New Brunswick History and Other Stuff

Table of Contents, Rev. December 10, 2014

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This blog will continue to grow, but following is a table of contents so far – from the top:

  1. The Fire of 1837 in Saint John – Dec. 10, 2014
  2. The Cruise of the Rechab – Dec. 3, 2014
  3. A Night in the Deep – Nov. 26, 2014
  4. Robert Foulis (A Misplaced Genius) – Nov. 19, 2014
  5. The City Mills – Nov. 15, 2014
  6. The Brothers d’Amours – Nov. 5, 2014
  7. John Allan’s Revolutionary Mission to the Saint John River – Oct. 29, 2014
  8. Relics of the Acadian Period – Oct. 22, 2014
  9. Some Odd Old Advertisements – Oct. 15, 2014
  10. The Miramichi Fire – Relief of the Sufferers – Oct. 8, 2014
  11. Jonathan Eddy’s Account of the Attack on Fort Cumberland, November, 1776 – Oct. 1, 2014
  12. Which of These Two is the Wisest and Happiest? – Sept. 24, 2014
  13. Fredericton Bridge, a Prophetic Writing – Sept. 17, 2014
  14. A Speech to Distinguished Persons of Stake and Consideration – Sept. 10, 2014
  15. Building an Education System From Almost Nothing – Sept. 3, 2014
  16. Cape Tormentine to the Baye des Chaleurs in the 1600’s – Aug. 27, 2014
  17. The Customs of the Mi’kmaq in the 1600’s and Before – Aug. 20, 2014
  18. Two Documents Relating to the Fenians in New Brunswick – Aug. 13, 2014
  19. The Lazaretto for Lepers in Tracadie, 1862 – Aug. 6, 2014
  20. Thoughts About the Augustine Mound at Metepenegiag Mi’kmaq Nation – July 30, 2014
  21. What am I Bid for This Pauper? – July 23, 2014
  22. Trouble at Madawaska, 1831 – July 16, 2014
  23. The Great Fire at Saint John, June 20, 1877 – July 9, 2014
  24. The Poor Fellows Shook as if They Would Fall to Pieces! – July 2, 2014
  25. How to Build a Logging Camp in Around 1850 – June 25, 2014
  26. Risen from the Ashes, Phoenix Square in Fredericton – June 18, 2014
  27. Rocks and Water, Magnificence and Squalor; St. John in 1876 – June 11, 2014
  28. Moncton as Seen by a Journalist in 1876 – June 4, 2014
  29. Events Leading to the Caraquet Riots of 1875 – May 28, 2014
  30. A Dramatic Account of the Miramichi Fire – May 21, 2014
  31. Saint John in the Early 1840’s – May 18, 2014
  32. A Note to Subscribers, and a Memorandum for me – May 14, 2014
  33. The Myth that Kerosene was Invented in New Brunswick – May 7, 2014
  34. A Church with Military Boots and Fixed Bayonets – Apr. 30, 2014
  35. An Opening Salvo in an Ongoing Argument – Apr. 23, 2014
  36. May living worms his corpse devour – Apr. 16, 2014
  37. He don’t look any better than some of our own boys – Apr. 9, 2014
  38. The Disputed Territory Between New Brunswick and Maine – Apr. 2, 2014
  39. Navigation on the Saint John River – Mar. 26, 2014
  40. Shepody as a Hot Investment Opportunity, 1868 – Mar. 19, 2014
  41. To Her Majesty, RE: Reciprocity, 1853 – Mar. 12, 2014
  42. Diary on the Tobique, 1851 – Mar. 5, 2014
  43. Growing up in Fredericton in the 1820s and 1830s – Feb. 26, 2014
  44. Travels From Eastport, Maine, to Fredericton, 1851 – Feb. 19, 2014
  45. The Saint John General Public Hospital, 19th Century, Part 2 of 2 – Feb. 12, 2014
  46. The Saint John General Public Hospital, 19th Century, Part 1 of 2 – Feb. 5, 2014
  47. The Story of the Great Brothers – Jan. 29, 2014
  48. A Trek up the Tobique, and Onward to Bathurst – Jan. 22, 2014
  49. Summer Tourists. A Manual for New Brunswick Farmers – Jan. 19, 2014
  50. A Trek from Grand Falls to Campbellton, 1862 – Jan. 15, 2014
