BURBIDGE, JOHN, soldier, landowner, office holder, militia officer, judge, and politician; b. c. 1718 in Cowes, England; m. first Elizabeth –; m. secondly 14 Oct. 1775 Rebecca Dudley, widow of Benjamin Gerrish*; there were no children of either marriage; d. 11 March 1812 in Cornwallis, N.S.
Little is known of John Burbidge prior to his arrival in North America. He was at Louisbourg, Cape Breton Island, in 1747, where he was one of the “Serjeants [acting] as Foremen” of artisans, and he came to Halifax at its founding in 1749, reputedly erecting the first frame-house in the settlement. He removed from Halifax to Cornwallis about 1764 and through his active acquisition of land came to possess a 300-acre farm called Bilkington Park. On it he is reputed to have introduced the Nonpareil and Golden Russet apples and to have developed a pear which received his name.
During his lengthy life Burbidge held many positions. He was clerk to Richard Bulkeley*, the paymaster of public works at Halifax, in 1753 and overseer of public works in 1759, was elected a churchwarden at St Paul’s in 1760, and the same year was appointed clerk of the market house. The following year he was named a justice of the peace for Halifax County, and in 1762 a captain in the Halifax militia. Upon his removal to Cornwallis he became major of the Kings County militia, justice of the peace, collector of customs, and the county’s first registrar of deeds. On 18 Oct. 1776 he was named a judge of the Inferior Court of Common Pleas, and in 1792 colonel commandant of the county militia. Burbidge also served as a member of the House of Assembly on two occasions: between 1759 and 1765 for Halifax Township and between 1765 and 1770 for Cornwallis Township.
Burbidge was an active and devout member of the Church of England, and through the nomination of the archbishop of Canterbury was named a member of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel on 16 July 1784. He was a founder of the Church of St John in Cornwallis, and donated the land and substantial sums of money for it. In 1802, when the congregation decided to build a new church, their effort was aided by a generous donation from Burbidge as well as a bequest from Benjamin Belcher. The old Fox Hill cemetery was also situated on land Burbidge had presented. His letters to the society were a constant call for greater effort and diligence on the part of the Anglican clergy, who he felt were being outdone by the dissenting ministers.
During the American revolution Burbidge warned that the “violent and audacious Robery” carried on by American privateers off the coast could seriously reduce the amount of fresh provisions which the area provided to Halifax, and in 1778 he was successful in persuading the authorities to erect a barracks and station troops at Cornwallis. At the close of the conflict he led the complaints when New England beef was permitted to flood the Halifax market and drive prices down. In 1784 he unsuccessfully appealed for the reservation of lands for prominent loyalists.
The same year Burbidge suffered a severe knee injury, which for a time restricted his activities and probably contributed to his request in 1785 that additional judges be appointed to the bench. The calendar of the Inferior Court of Common Pleas for that year included 67 civil cases plus regular business, which forced the judges to sit seven hours a day for five days a week.
Burbidge’s final years appear to have been tranquil. In 1790 he drew up a memorandum freeing his slaves, provided them each with two sets of clothes (including one for Sunday), and ordered that they be taught to read. He is reputed to have entertained Prince Edward Augustus when the latter was en route from Halifax to Annapolis Royal in 1794. Although his hearing was apparently poor, he remained active. As late as 1807 he was corresponding with the SPG and the following year he travelled to Wilmot with the elderly John Wiswall and returned under a “Scorching Sun.” Burbidge died in his 95th year and was buried in the Fox Hill cemetery. The net value of his estate exceeded £1,500, which he left to various nephews and nieces and their children.
Acadia Univ. Arch. (Wolfville, N.S.), “The Burbidge family, Kings County, Nova Scotia,” comp. B. R. Bishop (typescript, n.d.). Kings County Court of Probate (Kentville, N.S.), Book 2: 38–41 (will of John Burbidge, 1 Dec. 1810) (mfm. at PANS). PANS, MG 1, 161; E. L. Eaton, “The Sheffield farm and other properties in Cornwallis Township” (typescript, 1961). A. W. H. Eaton, The history of Kings County, Nova Scotia . . . (Salem, Mass., 1910; repr. Belleville, Ont., 1972). Fingard, Anglican design in loyalist N.S.