A History of Nova Scotia Page

Book #2: Settlement, Revolution & War. TOC
Part 1, "Pre-Revolutionary Settlement" TOC
Ch. 5 - The Early Settlement of the
Chignecto Townships.

The Rhode Islanders:

At an earlier point in our history1, we saw where the marshes and flat lands at the Isthmus of Chignecto constituted one of the principal battle grounds on which the French and the English, these two foreign invaders, fought for the possession of a continent. It was there, at the isthmus, that two armies of the 18th century took their stand with the Missaguash River in between. To the south of the river the English built Fort Lawrence, to the north the French built Fort Beausejour. It was in 1755, that an English army crossed the Missaguash and defeated the French and took Fort Beausejour as its own.2 In 1758, the English took Louisbourg3; in 1759, Quebec; in 1760, Montreal. With the taking of Montreal, though the international war between England and France was to continue to 1763, the question as to who was to have possession of North America: was settled.

Fort Beausejour, or rather Fort Cumberland as the British renamed it, is situated on the western end of a 16 mile neck of land by which Nova Scotia is attached to the North American continent. If it were not for this isthmus, Nova Scotia would be but an island in the Atlantic Ocean. Because of its strategic position Fort Cumberland was a stronghold and a military base for the English, one of four forts to be found in Nova Scotia at war's end. These forts may be easily located by looking to a map: Halifax (which while is here counted as one had a number of strongholds in and around the area including Fort Sackville at the head of the Bedford basin); Fort Edward (Piziquid), half way between Halifax and Fort Cumberland; Fort Anne at Annapolis Royal, the oldest military establishment in the province. As for Cape Breton, there was, in 1763, no military presence, at all, given that the great stone French fortress at Louisbourg, as the war was closing, had been reduced to rubble by British sappers.

Free fertile land next to ocean-going lanes was an attractive offer to New Englanders, but, Nova Scotia! Nova Scotia was a place where their enemies had resided, where they and their fathers had gone to fight. The battles were won and the war, as a practical matter, was over. Also, due to the deportation of 1755, there were far fewer French in Nova Scotia. But was it not true that French fighters and their Indian allies were still about? Notwithstanding these fears and the general difficulties of leaving home and traveling to new lands, to those who had none, the offer of good farming lands as are to be found along the banks of the Annapolis River, the shores of the Minas Basin, or the flat lands at the isthmus was an opportunity not to be missed. For the knowledgable New Englanders, and indeed the authorities at Halifax, there was to be more concern over the lands at the isthmus then the lands elsewhere. To the north, in the territory of present day New Brunswick there were still considerable numbers of French and Indian fighters who had been led by Boishebert. As it turned out, beyond 1760, there was to be no further problems with the French at the isthmus, but for a number of years there, there was concern that the French military might come to re-stake the claims of France. Though marked out (see Morris map of 1760), the Chignecto townships continued pretty much vacant because of this fear.4 It was not until the early 1770s, when about 1,000 Yorkshiremen came into the area, that the lands in the isthmus area receive families of English speaking farmers.5 Up to that point the lands were generally held in reserve thinking it to be lands that might be granted to retiring soldiers. In spite of all this, certain New Englanders did come into the area as early as 1761.

According to W. C. Milner, in his article, "Records of Chignecto," the "first actual settlement in Sackville was to occur in 1761." Not much is known about these first settlers. Not unlike what happened in the settlements around Minas basin and at Annapolis, a committee, in 1761, was formed to see to the English settlement of the lands at Chignecto. What has been pieced together is that the first of the newcomers arrived from Rhode Island (some from Massachusetts) and settled on the lands around the Tantramar River. They were, according to Milner, represented by Benjamin Thurber, Cyprian Sterry, and Edmund Jenks.6 More generally, by 1763, again according to Milner, 65 families had settled in the townships of Sackville and Cumberland. (See the Morris map of 1760.) This first group of New Englanders was a relatively small band. Two years later, a number of other New Englanders came to the isthmus. A very large grant was made on 27th of November, 1763 and Milner sets forth the names of the grantees.7 The list includes names such as: Morse, How, Eddy, Oulton, Earle, Watson, Collins and Chapell. The committee formed for this second group of New Englanders, consisted of Capt. Winkworth Yonke [Tonge], Joshua Winslow, John Huston, John Jenks, Joshua Sprague, Valentine Estabrooks and William Maxwell.8

So, while New Englanders did take up lands at Chignecto during the 1760s, they did not do so in any great numbers at the beginning, at least, not to the extent as they did in the other Acadian home lands as are located in the Annapolis Valley and around the Minas Basin. As for the isthmus area, greater numbers of immigrants came to settle there during the years 1772-1775; they came directly from England; it is an event known in our history as the "Yorkshire Emigration."


