A Blupete Biography Page

Joseph Frederick Wallet DesBarres [Time Line]

During his long life, covering the last half of 18th century and the early part of the 19th, J. F. W. DesBarres was to witness many of the dramatic events which made up the history of Nova Scotia during these times. He was an army officer, military engineer, surveyor, colonizer and colonial administrator: he was a lover and an artist.

Joseph Frederick Wallet DesBarres, likely born at Basel, Switzerland, was a member of a Huguenot family.1 His parents were Joseph-Leonard Vallet Des Barres and Anne-Catherine Cuvier; he was the eldest of three children. After an educational grounding in mathematics in the schools of Switzerland, DesBarres, like so many young Huguenot men, left Europe for England. He enrolled in the Royal Military Academy at Woolwich.2 At Woolwich, DesBarres was trained as a military engineer which, as such, was to give him a superior knowledge of the building of fortifications and of how to destroy them; his training at Woolwich was to also give him a solid grounding in land surveying and in the preparation of maps.

With England and France having declared war on one another (The Seven Years War, 1756-63), Lieutenant DesBarres was sent off to the North American theatre, which, as a practical matter, was the only theatre for this particular war.3 In 1757, it seems, he was operating in the area which we now know as upstate New York (Lake St. George); but, in 1758, he was to be with Amherst at the Siege of Louisbourg. He then went with Wolfe to Quebec in 1759. By 1761 DesBarres was at Halifax. In April of 1762, news was heard at Halifax that St. John's, Newfoundland, had been attacked and captured by the French. Because of this there was a frenzy of activity at Halifax: batteries were added to those already in existence on George's Island, more were erected at Point Pleasant and near the Dockyard, the walls of the eastern redoubt at Dartmouth were repaired, and a boom of "timber and iron" was bolted, shore to shore, at the mouth of the Northwest Arm. DesBarres, being the military engineer that he was, was in the thick of this activity. In September an English force was launched from Halifax, of which DesBarres was a part, aimed at St. John's, which, in short order, was retaken by the British.4 It was during this time that DesBarres worked with James Cook, who was to learn much from DesBarres, in the Admiralty business of charting the coasts of Newfoundland. On his return to Halifax, DesBarres was charged by the Admiralty to make "accurate Surveys and Charts of the Coast and Harbours of Nova Scotia. This was to lead to an effort which was to continue for a number of years and to the eventual publication of The Atlantic Neptune. It was for this work that DesBarres was to take his place in the history books. The Atlantic Neptune, was "a magnificent contribution to hydrography and a classic of the minor arts."5

DesBarres' second interest in Nova Scotia (second to charting its coasts) was in acquiring title to its lands. Both by "grant and purchase" DesBarres was to take for himself large pieces of land in such areas, as: Tatamagouche, Falmouth and Chignecto6. (For these areas, see map.) His grant (500 acres) at Falmouth was one of his earlier acquisitions. In addition to being located in one of the best agricultural areas in Nova Scotia (known as Piziquid in the days that the Acadians occupied the lands; see map) Falmouth was accessible overland by road from Halifax; about the only community that was, in those days.7 It was here (see picture of the foundation ruins) that DesBarres was to build his home, his "Castle Frederick." It is to Castle Frederick that DesBarres retreated after his seasonal field work was done, and there, with key members of his staff during the long winter evenings before the open fire, based on his field notes, the DesBarres charts came into being. Castle Frederick was a substantial establishment. We see that by 1770, the household at Castle Frederick, "consisted of 42 men, 5 boys, 13 women, 33 girls." This total of 93 was to be broken down, as follows: 14 English, 21 Scots, 24 Irish, 7 Americans, 17 others, 10 Acadians."8

DesBarres was to take his leave of Nova Scotia sailing from Halifax for England during October of 1773. He was to leave behind, there, at Castle Frederick, his common law wife, Mary Cannon (known to her intimates as, "Polly") and the five children born to them.9 In England, incidently, he was to take up with another, Martha Williams; but, yet, DesBarres was to keep up correspondence with his "beloved friend," Mary Cannon. More children, indeed eleven children were to come of the DesBarres/Williams union; it is not clear whether DesBarres married Williams, or not, though there might have been a ceremony in England, at some point or other.

DesBarres was not to see Nova Scotia again until 1784. During this time in England, 1773-84, he saw to the publication of his Atlantic Neptune. While there, in England, he developed his connections, such that, in 1784, Lord Sydney, there having been a determination that Cape Breton was to have a separate administration, was to appoint DesBarres as its new governor. DesBarres arrived at Halifax10 from England during 1784, and, within a few weeks, he was off to take up his duties in Cape Breton. He was to spend time both at St. Peters and at Louisbourg.11 Though, given its history, Louisbourg might well have been chosen as the capital of the Cape Breton colony, DesBarres for his own reasons determined to relocate to Spanish Bay. His new capital was to be renamed, Sydney.12 He arrived there, at Sydney, on January 7th, 1785. He came by sailing ship (the Blenheim) stepping off with 129 persons, the nucleus of a new English settlement.13 Within two years, after a stormy administration, DesBarres was relieved of his post. The storm revolved around a "turf fight" that DesBarres had with the local army commander, Colonel John Yorke.14

We turn, now, to Dr. Webster, who gives us a description of the beginning of the next stage in the life of DesBarres, a stage which was to last from 1787 to 1804, during which time, with considerable difficulty, he was able to retrieve his reputation and good fortune:

