Tilley and confederation, his career was not marked by any major achievement. A capable businessman, he served the province well as surveyor general and postmaster general and he appears to have been a competent administrator.

William Arthur Spray

PAC, MG 27, I, D15, 3, McMillan to Tilley, 12 April 1858; 4, McMillan to Tilley, 6 Sept., 23 Oct. 1858, and Travis to Tilley, 23 Oct. 1858; 9, McMillan to Tilley, 16 Oct. 1860; 10, Travis to Tilley, 23 July 1861, and Tilley to Travis, 27 July 1861; 12, Watters to Tilley, 29 May 1862; 13, Travis to Tilley, 6, 18 Sept. 1862, and Tilley to Travis, 23 Sept. 1862; 20, Morrison to Tilley, 22 July 1867, and Campbell to Tilley, 7, 8 Aug. 1867. PANB, “N.B. political biog.” (J. C. and H. B. Graves), II: 160. PRO, CO 188/145, Gordon to Cardwell, 17 April 1886. Daily Sun (Saint John, N.B.), 25 May, 13, 20 Sept. 1886. Gleaner and Northumberland Schediasma (Chatham, N.B.), 18 Nov. 1850. New Brunswick Reporter and Fredericton Advertiser, 2, 23 Aug. 1861; 13 Sept. 1867. Royal Gazette (Fredericton), 22 Oct. 1845. Canadian directory of parl. (J. K. Johnson). Dominion annual register, 1886. James Hannay, Hist. of N.B.; Wilmot and Tilley (Toronto, 1907). McNutt, New Brunswick.

General Bibliography

Cite This Article

William Arthur Spray, “McMILLAN, JOHN (1816-86),” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 11, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed August 30, 2014, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/mcmillan_john_1816_86_11E.html.

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Permalink: http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/mcmillan_john_1816_86_11E.html
Author of Article: William Arthur Spray
Title of Article: McMILLAN, JOHN (1816-86)
Publication Name: Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 11
Publisher: University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication: 1982
Year of revision: 1982
Access Date: August 30, 2014