TAYLOR, JAMES, businessman, farmer, and politician; b. February 1761 in Truro, N.S., son of Captain Matthew Taylor, a Londonderry Irishman who had emigrated to New Hampshire and then to Nova Scotia, and Elizabeth Archibald; m. Margaret Bartlett, daughter of Richard Bartlett, and they had at least four sons and two daughters; d. 27 Jan. 1834 in Maugerville, N.B.
James Taylor went to the Saint John valley some time in the 1780s to join the Bartletts, who, having arrived from Truro around 1779, had settled in Burton, Sunbury County. He set himself up as a lumber merchant in the parish of Maugerville, a few miles below Fredericton. In 1811, in addition to lumbering operations, he was farming 105 acres of meadow- and plough-land with 4 horses, 4 oxen, 28 cows, and 40 sheep; two of his sons, James and Richard, were farming independently. Taylor’s assessed valuation was more than twice that of any other person in the parish and he was rivalled in worth by only four or five other landowners in the county. He also accumulated a large number of mortgages on properties of his neighbours. His sons became known in the countryside for their rough, intimidating ways; each of them appeared before the magistrates one or more times on charges of assault.
Local historians have confused James Taylor with a Fredericton resident by the same name, the father of William Taylor. Often it is impossible to determine which one is referred to in contemporary documents. Each was described as a merchant, each was engaged in lumbering and shipping, each was involved in many property transactions, and each had a son named James. They lived on the banks of the Saint John River less than ten miles apart. Both died in 1834. The picture is further confused by the presence of a third James Taylor (1755–1841) who lived only two or three miles away at Taylortown, in the neighbouring parish of Sheffield; Sheffield James was a supporter of the Church of England in Maugerville, while Maugerville James was associated with the Congregational Church in Sheffield. Fredericton James was a Presbyterian, but in the absence of a Church of Scotland in Fredericton he was a pew holder for several years in the Anglican church there and in 1816 purchased a pew in the Sheffield Congregational Church.
Although the Sheffield church in 1816 was no longer associated with radical politics, in earlier years it had been a rallying point for dissenters in their opposition to Anglican domination of the institutions of government. Dissenters provided most of the votes to send the radical James Glenie* to the House of Assembly from 1789 until he left the province in the winter of 1804–5. Hostility between supporters and opponents of the government reached a climax following the election of 1802. A series of court cases ensued between members of the contending parties, ranging from petty lawsuits, through charges of intimidation, to allegations of criminal behaviour. Party rancour continued for several years and in 1805 two yokes of Taylor’s oxen were seized by the county authorities, who threatened to auction them off to pay a tax bill amounting to a few shillings. Far more serious, though its origins may not have been political, was a case brought by Abijah Palmer about the same time accusing two of Taylor’s daughters of the murder of an illegitimate child. They were acquitted and in 1806 Taylor successfully sued Palmer for damages. During the trial one of the daughters stated that she considered Palmer “the greatest enemy of her father and family.”
In the general election of 1809 Taylor replaced Glenie as the candidate of the dissenters and was returned along with Samuel Denny Street. He was defeated in the next election, in 1816, by Elijah Miles and by a popular lay preacher, William Wilmot, the spokesman for the Baptists, who were emerging as a prominent group in the community. The solidarity forged by the dissenters in the 1790s no longer existed. When Taylor ran once again in 1819, there were three dissenting candidates. He was elected and took his seat, but one of his rivals, Amos Perley, protested; after a 39-day inquiry in the assembly Taylor was unseated in March 1820 by a vote of 16 to 4, his only support coming from one Fredericton and three Saint John merchants. Defeated when he again stood for election in 1820, he retired from public life. Soon afterwards he became a resident of Saint John, where he probably had been spending part of each year.