"... DesBarres departed for Europe, having chartered an old brigantine to convey him thither. Having been warned that those who claimed money from him [he had kept the Sydney colony going pretty much on his own signature], because of the bills which had been dishonoured, were waiting to have him arrested, he sailed to the Island of Jersey where he arrived on December 7th. He sent a requisition to Lord Sydney asking for a guarantee of immunity from arrest so that he might safely visit London, but this was refused [Sydney, who was to get DesBarres the job as Cape Breton's governor, but just a few years earlier was to desert DesBarres]. He, thereupon, went secretly in disguise to England and reached Whitehall in April, 1788."15
DesBarres was aggrieved by the personal expense that he had been put to, both because of the difficulties at Cape Breton and because of the The Atlantic Neptune. He intended that he should be reimbursed by the English government and thus to get the creditors, to whom he was personally liable, off his back. At first, his impugning ways served but only to harden up the authorities; but, while he was to never be reimbursed fully for his expenses, he gradually gained favour with those in power. In 1794, we see, DesBarres was made a Lt-Col; and, in 1798, full Colonel.16 In 1804, after kowtowing in London for sixteen years, DesBarres, notwithstanding his old age, was appointed the lieutenant-governor of Prince Edward Island. DesBarres was to hold onto his governorship of Prince Edward Island longer than he did of that of Cape Breton; though, similar problems led to his recall. He made a public display of his dislike of the chief justice of the province; and, in any event, the authorities no doubt figured it was time that the ninety year old governor ought to be replaced, particularly since war had broken out with the United States of America.17 In 1812, DesBarres left Prince Edward Island and lived for a period of time on his lands at Amherst where he lived until he moved to Halifax in 1817. At Halifax he continued on and lived to the ripe old age of 103.18

The longer, and certainly the more placid relationship, that DesBarres had with Martha Williams was to continue during the two long sojourns that DesBarres had in England (1773-84 and 1787-1804); and, thereafter, in Nova Scotia, as Martha did come over to join DesBarres -- he was to be buried by her side. As for Mary Cannon: she, in DesBarres' absence, carried on at Castle Frederick. As we know, and as we touched upon earlier, DesBarres had vast tracts of land in and around the province. While in England, he had, by necessity, to rely on someone for the administration of these lands: the collecting of rents and the enforcement of his property rights. All of this he left to Mary Cannon. These properties were becoming increasingly more valuable, especially as settlers flooded into Nova Scotia during the latter part of the 18th century. Mary Cannon administered the DesBarres estates from her fiefdom at Castle Frederick. DesBarres, when in England, gave little direction on how his affairs as a landlord should be administered. However, on his return in the early part of the 19th century, DesBarres was to get himself more involved with these matters. On doing so, he was to become dissatisfied in the manner in which Mary Cannon had carried out her duties as his agent. All of this led to a falling out between the two, to the point where he caused a suit to be commenced alleging that she had "fraudulently and corruptly" betrayed him. The suit was still stuck in the Court of Chancery at the time of DesBarres death.

It is to be noted that the numerous children of DesBarres (at least; five by Mary Cannon and eleven by Martha Williams) were to prove to be as headstrong and litigious as their father. I quote from the biographical work by Evans, Uncommon Obdurate: The Several Public Careers of J. F. W. DesBarres:

"He decreed [his will?] that his wealth [consisting I suspect entirely of lands throughout the province] be divided into ten shares, two to be given to his wife Martha ... and one each to his sons James Luttrell, Augustus Wallet, Dollben Wyndham, and his daughters Martha Ferderica [Indiana], Isabella Matilda, Clara, Louisa, and Grace Frederica. Another son, Joseph Frederick, died in India in 1817. In a way he was lucky, for within weeks of their father's death his brothers and sisters were squabbling about their shares and hiring lawyers without a second thought about costs, appearances, or the possibility of settlement. Their quarrel dragged on for forty years with little being gained by anybody."19
In 1985, Lois K. Kernaghan was to set out her concluding observations on the character of DesBarres:
"[He had] many talents and used them well. He knew the value of friends and influence, and cultivated both. He was an opportunist and an optimist, eager to turn situations to his own advantage. A man of broad vision, he could also scrutinize minute details. His cultivated air and personal magnetism drew many admirers, as did his keen intellect, lively conversation and ability to live life with gusto.
... He was brilliant but impetuous. He often ignored the niceties of bureaucratic procedure, then railed at those who advanced by following the more conventional routes. He did not suffer fools gladly, nor was he interested in those whose ideas and opinions ran counter to his own. He was a convinced of his own rightness, and expected those around him to be likewise, without question or hesitation. He was pompous, overbearing and impatient, descending at times to pettiness and suspicion."
DesBarres was to live out the last of his years at Halifax, having, in 1817, moved down from Amherst. At Halifax, he was to become quite the conversation piece "crotchety, eccentric and entertaining."21 Vigorous to the last, DesBarres was to die at Halifax in 1824. A contemporaneous account of his funeral went as follows:
"The procession was escorted by a detachment of military and the rear was closed by a number of carriages. On arriving at St. George's Church, the funeral service was read ... at the conclusion of which three volleys were discharged by the troops. Although the day was rainy, we have seldom seen a greater attendance or more interest excited on such an occasion. Indeed, every reflecting person must have found great cause for meditation in the departure of the venerable from our fleeting and unsubstantial scene."22
DesBarres magnetism had limited appeal to officialdom, though, to his family, except for Mary Cannon23 in the later years, DesBarres was much respected if not loved. Martha Williams, and all of his children remained loyal to DesBarres to the last. As for Martha Williams, of whom little is known, she stuck with DesBarres through thick and thin. In 1821, she died. Three years later, DesBarres was buried next to her at St. George's Church, Halifax.24


