John Murray Bliss, a renowned lawyer, colonial administrator, judge, and politician, was born on February 22, 1771, in Massachusetts. He was the sole child of Daniel Bliss and Isabella (Isabel) Murray and had two sons and four daughters of his own.
His father, Daniel, was a distinguished lawyer and loyalist in Massachusetts who relocated to New Brunswick with his family after being named to the inaugural provincial council in 1784. John’s maternal grandfather, Colonel John Murray, was another esteemed lawyer and was named a councillor in Massachusetts, though he never took the oath. In 1797, John married his first cousin, Sarah Green Upham, whose father, Judge Joshua Upham, was another member of the New Brunswick Council. Their son, George Pidgeon Bliss, married the daughter of Thomas Wetmore, New Brunswick’s Attorney General, in 1819. By the 1820s, the Bliss, Murray, Upham, and Wetmore families had intermingled and formed a network of loyalist families, with John Murray Bliss as the recognized patriarch.
John Murray Bliss pursued law studies in the offices of Jonathan Sewell and Jonathan Bliss. He was admitted to the bar in 1792 and launched his practice in Fredericton. In 1794, he accepted the position of judge advocate to the forces in New Brunswick, a post he held for nearly two decades. Despite his fiery temper in his youth, which led him to a duel with Samuel Denny Street in 1800, Bliss managed to establish an extensive legal practice.
After his father died, Bliss acquired the family estate in Lincoln, and completed the construction of Belmont, said to be the finest house in the colony.
In 1798, Bliss took command of a militia company and served as a major when the militia was incorporated in 1808. During the War of 1812, he served as provincial aide-de-camp to the administrator and commander of the forces, Major-General George Stracey Smyth. He succeeded Ward Chipman as solicitor general in 1809, and two years later, he became clerk of the House of Assembly. Although his initial run for a seat in the assembly in 1809 was unsuccessful, he was later elected in a by-election in York County and joined the house on January 26, 1814.
Bliss was appointed to the Council on May 17, 1816, and reluctantly accepted the position of an assistant judge of the Supreme Court on July 9, filling a vacancy left by the death of Edward Winslow. Over the next two decades, due to the frequent absences of other judges and their unwillingness to travel on circuit, Bliss shouldered an unusually large portion of the Supreme Court’s workload.
From February 21, 1824, until the arrival of Sir Howard Douglas on August 28, Bliss also served as the administrator of New Brunswick. His most contentious decision was to remove George Shore from his posts as surveyor general, receiver general, and auditor general, and to install his son, George Pidgeon Bliss, in those positions. While Douglas couldn’t confirm the appointment, he managed to appease Bliss by convincing London authorities to make the younger Bliss the receiver general. However, Bliss’s influence began to wane in the 1830s, especially after judges were excluded from the Council in 1831. Despite applying for the position of chief justice in 1834, he was overlooked in favour of the younger Ward Chipman.
Later that year Bliss died while on a visit to Saint John; he was buried in the old Public Burial Ground in Fredericton. According to the cemetery map, this is all that’s left of his gravestone.
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