New Brunswick in mid-century

Loyalist fervour provided the guiding ethos for the British colony of New Brunswick. From its earliest political beginnings as an excised appendage of Nova Scotia, New Brunswick drew its population from Loyalist regiments and their families who fled the rebellious colonies after the preliminary peace settlements of January 1783 that concluded the American Revolutionary War. Although these Loyalist immigrants from the eastern seaboard claimed primary responsibility for New Brunswick's official detachment from Nova Scotia in 1784 and the creation of a new government the following year, they did not find the colony empty when they arrived. New Englanders occupied farmsteads in the Saint John Valley following the Seven Years' War; along the northern and eastern shores, Acadians clung tenaciously to the land in defiance of the deportation of 1755. Yet while New Brunswick was never homogeneous, its political roots can be clearly traced to the expelled American Loyalists.

Loyalist principles motivated many New Brunswickers for the first half-century and, with the exception of a Roman Catholic Acadian population far removed from the enclaves of Loyalist and New England descendants and a modest number of Irish- Catholic immigrants, various Protestant denominations predomi- nated. Emigration from Creat Britain buttressed these trends. English, Scots, and Irish-Protestants made their way to the colony in search of an improved life within the British imperial frame- work. Moreover, New Brunswick retained strong economic link- ages to the Mother Country; a timber colony, it depended almost entirely on a single export staple. Britain 'farmed' the rich New Brunswick hinterland. A system of preferences and taxes on foreign imports protected the raw material and allowed the fledgling colony to compete with closer and more sophisticated European competitors. In short, New Brunswick's political, eco- nomic, and social eyes remained firmly focused on England. The population concentrated on timber exports and attempted to establish a viable agricultural economy, the descendants of Loyal- ists and New Englanders ran the political institutions based upon the English model, and modest numbers of immigrants from Great Britain reinforced the relatively homogeneous Anglo-Saxon and Protestant population.'

Yet as the mid-nineteenth century approached, New Brunswick found itself immersed in a tumultuous period that rocked its economic and social foundations. The forces that shaped this part of the colony's history came largely from outside the province. New Brunswick's timber staple economy, never a passive child, grew to maturity and faced severe exploitation and a withdrawal of preferences in the 18403 as Britain embraced free trade. More- over, the colony grappled with the transition from a pre-modern, staple economy to merchant capitalism and diversification. These economically oriented problems, thoroughly intertwined by mid- century, created the arena for social upheaval. The dramatic increase in the numbers of Celtic-Catholics in the 1840s provided the catalyst for social conflict.

New Brunswick's economic existence during its first fifty years can be attributed primarily to the cutting, processing, and ship- ping of a single staple commodity - timber. Prior to mid-century, the province might be best characterized as a pre-industrial hin- terland with a few modest urban centres. Processing and moving a badly needed product to Great Britain became its primary funcfion. Although farmers gamely settled the most promising regions, the generally poor soil and short growing season handi- capped agricultural diversification. Thus, during the 18403 the Colony remained married to the staple trade, and as a result it continued to be a pawn to Britsih commercial markets. New Brunswick's pecuniary star rose and fell according to fickle British tradings; one historian observed that the boom and bust economy of England forced the province to dance like a "gigantic bandalore" to the tunes of unpredictable mercentilism.

New Brunswick entered the 1840's as a scarred veteran of the timber trade wars. As early as 1800, the colony provided masts and spars to the vitorious British navy. Wartime tarriffs helped the province stay afloat during the Napoleanic conflict and afterwards a series of preferences supported the industry until 1842. Overall, New Brunswick enjoyed moderate growth during this period. Yet its economy was not immune to cyclical swings; 1819, 1825 and 1837 brought sharp downturns due to bankruptcies and finnacial panic to Great Britain. From 1825 to mid century, NB's timber trade struggled against a mounting danger of collapsing. Entrepeneurs scrambled to protect their investments and stake out regional monopolies. Tragically, their myopic practices contributed to an economic (decline). By the 1840's agricultural output stagnated and alternative export markets remained essentially unexplored. A half century had witnessed negligible changes in New Brunswick's economy; it still depended on the farming of timber strands, which fell prey to the lumberman's ax at an alarming pace.

An increasingly sharp delineation between employers and employees contributed to New Brunswick's general lack of economic diversification. A select group of entrepeneurs emerges i9n the 1830's as the dominant force in the staple economy. Aided by rising costs, a fragile market and prohibitive licence fees, large operators squeezed out smaller and poorer individual cutters. Lumber titans such as Northumberland County's Joseph Cunard and Alexander Rankin actively exploited their political connections to protect their interests. This helped to intensify and solidify the colony's focus upon a single staple. Except for providing the capital for forward linkages such as indigenous shipbuilding enterprise. New Brunswick's entrepeneurs contributed little to the colony's economic diversification.

1840 ushered in NB's worst economic decade. The hungry forties became a grim reality for tiny New Brunswick. Bad news loomed on the horizon in 1841 as Great Britain's investment capital shifted from the lumber industry to the more lucrative cotton trade in the US and southern colonies. England's Prime Minister Robert Peel, exaserbated the situation in 1842 when he altered Britain's course towards free trade in an attempt to combat soaring defecits. England's legislators responded by lowering or dropping tariffs on foreign timber and increasing colonial duties. (This) News rocked NB's financial community, leading to the deep depression of 1842-3. T add to the pall, Saint John and Portland suffered from devistating fires in their business districts in 1837, 1839 and 1841.

Panic spread among New Brunswickers. Decades of indsicreet cutting practices, caused by timber barons who sough short term profits, had undermined the very source of New Brunswick's lufe blood.

The second half of the 1840's compounded the financial turmoil. The years were marked by an anemic economy.