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MARSHALL, JOHN JOSEPH, merchant and politician; b. 1807 in Guysborough, N.S., son of Joseph H. and Ann Marshall; m. Esther Maria Ballaine; d. 25 Oct. 1870 at Manchester, N.S.

Educated at the Sackville Grammar School, John Joseph Marshall was raised in a prosperous family in Guysborough County. Unlike most of the shore-dwelling families of Chedabucto Bay, the Marshalls were “all clerk and farmer, who didn’t know a gunnel from a tholepin.” They attained some political prominence: Marshall’s grandfather, Joseph Marshall (a Georgia-born loyalist), and his uncle, John George Marshall*, were both Nova Scotia assemblymen. His father-in-law, John Ballaine, a Jersey Island merchant, also had sat in the assembly. Along with the Cutlers and Torys, they formed a powerful “compact” in Guysborough County.

As a merchant, Marshall ran a general store dealing in groceries, rum, fishing supplies, and smallware. Like many outport merchants, he left behind a reputation for tight-fisted shrewdness, partly because he is said to have seized properties for unpaid debts. He lived rather ostentatiously, and apparently did not leave much wealth.

Marshall served as justice of the peace in his community and in 1837 worked on a fisheries commission. In 1840 he was elected to the assembly to represent Guysborough County, a seat he held until 1859. Not surprisingly in view of his background, Marshall became associated with James William Johnston*’s Conservative group in the legislature. Outspoken to the point of brashness, he earned the active dislike of those he termed the “agitators” of the Reform party, whom he criticized for their “obsession” with party patronage. During the political turmoil of the 1840s, Reform papers assailed the “conceited, abusive, treacherous Marshall . . . packhorse for the Halifax Tories . . . the greatest nuisance who ever disgraced the floors of the House of Assembly,” and derided him as the author of the “celebrated Goose Bill” of 1846, intended to prevent the straying of domestic waterfowl. Nevertheless Marshall’s role in distributing government relief supplies during the hard times of the 1840s, and again in the late 1860s, did win him the gratitude of some people if the hatred of others.

In 1856 Charles Rohan offered the following portrait of Marshall’s political personality in the Acadian Recorder: “He acquiesces in being called a Conservative, yet makes occasional headlong plunges into Radicalism . . . he is not at all given to generalizing or theorizing . . . altogether of a destructive turn . . . seems made for opposition . . . quick in decision and reply, quick to wound an opponent in debate . . . the very picture of saucy self-possession . . . yet he is genial and friendly with his opponents outside the House.” Marshall spoke of himself, with arrogant independence, as a follower of no party. Obviously he chafed under the party discipline which responsible government made necessary.

He bitterly resented the British betrayal of Nova Scotian fisheries and shipping interests in the Reciprocity Treaty of 1854. While in opposition he particularly criticized railway expenditure and prohibitory liquor laws: “They want not only to stop our grog, but to rob us of our Road money.” His abilities and his frequent support of the Conservatives, for whom he had sponsored some unpopular bills, won him the post of financial secretary in the Johnston administration from 1857 to 1860.

Marshall’s opposition to union with Canada brought him under attack from many of his associates who supported confederation. Along with John Angus Kirk, he was elected in 1867 to the Nova Scotia assembly for Guysborough County on an anti-confederate ticket. He served as speaker from 30 Jan. 1868 until his death in 1870, when William Annand*’s Morning Chronicle, although acknowledging his defence of Nova Scotian interests over the years, maintained the old enmities by dismissing his career as “not of a distinguished character.”

A. A. MacKenzie

The Marshall family papers are in the possession of Gladys Marshall, Boylston, N.S. PANS, RG 7, 143. Howe, Speeches and letters (Chisholm). N.S., House of Assembly, Debates and proc., 1855–59; Journals and proc., 1855–56. British Colonist (Halifax), 1844. Eastern Chronicle (Pictou, N.S.), 1847. Morning Chronicle (Halifax), 1865–70. Times (Halifax), 1842. Belcher’s farmer’s almanack, 1860. CPC, 1869. Directory of N.SMLAs. Charles Bruce, The channel shore (Toronto, 1957). A. C. Jost, Guysborough sketches and essays (Guysborough, N. S., 1950).

General Bibliography

Cite This Article

A. A. MacKenzie, “MARSHALL, JOHN JOSEPH,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 9, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed October 2, 2023, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/marshall_john_joseph_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:

Permalink:   http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/marshall_john_joseph_9E.html
Author of Article:   A. A. MacKenzie
Title of Article:   MARSHALL, JOHN JOSEPH
Publication Name:   Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 9
Publisher:   University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication:   1976
Year of revision:   1976
Access Date:   October 2, 2023