BRECKEN, JOHN, businessman, politician, and office holder; b. 23 Feb. 1800 in Charlottetown, elder son of Ralph Brecken and Matilda Robinson; m. there 20 June 1826 Margaret Leah de St Croix, and they had three sons, including Frederick de St Croix Brecken*, and one daughter; d. there 2 Nov. 1847.
John Brecken’s grandfather was a loyalist of the same name who had come to St John’s (Prince Edward) Island from Shelburne, N.S. in 1784. He soon prospered as a merchant, and took John’s father into the firm. Ralph died when John was only 13, leaving an estate of almost £25,000, most of which was in the form of debts owing to the business. This estate was not dispersed among his children and the business continued to be operated under his name; control seems to have been in the hands of his widow and their son John. Periodic divisions of income and capital from the estate were to be made by the Probate Court until Matilda died in 1842. Of the seven children, John received the largest share of these distributions which, combined with an income left him in 1827 by his grandfather, seems to have provided a fund of capital that he sustained and possibly added to.
Using both his own resources and those controlled by his mother, Brecken began acting as a banker for many in the colony. He served as deputy treasurer of the colony for a number of years and on several occasions was acting treasurer. He was named resident director of the Bank of British North America in 1836. Unlike other well-to-do merchants and capitalists, Brecken possessed wealth that was not directly connected with land. He held only a few small parcels that his grandfather had bequeathed to him, and there is no evidence that he engaged in land speculation or even lent money on the strength of mortgages.
Besides financial well-being Brecken inherited a relatively high place in the Island’s social structure. His mother was a daughter of Joseph Robinson*, a politician, and when John was married it was to the only child of Dr Benjamin de St Croix and his wife, Margaret, a granddaughter of Thomas Desbrisay*, a former lieutenant governor. Most of John’s sisters made equally advantageous and prestigious marriages, so that by 1840 an economic and social web had been woven, at the centre of which was Matilda Brecken. The web had political strands as well as social and economic ones.
Ralph Brecken had been a member of the House of Assembly for some years, serving as speaker in 1812. John’s political activity began in 1829 when he defeated James Bardin Palmer* in a Charlottetown by-election; he retained his seat the following year. In January 1834 he was named to the Council by Lieutenant Governor Aretas William Young* and, when it was separated into executive and legislative components by Lieutenant Governor Sir Charles Augustus FitzRoy* in 1839, he sat as a member of each. As such he was one of the targets of the 1841 assembly resolution concerning “family connection” in the Executive Council and “connection and influence” in the Legislative Council. At the time the resolution was passed Brecken sat with two brothers-in-law, Thomas Heath Haviland*, the colonial secretary, and James Ellis Peake, the major shipbuilder in the colony, on the Executive Council. Another brother-in-law, Donald McDonald*, a prominent landowner, sat with him on the Legislative Council. He was also related somewhat more distantly to other members of both bodies. In spite of evidence that a true “family compact” existed in the colony there is little to suggest that Brecken engaged in concerted action for direct personal advantage, and his period of public service was without major incident.
John Brecken’s obituaries were perfunctory. By 1847 the wealth and the family connections that had defined the boundaries of his life had been superseded in great measure by new political and social forces.
Bank of Montreal Arch., Court Committee of Directors, minute-book no.1 (mfm. at PAC). PAPEI, RG 6.2, Probate Court records, inventory of the estate of Ralph Brecken. PRO, CO 226/51: 12, 15, 103. Supreme Court of P.E.I. (Charlottetown), Estates Division, estate of Ralph Brecken. P.E.I., House of Assembly, Journal, 23 April 1841. Prince Edward Island Register, 9, 16 June 1829. Royal Gazette (Charlottetown), 7, 28 Sept., 12 Oct. 1830; 4 Feb. 1834; 18 Oct. 1836; 7 Jan. 1840; 9 Nov. 1847. An Island refuge: loyalists and disbanded troops on the Island of Saint John, ed. Orlo Jones and Doris Haslam (Charlottetown, 1983). I. L. Rogers, Charlottetown: the life in its buildings (Charlottetown, 1983).