BAGNALL, JAMES (often incorrectly James Douglas), printer, publisher, politician, and office holder; baptized 16 Nov. 1783 in Shelburne, N.S., son of Samuel Bagnall and Elizabeth Whitehouse; m. 22 Aug. 1815 Anna Matilda Gardiner in Charlottetown, and they had at least three sons and four daughters; d. 20 June 1855 in Bedeque, P.E.I.
James Bagnall’s parents, loyalists from New York, went from Shelburne, where James was born, to St John’s (Prince Edward) Island probably in 1787. Unable to get an expected land grant, Samuel, a carpenter and cabinet-maker, settled his family in Charlottetown where from 1788 to 1795 he was deputy sheriff and jailer, the jail being in his own house. There were no proper schools and so young James had a limited opportunity for education. When his brother-in-law, William Alexander Rind, king’s printer of the Island, returned with his family to his native Virginia in 1798, the 15-year-old Bagnall went with them as Rind’s apprentice. There he gained experience on two newspapers Rind published, one in Richmond, Va, the other in Georgetown, D.C.
Bagnall returned with a press in 1804 to set up shop on an island with fewer than 7,000 inhabitants, many of whom could not read, distributed over wilderness land in small communities. Appointed king’s printer on 25 December by Lieutenant Governor Edmund Fanning* with a salary of £60, he began publishing his first newspaper, the Royal Herald, a month later. Because money was scarce he announced that “country produce and furs will be taken as payment from those who cannot make it convenient to pay cash.” In November 1805 he printed the House of Assembly’s current Journal, the first printed on the Island since 1797. Meanwhile, when an expected shipment of paper failed to arrive from England, he reduced the size of his already small newspaper, and then stopped printing it for three months. It ultimately proved unprofitable and ceased publication entirely early in 1806. Late that year, Bagnall, whose arrangement with Fanning had been vague, successfully worked out a more business-like agreement with Lieutenant Governor Joseph Frederick Wallet DesBarres*, specifying that he would receive extra payment and paper for printing laws that had been passed before his appointment.
Bagnall, who “felt a strong desire” to promote the Island’s settlement and prosperity, ran for a Georgetown seat in the general election of November 1806. He attributed the successful result to the influence of the Loyal Electors, a political society formed during the election. Although many of the founding members were loyalists or their descendants (Samuel Bagnall was its first president and meetings were held in his tavern), its principal organizer was James Bardin Palmer*, an Irish attorney who had come to the colony in 1802 and who was also elected to the 1806 assembly. Palmer appreciated the value of a printing-press and was a major influence on the younger, less educated Bagnall for the next 22 years.
Bagnall served in the spring of 1808 on a committee of the assembly that reported it was necessary to print a revised set of all the colony’s laws including those printed by Rind and his predecessor James Robertson*. During the same session an act was passed, to be in force for two years, placing a tax on sugar and tobacco to meet the expense of “printing, publishing and collecting the Acts of the General Assembly.” Until the money was raised, the government was reluctant to proceed. The delay in printing the laws coupled with the government’s refusal to increase by £15 a salary Bagnall found inadequate led him to look for a more profitable opportunity.
That summer, leaving his press in Charlottetown in the hands of his brother Samuel and their nephew James Douglas Haszard*, Bagnall moved to Halifax and began publication, probably in January 1809, of his second newspaper, the Novator and Nova Scotia Literary Gazette. A sensational event in Halifax during the fall of 1809 was the trial of Edward Jordan and his wife, Margaret, for piracy and murder on board the schooner Three Sisters. In March 1810 Bagnall published a 59-page report of this trial, compiled by Charles Rufus Fairbanks* and Andrew William Cochran*. It included Jordan’s dying confession and would have been popular reading material in its time. Both the Novator and its printer, who also published two almanacs, enjoyed a promising start. Nevertheless, Bagnall, whose brother Samuel had negotiated a salary of £100 on his behalf while he was away, was back in Charlottetown by September 1810 when he issued his third newspaper, the Weekly Recorder of Prince Edward Island. The Journal of that summer’s assembly, hastily printed after his return, noted that James Bagnall had resigned his seat.
