Politics makes strange grave-fellows

Fall is usually prime election season.  Whether provincially or federally, supporting this party or that party, or watching the spectacle across the border every four years, politics always incites passion in Queens County.   Looking back over the past three centuries it is amazing to examine the names of those who have stood for Queens County:  from the “family compacts” of Peters, Johnstons and Gilberts to the intensity of the Moore and Jenkins campaigns to the more recent names of Blaney, Carr and Wetmore.  October is always ghost month in Queens County as well and now and again some interesting politicos make their appearance at our annual ghost walk and dessert theatre.

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public contract: Gagetown Canal, 29 May 1840

While the ghost walk is always fun and entertaining, all of the stories are based in reality and are inspired by actual events.  In researching the stories and people we always find some interesting tidbits.  We are sure they were all upstanding members of the community and no scandal of note has come down to us, but some facts got our attention.

Take the Honourable Thomas Gilbert for example.  For decades in the mid-19th century he campaigned for a canal to cross Grimross Neck that would allow steamboats to come up Gagetown Creek to the wharf and then continue to the main channel of the river instead of back tracking and going around the island.  A canal would also shave about 4 miles off the trip between Saint John and Fredericton, saving precious minutes.  The canal was eventually built in the 1860s after Gilbert died and remains to this day.  But guess whose property had to be purchased by the province to construct the canal?  You guessed it…. the Gilberts.

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Roseneath, c. 1940

Then take the case of the Johnston family.  Hugh Johnston Junior was born on Grimross Neck in 1790.  It is believed his parents were on their way to Fredericton when Hugh Junior made an unexpected appearance.  Years later, the Johnstons built a fine house in Gagetown called Roseneath, known to us the Loomcrofters house.  By this time, Hugh Junior was a prosperous businessman, serving in the legislature, but making his home in Saint John.  Hugh was married twice, first to the daughter of a provincial judge and York County MLA.  His second wife was Harriet Millidge, the daughter of a prominent Saint John politician for whom Millidgeville is named.  Harriet’s portrait is the fine oil in the gold frame that now graces the parlour in the Tilley House.  For Hugh and Harriet, caring for two large residences had its advantages:  fall, winters and springs in Saint John and summer excursions to the country.  There was an additional advantage as well, by owning upwards of 10,000 acres in Queens County, the Millidges could claim residency while Hugh Junior served as MLA for Queens even though their primary home was in Saint John.

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April Wilson as the ghost of Margaret Lister Peters, wife of James Peters, 2013

Today these things raise a few eyebrows and such juicy political gossip is rarely kept behind the scenes.  In the 18th and 19th centuries it was not as difficult, especially when the people in power were related to one another.  Fathers, sons, cousins and through judicious marriages by daughters, sons-in-law, all served in the legislature and on various committees and councils making for a happy family of decision makers.  This is most evident with the James Peters family.  Peters (1746-1820) himself was an MLA for twenty-five years and his sons: Valentine was a Queens County judge, Charles a New Brunswick Attorney General, James Jr a prominent businessman in Saint John, Thomas Horsefield a prominent lawyer in Chatham and married to the daughter of Samuel Cunard of the shipping line fame, Harry a Queens County MLA for whom Petersville was named, Benjamin Lester became mayor of Saint John, William became clerk of the legislature and finally the eldest child and only daughter, Sarah, was married to Thomas Wetmore, a Saint John MLA and later Attorney General of New Brunswick.  A legislative council meeting must have felt like a Sunday family dinner.

All of the above ghosts have made their appearance over the years.  As you pass by St. Johns Anglican Churchyard, Gagetown, you might want to keep an eye out.

For more information contact us at info@queenscountyheritage.com.

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