Joshua Mauger, colonial entrepreneur, sea captain, politician (baptized 25 April 1725 in the parish of St. John, Jersey; died 18 October 1788 at Warborne, near Lymington, England). Mauger was one of Nova Scotia’s wealthiest and most influential merchants in the 18th century. Although he only spent 11 years in the colony, he exerted significant power in its business and politics for two decades after. His complex involvement with Nova Scotia underscores the bonds of subservience and influence that hindered the colony’s early development. Mauger also enslaved Black people and built a significant portion of his business empire on the labour of enslaved people.
Joshua Mauger was born on the English Channel island of Jersey to Josué Mauger and Sarah Le Couteur. His uncle, Matthew Mauger, was captain of a merchant ship based in Poole, England. In his youth, Joshua Mauger sailed aboard his uncle’s ship. By the age of 18, he had become a sea captain in his own right.
Emigration to LouisbourgIn the late 1740s, Joshua Mauger left for North America. He settled in the town of Louisbourg on Cape Breton Island. New England militia had recently captured this strategic post from the French with support from the British Royal Navy. As victualler for the navy in Louisbourg, Mauger managed the force’s supply of provisions.
Career in HalifaxJoshua Mauger moved to Halifax in 1749, the British having returned Louisbourg to the French after the War of the Austrian Succession. He soon came into conflict with Nova Scotia’s governor, Edward Cornwallis, for trading with the French at Louisbourg.
In 1751, Mauger built a rum distillery near Halifax. Over the next several years, he evolved his position as navy victualler into a commercial and property empire. Mauger became Halifax’s largest shipowner, building vessels and plying the coastal and West Indies trade. He traded in rum, lumber, imported goods and fish. He was also an enslaver who bought and sold Black people from the West Indies.
Joshua Mauger and enslavement
The newspaper ad below from the 30 May 1752 edition of the Halifax Gazette announces Mauger’s auction of six enslaved Black people. Mauger also enslaved people to work on his ships. North American distilleries such as his made rum from molasses produced by people enslaved on West Indian plantations. Halifax was a major port through which enslaved people and the goods they produced passed. (See also Black Enslavement in Canada.)
During the Seven Years’ War, Mauger invested in privateers (privately owned ships licensed for war service) and bought captured French ships. He also served as an agent for British navy personnel who captured enemy ships off Cape Breton.
In 1760, after 11 years in Halifax, Joshua Mauger settled in England. He remained involved in Nova Scotia’s business and politics. In 1762–63, he served as the colony’s agent in London on behalf of the Nova Scotia House of Assembly. In 1763, he helped obtain land along the Saint John River for a group of settlers from New England. They repaid his efforts by naming their settlement Maugerville.
His Halifax rum distillery produced 50,000 gallons (190,000 litres) annually by 1766. In a colony dependent on rum revenue, Mauger’s position was pre-eminent. From England, he used agents and his own influence to protect his Nova Scotian interests and undermine the colonial administration. He campaigned for the removal of governors Jonathan Belcher, Lord William Campbell and Francis Legge. All three men tried to limit the power that Mauger and several other Halifax merchants held in the colony. Neither Belcher nor Legge governed for more than three years before being removed by the British Board of Trade.
In 1768, Mauger was elected to Britain’s parliament in the constituency of Poole. He held that seat until 1780.
He began to sell his Nova Scotia properties and business interests in 1779. In 1784, he sold his distillery.
When Mauger died in 1788, he was an Elder Brother of Trinity House, a British corporation chartered to regulate the piloting of ships and to support elderly mariners. He was also a director of the French Hospital in London, which cared for Huguenots (French Protestants) who had fled persecution on mainland Europe.