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HOWARD, PETER, farmer, businessman, politician, jp, office holder, and doctor; b. c. 1771 in the American colonies, probably New York, fourth son of Matthew Howard; m. first Sarah Munsel (Munsall), and they had three sons and two daughters; m. secondly 17 Oct. 1833 Margaret Seaman, a widow, and they had no children; d. 24 Nov. 1843 in Brockville, Upper Canada.

Peter Howard’s father was a farmer living in Pittstown, N.Y., when the American revolution broke out. Taking up arms with the British in 1777, he served with several loyalist corps, was employed as a spy, and was captured several times. After the war he settled in western Quebec with his family. In 1791 Peter petitioned the government for land as the son of a loyalist and was granted 200 acres. He owned property in several townships in the newly formed province of Upper Canada but made his residence in Elizabethtown Township, where his father and other family members lived. A comfortable farmer, by 1804 he had 85 acres cultivated, 400 uncultivated, several animals, and a still. He also, for a time, had an inn. In 1802 his name had been removed from the United Empire Loyalist list as a result of Lieutenant Governor Peter Hunter*’s administrative reforms aimed at reducing the numbers eligible for free land grants. How Howard reacted is not known, but loyalists generally were outraged at what seemed to be a violation of the king’s intention.

Howard contested the riding of Leeds in 1804 and easily topped the poll, drawing support from a cross-section of local society, including Joel Stone*, Levius Peters Sherwood, and Peet Selee. During the fourth parliament (1805–8) the opposition in the assembly gained in strength; Howard’s association with it, however, came later and gradually. He seconded Ebenezer Washburn*’s District School Bill in 1805. The following year he introduced and supported the petition headed by William Buell* to move the district jail and court-house to the site of present-day Brockville. He also seconded another Washburn initiative, to form a board to regulate medical practitioners in the province. His modest prominence yielded modest rewards, including an appointment to the local magistracy in 1806. He worked conscientiously on behalf of his constituents to settle matters concerning land title and, with the assemblyman for neighbouring Grenville, Samuel Sherwood, pressed the government for proper surveys of the back townships in Leeds County.

There was, in short, nothing to hint at Howard’s participation in one of the most dramatic parliamentary moments in Upper Canada before the War of 1812. On 5 March 1808 Howard, Thomas Dorland*, and. David McGregor Rogers* retired from the house, depriving it temporarily of a quorum. They objected to the proposed amendment removing the statutory time limit on the District School Act of 1807. The uproar was triggered by Sherwood’s successful attempt to change the standing orders to accommodate a third reading of the amendment that day. The threesome had as little use for the procedure, which they considered unparliamentary, as for its intent. Lieutenant Governor Francis Gore* was outraged, stripping Howard and Dorland of their offices but meeting with less success in handling Rogers. In a letter to Charles Jones of Elizabethtown (Brockville), Sherwood damned Howard for allowing “his perverse & obstinate disposition to govern him & lead him into an act the most violent & disorderly that can be” and closed by urging Jones to ensure that “this matter . . . be painted in true colours to the People of Your County.”

The general election in May provided an occasion for judging the popularity of Howard’s action. He was re-elected in a bitterly fought contest which revealed his strong egalitarian impulses. Neither Dorland nor Rogers had much use for the aristocratic emphasis of the British constitution; Howard had none, and in fact evinced little sympathy for monopolies of any sort. He responded to the “fiery darts of falsehood,” explaining to his constituents that the loss of office had been “nothing unexpected, for we had our choice, to stay and wrong our people, or Come away and lose our offices, and for my own part I did not engage to legislate to Gratify the Governor, But to support your rights.” An anonymous campaign document, by either Howard or one of his supporters, put the matter in a broader context. In dispute was the preponderance of “Law characters” in the house and their tendency to “Enact Such Laws As would best Suit themselves.” Howard was portrayed as a constituency man, and “above all . . . the poor mans friend.” The conspiracy of lawyers would increase taxes for their own benefit and permit the seizure of land in payment of debt, which would allow the country to be “Parceled out into Lordships and the Common people reduced To Slavery!” The writer exhorted farmers to elect their own kind and “Guard against the Combinations of the great . . . it is natural for them to oppress the Poor.”

