STREET, GEORGE FREDERICK, lawyer, college administrator, public servant, politician, and judge; b. 21 July 1787 in Burton, N.B., fifth of 12 children of Samuel Denny Street* and Abigail Freeman; m. 26 March 1818 Frances Maria Stratton (Straton), and they had one son and one daughter who survived to maturity; d. 10 July 1855 in London.
Although George Frederick Street’s father had served with the British forces in the Thirteen Colonies, received a large grant of land in Sunbury County (N.B.), and sat in the provincial House of Assembly, he was of English birth and was never a member of the inner circle of American-born loyalists who monopolized government patronage in early New Brunswick. Repeatedly he was passed over when vacancies occurred on the bench in favour of loyalists who were junior to him at the bar, much to his children’s chagrin. Since he lacked access to patronage, he sought to provide his children with a superior education and sent two of his sons, John Ambrose Sharman* and George Frederick, to study law at the Inns of Court in London. George Frederick attended the Inner Temple in 1808 and practised as attorney at the Court of King’s Bench until 1818 when he married the daughter of a major in the Royal Engineers and returned to New Brunswick to join his father’s practice in Fredericton. Because of his English experience, he was allowed to appear in the New Brunswick courts, even though he was not formally admitted to the provincial bar as a barrister until two years later.
Fredericton was little more than a village in the 1820s and the competition for business among its handful of lawyers was intense. The main rivals of the Streets were the attorney general, Thomas Wetmore*, and his son, George Ludlow*. Since the Wetmores were members of the loyalist élite, relations between the two families were not cordial. During a trial in 1821 the two sons carried their argument outside the courtroom and Wetmore challenged Street to a duel. On the morning of 2 Oct. 1821 Street shot and killed his opponent. Wetmore’s friends persuaded the sheriff to issue a warrant for Street’s arrest for murder. He had fled to the United States following the duel, but he returned to stand trial in Fredericton in February 1822 and was acquitted.
After 1819, when his father was appointed to the Council, Street’s future was assured. On 24 June 1822 he was named treasurer and clerk for the College of New Brunswick and when it was incorporated as King’s College in 1829 he became the registrar, a lucrative position which he held until 25 June 1846. On 12 April 1825 Street was appointed advocate general by Lieutenant Governor Sir Howard Douglas*, who much admired the elder Street. He also held a number of minor administrative posts and in February 1825 served with Ward Chipman on the committee of management for the newly formed provincial barristers’ association. However, when he ran for the House of Assembly in 1827 and again in 1830, he was unsuccessful. Part of the reason for his failure may have been his close association with the unpopular commissioner of crown lands, Thomas Baillie*. During the latter part of the 1820s a bitter feud erupted between the leading loyalist families and Baillie, an Englishman, who established a competing network of family alliances. Quite naturally, Street attached himself to Baillie, and Baillie began to direct much of the legal business of the Crown Lands Office to the Vice-Admiralty Court. Street, who acted as its prosecutor, started to earn substantial fees. Baillie also secured for Street an appointment as solicitor for the New Brunswick and Nova Scotia Land Company, formed in 1831, and the two were associated in the incorporation of a branch of the Bank of British North America in 1837. Although Douglas tried to arbitrate between the conflicting factions in the colony, his successor, Sir Archibald Campbell*, was less discreet. When Campbell divided the Council into two in 1833, he appointed Street, Baillie, and Baillie’s father-in-law, William Franklin Odell*, to the Executive Council, which they dominated. The following year Campbell chose Street as his solicitor general and promised to appoint him to the bench on the next vacancy. After 1833 the assembly sought to curb Baillie’s authority over crown lands and to win control of the rapidly growing casual and territorial revenues, but Campbell, in part because of the legal advice given to him by Street, refused to negotiate. Street’s brother, John Ambrose Sharman, was one of the few members of the assembly who defended the lieutenant governor’s actions.
Unfortunately for the Streets, they had tied themselves to a losing cause. By 1836 the Colonial Office was determined to reach an agreement with the New Brunswick assembly and Campbell was instructed to surrender the revenues for a comparatively modest civil list. Prompted by Street, who raised a number of spurious legal objections to the arrangement, Campbell refused to consent to the civil list bill passed by the assembly and in February 1837 he sent Street to London to justify his decision. Street’s mission was an abysmal failure. In May of that year Campbell was replaced by Sir John Harvey who promptly assented to the bill. Harvey dismissed Baillie from the Executive Council, which he broadened to take in several of the leading members of the assembly, including the speaker, Charles Simonds. These actions won almost universal approval except from a rump of officials, among them Baillie, Odell, Charles Jeffery Peters*, and Street. When Baillie appealed against Harvey’s decision to reduce his salary, Street acted as his legal adviser. In 1837 Harvey dismissed Street from the Executive Council, declaring that he had experienced “more opposition of opinion from Mr. Street, in Council, than from any other Member.” Street also nearly lost his position as solicitor general when Harvey accused him, wrongly as it turned out, of writing an article in the Saint John Chronicle denying the legality of the civil list act.
