LEFFERTY (Lafferty), JOHN JOHNSTON (Johnson), doctor and politician; b. c. 1777 in the American colonies, probably in New Jersey; m. 17 Aug. 1800 Mary Johnson, and they had four sons and three daughters; d. 26 Oct. 1842 in Drummondville, Upper Canada.
John Johnston Lefferty seems to have been the son of Bryan Lefferty, a lawyer and judge of Somerset County, N.J., who was connected to the family of Sir William Johnson*. John Johnston came to Upper Canada in 1797, settling in the Niagara peninsula where he practised medicine. The following year his godfather, Sir John Johnson*, wrote to William Claus* from Lachine asking to find out “in What Manner I can Serve him [Lefferty]. . . . If he will send me a list of Medicines Suitable for his practice, I will send it home, and get it out for him.” During the War of 1812 Lefferty served as assistant surgeon of militia; he lost his home at Lundy’s Lane (Niagara Falls) when it was burnt by American troops.
In 1818 he was a co-owner of an apothecary shop in St Catharines. Lefferty rose to prominence when he was elected for the 2nd and 3rd riding of Lincoln to serve in the ninth parliament (1825–28). He emerged as a notable critic of Sir Peregrine Maitland*’s administration and, as he put it, said “a great deal about the office-holders during the discussion of the alien question and the Welland canal, but not upon other questions.” On one occasion during the alien debate, Speaker John Willson* had to call him to order for abusing Attorney General John Beverley Robinson*. On a subsequent occasion Lefferty declared: “The Proclamation of the ever to be lamented [Sir Isaac Brock*] had declared all those to be subjects who remained in the country at the time of the late war, and who had nobly defended the Province and fought for their king.” Lefferty added that “he would rather suffer his arm to rot from his shoulder than consent to call himself an Alien.” John Clark, a fellow member from Lincoln, attributed the measure of independence assumed by the house to the efforts of men such as John Rolph*, Marshall Spring Bidwell*, and “the learned and all Eloquent Doctor from Lundy’s Lane – an honor to his constituents.”
Yet, as Lefferty himself noted, his attacks on the administration were largely confined to two issues. On a number of political points, he sharply disagreed with other critics of the executive. He did not object to the custom of sheriffs’ selecting grand jurors, a stance which earned him a sharp attack from Peter Perry*. He supported the marriage bill of 1826 which allowed Methodists and other denominations the right to perform marriages; however, the next year he would denounce an apparently similar measure. He repeatedly clashed with Perry, Rolph, and Bidwell over their opposition to tough legislation for handling the problem of absconding debtors. His concern in this instance may have reflected his own experience as a doctor. He called Perry’s bill to introduce statute labour for absentee landowners “perfectly absurd,” since £4,000 worth of wild lands would oblige an owner to provide 160 days of labour. Furthermore, as Lefferty gained parliamentary experience, he came to consider as wasted effort time spent on popular bills which, to his mind, would only be rejected by the Legislative Council. Despite these problems with his fellow critics of the Maitland régime, Lefferty joined in the opposition’s furore over the dismissal in 1828 of judge John Walpole Willis*.
Prior to the election of 1824, William Lyon Mackenzie* had alleged, correctly, that Lefferty had been among the first to support, and the first to repudiate, Robert Gourlay*. And later, no doubt with Lefferty’s independent political behaviour in mind, Mackenzie labelled him an “eccentric legislator.” The tag, however, did not hurt and in the election of 1828 he was returned for 3rd Lincoln, placing a strong second among the four members elected. During a debate in the tenth parliament (1829–30), James Hunter Samson accused Lefferty of changing his position: once “abusing the office-holders in York . . . he now comes forward to defend them.” Lefferty explained that the province “now . . . had another head of the government, and he was pleased with him.” Sir John Colborne* had, he thought, done “more for the province for the short period of his residence than any Governor that preceded him.”
