BOYD, JOHN, businessman, office holder, and politician; b. 28 Sept. 1826 in Magherafelt (Northern Ireland), son of James Boyd, a shopkeeper, and Margaret E. Lynn; m. 4 Sept. 1852 Annie E. Jones in Weymouth, N.S.; d. 4 Dec. 1893 in Saint John, N.B.
In 1833, two years after their father’s death, John Boyd and his younger brother came to Saint John with their mother. At the age of 11, having received some education in local schools, John entered the employ of Mathew Holdsworth and Thomas Daniel, wholesale importers of “British and Foreign Dry Goods.” During his apprenticeship he learned all aspects of the trade, from the role of cash boy through to those of bookkeeper and buyer. As a buyer he was sent to Britain and Europe in the 1840s. Thomas Wilder Daniel, a nephew of the founder, acquired the company in 1847 and invited Boyd to become a full partner in 1854. Selling and manufacturing a wide selection of dry goods both wholesale and retail, London House, at the core of the city, became one of the more profitable establishments in Saint John.
The great fire of 1877, which burned much of the city, destroyed London House, and although Daniel and Boyd rebuilt, they do not appear to have totally recovered. Boyd had always spent generously on books, paintings, and artifacts, especially during his frequent overseas trips. His collection, the library in particular, was considered a city treasure, as was his Queen’s Square house, reportedly “one of the handsomest buildings in the city.” All these possessions were claimed by the fire. He was not wealthy in his later years, partly because of the fire loss but also, it seems, because of his questionable management and extravagant tastes.
Boyd’s travels and voracious reading provided the materials for his hobby as a platform speaker and sometime journalist. Considered in his lifetime “the most popular lecturer the province has ever produced,” he was in demand throughout the Maritimes. Although his first public speech, delivered in the mid 1840s at the Saint John Mechanics’ Institute, was in support of temperance, Boyd’s subjects ranged from “The Old World and the New, a contrast” to “Who giveth this woman, a record of courtship and marriage.” Frequently his speeches were published in newspapers, including the Boston Journal which printed an intermittent column. Little of his vitality on the podium transferred to print. His strength was in his delivery, the clever anecdote, the current canard.
Boyd’s support of temperance linked him to Samuel Leonard Tilley. From 1854 the two were, in Tilley’s words, “inseparable friends,” with Boyd becoming Tilley’s campaign manager and frequent spokesman. Many of his speeches, such as “The confederation of British North America” and “Free trade or fair trade,” supported Tilley’s endeavours. A report on New-Brunswick railways . . . , which was published by the Saint John Chamber of Commerce in 1858, ended with a favourite theme: “St. John may yet become the Winterport of that country [Canada].”
Boyd fought for confederation during the difficult years between 1864 and 1866, speaking widely and writing letters under several names to numerous newspapers. One of his favourite targets was Timothy Warren Anglin, the anti-confederate proprietor of the Roman Catholic Morning Freeman of Saint John. No doubt Boyd, the Irish Protestant, was hostile towards Anglin in any case because he was an Irish Catholic; he had once written that he wanted the whole province to “see the great big vulgar lantern jawed Paddy in his true native deformity.” Moreover, the temptation to work for the creation of a Protestant bloc in favour of confederation must have been great. His letters are full of the threat of “Papists” and the dangers of “Popery” at this time, though he mellowed as he aged.
A Presbyterian and outspoken supporter of the New Brunswick Common Schools Act of 1871, Boyd served on the Saint John school board from 1871 and in 1874 was appointed chairman, a position he held for 16 years. During that time the acrimonious struggle between Protestants and Catholics over the non-sectarian educational system established by the act was at its height. Boyd naturally expressed his views aggressively, yet it was a mark of his maturation that he was partly responsible for an accommodation reached among the warring parties in 1875, and Catholic bishop John Sweeney* publicly praised his role.
Boyd appears to have had associates among both Catholics and Protestants, for Tilley relied on his political management, later observing that “he had great influence in the city owing to large business connections and personal friendships.” He was chairman of the Victoria Hotel Company, trustee of the Savings Bank, and president of the St Patrick’s Society of Saint John. A dedicated partisan of whatever Tilley supported, he was rewarded by appointments, first to the Senate on 11 Feb. 1880 and later to the lieutenant governorship of New Brunswick on 21 Sept. 1893. His nomination as lieutenant governor was unexpected since his predecessors had all been prominent politicians. The office – though he lived a mere two months to enjoy it – was a distinction indeed for a hard-working but gossipy party hack and story teller.
NA, MG 27, I, D15. N.B. Museum, Tilley family papers. R. H. Conwell, History of the great fire in Saint John, June 20 and 21, 1877 (Boston, 1877). St. John and its business: a history of St. John . . . (Saint John, N.B., 1875), 59–61. Stewart, Story of the great fire. St. John Daily Sun, 5 March 1891. Canadian biog. dict., 2: 594–98. Canadian directory of parl. (Johnson). CPC, 1891. W. G. MacFarlane, New Brunswick bibliography; the books and writers of the province (Saint John, 1895), 12–14. Baker, Timothy Warren Anglin. K. F. C. MacNaughton, The development of the theory and practice of education in New Brunswick, 1784–1900: a study in historical background, ed. A. G. Bailey (Fredericton, 1947). C. M. Wallace, “Saint John boosters and the railroads in mid-nineteenth century,” Acadiensis (Fredericton), 6 (1976–77), no.1: 71–91.