Christian Father of Confederation – Samuel Leonard Tilley

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Samuel Leonard Tilley (NB) 1818-1886

He exhibited the dominion mandate to subdue the earth by bringing order out of chaos; exercised good stewardship; managed people and resources; was fruitful and multiplied with children; had a positive trade impact through ethical business practices; exercised marital faithfulness;  exhibited the character qualities that Peter describes in 2 Peter 1: 5-9 – virtuous, knowledgeable, self-controlled, steadfast, Godly, and showing brotherly kindness and love.

Personal Life

  • Descended from United Empire Loyalists on both sides of his family. As a pharmacist, he went into business as a druggist.
  • Son of an entrepreneur, he was born in Gagetown, New Brunswick. His father Thomas Morgan Tilley was a storekeeper. His mother was Susan Ann Peters.
  • At age 13 (1831)  he went to live in Portland NB with relatives while apprenticing as a druggist in Saint John.
  • In May 1838, (20 y/o) became a certified pharmacist.  Went into partnership with a cousin, Thomas W. Peters, to open Peters and Tilley, “Cheap Drug Store!”
  • (25 years old) On May 16, 1843 he married Julia Ann Hanford in Saint John, New Brunswick; they had eight children. Hanford died in 1862, leaving Tilley a widower. (44 y/o)
  • In 1848 at (30 y/o), Peters retired and it became Tilley’s Drug Store, one of the more successful commercial operations in the city.
  • At (42 y/o) – 1860 politics had taken over Tilley’s life, however, and he sold the business.
  • (49 y/o) On October 22, 1867, then Minister of Customs in Canada’s first Federal cabinet, he married Alice Starr Chipman in St. Stephen, New Brunswick – the daughter of ship owner (The Cedars) Zachariah Chipman and his wife Mary Eliza. The couple had two sons Herbert Chipman Tilley, born September 6, 1868, and Leonard Percy DeWolfe Tilley

Social Issues

  • Entered politics as an activist in the temperance movement which grew out of his religious convictions.
  • At age 21 (1839) he was moved by a sermon of the Reverend William Harrison influenced a vibrant faith rooted in Scripture. That influenced his social activism which dominated his entire life.
  • He taught Sunday school, eventually became a churchwarden, and was a committee member of the Saint John Religious Tract Society.
  • By 1844 (age 26)  Tilley was on the committee of the Portland Total Abstinence Society, working for legislation that would enforce prohibition.March 8 1847, (29 y/o) a branch of the American temperance movement called ‘The Sons of Temperance’ was established with Tilley on the executive.
  • By 1854, (36 y/o) he held the highest position in the movement. It is said of him that even though he was passionate of the issue he was not a fanatic.  
  • Family and faith held primary importance in his life. His passion for the temperance movement was eventually replaced by his passion for politics.

Intellectual and other Social Pursuits

  • 1842 at (24 y/o) he became the treasurer of Saint John Young Men’s Debating Society.
  • He also joined the Saint John Mechanics’ Institute and was charged with with the responsibility for cleaning up their financial mess. This influenced other positions where financial management was important.

The Call for Responsible Government

  • In 1848 at (30 y/o) he became an advocate for responsible government due to a recession affecting the colonies, partially caused by Britain‘s economic policies.  .
  • He also became a founding committee member of the Railway League. Their premise hinged on the saying: “Whoever labours for the introduction of Railways . . . is working for humanity – for progress – and for the highest good of his race.” This influenced railway expansion to link Eastern and Western  Canada.
  • On 28 July 1849 (31 y/o) that league, in turn, became the nucleus of the New-Brunswick Colonial Association. Tilley became the treasurer and a member of the rules committee.
  • When he was 32 y/o (1850), he was nominated and ran successfully, in the provincial election, with the support of the New Brunswick Colonial Association.  On nomination day it was said of him that he was “a steady and zealous advocate of all the leading measures of reform.”
  • In the assembly he championed temperance by presenting several petitions in favour of making liquor dealers “responsible for any injury arising out of the traffic.” His skill with figures put him on a committee to study contingency expenses.
  • He attacked the inherited and acquired privileges of the wealthy upper class, but  was against giving the vote to men who did not own property.
  • He was a member of that new class of successful New Brunswickers who, while not democratic, rejected the loyalist tradition of obedience to established authority. His position was that “A Government that trampled upon the rights ceded to the Colonies, did not command the respect of a free people”.  This position was almost successful in the attempt to force the resignation of the Executive Council in the spring of 1851.
  • For Tilley, politics, religion, and temperance were so closely interwoven that he was committed to them all with the same intensity. He was instrumental in having a prohibition act passed in 1852 because of his untiring work for temperance.  

Influence in Education and Public Works

The New Brunswick Colonial Association,also advocated for the colony’s own control over its public expenses, the establishment of a public school system, government control of public works, and “honest government” in general.

Political History

  • He was first elected to the New Brunswick Assembly as a Liberal in 1850 (32 y/o).
  • He sat in opposition until 1854 (34 y/o) when, as part of the Reformers they won the election. Tilley became Provincial Secretary in the government of Charles Fisher.
  • He attended each of the Charlottetown, London, and Quebec City Conferences as a supporter of Canadian Confederation.
  • He served as premier of the colony of New Brunswick from 1861(43-47 y/o) until his government was defeated in the election of 1865.
  • As premier, he supported the New Brunswick’s entry into Confederation and the construction of an intercolonial railway.
  • A common tale states that Tilley was the originator of the word “Dominion” in Canada’s name. The Fathers of confederation had been discussing what to prefix Canada with, Kingdom of Canada being Macdonald’s preference.
  • It is said that ‘during morning devotions, in St Andrew’s in the backyard of his cousin, Tilley read Psalm 72:8, which states “He shall have dominion also from sea to sea, and from the river unto the ends of the earth”, and presented this inspiration to the others, being as their ambition was to stretch the new nation to the Pacific Ocean and from the St Lawrence River to the North Pole.’  While “Dominion” had been used before, Tilley pushed hard for it to be adopted in reference to Canada, despite Macdonald’s preference.
  • The term led to the naming of the July 1 national holiday; however, this reference to a unique Canadian historical development was discarded in 1982 when “Canada Day”, was made official by an act of Parliament.
  • Tilley entered federal politics with Confederation in 1867 and served in the federal Macdonald Cabinet as Minister of Customs. He became Minister of Finance in 1873 and served until the defeat of the government later that year.
  • He was appointed the fourth Lieutenant Governor of New Brunswick in 1873 (55 y/o) and served until 1878.
  • When Macdonald’s Tories returned to power in 1878 (60 y/0), Tilley again became minister of finance and served until his retirement from politics in 1885 when he was appointed the seventh Lieutenant Governor of New Brunswick.

See Tilley’s family’s legacy here:


Canada Portraits of: Faith – Michael D Clarke  pg 61


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