MINNS, WILLIAM, printer, publisher, merchant, and office holder; b. c. 1763 in Boston, son of William Minns and his wife Sarah; m. 29 Dec. 1798 Sophia Brown in Halifax, and they had one daughter, Sophia Ann; d. there 17 Jan. 1827.
William Minns was one of seven children born to a Boston doctor whose family had emigrated from Great Yarmouth, England, about 1735. During the evacuation of Boston in March 1776, young Minns and his sister Martha went to Newport, R.I., where she married the printer John Howe. Apparently Minns’s loyalist views offended his father; nevertheless, over the years he maintained contact with his Massachusetts relatives, and several of his Boston nieces lived with him in Halifax during the 1810s and 1820s.
Newport was evacuated by British forces in October 1779, and it seems to have been then that Minns left Rhode Island for Nova Scotia. By 1780, when John Howe began the Halifax Journal, Minns was probably an apprentice in his brother-in-law’s Halifax printing shop. He soon established his own shop at George and Barrington streets, from which he first issued the Weekly Chronicle on 29 April 1786. Like the two other Halifax newspapers of the day, the Journal and Anthony Henry*’s Nova-Scotia Gazette, and the Weekly Chronicle, Minns’s paper chiefly reprinted British and American news, although it also carried more detailed local news than the others. Its most notable local contribution was Joseph Howe*’s long poem “Melville Island” on 6 Jan. 1826.
By 1810 Minns was one of the principal retail merchants of Halifax, and was able to purchase the property on Barrington Street which adjoined his shop. It was in his shop that his friend Captain Philip Bowes Vere Broke* of the Shannon reportedly said, “Well, Minns, I’m going to Boston . . . to challenge the Constitution.” When Minns advised caution, in the light of the Guerrière’s tragic encounter with the Constitution in August 1812, Broke replied that he would “trust more to boarding than to the calibre of his guns.” In the event, the contest between the Shannon and the Constitution never materialized, but another prize did fall to the British frigate: on 6 June 1813 the Shannon led the Chesapeake into Halifax Harbour.
Minns neither criticized the government nor engaged in acrimonious disputes, as did the newer Halifax papers of the 1810s, Anthony Henry Holland’s Acadian Recorder and Edmund Ward*’s Free Press. Yet, although a quiet man, he was active in community affairs. He was an actor in the theatre established in Halifax in 1789 and managed during its later years by Charles Stuart Powell*. In 1817 he was appointed a commissioner on the court for the trial of summary actions in Halifax County. By late 1826 he was in poor health and sold the Chronicle to his step-nephew Joseph Howe, who in partnership with James Spike* conducted it in 1827 as the Acadian, and General Advertiser. After Howe took over the Novascotian, or Colonial Herald in December 1827, Spike ran the Acadian as a tory organ until 1834.
Minns died in 1827 of an “ulcerous cancer of the throat,” but he had retained his “superior powers of intellect” to the end. In an obituary notice the Acadian Recorder praised him as the “dispenser of comfort and delight.” His estate had few claims against it and his family was well provided for. Sixty years later some Haligonians still remembered Minns as “a dignified, portly gentleman, with powdered wig, worsted hose, and silver shoe buckles,” who “was always characterized by the courtesy and honor of a gentleman of the olden time.”
PANS, MG 1, 574B. Acadian Recorder, 20 Jan. 1827. Royal Gazette and the Nova-Scotia Advertiser, 1 Jan. 1799. A calendar of official correspondence and legislative papers, Nova Scotia, 1802–15, comp. Margaret Ells (Halifax, 1936). An historical directory of Nova Scotia newspapers and journals before confederation, comp. T. B. Vincent (Kingston, Ont., 1977). Tremaine, Biblio. of Canadian imprints. Akins, Hist. of Halifax City. J. M. Beck, Joseph Howe (2v., Kingston and Montreal, 1982–83), 1. A. [McK.] MacMechan, Old province tales (Toronto, 1924), 188–90. W. S. MacNutt, The Atlantic provinces: the emergence of colonial society, 1712–1857 (Toronto, 1965). J. S. Martell, “The press of the Maritime provinces in the 1830’s,” CHR, 19 (1938): 24–49. J. J. Stewart, “Early journalism in Nova Scotia,” N.S . Hist. Soc., Coll., 6 (1888): 91–122.