WIGHTMAN, JOSEPH, farmer, shipbuilder, merchant, office-holder, and politician; b. in 1806 in Dumfriesshire, Scotland, son of John Wightman and Margaret Ray Armstrong; m. 16 Jan. 1838 Margaret McDonald (Macdonald), and they had six sons and three daughters; d. 6 Feb. 1887 at Lower Montague, P.E.I.
Joseph Wightman attended school in Dumfries, receiving a university-level education at its Lockerby Academy. In 1823 he immigrated with his parents and sister to Prince Edward Island where they settled at St Andrew Point (Wightmans Point) in Lot 59, Kings County. They leased 179 acres of land from Sir James Montgomery, a major land-owner on the Island. In 1857 they purchased the property freehold, and later that year added an adjoining six acres. By the time of his death Wightman owned 34 properties.
One of the main crops grown successfully by Wightman was black oats; in fact he was so successful that on 4 March 1848 he won the premium for that grain at the Eastern Agricultural Society Grain Show held in Georgetown, P.E.I. The oats were shipped to England, a profitable venture, especially during the Crimean War. He also sold produce to American fishing vessels which came to the Island for supplies. On the executive council of the Royal Agricultural Society, Wightman, while in the legislature, was instrumental in having generous grants passed in 1856, 1857, and 1858 for the establishment of a model farm by the society to upgrade the quality of livestock and to experiment with seed grains. According to the 1861 census, Wightman produced the most grain, cheese, butter, lime, fish oil, and cloth in Lot 59, and owned numerous horses, cattle, and sheep.
In 1824 the family also reopened the fishing station established over 50 years earlier by David Higgins*, the original proprietor in the area. Wightman became active in fishing and its related industries, shipbuilding and merchandising. Vessels built in his own yard during the 1830s to 1860s were used to transport white pine and juniper to Great Britain. He was, as well, involved in the coastal trade. During the 1830s Wightman opened a general store near his homestead, St Andrew Point, and he and his father ran a tavern. He also operated two other stores: the first established in the 1840s at Georgetown and the second during the 1860s at Montague Bridge (Montague).
By the 1830s Wightman had also begun to participate in the community affairs of his area. In 1832 he was one of five commissioners appointed to oversee the planning and erection of a new building in Georgetown to house both a court-house and jail. The following year he was one of three commissioners nominated to the local board of health and he was promoted to the rank of captain in the militia, eventually retiring as a lieutenant-colonel. Wightman also served as a justice of the peace in the district and in 1849 he was high sheriff of Kings County.
An eloquent orator, Wightman possessed a reputation for honesty, diligence, and business acumen. This repute served him in good stead in 1838 when he was first elected to the House of Assembly for Kings, 2nd District. In 1842 he was elected in Kings, 3rd District, and held the seat until the summer of 1858 when he was elected in the newly created 4th District. Wightman did not sit in the house from 1862 to 1866, perhaps because two of his sons were killed in action in the American Civil War, but in 1867 he was elected for Kings, 3rd District, and in 1870 and 1873 for Kings, 4th District. Wightman was a supporter of the Liberal party throughout his political career.
Soon after entering the assembly, Wightman introduced a bill to improve the Island’s electoral laws. He chaired several committees in the house, including one for the establishment of Prince of Wales College, and occasionally prepared addresses to the lieutenant governor from the assembly. During the 1854–59 Liberal government of George Coles*, Wightman was a member of the Executive Council, apparently without portfolio. In 1860 a land commission was appointed to settle the question of tenure [see Edward Palmer]. Wightman led a delegation from lots 59, 61, 63, and 64 in Kings County to the hearings. He informed the members that the people had a “bitter antipathy towards the rent-paying system” and “would dispose of almost the last article they possess to become freeholders.”
Speaker of the House of Assembly from 1867 to 1870 and in 1872, Wightman was also commissioner of crown lands in 1872 and 1873. He entered the Legislative Council the following year, winning a by-election in Kings, 2nd District, and kept the seat in the general election in October of 1874. In 1876 and 1877 Wightman served as president, or speaker, of the council. While still a member of the Legislative Council, he re-entered the Executive Council in March 1879, this time in the coalition government of the Liberal-Conservative William Wilfred Sullivan*. He served on the executive until 1882 but because of illness did not choose to run in the general election held in that year.
Wightman possessed a shrewd business mind and an extraordinary ability to communicate. For more than 40 years he was a leading legislator on the Island. He lived in a time of adverse conditions yet he continually demonstrated perseverance and courage in dealing with problems and trials.
P.E.I., Registry Office (Charlottetown), Township ledgers, liber 21: f.30 (mfm. at PAPEI). PAPEI, Prince Edward Island shipping registers, 1787–1824 (mfm.); RG 5, Minutes, 1854–59; RG 16, Land registry records, Conveyance registers, liber 43: f.535; liber 45: f.16; Land title docs., Lot 53, leases. Abstract of the proceedings before the Land Commissioners’ Court, held during the summer of 1860, to inquire into the differences relative to the rights of landowners and tenants in Prince Edward Island, reporters J. D. Gordon and David Laird (Charlottetown, 1862). Duncan Campbell, History of Prince Edward Island (Charlottetown, 1875; repr. Belleville, Ont., 1972). Journeys to the Island of St. John or Prince Edward Island, 1775–1832, ed. D. C. Harvey (Toronto, 1955). Map of Prince Edward Island, in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, comprising the latest topographical information afforded by the Surveyor Generals Office and other authentic sources . . . , comp. George Wright and H. J. Cundall (Charlottetown, 1859). P.E.I., House of Assembly, Journal, 1839–72; Legislative Council, Journal, 1872–82. A plan of the Island of St. John in the province of Nova Scotia . . . , comp. Samuel Holland (n.p., 1765). A plan of the Island of St. John with the divisions of the counties, parishes & the lots as granted by government . . . , comp. Samuel Holland (London, 1775). George Sutherland, A manual of the geography and natural and civil history of Prince Edward Island . . . (Charlottetown, 1861). Haszard’s Gazette (Charlottetown), 1852. Patriot (Charlottetown), 1876. Royal Gazette (Charlottetown), 1827, 1832–34, 1841, 1855, 1861. Weekly Recorder of Prince Edward Island (Charlottetown), 1810–12. Canadian biog. dict., II: 750. CPC, 1880. Illustrated historical atlas of the province of Prince Edward Island . . . , comp. J. H. Meacham (Philadelphia and Charlottetown, 1880; repr. Belleville, 1972). Place-names of Prince Edward Island with meanings, comp. Robert Douglas (Ottawa, 1925). MacKinnon, Government of P.E.I., 212.