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The Birth of New Brunswick

When Governor Parr wrote to Sir Guy Carleton, commending in such warm terms the advantages of Shelburne, he took occasion at the same time to disparage the country about the river St John. 'I greatly fear,' he wrote, 'the soil and fertility of that part of this province is overrated by people who have explored it partially. I wish it may turn out otherwise, but have my fears that there is scarce good land enough for them already sent there.'

How Governor Parr came to make so egregious a mistake with regard to the comparative merits of the Shelburne districts and those of the St John river it is difficult to understand. Edward Winslow frankly accused him of jealousy of the St John settlements. Possibly he was only too well aware of the inadequacy of the preparations made to receive the Loyalists at the mouth of the St John, and wished to divert the stream of immigration elsewhere. At any rate his opinion was in direct conflict with the unanimous testimony of the agents sent to report on the land. Botsford, Cummings, and Hauser had reported: 'The St John is a fine river, equal in magnitude to the Connecticut or Hudson. At the mouth of the river is a fine harbor, accessible at all seasons of the year--never frozen or obstructed by ice... There are many settlers along the river upon the interval land, who get their living easily. The interval lies on the river, and is a most fertile soil, annually matured by the overflowing of the river, and produces crops of all kinds with little labor, and vegetables in the greatest perfection, parsnips of great length etc.' Later Lieutenant-Colonel Isaac Allen and Edward Winslow, the muster-master-general of the provincial forces, were sent up as agents for the Loyalist regiments in New York, and they explored the river for one hundred and twenty miles above its mouth. 'We have returned,' wrote Winslow after his trip, 'delighted beyond expression.'

Governor Parr's fears, therefore, had little effect on the popularity of the St John river district. In all, no less than ten thousand people settled on the north side of the Bay of Fundy in 1783. These came, in the main, in three divisions. With the spring fleet arrived about three thousand people; with the summer fleet not quite two thousand; and with the autumn fleet well over three thousand. Of those who came in the spring and summer most were civilian refugees; but of those who arrived in the autumn nearly all were disbanded soldiers. Altogether thirteen distinct corps settled on the St John river. There were the King's American Dragoons, De Lancey's First and Second Battalions, the New Jersey Volunteers, the King's American Regiment, the Maryland Loyalists, the 42nd Regiment, the Prince of Wales American Regiment, the New York Volunteers, the Royal Guides and Pioneers, the Queen's Rangers, the Pennsylvania Loyalists, and Arnold's American Legion. All these regiments were reduced, of course, to a fraction of their original strength, owing to the fact that numbers of their men had been discharged in New York, and that many of the officers had gone to England. But nevertheless, with their women and children, their numbers were not far from four thousand.

The arrangements which the government of Nova Scotia had made for the reception of this vast army of people were sadly inadequate. In the first place there was an unpardonable delay in the surveying and allotment of lands. This may be partly explained by the insufficient number of surveyors at the disposal of the governor, and by the tedious and difficult process of escheating lands already granted; but it is impossible not to convict the governor and his staff of want of foresight and expedition in making arrangements and carrying them into effect. When Joseph Aplin arrived at Parrtown, as the settlement at the mouth of the river was for a short time called, he found 1,500 frame houses and 400 log huts erected, but no one had yet received a title to the land on which his house was built. The case of the detachment of the King's American Dragoons who had settled near the mouth of the river was particularly hard. They had arrived in advance of the other troops, and had settled on the west side of the harbor of St John, in what Edward Winslow described as 'one of the pleasantest spots I ever beheld.' They had already made considerable improvements on their lands, when word came that the government had determined to reserve the lands about the mouth of the river for the refugees, and to allot blocks of land farther up the river to the various regiments of provincial troops. When news of this decision reached the officers of the provincial regiments, there was great indignation. 'This is so notorious a forfeiture of the faith of government,' wrote Colonel De Lancey to Edward Winslow, 'that it appears to me almost incredible, and yet I fear it is not to be doubted. Could we have known this a little earlier it would have saved you the trouble of exploring the country for the benefit of a people you are not connected with. In short it is a subject too disagreeable to say more upon.' Winslow, who was hot-headed, talked openly about the provincials defending the lands on which they had 'squatted.' But protests were in vain; and the King's American Dragoons were compelled to abandon their settlement, and to remove up the river to the district of Prince William. When the main body of the Loyalist regiments arrived in the autumn they found that the blocks of land assigned to them had not yet been surveyed. Of their distress and perplexity there is a picture in one of Edward Winslow's letters.