The Weekly Recorder was immediately involved in the controversy surrounding the Loyal Electors who by 1810 had grown in influence. Several by-elections had increased the rancour and suspicion that existed between a long-established group of government officials, allied with land speculators and their agents and known to their political enemies as the “cabal,” and the Loyal Electors, spokesmen for the interests of the settlers. In his paper Bagnall vigorously defended the “Loyal and respectable Society,” hoping that publicity would dispel charges of secrecy and disloyalty. Though he made a self-conscious effort to print both sides of the controversy, his membership in the society left him vulnerable to charges by Attorney General Charles Stewart*, leader of the so-called “cabal,” that the Loyal Electors controlled the press.
Bagnall had returned from Halifax under the impression that the laws were ready for printing. But a cumbersome division of responsibility in the committees for revision of the laws and the acrimonious dispute surrounding the Loyal Electors had prevented any effective organization for printing them. Both factions were, however, anxious to have the laws printed, and early in the assembly of 1812 unanimous support was given to an act appointing commissioners empowered “to contract with Mr. James Bagnall for printing the laws.” A year later, in November 1813, the contract was signed.
For Bagnall the next four years were a desperate struggle to keep his printing business alive. The Island’s temporary administration, directed by William Townshend*, had informed him in December 1812 that his salary as government printer would be discontinued in the spring. Charles Douglass Smith, the newly appointed lieutenant governor, not only repeatedly refused to restore the salary, but when Bagnall was unable to complete the contract for the laws in the specified time withheld payment on accounts owed for other government printing. Bagnall, in debt for paper and printing supplies, explained in long memorials to the autocratic lieutenant governor that it had taken him a year of repeated applications to two of the commissioners, Palmer and Attorney General William Johnston*, to get corrected revised copies of the manuscript laws. He claimed he would be “subject to inevitable ruin” unless the accounts owed him were paid. The only concession Smith made was to authorize the treasurer, Robert Gray*, another of the commissioners, to pay Bagnall ten per cent of the old debt each time it was certified that the printing of the laws was proceeding. While Bagnall was engaged in this printing, shortage of paper and lack of time and money forced him to discontinue publication of his Prince Edward Island Gazette, the newspaper which had replaced the Weekly Recorder in the spring of 1814. The next year he produced the first almanac printed on the Island, the Prince Edward Island calendar for town and country. By the end of 1817 the colony had its first printed volume since 1789 of the revised laws and Bagnall was able to resume publication of the Prince Edward Island Gazette. The official proclamations and announcements along with business advertisements printed in the newspaper brought revenue to the editor, whose salary as king’s printer was still denied. Unlike his other Island newspapers, the Gazette did not designate Bagnall as king’s printer, that title now being reserved for use in official publications such as the assembly Journal and in the printing for the militia which also added to his income. The paper reported proceedings in the law courts and the assembly, and local economic, educational, and moral concerns were discussed by the editor and his correspondents. Bagnall’s official printing continued with proclamations and announcements posted in public places and distributed to magistrates and other officials.
Bagnall’s problems as a government printer were compounded by his interest in political action. Although he had lost in the hotly contested general election of 1812 he won a by-election in 1813. An active member during the next session of the assembly, in 1817, Bagnall was defeated in a general election the following year. He was chosen clerk of the assembly in 1818, a position he retained in the brief session of 1820, which was the last on the Island during Lieutenant Governor Smith’s term of office. The successful and popular movement organized by John Stewart* to remove Smith was resisted by Bagnall’s political friends Palmer and Angus Macaulay*. When Smith’s successor John Ready* called an election for the fall of 1824 Palmer was defeated and Bagnall was left with few friends in the new assembly. Attending the January 1825 session as clerk of the former assembly, Bagnall found himself not only displaced as clerk, a position which had paid well, but also replaced as printer of the assembly Journal by his former apprentice J. D. Haszard, who had supported the movement for Smith’s recall.
In an attempt to reinforce his nebulous position as king’s printer, a title he retained, Bagnall started publication in 1826 of the Royal Gazette and Prince Edward Island Recorder (the Prince Edward Island Gazette had ceased publication, probably for financial reasons, in 1822). Issued in opposition to Haszard’s Prince Edward Island Register, which had been publishing regularly since July 1823, Bagnall’s paper appeared only sporadically until June 1827 and had little financial support either official or private.
In 1828 Bagnall printed his last newspaper, the Phenix, the first attempt on the Island by a group of private citizens to sponsor a newspaper. Although its ostensible purpose was to give opponents of measures being pursued in the assembly an alternate voice to that of Haszard’s Register, its real purpose was to gather support for Palmer in his effort to regain his seat in the assembly from which he had been expelled in March. The paper, containing many well-written letters to the editor, must have gained some support because, after Palmer’s defeat in the by-election, ambitious plans were announced to enlarge and extend it; but Bagnall’s press was worn out and deficient in type and the plans never materialized.