  51. A Trek From Taymouth to Boisetown, 1862 – Jan. 12, 2014
  52. Capt. William Owen’s Journal, Campobello, 1770-71 – Jan. 8, 2014
  53. The Founding of Campobello Island – Jan. 5, 2014
  54. New Brunswick Roads and Railways, 1855 – Jan. 1, 2014
  55. Grand Manan – Dec. 29, 2013
  56. The Shipyard Fire in Saint John, in 1841 – Dec. 26, 2013
  57. Christmas as it Was in Saint John, in 1808 – Dec. 22, 2013
  58. The Saint John Grammar School – Dec. 18, 2013
  59. William Wishart Blasts the New Brunswick Education System, 1845 – Dec. 15, 2013
  60. The Diary of Sarah Frost – Dec. 11, 2013
  61. Pŭlěs, Pŭlowěch′, and Beechkwěch (Pigeon, Partridge, and Nighthawk) – Dec. 10, 2014
  62. The Government of New Brunswick, 1837 – Dec. 4, 2013
  63. The Whales and the Robbers – Dec. 1, 2013
  64. The Ashburton Treaty – Nov. 27, 2013
  65. Glooscap and His Four Visitors – Nov. 24, 2013
  66. The Pioneers of Saint Stephen – Nov. 20, 2013
  67. The Adventures of Kâktoogwâsees; a Tale of Ancient Times – Nov. 17, 2013
  68. The Asylum at Saint John – Nov. 13, 2013
  69. The Liver-Colored Giants and Magicians – Nov. 10, 2013
  70. Smuggling Between Calais and St. Stephen – Nov. 6, 2013
  71. The Two Weasels – Nov. 3, 2013
  72. A note to subscribers – Oct. 30, 2013
  73. The European and North American Railway, 1862 – Oct. 30, 2013
  74. The Origin of the War Between the Mi’kmaq and the Kwěděches – Oct. 23, 2013
  75. Trouble on the Line: The Early Telegraph in New Brunswick – Oct. 16, 2013
  76. The Invisible Boy; Team′ and Oochigeaskw – Oct. 9, 2013
  77. Transportation to and from Fredericton, 1841 – Oct. 2, 2013
  78. The Boy That Was Transformed Into a Horse – Sept. 25, 2013
  79. McAdam: Notes From the Early Days – Sept. 18, 2013
  80. The Magical Food, Belt and Flute – Sept. 11, 2013
  81. European & North American Rly. Staff, 1861 – Sept. 4, 2013
  82. Glooscap and the Megumoowesoo: A Marriage Adventure – Aug. 28, 2013
  83. The Loss of the Royal Tar – Aug. 21, 2013
  84. Robbery and Murder Revenged, Plus a Grand Falls Story – Aug. 14, 2013
  85. The St. John River From Below Fredericton to the Reversing Falls – Aug. 7, 2013
  86. A Proposal for a Wooden Railway – July 31, 2013
  87. ‘On the Early History of New Brunswick’ – July 24, 2013
  88. The Maugerville Settlement, 1763-1824 – July 17, 2013
  89. 1930 Circus Train Wreck Near Moncton, N.B. – July 10, 2013
  90. Horses or Oxen? Pick one – July 3, 2013
  91. The St. John River; Andover to Fredericton – June 26, 2013
  92. Origins of Some Place Names on N.B.’s Eastern Shore – June 19, 2013
  93. The St. John River; Grand Falls to the Tobique – June 12, 2013
  94. Gabriel Acquin – June 5, 2013
  95. The Seigniories of New Brunsiwck – May 29, 2013
  96. An 1841 Trek up the Oromocto River – May 22, 2013
  97. Fredericton’s Exhibition Palace, and Bears in N.B. – May 15, 2013
  98. Murder on Diamond Square Road – May 8, 2013
  99. Acadian Historic Sites in New Brunswick – May 1, 2013
  100. John C. Tracy’s Book, Part 5 of 5 – Apr. 24, 2013
  101. John C. Tracy’s Book, Part 4 of 5 – Apr. 17, 2013
  102. John C. Tracy’s Book, Part 3 of 5 – Apr. 10, 2013
  103. John C. Tracy’s Book, Part 2 of 5 – Apr. 3, 2013
  104. John C. Tracy’s Book, Part 1 of 5 – Mar. 27, 2013
  105. A Retrospective Look at Saint John – Mar. 20, 2013
  106. The Wreck of the England – Mar. 13, 2013
  107. The First Decade of the 1800’s in St. John, N.B. – Mar. 6, 2013
  108. St. John’s Poorhouse and Workhouse – Feb. 27, 2013
