TRAVIS, JEREMIAH, businessman, lawyer, author, and magistrate; b. 21 Jan. 1830 in Indiantown (Saint John), son of Barnes Travis and Elizabeth Stevens; m. 24 Dec. 1856 Mary Smith in Amherst, N.S., and they had at least three sons and two daughters; d. 27 April 1911 in Calgary.
Jeremiah Travis was born, and probably reared, in an unfashionable suburb of Saint John. During the 1850s, with John McMillan*, he ran a lumbering and mercantile firm at Campbellton, though much of his time was spent in England handling company business there. Travis’s objection to McMillan’s preoccupation with politics led to the breakup of the partnership in 1862; by 1864 he had returned to Saint John to become a student-at-law.
At age 34, with a family to support, Travis knew that he had to make his study of law “a matter of business.” Labouring “12 to 14 hours a day,” he clerked by day and read law by night. In 1865 he interrupted his articles to begin studying for a law degree at Harvard College in Cambridge, Mass. So adept was he at acquiring “scientific knowledge” from “men of gigantic intellect,” as he explained his experience, that on graduation in 1866 he was awarded the law school’s foremost prize for dissertations; his essay was subsequently published in the American Law Register.
Travis had not been alone in his pursuit of an American law degree. His studies overlapped those of at least six other New Brunswickers and four Nova Scotians. Nearly all made careers in the Maritimes, but none preached the gospel of university-based legal education with the zeal of Travis. In letters to the Saint John press in 1866–67 he waxed hyperbolical in his criticism of the Barristers’ Society for failing to turn the articling process into a coherent program of education. In 1867 he prompted the legislature to make New Brunswick the first Canadian jurisdiction to give statutory recognition to the place of a law degree in professional formation. That same year he gave a course of law lectures at Saint John’s Commercial College, the first course of legal instruction in the province.
Admitted as an attorney in 1867, Travis was called to the bar the following year, evidently after forming a partnership with Charles Duff. In 1873 he left to manage an ailing tannery at Salisbury, in which he was the largest investor. Within three years it failed, and his consequent personal insolvency compelled his return to Saint John and to the law. Perhaps because of his irascibility and egoism, he did so as a solo practitioner.
Despite the temperamental instability that would hinder his legal career at every stage, marks of Travis’s forensic ability are abundant. At a time when employment of multiple counsel in important causes was common, in 1879 he acted singlehandedly in probably the most notorious civil suit in late-19th century Saint John, the interrelated cases of Harris v. Stanley and Sayre v. Harris. This trial lasted the unprecedented length of one month and featured bitter personal exchanges between Travis and opposing counsel William Henry Tuck and Acalus Lockwood Palmer. In 1883 Travis was complimented by judge Samuel Henry Strong* of the Supreme Court of Canada for his “able and exhaustive” advocacy in Chapman v. Tufts. Later, on the occasion of his judicial appointment, the press would sketch him as a gifted lawyer of “intense energy and surprising vigor, fiery and vehement.”
Travis’s restless volubility was evident in his crusade against the pronouncements of the New Brunswick Supreme Court on the constitutionality of temperance legislation. Adopting a literalist interpretation of the British North America Act, in 1879 the court had struck down provincial regulation as encroaching on federal powers and federal regulation as encroaching on provincial powers [see Sir John Campbell Allen*]. Foremost among the outraged prohibitionists was Travis who, in public meetings, in the press, and in an early constitutional treatise, denounced its stand and also decisions by the Supreme Court of Canada and the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council. There is some evidence that his views may have influenced John James Maclaren, who sustained an enlarged view of federal powers before the JCPC in Russell v. the Queen (1882).
Published in Saint John in 1884, Travis’s Law treatise was primarily a response to Thomas-Jean-Jacques Loranger*’s Lettres sur l’interprétation de la constitution fédérale . . . (2v., Québec, 1883–84), which favoured provincial autonomy. Despite Travis’s claim that demonstrating legal science was his only objective, his self-esteem and attacks on Loranger and the courts overwhelmed his scholarly ability. The agitated tone of his self-styled “crucible of criticism” renders it almost unreadable, and its endless repetition, poor organization, and inclination to extreme interpretation deprive it of much standing.
Travis’s work on prohibition had propelled him to the notice of New Brunswick’s leading temperance man, federal cabinet member Sir Samuel Leonard Tilley*. Travis had opposed him over confederation in the 1860s, but his stand on liquor jurisprudence allowed him to lobby Tilley for judicial appointment, first in New Brunswick, then in Manitoba, where he resided for a time in 1885, and finally in the North-West Territories.