Bagnall was dismissed as king’s printer in August 1830, a formality, since he had received no government support for three years. He operated a small bookstore in his house and printing-shop but there is no reliable record that he continued long as a printer. He maintained his interest in the political struggle of the tenant farmers against absentee landlords and their agents, advocating at district meetings constitutional and lawful means for escheat. He was defeated in the 1838 general election when the more radical element of the movement led by William Cooper* gained the popular mandate. Some time after 1848 Bagnall moved from his farm, Oatium, in Charlottetown Royalty to another leasehold farm at Bedeque (Central Bedeque), where his eldest son Samuel James Bagnall and daughter Caroline Charlotte Augusta Baker lived.
Though James Bagnall had been a conscientious member of the assembly working for the interests of the people, his major accomplishment was as a printer who kept the small colony informed of the issues that influenced its life by printing the assembly Journal, the laws, and his newspapers.
The journals of the Prince Edward Island House of Assembly are important to a study of James Bagnall and the following were most useful: 1805 (consulted in PRO, CO 226/20: 81); 1806 (in PAPEI, Acc. 2702/935: 1); 1808 (in CO 229/3: 59, 73); 1810 (in CO 229/3: 132–33); 1812 (in CO 229/4: 100, 103, 117–18); 16 Nov., 18 Dec. 1813; 6–7 Jan. 1814 (in PAPEI, RG 3); 1817 (in Acc. 2702/938: 1, 8); 1818–19 (in Acc. 2702/939: 5); 1820 (in CO 226/36: 111); 1825 (in CO 229/5: 171–72, 218); 1828 (in CO 229/5: 271); and the published Journal for 1833: 107–8.
PAPEI, Acc. 2702/527, 2702/531a-b, 2702/533, 2702/535–36, 2702/538, 2702/546–47, 2702/839; Acc. 2849/124–27, 2849/129–30; RG 5, Minutes, 4 May 1789; 20 April, 29 Sept. 1790; 2 Aug. 1796; 5 Feb., 26 Aug. 1805; 13, 16 Oct. 1806; 2 May 1808; 16 Oct. 1809; 18 March 1811; 15 Dec. 1812; 24 July, 6 Nov. 1813; 4 Jan., 5 April, 7 June 1814; 9 May 1815; 3, 13 March, 7 April 1818; 4 Aug. 1830 (mfm. at PAC); RG 8, Warrant books, 1812–47, especially 1812–24; RG 18, 1848: 39. PRO, AO 13, bundle 11: 151–54 (mfm. at PAC); CO 226/20: 49; 226/21: 87; 226/22: 165–67; 226/24: 52–53; 226/26: 9, 189, 234, 238; 226/28:4; 226/39: 422. St Paul’s Anglican Church (Charlottetown), Reg. of marriages, 22 Aug. 1815 (mfm. at PAPEI). Shelburne County Museum (Shelburne, N.S.), Christ Church, Shelburne, reg. of baptisms, marriages, and burials, 16 Nov. 1783 (mfm. at PANS). Supreme Court of P.E.I. (Charlottetown), Estates Division, liber 1: f.23 (will of Samuel Bagnall); file 48 (estate of James Bagnall) (mfm. at PAPEI). Colonial Herald, and Prince Edward Island Advertiser (Charlottetown), 8 April 1843. Prince Edward Island Register, 17 Jan., 18, 29 Dec. 1824; 21 Feb., 30 May 1826; 24 June 1828; 14 July 1829. Royal Gazette (Charlottetown), 26 July, 20 Sept., 24 Oct. 1836; 6, 13 Nov. 1838; 1 April 1845. Royal Herald (Charlottetown), 16 Feb., 16 March, 2 Nov. 1805. Weekly Recorder of Prince Edward Island (Charlottetown), 17 Sept., 13 Oct., 24 Dec. 1810; 16 Feb., 16 March, 4 May, 21 Aug., 26 Dec. 1811. Marie Tremaine, A bibliography of Canadian imprints, 1751–1800 (Toronto, 1952), 287–88, 521, 668–69. [T. B. Akins], History of Halifax City (Halifax, 1895; repr. Belleville, Ont., 1973). Canada’s smallest prov. (Bolger), 66–94. D. C. Harvey, “The Loyal Electors,” RSC Trans., 3rd ser., 24 (1930), sect.ii: 101–10.