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Peter Mitchell

Photograph of the Honourable Peter Mitchell, July 1869


Hon. Peter Mitchell, July 1869

(January 4, 1824 - October 24, 1899)

Peter Mitchell was a determined public figure and a vital supporter of Confederation in New Brunswick. Colleagues and opponents alike respected Mitchell as a skilled communicator and a man of resolute political convictions. However, these same qualities often alienated friends and encouraged foes, and in part overshadowed Mitchell's early achievements.

Peter Mitchell was born and educated in Newcastle, New Brunswick. He pursued a career in law and was called to the bar in 1849. By that time he had established a partnership with John Mercer Johnson, who would later participate with Mitchell in the Confederation conferences. Mitchell was also involved in several business ventures, including a shipbuilding business that launched over two dozen ships by 1868. In 1853 he married Isabella Gough, and they had one daughter.

Mitchell ran for election in Northumberland, New Brunswick in 1852. He lost that contest, but won the seat in 1856. Mitchell joined the Executive Council in 1859, but decided not to run in the election of 1861, instead taking a position in the New Brunswick Legislative Council.

In 1861 and 1862, Mitchell participated in discussions regarding the intercolonial railway, held in Québec City, and returned to advocate Confederation at the Québec Conference in 1864. Following the resignation of Samuel Leonard Tilley's government that same year, Mitchell remained in the Legislative Council, and collaborated with Lieutenant-Governor Arthur Hamilton Gordon on a compromise between supporters and opponents of Confederation.

Gordon chose Mitchell and Robert Duncan Wilmot to form a new government in 1866. With Mitchell as premier of New Brunswick, the tide of support for Confederation turned. He participated in the London Conference, and in 1867 was appointed to the Canadian Senate as well as becoming the minister of marine and fisheries. His responsibilities included dealing with American fishing vessels that continued to operate according to the Reciprocity Treaty, although it had lapsed in 1866. Mitchell authorized Canadian vessels to seize the American ships, and the resulting diplomatic tension was only resolved by the Treaty of Washington in 1871.

In 1872 Mitchell once again became the representative of Northumberland, this time in the Canadian Parliament. Following the Pacific Scandal he declared his political independence and launched a hostile personal campaign against John A. Macdonald. Following a conflict of interest scandal, Mitchell lost his seat in 1878. His general sense of dissatisfaction with Macdonald, including his opposition to the treatment of Louis Riel, became a central feature of his public statements, many of which appeared in the Montreal Herald, which he bought in 1885. Mitchell regained the Northumberland seat in 1882 and 1887, but lost in the elections of 1891 and 1896. In his last years Mitchell was appointed as general inspector of fisheries for Quebec and the Maritimes, a post he held until his death in 1899.


Spray, W. A. -- "Mitchell, Peter". -- Dictionary of Canadian biography online [online]. -- [Cited December 13, 2004]. -- Access: