BEARDSLEY, BARTHOLOMEW CRANNELL, lawyer, politician, and judge; b. 21 Oct. 1775 in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., son of John Beardsley* and Gertrude Crannell; m. Mary Jenkins, and they had six sons and one daughter; d. 24 March 1855 in Oakville, Upper Canada.
Bartholomew Crannell Beardsley was the son of the chaplain to the Loyal American Regiment and the grandson of Bartholomew Crannell, a prosperous Poughkeepsie attorney, both loyalists who settled by the Saint John River (N.B.) following the American revolution. Young Beardsley studied law in Saint John at the office of Ward Chipman* and was admitted to the New Brunswick bar in October 1796. The following spring he headed for Upper Canada where he set up practice in Newark (Niagara-on-the-Lake). He attended the founding meeting of the Law Society of Upper Canada at Wilson’s Hotel, Newark, on 17 July 1797 and became a bencher of the society two years later. Beardsley subsequently returned to New Brunswick, but, finding his prospects there “by no means flattering,” by 1807 he had resumed his practice in Upper Canada. The people and events of this period in the history of the province would provide material for the novel The victims of tyranny, written 40 years later by his son Charles Edwin.
During the War of 1812 Beardsley assisted Judge William Campbell* as an officer of the court on two circuits of eastern and western Upper Canada. In the spring of 1814 Beardsley, John Ten Broeck, and William Birdseye Peters* served as defence counsel for prisoners such as Jacob Overholser* on trial for treason at the Ancaster “Bloody Assize.” Beardsley developed a close acquaintance with William Lyon Mackenzie*, who, in May 1824, read the first issue of his Colonial Advocate “word for word to my worthy friend Mr. Beardsley . . . who, as a whole, was pleased to approve it.” A few weeks later the Advocate referred to Beardsley as the lawyer in 1819 for Bartemas Ferguson*, the editor of the Niagara Spectator accused of libel for publishing an article by Robert Gourlay*. Though he had been unsuccessful, Beardsley was praised by Mackenzie for standing up “on the side of liberal ideas and in behalf of the independence of the Canadian press.”
With the Advocate’s enthusiastic backing, Beardsley was elected in the summer of 1824 as one of the four members for Lincoln in the House of Assembly. Riding on a wave of anti-government, economizing sentiment, he proposed legislation “to guard against corruption in the selection of juries” and opposed government financial support for the Welland Canal. As well, he supported the rights of religious minorities and advocated a more liberal policy for admission to the bar. Sympathetic to the grievances of American settlers who were denied full citizenship and whose land titles were put in jeopardy by the alien laws, he played a minor role in the reform agitation which eventually led to their repeal. His stand on these issues earned him the approval of Mackenzie and the Canadian Freeman’s editor Francis Collins* and the vilification of Andrew Heron’s Niagara Gleaner, which considered Beardsley and his Lincoln colleagues John Johnston Lefferty* and Robert Randal* “a curse and a disgrace to the District.”
Beardsley proved, on occasion, sufficiently independent to irk his colleagues as well as his opponents. His vote with the majority in January 1825 to withhold from Mackenzie the position of official reporter to the assembly provoked Mackenzie to comment that he had always denied that Beardsley was “a mere tool in our hands, to mould him as we please” and now “the event proves that we spoke truth.” Early in 1828 Beardsley chaired the committee and wrote its report supporting Randal’s grievances against Solicitor General Henry John Boulton* over land matters involving John Le Breton*. But just before the assembly was dissolved that March, Beardsley “abused and vilified” Randal “without cause.” Beardsley attributed his defeat in the ensuing election “to the falsehoods and misrepresentations” of Mackenzie, Lefferty, and Randal, and bitterly refused to “interfere” in the agitation occasioned by the dismissal of judge John Walpole Willis* in June 1828, resolving “to meddle in political matters as little as possible.” Two years later, however, he ran again with Mackenzie’s grudging support: “Mr. Beardsley is sometimes out of humour, but we imagine his heart is in the right place for the country.” Returned once more, he voted regularly with the Mackenzie faction, objecting to the restrictions of the Marriage Bill of 1829, favouring the vote by ballot, and again opposing public funding for the Welland Canal on the grounds that “Canalling . . . was not so profitable as reported.” By the end of March 1831 Beardsley’s popularity in Lincoln was said to be at an all-time high. During the next session he fought against Mackenzie’s expulsion from the assembly and even favoured the dissolution of parliament on the issue.