Lefferty’s most notable parliamentary initiative came at the close of his career. Early in 1830 he introduced a bill empowering magistrates to enforce observance of the Sabbath. He denounced such varied activities as shooting and skating on the Lord’s Day, adding: “It was a common thing, too, for persons to leave their work, and assemble at grog-shops on Saturday night and drink and carouse until the next night, and thus, not only disregard the Sabbath, but render themselves unfit to attend to business on Monday, or perhaps through the week. In this way, it was an injury, not only to the morals, but also to the industry of the country.” In the course of debate he went even further than the intention of his bill, observing that he thought “people ought to be obliged to attend public worship somewhere on the Sabbath.” This statement provoked a strong reaction not only from fellow legislators but also from at least one newspaper and its correspondents.
In the 1830 election William Crooks was returned with Bartholomew Crannell Beardsley* for the 2nd and 3rd riding of Lincoln. Lefferty may not have run. In the general election four years later sheriff Alexander Hamilton, the returning officer, declared him elected by one vote. His opponent, David Thorburn, appealed this ruling to the new assembly, dominated by critics of the provincial administration, and a committee directed Hamilton to alter his report – which he did under protest. Allan Napier MacNab*, a staunch supporter of the executive, led the fight against adoption of the committee’s report in the house. But the assembly, in a vote clearly divided on party lines, supported Thorburn. Small wonder a historian reviewing the incident saw Lefferty as one of the “stalwarts” of the “ruling caste.”
Lefferty was a noted figure in the Niagara area. In 1810 his spirited exertions saved a man from being carried over the falls. An admirer of good horses, he was renowned for his “standing song, ‘Twelve bottles more;’ and an everlasting anecdote.” His home at Lundy’s Lane, prior to its destruction by fire in the 1820s, contained a host of “rare and curious things, animate and inanimate,” including an assortment of animals, Indian bones and crockery, dinosaur and animal bones, military paraphernalia, rare books, skates, a hornets’ nest, “an electrifying machine,” assembly journals, alien question resolutions, pharmacopoeias, carefully filed copies of the Colonial Advocate (“a remarkable and convincing instance of . . . wisdom and good sense,” Mackenzie thought), and “3569 doctor’s phials, bottles and jars filled with fluids, unguents, and powders of various kinds.”
A genial legislator of independent mind, he was, perhaps, best captured in the surprisingly warm words of a political opponent, Robert Stanton*, who in 1826 described him thus: “a broad goodnatured face full of fun and mirth, and after all a great deal of the milk of human kindness lies in his disposition – in the house he rattles away laughing all the time, and the only reason he is heard is because his voice is at the top of the House – and he is not improperly and facetiously called the representative of the Falls of Niagara.”
AO, MS 74, John Clark to William Chisholm, 26 Jan. 1826; MS 78, Robert Stanton to John Macaulay, 29 Jan. 1826, 6 Feb. 1835. MTRL, W. W. Baldwin papers, B. C. Beardsley to Baldwin, 1 Aug. 1828. John Clark, “Memoirs of Colonel John Clark, of Port Dalhousie, C.W.,” OH, 7 (1906): 157–93. Canadian Freeman, 1 Dec. 1825. Christian Guardian, 12 Dec. 1829, 27 Nov. 1830. Colonial Advocate, 8 July 1824, 29 Dec. 1825, 4 Jan. 1827, 1 Feb. 1828. Kingston Chronicle, 4 Jan. 1826, 9 Feb. 1827. Patriot (Toronto), 3, 6, 19 Feb. 1835. Upper Canada Herald, 9, 16 Jan. 1827; 12 Feb., 18 March 1828; 20, 27 Jan., 10 Feb., 17 March 1830. Armstrong, Handbook of Upper Canadian chronology (1967). “1828 Upper Canada election results table,” comp. R. S. Sorrell, OH, 63 (1971): 67–69. Canniff, Medical profession in U.C. Ernest Green, “John DeCou, pioneer,” OH, 22 (1925): 92–116.
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Cite This Article
Peter A. Russell, “LEFFERTY, JOHN JOHNSTON,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 7, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed April 1, 2023, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/lefferty_john_johnston_7E.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:||Peter A. Russell|
|Title of Article:||LEFFERTY, JOHN JOHNSTON|
|Publication Name:||Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 7|
|Publisher:||University of Toronto/Université Laval|
|Year of publication:||1988|
|Year of revision:||1988|
|Access Date:||April 1, 2023|