LINTON, JOHN JAMES EDMONSTOUNE (Edmonstone), journalist, teacher, and abolitionist; b. 6 June 1805 at Rothesay (Bute, Scotland), son of Robert Linton, a stocking weaver, and Elizabeth Allan; m. 17 Nov. 1829 Margaret Dallas in Greenock, Scotland; d. 23 Jan. 1869 at Stratford, Ont.
Apparently a teacher with the United Secession Church and a lawyer before coming to Upper Canada from Perthshire in 1833, John James Edmonstoune Linton was one of the original settlers of Stratford. He had been directed there by an agent of the Canada Company, for which he wrote three emigration handbooks in the 1840s. He began by farming and opened his first school in Stratford, while his wife started a school in nearby North Easthope Township; they jointly conducted night classes in 1834–35. Linton then entered business as a public notary and conveyancer, interested himself in the growing temperance movement, and promoted an agricultural society (of which he became secretary in 1841).
Linton joined those agitating for separation of the Stratford area from the Huron District. His views brought him into conflict with J. C. W. Daly*, local representative of the Canada Company, and Linton saw himself as a “public watchdog.” A common desire to see Stratford made a district capital brought the opposing groups together by 1846, however, and in 1847 Linton persuaded John Prince to present a bill to the assembly for the creation of a district of Peel, only to see the bill withdrawn. When the ministry of Robert Baldwin* and Louis-Hippolyte La Fontaine was formed early in 1848, he helped Malcolm Cameron* draft a bill by which the eastern section of Huron became Perth County – a name apparently chosen solely by Linton. As a result he was hailed in Stratford for his “indefatigable exertions and untiring perseverance.” In 1850 he was appointed clerk of the Court of Requests and clerk of the peace, a post he held until his death. He also promoted the construction of railways to Stratford in the 1850s.
It may have been a coincidence that Linton left Scotland in 1833, immediately following the explosive 1832 assembly of the Church of Scotland that led directly to a schism known as the disruption of 1843, but throughout his life he was involved in religious disputes. In 1845 he began attacking the American Tract Society, which supplied religious literature to Canadian churches through the Upper Canada Tract Society, for its pro-slavery stance. Because the American group refused to distribute anything on slavery, Linton concluded that the society, as well as the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions and the American Sunday School Union, supported “the peculiar institution.” He wrote letters to and took out advertisements in local and New York newspapers, and distributed tracts at his own expense. He charged his own church with “false fellows hipping” through the Presbyterian Board of Publications of Philadelphia. In addition, from 1853 to 1856 he often wrote for Canada West’s most substantial newspaper for fugitive slaves, the Provincial Freeman, and he launched his own paper, the Voice of the Bondsman, in Stratford in 1856. He distributed 5,000 free copies of the first issue in November and 7,000 copies of a second issue in December, but finding few subscribers he abandoned his effort early in 1857. He had also initiated in April 1854 an irregularly published pamphlet series entitled Challenge, which continued through 24 issues until 1860 and was devoted to the temperance and sabbatarian movements; he did not neglect to remind his readers of the links between slavery and drink. He also wrote an abolitionist pamphlet and with Thomas Henning, secretary of the Anti-Slavery Society of Canada, prepared Slavery in the churches, religious societies, &c., a review (Toronto, 1856), which indicted Baptists, Congregationalists, and Wesleyan Methodists.
In the final analysis, however, Linton was ineffective as an abolitionist, for he was so outspoken, indeed vicious, and so much a perfectionist that even the patient philanthropist of abolitionism in New York, Lewis Tappan, asked to be relieved of further correspondence with him. The only results of Linton’s efforts were the decisions taken by the Upper Canada Tract Society in 1856 to obtain American tracts through its own rather than through American agents, and by the Canadian Presbyterians to turn away from the Presbyterian Board of Publications and to obtain their publications from Scotland. Unhappily, Linton was a typical Canadian abolitionist, unable to seek out constant allies in American antislavery movements because he could not separate his hatred of slavery from an intense dislike for the United States. Instead, his principal sustenance came from the Bristol and Clifton Ladies’ Anti-Slavery Society and the Edinburgh Ladies’ Emancipation Society. At the annual meeting of the Canadian Anti-Slavery Society in 1857 Linton was thanked for his efforts on behalf of abolitionism. Thereafter, perhaps because of illness, he became increasingly silent and interested himself in relief for the poor of Stratford. He was observed in 1859 carrying a bottle of wine to a dying man (notwithstanding his temperance sentiments) and he opened a soup kitchen. He died at age 64, having seen the Stratford he helped found elevated to the status of a town and the slavery he hated abolished in the republic to the south.
[Letters from settlers in Huron District, C.W., comp. J. J. E. Linton (London, 1842?)]. [J. J. E. Linton], The life of a backwoodsman; or, particulars of the emigrant’s situation in settling on the wild land of Canada (London, 1843; repr. 1850). J. J. E. Linton, A prohibitory liquor law for Upper Canada, being a bill for an act to prohibit the sale by retail, &c., with remarks, and other documents (Toronto, 1860). J. J. E. Linton and Thomas Henning, Slavery in the churches, religious societies, &c., a review (Toronto, 1856). [Statements from settlers on the Canada Company land in the Huron District, comp. J. J. E. Linton (London, 1842?)].
Dr Williams’s Library (London), Estlin papers. Library of Congress (Washington), Manuscript Division, Lewis Tappan papers. PAC, RG 7, G20, 59. Globe, 1856–57. Provincial Freeman (Windsor; Toronto; Chatham), 1853–56. Voice of the Bondsman (Stratford, [Ont.]), 1856–57 (the only surviving copy is at the UWO). Windsor Herald (Windsor, [Ont.]), 6 June 1856. W. S. and H. J. M. Johnston, History of Perth County to 1967 (Stratford, Ont., 1967). William Johnston, History of the county of Perth from 1825 to 1902 (Stratford, Ont., 1903). A. L. Kearsley, Paths of history in Perth and Huron (Stratford, Ont., 1963). Robina and K. M. Lizars, In the days of the Canada Company: the story of the settlement of the Huron tract and a view of the social life of the period, 1825–1850 (Toronto and Montreal, 1896). A. L. Murray, “Canada and the Anglo-American anti-slavery movement: a study in international philanthropy” (unpublished
Bibliography for the revised version:
National Records of Scot. (Edinburgh), OPR births, Buteshire (Rothesay), John James Edmonstone Linton, 6 June 1805. FamilySearch, “Scotland marriages, 1561–1910,” John James Edmonstone Linton and Margaret Dallas, 17 Nov. 1829: familysearch.org (consulted 7 Aug. 2022).