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§ DesBarres was born in Europe of a Huguenot family.
§ DesBarres is at
The Second Siege of Louisbourg.
§ At the Siege of Quebec.
§ October 25th: George II dies: George III becomes king.
§ October: Demolition work being done by British engineers and sappers at Louisbourg.
§ In the autumn, DesBarres is back at Halifax.
§ April, 1762: News is heard at Halifax that St. John's, Newfoundland, had been attacked and captured by the French.
§ September: DesBarres served as Engineer and Quarter Master General in the expedition sent under Col. William Amherst to recapture St. John's Newfoundland.
§ The Treaty Of Paris is signed bring the war, The Seven Years War, between herself and her rivals (principally France) to an end.
§ In June, DesBarres was granted 500 acres at Falmouth where he was to build his "Castle Frederick."
§ Between these years DesBarres obtains five grants of large tracts of land throughout the province which amounted to several thousand acres.
§ In October, DesBarres leaves to spend the winter at New York.
§ In the Spring, DesBarres is back at Halifax where he was to commence his work surveying and mapping the coasts of Nova Scotia, a project which took him nine years.
§ DesBarres takes up with Mary Cannon.
§ DesBarres sues a fellow officer, George Adam Gmelin, on a £200 debt which dates back to 1758. DesBarres wins his suit and through a judicially ordered sale buys Gmelin's land, which was likely located in the River Nappan area.
§ A new authority was trenching upon the old. It went hand and hand with the growth of literacy and the ease by which political writers could get their pamphlets abroad. Though the old political guard were slow to recognize it: public opinion, right or wrong, was what was to rule: the plutocratic could rule but only through the shaping of public opinion. As
Pitt observed, "Five hundred gentlemen, my Lords, are not ten millions; and if we must have a contention, let us take care to have the English nation on our side."
§ Boston "massacre": Some garrison troops in self-defence shot down a few of the Boston crowd who had attacked.
§ Smuggling is "rampant."
§ DesBarres is sued by Halifax merchants (loses).
§ At the urging of DesBarres, about eleven settlers arrive at Tatamagouche from Lunenburg. These settlers bear the names such as Langille, Tattrie, Gratto, Matatall and Patriquin. There was nothing there at Tatamagouche except for the disappearing traces of the French inhabitants which had been forced off their lands 17 years earlier.
§ DesBarres receives leave to go to England in order to see to the publication of his maps and charts. (The Atlantic Neptune.)
§ During October, DesBarres boards the Adamant and sails for London. Also aboard is the retiring governor, Lord William Campbell and his family. Apparently, DesBarres was to be in England throughout the years, 1773-84. In is during this period that he meets Martha Williams, by whom, eventually, he was to have eleven children.
§ December, 1773: Boston Tea Party.
§ September 5th: The first Continental Congress takes place at Philadelphia.
§ April 19: Fighting erupts at Lexington and Concord.
§ In England: DesBarres is promoted from Lieutenant to Captain.
§ November 30th: Governor Legge proclaims Martial law in Nova Scotia.
§ April: Having evacuated Boston, General Howe arrives at Halifax.
§ June: Sailing down from Halifax to Long Island, Howe lands at Long Island and then marches on New York.
§ June: General Howe, who had proceeded from New York to Jersey, intending to penetrate thence to Pennsylvania, was compelled, by Washington's skilful operations, to retreat.
§ October the 16th: The surrender of Burgoyne to the Americans.
§ Washington and his troops spent the winter of 1777-78 at Valley Forge in great misery and deprivation.
§ The French officially recognize American independence and become allied with them, and, conclude a treaty in respect to trade with the Americans.
§ February, 1778: By statute (18 Geo. 3, cap. 12) parliament frees the colonies from taxation, they are not to be taxed unless by the consent of their own representatives; this statute has come to be known as the magna charta of British America.
§ The laws in England were to be changed so that Roman Catholics should have the same rights as everyone else. (This move was to bring on the Gordon Riots of 1780.)
§ January: Admiral Rodney, "the greatest of the English seaman save Nelson and Blake" defeated the Spanish fleet of Cape St. Vincent.
§ The British parliament, much before any other legislative chamber in the world, passed an Act for the Gradual Abolition of Slavery.
§ In a speech to the House of Commons, Burke makes a passing comment, "What sums we incur to nurse that ill-thriven and ill-favoured brat [Nova Scotia] -- what a cost to this wittol nation!"
§ Yorktown: After his unsuccessful Carolina campaign (1780-81), Gen. Charles Cornwallis (1738-1805) retreated into Virginia, fortified Yorktown, and awaited reinforcements from Sir Henry Clinton in New York. Clinton delayed, however, and the French fleet blockaded Chesapeake Bay. Generals Washington and Rochambeau rushed south with French troops. Unable to escape, Cornwallis surrendered on October 17, 1781, thereby bringing victory to the rebellious Colonies.
§ Ratification of the Articles of Confederation places the original 13 states under the first American federal constitution.
§ Pitt, the younger, enters the House of Commons; the Tory Government of Lord North is tottering under the disasters in America.
§ April 12th: Lord Howe's destruction of De Grasse's fleet at the Battle of the Saints, a battle which saved the British West Indies and restored Britain's absolute command of the seas.
§ Peace negotiations between England and the United States were signed in November and with France and Spain in January 1783
§ The Paris Peace Treaty 1783.
§ May 5th, J. F. DesBarres' Atlantic Neptune charts of Nova Scotia advertised for sale by Thomas Freeman, Halifax.
§ In England: DesBarres is promoted from Captain to Major.
§ Thousands of Loyalists arrive, firstly at Halifax.
§ March 25th: Parliament is dissolved.
§ Pitt defeats Fox and North at the polls.
§ The Bishop of Salisbury, John Douglas, edits and arranges for the notes of Cook; thus, his exploits come to the attention of the public. It will be recalled that DesBarres was responsible for much of Cook's early training.
§ Having received his appointment as the Governor of the new administration at Cape Breton, in August, DesBarres arrives at Halifax from England. Almost immediately he sails for St. Peters and from there makes his way Louisbourg.
§ The population of Nova Scotia (which at this time included part of present day New Brunswick): "Old British inhabitants," 14,000; "Old French Acadians," 400; and "Disbanded troops and loyalists, called new inhabitants" 28,347: For a total of 42,747.
