TONGE, WINCKWORTH, army officer, officeholder, politician, and landowner; b. 4 Feb. 1727/28 in County Wexford (Republic of Ireland); m. Martha Cottnam, and they had four sons, including William Cottnam*; d. 2 Feb. 1792 in Halifax, Nova Scotia.
Winckworth Tonge devoted his early years to a military career. He first saw service in 1743 as a volunteer in Captain Charles Knowles’s expedition against the Spanish American settlements. Subsequently Tonge became an ensign in the 45th Foot and served in garrison at Louisbourg, Cape Breton Island, from 1746 to 1749, when his regiment was sent to assist in the establishment of Halifax [see Edward Cornwallis]. Commissioned lieutenant on 8 April 1755, Tonge served as assistant engineer to John Brewse in the capture that year of Fort Beauséjour (near Sackville, N.B.) [see Robert Monckton]. He saw service under Amherst at the siege of Louisbourg in 1758 and under Wolfe* at Quebec the following year. With the fall of Quebec his active military career came to an end, and he apparently left the army some time between 1763 and 1765.
By that time Tonge had begun to acquire large tracts of land in Nova Scotia. His first grant, about 130 acres, was received shortly after the fall of Beauséjour and was situated in what was soon to become Cumberland County. His holdings in what later became Hants County dated from 1759 and 1760 and included about 5,000 acres. Over the next 15 years he devoted considerable time and money to his property; writing in 1774, Governor Francis Legge observed that Tonge had spent over £3,000 in agricultural improvements. When the American revolution broke out, Tonge volunteered for military service and was made colonel in the militia on 5 Sept. 1781. Partly because his duties demanded much of his time, and partly because he suffered heavy losses at the hands of American privateers, by the end of the revolution his savings were “dissipated and a considerable debt incurr’d.” He never recovered financially; by 1789 he had been forced to sell most of his property, including Winckworth, his estate in Hants County.
Although Tonge’s financial affairs had taken a turn for the worse, he remained an important political figure in the colony. In 1759–60 he had sat in the House of Assembly for Cumberland County, and he represented Kings County from 1765 to 1783 and Hants County from 1785 until his death. Governor Legge wrote in 1774 that Tonge was esteemed by his constituents and “well Attached to the Interest of the Country.” His involvement in provincial affairs was extensive. At various times he served as justice of the peace, custos rotulorum for Hants, justice of the Inferior Court of Common Pleas for Hants, and provincial surveyor or superintendent of roads, bridges, and public works.
Tonge’s most important appointment came in 1773, when he was sworn in as naval officer for the colony. His chief duty was the careful regulation of shipping between Nova Scotia and Europe, Asia, Africa, and America. The position was to make him the centre of political controversy for many years. Within a few months of his appointment he managed to alienate the governor, Lord William Campbell. Before 1773 the governor had appointed deputy naval officers throughout the colony, a prerogative Tonge now claimed as his own. Tonge sought to regulate the activities of these officers and claimed half their fees for himself. His behaviour created a furor in both business and political circles, especially when he increased the fees collected. Appeals were urgently sent to the Board of Trade for relief. According to Lord Dartmouth, the secretary of state for the American Colonies, Tonge was “in right of his Commission . . . to appoint Deputies” and had the power to collect fees. He made it clear, however, that the Board of Trade was opposed to the collection of fees since they felt the salary of the naval officer was sufficient for his support: “If Mr Tonge thinks fit to avail himself of the Act of Parliament, and receive Fees, their Lordships will not think him intituled to receive the Salary.” Tonge opted for the salary since the fees were inconsiderable.
Tonge’s political stock seems to have risen considerably in 1774, when Governor Legge recommended him, “a Gentleman of good Character & Reputation,” for appointment to the Council. This political manœuvre by the governor to form an alliance with one of the leading members of a hostile assembly failed; Tonge balked at Legge’s advances and the governor withdrew his recommendation.
Tonge’s position as naval officer brought him into renewed conflict with the assembly and the mercantile community following the American revolution. In an attempt to limit the widespread smuggling that was taking place Tonge endeavoured to enforce the navigation laws rigidly, and to increase his income he again began to collect fees. Reaction was swift. The attorney general, Sampson Salter Blowers*, protested in 1786 that Tonge was exceeding his powers, and the assembly even debated whether the naval office should be abolished. Faced with this general assault on his position, Tonge fought back: “I do declare & can Prove, I have not in any Instance Demanded anything but what is fully authorized by Acts of Parliament . . . and that so far from being Exorbitant in my Demand of Fees, they are by no means Adequate to the Trouble and Expense of Keeping Offices Open.”
The debate between Tonge, the assembly, and the mercantile community continued over the next few years. In 1790 the matter was settled and a fee table established. Although more restricted than in the past, the naval office was still intact when Tonge died, a tired but resolved man, in 1792.
PANS, MG 1, 250A (Cunningham family docs.), 2, docs.88–92; RG 1, 31–33, 40–48; RG 5, A, 2, 1786, 3, 25 March 1790. PRO, CO 217/26, pp.161, 165ff.; 217/35, pp.236ff.; 217/50, pp.3ff., 127ff.; 217/58, pp.318ff., 324ff.; 218/5–12; 218/14; 218/17–21; 218/25–27 (mfm. at PANS). G.B., WO, Army list, 1756, 1763, 1765. N.S., House of Assembly, Journal, 1759–92. Directory of N.S. MLAs. Beck, Government of N.S. Brebner, Neutral Yankees. M. G. MacG. Morison, “The evolution of political parties in Nova Scotia, 1758–1848” (unpublished ma thesis, Dalhousie University, Halifax, 1949). Murdoch, History of N.S. Porter, History of Royal Engineers, I, 171. A. W. H. Eaton, “Rhode Island settlers on the French lands in Nova Scotia in 1760 and 1761,” Americana (New York), X (1915), 1–43, 83–104, 179–97.