  109. New Brunswick Scenes From an Old Book – Feb. 20, 2013
  110. Nice Pictures From Another Old Book – Feb. 13, 2013
  111. Life in the Backwoods of New Brunswick, Part 2/2 – Feb. 6, 2013
  112. Life in the Backwoods of New Brunswick, 1845 – Jan. 30, 2013
  113. The Works of W.O. Raymond – Jan. 23, 2013
  114. The Year of the Fever – Jan. 16, 2013
  115. Hanged for the Theft of 25 Cents – Jan. 9, 2013
  116. Reversing Falls – Pictures – Jan. 2, 2013
  117. Christmas as it was in 1808 – Dec. 25, 2012
  118. Nice Pictures From an Old Book – Dec. 19, 2012
  119. The Saint John Bridge Collapse of 1837 – Dec. 12, 2012
  120. The First Road Bridge Across the Reversing Falls – Dec. 5, 2012
  121. The Mystery of the First Lizzie Morrow – Nov. 28, 2012
  122. The First Murder Trial on the River St. John – Nov. 21, 2012
  123. The March of the 104th Regiment in 1812 – Nov. 14, 2012
  124. Partridge Island – Nov. 7, 2012
  125. Fredericton’s First Bridge Across the Saint John River – Oct. 31, 2012
  126. 1816, The Year Without a Summer – Oct. 31, 2012
  127. Winslow to Wentworth, 1781 – Oct. 31, 2012
  128. Oops! An explanation – Oct. 31, 2012
  129. The Saxby Gale of 1869 – Oct. 31, 2012
  130. New Brunswick’s Third Town in 1838: Saint Andrews – Oct. 31, 2012
  131. Fredericton and York County in 1838 – Oct. 31, 2012
  132. The City and County of Saint John in 1838 – Sept. 26, 2012
  133. The St. Andrews and Quebec Railroad – Sept. 19, 2012
  134. The Studholm Report of Saint John River Pre-Loyalists in 1783 – Sept. 12, 2012
  135. Caleb Jones. Further RE: Ann, otherwise known as Nancy – Sept. 5, 2012
  136. The Wreck of the Martha – Aug. 29, 2012
  137. The Early Settlement of Maugerville and the Sheffield Parsonage Dispute – Aug. 22, 2012
  138. Lieutenant Governors of New Brunswick to Confederation, Part 2 of 2 – Aug. 15, 2012
  139. Lieutenant Governors of New Brunswick to Confederation, Part 1 of 2 – Aug. 8, 2012
  140. The Morrow House at French Lake, N.B. – New Information – Aug. 1, 2012
  141. Sound by Glen Glenn, Revision 1 – July 25, 2012
  142. Ann, otherwise known as Nancy – July 18, 2012
  143. The Fire of October 7, 1825 – Beyond the Miramichi – July 11, 2012
  144. Lemuel Allan Wilmot – July 4, 2012
  145. The Great Fire at Miramichi, October 7, 1825 – June 27, 2012
  146. Robert Rankin in New Brunswick – June 20, 2012
  147. Who Owned the Mill at Tracy, New Brunswick? – June 13, 2012
  148. Signatures of Sunbury County Ancestors – June 6, 2012
  149. Daniel Wood’s Log Cabin, and Little Field Barn at French Lake, New Brunswick – May 30, 2012
  150. Rusagonis and George Garraty – May 23, 2012
  151. Epitaph Transcriptions from a Collection – May 16, 2012
  152. Central New Brunswick Gravestones from a Genealogy – May 9, 2012
  153. Nashwaak River Pictures with Stewart Family Connections – May 2, 2012
  154. More Sunbury County Photographs from a Collection – Apr. 25, 2012
  155. An Indian Burial Ground at Oromocto; and Coal Mining on the Oromocto River – Apr. 22, 2012
  156. “Days of Old” by Katherine DeWitt and Norma Alexander – Apr. 18, 2012
  157. The Wood Cemetery at French Lake, New Brunswick – Apr. 11, 2012
  158. James Glenie in New Brunswick – Apr. 4, 2012
  159. Four Generations of the Stewart Family on the Nashwaak River – Mar. 28, 2012
  160. Three Generations of the Mersereau Family in New Brunswick – Mar. 21, 2012
  161. Three Generations of the Smith Family of Sunbury County, New Brunswick – Mar. 14, 2012
