JARVIS, MUNSON, merchant and politician; b. 11 Oct. 1742 in Stamford, Conn., eldest son of Samuel Jarvis and Martha Seymour; m. 4 March 1770 Mary Arnold, and they had three sons and one daughter, the last two children born in Saint John, N.B.; d. 7 Oct. 1825 in Saint John.
Munson Jarvis was a silversmith working in Stamford when the American revolution began. He and his father, both “ardent Loyalists,” were called before revolutionary committees several times in 1775 and 1776. Finally Munson was, in his own words, “condemned and advertised as inimical to the Liberty of America and an Obstinant Adherent to the Ministerial Cause.” In August or September 1776 he escaped to Long Island, N.Y., where for some time he recruited for the Prince of Wales’s American Regiment. He then set up in business in New York.
The end of the revolution in 1783 presented Jarvis with a dismal prospect. The death of his father on 1 Sept. 1780 was the beginning of a series of hardships that reached a climax with enforced evacuation to Saint John. He left behind real estate valued at £375 and other property worth almost £225, with little hope, it seemed, of compensation. Subsequently, however, the British government established the loyalist claims commission and Jarvis was able to submit an account of his losses. “The old proverb says half a loaf is better than no bread,” he wrote ruefully on 25 Oct. 1787 to brother William* in Britain when consideration of his claim was delayed, “but in the present case if we could get a quarter we might think ourselves well off.” He was nevertheless not one for regrets or going back. Some loyalists had returned to their former homes, but for Jarvis “generally speaking those that have gone back were a set of poor wretches. . . . Very few people of any consequence have left us.” He continued to regard the revolution “as one of the blackest scenes of iniquity that ever was transacted. We have fought a good fight (temporal), if we have not overcome the thirteen United States, yet we overcome one of the great (I won’t say good) allies, the devil and all his works.” Eventually he was awarded £250 by the loyalist claims commission.
By the time he made this comment in 1788 Jarvis and his family were firmly established in New Brunswick. He had received lot no.87 in Parrtown (Saint John) when he arrived in the colony and on 20 April 1787 he had acquired no.17. Although not a member of the loyalist élite, he was far removed from the destitute. He sat as an alderman on the Common Council from its inception on 18 May 1785 until 20 April 1790. Defeated when he first stood for the provincial House of Assembly in 1789, he was successful in a by-election held in Saint John County and City in 1804 to replace the unseated Edward Sands. In the mean time he had become a pillar of Trinity Anglican Church, which he had helped to found and which he served first as a vestryman and later as a warden. On 24 May 1803 he placed his name fourth on the list of signatures that established Saint John’s first social club at the Exchange Coffee House.
At the turn of the century Jarvis was among New Brunswick’s leading entrepreneurs, contributing to the remarkable growth that would make Saint John one of British North America’s leading entrepôts. He had opened a hardware establishment shortly after arriving in the city in 1783, an astute move with so much development under way. Saint John and Fredericton as well as other towns and villages were being built, and the needs of the farmer, blacksmith, and lumberman also had to be met. By 1787 he was sending “Nails, Glass, Ayle and Paint” to Fredericton and, receiving skins in return. When the building phase was ending he was quick to adjust. “Our merchants seem to be shifting the trade in quite a different line from what it has hitherto been,” he wrote in 1788 to his brother William, “viz shipbuilding.”
It was more than luck that drew Jarvis to the needs of shippers and the possibilities of trade. As early as 1783 he had purchased the brig Lively to facilitate his business ventures. Over the next three decades his company evolved a trading relationship that reached across the ocean to England, the West Indies, and the United States, and stretched into the interior of New Brunswick on the Saint John river system. His base was his establishment on South Market Wharf at the foot of King Street in Saint John. His brother Samuel, who had remained in Stamford, was his major American partner, while William, who in 1792 took up an appointment as secretary and registrar of Upper Canada, was his initial contact in England. The products that went through his warehouse were whatever the market demanded, including slaves. On 15 July 1797 he sold Abraham and Lucy to Abraham De Peyster* for £60.
Over the years Jarvis’s company was expanded to include his two eldest sons. First Ralph Munson joined him in the firm of Munson Jarvis and Son, which was brought to an end in 1810, and later both Ralph and William were his partners in Munson Jarvis and Company, dissolved in 1812. At the time of his death he seems to have been in partnership with William only. His youngest son, Edward James*, studied law and in 1828 became chief justice of Prince Edward Island.
Conn. State Library (Hartford), Indexes, Barbour coll., Stamford vital records, 1: 59, 173–74; 2: 140. N.B. Museum, Jarvis family papers; Saint John, reg. of voters, 1785–1869. PANB, MC 1156. PRO, AO 12/2: 41; 12/109: 180/1412. Canada’s first city: Saint John; the charter of 1785 and Common Council proceedings under Mayor G. G. Ludlow, 1785–1795 (Saint John, N.B., 1962). Loyalist settlements, 1783–1789: new evidence of Canadian loyalist claims, comp. W. B. Antliff (Toronto, 1985). Royal Gazette (Saint John), 9 Oct. 1809, 22 June 1812. New-Brunswick Courier, 18 Feb. 1826. The Jarvis family; or, the descendants of the first settlers of the name in Massachusetts and Long Island, and those who have more recently settled in other parts of the United States and British America, comp. G. A. Jarvis et al. (Hartford, Conn., 1879). Sabine, Biog. sketches of loyalists. J. W. Lawrence, Foot-prints; or, incidents in early history of New Brunswick, 1783–1883 (Saint John, 1883); Judges off N.B. (Stockton and Raymond). MacNutt, New Brunswick. J. R. Armstrong, “The Exchange Coffee House and St. John’s first club,” N.B. Hist. Soc., Coll., 3 (1907–14), no.7: 60–78.