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GERRISH, JOSEPH, merchant, army officer, and office-holder; b. 29 Sept. 1709 in Boston, Massachusetts, third son of John Gerrish and Sarah Hobbes (Hobbs); d. 3 June 1774 in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

Joseph Gerrish was tutored in the counting-house of his father, a substantial Boston merchant. He eventually became a business partner, and upon his father’s death in 1737, a beneficiary of his estate. Gerrish first came to Nova Scotia when he was commissioned an ensign in the 3rd Massachusetts Regiment and participated in the campaign against Louisbourg, Île Royale (Cape Breton Island), in 1745. The following year he was part of the force under Arthur Noble* which was sent to reinforce the garrison of Annapolis Royal, and he was wounded in the defeat of the New England forces at Grand Pré on 31 Jan. 1746/47. Back in Boston by July 1747, Gerrish then entered into partnership with John Barrell and supplied goods to the Annapolis Royal garrison. He does not seem to have prospered in Boston and moved to Halifax soon after its founding in 1749, investing in a number of houses and a fishing business. The fishing enterprise failed, and by 1755 he had been forced to turn to farming “for the support of my unfortunate Family.” Some time before 1759 he was appointed to the lifetime position of naval storekeeper for the royal dockyard.

Gerrish entered public service in 1753 with his appointment as a justice of the peace for Halifax County and a judge of the Inferior Court of Common Pleas. Elected a member of the first Nova Scotia House of Assembly in October 1758, he served on its committee to answer Governor Charles Lawrence*’s address; the following year he was appointed to the Council.

When in 1761 Lieutenant Governor Jonathan Belcher was instructed to prevent the renewal of the debtors’ act, which kept foreign creditors from prosecuting their Nova Scotian debtors in Nova Scotia courts, Gerrish and his brother Benjamin helped organize a boycott of the assembly during the winter of 1761–62. Gerrish’s indebtedness to Barrell seems to have contributed to his fervent resistance. Although the Board of Trade ordered him removed from civil office because of his role in organizing the boycott, he was reinstated after Belcher’s replacement by Montagu Wilmot* in 1763.

Gerrish appears to have been fairly conservative in political affairs thereafter, devoting himself to his mercantile interests and official duties. In 1764 he unsuccessfully applied for permission to mine and export coal from Cape Breton. Two years later he was appointed a surrogate judge of the Vice-Admiralty Court in Halifax. When the court system was reorganized in 1769, Jonathan Sewell was appointed judge instead, but with the recommendation of Governor Francis Bernard of Massachusetts Sewell deputed Gerrish to serve in his office; Gerrish held the position until his death.

In 1740 Gerrish had married Mary Brenton and they had one son and two daughters. She died in Halifax some time after 1754, and in 1768 he married Mary Cradock of Boston. There were no children by this second marriage. Gerrish died in Halifax in 1774 and was buried in St Paul’s churchyard. His widow later married John Breynton, the rector of St Paul’s.

Stephen E. Patterson

A portrait by John Singleton Copley presumed to be of Gerrish is in the Chicago Art Institute.

Harvard College Library, Harvard University (Cambridge, Mass.), ms Sparks 4, Governor Bernard’s official papers, V (letterbooks, 1765–68), 68, 141; VII (letterbooks, 1768–69), 153–55. Akins, History of Halifax City, 52, 61, 218–19, 246–61. J. G. Bourinot, Builders of Nova Scotia . . . (Toronto, 1900), 139–49. Brebner, Neutral Yankees (1937), 75, 79–81, 216n, 218n, 223n. Carl Ubbelohde, The vice-admiralty courts and the American revolution (Chapel Hill, N.C., 1960), 105, 128–29, 148–49, 179. A. W. H. Eaton, “Old Boston families, number two: the family of Capt. John Gerrish,” New England Hist. and Geneal. Register, LXVII (1913), 105–15.

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Cite This Article

Stephen E. Patterson, “GERRISH, JOSEPH,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 4, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed May 25, 2024, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/gerrish_joseph_4E.html.

The citation above shows the format for footnotes and endnotes according to the Chicago manual of style (16th edition). Information to be used in other citation formats:

Permalink:   http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/gerrish_joseph_4E.html
Author of Article:   Stephen E. Patterson
Title of Article:   GERRISH, JOSEPH
Publication Name:   Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 4
Publisher:   University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication:   1979
Year of revision:   1979
Access Date:   May 25, 2024