BARNABY, THOMAS (Thoma), Micmac woodsman and chief; b. 17 March 1841 along the Miramichi River near Newcastle, N.B., son of Thomas Barnaby and Pelonick — of the Eel Ground band; m. 3 Sept. 1861 Moll Judick (Judy, Judith) Suasin (Swasson) of the same band, and they had at least nine children, most of whom died prematurely; d. 23 March 1907 at Eel Ground and was buried in the Catholic cemetery there.
In 1877 Thomas Barnaby’s name headed a petition of would-be voters of the Eel Ground band who demanded a democratically elected chief to take the place of John Nicholas Julian, described as “quite feeble and partially blind and otherwise incapable of holding the chiefship any longer.” Chief Julian was in his ninth year as successor to his father, Nicholas Julian, who had been chief from 1841 to 1868, and was heir to a family tradition of leadership dating back to the 1770s [see John Julien*]. The federal Indian Act of 1876 permitted bands to choose chiefs through an electoral process. However, in 1871 Chief Julian had succeeded in having the dominion government make him chief for life of the Eel Ground band. This appointment conformed with commissions which previous hereditary chiefs in the Julian line had been granted by colonial and provincial authorities.
Although the 1877 petition was signed by the majority of men in the Eel Ground band, the Indian affairs branch declined to remove Chief Julian, and he did not step down voluntarily. On the contrary, he clung on doggedly for another 11 years, frustrating the will of the electorate, and subjecting himself to a barrage of complaints from unhappy band members. Before he died in the spring of 1888, the tradition of hereditary chiefs which he represented had fallen into local disfavour. Even some members of his own family were among those who petitioned successfully at this time for the introduction of a system of elected chiefs.
Thomas Barnaby, who earned his living as a woodsman, was one of two candidates for the chief-ship when the first election was held on 26 July 1888. Both he and his challenger, Peter Ginnish, were middle-aged men, with families, who had been born into membership in the Eel Ground band. Of the 50-odd electors, 29 appeared at the poll, and 15 voted for Barnaby, giving him the office by a one-vote margin.
A designated responsibility of Indian chiefs in this period was the suppression of “intemperance and profligacy.” In concentrating his efforts in this direction, Chief Barnaby – himself “a sober and respectable man,” according to the district Indian superintendent, William D. Carter – won the support of “some of the best Indians,” “the white settlers near the Reserve,” and the parish priest, the Reverend Peter Duffy. The chief also came to enjoy the support of most of the Eel Ground electorate. The Indian Act provided for three-year terms for elected chiefs, but in practice the term of a successful incumbent might be allowed to continue for an indefinite period. Chief Barnaby had served five years before serious opposition arose in the summer of 1893. Although the chief saw this unrest as a reaction to his attempts to “enforce the law,” unrestrained ambitions would seem to have been at its root.
Peter Nicholas Julian*, a son of John N. Julian, alleged in March 1894 that Chief Barnaby’s most vocal rival, Lemuel Renou, and Renou’s followers were endeavouring to have the chief removed from office by “detestable means.” According to Julian, a charge of immorality had been “trumped up against him.” At the same time, however, Julian maintained that, while he did not wish to interfere with Chief Barnaby’s term, he considered himself the “proper person” to be chief. Passions unleashed by Barnaby’s detractors were sufficient to force an election in April, in which Barnaby was defeated by his erstwhile defender, who then appointed Renou “second chief.” Since Renou’s principal supporters voted for Julian, it would seem that a deal had been struck between the otherwise-hostile camps to defeat Barnaby at the poll.
If there is a blot on Chief Barnaby’s record, it is that he allowed himself to act out his bitterness over the manner in which he was ousted. In 1895 he led an unsuccessful campaign to have his successor discredited and removed from office, and he later aligned himself for a time with the trouble-making “Renou opposition,” which came into being after Chief Julian had ceased to retain the incorrigible Renou as second chief.
Superintendent Carter described Barnaby as “one of the most intelligent Indians in Eel Ground” and his advice continued to be sought by Carter and others after he was no longer chief of the band. According to a newspaper report at the time of his death, he was a “well known” and “respected” figure in the European community along the Miramichi River. Unfortunately, there are no accounts from which to glean an Indian assessment of his character or his leadership abilities, but the fact that there was a large attendance at his funeral suggests that he was held in high regard until the end of his life by residents of the Eel Ground reserve.
NA, RG 10, 2003, file 7535; 2517, file 106689; 2522, file 107222, pt.2; 2603, file 121698, pts.2, 48. St Mary’s Roman Catholic Church (Newcastle, N.B.), RBMB for St Joachim’s Church (Eel Ground). St Patrick’s Roman Catholic Church (Nelson-Miramichi, N.B.), RBMB. St Thomas Roman Catholic Church (Red Bank, N.B.), RBMB. Morning Freeman (Saint John, N.B.), 18 July 1868. Union Advocate (Newcastle), 27 March 1907. W. D. Hamilton, The Julian tribe (Fredericton, 1984).