  162. Three Generations of the Wood Family of French Lake, New Brunswick – Mar. 7, 2012
  163. New Brunswick Education in 1883 – Feb. 29, 2012
  164. Riots and Demonstrations in Saint John – Feb. 20, 2012
  165. Making Better Butter – Feb. 18, 2012
  166. York County Place Names, 1896/1905 – Feb. 8, 2012
  167. Sunbury County Place Names, 1896/1905 – Feb. 1, 2012
  168. Stereoscopic slides from Fred Stewart, Part 3 of 3 – Jan. 25, 2012
  169. Stereoscopic slides from Fred Stewart, Part 2 of 3 – Jan. 18, 2012
  170. Stereoscopic slides from Fred Stewart, Part 1 of 3 – Jan. 11, 2012
  171. The Hon. Thomas Baillie: Gone, but not soon forgotten! – Jan. 5, 2012
  172. The Fort at Oromocto, 1780 – 1783 – Dec. 29, 2011
  173. The Great Fire in Fredericton, 1850 – Early Accounts – Dec. 15, 2011
  174. The Morrow House at French Lake, and More – Dec. 8, 2011
  175. The Old Woman House at French Lake, New Brunswick – Dec. 1, 2011
  176. Smith Family Photographs from a Collection, Sunbury County, N.B. – Nov. 25, 2011
  177. French Lake from Before we Remember – Nov. 20, 2011
  178. How Geary became known as Geary – Nov. 9, 2011
  179. Elizabeth (Smith) Secord; N.B.’s First Woman Registered Doctor – Nov. 4, 2011
  180. Phillips Family Photographs from a Collection, Rusagonis, N.B. – Nov. 2, 2011
  181. Mersereau Family Photographs from a Collection, Sunbury County, N.B. – Oct. 30, 2011
  182. Wood Family Photographs from a Collection, French Lake, N.B. – Oct. 25, 2011
  183. Jeremiah Tracy: Pioneer of the Village of Tracy, New Brunswick – Oct. 20, 2011
  184. Two Old Railroad-Inspired Songs – Oct. 16, 2011
  185. Ode to the Oromocto River – Oct. 10, 2011
  186. John Mersereau, Loyalist 2 – Oct. 4, 2011
  187. The Earliest American Railroads and Locomotives – Sept. 14, 2011
  188. The Mersereau Manufacturing Company of Brooklyn, New York, Notes – Sept. 3, 2011
  189. George Morrow of French Lake, New Brunswick – 1801-1868 – Aug. 26, 2011
  190. The Wood Family of French Lake, New Brunswick – Legends – Aug. 9, 2011
  191. The Baptist Church on the Oromocto River in New Brunswick – Aug. 7, 2011
  192. John Wood of French Lake, New Brunswick – 1788-1868 – Aug. 2, 2011
  193. Daniel Wood of French Lake, New Brunswick – 1764-1847 – Aug. 1, 2011
  194. Three Stewarts on the Nashwaak – July 24, 2011
  195. Bunker Genealogy – Five Bunkers – July 20, 2011
  196. Statistics From the 1851 and 1871 Sunbury County New Brunswick Census Reports – July 19, 2011
  197. Historical Development of the Beam Bending Equation M=fS – July 18, 2011
  198. Seth Noble, Maugerville and the American Revolution – July 16, 2011
  199. Columns, the Long and the Short of it – 1729-1900 – July 15, 2011
  200. The Great Saint John Steel Cantilever Bridge – July 13, 2011
  201. The Upper Oromocto River in 1847 – July 11, 2011
  202. Early Glimpses of the Rusagonis Baptist Church in New Brunswick – July 11, 2011
  203. Abraham Gesner’s 1847 Observations of Sport Hunting in New Brunswick – July 11, 2011
  204. It Sounds a bit Too Easy – July 10, 2011
  205. James Buncker – July 10, 2011
  206. Inconsistent Petitions; Changed Self-Interests – July 10, 2011
  207. Abner Mersereau and a Letter – July 9, 2011
  208. Early Glimpses of the Patterson Settlement Baptist Church in New Brunswick – July 9, 2011
  209. The Textile Mill at Geary, New Brunswick – July 8, 2011
  210. Letter of Mi’kmaq’ Chief Pemmeenauweet to Queen Victoria – 1841 – July 7, 2011
  211. New Brunswick in the 1840s – July 7, 2011