The Yorkshire Emigration:

Between the years 1774 and 1776, until the War of Independence broke out, eleven ships set sail and carried an estimated 1,000 Yorkshire emigrants to Nova Scotia.9 They sailed from such Yorkshire ports as Whitby, Scarborough and Hull.10

The "Yorkshire Emigration" came about primarily due to the efforts of one man. This man was Michael Francklin, who, at the pertinent time, was the Lieutenant-governor of Nova Scotia. Francklin had been a successful merchant who succeeded in gaining friends in high places such that he was appointed the Lieutenant-governor in 1766; it was an appointment that he was glad to accept, as, he could use the work. During the war Francklin, like most all of the Halifax merchants, did very well for himself. With the end of The Seven Years War in 1763, Francklin was to suffer a serious financial setback. He decided to go into the real estate business. It was then he hit upon an immigration scheme. During 1769, Francklin sailed for England with the purpose of recruiting settlers for his properties.

"In newspaper ads he [Francklin] praised the climate of Nova Scotia and the absence of game laws, taxes, tithes, and political disturbances, and he offered generous terms to those who would inhabit his land. A settler would discover that he could get "as much land as he pleases" and would be charged only a trivial annual quit rent for the first ten years, for the next five years only sixpence an acre, thereafter one shilling an acre. Further, Francklin offered loans to settlers sufficient to enable them to buy two cows, two calves, one sow pig, and enough seed corn for two years."11
Francklin's efforts at recruiting in northern England was timely. As Dr. Hamilton was to write:
"Northern England and especially Yorkshire, was then experiencing an agricultural revolution. Scattered farm holdings were being consolidated into large estates. The imposition of major rent increases by landlords soon followed. ... In all three Yorkshire ridings economic instability was apparent; and talk of emigration was in the air. It was to these restless Yorkshiremen that Francklin directed his attention."12
Professor Bailyn made reference to these people to whom Francklin appealed:
"Drawn largely from the country's East and North ridings -- from the broad valley of the Rye, from the bleak, jagged moorlands of the Hambleton and Cleveland Hills and the North York moors, and from the gentler countryside along the Tees -- they were farmers of some little substance, not young, traveling with entire, sometimes quite large, families."13
In March of 1774, two ships, Albion and Two Friends sailed within a week of one another from Hull. These two ships had 280 people aboard with names, such as: Smith, Layton, Ward, Appleby, Fielding, Blenkhorn and Thompson..14 The then governor of Nova Scotia, Francis Legge wrote of these two vessels which had proceeded up into Halifax Harbour within days of one another:
"Within these few days, two brigantines have arrived in harbour from Hull, importing two hundred and eighty persons from Yorkshire ... These people, my Lord, do not come here with the expectation of having lands granted to them, some come to purchase, others perhaps to become tenants and some to labour."15
It it is interesting to see Governor Legge writing how these people "do not come here with the expectation of having lands granted to them, some come to purchase." I have little doubt that these people came to Nova Scotia expecting free grants and some government assistance in order that they might be properly installed on their new lands. I am sure that is what the recruiting agents promised to these people. Some of course had money and were therefore able to get better lands then what the government was then, in 1770s, able to grant. The best lands had already been taken up by the speculators, many of who were the friends of the colonial administrators.16 Those who had the money bought from the speculators, others within the year of the government allotment found better lands which were being sold by certain of the New Englanders that had acquired the choice lands, earlier, in the 1760s. Legge, in his communication with the Colonial Secretary back in London dated May, 1774, and as quoted in part above, was soft peddling the matter. Legge had arrived at Halifax but seven months earlier from England to take over the reins of the colony as its governor. His orders were to find out what the difficulties were in Nova Scotia (the colony had a long history of being in financial difficulties) and, once found, to cure them. Legge's commission was to cut away unnecessary expenses and ladling out free lands was not the way to go about it, no matter what his deputy, Michael Francklin had promised.

In that year, 1774, four other vessels, at least, left English ports after the Albion and the Two Friends. They were: Prince George (out of Scarborough with 143 passengers) Thomas and William (Scarborough, 181), Mary (Stockton, 34), and Providence (Newcastle, 73). There may have been more that year17, there was one the year before and more the year after. The first of the Yorkshire Immigration ships was apparently the Duke of York which left Liverpool on March 16th, 1772, and, after a voyage of almost seven weeks, landed at Halifax in the lovely month of May.18 It would not appear, at least from the material at which I have looked, that there were any other immigration ships with northern Englanders aboard that came to Nova Scotia in 1772; but, there may have been. In 1775, the records show that The Jenny sailed from Hull during April of 1775. Though the "Yorkshire Emigration" to Nova Scotia is represented to have occurred during a three year period, 1772-1775, it seems that it mostly occurred in but one year 1774.

We now make reference to two men from East Yorkshire who took it upon themselves to travel to the new land in order to make their own assessment of the situation and the opportunities available. I write of Thomas Rispin (a farmer from Fangfoss, East Yorkshire) and his friend, John Robinson. They took one of the ships that came out in 1774. They spent some months exploring Nova Scotia and New Brunswick noting farming methods (of which they were not too complimentary), soil types, crops, estates for sale, markets, native people and flora and fauna. On their return, in that same year, they wrote up their report for publication, "A Journey Through Nova-Scotia."19 Here following is an extract from their account:

"On Friday the eighth of April, one thousand seven hundred and seventy four, we took shipping at Scarborough, along with about one hundred and seventy other passengers, on board the Prince George, and sailed out of the harbour on the same day; and, on the fifteenth of May following, at eight in the morning, we landed at Halifax, in Nova-Scotia, after a pleasant passage of five weeks and one day. Neither of us had an hour's sickness during the whole voyage, although the greatest part of the passengers were sick for nearly a fortnight; after which they acquired what sailors call a sea-brain, and became very stout and healthy. A child that was in a bad state of health when it was put on board, died when we came near the coast of Nova-Scotia, a few days after which, its mother was safely delivered of another, and recovered exceedingly well. We landed at Halifax just the same number we were when we took shipping at Scarborough, all in good health. It may not be amiss to recommend to such as go to America, to provide for themselves; ship provisions are not agreeable to those who have been used to live in a very different way. Every passenger had a certain allowance per day, viz. a pound of beef, and the same weight of bread. This, perhaps, would be thought a scanty allowance by many. Passengers would, therefore, render the voyage much more comfortable, were they to lay in a stock of provisions for their own use.
Before our landing at Halifax, the prospect appeared very discouraging and disagreeable, nothing but barren rocks and hills presented themselves to our view along the coast. This unfavourable appearance greatly dampened the spirits of most of the passengers, and several of them began to wish themselves in Old England, before they had set foot in Nova-Scotia."
I have little doubt that the expectations of the new arrivals were dampened when they were to see that which first greeted them, the Atlantic coasts of Nova Scotia. From a farmer's perspective, upon coming upon the approaches of Halifax Harbour, he indeed must have been dishearten. What is needed is good soil to grow things and not much of it can be found anywhere near Halifax. The lands that these newcomers were promised, however, were well beyond Halifax, and they are indeed good growing lands. In the Annapolis Valley and at the Isthmus of Chignecto there are alluvial soils that have been layered up over the eons by the Fundy Bay system, soils which must be among the richest in the world. But, the new immigrants did not immediately see the lands which they were destined to work. After long sea voyages, the first thing was to get them off the ship, and, in a manner of speaking, revived; after which it was necessary to get the new arrivals to their new lands. Most of the Yorkshire immigrants settled at the isthmus, though not all.20 As a practical matter, in 1774, it was not possible to bring bags, and carts, and children, overland. The larger ocean going ships, as part of the deal, were free to load cargo (likely lumber) for an immediate return to England, besides they were not the most appropriate vessels to navigate the waters and tides of the Bay of Fundy (see map). So it was, that smaller vessels were employed, schooners, to ferry the new arrivals up to the head of the Bay of Fundy, a trip that might have well taken a week or two, but, maybe, just a couple of days if the wind and tides were right.


