McCLEARN, MATTHEW (the name is sometimes written McLarn, or McLearn, but he signed McClearn), captain, merchant, ship owner, and politician; b. 8 April 1802 in Port Mouton (then often spelled Port Matoon), N.S., youngest of ten children of Robert McClearn, a farmer, and Sarah West; d. 18 Jan. 1865 at Tobago, W.I.
There is no record of Matthew McClearn’s early life or education. In 1828, at age 26, he was sailing vessels for his uncle, Joseph Freeman*, of Liverpool, N.S., in the West Indies trade. On 9 Dec. 1830 in Liverpool he married Sophia barrow, the sister of a prominent captain and ship owner, John L. Darrow; their only child, born in 1839, was named after him. McClearn acquired a well-located piece of waterfront property in Liverpool from his father and mother in 1831. After his father’s death later that year, he inherited a generous portion of the estate and assumed responsibility for his mother and an unmarried sister.
For 12 more years he sailed in the West Indies trade. During this time he developed a reputation for “intrepidity and coolness in scenes of danger.” McClearn added a substantial piece to his waterfront holdings, and built up enough capital to acquire, in 1843, a 57-ton schooner, the Dolphin. As its master he began the first regular packet service between Liverpool and Halifax. In 1848 the Dolphin was replaced by the 78-ton schooner Liverpool. In 1854 McClearn formed a partnership with John Day who took over as master. It appears that McClearn left the packet business when his partnership was dissolved in 1856.
Once his business allowed him more time in Liverpool, McClearn entered into the public and social life of the community: he became a member of the Liverpool bowling alley; he served on committees to rebuild the court house and to organize Liverpool’s exhibits in the Halifax Industrial Exhibition of 1854; he carried out several responsible commissions for Liverpool organizations in Halifax; he was an active member of the Wesleyan Congregation; he joined the temperance movement.
In 1855 McClearn was elected by acclamation to the House of Assembly as a Conservative, “thus showing,” according to the editors of the Liverpool Transcript, “the esteem in which he was held by men of all parties and creeds, during a period when party feeling ran high, and political contests were carried on with much bitterness.” He was also on the popular side of the temperance question although he did not pursue the cause in the legislature. He attended regularly and looked after constituency business, but did not enter into debate on more general issues. The session was one of turbulence and infighting which he appears not to have relished, for he decided not to seek re-election in 1859.
During his years in the packet business, McClearn was also shipping fish and lumber to the West Indies and importing flour, meal, molasses, salt, and other foodstuffs for his wholesale and retail business in Liverpool. By 1857 he had joined with his brother-in-law to form Darrow and McClearn, General Commission Merchants and Ship Agents. As the West Indies trade expanded in the 1850s and early 1860s, he also engaged in shipbuilding. He and others built, in 1856, the 154-ton Oxford; in 1859, the 163-ton Vulcan; in 1863, the 260-ton Undine, for interests in Bermuda; and in 1864, the 267-ton Annie. Both the Church Times of Halifax and the Liverpool Transcript commented on the “Fine lines – beautiful mould and superior workmanship” evident in vessels built under his supervision.
McClearn decided to sail south with the Annie on her maiden voyage in 1864. On the trip he caught yellow fever and died at Tobago in January 1865. His portrait hangs in the house he built in Liverpool, with a painting of the Annie.
Various materials in private collections have been useful in the preparation of this biography: R. J. Long, “The annals of Liverpool and Queen’s County, 1760–1867” (1926) in the possession of Seth Bartling, Liverpool, N.S. (typescript at Dalhousie University Library, Halfax; mfm. at PANS); Liverpool Gauger’s Book, 1821–40, in the possession of Hector MacLeod, Liverpool, N.S.; McClearn family bible, in the possession of John D. McClearn, Liverpool, N.S. PANS, MG 1, 827, 848; MG 4, no.80, Grand Jury Records, Queens County, N.S., 12; RG 14, 56 (Queens County), 1849. Queens County Registry of Deeds (Liverpool, N.S.), Matthew McClearn from Robert and Sarah McClearn, 1831; Matthew McClearn from Robert McClearn, 1831; Matthew McClearn from John L. Darrow, 1841. Liverpool Transcript (Liverpool, N. S.), 1854–65. N. S., House of Assembly, Debates and proc., 1856–69.