STREET, SAMUEL DENNY, army officer, lawyer, politician, office holder, and poet; b. 16 May 1752 in Southwark (London), England, son of Thomas Street and Ann Lee; d. 11 Dec. 1830 in Fredericton.
Samuel Denny Street was apprenticed to a London attorney in 1766 and subsequently practised law briefly before joining the Royal Navy in the early 1770s. In 1775 he went to Boston on the Merlin and served under Lieutenant-General Thomas Gage*. After his discharge in Nova Scotia in 1776, he enlisted in Joseph Goreham*’s Royal Fencible Americans and arrived in Halifax with Captain Gilfred Studholme*. On 1 May 1776 he went with his regiment to garrison Fort Cumberland (near Sackville, N.B.), and the following year, when he was promoted lieutenant, he assisted Studholme in establishing Fort Howe at the mouth of the Saint John River. While stationed at Fort Cumberland, he married Abigail Freeman on 22 Feb. 1778. They were to have 12 children.
By 1780 Street had been transferred to Fort Howe, and in November of that year he set out by boat with six men on a secret mission to the rebel port of Machias (Maine) under orders from Brigadier Francis McLean*. His adventures among the rebels in 1780–81 are described by him in a remarkable and exciting narrative that at times seems more like fiction than fact. Yet there is no reason to doubt its veracity, judging from the carefulness of detail that characterizes the story. It begins on the return trip from Machias, when Street’s vessel was chased by a rebel privateer in Passamaquoddy Bay. Finding their escape route was cut off at the narrows of Passamaquoddy, he and his men attempted to run in a small open boat but were forced to land on an island. They defended themselves for three hours and finally drove their pursuers back to their boats, capturing the rebel leader in the process. Street was highly commended for this action by Studholme and McLean.
When in April 1781 Street set out on a similar mission, the rebels had foreknowledge of his coming. Surrounded by superior numbers and taken, he was carried to Machias but, because local rebels feared him, he was quickly sent to Boston, where he was placed on board a prison ship. He immediately began to plot his escape. His plan, which involved the stealing of a boat, went awry, however, and Street and those who had accompanied him were recaptured the next day. They spent six weeks in the town jail before being returned to the prison ship.
At this point two relatively important rebel prisoners were offered in exchange for Street, but the exchange was refused. About the same time his next escape plan was betrayed by fellow prisoners who feared retaliation. Spurred by frustration, Street decided to act alone. He slipped away from the prison ship at night and swam ashore, where he was sheltered by loyalists with whom he had previously made contact. Disguised as a fisherman, he got out of Boston Harbour and boarded a ship sailing east to Fort George (Castine, Maine). From there he returned to Fort Howe. He had spent about five months in imprisonment, but managed to escape with his health and spirits intact. Street’s exploits reveal a man of great courage, resourcefulness, and determination. Because McLean had died during his confinement, however, he never received the preferments that might have come his way, and the remainder of his war service was uneventful.
In 1783 Street retired on half pay and was employed in surveying and laying out Parrtown and Carleton (Saint John, N.B.). He applied to Governor John Parr* for a substantial grant on the Saint John River at Burton. He settled there and named his estate Elysian Fields. In February 1785 he was amongst the first to be admitted to the bar of the newly formed province of New Brunswick and he became one of the colony’s leading lawyers.
Street’s political career began inauspiciously with an unsuccessful attempt at winning an assembly seat in the general election of 1792. In 1795, however, he was elected, with James Glenie*, to represent Sunbury County, and he served in the assembly until defeated by Elijah Miles in 1802. Street and Glenie were leading figures in the extended struggle between the elected assembly and the appointed administration (Lieutenant Governor Thomas Carleton* and his council) over their respective rights and privileges in governing the province. It was a time when the political atmosphere was extremely volatile and tempers ran high. During this period Street was at the centre of two dramatic incidents, one private and one public.
On 16 Jan. 1800 Street challenged John Murray Bliss to a duel as a result of Bliss’s implying that Street had lied to the jury in a case they had argued in court that day. The trial had been a test case, and a heated one, involving the ownership of slaves; Street and Ward Chipman had defended the slave, while J. M. Bliss, Thomas Wetmore, Charles Jeffery Peters*, William Botsford*, and Jonathan Bliss had represented the master, Caleb Jones*. The four judges of the Supreme Court split on the issue and no judgement was returned, but the resulting legal ambiguity was sufficient to undermine the value of slaves as property and stop the development of any trade in slaves. Shortly after eight o’clock in the evening on the day the trial ended, Street and Bliss met at the court-house in Fredericton with their seconds. They took up positions nine paces apart and, upon receiving the word, fired almost together. Both shots missed. Street was eager to reload and fire again, but the seconds were able to persuade Bliss to offer an apology, which Street finally accepted.
