BELCHER, BENJAMIN, merchant, militia officer, and politician; b. 17 July 1743 in Gibraltar; m. 5 June 1764 Sarah Post in Cornwallis, N.S., and they had five sons (including twins) and one daughter; d. there 14 May 1802. By his son Benjamin, Belcher was the grandfather of Clement Horton Belcher*, the Halifax publisher and bookseller.
Little is known of Benjamin Belcher’s early life other than that he was born at Gibraltar, probably of English parentage; he likely came to Halifax, N.S., some time around 1760. There was apparently no family connection between Belcher and Chief Justice Jonathan Belcher*, who was originally from Boston, Mass. , and who had come to Nova Scotia in 1754 after residence in England and Ireland. With the encouragement of two friends, John Burbidge and William Best, Belcher took up residence at Cornwallis about 1764. A man of enterprise and ability, he appears to have had no difficulty establishing himself in the community, though it was not until 1797 that he received a grant of 6061 acres, formerly the property of Joseph Goreham*, at Terry’s Creek (Port Williams). The grant lay along the road connecting Terry’s Creek with Horton Corner (Kentville), known today as Belcher Street. Adjacent to his home Belcher maintained a general store, which served a wide area of the surrounding countryside. He also traded with the West Indies, his brigs carrying horses, foodstuffs, and lumber there and returning with molasses and rum.
During the American revolution the population of Kings County was at best neutral, but Belcher took an active role in defence of the established order. As lieutenant of the volunteer militia of Cornwallis, he executed a courageous and daring exploit against a rebel force in the Bay of Fundy. On 21 April 1781 he and 28 volunteers aboard the armed sloop Success were responsible for the capture of 30 rebels in two gunboats who had been harassing navigation in the bay, and subsequently brought them to Cornwallis Township for trial.
In the provincial election of 1785 Belcher was returned as a member for Cornwallis Township, taking his seat on 8 December. Though defeated by Jonathan Crane in 1793, he petitioned the legislature on the grounds that his opponent had exercised undue influence on election day. A select committee investigated and declared him elected member for Kings County on 30 March. He held the seat until 1799, when Crane was victorious. While a member Belcher was a moving spirit in the affairs of the house. He actively participated in sessional business, frequently serving as deputy speaker, and he manifested a particular interest in provincial finance and trade and the condition of the poor. Belcher also sat on several select committees, including the one which drew up articles of impeachment against the Supreme Court judges James Brenton and Isaac Deschamps, the one which dealt with the Jamaican maroons [see Sir John Wentworth], and the one which recommended the establishment of what later became King’s College [see Charles Inglis]. His involvement in assembly affairs must have made a political career attractive to him, for in 1801 he offered himself as a candidate for Queens County in the forthcoming by-election. He was turned down, on the grounds that, as Simeon Perkins noted, it would “be rather a disgrace to the County to chuse another abroad.” Little more than a year later he passed away at the age of 58, leaving a substantial estate which included seven black slaves, with whose care he charged his family in his copious will.
From all accounts Belcher was a man endowed with breeding and education, which he combined with business acumen and a genuine regard for the less privileged. He was a devout adherent of the Church of England, and served as warden for the Church of St John in Cornwallis from 1784 until his death. His will specified that £300 be put towards the construction of a new church and that tablets inscribed in gilt letters with the Lord’s Prayer, the Ten Commandments, and the Creed be erected in the chancel; they stand there to this day.
Kings County Court of Probate (Kentville, N.S.), Estate inventory and will of Benjamin Belcher, probated 16 May 1802 (mfm. at PANS). N.S., Dept. of Lands and Forests (Halifax), Crown land grants, old book no.20: 43 (mfm. at PANS). PANS, MG 4, 18. N.S., House of Assembly, Journal and proc., 1785–99. Perkins, Diary, 1797–1803 (Fergusson). Nova-Scotia Gazette and the Weekly Chronicle, 8 May 1781. A. W. H. Eaton, The history of Kings County, Nova Scotia . . . (Salem, Mass., 1910; repr. Belleville, Ont., 1972). J. E. M. Rand, Historical sketch of Church of St. John, 1810-1960, and the parish of Cornwallis, Nova Scotia, 1760–1960 (n.p., ).