FERGUSON, ROBERT, businessman, justice of the peace, judge, office holder, and militia officer; b. 17 April 1768 in Logierait, Scotland, son of Adam Ferguson and Marjory Connacher; m. 11 Dec. 1806 Mary Adams, the first English child born on the Restigouche River, N.B., and they had eight sons and three daughters; d. 10 Aug. 1851 in Campbellton, N.B.
Robert Ferguson came to the Restigouche area in 1796 as chief clerk for the mercantile firm established at Martin’s Point (Campbellton) in 1794 by his brother Alexander. Upon Alexander’s death in 1803 Robert took over the business. By 1805 he was the leading merchant and exporter of fish on the Restigouche and was shipping approximately 1,400 barrels of salmon a year. In later years this branch of the business declined slightly but it was still profitable and during the 1840s Ferguson continued to ship about 1,200 barrels per annum. In 1812 he purchased more than 2,000 acres of land, a sawmill, and several fishing lots from the widow of his former rival, Samuel Lee*, thus becoming the largest landowner in the region. Operating the only grist-mill and sawmill on the river, by the 1820s the firm was buying and exporting square timber.
About 1812, at the village now called Atholville, Ferguson had begun building his own ships to carry his fish and timber to market and, although there are few records of his activity in this sphere, it is known that he built at least three barques, a brig, and two schooners. During the War of 1812 two of his vessels were captured by American privateers and Ferguson, a passenger on one of them, spent some time as a prisoner in Salem, Mass. Shortly after his return, he built an impressive residence, Athol House, and a store which became the business centre of that part of the Restigouche.
In 1813 Ferguson was made a justice of the peace for Northumberland County and in 1827, on the advice of Hugh Munro*, the leading magistrate, he was appointed a justice of the peace as well as a justice of the Inferior Court of Common Pleas for the newly created county of Gloucester. He was to retain these posts until his death. In 1826 he had advertised for sale town lots which eventually formed part of the settlement of Campbellton. One of the founders of the Gloucester Agricultural and Emigrant Society in 1828, and of the Restigouche Agricultural Society in 1840, he served as president of both organizations for many years. In 1831 Ferguson was one of the commissioners charged with laying out the first highway between New Brunswick and Lower Canada. He was colonel of the 1st battalion, Restigouche Regiment, in the 1840s, and a member of the county’s first board of health, which was established in 1840. A religious individual, he provided the land for the earliest Presbyterian church on the Restigouche.
Ferguson was a friend of Hugh Munro and the two men belonged to the old guard in the northern part of the province. This group was composed of loyalists and early Scottish settlers who controlled the trade and commerce of the region; they virtually ruled the Acadians in the period 1790–1830, and were also unpopular with the new immigrants, mostly Irish, who began to arrive after the Napoleonic Wars. Their authority was first seriously challenged when William End* assumed the position of county clerk in 1827. End became the champion of the Irish and the Acadians, and Ferguson and Munro tried to have him removed from office. In the Gloucester County elections of 1830, End ran successfully as county clerk against Munro. When End called a meeting of the Court of Quarter Sessions the following year, however, Ferguson (whom End had referred to as “a perjured old villain”) and the other magistrates refused to attend. End then appointed new magistrates but Ferguson, Munro, and their colleagues persuaded the government to remove him from his post on the grounds that he was not a resident of the county. Their victory was short-lived; on 1 July 1831 Lord Goderich, the colonial secretary, ordered that he be reappointed. Goderich also directed End to move from Newcastle to Bathurst and to apologize to Ferguson and the other magistrates for having exceeded his authority in replacing them.
Conditions in the northern part of the province were changing in the 1830s and the pre-eminence of men such as Ferguson and Munro was coming to an end as immigration increased. To combat this decline, Ferguson began organizing meetings in 1836 to press for the creation of a new county, one in which he could retain his prominent position. Gloucester County was divided in 1837 and the new county of Restigouche was established. Ferguson continued to be an influential man there and during the 1840s he was known as “the founder and father of Restigouche.” From his home, he operated one of the largest farms in the area and all visiting dignitaries, including Lieutenant Governor Sir William MacBean George Colebrooke*, were entertained there. Ferguson, the leader of the business community on the Restigouche from the first decade of the 19th century until his death in 1851, was to be followed by his sons who also occupied prominent positions in the region.
N.B. Museum, F64, no.36; Ferguson family, cb doc. Northumberland Land Registry Office (Newcastle, N.B.), Registry books, 10: 90–95 (mfm. at PANB). PANB, RG 10, RS108, James Butters et al., 1817; Robert Ferguson Jr., 1817. Robert Cooney, A compendious history of the northern part of the province of New Brunswick, and of the district of Gaspé, in Lower Canada (Halifax, 1832; repub. Chatham, N.B., 1896). N.B., House of Assembly, Journal, 1850, app.: clix–x. Gleaner (Chatham), 25 Oct. 1831, 19 Jan. 1836, 28 Jan. 1840, 26 Jan. 1841, 18 Oct. 1842, 3 Jan. 1844, 25 Aug. 1851. Mercury (Miramichi, N.B.), 12 Dec. 1826, 29 May 1827, 19 Feb. 1828. G. B. MacBeath, The story of the Restigouche: covering the Indian, French, and English periods of the Restigouche area (Saint John, N.B., 1954). MacNutt, New Brunswick. J. C. Henderson, “Sketches in Restigouche history,” Daily Sun (Saint John), 7 Feb. 1883.