I saw [he says] all those Provincial Regiments, which we have so frequently mustered, landing in this inhospitable climate, in the month of October, without shelter, and without knowing where to find a place to reside. The chagrin of the officers was not to me so truly affecting as the poignant distress of the men. Those respectable sergeants of Robinson's, Ludlow's, Cruger's, Fanning's, etc.--once hospitable yeomen of the country--were addressing me in language which almost murdered me as I heard it. 'Sir, we have served all the war, your honor is witness how faithfully. We were promised land; we expected you had obtained it for us. We like the country--only let us have a spot of our own, and give us such kind of regulations as will hinder bad men from injuring us.'

Many of these men had ultimately to go up the river more than fifty miles past what is now Fredericton.

A second difficulty was that food and building materials supplied by government proved inadequate. At first the settlers were given lumber and bricks and tools to build their houses, but the later arrivals, who had as a rule to go farthest up the river, were compelled to find their building materials in the forest. Even the King's American Dragoons, evicted from their lands on the harbor of St John, were ordered to build their huts 'without any public expense.' Many were compelled to spend the winter in tents banked up with snow; others sheltered themselves in huts of bark. The privations and sufferings which many of the refugees suffered were piteous. Some, especially among the women and children, died from cold and exposure and insufficient food. In the third place there was great inequality in the area of the lands allotted. When the first refugees arrived, it was not expected that so many more would follow; and consequently the earlier grants were much larger in size than the later. In Parrtown a town lot at length shrank in size to one-sixteenth of what it had originally been. There was doubtless also some favoritism and respect of persons in the granting of lands. At any rate the inequality of the grants caused a great many grievances among a certain class of refugees. Chief Justice Finucane of Nova Scotia was sent by Governor Parr to attempt to smooth matters out; but his conduct seemed to accentuate the ill-feeling and alienate from the Nova Scotia authorities the good-will of some of the better class of Loyalists.

It was not surprising, under these circumstances, that Governor Parr and the officers of his government should have become very unpopular on the north side of the Bay of Fundy. Governor Parr was himself much distressed over the ill-feeling against him among the Loyalists; and it should be explained that his failure to satisfy them did not arise from unwillingness to do anything in his power to make them comfortable. The trouble was that his executive ability had not been sufficient to cope with the serious problems confronting him. Out of the feeling against Governor Parr arose an agitation to have the country north of the Bay of Fundy removed from his jurisdiction altogether, and erected into a separate government. This idea of the division of the province had been suggested by Edward Winslow as early as July 1783: 'Think what multitudes have and will come here, and then judge whether it must not from the nature of things immediately become a separate government.' There were good reasons why such a change should be made. The distance of Parrtown from Halifax made it very difficult and tedious to transact business with the government.' and the Halifax authorities, being old inhabitants, were not in complete sympathy with the new settlers. The erection of a new province, moreover, would provide offices for many of the Loyalists who were pressing their claims for place on the government at home. The settlers, therefore, brought their influence to bear on the Imperial authorities, through their friends in London; and in the summer of 1784 they succeeded in effecting the division they desired, in spite of the opposition of Governor Parr and the official class at Halifax. Governor Parr, indeed, had a narrow escape from being recalled.

The new province, which it was intended at first to call New Ireland, but which was eventually called New Brunswick, was to include all that part of Nova Scotia north of a line running across the isthmus from the mouth of the Missiquash river to its source, and thence across to the nearest part of Baie Verte. This boundary was another triumph for the Loyalists, as it placed in New Brunswick Fort Cumberland and the greater part of Cumberland county. The government of the province was offered first to General Fox, who had been in command at Halifax in 1783, and then to General Musgrave; but was declined by both. It was eventually accepted by Colonel Thomas Carleton, a brother of Sir Guy Carleton, by whom it was held for over thirty years. The chief offices of government fell to Loyalists who were in London. The secretary of the province was the Rev. Jonathan Odell, a witty New Jersey divine, who had been secretary to Sir Guy Carleton in New York. It is interesting to note that Odell's son, the Hon. W. F. Odell, was secretary of the province after him, and that between them they held the office for two-thirds of a century. The chief justice was a former judge of the Supreme Court of New York; the other judges were retired officers of regiments who had fought in the war. The attorney-general was Jonathan Bliss, of Massachusetts; and the solicitor-general was Ward Chipman, the friend and correspondent of Edward Winslow. Winslow himself, whose charming letters throw such a flood of light on the settlement of Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, was a member of the council. New Brunswick was indeed _par excellence_ the Loyalist province.

