John Adolphus Beckwith, engineer, businessman, civil servant, and politician; b. 1 Dec. 1800 at Fredericton, one of six children of Nehemiah Beckwith and Julie-Louise Le Brun; d. 23 Nov. 1880 at Fredericton.
The son of a well-known early settler, John Adolphus Beckwith was educated at Fredericton grammar school and in Montreal and Quebec, and became a professional surveyor and engineer.
Beckwith’s career was long and active. He and his brother were in partnership in the lumber firm of J. A. and F. E. Beckwith, which was moderately successful until ruined in the depression of the 1830s. He served as deputy surveyor in the Crown Lands Office until 1840 when he became first clerk in the audit office, a position he held until 1860. In 1860 he became commissioner, or manager, of the New Brunswick and Nova Scotia Land Company – a speculative company, organized by Thomas Baillie to sell colonial lands especially in York County, N.B. Beckwith held this position until his death, when his son Harry succeeded him, and was “more familiar with the business of the Crown Land department probably than anyone who has occupied a seat in the Provincial Government.”
From his youth John Beckwith was interested in the militia, and rose to the rank of major in command of a battalion of the 1st York Battery (1860), but then resigned resentfully when Lemuel Allan Wilmot was promoted colonel over him. In 1846 Beckwith began an association with the York County Agricultural Society and remained a member until his death; he received much of the credit for its vitality. In the Orange order he was at one time the most worthy grand master for New Brunswick. As a sportsman Beckwith excelled in wrestling, boxing, and skating, and he was called “the father of cricket in New Brunswick.”
Except for an unsuccessful attempt to enter the House of Assembly in the election of 1830, Beckwith, considered a “strong conservative,” was not involved in politics for the first 60 years of his life. His entry into it was at the municipal level in Fredericton where he served frequently on the council and was twice mayor. In the confederation election of 1866 Beckwith was elected to the Legislative Assembly as a supporter of union, and when the provincial government was reorganized in 1867 he was named provincial secretary and registrar of the province by the government leader Andrew Rainsford Wetmore. He held this position until 1871 when he was one of the members of the Executive Council eliminated in the realignment over the New Brunswick School Law. In 1874 he was appointed to the Legislative Council. Never an exciting man, nor an innovator, Beckwith passed his life as a dull, but competent, public servant, and in his later years was “a sort of an Encyclopaedia” on the old days of Fredericton.
John Adolphus Beckwith is buried in the Forest Hill Cemetery in Fredericton.
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