LUDLOW, GEORGE DUNCAN, judge and politician; b. 1734 in Queens County, Long Island, N.Y., son of Gabriel Ludlow and Frances Duncan; m. 22 April 1758 a cousin who was also named Frances Duncan, and they had one son and two daughters; d. 13 Nov. 1808 in Fredericton, N.B.
The Ludlow family arrived in America from Somerset, England, in 1694. Gabriel Ludlow, founder of the colonial branch, became a successful merchant, shipowner, and landholder. His son Gabriel married Frances Duncan and moved to Queens County, where George Duncan was born in 1734 and Gabriel George in 1736. A second marriage produced Daniel in 1750. The wealth and status of the family gave the boys several advantages, including education in a private school. George Duncan apparently spent a short period as an apprentice apothecary before turning to the law. By the age of 30 he had been admitted to the bar and had begun a successful practice, largely in commercial cases. Official preferment soon followed: in 1769 he was appointed a judge of the colonial supreme court. His brother Gabriel was meanwhile making a mark for himself in business.
Both brothers were staunch supporters of the crown during the troubles of the pre-revolutionary years. In the mid 1770s George Duncan was forced out of New York City “to cherish the remains of loyalty in Queens County,” where he and Gabriel owned substantial adjoining properties near Hempstead. With the arrival of General Sir William Howe and the British army in 1776, he returned to the city, and until the final surrender in 1783 he remained a leading royalist. In August 1779 the houses of both brothers on Long Island were plundered by rebels during their absence; the plan had been to abduct the owners in order to exchange them for rebel prisoners “of equal rank.” Two months later the properties were confiscated by the state of New York. George Duncan later estimated the price of his loyalty at £6,500 in real and personal estate. Disappointed when passed over in favour of William Smith* for the chief justiceship of New York in 1780, he had resigned from the bench. Governor James Robertson consoled him in 1780 with an appointment as superintendent of police for Long Island. It had become necessary to find some means of administering justice there, and he was given “powers on principles of equity to hear and determine controversies till civil government can take place.” The “little tyrant of the Island” was not popular, however, and was said to have exerted excessive influence on behalf of his friends.
Regarded as arch-tory to the core, the Ludlows apparently had no choice but to leave New York when the revolution was over, though their half-brother Daniel, also a loyalist, remained there to become a successful businessman. George Duncan sailed for England on 19 June 1783, shortly before his brother; both left their families behind until arrangements could be completed for their settlement elsewhere. In London the Ludlows joined a large and vociferous lobby of loyalist place-seekers. With the successful conclusion of the campaign to create from Nova Scotia a new province as a home for American refugees, George Duncan was selected as its chief justice. The choice was made in March or April 1784, some months before the royal proclamation establishing the province of New Brunswick was signed and before the governor was appointed. Ludlow may therefore have been the first person named to any position in New Brunswick. As chief justice he was a member of the original council that was to administer the province. Gabriel was also appointed to this body and, by virtue of his military rank, became its senior member. The Ludlow brothers held these positions, two of the most prestigious in New Brunswick, for the next 25 years. Younger members of the Council such as Edward Winslow, Ward Chipman*, and John Coffin* had more to offer, but their activities always took place under the cautious eyes of their seniors.
After touring Britain, especially the new manufacturing towns, the Ludlows embarked for New Brunswick in September 1784 with Governor Thomas Carleton. Following a brief stay at Halifax, N.S., the governor’s entourage made its way to Parrtown (Saint John), which became the temporary capital of the new province and where Gabriel was soon to be appointed mayor. George Duncan was sworn in on 25 November. When the first session of the Supreme Court was held on 1 Feb. 1785, Benjamin Marston* recorded that “the Chief Justice gave a very judicious, sensible charge to the Grand Jury.”
Saint John’s early years were turbulent ones, raising the spectre of incidents similar to those in pre-revolutionary American cities. The distressed condition of the mass of the people was in sharp contrast to the circumstances of the élite, a point emphasized in the local press and taverns [see Elias Hardy*]. The first provincial election, in 1785, brought the issue to a climax. When the six hand-chosen government candidates for Saint John were defeated by the “rabble,” Carleton, supported by his council and the judges, overturned the results and had his candidates declared elected. Selected members of the “rabble,” including newspapermen William Lewis* and John Ryan*, were arrested, charged with “criminal” activity before the Supreme Court, and punished. The executive, of which the Ludlows were members, thus established from the beginning the tenor of New Brunswick’s politics.
Governor Carleton decided that Saint John was unsuitable for the provincial capital and in 1786 moved inland to Fredericton. The chief justice naturally accompanied the administration while his brother stayed in the commercial capital of Saint John. George Duncan acquired about 1,500 acres five miles north of Fredericton for his estate, which he called Spring Hill after the residence of Lieutenant Governor Cadwallader Colden, his New York patron of the 1760s. The house, made from the “most beautiful specimens” of local woods such as bird’s-eye maple and birch, was much admired. There he and his lady, who was described by Patrick Campbell* as “among the mildest and most amiable of her sex,” lived out their years in New Brunswick.
