BAIRD, JOHN, soldier and schoolmaster; b. 1795 in Graffa (Republic of Ireland), son of William Baird and Susan Teel; m. first 30 March 1817 Annie Diggin (1798–1836) of Dublin, and they had two sons and two daughters, including William Teel Baird*, military officer and author; m. secondly 1836 or 1837, and by that marriage had six children; d. 1858 near Tobique (Sisson Ridge), N.B.
John Baird was educated at Graffa and later in the town of Monaghan, before entering the Seminary for School Masters in County Kildare. In 1817 the 74th Foot was stationed there and the commander, Colonel Sir Robert Trench, visited the seminary in hopes of persuading one of the student teachers to join his regiment, which was about to sail for British North America. Baird volunteered and was signed on for seven years as a teacher. He was given the pay and rank of sergeant and was promised 200 acres of crown land, probably along the upper Saint John River valley, when his term expired. In 1818 the regiment left for New Brunswick and was stationed at Fredericton, where Baird completed his service conducting a school for the children of the men of the regiment. The poor children from the town, including blacks, who were not admitted to white schools, also attended as free students. Baird’s wife, Annie, taught a school for young ladies.
Baird was released from the army in 1823 and in March of that year he took his wife and three children by sleigh about 100 miles up the Saint John River to the parish of Kent, where he had been given a grant of land in an area in which other disbanded soldiers had been settled earlier. For two years Baird farmed during the summer and taught during the winter. He was joined by a number of his relatives from Ireland, who later founded the settlement of Bairdsville.
In the spring of 1825 Baird returned to Fredericton to become principal of the Madras or National School, which had been established there in 1820. Similar schools were being founded throughout the province, chiefly through the efforts of Lieutenant Governor George Stracey Smyth*, to provide facilities for children whose parents could not afford to pay for their education. These schools were supported by the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel, the National Society in England, the Church of England, and the New Brunswick government. In order to keep costs to a minimum, a system of monitors was used by which a large number of students could be taught by a few teachers. The instructors worked directly with the older children who then passed on the lessons they had learned to the younger ones. Although there was some concern over the control exerted by the Church of England in these schools, it was the most effective educational system in the province prior to the passage of the Common Schools Act of 1871. Madras schools were to remain in operation in New Brunswick until 1900.
Baird’s original schoolhouse, the old guardhouse, was destroyed along with much of Fredericton in the disastrous fire of October 1825. For the next few years classes were held in the old Market House and once again Baird taught both white and black children together as well as conducting a night-school. For a time he was assisted by his wife. Baird was a great success as a teacher for some years, but in February 1836 his wife and two daughters died of consumption and shortly afterwards the members of the Madras School Board expressed some dissatisfaction with the way the school was being operated. They ordered an investigation in July 1836 to determine whether or not the master should be replaced. Nothing happened for two years, but in May 1838 the board decided that Baird’s services would no longer be required as of 1 October. They later reconsidered the decision and his appointment was continued until May 1839 when he was replaced.
Two years later Baird left Fredericton and moved to land he had purchased near Tobique on the upper Saint John River. He lived quietly there, farming and teaching, until his death. Baird was one of the pioneer teachers who helped the Madras board provide many poor children with an education at a time when few such opportunities existed for them.
PANB, RG 2, RS8, Education, 2/59; RG 4, RS24, S45-P138. The New Brunswick census of 1851 for Victoria County, comp. D. F. Johnson (Perth-Andover, N.B., 1979). “The genealogical scrapbook,” comp.D. F. Johnson (typescript, Perth-Andover, 1978; copy in PANB, MC 2), 10–11. W. T. Baird, Seventy years of New Brunswick life . . . (Saint John, N.B., 1890; repr. Fredericton, 1978), 1–29. Canadian education: a history, ed. J. D. Wilson et al. (Scarborough [Toronto], 1970). “Historic homes of Fredericton,” Daily Gleaner (Fredericton), 7 Jan. 1931.