HARDY, ELIAS, lawyer and office-holder; b. c. 1744 at Farnham, England; m. Martha Huggeford of New York; d. 25 Dec. 1798 at Saint John, New Brunswick.
Elias Hardy, the son of a nonconformist minister, read law and in 1770 was admitted as a solicitor in the courts of Chancery and King’s Bench. In 1775 he decided to seek his fortune in the new world and went to Virginia where, finding the courts closed because of the colonists’ dispute with the British government, he worked briefly as a tutor. Hardy publicly criticized Thomas Paine’s inflammatory pamphlet Common sense . . . (1776), which led to his seizure by a mob of Virginia partisans. He escaped and fled first to Maryland, and then to New York City, where he remained for the duration of the American revolution. In 1778 he was commissioned to act as a notary public. Hardy took no part in the war although he tried to obtain a military commission, but he was clearly identified as a loyalist. In 1782 he was one of the nine petitioners, including such loyalist notables as Charles Inglis*, Samuel Seabury, and Christopher Billopp*, who begged Sir Guy Carleton* to see that loyalist interests were safeguarded during the peace negotiations.
Hardy originally intended to return to England at the end of the war, when an outburst of dissension within the loyalist ranks permanently altered the course of his life. A group of 55 New York professional men and Church of England ministers petitioned the British government in July 1783 for extraordinary grants of 5,000 acres of land in Nova Scotia, in recognition of their special merits and wartime sacrifices. Many common loyalist refugees were enraged by this Petition of Fifty-five and asked a committee consisting of Hardy, Samuel Hake, Tertullus Dickinson (Hardy’s brother-in-law), and Captain Henry Law to express their opposition formally. Hardy himself drafted the angry, eloquent counter-petition, which, signed by 600 loyalists, accused the 55 of trying to secure all the best lands in Nova Scotia for themselves and force other refugees “to be tenants to those whom they consider as their superiors in nothing but deeper art and keener policy.” For the refugees, the counter-petition elicited an assurance from Carleton that all loyalist exiles would receive equitable grants of good land in Nova Scotia. For Hardy, it set the mould for his subsequent career in British North America.
Henceforth Hardy’s public activities were marked by an active, though always legally correct, opposition to the attempts of loyalists favoured by wealth, official position, or other special privilege to use their influence to take advantage of the less fortunate. He was not a radical, but his political and legal career from 1783 until his terminal illness in 1795 displays a consistent determination to protect the rights of the common citizen against more powerful; aggrandizing interests.
In 1783 Hardy decided to accompany the loyalist exiles who were resettling around the Saint John harbour area of Nova Scotia. There he encountered widespread discontent over the prejudicial manner in which the loyalist agents in charge of the settlements along the Saint John River were distributing the best commercial lots to themselves and their friends. At the request of a loyalist militia company, Hardy drafted a petition of grievances which accused the agents of favouritism in the distribution of land and supplies and threatened to take the case to London if a fairer system were not introduced. This petition thoroughly alarmed both the agents and Governor John Parr of Nova Scotia. It not only impugned the agents’ management of the settlement process, but potentially endangered their effort to get the British government to partition Nova Scotia and create a separate loyalist province north of the Bay of Fundy. The governor saw in the petition a challenge to the conduct of his administration.
At first, Parr was inclined to blame Hardy for the troubles along the Saint John. Hardy, however, went to Halifax during the winter of 1783–84 and convinced the governor that his real enemies were the loyalist agents, both because of their partiality in allocating lands and, more important, because of their desire to use the discontent within the settlements to discredit the Parr administration so as to achieve the partition of Nova Scotia. Parr and Hardy thereupon allied themselves to undermine the power of the agents and oppose the partition movement. In the spring of 1784, Hardy returned to the Saint John with Parr’s chief justice, Bryan Finucane, who promptly redistributed the contested commercial lots and began to organize a political opposition to partition. In addition, the Nova Scotia Council set up a committee of inquiry to investigate the conduct of the agents, with Hardy as its chief investigator. The agents reacted predictably to Hardy’s activities. In Lieutenant-Colonel Edward Winslow*’s opinion, Hardy was not only “a pettifogging notary public” but “a viper”; Major John Coffin* condemned him as a “vagabound,” and George Leonard* as the leader of “Malcontents” and “undeserving people.” Hardy was undeterred, but his efforts came too late. The British government had already decided to partition Nova Scotia, and in June 1784 New Brunswick was created with the loyalist agents and their colleagues firmly entrenched in the most important positions of power.
