Today in Literary History – December 17, 1796 – Thomas Chandler Haliburton is born

The early Canadian humorist and politician Thomas Chandler Haliburton was born in Windsor, in pre-confederation Nova Scotia, on December 17, 1796. He was the son of a judge and he himself became a judge and a member of the Nova Scotia House of Assembly.


His fame, though, rests on his fictional creation Sam Slick, a traveling clock salesman from Slicksville, Connecticut, peddling his wares in rural Nova Scotia. During the years that Haliburton was writing the stories Nova Scotia was seeing an influx of “Yankee” immigrants — United Empire Loyalists from New England.

Haliburton’s Sam Slick stories were first published as newspaper serializations. When the first batch was collected into a book, The Clockmaker, in 1836, it was an immediate success not just in Canada but in the United States and England and throughout the British Empire.


More collections followed and Haliburton became Canada’s first international bestseller. He was said to be second only to Charles Dickens in popularity.

Haliburton’s Sam Slick books are still in print but I don’t think he’s read much beyond students and academics. Much of his humour lies in the contrast between the energetic, fast talking sharpster, the American Sam Slick, and the cautious, dull-witted, indolent provincial Nova Scotians. Haliburton, a Tory, Anglican landowner from the ruling class clearly feels sympathetic to Sam Slick’s go-getting attitude despite the satire.


In 1856 Haliburton retired and moved to England where he was elected as a Conservative Member of Parliament. He died in England in 1865.


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