NEWTON, JOHN, shipmaster, HBC chief at York Fort (York Factory, Man.); d. there 28 June 1750. By his first wife he was the father of John Newton, the theologian; by his second wife, Thomasina, whom he married c. 1733, he had three children.
John Newton was master of a ship in the Mediterranean trade until his retirement in 1742; during the next six years he apparently lived in Aveley, Essex, and in Rotherhithe, Surrey, England. In 1748 the Hudson’s Bay Company called James Isham home from York to help defend the company’s monopoly against attacks by Arthur Dobbs and other critics. Contrary to its usual practice of giving command of its posts to men experienced in its service, it appointed Newton to replace Isham at York. Newton arrived there in August 1748 by the Prince Rupert (Capt. George Spurrell). The next year, on the instruction of the London committee, he superintended the construction of Cumberland Fort (soon renamed Flamborough House). Located on the estuary of the Nelson River, the post was designed to confront any interlopers from England who, inspired by Dobbs, might try to go up the river and intercept Indians coming to trade at York.
On 28 June 1750 Samuel Skrimsher recorded in the York journals: “the water being Clear and Smooth he [Newton] had a mind to Treat his Selfe with a Swim.” His men soon saw him in distress and rushed to his assistance “but pore Gentel Man Never apering the Second time Renderd our Indeavers on Servesable. . . .”
Newton’s tenure at York must have been difficult. His air of distance and severity, attributed by his son John to his Spanish education, cannot have endeared the new recruit to his more experienced subordinates. The London committee also regretted his appointment to York, which they had described to him as their “best Factory.” In 1751 they complained to Isham of Newton’s inattention to the fabric of the fort and of the decrease in trade brought on “by the Indians not being prevented from going to Warr & other Mismanagemt.”
HBC Arch. A.1/130, ff.7d, 38; A.6/7, pp.276, 281, 342; A.6/8, ff.15–15d, 44–45, 131; A.11/114, ff.128d, 134–35d; B.239/a/32–33. HBRS, XXVII (Williams). John Newton, An authentic narrative of some remarkable and interesting particulars in the early life of the Reverend John Newton . . . (Bristol, Eng., 1824); The works of the Reverend John Newton . . . (4v., Aberdeen, Scot., 1836), I. DNB, biography of John Newton (1725–1807). Rich, History of the HBC, I.