Personal Stories:

We see one of the men, James Metcalf, writing home to his intended, Ann Gill. The letter is dated at Cumberland, August, 1772. Metcalf came out in the Duke of York arriving at Halifax but three months earlier. In the letter he tells her that he has "207 acres of land" and how part of it will be easily cleared as "it hath been formerly cut by the French." Also he observed that there is an "orchard that grows plenty of apples." He tells her of the "little fly called a mosquito that is troublesome in the summertime" and "it is the only thing I have to say against the country." He also informs his wife to be, that "spinning wheels are very dear here." Also he advises that "all linen cloth and woolen cloth is very dear." He suggests, "if you come pray be so good as to bring a bushel of wheat if you can of 4 different kinds for seed let yellow Kent be one and Hampshire brown be the another for it will be of great service hear be careful to keep it from salt water you may if you please lay it like a pillow in your bed or in any place where the salt water does not come, provide a little tea or something that is nourishing provided you be seasick ..." The letter took a long time to get to Ann Gill in England, but she eventually got it. After a while she set out, so to be with her James. "She arrived at Fort Cumberland in 1774 and despatched a messenger to Mr. Metcalf, who awakened him at 2 o'clock in the morning with the news. He started at once with a led horse [work horse] for the Fort where he met her. They were married at Fort Lawrence [sic] that day." Our author, Milner, advises that the Metcalfs were to have two daughters, one who married William Sharpe and the other, Charles Atkinson.21

Forty-two year old Charles Dixon was also aboard the Duke of York with his wife Susanna and five children. Dixon was a bricklayer's son from Kirk Leavington a village just south of the Tees River, seven miles or so from Stock-On-Tees. Among those who were brought over on the Two Friends were to be found 33 year old William Blinkhorn together with his wife Ann, 29, and their four children ranging in age from one to seven years of age. Seven more children were to be born to William and Ann Blinkhorn. Seemingly like all of the Yorkshire immigrants, the Blinkhorn family first arrived at Halifax. They were then transported to the isthmus by schooner. Aboard the Jenny -- seemingly the last of the Yorkshire ships which came over from Hull during 1775 -- was the Peck family. Richard Peck was a 47 year old and he had with him his wife and ten children, the oldest twenty and the youngest two years old. Also aboard the Jenny was Christopher Harper with his wife and seven children. Also aboard the Jenny was Elizabeth Anderson with her five children; they were going to join up with the head of the family Thomas Anderson (1745-1846).22

On the Prince George (sometimes inexplicably referred to as the William and Mary) would have been found 54 year old John Harrison, his wife Sarah and nine children. They had boarded the Prince George at Scarborough. The Harrison family were to eventually find their way to their farm on River Hebert. Twenty year old Luke Harrison was not very impressed with his new situation. Shortly after his arrival he wrote his "Cousin Billy" back in Yorkshire:

"You may think that muss keetoes cannot hurt a deal, but if you do you are mistaken, for they will swell one's legs and hands so that some is both blind and lame for some days, and they grow worse every year ... and the bite the English worst. [As for those mowing hay] the muss keetoes will bite them very often so that they will throw down ... their scythes and run home almost bitten to death, and there is a blackfly worse then all the rest. Everyone in this country has trowsers, and several women, for they fly up their petticoats and bite them terribly."23
The flies were a common enough complaint. In winter the new arrivals just complained about the cold, such that one is "almost frozen to dead." Notwithstanding these adverse conditions, summer and winter, most were to become accustomed to their new land. The Harrisons, though not much impressed at first were to continue on and became a very successful Nova Scotian family. Indeed, we see where Luke Harrison wrote his "Cousin Billy" in 1803, 29 years after he wrote complaining of the "muss keetoes," he would not move back to England for any reason. It might have been inertia, but the reason so many liked their new situation in the New Land, once they were to get use to things, was that they had a sense of independence: they had their own land and no one was to bother them with "game laws, taxes, tithes, and political disturbances."


[NEXT: Bk. 2, Pt. 1, Ch.6 - "The Re-Coming of the Acadians."]

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