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SAYRE, JAMES, businessman, office holder, and jp; b. 7 Sept. 1761 in Philadelphia, son of the Reverend John Sayre, a Church of England minister, and Mary Bowes; d. 22 March 1849 at Dorchester Island, N.B.

James Sayre, one of eight children who survived infancy, spent his early years moving from one Anglican mission to another in New England. The events following upon the Declaration of Independence in July 1776 restricted his formal education. His father was then serving as minister of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Fairfield, Conn., a stronghold of toryism [see Daniel Morehouse*]. John Sayre made no secret of his sympathies for the crown and encouraged his children to carry provisions to jailed parishioners. Advertised as an enemy to the country, he was banished from Fairfield for about seven months, and after his return his movements were severely restricted.

On 8 July 1779 Major-General William Tryon and a body of British troops occupied Fairfield. Tryon’s decision to burn the homes of pro-revolutionaries inadvertently resulted in the destruction of loyalist homes as well, including that of John Sayre. Destitute, Sayre, his wife, and their children fled to Flushing, N.Y.; by 1781 they had reached New York City. There Sayre joined forces with loyalists seeking refuge in the province of Nova Scotia. He was an agent and one of the famous 55 loyalists who in July 1783 petitioned the commander-in-chief in North America, Sir Guy Carleton*, for substantial land grants in their proposed new home [see Abijah Willard*]. Sayre received a grant in Parrtown (Saint John, N.B.), where he ministered to the loyalist arrivals. His son James, who had arrived in Parrtown with the “spring fleet” of 1783, obtained a grant in the vicinity of Gagetown. By 1784 John had moved on to Maugerville, dying there in August. His widow then sold her husband’s lands to James.

On 17 March 1790, in Trinity Church, Saint John, James married Polly Smith, a loyalist from Rhode Island. She was a daughter of Dr Nathan Smith, a physician who would serve as mha for Saint John City from 1795 to 1802. The couple were to have five sons and five daughters. They settled in Maugerville, where James had a general store and small milling business. He appears also to have had some business connections with William Pagan*, a noted loyalist merchant in Saint John. In 1803 the Sayre family moved to the busy shipbuilding and shipping harbour of Dorchester Island, close to Dorchester, the shire-town of Westmorland County. They were the first loyalists to settle this high-tide island. Sayre built a frame-house and slowly acquired land, but success in business eluded him. As his son William Pagan Sayre wrote in 1816, “My father has not been very fortunate in increasing his worldly estate. . . . Various heavy losses and disappointments in his mercantile line put him considerably aback.” James had nevertheless quickly assumed a leading role in the community. In 1807 he was named a town and parish officer and a justice of the peace. Seven years later he became high sheriff, a post he held until 1826 when he was succeeded by his son William Pagan. From 1834 to 1849 he was harbour master and collector of customs for Dorchester.

At his death in March 1849 Sayre was buried in Dorchester Pioneer Cemetery beside his wife, who had predeceased him by 11 years. He had died intestate, leaving an estate valued at £455, a sum which may suggest that his fortunes in business had improved. Sayre’s life was intimately interwoven with the loyalist presence in New Brunswick. A strong supporter of the crown, he had fled his homeland, married a loyalist, and settled permanently in the province. Several of his sons remained in Dorchester, married into loyalist families, and became active members of the community. Through his sister Esther, the wife of Christopher Robinson*, Sayre was connected with one of the most powerful loyalist families of Upper Canada.

Della M. M. Stanley

PANB, RG 10, RS108, 1785, no.149; 1815, no.353; RG 18, RS159, A1. Saint John Regional Library (Saint John, N.B.), A18 (loyalist family papers index), no.32 (mfm. at PANB). St Paul’s Anglican Church (Sackville, N.B.), Reg. of burials, 1849 (mfm. at PANB). Westmorland County Probate Office (Moncton, N.B.), Probate record book C: 181, 247. Royal Gazette (Saint John; Fredericton), 8 Nov. 1785, 27 July 1836, 19 Dec. 1838, 9 June 1841, 5 May 1843. T. M. Banta, Sayre family; lineage of Thomas Sayre, a founder of Southampton (New York, 1901). N. B. almanack, 1829–49. Lorenzo Sabine, Biographical sketches of loyalists of the American revolution (2v., Boston, 1864; repr. Port Washington, N.Y., 1966). W. O. Raymond, “Pioneer missionaries of the church in New Brunswick . . . ,” Church Work (Halifax), 9 Nov. 1911: 2.

General Bibliography

Cite This Article

Della M. M. Stanley, “SAYRE, JAMES,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 7, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed October 30, 2014, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/sayre_james_7E.html.

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Permalink: http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/sayre_james_7E.html
Author of Article: Della M. M. Stanley
Title of Article: SAYRE, JAMES
Publication Name: Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 7
Publisher: University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication: 1988
Year of revision: 1988
Access Date: October 30, 2014