§ January 7th: DesBarres arrives at Sydney, there to take up his gubernatorial duties.
§ The Big Bang of The Industrial Revolution occurs in England when, for first time, steam engines are used to power spinning machinery.
§ After a stormy administration, DesBarres is relieved of his post at Cape Breton.
§ In Philadelphia the members of the Federal Convention of 1787 were sitting down to put the finishing touches to the American constitution.
§ DesBarres departs to begin his second sojourn in England, 1787-1804.
§ At Paris, a political club or society meets in the old convent of the Jacobins (order of monks) to maintain and propagate the principles of extreme democracy and absolute equality; they became known as the Jacobins. "May the last of the Kings be strangled with the guts of the last priest," an old Jacobin toast.
§ Green: "The cautious good sense of the bulk of Englishmen, their love of order and law, their distaste for violent changes and for abstract theories, as well as their reverence for the past, were rousing throughout the country a dislike of the revolutionary changes which were hurrying on across the channel; and both the political sense and the political prejudice of the nation were being fired by the warnings of Edmund Burke. ... [Burke hated] a revolution founded on scorn of the past, and threatening with ruin the whole social fabric which the past had reared; the ordered structure of classes and ranks crumbling before a doctrine of social of social equality; a sate rudely demolished and reconstituted; a church and a nobility swept away in a night."
§ Washington becomes the first president (1789-97) and takes office on April 30, 1789.
§ The very first nation wide census is carry out in the U.S. The count was 3,929,827.
§ French Constitution: The European liberalism of the 19th century, was first formally proclaimed in the French constitution of 1791; a theory of liberty, the "Golden Rule of Liberty": "Men are born free and equal in rights, ... Liberty, ... consists in being permitted to do anything which does not injure other people. ... The exercise of the natural rights of each man has not limits except those which guarantee to the other members of society the enjoyment of the same rights."(Articles 1 & 3 of 1791 French Constitution.)
§ May 14th: Sir John Wentworth sworn in as Lieutenant Governor of Nova Scotia; he remained so for the next sixteen years, until 1808.
§ August 10th: A Parisian mob storm the Tuileries and take the royal family as prisoners. The "September massacres" follow.
§ The British capture Saint-Pierre and Miquelon.
§ January 21st: Louis XVI is beheaded; George III sent the French ambassador packing; Diplomatic relations were severed; France invaded England's ally, Holland; and, on February 1st, France declared war on England.
§ The trials of the "Reform-martyrs," Thomas Muir (1765-99) was one, who, with others, was transported to Botany Bay. These trials were part of the larger government effort to prosecute editors, nonconformists and radicals who were arguing for Parliamentary reform.
§ On the 22nd of July, 1793, Mackenzie writes his famous inscription on a rock bluff in Dean's Channel: "Alexander Mackenzie, from Canada, by land, the twenty-second of July, one thousand seven hundred and ninety-three."
§ Howe's victory of "The First of June" that arose as a result of the meeting of the English and French fleets off of Brest was to show to the world that England continued to hold on to her superiority at sea.
§ The American Congress establishes a navy.
§ In England: DesBarres is promoted from Major to Lt-Col.
§ Washington's Farewell Address. His three main points: "the baneful effects of the Spirit of Party"; the wisdom of keeping clear of foreign entanglements; and, for political stability, the necessity of religion and morality.
§ The French conquer Italy, and Austria deserts Britain in her struggle against France.
§ Jenner discovers vaccination.
§ A Bavarian by the name of Alois Senefelder discovering that water and grease did not have an affinity for one another and from that determined to employ a different printing process by which art work could be relatively and inexpensively reproduced in quantity. Thus, a printing process known as lithography was to come into being.
§ In January, with Bonaparte having successfully invaded Italy and Spain coming in on the side of France and Austrian retiring from the war, France was left without an enemy on the continent, and England without an ally. England, fearing an invasion, withdrew her ships from the Mediterranean, which was thus to become a "French Lake" from January 1797 to May 1798.
§ Navel mutinies between April and June at Spithead and the Nore.
§ Malthus comes out with his An Essay on the Principle of Population.
§ Wordsworth and Coleridge jointly publish The Lyrical Ballads.
§ Nelson re-enters the Mediterranean in May, 1798; and, in August Nelson destroys the French fleet at The Battle of the Nile.
§ In England: DesBarres is made Full Colonel.
§ In Nova Scotia: The assembly meets on Friday, 7 June, 1799 (7th general assembly, 7th and last session). Governor Wentworth in his speech recommends quarantine laws to guard against "yellow fever"; he recommends the completion of the roads to Annapolis and Pictou.
§ In January, an influential group of men come together to form the Royal Institution of Great Britain. The RI was to provide bench space to some of the most famous names in British science ,such as, Sir Humphry Davy and Michael Faraday. The RI was to give regular public addresses, and, Albemarle Street was to become so fashionably popular that it was the world's first one-way thoroughfare.
§ For a few months during the winter of 1800-01 there was formed a league against England; the league consisted of Prussia, Sweden, Denmark and Russia. This "was caused partly by the whim of the Czar Paul [and] partly by two feelings then prevalent in the Courts of Europe, fear of France and jealousy of English navel power." With Nelson's capture of the Danish fleet at Copenhagen in April, 1801, this league against England shortly came to an end.
§ The outgoing President, John Adams appoints John Marshall (1755-1835) as Chief Justice of the United States. Marshall was to hold the office for 34 years and was to wed the United States indissolubly to capitalism, and particularly to the industrial capitalism.
§ Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) is sworn in as President of the United States and was to serve from 1801 to 1809. The population of the United States is now seen to be 5,320,000.
§ Great Britain and Ireland come together under one legislative body. In June a 100 Irish members became part of the house of commons; and, 28 temporal and four spiritual peers took their seats in the house of lords. Thereafter commerce between the two countries was freed from all restrictions.