On 30 July 1885 Travis was appointed by Minister of Justice Sir Alexander Campbell* as a stipendiary magistrate for the territories, resident in the newly incorporated town of Calgary. Travis would never be particularly busy in this early period of its history: during his tenure of 20 months he sat on only 20 recorded criminal cases, 11 of them theft-related and 7 assaults. His sentences were seen as severe – 18 to 36 months in jail at hard labour for assault, theft, or receipt of stolen goods – and his public image was never favourable. Within a week of his arrival he had declared Calgary to be “lawless” and claimed that the district had obtained a magistrate only through his efforts. In November he sentenced popular councilman and saloon owner Simon John Clarke to six months in prison for resisting arrest by the North-West Mounted Police, who wished to search his premises without a warrant. Council censured Travis and at a public meeting $500 was raised to send a delegation to Ottawa to protest. The situation worsened when Hugh St Quentin Cayley, editor of the Calgary Herald and clerk of the district court, wrote an unfavourable editorial on the magistrate. Travis dismissed him, charged him with contempt, sentenced him to prison, and disbarred his solicitors.
Still profoundly opposed to the liquor traffic, Travis also clashed with Mayor George Murdoch* and what Travis called the “whiskey ring” who supported “lenient” liquor laws. In the civic election of 1886 Murdoch handily beat prohibitionist James Reilly, but on the basis of voting irregularities Travis declared Reilly the winner. He disqualified Murdoch and the councillors from holding office for two years and fined them. Protests to the new justice minister, John Sparrow David Thompson*, were accompanied by an opinion from an Ottawa law firm that Travis had had no authority to overthrow the election. As a result he was placed on paid leave and in March 1886 judge Thomas Wardlaw Taylor was appointed by the federal government to investigate.
After a lengthy examination, Taylor recommended his dismissal. Instead, Travis was suspended. In August he wrote to deputy minister George Wheelock Burbidge*, charging that his replacement, fellow magistrate Charles-Borromée Rouleau*, was an incompetent drunkard. Rouleau’s stinging reply, including the threat of a libel suit, forced Travis to recant. When the new act for the administration of justice in the territories came into effect on 18 Feb. 1887, Travis’s official tenure expired, and he was pensioned off.
Travis seems to have tried to return to legal practice. His name appears on the roll of advocates of the Law Society of the North-West Territories on 14 June 1887, but no evidence has been found of any participation in the profession. Nothing seems to have come either of his plan, reported in the press that fall, to move to Toronto and take up writing for a law publisher in Chicago. Conscious of the influx of settlers and the dynamics of Calgary’s economy, he had used his time while under suspension to begin buying property. By the time he left Calgary at the end of 1887 he owned some 100 lots.
Whether in 1887 or later, Travis made his way to San Francisco, where he wrote Commentaries on the law of sales and collateral subjects. In 1892 he went to Boston, where he had it published and perhaps tried to line up another book. Commentaries was produced primarily to protect shippers (mainly railways) and corporations against fraudulent agents and middlemen; indeed, Travis believed he was rewriting the law on fraud. Although much of his research appears solid, his selective approach, bold assertions of critical support, and loaded statements give cause to doubt.
Travis returned to Calgary in 1893 to manage his land and build houses. By 1903 he was spending winters in Switzerland and summers in Calgary. His activity in the city culminated in the construction of the Travis Block at 138 7th Avenue East, Calgary’s largest office building, which was under way at his death. According to the Calgary Eye Opener, he then owned various commercial buildings, 150 lots, and 12 houses, and was erecting more; his net worth was estimated at under $500,000.
Travis died of apoplexy in 1911 while his wife and daughters were on holiday in California, and he was given a Lutheran burial in Calgary’s Union Cemetery. Though some of the press wrote in standard form about the demise of a “colorful early pioneer,” Robert Chambers Edwards* of the Eye Opener “wondered what that man got out of life” since he was “busy from morning till night raising his rents and engaging in altercations with the assessor. The paralytic seizure which carried him off occurred in a real estate office where he was fixing up a deal.” From scholar to entrepreneur, Travis had pursued life with a vengeance.
Jeremiah Travis’s law school essay was published as “The extent to which the common law is applied in determining what constitutes a crime, and the nature and degree of punishment consequent thereupon” in the American Law Reg. (Philadelphia), new ser., 6 (1866–67): 65–79, 129–46, 321-41. While at Harvard, he also prepared the annotations for Theophilus Parsons, Treatise on the law of partnership (Boston, 1867), and collated W. L. Scott and M. P. Jarnagin, A treatise upon the law of telegraphs . . . (Boston, 1868). Travis’s writings also include A law treatise on the constitutional powers of parliament, and of local legislatures, under the British North America Act, 1867 (Saint John, 1884) and Commentaries on the law of sales and collateral subjects (2v., Boston and Toronto, 1892).
