William Teel Baird

William BairdPhoto: Seventy Years of New Brunswick Life
William Baird
Photo: Seventy Years of New Brunswick Life

Lt. Col. William Teel Baird (pharmacist, military officer, and author) was born in 1819 in Fredericton, New Brunswick. He was the son of Annie (Diggin) and John Baird, who was a teacher and a soldier. On 6 January 1842, in Woodstock, New Brunswick, Baird married Sarah Ann Shea, the mother of his six children. Baird died 23 February 1897 in Woodstock, New Brunswick, where he spent the majority of his life.

John Baird, William’s father, came to New Brunswick in 1817 with a British military regiment. He taught school in Fredericton for many years. Lt. Col. Baird spent most of his early life in Fredericton, although he also lived part of his early years in the upper Saint John River area where his father had cleared a small plot of land. In 1825, the Baird family moved back to Fredericton, a welcome move as young William then had unlimited access to the public library.

Baird’s formal education began at the age of fourteen in the local grammar school. He would go on to become an apprentice to a pharmacist shortly thereafter. After his training was complete, he moved to Woodstock in 1839 to establish his own business. He served the community well after his arrival, setting up the first circulating library in Woodstock, which was composed entirely of books from his own collection. He would also prove to be influential in forming music societies, as he was a lover of music and an instrumentalist himself. He was skilled in debate, public speaking, and acted as an amateur historian. He also held civic offices as secretary for the Woodstock Mechanics’ Institute (which was largely founded by him) and a school trustee, as well as being a charter member of the Sons of Temperance. Despite all those involvements, however, his greatest passion was the military.

Around 1838, his military career began as a volunteer with the Fredericton Rifles. He saw his first service as a result of boundary line troubles in the “Canadian Rebellion,” a reaction by Lower Canada against British colonial forces over control of the province’s civil services (Buckner). In 1841, he organized a rifle company in Woodstock and later was commissioned lieutenant. After commanding the guard for the defence of Woodstock during the Orange Riot in 1847, he was made, by general order, a captain commanding the Woodstock company. After numerous commands, he was gazetted Lt. Col. on 1 January 1863 and Deputy Quarter Master on 8 June 1863. In 1887, after many more commands and appointments at Woodstock to paymaster of military district no. 8 in 1869 and district storekeeper in 1879, he was permitted to retire while retaining his rank of Lt. Col. While his official duties sometimes required his residence at Saint John, he retired to his farm at Grafton, located just outside of Woodstock.

The year 1890 marked the publication of Baird’s only literary work, Seventy Years of New Brunswick Life. This work was originally intended to be a book of memoirs for family and friends about New Brunswick life; however, it soon became renowned as a valuable work about the domestic and public spheres of life in the province.

The book, perhaps expectedly, gives much attention to military matters in New Brunswick. But Baird also describes his family’s life in Fredericton: their attempt to settle further up the river, the Fredericton fire of 1825, and details of his business career. Outside of this more personal sphere, the book also tells stories of riots, aboriginal and white relations, crime, the Aroostock War, smuggling, cholera epidemics, and Confederation. In discussing forestry in the province, Baird writes that “In the early days of lumbering, when fine groves of pine were found on the banks of the St. John, fortunes should have been made; but drunkenness, extravagance and a waste of valuable time occasioned many failures” (19).

Baird’s book also displays his fondness for New Brunswick through his very intimate connection with nature and its creatures. In a poem for a deceased family dog, for example, his opening lines declare:

Alas! old dog, thy days are told,
Thy limbs now stiffening and cold,
My tearful eyes doth see;
For true, thou wert a faithful friend. (83)

Although his work was initially intended as a series of sketches about New Brunswick life, Baird’s book now serves as a historical text. It is deemed a very useful source because its remarks are not made by a fleeting traveller or sojourner, but a lifelong resident of New Brunswick. Its importance as a historical text is evidenced by its being reprinted in 1978.

Lt. Col. Baird died on 23 February 1897 as a result of a chill he received on 20 February 1897 that took a turn for the worse. He is closely identified with the early history of Woodstock, its progress, improvement, and many movements that he helped found, all of which earned him much praise. The Carleton Sentinel, in announcing his death, wrote of his keen business instincts that were centered on his pharmaceutical work as well as his high moral principles, ambition, intellect, and heightened literary and scientific knowledge. He was laid to rest in a Methodist cemetery in Carleton County.

Jesse O'Donnell, Winter 2010
St. Thomas University

Bibliography of Primary Sources

Baird, William T. Seventy Years of New Brunswick Life: Autobiographical Sketches. Saint John: GE Day, 1890.

Bibliography of Secondary Sources

Buckner, P. A. “Rebellions of 1837.” The Canadian Encyclopedia. Historica Canada. 4 Dec. 2010

“Col. W. T. Baird.” The Carleton Sentinel 27 Feb. 1897: 2.

Facey-Crowther, David R. “Baird, William Teel.” Dictionary of Canadian Biography. Vol. 12. Toronto: U of Toronto P, 1990. Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online. 2003. U of Toronto/U Laval. 1 Nov. 2010

Johnson, Daniel F., ed. New Brunswick Provincial Archives. Government of New Brunswick, n.d. 1 Nov. 2010

“The Late Col. Baird.” The Daily Gleaner 24 Feb. 1897: 5.

“The Late Col. W. T. Baird.” The Carleton Sentinel 6 Mar. 1897: 2.

MacFarlane, W. G. New Brunswick Bibliography. The Books and Writers of the Province. Saint John: Sun Printing Co., 1895.

Spray, W. A. “Recent Publications in Local History: New Brunswick.” Acadiensis 9.2 (Spring 1980): 115-121.