§ The Treaty of Amiens is signed and the war between France and England is ended leaving France supreme in Western Europe, and England supreme on the oceans of the world. With this peace (1802-03), the Peace of Amiens, there came a swarm of American fishermen to the shores of Nova Scotia; many of these fishermen had previously lived in Nova Scotia; it was reported (Fergusson) that 750 vessels of the United States passed through the Strait of Canso, within a year.
§ War again: the Peace of Amiens comes to an end. A circular letter, dated 16 May, 1803, from Downing Street: "Unfavorable termination of the discussion lately depending between his majesty and the French government ... his majesty's ambassador left Paris on the 13th." Letters of marque and commissions to privateers are to be issued, and French ships to be captured, &c. The kings share of all French ships and property will be given to privateers. Homeward bound ships should wait for convoys."
§ Green: "Amid all the triumphs of the revolutionary war, the growth of the British empire had been steady and ceaseless. She was more than ever mistress of the sea. ... She was turning her command of the seas to a practical account. Not only was she monopolizing the carrying trade of the European nations, but the sudden uprush of her industries was making her the workshop as well as the market of the world."
§ Lord Thomas Douglas Selkirk (1771-1820) settles immigrants from the Scottish highlands in Prince Edward Island (a number of years later Lord Selkirk brought settlers to the Red River Valley, Manitoba).
§ Alexander Hamilton killed in a duel with Aaron Burr.
§ Napoleon becomes emperor of France.
§ DesBarres is appointed Lieutenant-Governor of Prince Edward Island.
§ October 21st: Nelson's victory at Trafalgar, by it both the French and Spanish navies were annihilated, and, the danger of any invasion of England rolled away like a dream.
§ In December of 1805 the Battle of Austerlitz took place (Austerlitz is a place located in modern day Czechoslovakia). Napoleon decisively defeated the armies of Russia and Austria, each with its emperor at its head.
§ On January 23rd Pitt dies.
§ Grenville, the foreign secretary since 1791, forms the government of "All the Talents" which was dissolved in 1807.
§ In 1807 England abolishes the slave-trade (in 1833 slavery itself).
§ The American, Robert Fulton (1765-1815), in the Clermont, proves the practicality of steam power for river craft.
§ The continent is now being tied together and mapped all the way to the Pacific. David Thompson (1770-1857), surveyor and geographer, was making sense out of the observations and explorations of the past and the present.
§ In support of a Spanish rising, in July, Arthur Wellesley (later to become known as the Duke of Wellington) leads the first small British force of 9,000 men into the peninsula of Spain; a gate into the hostile fortress of Napoleonic Europe.
§ The lawful import of slaves ends in the United States.
§ Halifax: The winter has been very severe and on February 10th a large subscription is made for the "relief of the poor."
§ Halifax: Horse racing is carried on by the officers of the garrison; the Rockingham Club holds diners.
§ Halifax: The Halifax Fire Insurance Company, the first and oldest Canadian fire insurance company, was started.
§ DesBarres commences a suit in Chancery against Mary Cannon for the mismanagement of his lands.
§ George III is ill; his son, the Duke of Wales (1762-1830) takes over as the Prince Regent; in 1820, on his father's death, he becomes George IV.
§ Advertisement in paper, 16 January, 1811: "W. Madden begs to acquaint the ladies and Gentlemen of Halifax, that he has fitted up Three Carriages etc. etc. .. these Carriages to be found on the stand fronting the Custom House ..."
§ Austen's work, Sense and Sensibility.
§ The War of 1812.
§ DesBarres is relived of his post as the Governor of Prince Edward Island. He moves to the Amherst area of Nova Scotia there to live for the next five years.
§ Paper money is issued by the government in Nova Scotia.
§ Byron Donkin builds (tin plate having been invented in 1810) the first canning factory in England, his principle orders coming from the Royal Navy for canned soups and meats used in the war against America.
§ Convicts, employed chiefly as quarrymen and stonecutters, built the magnificent naval base in Bermuda.
§ General election in Britain.
§ Murdoch: "13 Jan'y. 21 American prizes were condemned in the vice admiralty court at Halifax." And, by order of the Court of Vice Admiralty, on 7 April, at 12:00 noon, some 30 odd "ships and vessels, with their cargoes" are sold by auction at Halifax.
§ Murdoch: "There were 172 prize vessels lying at Bermuda at this time. Admiral Warren declared a blockade of the Chesapeake and the Delaware, 6 February."
§ April 27th, 1813, American forces raid York looting and burning buildings, including the governor's house and the provincial legislative building.
§ Sunday, June 6th, the victorious H.M.S. Shannon arrives at Halifax with her prize, the American frigate Chesapeake. The Shannon had taken her off Boston on June 1st in likely the most decisive and quickest naval battle ever.
§ During forty days in May and June, the British troops drive the French armies over the Pyrenees and out of Spain; Napoleon's back is broken by the military and diplomatic actions of Wellington and Castlereagh.
§ 10 September: The American squadron, under Perry, captures all of the British ships on Lake Erie.
§ Napoleon retreats from Moscow and struggles to retain hold of central Europe.
§ The organization of the Boston Manufacturing Company to produce cotton cloth in Waltham, Massachusetts, begins the transformation of the United States from a commercial to an industrial nation.
§ In England, thirteen "Luddites" are hung at the York Assizes.
§ April: Paris is captured and Bonaparte abdicates.
§ August: In direct reprisal for the burning of York in the previous year, the British sack Washington.
§ The Treaty of Ghent.
§ January 8th, 1815: Though it was fought two weeks after peace was proclaimed, the last and biggest battle of the war with the United States was fought in New Orleans; 6,000 British infantry who had been landed from the sea were thoroughly beaten by Andrew Jackson and his 6,000 backwoodsmen mostly from Tennessee and Kentucky; over 2,000 of the British forces were either killed, wounded or missing.
§ March 1st: Napoleon returns from Elba and the "Hundred Days" begin.
§ June 18th, 1815, the Battle of Waterloo.
§ Unemployed ex-servicemen walk the streets.
§ In a further chapter in the history of the "Corn Laws" (they had been around in one form or another since the Middle Ages) the British parliament passed the Act of 1815 which imposed, - much to the satisfaction of British farmland owners - a ban on all corn imports, this with a view to getting the home prices up.