In spite of this setback, Hardy chose to stay on in New Brunswick and settled in Saint John. His role in the hotly contested election of 1785 is ambiguous. Although Hardy declined to be a candidate in the city, Governor Thomas Carleton* was probably correct when he identified him as the mastermind behind the slate of candidates who opposed the government nominees. The lower cove party, as it was called, was headed by Dickinson, and five of the party’s six candidates were members of the first Masonic lodge in Saint John, formed in September 1784, to which Hardy also belonged. Hardy was the recognized spokesman for the opposition slate during the election itself, but he personally worked to damp down the threat of violence which eventually led to a riot. He later defended the rioters against government prosecution. Hardy himself was elected to the assembly from the remote county of Northumberland, thanks to the sponsorship of his client, the fishing magnate William Davidson. His voting record in the assembly was decidedly liberal but not intransigently antigovernment, demonstrating the delicate balance which Hardy tried to maintain between the need for a well-established system of law and order within the province and the equally important need for its inhabitants to be able to enjoy their rights and express their grievances. Thus while Hardy supported the administration’s bill to discourage “tumults and disorders,” he opposed its effort to limit political meetings to 20 persons. Likewise, although he voted to establish the Church of England in the province, he at the same time sought to extend the right to perform the marriage ceremony to Presbyterian and Methodist ministers. Hardy was unequivocal in his support of bills to pay assembly members for their expenses while attending legislative sessions and in opposing a residence requirement for assembly candidates, in both instances wishing to see a broadening of the choice open to the electorate. Yet Hardy’s professional respect for the law caused him to oppose popular efforts to reduce the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court. By 1790 Hardy’s politics had become sufficiently acceptable to the Carleton government that he was appointed, with the Executive Council’s assent, common clerk of the City of Saint John.
It has been stated that, as a lawyer, Hardy was “well nigh without a peer,” and inevitably he attracted clients among the well-to-do as well as the indigent, although even the most prosperous were not accepted members of New Brunswick’s governing élite. In October 1783 he and John Le Chevalier Roome had formed a partnership in New York to collect loyalist claims and forward them to London, and during the 1780s he drafted and presented the claims of many New Brunswickers for compensation from the loyalist claims commission. His most famous trial cases were his defence of Munson Hoyt against charges of slander by Benedict Arnold* in 1790, his representation, which began in 1793, of James Simonds* against his former partners in the Simonds, Hazen and White Company, and his opposition to the attempts of the landowners along the Saint John River to reduce the fishing rights of the citizens of Saint John. In all these cases, opposing counsel was New Brunswick’s other great trial lawyer, Ward Chipman*.
In 1793 Hardy relinquished his seat in Northumberland County and was elected to the assembly from Saint John. Henceforth, he became a much more conspicuous advocate of that city’s populace. Thus, he supported bills to establish local grammar schools in preference to a college at Fredericton, he joined the effort to move the provincial capital back to Saint John from Fredericton, and, most notably, he used his political and legal skills to protect the rights of the Saint John fishermen. Throughout these disputes, Hardy did not attack the Carleton government head-on but in 1795, when the Legislative Council chose to question the assembly’s power to initiate revenue measures, Hardy drafted a sophisticated, terse reply for the assembly, emphatically asserting its exclusive right to originate money bills. This impassioned defence of the people’s representatives proved to be Hardy’s last significant political act, for ill health forced him out of public life later in the same year. It seems a most fitting climax to his career.
Neither Hardy’s person nor his politics ever won him entry into New Brunswick’s elegant social circles, but, as Ward Chipman ruefully admitted, he maintained his popular base of support throughout his life. Even after Chipman and Mayor Gabriel George Ludlow* engineered Hardy’s dismissal from the Saint John clerkship in 1795 as part of a fisheries dispute, the Common Council voted Hardy a sum of £80 in 1797 for his “past services.” Like so many of his clients and supporters, Hardy was buried in an unmarked grave in Saint John upon his death in 1798. His estate was valued at £61. Soon thereafter Hardy’s wife Martha and their four children moved to the New York home of her father, Dr Peter Huggeford, a New York loyalist who had lived briefly in Saint John after the revolution and then resettled permanently in the United States.
In the 20th century Hardy’s contribution to the provincial legal tradition has been acknowledged, but his contributions as a political reformer still remain largely unrecognized. In part this neglect is because he has been overshadowed in Canadian historiography by the more flamboyant and politically aggressive assembly champion, James Glenie*. Yet Glenie’s opposition to the Carleton government was sporadic and limited to select issues, and it sometimes seemed motivated more by a desire to advance his political position in England than to improve the lot of the people of New Brunswick. The bulk of the evidence suggests that Hardy’s milder, but broader and more constant, defence of the impoverished refugee, the subsistence farmer, the city mechanic, and the common fisherman made him the most effective advocate of individual liberties and popular participation in government during New Brunswick’s earliest years.
PANB, RG 4, RS24; RG 5, RS32C/1; RG 7, RS71B/1, pp.177–79 (estate of Elias Hardy). PAO Report, 1904. Winslow papers, A.D. 1776–1826, ed. W. O. Raymond (Saint John, N.B., 1901). MacNutt, New Brunswick. W. O., Raymond “Elias Hardy, councillor-at-law,” N.B. Hist. Soc., Coll., IV (1919–28), no.10, 57–66.