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WARD, JOHN, businessman, militia officer, politician, and jp; b. 8 Nov. 1753 in Peekskill, N.Y., probably the son of Edmund Ward and Elizabeth Strange; m. 1777 Elizabeth Strange, and they had four sons and two daughters; d. 5 Aug. 1846 in Saint John, N.B.

During the American revolution John Ward fought on the side of the loyalists. Appointed an ensign in the Loyal American Regiment in 1776, he was promoted lieutenant on 7 Oct. 1777. When Major John André sailed aboard the Vulture in 1780 to meet with the American major-general Benedict Arnold*, who had been supplying information to the British, Ward commanded the escort troops, and after André had been arrested by a rebel patrol he took the general to safety. He also commanded the last provincial troops to leave New York for Parrtown (Saint John) in 1783. Owing to the lateness of the season, his men were forced to spend the winter there in tents. A son, John, was born into the Ward family that cold December.

Ward left Parrtown in 1784 to settle in the area that became known as Wards Creek. Finding it too far from the commercial centre of what had become the province of New Brunswick, he soon returned to Parrtown. The first of his mercantile ventures was a wholesale liquor business, the Saint John pioneer in the West Indies liquor trade that brought so much prosperity to the city. Located at South Market Wharf, in the heart of the city’s commercial district, the firm soon expanded into general merchandise, to supply the needs of the ships that daily arrived at the Market Slip and the residents of the city who frequented the Market Square. Eventually, the company also moved into lumber milling and iron founding; one of its mills was situated at Point Wolfe, in present-day Fundy National Park.

On 21 Feb. 1812 Ward and five other businessmen successfully petitioned the House of Assembly for the exclusive right over ten years to operate steamboats between Saint John and the provincial capital of Fredericton. Their project was delayed because of war with the United States, but in 1816 the syndicate, now including Hugh Johnston*, succeeded in launching the General Smyth. The vessel sailed for the capital on 20 May, thus initiating the first steamer service on the Saint John. Subsequently, Ward was involved in other steamers that plied the river. In 1814 the firm of John Ward and Son (his eldest surviving son, Caleb, had joined the business) commissioned the first square-rigged vessel to be built at St Martins. Constructed under contract to James Moran, the 391-ton Waterloo was launched in 1815 and immediately set sail for Liverpool with a cargo of timber and staves. As an indication of his permanent interest in the shipbuilding area of St Martins, Ward had a house built in the region. In the 1830s and 1840s several of his firm’s ships were constructed by François-Lambert Bourneuf* of Clare, N.S. Ward’s company was evidently highly successful. It is believed that, at least for a short period around 1837, it controlled most of the property at South Market Wharf.

Ward was active in public life. In April 1799 he was elected an alderman for Saint John, a position he held until October 1809, when he won a seat in the provincial assembly for Saint John County and City. Returned to the house in 1816 and 1819, he sat until the dissolution of 1820; he then retired from politics. From 1827 to 1834 his son John would represent his father’s old constituency. The House of Assembly Journal does not reveal that Ward Sr made any notable contributions to its proceedings. There is no doubt, however, that he used his position to further the goals of his firm. For example, on 9 June 1818 he was appointed one of the commissioners for laying out the road from Loch Lomond to Quaco Bay, the site of his shipbuilding activities. In 1818 as well he was made a justice of the peace, and he eventually became the senior magistrate of the city and county of Saint John. He also served for almost 40 years as a commissioner for the Bay of Fundy lighthouses. His firm not only provided building and operating materials for the lighthouses but also administered the tenders on lighthouse contracts.

Ward had retained his interest in military affairs after arriving in New Brunswick. On 4 May 1793 he had been one of the founding officers of Saint John’s Loyal Company of Artillery, and on 12 Nov. 1806 he was promoted major. By August 1816 he had become commander of the 1st Battalion of the Saint John County militia. Later he commanded all the county militia, retiring on 23 June 1830.

Ward epitomized for his fellow citizens the traditional values of the loyalists. In recognition of his contributions to Saint John he was given the appellation “Father of the City,” and during the 50th and 60th celebrations of the landing of the loyalists he was treated as the guest of honour. After his death in August 1846 the New-Brunswick Courier carried a poem dedicated to him: “Accept this tribute from a bard, / Who deems it justly due – / Peace to thy Ashes, Father Ward – / Hear Patriarch, adieu.” Ward’s personal drive and determination were no doubt missed in the firm he had established for it did not last into the 1860s. Moreover, the prophecy of a writer in 1846 that his name would “descend unsullied to posterity, and be held in reverence by future generations” did not come true – John Ward is all but forgotten in Saint John today.

Harold E. Wright

City of Saint John, N.B., City Clerk’s Office, Common Council, minutes, 1785–1846 (mfm. at Saint John Regional Library). N.B. Museum, A15 (John Ward); A141 (John Ward, account-book, 1785–89); Ward family papers, packet 20, items 135, 139; packet 29, items 12, 16, 21–29. PANB, MC 1156; RG 4, RS24, S21-P16. N.B., House of Assembly, Journal, 1809–20. Winslow papers (Raymond). Morning News (Saint John), 7 Aug. 1846. New-Brunswick Courier, 8, 29 Aug. 1846. J. B. M. Baxter, Historical records of the New Brunswick Regiment, Canadian Artillery (Saint John, 1896). A. G. Finley, “The Morans of St. Martins, N.B., 1850–1880: toward an understanding of family participation in maritime enterprise,” The enterprising Canadians: entrepreneurs and economic development in eastern Canada, 1820–1914, ed. L. R. Fischer and E. W. Sager (St John’s, 1979), 37–54. G. [B.] MacBeath and D. F. Taylor, Steamboat days: an illustrated history of the steamboat era on the StJohn River, 1816–1946 (St Stephen[-Milltown], N.B., 1982). Richard Rice, “The Wrights of Saint John: a study of shipbuilding and shipowning in the Maritimes, 1839–1855,” Canadian business history; selected studies, 1497–1971, ed. D. S. Macmillan (Toronto, 1972), 317–37. T. W. Acheson, “The great merchant and economic development in St. John, 1820–1850,” Acadiensis (Fredericton), 8 (1978–79), no.2: 3–27. J. R. Harper, “St. Martins’ men build a ship in 1814,” American Neptune: a Quarterly Journal of Maritime Hist. (Salem, Mass.), 21 (1966): 279–91.

General Bibliography

Cite This Article

Harold E. Wright, “WARD, JOHN,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 7, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed October 2, 2023, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/ward_john_7E.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/ward_john_7E.html
Author of Article:   Harold E. Wright
Title of Article:   WARD, JOHN
Publication Name:   Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 7
Publisher:   University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication:   1988
Year of revision:   1988
Access Date:   October 2, 2023