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b. 4 March 1794 in Boucherville, Lower Canada


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JARVIS, WILLIAM MUNSON, barrister, insurance agent, and author; b. 9 Oct. 1838 in Saint John, son of William Jarvis and Mary Caroline Boyd; m. first 14 May 1861 Jane Hope Beer in Sussex, N.B., and they had two sons and a daughter; m. secondly 20 April 1868 Mary Lucretia Scovil in Saint John, and they had two daughters; d. there 17 Sept. 1921.

William Munson Jarvis was the grandson of Munson Jarvis*, a loyalist merchant and politician in Saint John. His father was also a successful merchant. As befitted his status, William Jarvis undoubtedly provided his son with private tutors before sending him to the elite Saint John Grammar School. Here, from 1848 to 1854, William Munson faced a challenging curriculum consisting of natural philosophy and modern and classical languages; he apparently excelled in Greek, Latin, and mathematics. From the late 1850s Jarvis was a member of the Church of England Young Men’s Society. By 1860 he had also joined the Chatham Club, a society of young men who routinely met for conversation and debate.

Between the years 1860 and 1864 Jarvis established the foundation of his personal and professional life. In May 1861, a month after his admission as an attorney, he married Jane Hope Beer. In a poignant recollection penned after her untimely death, he recalled fondly their two-month wedding trip to New York City, Niagara Falls, and finally Charlottetown, where they visited the children of his late uncle Edward James Jarvis*. After returning to Saint John, Jarvis and his bride settled in with his mother in his boyhood home. The extended household also included his mother’s three sisters and a few of her nephews. Nevertheless, Jarvis did not begin to build a residence until 1863, the year in which he became a barrister. The young couple, now with two children, moved into their new home in Portland (Saint John) at Christmas 1864. Their marital happiness was short-lived. Soon after the birth of a third child in 1866, Mrs Jarvis died. She had asked that “her little one” be named Frank, to which Jarvis had replied that his second name should be her own, Hope.

A widower at 27, Jarvis relied on his ageing mother and his late wife’s sister Eleanor (Ellen) James Beer for much of the children’s care. During her last days his wife had also asked him to find another mother for her children, and in 1868 he married Mary Lucretia Scovil. Three years later he was serving on the Portland town council, having earlier that year prepared its charter of incorporation. His life had begun to return to a happy state, but once again he experienced tragedy with his wife’s premature death in 1873. He did not remarry. With the assistance of servants and family he assumed the solitary responsibility of raising five children.

Jarvis’s professional life mirrored the events of his day. As a young man during the Fenian raid of 1866, he had been a member of the volunteer militia, and he would attain the rank of lieutenant-colonel. By the mid 1870s he had been made the general agent for the Maritime provinces of the Liverpool and London and Globe Insurance Company. It is unclear which occupation – law or insurance – provided him with most of his living but probably his insurance business drew substantially on his legal knowledge. The great fire of June 1877 in Saint John occurred while he was still building his career, and his attention would be focused for more than 20 years on its after-effects. His work involved petitioning various agencies on behalf of clients for the reissuance of bonds to replace those which had been destroyed. He continued to handle the investment accounts of a number of aunts and uncles, some of whom had removed to England following the fire. By 1888 he was the president of the New Brunswick Board of Fire Underwriters. He would serve as president of the Board of Trade of the Maritime Provinces in 1898 and of the Saint John Board of Trade in 1902-3.

Jarvis was a fairly prolific essayist. As a young lawyer, he had written a paper entitled “The title to the soil and early history of the territory of New Brunswick.” Most of his essays centred on the Church of England in New Brunswick and included such topics as clergy appointments, church governance, financial support for church initiatives, Sunday school programs, and, perhaps most significant, the impact of the Oxford Movement, which had attempted to steer a course for the Church of England between Roman Catholicism and evangelicalism. Jarvis, apparently a deeply religious man, directed his attention to the liturgical and doctrinal differences between Anglicans and Catholics. For him, as for others, matters came to a head in 1880 and 1881 with the proposed establishment in Portland of the Mission Chapel, promoted by parishioners of St Paul’s (Valley) Church, such as Isaac Allen Jack*, who wished to see a “local expression of the Anglican church revival.” Jarvis agreed with the formal protest sent in May 1881 to Bishop John Medley* and to the Reverend John Metcalf Davenport*, who had been asked to take charge of the projected church. The bishop, however, supported the chapel, which opened in January 1882.

Jarvis and others who were sceptical of the Oxford Movement may have viewed the chapel initially as more Roman Catholic than Anglican and therefore as potentially subversive doctrinally. In one of his essays Jarvis questioned the Catholic tenet in which “the intercession of the blessed virgin mary is allowed . . . practically to supercede the mediation of Him whom St. Paul terms ‘the one mediator between . . . God and man.’” He urged Catholics to embrace Anglicanism because they would find their “own prayers” translated into English, a language they could understand, and would thus more fully participate in church services. Eventually Jarvis and most of the city’s Anglican clergy accepted the Mission Chapel, in part because of Davenport’s public pronouncements on what he claimed was the utter doctrinal corruption of the Roman Catholic Church in promulgating the dogma of the Immaculate Conception.

Testimonials at Jarvis’s death in 1921 reveal the esteem in which he was generally held. Perhaps in the small city that was Saint John in the late 19th and early 20th centuries these commentaries reflected an unspoken appreciation of a man admired not only for his professional achievements but also for having borne the challenges of raising his children alone and the sorrow of having to commit his son Frank Hope to the Provincial Lunatic Asylum, where he would reside until his death more than 50 years later.

Elizabeth W. McGahan

N.B. Museum (Saint John), “Family tree of Stephen Jarvis of Huntington, L.I., New York” (ms); Jarvis family papers; Vert. file, circular, genealogy of the Jarvis family. PANB, RS140. Saint John Regional Library, “Biographical data relating to New Brunswick families, especially of loyalist descent,” comp. D. R. Jack (4v., typescript; copy at the N.B. Museum). Evening Times and Star (Saint John), 1921. Saint John Globe, 1921. Biographical review. . of leading citizens of the province of New Brunswick, ed. I. A. Jack (Boston, 1900). J. M. Davenport, Messiah (God incarnate) not Messiah’s mother the “bruiser of the serpent’s head” . . . with a concise exposure of Mr. R. F. Quigley’s errors and controversial tactics . . . (Saint John, 1891). Directory, Saint John, 1865/66-74/75. History of the Mission Church of S. John Baptist, Saint John, N.B., 1882-1932 (Saint John, 1932).

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Cite This Article

Elizabeth W. McGahan, “JARVIS, WILLIAM MUNSON,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 15, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed March 4, 2024, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/jarvis_william_munson_15E.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/jarvis_william_munson_15E.html
Author of Article:   Elizabeth W. McGahan
Title of Article:   JARVIS, WILLIAM MUNSON
Publication Name:   Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 15
Publisher:   University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication:   2005
Year of revision:   2005
Access Date:   March 4, 2024