§ In England, gold was declared to be the sole standard and full legal tender, and a new coin, known as the sovereign was put into circulation.
§ Men were put to death for serious crimes; and for certain of the less serious crimes the court would order that one of the convict's ears be cut off, -- one eared men were to be avoided.
§ "A stage coach set up, to run between Halifax and Windsor."
§ Construction begins on Erie Canal, designed to connect the Great Lakes and the Hudson River (and thus the Atlantic Ocean).
§ Robert Owen publishes A New View of Society or Essays on the Formation of the Human Character Preparatory to the Development of a Plan for Gradually Ameliorating the Condition of Mankind.
§ Civil wars (Simón Bolívar and the Latin American revolution) sweep over the Spanish New World in waves from 1812 to the early 1820s; driven by both the political theories of Rousseau and the disruptions of civil order in Spain on account of Bonaparte and the resulting peninsular wars.
§ Ricardo's work, Principles of Political Economy & Taxation is published.
§ The war against the Radical Press in England heats up; Habeas Corpus Act is suspended for a whole year.
§ The population of the Nova Scotia is 94,000 and "the staples of export were fish, lumber, gypsum, and grindstones."
§ DesBarres moves from Amherst to Halifax, there to live out the balance of his days.
§ Unrest in England, with the Northern and Midland radicals causing sporadic violence and attacks on mills.
§ The American flag now has 20 stars.
§ The population at Halifax amounted to 11,156 souls of which 745 were black. The population of the entire province stood at about 77,000.
§ One can get a sense of how a number of Nova Scotians made their living back in 1818. As a measure of the commercial activities of the provinces one need only see the manifests of the sailing vessels that cleared Lunenburg between 12th January and the 25th of March, 1818. 150,000 feet of pine lumber, 24,850 oak and ash hogshead staves, 8500 hogshead hoops, 1300 gallons of fish oil, 453 barrels of pickled fish, ... 5320 quintals dry cod and scale fish, 220 bushels of potatoes, 15 do turnips, 53 shooks, 20 spars, 11,000 shingles. Flour was still being imported into the province. During 1819 over 50,00 barrels were imported into the province, whereas 37,500 bushels of potatoes were exported.
§ "Theatrical performances continue to be popular." At Halifax, there are now two rival theatrical companies placing their placards around town.
§ May 24th: Queen Victoria is born.
§ August 16th: "Peterloo: an orderly and unarmed crowed of about 60,000 men, women and children" assemble in support of universal suffrage, in St. Peter's Fields, Manchester. They were there to hear the speaker, Radical Hunt. The magistrates, in a move to arrest the speaker, order the cavalry in: "eleven persons, including two women, were killed or died of their injuries; over a hundred were wounded by sabres and several hundred more injured by horse-hoofs or crushed in the stampede." (G. M. Trevelyan.)
§ Keats, Hyperion; Shelley, Promethus Unbound.
§ The United States buys Florida from Spain.
§ The Missouri Compromise: In 1820 the U.S. Congress passed an act which admitted the State of Maine as slave free state and Missouri as a slave state, thus keeping the number of the slave and anti-slave states equal. By The Missouri Compromise, any the federal territory above 36 degrees 30 minutes was to be free; below that could be slave territory.
§ January 29, 1820: George III dies, George IV (1762-1830) takes the throne, due to his father's derangement he had been the Prince Regent since 1810.
§ General election in Britain.
§ A Factory Bill prohibiting children under the age of nine to work in cotton mills is passed in 1819; this is the first of a series of parliamentary bills which were to be passed over the next forty years in a process of law reform which was first prompted by the writings of the legal philosopher, Jeremy Bentham.
§ "Francis Beauford, hydrographer to the Admiralty, began the accurate series of charts covering the entire globe known as Admiralty pilots."
§ Epidemics of cholera and yellow fever break out in New York City, which, by this time, with a population of 150,000, is the largest city in the United States.
§ During the April term, the Supreme Court at Halifax sentenced a person who had been convicted of forgery, "pillory, one hour -- to have one of his ears cut off, and suffer imprisonment for the space of one year."
§ "The trial of the Queen, -- the coronation -- the death of queen Caroline -- the second expedition of Parry to the Polar discoveries, and the insurrections in Greece, cover the columns of our periodicals in 1821 ..."
§ At Halifax, in 1822, the full unfavorable effects of the war coming to an end made themselves felt, the country was "thoroughly paralyzed." The garrisons and the fleets were reduced and the circumstances of all those that serviced them were correspondingly reduced; businesses stagnated; and the value of real estate went down.
§ Murdoch: "In the whole town there not more than twenty buildings" made of anything other than wood. The other building materials were either stone, or brick. Province House, Government House, Dalhousie college, The Black-Benney House (1819) on Hollis (just north of Government House), Admiralty House (1819); Walter Bromley's school house ("Royal Acadian School," on the east side of Argyle Street between Duke and Buckingham Streets), and the Bulkeley house (corner of Argyle and Prince Street) were made of stone (Louisbourg stone). The county court house, four or five houses on Hollis Street and two or three on Argyle were made of brick. "The rest of the town was all of wooden materials, mostly of one or two stories high ..."
§ With concerns that Russia might take California, the United States, in December of 1823, asserts the Monroe Doctrine.
§ Wax (candle light) and not gas is being burnt for illumination.
§ Thursday, July 24th, 1824: A ball was held at Province House. Earlier in the month Dalhousie, the Governor General of Canada, came from Quebec (13 days by the government brig). The ball was a festive conclusion to Dalhousie's visit: "The council chamber was used as a ball room, and the supper was laid out in the assembly room. ... A military band was stationed in an elevated orchestra, placed over the central doors. ... At midnight the supper began ... dances were renewed afterwards."
§ In 1823 in England the Anti-slavery Society was formed.
§ Murdoch: "A project was discussed this summer among some persons of influence and capital in England, to establish lines of steam packet ships for regular intercourse from Valentia, in Ireland, to New York, Canso, &c., with the prospect of carrying mails, passengers and goods."
§ October 27th: DesBarres dies at Halifax.

