BOTSFORD, WILLIAM, politician, officeholder, and judge; b. 29 April 1773 at New Haven, Conn., son of Amos Botsford* and Sarah Chandler; m. in 1802 probably at Saint John, N.B., Sarah Lowell Murray, née Hazen, and they had eight sons and a daughter; d. 8 May 1864 at Westcock, Westmorland County, N.B.
William Botsford’s family settled in Annapolis Royal, N.S., in 1782, and then moved to Westcock near Sackville, N.B., in 1784. Educated at Yale College, he took his degree in 1792 and received an ma in 1796. Botsford studied law at Saint John, in the office of Jonathan Bliss*, then attorney general and later chief justice, and was called to the bar in 1795.
On 12 May 1795 Botsford was made deputy clerk of the Supreme Court and deputy registrar of the Admiralty Court. In 1803 when Gabriel George Ludlow* became president of the Council, Botsford succeeded him as judge of the Court of Vice-Admiralty, a post he held for five years. The highlight of this phase of his career was the celebrated Falmouth case. For some years New Brunswickers and Nova Scotians had been chartering American ships to smuggle their cargoes of local goods into the United States. The exchange of goods took place on the islands of the Passamaquoddy Bay, part of the disputed border territory between Maine and New Brunswick. George Leonard*, the zealous superintendent of trade and fisheries, was determined to smash this trade and in 1805 seized the Falmouth, an American sloop engaged in the plaster trade, at Snug Cove on Moose Island. The agent for the American ship was Colin Campbell, the customs collector at St Andrews, N.B., and the cargo was owned by his son. At stake was whether or not Moose Island was American territory and whether these informal trading arrangements tolerated by the British customs officials for several years were legal. Botsford’s judgement supported Leonard’s action and criticized the customs officers for exceeding their authority. His ruling effectively asserted Britain’s right to Moose Island and the waters adjacent to it. The legality of the judgement was not questioned, but the political and economic repercussions reached both London and Washington. The Colonial Office ordered Leonard to desist from seizing ships, and the Americans and local traders had their day until the boundary was finally settled in 1842.
Botsford resigned from the Court of Vice-Admiralty in 1808 and moved with his family to Westmorland to be near his father, whose health was failing, and to look after his own extensive lumbering and shipping interests in that region. On his father’s death in 1812 William Botsford was elected to the assembly for Westmorland County. Four years later he was appointed solicitor general and thus became a member of the Council. The following year Botsford was chosen speaker of the house, a post that his father had held for 26 years.
In 1823 a vacancy occurred in the Supreme Court. Botsford had been recommended by Ludlow for a position in the court as early as 1807, but, to the surprise of the legal establishment, which favoured Botsford, Lieutenant Governor George Stracy Smyth* nominated Edward James Jarvis*. A friend of Botsford’s father, James Morse, of Cumberland County, N.S., made use of influential friends in London, including the Duke of Wellington, to prevent the approval of Jarvis’ appointment, and in April 1823 Botsford was elevated to the bench instead. That year he was also appointed an assessor in the Court of Chancery. In accordance with custom, he was made a member of the Council, a position he held until his resignation in 1834. In 1832 he became vice-president in the Court of Governor and Council, for hearing and determining causes relating to marriage and divorce.
Botsford’s knowledge of the law and the humanity which he displayed caused him to be held in the highest regard by all classes. In 1827 he presided over the famous “Masonic Trial,” a libel case about a document containing charges against a mason read by another mason in a lodge room. The defence held that no publication had occurred as the proceedings were conducted in secret. The case was without precedent but Botsford ruled in his charge to the jury that reading the charges before a number of people constituted publishing in the eyes of the law. The defendant was assessed damages of one penny.
In 1836 Botsford wished to retire, but the lack of a pension restrained him. By 1845 he found it impossible to continue owing to age and submitted his resignation. The assembly was asked by the lieutenant governor to consider granting Botsford a pension, but it decided against such an allowance by a vote of 14 to 13. Botsford was keenly disappointed but not even the colonial secretary’s letters were able to convince the assembly, which feared creating a dangerous precedent.
Botsford spent the remainder of his long life at Westcock, where he was an active layman in the Church of England. Several of Botsford’s sons achieved prominence in various fields; Bliss*, before his elevation to the bench, served as speaker of the assembly. Hazen and Chipman also served in the assembly, Amos Edwin* became a senator, LeBaron a well-known medical man, and Blair was a sheriff and warden of Dorchester Penitentiary.
N.B. Museum, Botsford family papers, 1784–1839; Chipman family papers, 1764–1789; Hazen family papers, 1720–1889. PANB, RJU/S/ju. Ward Chipman, The question relating to the right of the United States of America to the islands in Passamaquoddy Bay (1805) (copy in PRO, CO 188/13). F. C. Bell, A history of old Shediac, New Brunswick (Moncton, N.B., 1937). J. W. Lawrence, Footprints; or, incidents in the early history of New Brunswick (Saint John, N.B., 1883); Judges of N.B. (Stockton), 77, 211, 280–99. MacNutt, New Brunswick, 139–40, 187–89, 228.
© 1976–2023 University of Toronto/Université Laval
Cite This Article
C. Alexander Pincombe, “BOTSFORD, WILLIAM,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 9, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed March 30, 2023, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/botsford_william_9E.html.
The citation above shows the format for footnotes and endnotes according to the Chicago manual of style (16th edition). Information to be used in other citation formats:
|Author of Article:||C. Alexander Pincombe|
|Title of Article:||BOTSFORD, WILLIAM|
|Publication Name:||Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 9|
|Publisher:||University of Toronto/Université Laval|
|Year of publication:||1976|
|Year of revision:||1976|
|Access Date:||March 30, 2023|