BARRY, JOHN ALEXANDER, merchant and politician; b. c. 1790 at Shelburne, N.S.; d. 1872 at La Have, N.S.
John Alexander Barry was the son of Mary Jessop and Robert Barry, an early loyalist who came to Shelburne in 1773. Barry’s first wife, by whom he had one son and four daughters, was Mary, daughter of the Reverend William Black*, a noted Methodist minister. After her death in 1833, Barry was married twice more: to Eliza J. Mercier, by whom he is thought to have had one son, and to Sophia Pernette.
For a brief time in 1829, while serving as a member of the assembly for the township of Shelburne, Barry was a popular hero and the most talked-of Nova Scotian. After he had intimated that a fellow assemblyman, Colonel Joseph Freeman, had engaged in smuggling, Barry refused to submit to the assembly’s orders to retract and pursued a course so impetuous and uncompromising that eventually he was expelled as a member and imprisoned by order of the assembly for the rest of the session. When the assembly reprimanded the editors of the Acadian Recorder and the Free Press of Halifax for affording Barry an opportunity to defend himself, Joseph Howe warned that “if Editors are brought for offences to the Bar of the House, Legislators may depend upon this – that they will be brought, individually and collectively, to a bitter expiation before the bar of the public.”
Sympathy for Barry and the unpopularity of the assembly led to a number of assemblymen being “hooted and hissed along the streets, pelted with snow, mud, stones and other missiles, and assailed by every opprobrious expression that could be vented by a heedless and unthinking rabble.” The assembly quickly reasserted its authority, but the “Barry riots” became part of the folklore of the province. Upon his release Barry did extensive research in the Journals of the British House of Commons and published 25 letters in the Acadian Recorder seeking to demonstrate that British precedents could justify neither his imprisonment nor his expulsion.
Having taken the Tory side in the celebrated “Brandy Dispute” of 1830 [see Collins], Barry failed in his subsequent attempts to be elected to the legislature. Thereafter he gained public attention only through his lectures, principally to Halifax audiences, on the customs, artifacts, and chiefs of the Micmac and other North American Indians. In this capacity he aroused none of the excitement of 1829.
Acadian Recorder (Halifax), 1829–30. Novascotian (Halifax), 1829–30. J. M. Beck, “Privileges and powers of the Nova Scotia House of Assembly,” Dal. Rev., XXXV (1955–56), 351–61. George Cox, “John Alexander Barry and his times,” N.S. Hist. Soc. Coll., XXVIII (1949), 133–46.