MORTON, SILVANUS, merchant, shipowner, and politician; b. 13 April 1805 in Liverpool, N.S., probably the son of James Morton and Lucy Gorham; m. 9 Jan. 1833 Ezelia Ford, and they had six children; d. 8 Feb. 1887 at Milton, N. S.
Silvanus Morton shared his family’s interest in the timber industry in southern Nova Scotia and by 1828 he had begun to acquire land in Liverpool Township. He also developed an interest in shipping; by 1840 he owned a 170-ton brig the Milton. In his lifetime he owned, wholly or partly, about ten vessels and employed both these and others to ship lumber to the West Indies. On the local market he sold timber cut at his own three mills, foodstuffs brought from Halifax, from Canada, and from the United States, and sugar and molasses imported from the West Indies.
In 1856 Morton became a founding shareholder in the Milton Railroad Company. By then he was a prominent and wealthy resident of Queens County, and he held a number of minor offices in the county such as overseer of the poor for Milton. But Morton was not without detractors in the community; he and other members of a committee appointed to examine the public accounts of Queens County in 1856 were accused of incompetence in the performance of their task, a charge investigated and rejected by the county court. The Liverpool Transcript reported that a court case in which Morton sued a debtor “presented some extraordinary features on the part of the defence, and considerable hard swearing took place.” The difficulties of the litigations in which Morton became involved may have been a result of a certain pomposity on Morton’s part, revealed in October 1857 when he used the columns of the Transcript to lecture a young man he mistakenly believed to have stolen a few fish from him.
In 1859 Morton entered provincial politics, as a Reform candidate, by contesting the Queens County assembly seat held by John Campbell. Morton promised “to displace the most offensive appointments made by the late Government . . . to give every possible opposition to any Sectarian influence . . . to use every exertion towards economy in the expenditure of the Public Revenue.” He lost by six votes, in a contest which produced “some little fighting and squabbling of a rather spirited turn,” but he took the seat in 1860 after an inquiry into the election by a house committee.
In an assembly containing Joseph Howe*, Morton shared the fate of most back-benchers in his party. Records of debates do not indicate that Morton ever spoke, other than to present an occasional bill or petition on matters affecting Queens County. He did not, however, shirk his duties in the assembly; he attended its sessions, served on various committees, and was independent enough to be the only member to dissent from a report presented in 1863 on Indian affairs. In the same year Morton informed a gathering of constituents that he wanted to retire from public life, and he did not run again.
While Silvanus Morton sat in the assembly his sons Charles and John played an increasingly important role in the family’s business affairs. Morton acquired additional property in the mid 1860s and transferred much of it to his sons. By 1869 he was a justice of the peace. He was also the fourth largest shareholder and president of the Bank of Liverpool, founded in 1871. Many shareholders suffered severe losses when the bank collapsed in 1873, the situation being made worse by the fact that shareholders were responsible for twice the value of their shares. Morton was dead when the Supreme Court of Nova Scotia rendered the final judgement against shareholders in 1888; his estate settled promptly, but, according to the Liverpool Advance of 9 Feb. 1887, Morton himself had been “obliged with many others ultimately to succumb” to the financial calamities which the bank failure had unleashed.
R. J. Long, “The annals of Liverpool and Queens County, 1760–1867” (1926) is in the possession of Seth Bartling (Liverpool, N.S.) (typescript at Dalhousie Univ. Library, Halifax; mfm. at PANS). PANS, MS file, Banks, Bank of Liverpool, 1878–80. Queens County Court of Probate (Liverpool), Original estate papers, A, 1887–93 (mfm. at PANS). Queens County Registry of Deeds (Liverpool), 9, 1827–31; 13, 1843–46; 14, 1846–51; 19, 1864–65; 20, 1866 (mfm. at PANS). N.S., House of Assembly, Debates and proc., 1861; Journal and proc., 1860–63. Liverpool Advance, 9 Feb. 1887. Liverpool Transcript, 1854–63. Directory of N.S. MLAs, 258. McAlpine’s N.S. directory, 1868–69: 683. Harry Eisenhauer, “The Bank of Liverpool (1871–1879),” Canadian Paper Money Journal (Toronto), 9 (1973): 6–8, 21.