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John Hamilton Gray

Photograph of Colonel John Hamilton Gray, Prince Edward Island


Colonel John Hamilton Gray, Prince Edward Island

(June 14, 1811 - August 13, 1887)

John Hamilton Gray of Prince Edward Island was one of two men by that name involved in the Confederation Conferences. He spent most of his life serving in the British and Canadian militaries. However, he is best known for his political career, particularly as premier of Prince Edward Island at the time of the Charlottetown Conference.

John Hamilton Gray's Loyalist father settled in Nova Scotia and later moved to Prince Edward Island where he became involved in public affairs. Gray's early education on the Island was followed by schooling in England, where he joined the 7th Dragoon Guards. He served for over two decades, including duties in India and South Africa. Gray was a father of children through two marriages; first with Susan Pennefather, who died in 1866, and then with Sarah Caroline Cambridge.

In 1852, Gray returned to Prince Edward Island. He soon became involved in politics and was appointed to the Legislative Council in 1854. The outbreak of the Crimean War in the same year caused Gray to resume his military service. After the war, he continued his political endeavours, especially as an advocate for Protestant interests. He was successful in the elections of 1858 and 1859, which focused on the relationship between religion and school curriculum, an issue that divided the Island's Protestant and Roman Catholic communities.

Gray joined the Protestant government that came to power under Edward Palmer in 1859. The government soon became preoccupied with issues related to the Island's absentee landlords. A commission was appointed to address the matter, but the resulting legislation -- which attempted to advance the rights of tenants -- failed to attract the support of the British government.

When Gray replaced Palmer as the government leader in 1863, he came to regard colonial union as a way to empower the Island on land issues. When the Charlottetown Conference was convened to consider union options, Gray was chosen as the Conference chairperson. However, most Islanders were against union, and Gray's views were generally opposed by his fellow Island delegates.

Gray persisted with his support at the Québec Conference, but ultimately sided with his colleagues who felt the Québec Resolutions did not allow sufficient representation for Prince Edward Island in the proposed system of government. The lack of popular support for Confederation, together with the serious illness of his wife, Susan, led Gray to resign in 1864.

When he attempted to revive his political career in 1867, he lost the local nomination to David Laird. In the election of 1873 he met with similar misfortune, and instead accepted an appointment as the district's deputy adjutant general. By that time Gray had already served for many years as the Island's commanding officer of the volunteer brigade and as adjutant general of the Island's militia. This public contribution as a military leader, rather than as a Father of Confederation, was regarded as Gray's foremost distinction for many years after his death.


Weale, David E. -- "Gray, John Hamilton". -- Dictionary of Canadian biography online [online]. -- [Cited December 13, 2004]. -- Access: