RITCHIE, JOHN, merchant and office-holder; b. 1745 or 1746 in or near Glasgow, Scotland; d. 20 July 1790 in Annapolis Royal, Nova Scotia.
In 1770 John Ritchie, accompanied by his wife Jennet (Janet), moved from Edinburgh, Scotland, to Boston, Massachusetts. There he carried on a mercantile business aided by his uncle Andrew Ritchie, who had immigrated to Boston in 1753. Some time before 1775, perhaps in connection with his uncle’s business, he moved to Annapolis Royal. In that year, an important one for Ritchie, his first son was born and his wife died. At the same time his uncle was captured by American rebels and imprisoned in Massachusetts for a year. John Ritchie’s support for the mother country never wavered, although that of some of his Nova Scotian neighbours was not so certain. Fearing rebel designs on the western part of the province, he and three other Annapolis residents, the Reverend Thomas Wood, William Shaw, and Thomas Williams, petitioned Halifax for the means to defend the area. In late July 1775 the government responded with arms, ammunition, and four six-pounders. When a company of militia was raised the following month Ritchie joined, and on 22 May 1779 he was commissioned a captain.
Fears of an American attack on Annapolis Royal were realized in 1781. In the early morning of 29 August two rebel ships entered the Annapolis Basin and seized the sleeping town. So complete was the surprise that no resistance was possible. The town was plundered and two of its prominent citizens, Ritchie and Williams, were taken hostage. They were soon released in exchange for a rebel prisoner held in Halifax. Both men were forced to swear not to bear arms against the rebels in the future; Ritchie’s days in the militia were over.
The Ritchie family’s long and illustrious connection with the courts began in a small way in 1779 with John Ritchie’s appointment as justice of the peace for Annapolis County. In 1786 he was named one of the justices of the Inferior Court of Common Pleas. A son and four grandsons would hold judgeships; one grandson, William Johnstone Ritchie*, became chief justice of Canada in 1879.
In a 1783 by-election Ritchie offered himself as a candidate for Annapolis County and was subsequently elected; for two years he represented the area in the House of Assembly. In the general election of 1785 he was rejected by the voters of Annapolis Township in favour of a newly arrived loyalist, Stephen De Lancey*. A minor political appointment followed in 1787 when he became one of the commissioners to supervise expenditure of public money on the new Shelburne-Annapolis road.
John Ritchie’s last years were troubled by worsening business affairs. His death at the age of 45 left his young family nearly destitute. In 1775 or 1776 he had married at Annapolis Alicia Maria, daughter of Francis Barclay Le Cain (Le Quesne), former ordnance master at Fort Anne. At the time of his death his four children ranged in age from five to 15. His widow survived until 1817.
PANS, RG 1, 168, pp.551, 564; 169, p.143; 222, no.56. Nova-Scotia Gazette and the Weekly Chronicle (Halifax), 4 Sept. 1781. Directory of N.S. MLAs. Calnek, History of Annapolis (Savary). Savary, Supplement to history of Annapolis. M. C. Ritchie, “The beginnings of a Canadian family,” N.S. Hist. Soc., Coll., XXIV (1938), 135–54. C. St C. Stayner, “John William Ritchie,” N.S. Hist. Soc., Coll., XXXVI (1968), 183–277.