As chief justice, Ludlow was more inconsistent, or more flexible, than might have been expected. In his first case Nancy Mozely (Mosley), a black, was convicted of manslaughter for killing her husband with a pitchfork. After praying benefit of clergy under an ancient tradition, she was sentenced to be branded with the letter M in the brawn of her left thumb and then dismissed. In a more celebrated case of February 1800 that considered the legality of slavery in New Brunswick, Ludlow, a slave holder, supported the owners. “Our Chief Justice,” declared Ward Chipman, “is very strenuous in support of the master’s rights as being founded on immemorial usuages and customs in all parts of America ever since its discovery. He contends that customs in all countries are the foundation of law, and from them the law acquires its force.” Ludlow was supported on the bench by Joshua Upham while the other two judges were opposed. The split permitted the slave owner, Caleb Jones, to hold his property, despite British practice at the time. By 1820, however, slavery was at an end in New Brunswick, partly because of the controversy this outcome had sparked.
Ludlow’s use in this case of North American as opposed to British practices was a characteristic trait. When, for example, the question of legal fees arose in 1787 he reduced the proposed scale by almost one-half to meet the needs of a struggling colony. “At the commencements of Circuit Courts, especially in this province,” he explained, “peculiar difficulties must attend the practitioner, but they will gradually lessen as the population increases, and the wealth, as well as the litigation, of the inhabitants, multiply.” Despite the outrage of the lawyers, Ludlow held firm “[or] the present generation would not find wherewith to purchase justice.”
Wealthy landholders also found themselves at odds with Ludlow. In 1805 the ownership of fishing rights in waters adjoining property became an issue in Saint John. William Hazen, an original grantee from the 1760s, had his claim challenged and a fishing weir removed. He charged trespass before a jury, but Ludlow “without hesitation, directed the Jury that it was an arm of the sea and common to all; that even if all the fisheries there had been expressly granted to him [Hazen], the grant would not have been worth a farthing.” That attack on property rights shocked the establishment, and Ludlow’s “tergiversation” was a scandal. In 1808, however, the British were to uphold his position.
The chief justice in this as in other matters was unmoved by criticism, which he received from all sides during the course of his career. James Glenie, an early New Brunswick radical, at one point called him an “illiterate, strutting chief justice” who must be removed to save the province, and Governor Carleton liked neither of the brothers, especially the chief justice with whom he was frequently at odds. It is not clear what prompted the difficult relationship between Carleton and the Ludlows. Perhaps he was too English and they too American, or they lacked the proper deference or were too demanding. Until 1803, however, Carleton dominated affairs. The Ludlows might quibble with him, but they supported the conservative thrust he gave to the colony. George Duncan participated in all decisions regarding legislation and justice throughout Carleton’s governorship, and of the two brothers was far the more substantial and influential. Even when Gabriel became administrator of the province on Carleton’s departure, it was George Duncan who, in reality, headed the government. He had the greater experience of administration and Gabriel always deferred to him.
In February 1808 Gabriel Ludlow died. Left to carry on alone, George Duncan was grief stricken and faced the certainty of loss of power in the Council. He suffered a paralytic stroke on 6 March and remained largely incapacitated until his death at Spring Hill on 13 November. He was survived by his widow and three children.
The Ludlow brothers occupy a unique position in New Brunswick history. For 25 years they held two of the senior positions in the colony, and for five years after Carleton’s return to Britain they were in control, apparently without being seriously challenged. Innately conservative, a predilection reinforced by the American revolution, they were partly responsible for the ascendency of that disposition in New Brunswick. Past their prime when they arrived in New Brunswick, the Ludlows claimed their rights as members of the loyalist élite and died respected.
N.B. Museum, Hazen family papers. PANB, “New Brunswick political biography,” comp. J. C. and H. B. Graves (11v., typescript). PRO, AO 12/19: 310; 12/90; 12/99: 179; 12/109; AO 13, bundle 65. UNBL, MG H2. P. Campbell, Travels in North America (Langton and Ganong). Documents and letters intended to illustrate the revolutionary incidents of Queen’s County . . . , comp. Henry Onderdonk (New York, 1846; repr. Port Washington, N.Y., ). NYCD (O’Callaghan and Fernow), vol.8. Winslow papers (Raymond). DAB. Sabine, Biog. sketches of loyalists. Hannay, Hist. of N.B., vol.1. Thomas Jones, History of New York during the Revolutionary War, and of the leading events in the other colonies at that period, ed. E. F. de Lancey (2v., New York, 1879). J. W. Lawrence, Foot-prints; or, incidents in early history of New Brunswick, 1783–1883 (Saint John, 1883); The judges of New Brunswick and their times, ed. A. A. Stockton [and W. O. Raymond] ([Saint John, 1907]). MacNutt, New Brunswick. Raymond, River St. John (1910). Wright, Loyalists of N.B. Kenneth Donovan, “The origin and establishment of the New Brunswick courts,” N.B. Museum, Journal (Saint John), 1980: 57–64. A. G. W. Gilbert, “New Brunswick’s first chief justice,” Univ. of New Brunswick Law Journal (Saint John), 11 (1958): 29–32. J. W. Lawrence, “The first courts and early judges of New Brunswick,” N.B. Hist. Soc., Coll., no.20 (1971): 8–34. W. O. Raymond, “A sketch of the life and administration of General Thomas Carleton, first governor of New Brunswick,” N.B. Hist. Soc., Coll., 2 (1899–1905), no.6: 439–81.
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Cite This Article
C. M. Wallace, “LUDLOW, GEORGE DUNCAN,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 5, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed March 29, 2023, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/ludlow_george_duncan_5E.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. M. Wallace|
|Title of Article:||LUDLOW, GEORGE DUNCAN|
|Publication Name:||Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 5|
|Publisher:||University of Toronto/Université Laval|
|Year of publication:||1983|
|Year of revision:||1983|
|Access Date:||March 29, 2023|