The John T. Williston House is situated in the historic Water Street District of Miramichi. Completed in 1824, it is among the oldest structures in the region. Mason Andrew Currie constructed this Georgian-style building, which exemplifies the homes of distinguished citizens from that era.
The house has also functioned as a public building. After being purchased by the Crown in 1872, it underwent renovations and served as the Customs House, Post Office, and Dominion Savings Bank. In 1982, a group of dedicated citizens, in collaboration with three levels of government, saved the building from neglect and restored it. It received protection under the Historic Sites Protection Act of New Brunswick in 1999.
John T. Williston, a well-regarded businessman, is perhaps best known for his involvement in the tumultuous elections of 1843. At 51 years old, he campaigned for the House of Assembly. Elections during this time were often chaotic due to the lack of a secret ballot until 1852.
Voting transpired at various county locations on different days, and whether a person could cast their vote often depended on their allegiance and the presence of supporters from the opposition. Intimidation was commonly employed.
On December 1, 1842, the House of Assembly dissolved, and William Odell called for a new Assembly to be elected by January 14, 1843. In Miramichi, the contenders for the two seats were Alexander Rankin, John Ambrose Street, and newcomer John T. Williston. Rankin was expected to retain his position, so the real contest was between Williston and Street.
Following pre-election violence, Williston triumphed over Street on January 8, 1843. Street contested his loss, and the bickering persisted until 45 people claimed they had been forcibly prevented from voting for him. Williston’s seat was declared vacant in March, and a by-election was scheduled for July 17th.
The conflict escalated, with Williston backed by Joseph Cunard and his workers, while Street had the support of Alexander Rankin and his employees. The north and south sides of the river were pitted against each other.
The Williston party, comprised of around 300 people, aimed to intimidate their opponents but were met with resistance from the Rankin supporters. The conflict left up to 40 individuals injured, and James Ryan, a respected tavern owner, died from his wounds.
On the election day in Chatham, tensions were high, but the day remained uneventful due to the overwhelming number of Cunard supporters. John Ambrose Street was elected and served in the House of Assembly until 1850.
The fighting election left the county in disarray, and hostility persisted for years. Subsequent elections were carefully managed to avoid similar incidents. John T. Williston was eventually elected to the House of Assembly in 1850, but lost in 1854. That same year, he was appointed Deputy Treasurer of Customs, a position he held until his death in 1865.
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