The fifth parliament (1809–12) became increasingly polarized. Howard moved steadily closer to the opposition led by Joseph Willcocks*. In 1810, for instance, he voted with the minority against condemning John Mills Jackson’s pamphlet as seditious libel. His own initiatives were as varied as they were distinctive: his continuing concern with regulating the medical profession, his attempt to prevent irregularities at elections, his bill to provide relief for the poor, and his bill “to prevent all Plays of interludes, Puppet Shows, Rope Dancers, or Stage Plays from performing in this Province for hire or gain.” By 1811 his voting pattern was identical with those of the most radical members of the opposition coterie, Willcocks, John Willson*, and Benajah Mallory*. During the 1812 session, while supporting the general thrust of revisions to the Militia Act, he apparently cast the deciding vote – in his capacity as chairman of the whole – against an amendment requiring all militiamen to abjure any loyalty to the United States. He also introduced, as William Lyon Mackenzie* would note in 1833, the first petition for a secret ballot.

Howard contested the general election in June 1812 but was defeated by L. P. Sherwood, helped by Charles Jones’s smear campaign against him. Four years later Howard won his seat back. During the seventh parliament (1817–20), he was less prominent (missing the 1819 session altogether). Many opposition issues still received his support but on one key issue he was willing to circumscribe civil rights. Mackenzie, in his 1828 survey of the province’s political past, noted Howard’s support of the infamous “Gagging Bill” of 1818, which was used against Robert Gourlay*. During the debate, Howard called Gourlay a “great seducer, [who] could persuade the people to any thing. . . . [Howard] had stated to the people they had no grievances.” He ran again in 1820 and 1824, but without success. Yet he never lost his taste for politics. In 1830 he chaired a meeting held in Brockville to support the candidacies of his son Matthew Munsel and William Buell* Jr. He was involved in similar electoral meetings in 1834 and 1836; moreover, in the later year he was elected president of the Johnstown District Reformers’ Society. By that point he had come to represent the area’s reform tradition. Andrew Norton Buell* had intervened personally for Mackenzie in 1836 to reclaim from Howard some personal notes of the Toronto newspaperman. Howard was not forthcoming and, as Buell wrote to Mackenzie, “The Dr. is rather dilatory . . . & it would be very unpleasant to me to press him about the matter, as he is an old friend & his family & extensive Connections are generally reformers and it might . . . be injurious to the Cause of reform were I to do so.”

After the war Howard had served as a road commissioner. In 1819 he moved from Elizabethtown to mills he had acquired in Yonge Township. Active as a doctor since before the war, he was examined by the Medical Board of Upper Canada in July 1828 and licensed to practise medicine on 5 Feb. 1830. When he took up residence in Brockville in 1833, the Brockville Recorder noted “his long practice and acquaintance with the diseases incident to this community.”

Robert L. Fraser

AO, MS 516, A. N. Buell to W. L. Mackenzie, 21 Jan. 1836; MS 520; MS 537; MU 275; RG 1, A-I-6; RG 21, United Counties of Leeds and Grenville, census records. BL, Add. mss 21826–28 (copies at PAC). PAC, MG 24, B7; RG 1, E3; E14; L3; RG 5, A1; B9; RG 68, General index, 1651–1841. PRO, AO 12 (mfm. at PAC). QUA, 3077. “Journals of Legislative Assembly of U.C.,” AO Report, 1909, 1911, 1913–14. Loyalist settlements, 1783–1789: new evidence of Canadian loyalist claims, comp. W. B. Antliff (Toronto, 1985), 105. W. L. Mackenzie, The legislative black list, of Upper Canada; or official corruption and hypocrisy unmasked (York [Toronto], 1828). “Political state of U.C.,” PAC Report, 1892: 32–135. U.C., House of Assembly, Journal, 1831: 34, 36, 38. “Upper Canada land book C, 29th June, 1796, to 4th July, 1796; 1st July, 1797, to 20th December, 1797” and “Upper Canada land book D, 22nd December, 1797, to 13th July, 1798,” AO Report, 1931. Brockville Recorder, 1833–36. Colonial Advocate, 1824, 1833. Kingston Chronicle, 1819–20. Kingston Gazette, 1816–18. York Gazette, 1808. Death notices of Ont. (Reid). Marriage bonds of Ont. (T. B. Wilson). Reid, Loyalists in Ont. T. W. H. Leavitt, History of Leeds and Grenville, Ontario, from 1749 to 1879 . . . (Brockville, Ont., 1879; repr. Belleville, Ont., 1972). Patterson, “Studies in elections in U.C.,” c.3.

General Bibliography

Cite This Article

Robert L. Fraser, “HOWARD, PETER,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 7, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed October 23, 2014, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/howard_peter_7E.html.

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Permalink: http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/howard_peter_7E.html
Author of Article: Robert L. Fraser
Title of Article: HOWARD, PETER
Publication Name: Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 7
Publisher: University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication: 1988
Year of revision: 1988
Access Date: October 23, 2014