John Wood

Written by johnwood1946

December 10, 2014 at 9:16 AM

Posted in Uncategorized

The Fire of 1837 in Saint John

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From the blog at

The following story of the fire of 1837 in Saint John was written by W.K. Reynolds, and appeared in The New Brunswick Magazine, Volume 2, Number 1, Saint John, N.B., 1899. It is a story of devastation and loss, second only to that of the Great Fire of 1877.

Market Slip North Wharf

Market Slip, North Wharf, Saint John, 1899

New Brunswick Museum


The Fire of 1837

The 14th of January, 1837, fell on a Saturday, as it does in 1899, sixty-two years later, when those who have even a faint recollection of the eventful night of that day are now among our very oldest inhabitants. That Saturday night was one of the coldest which had been known for many years, and it was the occasion of what would have come down in history as the great fire of St. John, had it not been for the still more memorable calamity of the 20th of June, 1877.

Three-score years ago, nearly all the mercantile houses of St. John were near the harbor front, and most of them in the limited area between and including Prince William Street and the wharves to the westward. There were, indeed, some prominent houses in King Street, on Market square, the North wharf, Nelson and Dock streets, etc., but the wealth of the community was largely represented in the district first named. It did not look like a wealthy place, however, for nearly all the buildings were of wood, and most of them dated back to the early years of the city, yet they held vast stores of merchandize, much of it brought hither from foreign countries in the vessels of the more prosperous of these merchants. On the morning of the 14th of January, 1837, a million dollars would not have sufficed to buy these old wooden structures and their contents. Twenty-four hours later the whole of this busy district was a smoking ruin. In a few hours many were deprived of all they had possessed, and some who had been prosperous merchants remained broken in fortune to the end of their days.

The fire started shortly after nine o’clock in the evening, in the store of Robertson & Hatton, Peters wharf, nearly opposite the end of Ward Street. It began in the second story of the wooden building and the cause of it is not known, though there were several theories at the time. In a very few moments the flames were bursting through the roof and the citizens were hurrying to the spot in response to the clanging of the bell at the head of the Market Slip. There was a fire department in those days, but it was of a very primitive kind, the engine being the old fashioned machines which pumped the water poured into them from lines of buckets. When an alarm was given the citizens went to the place where the fire was, the blaze being generally large enough to guide them, and each citizen was supposed to carry the two leather buckets which the city by-law compelled him to provide. The line of buckets was formed to the nearest wells, or to the harbor when the fire was near the water front and the tide was in, and a short time sufficed to show whether the fire or fire department was to conquer. In this particular instance, the problem was solved almost as soon as it was propounded. With a vigorous headway to the blaze, a bitterly cold night and an insufficient supply of water, the firemen were soon compelled to retreat, and the question was simply one of trying to save the goods and effects from the other buildings in the vicinity. There was no hope of extinguishing the fire. The tide was going out, but even had it been high it could not have availed. The thermometer was below zero, and a keen north-west wind froze everything before it. The engines, clogged with ice, were soon rendered useless, and in dismay at the prospect, men lost their heads and worked with an utter lack of method or system. Large quantities of goods were thrown on and over the wharves or taken to the Market square for safety, but still larger quantities were left to burn. In other instances boats were at hand to take goods, but so far as the owners were concerned little was saved in this way. As the flames advanced, numbers of boats came across from Strait Shore and Carleton, loaded whatever could be picked up and went back, the boatmen appropriating their finds for their own use. From the amount of thieving that was done that night, some of the Carleton people were compared to Algerine pirates, and the term “Algerine” was for many years a nick-name for the dwellers on the west side of the harbor.

