Looking Back on Confederation: the Remarkable Botsford Dynasty Parts One & Two

It was a happy coincidence that July 1st, 1867 fell on a Monday. In addition, the weather was reported as favourable in all four provinces of the new Dominion. From Sydney Nova Scotia and Sackville New Brunswick in the east, through to Sarnia and Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario in the west, the day continued clear and warm. According to one overly enthusiastic reporter: the holiday was marked throughout with the utmost dignity and aplomb. Even many of those who opposed Confederation were caught up in the fireworks and festivities on Canadas first long holiday weekend.

Lost in the euphoria of the day was the fact that Confederation was, in reality, a political miracle. In 1864 delegates from Newfoundland, Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick agreed to meet in Charlottetown to consider a Maritime Union. Subsequently, the Conference was expanded to include delegates from Canada East (Quebec) and Canada West (Ontario). Those who supported Confederation hoped that the union might one day embrace all of the British North American colonies.

As events later unfolded, Newfoundland and Prince Edward Island opted out of the scheme; while the legislature of the two Canadas gave its approval. But what about New Brunswick and Nova Scotia? Without their support, Confederation could not take place.

In New Brunswick, an over confident pro-confederation government headed by Samuel Leonard Tilley (1818–96) was defeated in a provincial election held on March 3, 1865. In this contest, Westmorland County returned four anti-confederate members. Leading the polls was a wily Dorchester lawyer, Albert J. Smith (1822–83) with 1,663 votes. Smith had given effective leadership to the anti-confederation movement and was called upon to form a new government. Results for his three colleagues were as follows: Bliss Botsford 1,505, Armand Landry 1,481 and W.G. Gilbert 1,406.

The Smith government, once characterized as a queer mixture of Tories and Liberals, lasted but a few months. In a second election, Tilley was returned to power with a large majority; although the total popular vote remained close. Only eight anti-confederates were elected; and of these, four were from Westmorland. Despite the local anti-confederation stand, New Brunswick was now onside.

In Nova Scotia, the anti-confederate movement was given vigorous leadership by Joseph Howe. Had the Premier, Charles Tupper (1821–1915), risked an election; the result might well have meant defeat. Tupper, a better political tactician than Tilley, steered a carefully crafted union resolution through the Legislature. The final vote was 31 to 19. Nova Scotia joined New Brunswick and the Canadas in the new Dominion on that … sunny July 1, 1867.

The heated political debate over Confederation was well covered by the newspapers. Most optimistic was the New Brunswick Reporter. It observed: We are now one people one in laws, one in government, one in interests. The Fredericton Headquarters was more realistic: It is useless to shut our eyes, it commented on July 5, 1867, to the fact that in New Brunswick there is discontent and indignation smoldering in many places; while in Nova Scotia these feelings are afire and in action. One people or a divided people? Only time would tell.

In 1867, the boundaries of Westmorland County defined the limits of both the provincial and federal constituencies. The first federal election was held during the early autumn of 1867. Westmorland elected the anti-confederate ex-premier Albert J. Smith as its first MP; while in the nearby Nova Scotia constituency of Cumberland the pro-confederate ex-premier Charles Tupper was returned.

Deep divisions characterized several of the leading politicians with roots on the Tantramar. Albert J. Smith, who became known as the Lion of Westmorland, had taken his legal training in the Dorchester law office of Edward B. Chandler (1800–80), one the provinces leading Fathers of Confederation. Although born in Amherst, Nova Scotia, Chandler had crossed the Missaguash to launch his career in New Brunswick. From 1827 to 1836, he was an MLA for Westmorland. Later, as a member of the Upper House or Legislative Council, Chandler played a key role in the negotiations that led to Confederation.

In some instances, family members found themselves on opposite sides. The most dramatic example was within the ranks of the Botsford family. Looking back, no other Tantramar family could match their long record of public service. From the first provincial election in 1785, and for years afterward, there was almost always a Botsford serving in the Legislature.

The founder of the dynasty was Amos Botsford I (1744–1812). A native of Newtown, Connecticut, and graduate of Yale University, he practiced law until the outbreak of the American Revolution. As a strong supporter of the British cause, Botsford was appointed to assist in the settlement of Loyalists in what became the province of New Brunswick. Well positioned, he laid personal claim to a land grant at Botsfords (now Dorchester) Island. A few years later, the family moved to Westcock. Amos Botsford represented Westmorland in the House of Assembly from 1785 until his death in 1812. During this long period he held the position of Speaker; setting a precedent to be followed by succeeding members of the family.

