From Massachusetts, the Howe family was of Puritan stock. Having remained loyal to the crown during the American Revolution, the family of John Howe joined the "loyalists" who flooded out of the United States just after it became obvious that the American revolutionaries were to succeed in their claims of independence. Arriving at Halifax, John, as a reward for his loyalty, was appointed the Postmaster-General. In addition, since he was in the printing business, John Howe was appointed the King's Printer. In addition to these governmental duties, Howe also established, during 1781, a newspaper, the Halifax Journal.
In 1804 Joseph Howe was born at Halifax, in a small cottage which over looked the city side of the North-west arm. At the age of thirteen, Joe, with his eldest brother, went into the family printing business and lived over the shop in downtown Halifax. As a young man, Joe Howe acquired a newspaper, the Nova Scotian. In the running of that paper Howe did everything. He reported the debates in the House of Assembly and the important trials at court, in addition to editorials, he wrote up the local news and digested the news of the world; he ran the whole show; he was the paper.
It was in 1835 that Howe came to the public's attention as a speaker for the rights of the people. He had published in his paper a letter criticizing the financial administration of those in charge of municipal affairs. Though he was not the author of the letter, he was, nonetheless, subjected to a criminal libel trial being the publisher of the letter. The trial of Joe Howe took place in a room that can yet can be examined, the Legislative Library at Province House; back in March of 1835 it was where the Supreme Court sat. After the evidence was in, Howe, not a lawyer, and who presumably before this time had little experience in public speaking, got to his feet and spoke for six and a quarter hours on liberty and on the freedom of the press. Much to the delight of the public, Joe Howe won his case.
Early in the next year (1836) the House of Assembly was dissolved and Howe was elected by a large majority. On taking his seat Howe was at once recognized as the leader of the Liberal Party. After this, Howe was to lead the province into the great political reforms that swept Britain during the first fifty years of the 19th century: the aristocracy was out of power and the people claimed it for themselves through their elected representatives. As Wm. Lawson Grant was to write in his biography of Howe, The Tribune of Nova Scotia, Howe "fought as an Englishman fights: walking straight up to his enemy, looking him full in the face, and keeping cool as he hit from the shoulder with all his might."
Howe in his more mature years, as one of the chief political leaders of Nova Scotia, involved himself in the great political fights that surrounded the founding of Canada as a nation, which was to be a confederation of the former English colonies. Howe in these confederation debates was to be on the wrong side: he was against confederation: he lost and in the process was, politically speaking, pretty much shuffled aside.
As a young man, Howe won his fights against the aristocratic establishment which had lodged itself before his times; but in later times, he was not so successful in fighting the superior forces as were represented in central Canada and the vote getting politicians back in Great Britain. Tired out, and late in life, Joe Howe was given a sinecure as the Lieutenant Governor of Nova Scotia. No sooner was he installed, then death came to him in 1873. He was only 69 years old, but like an old war horse; he was just worn out. His best years were his younger years, during the 1830s and 1840s when Nova Scotia, during those heady days when the people took power, spun up many exceptional characters, of which Joseph Howe was the most notable.