MacKINTOSH (Macintosh), JOHN, farmer and politician; b. in December 1790 at Naufrage, Kings County, P.E.I.; m. in 1808 Margaret MacDonald, and they had eight daughters and three sons; d. 14 Dec. 1881 at Naufrage.
John MacKintosh, a Roman Catholic of Scottish descent, received no formal education in his native Kings County. Himself a freehold farmer in Lot 43, he was politicized against a background of suffering and injustice attributable to the proprietary system of land ownership established on the Island in 1767. Thus he became a radical Escheator and a staunch defender of the oppressed, often destitute, tenants of eastern Kings County.
MacKintosh was over 40 years of age and a leader in his community when William Cooper* delivered his provocative address in the House of Assembly on 27 March 1832 urging that most of the land on the Island be escheated and regranted in small parcels to settlers. Tenant resistance to seizures by sheriffs for non-payment of rent became widespread, and at Naufrage in June 1834 a group of more than 100 armed tenants warned the sheriff and his deputies that they would “die to a man” before permitting the arrest of five persons charged with a previous assault on two constables. MacKintosh, who was recognized as having influence over his neighbours, acted as a moderating force on the occasion of the Naufrage riot. He had by then acquired a political profile and was clearly associated with Cooper and John LeLacheur as an advocate of escheat. He declined to run for an assembly seat in the general election of November 1834, despite being nominated. However, he was returned unopposed at a by-election in the 1st District of Kings County on 16 Oct. 1835.
MacKintosh was not a gifted speaker, and the predominant feature of his early performance in the assembly was the consistent support he gave to Cooper and the escheat faction. This support naturally extended outside the house where MacKintosh, who spoke Gaelic fluently, performed a vital function in communicating the issues and aims of the movement to an often ill-informed tenantry. The level of public agitation increased in 1836 when a series of public meetings was held. At Hay River, Kings County, on 20 December, a meeting conducted by MacKintosh, Cooper, and LeLacheur unanimously approved a 34-point petition to King William IV requesting a court of escheat. Lieutenant Governor Sir John Harvey* quickly brought the petition to the attention of the assembly. The committee on privileges found the petition framed in “language calculated to excite the unwary inhabitants to disloyalty” and also found MacKintosh and his two fellow assemblymen “guilty of a false and scandalous libel on this House, and of a gross breach of its known privileges.” An apology was drawn up, but all three refused to sign. The committee actually went part of the way in absolving MacKintosh by stating that he had “erred more through ignorance than design, in following the evil advice of the said William Cooper.” MacKintosh was not, however, to be so easily separated from his two radical companions.
Re-elected in 1838, when the Escheat party won 18 of 24 seats, MacKintosh served without interruption until 1850. In the assembly he was dogmatic, truthful, and brief in his utterances. He exhibited a concern about financial outlays, a serious trait in a dour Scot, as he continually questioned expenditures and voted for their reduction. He also displayed an enlightened attitude towards the rights of the Island’s Indian and Acadian minorities. In 1843, for example, he stated that the “Indians contribute towards the revenue, and they were as well entitled to the benefit of education as any other class of the community.” In 1847 he refuted Edward Palmer’s claim that the establishment of a commissioners’ court for the Acadians of Tignish would only “introduce a spirit of litigation” among them, by arguing that such a court with a French-speaking commissioner was needed to give the Acadians “as fair a chance to obtain justice as was given to their fellow subjects.” Most important, however, was his belief in the freedoms of the common man, in defence of which he was prepared to challenge not only the state but also the church.
In this latter regard, MacKintosh was charged with having interrupted divine service at St Margaret’s Chapel on 7 Jan. 1844, and the case was tried at Georgetown the following summer. It is clear from the testimony that MacKintosh and the parish priest, John McDonald*, had been feuding previously and that the congregation was divided. The underlying cause of the feud was the land question, for Father McDonald was himself a proprietor in Queens County and many of his parishioners in eastern Kings County felt that the priest had been instrumental in persuading Lieutenant Governor Sir Henry Vere Huntley* to send troops to quell a disturbance on Samuel Cunard*’s estate at East Point in March 1843. McDonald did not deign to refute the charge and the breach with his parishioners grew wider. Bishop Bernard Donald MacDonald* subsequently asked the priest to leave the area, but he refused. On 1 Jan. 1844 MacKintosh proposed a meeting on short notice and he indicated that he wished to settle the differences between himself and the parish priest. McDonald could not attend the meeting, and the result was that a group sympathetic to MacKintosh elected new church elders who warned McDonald to leave the parish without delay. The following Sunday McDonald addressed the congregation at the close of mass, stating that he would not recognize the new elders because he had not appointed them. At this point MacKintosh rose and demanded to be heard, and was only silenced when the priest knelt in prayer at the altar. McDonald then instituted legal action against MacKintosh, but the latter was acquitted by a jury. His objective was realized when McDonald left the parish late in 1844 after being suspended from his duties by the bishop.
In the late 1840s MacKintosh supported the call for responsible government and continued as an advocate of escheat until his defeat at the polls in February 1850. Although George Coles* and the Liberals were in the ascendant and formed the first responsible government in April 1851, MacKintosh was unsuccessful in the elections of that year and of July 1853. Finally in June 1854 he was returned to the assembly. He quickly succeeded in embarrassing the Liberal government by supporting William Cooper’s claim that, under the Land Purchase Act of 1853, it was spending the people’s money to purchase land to which the proprietors had no rightful claim or title. In addition, he felt that in certain cases the price paid was too high. Although his radicalism was now subdued, he continued to represent 1st Kings until he withdrew from politics in 1858 at age 67. He then lived in retirement until his death at age 90.
John MacKintosh displayed a tenacious concern for the plight of the tenants and played an important role not only in communicating the issues but also in maintaining a high level of unrest among them. He was a man of conviction, dedicated to the rights of the individual, with a capacity for independent action. As a man of the people committed to removing the curse of landlordism, he made a significant contribution to resolving the most contentious issue in 19th-century Island politics.
PAPEI, A. S. Burke, “History of the mission of St. Margaret’s, Bear River”; RG 18, 1861 census. PRO, CO 226/52: 29 (copy at PAPEI). P.E.I., House of Assembly, Debates and proc., 1855; Journal, 1837–38. Examiner (Charlottetown), 26 Nov. 1895. Islander, 27 Aug. 1844, 22 July 1853, 28 May 1858. Patriot (Charlottetown), 29 Dec. 1881, 21 Jan. 1884. Royal Gazette (Charlottetown), 3 April 1832; 17 June, 25 Nov. 1834; 13 Jan., 20 Oct. 1835; 31 Jan. 1837; 18 Feb. 1840; 2 March, 20 April 1841; 28 March, 4 April 1843; 27 Aug. 1844; 23 Feb., 23 March, 18 May 1847; 21 March 1849; 22 April 1851. Canada’s smallest prov. (Bolger). J. C. Macmillan, The history of the Catholic Church in Prince Edward Island from 1835 till 1891 (Quebec, 1913). A. B. Warburton, A history of Prince Edward Island from its discovery in 1534 until the departure of Lieutenant-Governor Ready in A.D. 1831 (Saint John, N.B., 1923). David Weale and Harry Baglole, The Island and confederation: the end of an era (n.p., 1973).