John White (Frontenac County)

Last updated
John White
1st Treasurer of the Law Society of Upper Canada
In office
Preceded bynone
Succeeded by Robert Isaac Dey Gray
Personal details
Born Hicks Hall, Middlesex, England
Died(1800-01-04)January 4, 1800
York, Upper Canada
ProfessionLawyer, politician, government minister

John White ( c. 1761 January 4, 1800) was a lawyer and politician in Upper Canada. He was the first Attorney General for Upper Canada. He wrote and was responsible for the legislation of the new Province, which stemmed from the partition of Quebec in the Constitutional Act of 1791. His Act to limit slavery, which relied on Christian argument, was the first such enactment ever in the world.


Early life and journey to Upper Canada

He was born at Hicks Hall, Middlesex, England the son of John White. [1]

He studied at the Inner Temple in London and was called to the bar in 1785. He was recommended to William Osgoode by his friend and brother-in-law Samuel Shepherd as a possible attorney general for Upper Canada and was appointed in 1791. Samuel Shepherd had married his sister, Elizabeth White in 1783. [2]

He arrived in 1792 at Kingston, where he was elected to the 1st Parliament of Upper Canada as the member for Leeds & Frontenac. He moved to Newark (Niagara-on-the-Lake), where the government was located in September of the same year.

Later life and death

As attorney general for the province, he wrote the bill in 1793 which barred the introduction of additional slaves, and the legislation which established trial by jury, district courts and Court of the King's Bench. White played an important role in founding the Law Society of Upper Canada in 1797 and was its first treasurer. [3] Legislation passed during the first four years of his tenure includes: [4]

The introduction and passage of the 1793 act against slavery was not without opposition. Four of the original sixteen members of the Legislative Assembly were slave owners: John McDonell, Hazelton Spencer, Peter Van Alstine and David William Smith, and a significant number of landowners. Nine members of the Legislative Council, some of whom were also Executive Councillors, were slave owners or members of slave-owning families. [6] White wrote that there was "much opposition but little argument" to his bill.

As a result of an affair with the wife of John Small, the clerk of the Executive Council of Upper Canada, White was challenged by Small to a duel in York on January 2, 1800. He was shot and died 2 days later. He lived beyond his means and was often in debt, and his estate went unsettled for 37 years. [7]

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Preceded by
Attorney General of Upper Canada
Succeeded by
Robert Isaac Dey Gray - acting AG
Preceded by
Treasurer of the Law Society of Upper Canada
Succeeded by
Robert Isaac Dey Gray