There are no Travis papers extant. Manuscript collections pertinent to his affairs include the Macdonald papers (NA, MG 26, A), Thompson papers (MG 26, D), Tilley papers (MG 27, I, D15, esp. Travis to Tilley, 3 Aug. 1882), and Tupper papers (MG 26, F, and MG 27, I, D16), as well as the Dewdney papers at the GA (M320, esp. VI, Travis to Dewdney, 11, 19 Sept., 3 Dec. 1885). A photograph from the late 1890s is available in the Randolph Bruce fonds (GA, M151, NA2240–1).
Legal Arch. Soc. of Alberta (Calgary), F 60 (Law Soc. of the North-West Territories fonds), vol.1, file 1: 3, no.53 (photocopy). PANB, MC 288, MS4; RS32, C, 12; RS55, 1876, New Brunswick Patent Tanning Company v. George A. Schofield, assignee of Jeremiah Travis. Calgary Eye Opener, 29 July 1911. Calgary Herald, 9 Sept. 1885. Calgary News Telegram, 28 April 1911. Calgary Tribune, 24 June 1887. Calgary Weekly Herald, 29 July, 11–25 Nov., 9, 30 Dec. 1885. Daily Sun (Saint John), 10 Oct. 1879, 21 Dec. 1882, 13 March 1883, 1 April 1884. Morning Freeman (Saint John), 13 Nov., 4, 20 Dec. 1866; 8, 10, 19, 31 Jan. 1867. Morning News (Saint John), 29 Dec. 1856, 4 Nov. 1880. Saint John Globe, 22 Feb. 1867; 27, 29 Oct. 1879; 28 July 1885. St. John Morning Telegraph (Saint John), 28 Nov. 1864; 6 Jan. 1865; 20 Sept., 16 Nov. 1867. Georgeen Barrass, “Western caricatures,” Glenbow (Calgary), 4 (1971), no.1: 4–7. D. G. Bell, Legal education in New Brunswick: a history (Fredericton, 1992). W. F. Bowker, “The stipendiary magistrates and Supreme Court justices in the Northwest Territories, 1876–1907,” in Papers presented at the 1987 Canadian Law in History Conference held at Carleton University, Ottawa, June 8–10, 1987 (typescript, 3v., [Ottawa, 1987]), 3: 79–139. Can., Commissioner of the North-West Mounted Police, Report (Ottawa), 1885-86; House of Commons, Debates, 1886: 888–89. Canada Gazette, 8 Aug. 1885. Ex parte Travis (1867), New Brunswick Reports (Saint John), 12: 30–31. Max Foran, “The ‘Travis affair,’” Alberta Hist. Rev. (Calgary), 19 (1971), no.4: 1–7. Harvard Univ., Law School, Quinquennial catalogue of the law school of Harvard University, 1817–1934, ed. G. H. Holliday (Cambridge, Mass., 1935). [J. W.] G. MacEwan, Calgary cavalcade: from fort to fortune (Edmonton, 1958). D. M. McLeod, “Liquor control in the North-West Territories: the permit system, 1870–1891,” Sask. Hist., 16 (1963): 81–89. N.B., Acts, 1867, c.7; House of Assembly, Debates, 1867: 87. New Brunswick census of 1861: Restigouche County (Fredericton, 1984). J. H. Robertson, “Policing Calgary: judge Travis, Calgary’s first magistrate,” Call Box (Calgary), 8 (1982), no.7: 6–8; no.8: 4–5; no.9: 6–7; no.10: 6–7 (copies in the Calgary Police Service Museum/Arch., and in the possession of Professor Knafla). Sayre v. Harris (1879), New Brunswick Reports, 18: 677–81. Schofield v. New Brunswick Patent Tanning Company (1883), New Brunswick Reports, 22: 599–622. W. P. Ward, “The administration of justice in the North-West Territories, 1870–1887” (ma thesis, Univ. of Alta, Edmonton, 1966).
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Cite This Article
D. G. Bell and Louis A. Knafla, “TRAVIS, JEREMIAH,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 14, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed June 7, 2023, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/travis_jeremiah_14E.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:||D. G. Bell and Louis A. Knafla|
|Title of Article:||TRAVIS, JEREMIAH|
|Publication Name:||Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 14|
|Publisher:||University of Toronto/Université Laval|
|Year of publication:||1998|
|Year of revision:||1998|
|Access Date:||June 7, 2023|