Information on Taylor’s business activities is both sparse and difficult to interpret. He was commonly referred to as “Captain,” but it is not known whether this title derived from a militia appointment or was connected with the sea. John Hazen, a neighbour who lived across the river and often dined at “Taylor’s,” mentions in his diary his attendance at a number of “launchings” in the vicinity, usually of brigs or smaller vessels, but the entries of 25 and 26 July 1811 record the launching of a “ship” at “Captain Taylor’s.” Later, in 1825, Benjamin Taylor, who was to sign the inventory of James’s estate and with whom he had business dealings, had a role in the building of the schooner Sheffield. In 1816 James Taylor’s wharf was the stopping place at Maugerville for the General Smyth, the first steamboat on the Saint John River. James’s business affairs may possibly have taken him to England: a draft application of the Sheffield congregation to the London Missionary Society, dated 24 Oct. 1814, states in a postscript, “Mr. Taylor who we expect to be the bearer of this will provide a passage for a missionary without any expense to the society”; however, the reference is more likely to Fredericton James, who chartered a vessel to bring immigrants to the province in 1816.
In 1812, with the backing of Hugh Johnston, Taylor purchased a sawmill and a thousand acres of land on Swan Creek. The transfer to the New Brunswick Council in 1816 of responsibility for regulating the cutting of timber on crown lands brought an end to the freedom that he and his fellow lumbermen had enjoyed during Sir John Wentworth*’s lax administration as surveyor of the king’s woods. In 1820, with his political influence also at an end, Taylor was denied a renewal of a lease on a tract of land along “Schoodewopscook” (Kellys) Creek in York County, despite his claim to have a house and barn there, as well as the mill irons from a saw- and grist-mill which had been destroyed by fire in 1818 and which only the depressed state of the market had prevented him from rebuilding.
At the height of his fortune, around 1816, Taylor had an estate of more than 2,000 acres with an extensive frontage of intervale land; he also owned timber land and held additional tracts on lease. By 1824 title to his main farm had passed to his son Gain Bartlett Taylor. James lost almost everything else, including a house in Saint John, around 1830. His mill at Swan Creek and some other properties went to Johnston. At his death in 1834, his estate was valued at less than £300, and consisted mainly of household effects and farm animals, as well as “2 pews in the Presbeterian meting in Sheffield.” When his widow died the following year, she left only a gig and harness, two “collers,” two “Brichens,” and one “neck yoak.”
Taylor’s seven years in the assembly came during a quiescent period in provincial politics between the conflicts that had characterized the administration of Lieutenant Governor Thomas Carleton* and those of Lieutenant Governor George Stracey Smyth’s régime. His attendance in 1820 was too brief to be significant, but clearly marked him as identified with the Saint John merchant group. While perhaps somewhat more rough-hewn than most, he appears to have been typical of the merchant-farmer-lumberman politicians of the early 19th century.
N.B. Museum, G. J. Dibblee papers, James Taylor to G. S. Smyth, 9 Dec. 1820; Hubbard family papers, F14, no.1; Jarvis family papers, box 18, no.2. PANB, MC 1156, VIII (copy at UNBL); RG 4, RS 24, S16, S28; RG 5, RS 35, C5, 1806; RG 7, RS 72, 1835, Margaret Taylor; A, 1834, James Taylor; RG 10, RS 108, 1783–1820; RG 18, RS 157, J2/1. UNBL, MG H9, including John Hazen diary, 1800–15 (typescript). “Documents of the Congregational Church at Maugerville,” N.B. Hist. Soc., Coll., 1 (1894–97), no.1: 134, 148, 151. N.B., House of Assembly, Journal, 1803–20. “Sunbury County documents,” N.B. Hist. Soc., Coll., 1, no.1: 106. Royal Gazette (Fredericton), 1809–34. The New Brunswick militia: commissioned officers’ list, 1787–1867, comp. D .R. Facey-Crowther ([Fredericton], 1984). Beckwith Maxwell, Hist. of central N.B. Esther Clark Wright, Planters and pioneers (rev. ed., Hantsport, N.S., 1982). MacNutt, New Brunswick. W D. Moore, “Sunbury County, 1760–1830” (ma thesis, Univ. of N.B., Fredericton, 1977). D F. Taylor, The early steamboats of the St. John River (Saint John, 1980).