In 1817 Thomas Morgan Tilley married Susan Peters and they moved into a small house on Front Street, Gagetown. Thomas, a storekeeper and carpenter, immediately began expanding the house, finishing a large addition just in time to welcome the birth of his first child, Samuel Leonard Tilley who was born 8 May 1818 in a small bedroom off the main parlour.
At the age of 13, Samuel Leonard Tilley left Gagetown to apprentice as a pharmacist in Saint John. He eventually went into business with one of his cousins, Thomas Peters and the firm of Peters & Tilley advertised themselves as the “Cheap Drug Store”. Tilley married Julia Ann Hanford of Portland, Saint John, 6 May 1843 and before Julia’s death in 1862, they had eight children.
In 1844 Tilley, inspired by his religious beliefs, had joined the committee of the Portland Total Abstinence Society, working for legislation that would enforce prohibition. The story is told of a brutal murder in the city and Tilley was in the vicinity as a small girl ran for help. The girl’s screams apparently haunted Tilley for the rest of his life since alcohol had been the cause of the murder. When the American Sons of Temperance organization established a chapter in New Brunswick, Tilley soon joined the cause.
By 1850 SL Tilley was at the height of his business career and could have easily lived out his life a very contented individual. Early on, however, he exhibited a serious side and following in the footsteps of his Loyalist ancestors, he felt a duty to serve his fellow citizens and became engaged in a number of local activities including teaching Sunday School.
In the 1850s Tilley was moved through the Sons of Temperance to enter provincial politics. He was elected to the Provincial Assembly and he soon adapted himself to the political arena. Part of a new generation that dared question the traditional Loyalist view of strict obedience to higher political officers, Tilley agitated for democratic reforms that would bring more control over provincial affairs to New Brunswick and its elected representatives.
As the 1860s began SL Tilley was interested in the union of all the provinces of British North America. As Provincial Secretary, he envisioned railways crossing the provinces and tracking westward to the vast untapped resources of Quebec, Ontario and even further west. Wealth would flow eastward to New Brunswick and the major port of Saint John.
Tilley attended the Charlottetown, Quebec and London Conferences and even suggested the name of our new nation, the Dominion of Canada. As a reward for his support for Confederation, in 1867 he was given a Federal post in John A. Macdonald’s first cabinet. He later served two terms as Lieutenant Governor of New Brunswick.
Whether it was the completion of an exhaustive process to which he had dedicated his entire being or the desire to share his success and remaining life with a partner, Samuel Leonard Tilley married Alice Chipman, the daughter of a close friend, 22 October 1867. Two more children followed. In 1879, Tilley received the great honour of a knighthood from Queen Victoria.
In 1893 Sir Samuel Leonard Tilley retired from official political life to enjoy his remaining years in the company of Lady Alice, and his extensive family. Friends and enemies alike honoured his decades of service and respected him personally.
In June 1896, Sir Samuel Leonard Tilley cut his foot while at his new summer residence at Rothesay, just east of Saint John. At first the cut did not seem serious, however as the days progressed blood poisoning began to spread through his system and he died 25 June at the age of 78. Tilley was widely mourned as a family man and as a leader of New Brunswick, federal cabinet minister, twice Lieutenant Governor and Father of Confederation caused tributes to pour in from around the province, nation and from Europe.
Over the years Tilley was honoured with a biography published a year following his death, a monument in King Square, Saint John, a son who followed in his political footsteps, and most significantly for us, his birthplace opened as our county museum in 1967.
All in all, a life well lived for a little boy from Gagetown . . .
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