The new governor arrived at Parrtown on November 21, 1784, and was immediately presented with an enthusiastic address of welcome by the inhabitants. They described themselves as 'a number of oppressed and insulted Loyalists,' and added that they had formerly been freemen, and again hoped to be so under his government. Next spring the governor granted to Parrtown incorporation as a city under the name of St John. The name Parrtown had been given, it appears, at the request of Governor Parr himself, who explained apologetically that the suggestion had arisen out of 'female vanity'; and in view of Governor Parr's unpopularity, the change of name was very welcome. At the same time, however, Colonel Carleton greatly offended the people of St John by removing the capital of the province up the river to St Anne's, to which he gave the name Fredericktown (Fredericton) in honor of the Duke of York.

On October 15, 1785, writs were issued for the election of members to serve in a general assembly. The province was divided into eight counties, among which were apportioned twenty-six members. The right to vote was given by Governor Carleton to all males of twenty-one years of age who had been three months in the province, the object of this very democratic franchise being to include in the voting list settlers who were clearing their lands, but had not yet received their grants. The elections were held in November, and lasted for fifteen days. They passed off without incident, except in the city of St John. There a struggle took place which throws a great deal of light on the bitterness of social feeling among the Loyalists. The inhabitants split into two parties, known as the Upper Cove and the Lower Cove. The Upper Cove represented the aristocratic element, and the Lower Cove the democratic. For some time class feeling had been growing; it had been aroused by the attempt of fifty-five gentlemen of New York to obtain for themselves, on account of their social standing and services during the war, grants of land in Nova Scotia of five thousand acres each; and it had been fanned into flame by the inequality in the size of the lots granted in St John itself. Unfortunately, among the six Upper Cove candidates in St John there were two officers of the government, Jonathan Bliss and Ward Chipman; and thus the struggle took on the appearance of one between government and opposition candidates. The election was bitterly contested, under the old method of open voting; and as it proceeded it became clear that the Lower Cove was polling a majority of the votes. The defeat of the government officers, it was felt, would be such a calamity that at the scrutiny Sheriff Oliver struck off over eighty votes, and returned the Upper Cove candidates. The election was protested, but the House of Assembly refused, on a technicality, to upset the election. A strangely ill-worded and ungrammatical petition to have the assembly dissolved was presented to the governor by the Lower Cove people, but Governor Carleton refused to interfere, and the Upper Cove candidates kept their seats. The incident created a great deal of indignation in St John, and Ward Chipman and Jonathan Bliss were not able for many years to obtain a majority in that riding.

It is evident from these early records that, while there were members of the oldest and most famous families in British America among the Loyalists of the Thirteen Colonies, the majority of those who came to Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and especially to Upper Canada, were people of very humble origin. Of the settlers in Nova Scotia, Governor Parr expressed his regret 'that there is not a sufficient proportion of men of education and abilities among the present adventurers.' The election in St John was a sufficient evidence of the strength of the democratic element there; and their petition to Governor Carleton is a sufficient evidence of their illiteracy. Some of the settlers assumed pretensions to which they were not entitled. An amusing case is that of William Newton. This man had been the groom of the Honorable George Hanger, a major in the British Legion during the war. Having come to Nova Scotia, he began to pay court to a wealthy widow, and introduced himself to her by affirming 'that he was particularly connected with the hono'ble Major Hanger, and that his circumstances were rather affluent, having served in a money-making department, and that he had left a considerable property behind him.' The widow applied to Edward Winslow, who assured her that Mr Newton had indeed been connected--very closely--with the Honorable Major Hanger, and that he had left a large property behind him. 'The nuptials were immediately celebrated with great pomp, and Mr Newton is at present,' wrote Winslow, 'a gentleman of consideration in Nova Scotia.'

During 1785 and subsequent years, the work of settlement went on rapidly in New Brunswick. There was hardship and privation at first, and up to 1792 some indigent settlers received rations from the government. But astonishing progress was made. 'The new settlements of the Loyalists,' wrote Colonel Thomas Dundas, who visited New Brunswick in the winter of 1786-87, 'are in a thriving way.' Apparently, however, he did not think highly of the industry of the disbanded soldiers, for he avowed that 'rum and idle habits contracted during the war are much against them.' But he paid a compliment to the half-pay officers. 'The half-pay provincial officers,' he wrote, 'are valuable settlers, as they are enabled to live well and improve their lands.'

It took some time for the province to settle down. Many who found their lands disappointing moved to other parts of the province; and after 1790 numbers went to Upper Canada. But gradually the settlers adjusted themselves to their environment, and New Brunswick entered on that era of prosperity which has been hers ever since.


This site includes some historical materials that may imply negative stereotypes reflecting the culture or language of a particular period or place. These items are presented as part of the historical record and should not be interpreted to mean that the WebMasters in any way endorse the stereotypes implied.

Chronicles of Canada, The United Empire Loyalists, A Chronicle of the Great Migration, 1915

 

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