The military, however, were of great service that night in preventing still greater depredations. The men of the 43rd Regiment and of the artillery were early on hand with the ordnance engine, but while the apparatus was of limited usefulness, the men, working coolly and with system, were of material aid, both in rescuing goods from the flames and in guarding them.

Sweeping easterly up Peters wharf, the flames seized the building owned by John Walker, which stood at the corner of Water Street and what is now known as Jardine’s alley, where the present Jardine building stands. Then the fire went south along Water Street, as far as the present Magee building on the west and to the Disbrow brick building, adjoining the present post office, on the east side. The Disbrow building was burned and the house of Mr. Brint, adjoining it on the south was badly damaged.

All this time the fire was advancing rapidly in other directions. To the north it burned everything before it on Ward and Water Streets and the South wharf. Extending to Prince William Street, it made a clean sweep of that thoroughfare from Market square to the Bank of New Brunswick, on one side, and from Miss Farley’s, the second building north of Church Street, to Miss Boyd’s, on the lot south of the present city hall, where the Jarvis building now stands. The buildings between Miss Farley’s and the corner of King Street were not destroyed, but within the bounds previously mentioned—Prince William Street, Dock Street, South wharf, Ward Street, Peters and Johnston wharves—every building but one was burned. That exception was the brick building on the south side of Market square which stood on the site now occupied by the telephone office, and its preservation was ascribed to the fact that it had iron shutters on the rear windows. The building was occupied by C.R. Jarvis, merchant, and by Neville Parker and John H. Gray, attorneys.

During the progress of the fire the sight was a terrible one. The wooden buildings, some of which were four stories high, burned with a blaze that lighted up the city and its surroundings, and the reflection could be seen over the whole country for a distance of many miles. It was noticed at Fredericton, for instance, and for a long distance in various other directions. The streets in the vicinity of the fire were littered with all kinds of moveable property, and here and there were shivering wretches striving to guard what in many cases was all that remained of their earthly possessions. Daylight added to the horror of the scene when it revealed the extent of the desolation over what had been the business centre of the city.

The number of buildings destroyed in this fire was 115, and the loss was estimated at about a million dollars. Not a third of this was covered by insurance.

The advertisements which appeared in the newspapers of the following week show various moods on the part of the advertisers. Some are new business announcements, others are expressions of thanks to Providence and the public, while a few are in the nature of inquiries for lost articles. Here is an extract from one that is of special interest at this day, in view of the recent fire experience of what is now the firm of J. & A. McMillan:

JOHN MCMILLAN begs to acquaint his friends and the public that he has removed to the Store next adjoining Mr. Crozier’s in the Market Square, where he offers for sale the remainder of his Stock of Books and Stationery saved from the conflagration of Saturday last, and respectfully solicits a share of the patronage so liberally bestowed on him.

The McMillan store was on the same lot in Prince William Street as it is now. It was after this fire that it adopted the title of Phoenix House, disused in recent years, but a title very applicable even to this day. The firm has been burned out eight times in the course of its long existence.

The most devoutly expressed notice is that of Mr. Nathan S. Demill, who kept in Water Street next to Tisdale’s corner, the second lot from the South wharf. He says:

WITH deep feelings of gratitude to that gracious God, whose controlling hand he desires most explicitly to acknowledge in this and every other event of his life, and, at the same time, with sincere thanks to many kind friends who came to render him their assistance at the last awful visitation that has been permitted to fall upon this city; the subscriber begs to state that he has been enabled to preserve the greater part of his stock of hardware, &c., and also to inform the public that he has recommenced his business in Dock Street, in the store recently occupied by W.A. Robertson, the second door above Messrs. Owens & Duncan.