The disadvantages of continuing to oppose Harvey were further brought home to Street when it became apparent that if a vacancy occurred on the bench it might go to Harvey’s protégé, John Simcoe Saunders*. Making a virtue of necessity, Street dissociated himself from the ranks of the governor’s critics and in October 1838 Harvey reported that he was “highly satisfied” with Street’s behaviour and recommended his appointment to the Legislative Council. After taking his seat in 1839, Street voted for a motion to prosecute the Chronicle for libelling Harvey, and the following year he conducted the prosecution, unsuccessfully. During the next five years he avoided political activity, but on 22 Feb. 1845 Sir William MacBean George Colebrooke*, then lieutenant governor of the province, reappointed him to the Executive Council after the more prominent members of the existing council had resigned in protest against Colebrooke’s decision to give his son-in-law, Alfred Reade, the position of provincial secretary. When a vacancy occurred on the bench later that year, Colebrooke submitted Street’s name as a puisne judge and in January 1846 his appointment was confirmed by the colonial secretary, William Ewart Gladstone.
For the next decade Street regularly performed his judicial duties until he fell ill in 1855. While on a journey to London that year he died. Although the Fredericton New Brunswick Reporter described Street in his obituary as “a sound lawyer and an impartial judge,” there is no evidence to indicate that he made any significant contribution to the colony’s legal or judicial system. He trained several lawyers, such as Charles Fisher* and William Hayden Needham*, who became prominent New Brunswick citizens, and was effective at pleading a case, but his usefulness as a judge was impaired by partial deafness.
The historian William Stewart MacNutt* describes Street as “one of the few scions of the leading Loyalist families, who opposed reform” in the 1830s. In fact, in a strict sense the Streets were not a loyalist family, or at least they were not perceived as one by the loyalist élite, and their somewhat erratic political behaviour arose from this fact. Samuel Denny Street began his political career as a “tribune of the people,” but after his appointment to the Council in 1819, he consistently supported the executive against the assembly; John Ambrose Sharman Street ended his political career in 1851 heading a government which he had recently been attacking. George Frederick Street was less erratic. None the less, it is difficult to believe that he was motivated primarily by ideological considerations. He was an outsider in loyalist New Brunswick and, unlike his father and his brother, he was unable to win a seat in the assembly. His only hope for advancement lay with the executive and so he supported George Stracey Smyth*, Douglas, Harvey, and Colebrooke in turn, and was rewarded with a series of positions culminating in his appointment to the bench. His insecurity manifested itself in the zeal with which he attached himself to Baillie and in his eagerness to engage in duels. Although he claimed to regret that he had killed Wetmore, in 1834 he outraged public opinion by challenging Henry George Clopper*. Street was undoubtedly an able man but his positive contribution to the history of New Brunswick was extremely limited.
[There is a small collection of Street family papers in the N.B. Museum and a few letters in the Saunders papers in UNBL, MG H11, but the major source for this study were the Colonial Office records in the PRO, especially CO 188/21: 67–68; 188/43: 222–31, 272–74; 188/46: 9–11; 188/50: 13, 131, 370; 188/52: 93–98; 188/57: 50–51, 74–78, 114–23, 140–43, 176–77, 227–28, 258–66; 188/58: 348–62, 365–67, 373–75, 379–82; 188/59: 172–75, 178–85; 188/60: 2–5, 19–22, 202–7, 246–49, 278–80, 311–15; 188/64: 253–54; 188/65: 210–11; 188/69: 313–16, 328–30; 188/92: 70–75, 93–97, 381–82; and CO 323/165: 494–96. Also valuable were the New Brunswick Executive Council minutes in PANB, RG 2, RS6, A3–4, 1833–37; A5, 1845; and the Legislative Council Journal, 1839–45.
Useful biographical information is contained in PANB, RG 7, RS75, 1855, G. F. Street, and in N.B. Museum, Street family, cb doc., C. F. Street, “Historical notes on the Street family of New Brunswick” (typescript, n.d.). There are many references to Street in the newspapers of the period, but of particular importance are the Royal Gazette (Fredericton), 2 Oct. 1821, 12 April 1825, 6 Oct. 1830; New-Brunswick Courier, 8 March 1834; and New Brunswick Reporter and Fredericton Advertiser, 3 Aug. 1855. The chapter on Street in Lawrence, Judges of N.B. (Stockton and Raymond) and MacNutt, New Brunswick, 250–52, 256, 262, were also useful. p.b.]