LEAVITT, THOMAS, businessman; b. c. 1795 in Saint John, N.B., son of Jonathan Leavitt and Hephzibah Peabody; m. there 26 July 1822 Mary Ann Ketchum; d. there 24 Oct. 1850.
Thomas Leavitt was the son and grandson of pre-loyalist settlers in the Saint John River valley. His father had come to Portland Point (Saint John) in 1762 with James Simonds* and had served as ship’s captain and pilot for the firm of Simonds, Hazen, and White prior to the American revolution. His maternal grandfather, Captain Francis Peabody, had been a founder and leader of the Maugerville settlement [see Israel Perley*]. Peabody’s other daughters had married James Simonds and James White; thus Thomas Leavitt was born into a wide and influential family network. Jonathan Leavitt prospered as a shipowner and mariner in the new loyalist city of Saint John and at his death in 1811 left a considerable estate to his eight sons and two daughters. Thomas Leavitt’s share of this patrimony was a half-interest in the family home, ownership of four choice lots in Saint John, and a seventh part of a large landholding on the Miramichi River.
In 1817 Leavitt was admitted as a merchant freeman of the city of Saint John and from that time until his death played an active and influential role in the business life of New Brunswick. Like most early leading merchants he acquired a perpetual lease to one of the water lots on the harbour. This property permitted him to maintain his own wharf, offered a centre for his commercial activities, and provided him with a modest regular income from wharfage fees. At the height of his career, in the 1830s and 1840s, he was to serve as agent both for the Liverpool Association of Underwriters and for a number of New York marine insurance companies. In 1835 he would be made United States consul for Saint John.
Leavitt’s growing business interests led him to a concern for the financial structures of the province. He was too young in 1820 to participate in the formation of the Bank of New Brunswick, but like many ambitious young merchants he pressed for a rapid expansion of capital through the formation of new banking institutions. His activity here, which began in 1824, eventually took him to the presidency of the City Bank in 1837. Following its absorption by the Bank of New Brunswick in 1839, Leavitt became president of that institution. He also associated with two marine insurance companies in Saint John.
Leavitt spoke out strongly on most issues of concern to the Saint John merchant community. He opposed the Debtors Bill of 1822, which would have lessened the penalties against absconding debtors, pushed for legislation to punish those guilty of taking timber from the rivers and streams of the province, opposed the practice of allowing certain licensed merchants to import American goods directly and dispose of them at public auctions, and argued in 1831 for the payment of provincial bounties on every ton of shipping built and fitted out in New Brunswick. He was an active member of the Saint John Chamber of Commerce.
Leavitt was a freemason and Church of Scotland Presbyterian. An active layman in St Andrew’s Church, he participated in 1832 in the struggle of the church trustees to wrest control of finances from the elders. He was part of a large group of city Presbyterians who challenged the Church of England’s monopoly of education in the province in the 1830s, demanding the appointment of non-episcopalians to the Madras School Board and to the council of King’s College.
Leavitt died at Saint John on 24 Oct. 1850 at the age of 55; he was survived by four sons and three daughters.
PANB, RG 4, RS24, S33-P11; RG 7, RS71, 1811, Jonathan Leavitt. A schedule of the real estate belonging to the mayor, aldermen and commonalty of the city of Saint John . . . January, 1842 (Saint John, N.B., 1849; copy at PANB). New-Brunswick Courier, 28 March, 14 Nov. 1835; 1 April, 13 May 1837; 11 May 1839; 1 Jan. 1842; 26 Oct. 1850. Morning News (Saint John), 25 Oct. 1850.