BLACK, THOMAS REUBEN, farmer, builder, and politician; b. 16 Oct. 1832 in Amherst, N.S., fourth son of Josiah Black, a farmer, and Hannah Embree; brother of Joseph Laurence; m. first 20 March 1860 Eunice Bent, and they had two sons and three daughters; m. secondly April 1905 Bethia Clarke; d. 14 Sept. 1905 in Amherst.
A descendant of some of the Yorkshire settlers of Cumberland County, Thomas Reuben Black received his formal education at Amherst Academy. At an early age he bought the family farm from his father, and he worked to introduce new strains of livestock and methods of farming. He maintained a strong interest in agriculture throughout his life, but would apparently leave off active farming after becoming involved in politics in the mid 1880s. Around 1880 Black entered the contracting business. The faith in his home town which he often expressed was given substance by his completion in 1884 of Black’s Block, an elegant stone building on the main street which housed shops, offices, and meeting-rooms. Although Black did not participate in the boom in residential construction which occurred in Amherst after 1902, he owned much real estate there. He was in addition a director of Rhodes, Curry and Company [see Nelson Admiral Rhodes]. A Baptist, Black served as a deacon of his church and a governor of Acadia University.
When in 1884 Sir Charles Tupper*, mp for Cumberland, resigned to become Canadian high commissioner in Britain, the Conservative party faced the potential loss of an important seat. This possibility was reinforced once William Thomas Pipes, the Liberal mha for Cumberland County, announced his intention to run for parliament. After considerable discussion the local organizations of the two parties arrived at a compromise which saw the Conservative mha Charles James Townshend* stand unopposed for mp and the Liberal Black unopposed for Townshend’s seat. It is unknown why the 51-year-old Black was chosen as a candidate. Apart from an unsuccessful bid to become a county councillor in 1879, he had not hitherto been involved in politics.
In the legislature Black became known for his strong promotion of his special interests. As chairman of the committee on agriculture he advocated improvements in farming techniques, and he spoke against the possible merger of the School of Agriculture in Truro with a proposed technical school. His experience as a builder allowed him to make decisions about the nature of the construction and repair of bridges and roads in his constituency. Like many in Amherst, Black was a warm supporter of temperance, and he also promoted a limited female suffrage.
Black’s most significant contribution to politics came in 1887. The previous year the Liberal government, dissatisfied with Nova Scotia’s position under confederation, had passed resolutions calling for a union of the Maritime provinces and their withdrawal from confederation, and for Nova Scotia to repeal confederation by itself if union did not prove feasible. The provincial election which was called soon after was fought on the issue of repeal only, and it gave a large majority of seats to the Liberals. But in the federal election of 1887 the majority of the candidates returned were hostile to repeal. Premier William Stevens Fielding* concluded that there was insufficient support for repeal, and in 1887 he introduced a motion calling for the indefinite suspension of the question. Although not in the house to vote on the 1886 resolutions, Black had been one of a number of Liberal mhas from the industrializing counties who had opposed repeal. He thought that Maritime union would prove more beneficial to Nova Scotia, and he wanted the scheme pursued with vigour. He now felt betrayed by Fielding, who had not made Maritime union an issue in the provincial election, as the resolutions had implied should be done. The motion for shelving repeal passed. Black was the only Liberal to vote against it, believing that the resolutions formed a whole and that in voting to shelve repeal he would also be voting against any future consideration of Maritime union. His defeat in the election of 1890 was attributed by an obituary to divisions among the Liberals. Black regained the seat in 1894 and held it for ten years; from 1896 he was also a minister without portfolio.
In 1904 Premier George Henry Murray*, in an attempt to have Attorney General James Wilberforce Longley* named to the Supreme Court of Nova Scotia, arranged to shuffle his cabinet. Although the opposition to Longley’s appointment was too strong to allow it to take place, as part of Murray’s elaborate plans Black was made a senator, replacing Robert Barry Dickey of Amherst. For the second time his political career had benefited from the manipulations of others. He seemed ready to tackle his old theme of temperance, but died before being able to immerse himself in the work of parliament.
Cumberland County Court of Probate (Amherst, N.S.), Estate papers, no.271. Daily News (Amherst), 11 July 1904; 14, 16 Sept. 1905. Halifax Herald, 15 Sept. 1905. Morning Chronicle (Halifax), 3, 27 July 1884;15 Sept. 1905. Beck, Politics of N.S., 2: 28. Historical record of the posterity of William Black . . . , comp. Cyrus Black (Amherst, 1885). N.S., House of Assembly, Debates and proc., 1887: 256–59, 360–63.