Street was again the centre of attention in 1802 when, upon the death of the clerk of the House of Assembly, he was elected to that position by a majority of the members. Lieutenant Governor Carleton refused to ratify the decision because he had his own candidate, Dugald Campbell*. The assembly refused to recognize the lieutenant governor’s appointee and Street served out the session as clerk. In the appropriations bill of 1802 the assembly specified that Street be paid the clerk’s salary to make sure it went to the right man. On 3 March, when the Council sent the bill back requesting that Street’s name be deleted, most of the “opposition” clique absented themselves from the assembly in the expectation that the lack of a quorum would force the adjournment of the house for the year. However, the speaker, Amos Botsford*, called the house to order the next day and, in spite of the lack of a quorum, allowed the remaining members (mostly the “ governor’s friends”) to change the money bill to suit the administration before adjournment. In May, Carleton called a general election and the campaign that followed was a lively one, highlighted by a pamphlet war, vitriolic letters in the newspapers, and a verse satire (entitled “Creon”) by Street on the events of the last session. “Creon” was perhaps more effective as propaganda than as poetry, but none the less stands as one of the more interesting pieces of local narrative verse satire, a genre that occupied a significant place in the early literary culture of Maritime Canada. In the end, the election was won overwhelmingly by the “governor’s friends.” Street and most of the “ opposition” members lost their seats.
In 1803 Street applied for a position in the Supreme Court, was turned down, so pursued his legal business. Six years later he was re-elected to the assembly for Sunbury, his fellow representative being James Taylor, and he served, uneventfully, until defeated in September 1816. That year he was again refused a Supreme Court position, but in 1819 he was appointed to the Council by the lieutenant governor, George Stracey Smyth. In 1821, after his son, George Frederick*, had killed George Ludlow Wetmore in a duel, Street went about Fredericton tearing down the hue-and-cry notices posted by the coroner, William Taylor. On 20 Dec. 1824 his wife died; six years later he himself died and was interred beside her in the Old Burying Ground, Fredericton.
Throughout his political life, in spite of the often partisan nature of his activities, Street appears to have had a clear and consistent political philosophy. At a time when many New Brunswickers were prepared to invest almost all political power in the governor and his council, Street agitated for a responsible role for the elected assembly, a role which would reflect the rights and privileges accorded parliament within the British constitution, in particular its control over appropriations. But in the wake of the American and French revolutions and in the face of the Napoleonic threat, New Brunswick opted in 1802 for the apparent security of a paternalistic, hierarchical form of authority with power clearly concentrated in the representatives of the crown. To most New Brunswickers, it was a question of loyalty, plain and simple; any distribution of authority smacked of republicanism. It would be another generation before Maritimers developed a desire for responsible government.
One of Street’s greatest contributions to New Brunswick was his children. Of the 12, George Frederick became a judge of the Supreme Court of New Brunswick, William Henry and John Ambrose Sharman* were elected to the assembly, Samuel Denny Lee was Anglican rector of Woodstock for 40 years, and daughter Ann Frances married George Duncan Berton, sheriff of York County. In addition to their own offspring, the Streets raised the three orphan children of Dr Ambrose Sharman, who had served with Street in the Royal Fencible Americans and who drowned at Burton in 1793. His daughter Ann married William Carman and was the grandmother of William Bliss Carman*, the poet.
Samuel Denny Street’s satirical poem “Creon” was published anonymously in the Saint John Gazette and General Advertiser (Saint John, N.B.), 23 Oct., 6–20 Nov. l802. He also put out, under the pseudonym Creon, a pamphlet entitled A statement of facts relative to the proceedings of the House of Assembly on Wednesday the third, and Thursday the fourth of March, l802, at the close of the last session . . . ([Saint John], 1802).
PANB, MC 1156, VIII. PANS, MG 1, 144, S. D. Street to Thomas –, 2 Dec. 1781 (transcript); MG 100, 235, no.7. PRO, ADM 36/7909; IR 17/46. Sheffield City Libraries, Arch. Division (Sheffield, Eng.), WWM. BK. P. 1/3293 (transcript at PANS). N.B., House of Assembly, Journal, 1802. Winslow papers (Raymond). Hill, Old Burying Ground. The old grave-yard, Fredericton, New Brunswick: epitaphs copied by the York-Sunbury Historical Society, Inc., comp. L. M. Beckwith Maxwell (Sackville, N.B., 1938). Beckwith Maxwell, Hist. of central N.B. Hannay, Hist. of N.B. Lawrence, Judges of N.B. (Stockton and Raymond). MacNutt, New Brunswick. D. R. Jack, “An affair of honor,” Acadiensis (Saint John), 5 (1905): 173–77.
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