Amos Botsford was followed as a Westmorland MLA by his son William (1773–1864). Also a graduate of Yale and a lawyer, William Botsford was Speaker of the House of Assembly from 1817 to 1823. He also served as solicitor-general. Appointed a judge of the Court of Vice-Admiralty and later the Supreme Court; he retired from the Bench in 1845. For the remainder of his life, he devoted his time to the family estate in Westcock. An active member and benefactor of St. Anns Church, William Botsford was keenly interested in the development of the entire Tantramar region. In this context, he was an early supporter of the Chignecto Canal Project and was associated with Tolar Thompson in the latters efforts to improve marshland agriculture.

In 1802 William Botsford married Sarah Murray nee Hazen, member of a prominent Saint John mercantile family. Some idea of the Botsford lifestyle in Westcock was provided by their son Lebaron. He recalled: Picnics were made to the blueberry plains in the summer, and coasting parties slid down the snowy hills in the winter. The younger boys chased squirrels; the older ones shot snipe and partridge. Life on the Westcock estate could only be described as idyllic. However, in order to understand the full impact of the gifted family of William and Sarah Botsford it is necessary to outline their eventual careers.

The eldest Hazen (1803–61) was Westmorlands MLA from 1842 until 1850. The next son Amos II (1804–94) was a member of the provincial Legislative Council and later a Canadian Senator. Charles (1806–93) followed a career in law and emigrated to the western United States. He became a judge and died in Spokane, Washington. George (1807–91), also a lawyer, set up a practice in Fredericton and eventually was named Clerk of the Legislature. Chipman (1809–67), yet another lawyer, practiced his profession in Campbellton and served a term as MLA for Restigouche. Lebaron (1812–88) defied family tradition and studied medicine at Glasgow University. He returned to New Brunswick and established a medical practice in Saint John.

Bliss (1813–90), became a lawyer with important business interests in Moncton. Blair (1814–87) was named High Sheriff for Westmorland County and the first warden of Dorchester Penitentiary. Sarah Ann (1815–67) married Robert L. Hazen, a Saint John lawyer, who was later elected as MLA for Saint John. In 1867 he joined his brother-in-law, Amos Botsford II, as one of the first members of the Canadian Senate. The tenth member of the family, Eliza (1817–41) died unmarried at age 24.

In the debate over Confederation, fate was to pit two members of this large family the second son Amos and the seventh son Bliss against each other.

Bliss Botsford, settled at the Head of the Petitcodiac (now Moncton) where he soon built up a thriving law practice. His biographer described him as follows: an impressive figure, well over six feet in height and more than 200 pounds in weight; [he combined] personal magnetism with a vigorous and persuasive style of delivery. Bliss Botsfords success in the courtroom and on the hustings seemed assured. During the period 1851 to 1854 and again from 1856 to 1861 he was an MLA for Westmorland. To no ones surprise, he followed his father and grandfather, in being named Speaker of the House of Assembly.

Sometime prior to famous provincial election of 1865, Bliss Botsford became a convert to the anti–confederation cause. The question is why? One would have expected that he might follow the lead of his elder brother, Amos and be a supporter of the proposed federation.

However, in the New Brunswick politics of the day, party lines were never clearly drawn, and MLAs frequently changed allegiances. But the most important factor in Bliss Botsfords decision was the influence of Albert J. Smith, by then the acknowledged leader of the anti-confederation forces. Shortly after the Charlotettown and Quebec Conferences Smith published A Letter To The Electors Of Westmorland. In it he accused Premier Tilley of conspiracy in supporting Confederation and argued that the Premier had exceeded his authority and did not have a mandate from the people to commit New Brunswick to the scheme. In the second Confederation election of 1866 both Albert J. Smith and Bliss Botsford won personal victories in Westmorland; although their stand on Confederation was rejected provincially.

The patriarch of the Botsford family, William Botsford died on May 8, 1864 aged 92; thus he was not to witness the political rivalry of his two sons.

In Part Two of this Flashback, the story of the Botsford dynasty will be continued with a discussion of the reasons why Confederation carried the day. The career of Amos Botsford II Sackville’s first Senator will also be outlined.