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Windsor,  Nova  Scotia, Canada – c. 1800
by Garth Vaughan © 2001
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Jonathan Belcher
by Peter Landry

The father of Jonathan Belcher, also named Jonathan (1682-1775), was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Belcher, sr., was the Governor of Massachusetts, 1730-41; and, after that, Governor of New Jersey (1746-75); and, indeed, I learn, the founder of Princeton University. Our subject’s mother, Mary, was the daughter of the Governor of New Hampshire, William Partridge.1

Belcher, as a young man, was to receive degrees from several universities including Harvard in 1728. In 1730, Belcher was in London and had entered the Middle Temple; he was called to the English bar in 1734. After seven years of trying to make a mark in the English courts (all along being supported by his father), in 1741, Belcher went off to Ireland to see if he might be able to make a living there. Belcher was to spend "five years of unremunerative labour" in Dublin, when, finally, in 1746, he was to cash in on his connections and was appointed "deputy secretary to the lord chancellor of Ireland." In 1754, Belcher was to receive an appointment that was better to his liking: the Chief Justice of Nova Scotia, its very first one. He arrived at Halifax in the early part of October of that year; and, was immediately to take up his judicial duties 2, and, in addition, was named by Governor Lawrence to Council.

Belcher’s career, that as Chief Justice 3, was to unfold mostly after that period with which I deal in my first book (particularly Part 6, beginning with Chapter 4). Belcher draws our interest because he was sitting on Council when the fateful decision was made under the leadership of Governor Lawrence to deport the Acadians in the year 1755.

Chief Justice Townshend, in his article on Belcher, writes that Belcher was "a man of strong will, and possibly of despotic temperament." Townshend continues in his description, "he had an imperious temper, and was impatient of opposition" and then proceeds to point out that such a disposition in days in which Belcher operated was required by judges and government administrators, alike. 4

With the death of Governor Charles Lawrence, in 1760, Jonathan Belcher, being the next senior man in the province, was to stand in as its chief administrative officer. Though, I dare say, that Belcher would have been very pleased to be appointed the governor, that was not to happen. Henry Ellis, the former governor of Georgia, was appointed to take Lawrence’s place as governor, but Ellis never left England to take up his post. On November 21st, 1761, Belcher was sworn in as lieutenant governor. 5 This position, however, he was to only keep until the appointment of Montague Wilmot, who, in 1763, was to become the lieutenant-governor.

To round out the picture, I should say, that Belcher, within two years of his arrival in Nova Scotia, went off to Boston, there to marry, on Apr 8th, 1756, Abigail Allen. They were to have seven children born to their union, but only two lived to adulthood. 6 Dying at Halifax on March 30th, 1776, Belcher was buried in St. Paul’s Church.


1 For material, see: "Jonathan Belcher, First Chief Justice of Nova Scotia" by Chief Justice Charles Townshend, NSHS#18 (1914), pp. 25-57; "The Supreme Court of Nova Scotia and Its Judges – 1754-1978" (The N. S. Bar. Soc., 1978); "Biographical Directory" as contained in The Royal Navy and North America (London: Navy Records Society, Vol. 118, 1973) at p. 424; Winsor’s Memorial History of Boston (1882), vol 2., p. 551; and, of course, the DCB.

2 The first trial over which Belcher presided occurred in 1754. The charge was murder. A killing had taken place in a mix up between two sailing vessels in the Bay of Fundy. A trading vessel made the mistake of firing upon a British man-of-war. The vessel was captured, and since one of the men aboard the British vessel was killed, a trial at Halifax ensued. The matter unfolded before a grand jury and none of the four charged were found to be guilty. The captain, Joseph Hovey was released, though three of his crew were found guilty of lesser crimes and sentenced to six months each, and, upon their release were to be put aboard the British man-of-war they had the misfortune to get tangled up with in the first place. (See, Akins, History of Halifax City NSHS#8 (1895), p. 44.)

3 Justice Townshend in his article, op. cit., at p. 32, writes that though he was on the bench from 1754 to 1776, "Not a vestige of any of his decisions remains."

4 Townshend writes (op. cit., pp. 33,35,55) that Belcher "was quite determined to be the sole master in his own court. It can hardly be doubted that no Barrister nor even brother judge would venture to question his rulings in any case."

5 See Haliburton, History of Nova Scotia, vol. 1, p. 317.

6 See the details on Belcher’s seven children, as were complied by Eaton, and which are set out by Townshend in his article on Belcher, op. cit., pp 56-7.

NOTE: The WHHS would like to thank Pete Landry for his kind permission in the use of the above article. For more fascinating reading on the History of Nova Scotia please visit –
Blue Pete – History


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