MARSHALL, JOHN GEORGE, lawyer, legislator, judge, author, and lecturer; b. at Country Harbour, N.S., in 1786; d. at Halifax, N.S., 7 April 1880, in full possession of his faculties.
John George Marshall was the son of Captain Joseph Marshall, a loyalist of the King’s Carolina Rangers, and his wife Margaret. In 1794 the family moved to Guysborough where George received his early education before proceeding to Halifax grammar school. In 1803 he entered the law office of Judge Lewis Morris Wilkins* Sr, and was admitted to the bar of Nova Scotia in 1810. He first practised in Pictou, but later moved to Halifax where he built up a lucrative business. He married Catherine Jones on 26 Nov. 1809; they had several children.
In 1811 Marshall succeeded his father as representative for the county of Sydney (now Antigonish County) in the assembly, and held the seat until 1818. He was re-elected in 1820 and remained in the legislature until April 1823 when he resigned his seat. In the assembly he took great interest in bills which were designed to reform the social structure of the community. In 1823 he introduced a bill for the support of schools by local assessment and also backed a bill to give all creditors equal claim in bankruptcy suits. Although both bills failed to pass the house while Marshall was a member, the former was accepted by 1825 and the latter many years later.
Marshall resigned from the assembly on his appointment as chief justice of the Inferior Court of Common Pleas and president of the Courts of General and Special Sessions, Custos Rotulorum, and justice of the peace for Cape Breton. He lived in Sydney for the 18 years he was on the bench, administering justice in a manner which commanded the respect of all and doing what he could to improve social and moral conditions in the province. When the Court of Common Pleas was abolished in 1841, Judge Marshall retired on pension and devoted the rest of his life to a number of causes which he felt would better the lot of the common people. He was a prolific writer upon almost every topic that men of his day discussed – law, temperance, education, to mention only a few. Although not a brilliant writer, he studied his subjects carefully and wrote forcibly. His best-known work was The justice of the peace, and county & township officer, in the province of Nova Scotia, which became a standard textbook for local magistrates.
Marshall was a zealous temperance advocate; he travelled widely on this continent and in Europe lecturing on the topic. Politically he was an anti-confederate. He supported Joseph Howe with a zeal which prompted Howe to declare publicly in 1867, “When I think of a man of his age and intellect . . . aiding his countrymen in this struggle, I feel he has done that for us which hardly anyone else could have done so well . . . . The service which he has rendered his country will make me feel grateful towards him to the day of my death . . . .”
When Judge Marshall died, a personal friend, the editor of the Acadian Recorder, wrote: “A Puritan of the Puritans himself, he regarded worldly amusement in general as snares of the devil, and being utterly indifferent to popularity, he attacked right and left with a directness of speech in the cause of morality and righteousness . . . . He was a prodigious writer on a multitude of subjects, never hesitating to attack what he thought was wrong. He was stern and uncompromising, nevertheless he contributed of his limited means to all objects of charity and philanthropy, and he died as he had lived, in the midst of a true and noble fight.”
A list of Marshall’s publications appears in Morgan, Bibliotheca Canadensis. J. G. Marshall, The justice of the peace, and county & township officer, in the province of Nova Socita; being a guide to such justice and officers in the discharge of their official duties (2nd ed., Halifax, 1846). Acadian Recorder (Halifax), 7 April 1880. Morning Chronicle (Halifax), 7 April 1880. Morning Herald (Halifax), 7 April 1880. Directory of N.S. MLAs (Fergusson). Dom. ann. reg., 1880–81. A. C. Jost, Guysborough sketches and essays (Guysborough, N.S., 1950). D. P. Floyd, “Jottings of Guysboro County happenings during the past centuries,” Canso Breeze and Guysboro County Advocate (Canso, N.S.), 11 March 1921.