For some unknown reason Beardsley left Upper Canada in the fall of 1832 and relocated his practice in Woodstock, N. B. In 1834 he was appointed a judge of the Inferior Court of Common Pleas and judge of probate for Carleton County. That year he ran unsuccessfully for the House of Assembly, but he was elected three years later. Remarks made during the campaign about his “extremely liberal political principles” resulted in Beardsley’s bringing an action for slander. Defeated in the elections of 1842 and 1846, Beardsley failed to receive the political appointment he had hoped for from Lieutenant Governor Edmund Walker Head* in 1848, and the next year he wrote to his old friend William Hamilton Merritt*, stating that he would willingly return to Upper Canada if he were offered a suitable job. He had made many public and private sacrifices for the cause of political reform, he reminded Merritt, and now that the reformers were in power he thought he had “a right to expect a portion of their patronage.” No appointment was forthcoming.
Beardsley returned to Upper Canada, nevertheless, and opened a practice in Oakville where he had purchased land in 1847. In the spring of 1853 he was back in Woodstock for the funeral of his son Horace Homer, who had been one of the members of the New Brunswick legislature for Carleton. Though 77 years old, Beardsley was asked to complete his late son’s term, but this gesture of respect came to naught when Charles Connell* unexpectedly declared his candidacy. Defeated in the by-election, Beardsley returned to Oakville. A resident there remembered the judge, as Beardsley liked to be called, for his “fine knowledge of men and events” and his many interesting stories of bygone days in Upper Canada. He also noted that Beardsley “had some peculiar ideas which were too advanced for his time.” Beardsley remained active to the end of his life, riding on horseback to pick up his mail a day or two before his death.
AO, MS 516, David Thorburn to Mackenzie, 29 March 1831; RG 22, ser.14-a, 30: 40–42; ser.125, 2: 45, 177; ser.134, 4: 156; ser.155, will of B. C. Beardsley. MTL, W. W. Baldwin papers, B. C. Beardsley to W. W. Baldwin, 1 Aug. 1828. PAC, MG 23, D1, ser.1, 66: 62–65; D2, 9; D5; MG 24, A20, 3: 9; E1, 23: 3812–13; RG 1, L3, 29: 133/31. PANB, “N.B. political biog.” (J. C. and H. B. Graves), IX. C. E. Beardsley, The victims of tyranny: a tale (2v., Buffalo, N.Y., 1847). Levi Beardsley, Reminiscences; personal and other incidents; early settlement of Otswego County; notices and anecdotes of public men; judicial, legal and legislative matters; field sports; dissertations and discussions (New York, 1852), 13, 165. “Early records of St. Mark’s and St. Andrew’s churches, Niagara,” comp. Janet Carnochan, OH, 3 (1901): 41, 44. The records of Christ Church, Poughkeepsie, New York, ed. H. W. Reynolds (2v., Poughkeepsie, 1911–[?]), 2: 10. U.C., House of Assembly, Journal, 1825–28, 1831–32. Canadian Freeman (York [Toronto]), 1 Dec. 1825; 18 Jan. 1827; 17 July, 7 Aug. 1828; 27 Jan., 17 Feb., 3 March, 29 Dec. 1831; 2 Feb. 1832. Christian Guardian, 4 April 1855. Colonial Advocate, 10 June, 8 July, 5 Aug. 1824; 27 Jan. 1825; 8 Nov. 1827; 24 Jan., 9 Feb., 27 March, 10 April 1828; 7 Oct. 1830; 4 Nov. 1834. Gleaner (Niagara [Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont.]), February, April, 28 May 1825; March, April 1828. New-Brunswick Courier, 27 Dec. 1834, 2 Feb. 1839. Niagara Spectator, 1819. Royal Gazette (Fredericton), 22 April 1835, 15 June 1836, 4 Oct. 1837. Canadian almanac, 1850: 68. H. P. Hill, Robert Randall and the Le Breton Flats: an account of the early legal and political controversies respecting the ownership of a large portion of the present city of Ottawa (Ottawa, 1919), 20, 56–57. Lawrence, Judges of N.B. (Stockton and Raymond), 203. Lindsey, Life and times of Mackenzie, 1: 64–65. Mary McLean, “Index to unofficial Hansard of Upper Canada, 1820–1832” (ma thesis, Univ. of Toronto, 1938), xxxi, lviii, lxix, lxxiii. H. C. Mathews, Oakville and the Sixteen: the history of an Ontario port (Toronto, 1953; repr. 1971). W. R. Riddell, The legal profession in Upper Canada in its early periods (Toronto, 1916); “The law of marriage in Upper Canada,” CHR, 2 (1921): 239.