ALBRO, JOHN, artisan, merchant, office holder, militia officer, and politician; b. 6 May 1764 in Newport Township, N.S., son of Samuel Albro and Jane Cole, settlers from Rhode Island; m. first 22 Oct. 1793 Elizabeth Margaret Vandergrift in Halifax, and they had two sons; m. secondly 1 Dec. 1803 Elizabeth Margaret Dupuy in Halifax; d. there 23 Oct. 1839.
At the age of 17 John Albro advertised himself as operating a tan-yard in Halifax; by 1800 he was a butcher and by 1812 a merchant. The tannery and windmill he and his brother Samuel established north of Dartmouth became a major concern, and in 1818 the Albros petitioned for government encouragement through grants of land additional to their original holdings. John’s rising status in Halifax was best exemplified by the two fine Georgian stone buildings he erected on the west side of Hollis Street, near the focal point of genteel society on Sackville Street. As a merchant he eventually specialized in hardware. A willingness to work long and hard appears to explain his success in this business.
Albro was an active participant in the social and business life of the capital during the early years of the 19th century. He helped to found or was a member of the Fire Insurance Association of Halifax (1809), the Halifax Marine Insurance Company (1809), the Charitable Irish Society (1809), the Nova Scotia Philanthropic Society (1815), the Halifax Steam Boat Company (1815), and the Halifax Commercial Society (1822). Albro was also grand master of the masonic order in Nova Scotia from 1820 to 1839, acted as a vestryman at St Paul’s Church in 1824 and 1825 and a churchwarden from 1828 to 1834, and for nearly 20 years was a road commissioner and fire warden in Halifax. An active militia officer, he rose to the rank of lieutenant-colonel of the 4th Regiment of Halifax militia on 21 Aug. 1828, and in later years he served as inspector and reporter of dikes and workhouse commissioner. Albro not only helped establish the Fire Insurance Association, the first fire insurance company in British North America, but he also purchased its first policy. This local competition with British-based firms had by 1817 resulted in lower insurance rates for Nova Scotians. Albro also advocated a safe water system for Halifax, joined in the unsuccessful efforts in 1822 to found a local bank, and generally could be considered an active promoter of the interests of the town.
An involvement in politics was probably an outgrowth of the increasingly important role Albro played within the community. His career in the House of Assembly was not spectacular, for he was no more than a faithful supporter of measures pursued by the Halifax business élite. Elected in 1818 for Halifax Township, he was re-elected in 1820 despite suggestions that he would be beaten, and when defeated in 1826 by Beamish Murdoch* he withdrew from active participation in politics. The contest in 1826 was a lively affair, complete with accusations that Albro’s supporters had been intimidated and complaints that Albro had indulged in low and scurrilous abuse.
At times Albro does seem to have been gruff and quarrelsome. In a pique he withdrew from the Charitable Irish Society for a short time in 1820; charges he levelled against John Young because of Young’s conduct of an agricultural contest were found to be groundless and he conceded eventually that he had spoken “inadvisedly.” He actively supported the Reverend John Thomas Twining* in the dispute of 1824–25 which divided the congregation of St Paul’s, but remained a member of the church. A quarrel with Edmund Ward*, publisher of the Free Press, probably lessened that paper’s support for him in the 1826 election. Finally, he appears to have disapproved of the style of life and marriage of his son John, and virtually disinherited him.
Albro’s final years seem to have been peaceful and profitable. In Halifax, both the street and the school named after the family have long since disappeared, but in Dartmouth a street and two lakes recall the prominent role Albro and others of his family played in the growth of the town. Albro was adjudged by his peers to be of upright conduct, acting always with rectitude and independence. After he died in his 76th year, fraternal societies and a vast concourse of the inhabitants of Halifax attended him to his resting-place in St Paul’s cemetery.
PANS, MG 3, 154; MG 9, no.315: 11; RG 20A, 70, John Albro, 1818. J. V. Duncanson, Newport, Nova Scotia – a Rhode Island township (Belleville, Ont., 1985). [M.] H. Creighton, Helen Creighton: a life in folklore (Toronto, 1975). “Masonic grand masters of the jurisdiction of Nova Scotia, 1738–1965,” comp. E. T. Bliss (typescript, n.p., 1965; copy at PANS).