SAUNDERS, JOHN SIMCOE, lawyer, legislator, and public servant; b. in 1795 at Fredericton, N.B., son of John Saunders*, a judge of the Supreme Court and later chief justice of New Brunswick, and Arianna Margaretta Jekyll Chalmers; d. 27 July 1878 at Fredericton, N.B.
John Simcoe Saunders’ father had distinguished himself in the American Revolution as an officer of the Queen’s American Rangers under the command of Colonel John Graves Simcoe*; he consequently enjoyed the benefit of high official connections in England. With this patrician background, young Saunders was a scion of the slender loyalist aristocracy of the new province of New Brunswick. In his youth he received many benefits from his family’s position; in his later years his career can be explained by the declining importance of the colonial aristocracy.
Young Saunders was sent to school in England under the supervision of his maternal grandfather, James Chalmers, who had commanded the Maryland loyalists during the American Revolution. After a higher education at Oxford and Lincoln’s Inn, Saunders returned to Fredericton where he was called to the bar in 1817. Finding his profession unrewarding, he returned to London and studied law with the eminent pleader, Joseph Chitty. In 1828 he published The law of pleadings and evidence in civil actions, a work that enjoyed rapid sale and was reprinted several times in the United States. In New Brunswick there was a rumour, probably caused by envy, that the work was really Chitty’s, that for some unknown reason the teacher preferred to publish the book under the pupil’s name. Sometime during this period Saunders married his first cousin, Elizabeth Sophia Storie of Camberwell, Surrey; they had a son and a daughter.
During this London residence Saunders conducted an interesting correspondence with friends and relatives in Fredericton. His exchanges with his boyhood friend, Henry Bliss, reveal a sophisticated amusement with, and a mild contempt for, the decaying rural aristocracy of his native province. His letters to his father, who was the greatest landowner in the colony, poke fun at the judge’s conviction that real estate eventually would produce a fortune and that a great agricultural property, fashioned after the family’s lost estate in Princess Anne County, Virginia, could be created. More abreast with current commercial development than his father, Saunders believed that agriculture in New Brunswick had no future. One of his prophecies was that by 1947 New Brunswick would be Acadian once again.
In 1830 he again returned to Fredericton and, favoured by family connection, enjoyed for many years a number of public offices. Because of his superior education, he was at once appointed master of the rolls, but the legislature would provide no salary for the post. In 1833, when the government was reorganized, he was made a member of both the Executive and the Legislative Council, and in 1834 became advocate general. None of these appointments gave much financial reward, but from 1840 to 1843, during the temporary disgrace of Thomas Baillie*, Saunders held the lucrative post of surveyor general. After the death of the provincial secretary, William Franklin Odell*, and during the controversy over Sir William Colebrooke*’s appointment of his son-in-law, Alfred Reade, to the vacant post, Saunders fell heir in 1845 to the office of provincial secretary. He was the last man to hold this position before it became subject to political tenure with the advent of responsible government in 1848.
Saunders’ resignation in 1848 provides the key to his character. According to the testimony of the lieutenant governor, Sir Edmund Head*, Saunders was a scholarly man who could not bring himself to the disagreeable necessity of fighting a popular election. Since the fortunes of the new government would depend on its ability to keep the confidence of the House of Assembly, he could not be a source of strength. Until his death he continued to play a minor official and political role, serving as clerk of the circuits until 1867 and president of the Legislative Council until 1878.
Saunders was an astute man financially; his estate included stock in several banks and insurance companies as well as property in New Brunswick and England. He also left a collection of “minerals and geological specimens” to his son. Able, scholarly, and somewhat cynical, the product of an era of aristocratic domination, John Simcoe Saunders was not equipped temperamentally for the period of greater popular participation in government.
University of New Brunswick Library. Archives and Special Collections Department Saunders papers, correspondence and papers of John Simcoe Saunders; journal of John Simcoe Saunders, 1871–77. York County Court of Probate (Fredericton), V, 18–22. J. S. Saunders, The law of pleadings and evidence in civil actions, arranged alphabetically, with practical forms: and the pleadings and evidence to support them (2v., London, 1828). Lawrence, Judges of New Brunswick (Stockton), 274–75, 359, 423, 440. MacNutt, New Brunswick, 164, 178, 288–89, 318, 480.