1 See genealogical study by Jean-Marc Debard, "The Family Origins of Joseph Frederick Wallet DesBarres: A Riddle Finally Solved," NSHR, Vol. #14, No. 2 (1994).

2 Debard writes, ibid., that DesBarres went to University of Basle, matriculating on 25th of August 1750. Debard then suggests that DesBarres left Basle because of a duel.

3 Samuel Holland was another European who had joined the British army, and, like DesBarres, became a military engineer. Their career paths were similar; both having been with Wolfe at Louisbourg, in 1758, and at Quebec, in 1759. They were, however, of much different character from one another. "While DesBarres was intemperate and impetuous in manner, Holland made friends easily and seldom had problems in impressing his superiors." ("DesBarres and His Contemporaries as Mapmakers" by Stephen B. MacPhee, NSHR, Volume #5, No. 2 (1985) at p. 18.) In proof of this, we see that when the Chief Engineer for the British in America, Mackellar, was wounded at St. Foy, that it was the thirty-one year old Holland who was to fill the shoes of the Chief Engineer, passing over in the process the thirty-eight year old DesBarres.)

4 DesBarres "served as Engineer and Quarter Master General in the expedition sent under Col. William Amherst to recapture St. John's Newfoundland, from the French." [Webster's The Life of Joseph Frederick Wallet DesBarres (Shediac, N.B.: Privately printed, 1933).]

5 The Atlantic Neptune was to eventually come out in print beginning in 1777. It was a very elaborate publication, a work of great technical accuracy and artistry containing 78 plates depicting maps adorned with acquatints of the then familiar Nova Scotian landmarks. The Atlantic Neptune turned into a very expensive book and so there were only so many that came off the presses, the result being, that today it is a very rare work. Evans, in his biography, Uncommon Obdurate: The Several Public Careers of J. F. W. DesBarres, (University of Toronto Press, 1969) gives a lot of interesting details on the preparation and publication of The Atlantic Neptune; see in particular Chapter II. Incidently, The Atlantic Neptune might be found on the 'net.

6 Evans, in his work, Uncommon Obdurate ..., op. cit., at p. 27, gives details of the DesBarres holdings in and around the Isthmus of Chignecto. DesBarres owned 8,000 acres at Minudie, "so rich in the highly fertile marshlands that he called it the Elysian Fields." DesBarres had a second estate which he named Maccan-Nappan after the two little streams which ran through it." He first started to acquire land in this area in 1765 and was to add to his estates through the years which included lands in the areas between Memramcook and Petitcodiac rivers located in present day New Brunswick.

7 We see in a despatch to the Board of Trade dated September 30, 1766, the Following: "For the present although several paths have been cut to some of the settlements, yet none but that to Windsor have been so far completed as to admit of Carriages, which is yet in an imperfect state, nor is any other passable for Horses without great difficulty ... (As found in Holland's Description Cape Breton Island (Halifax: PANS, Publication, No. 2; 1935) at p. 23.)

