John Mann

John Mann, Travels in North America
John Mann, Travels in North America

John Mann (labourer, farmer, and author) was born in June 1798, probably at Croftentyan, Perthshire, Scotland and died on 19 February 1891 in Breadalbane, New Brunswick. His parents were John Mann and Margaret McGregor. Mann originally emigrated to New Brunswick in 1816 to join relatives in Charlotte County. He arrived at Saint John aboard the Favourite on 22 November 1816 (Spray). During his first two years in New Brunswick he worked cutting timber and loading lumber boats. In 1819 he joined William F. Odell's surveying party to determine the boundary between Maine and New Brunswick, which was under dispute at the time. He travelled occasionally to Upper Canada in 1822 to see if he could make a better life there, but always returned to New Brunswick. Unhappy and unsettled in Canada, he eventually returned to Scotland in 1823 and married Margaret McVean with whom he had seven children. Finding himself again unsettled in Scotland, he returned to New Brunswick with his family in 1828. They settled in the parish of St. George, Charlotte County, where Mann farmed and built boats, then became a deacon of the First Baptist Church of St. George. Although his educational opportunities had been limited, he produced two books: Travels in North America (1824) and The Emigrant’s Instructor (1824).

According to his letters to family in Scotland, Mann believed New Brunswick to be hard but bountiful, its people worthy of redemption. He wrote,

I am afraid, however, that our love to the world makes us strive to make it up too fast. This indeed is the case with most of the people here while the chief end of many is entirely neglected. There is a great deal of wickedness going on in this place, and strange as it may seem, some of the wicked, or at least the most vain, have given proper evidence of a change. (Letter MC275/4)

One of Mann’s important works is The Emigrant’s Instructor, a journal of his tour through Upper Canada, New Brunswick, and New York in the years 1822 and 1823. In it, Mann advises emigrants with in-depth descriptions of what to bring, how to manage sea sickness, how to conduct affairs on landing, and much more. He observes each province and state he visited in simple, yet descriptive language. He does not romanticize the land, but rather speaks to the harsh realities awaiting newcomers. In his section on New Brunswick, he focuses on both the dismal and the beautiful: “The face of the country all along the coast, presents a dismal appearance, being divided into small patches, by means of rivulets, rocks, and mountains, covered in woods” (The Emigrant’s Instructor 33). He describes the people as competitive farmers, stating that “whatever quantity you profess to have, your neighbour is sure to be above you” (34). This suggests some of the class and ethnic divisions in the province. Mann also touches on the failing economy, a perpetual New Brunswick problem. He writes about the abundance of sawmills that have failed “to keep their former pomp, [having] reduced many of [their owners] to the greatest embarrassments” (The Emigrant’s Instructor 34-35).

Mann’s Travels in North America is much more fictionally narrative than The Emigrant’s Instructor. It is a collection of adventures and disasters that Mann encountered on his journeys throughout Upper and Lower Canada, New Brunswick, New England, and other areas of North America and the West Indies. His writing includes encounters with Indigenous people across North America and is thus an important early record of such contact.

Although primarily a non-fiction writer, Mann also dabbled in poetry. In a letter he wrote to a family member on 18 August 1877 he expresses the desire to be remembered after his death, choosing poetry as the best form to convey his thoughts:

Forget me not I only ask
This simple boon of thee,
And… it be an easy task
For you to think of me…
And wilt thou now beloved friend with kindly feelings think of me
And I will often try to bend in prayer for thee.
And should God call me from this land, to dwell blessed Eternity
Amid the joys of His right hand I’ll think of thee. (Letter MC275/5)

John Mann was important in both New Brunswick and Canada. His descriptions of travels across Canada and the United States provide for a first-hand account of settler life in the 1800s. His detailed and straightforward depictions of New Brunswick, although not always positive or optimistic, allow for an honest depiction of the province and hope for its development. Moreover, his writing provides important insight into the minds of the many emigrants arriving from abroad. W.A. Spray, for example, posits that Mann’s description of the voyage on the Favourite is the first account of life on an emigrant ship to New Brunswick. Though Mann’s books are out of print, he nevertheless has important things to say about a young province that is newly independent as a Loyalist preserve.

Katherine Sorrell Kirkpatrick, Fall 2018
St. Thomas University

Bibliography of Primary Sources

Mann, John. The Emigrant's Instructor. Glasgow: Andrew Young, 1824.

---. Letter [to unnamed family member]. 1828. John Mann fonds. MC275/4. Provincial Archives of New Brunswick. Fredericton, New Brunswick.

---. Letter [to unnamed family member]. 18 Aug. 1877. John Mann fonds. MC275/5. Provincial Archives of New Brunswick. Fredericton, New Brunswick.

---. Travels in North America. 1824. Ed. W.A. Spray. Fredericton: Saint Anne's Point Press, 1978.

Bibliography of Secondary Sources

Hornsby, Stephen J., and John G. Reid. New England and the Maritime Provinces: Connections and Comparisons. Montreal; Kingston: McGill-Queen’s UP, 2005.

Spray, W.A. “Mann, John.” Dictionary of Canadian Biography. Vol. 12. Toronto: U of Toronto P, 1990. Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online. 2003. U of Toronto/U Laval. 26 June 2020