HOWE, ALEXANDER, army officer, politician, judge, and office holder; b. 19 Dec. 1749 in Annapolis Royal, N.S., son of Edward How* and Marie-Madeleine Winniett; m. first 14 May 1778 his cousin Helen McKellar Bontein in Gravesend, England, and they had ten children; m. secondly 6 Sept. 1803, in Annapolis Royal, Margaret Ann Green, granddaughter of Benjamin Green*; d. 9 Jan. 1813 in Dartmouth, N.S.
Finances and patronage were predominant themes in Alexander Howe’s life. His mother, widowed when he was less than a year old, used a small pension and influential family connections to provide military careers for her four sons. Howe claimed that he began his military career as a volunteer under Lieutenant-Colonel William Amherst during the Newfoundland expedition of 1762 [see Charles-Henri-Louis d’ Arsac* de Ternay]. On 24 July 1767 he was gazetted an ensign in the 36th Foot by purchase; a lieutenancy followed on 31 Jan. 1771. After service in Jamaica, England, and Ireland, Howe was commissioned captain of his own independent company on 13 April 1781. This risky financial venture proved unsuccessful (it was expensive to establish, and the winding down of hostilities caused problems), and in 1782 the company was incorporated into the 104th Foot.
The state of Howe’s finances and the lack of military prospects in 1783 induced him to sell his commission and return the following year to Nova Scotia, where, again at considerable expense, he began farming at Granville. He was quickly drawn into the social and administrative problems created in Annapolis County by the arrival of the loyalists. The immigrants had all but submerged the established families, who nevertheless were determined to share in the government. In the November 1785 elections for the House of Assembly, Howe was the only pre-loyalist to contest any of the four Annapolis seats. When his opponent David Seabury was elected, Howe protested to Halifax, charging polling irregularities and vote solicitation by the loyalist sheriff, Robert Tucker. A second election, held amid “quarrels, broken heads and bloody noses,” again returned Seabury, but Howe’s repeated complaints led to the vote’s being declared invalid. By a decision of the assembly, Howe took his seat, jubilant at overthrowing “the machinations of as complicated a Sett of Rascals as ever Existed” in their “inordinant thirst for power.” The loyalists viewed Howe similarly, complaining of his friendliness with the Halifax establishment. According to Jacob Bailey, the “late election was wholly put aside upon the evidence of one party only.”
Although Howe consistently supported the stand of the pre-loyalist assembly reactionaries in such matters as the impeachment of Supreme Court judges James Brenton and Isaac Deschamps, he evidently enjoyed the ultimate support of his electors, for he retained an Annapolis County seat until 1799. On 20 Nov. 1785 he was appointed a justice of the peace and a judge of the Inferior Court of Common Pleas for Annapolis County, and on 11 March 1788 he was also named collector of impost and excise duties for the county. In 1791 Lieutenant Governor John Parr*, intending to provide Howe with “a little employment, and . . . a little Cash,” appointed him to recruit the Annapolis County blacks wishing to emigrate to Sierra Leone [see Thomas Peters*]. Although Parr did not encourage the scheme, Howe tackled the job zealously, noting that “(however much I stand in need of Cash) I had much rather have . . . approbation than any pecuniary reward.” He later claimed to have sent to Halifax one-third of the blacks who emigrated and to have undertaken several perilous journeys in his work.
In 1793 Lieutenant Governor John Wentworth commissioned Howe captain of a company in the newly raised Royal Nova Scotia Regiment. In July 1797 Howe was appointed superintendent of the fractious Jamaican maroons quartered at Preston, near Dartmouth. Although he was a capable administrator as a result of his previous experience in Jamaica and Nova Scotia, Howe viewed these blacks as a source of cheap local labour, and failed to comprehend their confusion over the climate and their isolated situation. He was also, inevitably, drawn into the intrigue surrounding Wentworth’s handling of the situation; his efforts to supervise the maroons were continually undermined by persons attempting to discredit the lieutenant governor. On 9 July 1798 he was replaced by the more forceful Theophilus Chamberlain*.
Howe’s friendly relations with Edward Augustus, Duke of Kent, secured him an appointment in 1802 as assistant commissary and storekeeper in Prince Edward Island; his regiment disbanded the same year. He was also named to the Council that year by Lieutenant Governor Edmund Fanning and on 13 Dec. 1806 became a justice of the peace, but family tragedy (two of his sons died in 1804 after eating poisonous berries), financial difficulties, and isolation plagued Howe on the “forlorn Isle.” The final blow came on 25 Aug. 1811 when he was relieved of his position as commissary and placed on half pay.
Howe left Charlottetown with the esteem of Islanders, but he had to sell his furniture to finance the return to Nova Scotia. He petitioned the Duke of Kent for assistance, noting that he had “no anchor of Hope to rely on save only the Protection of H.R.H. the Benevolent Duke,” but he died before an answer arrived, with little to show for his career except “a long life spent in the Service . . . supported by an upright Conscience and satisfied that I have done my duty, to the best of my abilities, in whatever station I have been placed.”
PANS, MG 1, 472–74A; RG 5, E, 1. PRO, CO 217/68, Wentworth to Portland, 12 Aug. 1797; 217/69, Wentworth to Portland, 23 June 1798. Nova Scotia Royal Gazette (Halifax), 13 Jan. 1813. Calnek, Hist. of Annapolis (Savary). J. [M.] Ross, “Jacob Bailey: portrait of an Anglican clergyman in eighteenth century Nova Scotia” (essay, Dalhousie Univ., Halifax, 1972). J. W. St G. Walker, The black loyalists: the search for a promised land in Nova Scotia and Sierra Leone, 1783–1870 (London, 1976). Margaret Ells, “Nova Scotian ‘Sparks of liberty,’” Dalhousie Rev., 16 (1936–37): 475–92.
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Cite This Article
Lois K. Kernaghan, “HOWE, ALEXANDER,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 5, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed May 28, 2023, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/howe_alexander_5E.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:
|Author of Article:||Lois K. Kernaghan|
|Title of Article:||HOWE, ALEXANDER|
|Publication Name:||Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 5|
|Publisher:||University of Toronto/Université Laval|
|Year of publication:||1983|
|Year of revision:||1983|
|Access Date:||May 28, 2023|