8 Esther Clark Wright in Planters and Pioneers, Nova Scotia, 1749 to 1775 (Hantsport: Lancelot Press, 1982) at p. 102. As for the Acadians: MacPhee, in his article, "DesBarres and His Contemporaries as Mapmakers", op. cit., at p. 23, makes reference to DesBarres use of the Acadians, "the Acadians were the best for the job, since they were familiar with both shallops and the inshore waters. But bureaucracy interceded: the expenditures for the Acadians had not been approved, and DesBarres ended up paying their wages out of his own pocket."

9 Mary Cannon was a Halifax "servant girl," twenty years DesBarres' junior. He was to have five children by her: Amelia Louisa Matilda Lutterell, John Frederick William, Spry Ann, Martha Sophia, and an unidentified daughter who died but a few years old and whose name might have been Mary. ["A Man and His Lawyer: The Friendship of J.F.W. DesBarres and Richard Gibbons," NSHS, #43 (1991); Kernaghan, "'A most Eccentric Genius': The Private Life of J. F. W. DesBarres," NSHR, Volume #5, No. 2 (1985) at p. 46. The DCB, incidently, states there were six children by Mary Cannon?]

10 Mary Cannon came down from Castle Frederick to meet DesBarres, they renewed their old acquaintance (in a most intimate manner, as Mary was to became pregnant by him once again).

11 The two oldest children by Mary Cannon, William and Amelia, were to accompany their father to Sydney where he was to establish a 12 acre farm at Point Edward. Martha Williams was left back in England, though their oldest son, who could not have been older than 10 years, did accompany his father and was to stay with him at Cape Breton. As for Mary Cannon and the other children: they were to stay on at Castle Frederick. DesBarres, possibly as early as 1782, had signed over Castle Frederick and its surrounding lands to Mary.

12 DesBarres administration was a family affair. His son by Mary Cannon, John Frederic William DesBarres was to hold down three positions and was therefore illegible to collect the parliamentary grants given for such posts. Douglas B. Foster, in his article, "DesBarres the Town Planner," NSHR, Volume #5, No. 2 (1985) at p. 29, gives forth with some interesting details on the founding of Sydney.

13 To this group of "poor Englishmen and disbanded soldiers," which were landed by DesBarres, were to be added a number of Loyalists who were fleeing in the aftermath of the American Revolution. The Loyalists, according to the DCB, had arrived due to the efforts of Abraham Cornelius Cuyler, a former mayor of Albany, New York.

14 Robert J. Morgan was to conclude in his article, "DesBarres the Founder," NSHR, Volume #5, No. 2 (1985) at p. 13: "In the end, DesBarres was dismissed because he disturbed the peace of Whitehall. Formally he was accused of causing friction between Cape Breton and Nova Scotia, between the civil authorities on the island, and of wasting money by distributing supplies to people unentitled to them."

15 Life of ..., op. cit., at p. 42.

16 There was something about DesBarres that was to consistently hold him back from promotions. He came through the battles of 1757-60 with holding only a lieutenancy, and, in 1763, when he was first commissioned to do the survey work in Nova Scotia, he was yet still a Lieutenant. It was only in 1775 that he made Captain. In 1783, Major; in 1794, Lt-Col; full Colonel in 1798. His name was kept on the Army List until his death in 1824. (See Webster's Life of ..., op. cit., at p. 26.)

17 Evans observed: "DesBarres had suffered all his life for his strong opinions and tendency to see matters in black and white, and while old age may have mellowed him a trifle the frequent testimonies to his continued vigor strongly refute any picture of a doddering governor at the mercy of scheming politicians." (Uncommon Obdurate ..., op. cit., at p. 27.)

18 In his 1994 study, "The Family Origins of Joseph Frederick Wallet DesBarres: A Riddle Finally Solved," op. cit., Jean-Marc Debard determined, as a "new certainty," that DesBarres "age at his death in 1824 was at most 95, rather than 103 as has been claimed."

19 Uncommon Obdurate ..., op. cit., at p. 98. Kernaghan reports that "DesBarres' legal heirs [who ever they may have been] moved to England." ("A most Eccentric Genius," op. cit., at p. 58.) The son by Mary Cannon, William, had died in 1800. Amelia, Spry Ann and Sophia, according to Kernaghan, were to live at Horton, "where they continued to live for many years." (Ibid., at p. 53.)

20 "A most Eccentric Genius," op. cit., at pp. 58-9.

21 Kernaghan, "A most Eccentric Genius," op. cit., at p. 57.

22 The Acadian Recorder as set out in Webster's Life of ..., op. cit., at pp. 69-70.

23 A lease between his mother, Mary Cannon, and William, was executed in 1794 in respect to lands at Minudie. William met his death there by drowning in 1800. (Kernaghan, "A most Eccentric Genius, op. cit., at p. 53.)] Mary Cannon was to carry on at Castle Frederick," and, was to there in 1817. She had proceeded in life, full of fire; she was of a personality and character, I suspect, that was very much different than that of Martha Williams. Incidently, we learn, that in the 1840s, the lands at Falmouth were purchased by Mary Cannon's grandson, William Frederick DesBarres (1800-85; he was to become a judge of the Supreme Court of Nova Scotia, in 1848).

24 It would appear that the Public Archives of Nova Scotia has an extensive and organized collection in respect to DesBarres ("DesBarres Papers") including, apparently, a copy of The Atlantic Neptune. Evans, (Uncommon Obdurate ..., op. cit., at pp. 101-23) sets forth an excellent "Bibliographical Essay," which must be consulted if one is to undertake further research on the life and works of DesBarres.


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Peter Landry
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