Thomas Chandler Haliburton and his Family

Clifton Museum Park was built as the home to Thomas Chandler Haliburton, Louisa Neville Haliburton, and their eight children.

Haliburton Family in Windsor

Thomas Chandler Haliburton was much influenced, in his political and social views by his grandparents, parents, his education – Elite, Tory, Loyalist, Anglican – along with a long-standing family desire to be considered part of the gentry.

His grandparents, William and Lusanna Haliburton, came to the established town of Windsor as New England Planters in the early 1760s. William became a prosperous lawyer and judge and, for at least some time, was known to have been a slaveowner in Nova Scotia (Slavery would not officially be abolished in British North America until 1834). William was an important figure in young Thomas Chandler Haliburton’s life. Thomas would later support pro-slavery ideas like his grandfather, in his writing and politics.

Thomas Chandler Haliburton was born in 1796 into an elite life. His father, another William, was also a lawyer and judge. His mother, Lucy Chandler Grant, from a Loyalist family, died in the first year of Thomas’s life. William remarried six years later to Susanna Davis, daughter of a former lieutenant-governor of Nova Scotia, who similarly had a Loyalist pedigree.

White Planters and Loyalists, such as Haliburton’s family, were given land seized from the Mi’kmaq and Acadians when Britain took control of Nova Scotia. As an only child, Haliburton inherited all the wealth and benefits his family gained through enslavement, land grants, social status, and privileged education. Young Haliburton attended grammar school and, at age 14, entered Windsor’s elite King’s College, graduating in 1815. At the time, the school was only open to upper-class, white, Tory, Anglican male students.

Front Street of Windsor, NS circa 1829. Nova Scotia Archives Library: F107 H13 Vol. 2 


Getting Established – Family and Career

In 1816, Haliburton met and, very soon after, married his wife Louisa Neville on one of his first trips to England. Louisa was educated and accomplished in music, art, gardening, and horticulture. She also brought a large inheritance into the marriage that greatly helped in supporting their lifestyle. They returned to Windsor and were soon expecting their first child. They would go on to have a large family: five daughters and three sons, plus three sons who did not survive infancy.

The young family moved to Annapolis Royal in 1820, where Haliburton established his own law practice. He was promoted to Judge of Probate in 1824 and started his political career as representative for Annapolis County in the Nova Scotia House of Assembly (1826 to 1829). Louisa’s fluency in English, French and German, as well as her elegant social skills, helped Haliburton’s politics and social maneuvering. Haliburton was a controversial politician and advocated for a public-school system for children in the colony. However, when a college for Black students was proposed, he fought against it, concerned that higher education could lead to class equality. He used his powers of oratory and humour to be deeply critical of those who did not support his ideas.

It was during this time in Halifax as a politician that Haliburton’s literary career began. He joined Joseph Howe, his political rival, newspaper owner, fellow King’s College alumnus, and new friend, along with several other aspiring literati, to form “The Club.” In 1829, Howe published his first book, An Historical and Statistical Account of Nova Scotia, in two volumes.


The Judge

In 1829, Haliburton became a Judge of the Inferior Court of Common Pleas, a position previously held by his father and made vacant by William’s death. This position allowed him more time to pursue his literary ambitions and travel around the province hearing cases. As a judge, he was known and critiqued at the time for his joking antics in court and racist judgements. Haliburton’s new position allowed him to return his family to Windsor, where he eventually had Clifton built.


Masthead of The Novascotian newspaper. Nova Scotia Archives Newspaper Collection


Around the same time, he began contributing to Joseph Howe’s newspaper, The Novascotian, stories featuring his character, the fast-talking Yankee clock peddler Sam Slick.  At this time, he kept his name off the stories, not wanting to incur negative social or career consequences for his harsh critiques. These stories were often inspired by his experiences as a judge travelling throughout Nova Scotia and allowed him to mock Nova Scotians and public figures from behind a thin veil of satire.


Happy Years at Clifton

While Haliburton traveled and pursued his career, Louisa was responsible for the household, taking a particular interest in horticulture. Life in Windsor in the 1830s has been compared to a Jane Austen novel. As an elite family in Nova Scotia, the Haliburtons regularly hosted and were invited to dances, dinners, skating parties, musical performances, walks and visits. Louisa was said to own the only piano in Windsor.

Drawing Room at Clifton Museum Park


Like their father, Haliburton’s sons were educated at King’s College in Windsor. A governess was brought in to supplement their daughters’ education. Letters from Louisa in 1839 show her concern for her daughter’s education, including music and languages.

Despite this life of luxury, with their children being given the “proper” education and social introductions, life was not without its difficulties. Louisa suddenly died of an unknown illness at the age of 48 while in Halifax for “the social season” with the family. This loss left Haliburton devastated.


Watercolour believed to be painted by one of Haliburton’s daughters. Possibly Louisa and one of younger Haliburton sons in Windsor, Nova Scotia. NSM 89.95.  


A Family to Send into the World

Louisa's death in 1841 came only months after the Inferior Court of Common Pleas was abolished. Haliburton was appointed as a justice to the Supreme Court of Nova Scotia. At this time, his oldest child, Susanna, was 24 and still at home. His youngest, Arthur Lawrence, was only 9. With the help of his daughters, life continued at Clifton—education, social events, courtships—as well as increased travel for Haliburton in his new role.


Dining Room at Clifton Museum Park


Haliburton’s daughters were very accomplished, particularly in artwork. Today, artworks attributed to Susanna are preserved in the Nova Scotia Museum Collection, and pieces by other daughters are held in other Canadian collections. Susanna married a New Brunswick judge and, like her father, took an interest in history, which led to her forming the Weldon china collection. Augusta would marry the son of an iron master. Laura married the son of Sir Samuel Cunard, a shipping magnate. Emma and Amelia both married successful Anglican clergymen.

Haliburton’s three sons, as men in the 1800s, had more opportunities than their sisters. The oldest, Tom Jr., was an accomplished musician, having studied in Germany. He became increasingly ill with an “original defect of mind,” resulting in him being admitted to an insane asylum in Massachusetts, where he died at the age of 26. Robert became a lawyer and early anthropologist (anthropology being a new and unscientific field of study at this time, heavily influenced by British imperialistic, racist views). Arthur, Haliburton’s youngest son, moved to England, where after a career in the British civil service, he would become 1st Baron Haliburton, the first native Canadian to be raised to the Peerage of the United Kingdom.


Farewell to Nova Scotia

Haliburton remained at Clifton until all his daughters were married. In 1856, he retired with a small pension. The last few years brought several social, health, and financial setbacks, leaving him with little reason to stay in Windsor. Haliburton sold the estate, auctioned off the furnishings and moved to England, ironically something he mocked other elite Nova Scotians for aspiring to.

Within a few months, Haliburton remarried to a wealthy widow friend, Sarah Harriet Williams. Sarah’s money funded the couple's upper-class Victorian life at Gordon House in London. He would serve one term as a Member of Parliament in England and continued writing, though later work was not well received. His contributions to literature and popularization of his character Sam Slick would ensure he would be remembered long after his death in 1865 at age 68.