KILBY, THOMAS, merchant, justice of the peace, commissary at Louisbourg, Île Royale (Cape Breton Island); b. 1699 in Boston, Massachusetts, son of Christopher Kilby and Sarah Sempkins; m. Sarah Ellis 18 Aug. 1726; seven of their nine children died young; d. 23 Aug. 1746 at Louisbourg.
Thomas Kilby entered Harvard in 1722, and after four quiet years at Cambridge, Massachusetts, completed the requirements for his am in 1726. He was married that year in the New North (Congregational) Church in Boston; he became a member of the Boston Episcopal Charitable Society within a few months. He was apparently inactive in the Episcopal Church, but his dislike of the revivalist Great Awakening in the Congregational Church is shown in his support of a pamphlet critical of its excesses. Kilby was an active mason, and was master of St John’s Lodge, in Boston, from December 1744 to December 1745. He was known as a wit among his contemporaries, and may have been a contributor to the New England Weekly Journal, but it is no longer possible to identify his contributions. However, a satirical poem he wrote on the land bank scheme [see Hale], in which he seems to have lost money, was still enjoyed early in the 19th century.
Upon his graduation from Harvard, Kilby set up as a merchant in Boston. His business endeavours took him to Canso, Nova Scotia, where he was granted land sometime prior to 1729 and was likely engaged in buying fish and selling supplies to fishermen. In 1729 Kilby and three associates petitioned Governor Richard Philipps to resolve the “many petty differences which dayly arise in the Fishery” by establishing a civil magistracy at Canso, and to confirm land grants formerly made to them. Philipps agreed to confirm the grants, and in addition, in August 1730, appointed Kilby, Edward How, and four others as justices of the peace at Canso.
Kilby’s activities for the next few years are obscure, but from 1737 to 1739 he was the agent at Canso for the Boston merchant Peter Faneuil. According to Shipton, Kilby had retired to “the northern wilderness” in the late 1730s after failing in business. He wrote a humorous will which included a bequest of his sins to a certain clergyman without any, and the choice of his legs to crippled Peter Faneuil. The latter is supposed to have been so amused that he rewarded Kilby with the agency at Canso. This position involved Kilby in trade with Louisbourg in various goods, including meat, flour, lumber, rum, and sugar. It is probable, therefore, that Thomas Kilby was the “kinsman” whom Christopher Kilby, colonial agent in London for Massachusetts, sent to Louisbourg about 1741 to investigate the strength of the fortress. Thomas Kilby’s report likely provided the basis for his cousin’s detailed proposal for the capture of Louisbourg submitted to the Board of Trade in April 1744. The report described the extent of the Louisbourg fortifications and emphasized their poor condition. About this time Thomas Kilby also wrote an account of the French fishery in North America, to which William Bollan, another Massachusetts agent, referred in a memorial to the king.
Kilby vigorously assisted William Shirley in promoting the Louisbourg expedition of 1745, and as a result he was recommended by Shirley in November 1745 to be keeper of the ordnance stores at Louisbourg or to receive some equivalent post. He was appointed commissary of the royal stores at Louisbourg, but he was unable to assume his duties immediately because of a severe fever. He was also hampered by gout at this time, an affliction which seems to have bothered him from at least 1740. He requested that his brother-in-law, Edward Ellis, be allowed to administer the position for him. The death of his wife and of Ellis shortly thereafter left Kilby with two children of his own, his brother-in-law’s family, and several other orphaned relatives to provide for. Kilby probably did not arrive at Louisbourg until late spring 1746; he died there shortly afterwards.
Although Kilby does not seem to have profited greatly from his connections with Nova Scotia, he is representative of the many lesser known New Englanders who were gradually extending New England’s sway over Nova Scotia before the American Revolution.
“Mass. Archives,” XX, 675. Mass. Hist. Soc., Joseph Green, “A supplement to Tom Kilby’s Drollery”; Pepperrell papers, Thomas Kilby to Pepperrell, 3 Nov. 1745. PAC, MG 11, Nova Scotia A, 26, pp.186–97. PRO, Adm 1/2655, “Description of Lewisburg in the Island of Cape Breton, 1741.” Correspondence of William Shirley (Lincoln), I, 289. Harvard College records . . . (3v., Col. Soc. Mass. Pubs., XV–XVI, XXXI, Boston, 1925, 1935), II, 540. “Land-bank and silver-bank papers . . . ,” Col. Soc. Mass. Pubs. (Boston), IV (1910), 88. PRO, CSP, Col., 1728–29; 1732. Shipton, Sibley’s Harvard graduates, VII, 193–96. A. E. Brown, Faneuil Hall and Faneuil Hall Market; or, Peter Faneuil and his gift (Boston, 1900), 45. S. L. Knapp, Biographical sketches of eminent lawyers, statesmen and men of letters (Boston, 1821), 146. Rawlyk, Yankees at Louisbourg, 32. L. M. Sargent, Dealings with the dead (2v., Boston, 1856), II, 567. H. N. Shepard, History of Saint John’s Lodge of Boston (Boston, 1917), 18. W. B. Weeden, Economic and social history of New England, 1620–1789 (2v., New York, 1890; repr., 1963), II, 614–15.