All the buildings burned were not of wood. The Disbrow premises, at the rear of the Bank of New Brunswick, were of brick; Walker’s building, Water Street, was of stone, and several of the others were of brick. The fire was prevented from extending to the corner of King Street by a brick wall, and Nethery’s brick house stopped its way up Church Street. The Bank of New Brunswick proved an effectual barrier on Prince William Street, and the City Bank, where the Barnhill building now is, also resisted the flames.

Among the heaviest losers was Barnabas Tilton, who had a flour and provision store in Water Street, with a range of sheds and warehouses extending in the rear to Ward Street. His stock was valued at some $60,000, and more than half of it was a total loss. Other heavy losers were the Kinnears, Street & Ranney and John Walker. Of all the merchants burned out, the only firm remaining at the present day, in addition to Messrs. McMillan, is that of T. McAvity & Sons, which was then known as Thomas McAvity & Co., and did business in Prince William Street, where the store of George Robertson is at the present time.

A letter written the day after the fire, by a St. John man to a friend in Fredericton, gives an idea of the desolation:

“The scene of horror on the South Market wharf and in Ward street is beyond description—valuable goods to an immense amount either burned or destroyed by throwing over the wharves—thousands and thousands of barrels, puncheons and casks of all kinds piled up in the slips—the streets choked up with furniture and merchandize of all descriptions—men, women and children stalking about half crazed; all tend to render our city lamentable indeed . . . Horrid, horrid devastation, we know not what will be the result of it all.”

Mrs. William Reynolds, wife of a well-known book seller, died on the day after the fire, and it is believed her death was due to the shock of that night of terror.

On the following Thursday a public meeting was held at the court house, at which the mayor, Hon. John Robertson, presided. A number of resolutions were passed, the foremost of which was for the procuring of legislation providing that in the future no wooden building should be erected in the city with a greater height than twenty feet posts and a further height of fifteen feet above the top of the posts. Another resolution was to have the width of the South wharf increased from 25 to 50 feet, and that measures be taken for the widening of Water and Ward Streets. It was further resolved that a subscription list be opened for those who had lost their all by the fire, and that the legislature be asked for a money grant for the same object.

A vote of thanks was also passed to Major Slade and the officers and men of the 43rd Regiment and of the Royal Artillery for the assistance they had rendered at the fire, and it was resolved that the freedom of the city be conferred on two soldiers of the 43rd, who peculiarly distinguished themselves in saving the brigantine Tom Cringle while it was on fire at the South wharf.

The legislature was then in session, and no time was lost in having the fire law introduced and passed. The government made a grant of $4,000 in aid of the sufferers, and customs duties to a considerable amount were remitted to merchants who had lost goods on which there was no insurance, or where the loss was very great. Under this provision Robertson & Hatton received over $800, William Hammond over $3,000, John Walker $1,375, and many others smaller amounts, until at last the legislature resolved that no more petitions of this kind would be entertained. A large sum was given to the sufferers by the governor, Sir Archibald Campbell, from his private purse.

Subscription lists were opened at Halifax, Miramichi and St. Andrews, in aid of the fire sufferers, but at another public meeting held in St. John on February 4, while gratitude was expressed for the aid thus offered, it was decided “That this community cannot with propriety accept the same; a sufficient sum being already provided by the munificent grant of the Legislature and the generous donation of our worthy Lieutenant Governor.” It was therefore resolved to refund the money which had been received from the places named. It was further decided to extend pecuniary aid only to those whose destitute situation called for relief.

The community soon took heart again, and the work of rebuilding went forward rapidly. Property was held at its former value, and in some cases it brought a premium. The Peters building, Market Square, which escaped the fire, was sold within a week, at auction, for $8,820. The size of the lot was 20½ by 25 feet. Many of the new buildings were of brick, but enough wooden structures were put up to be a menace to that part of the city in future years, and to materially aid, forty years later, in the spread of what is now the historic Great Fire.

Written by johnwood1946

December 10, 2014 at 9:14 AM

Posted in Uncategorized

The Cruise of the “Rechab”

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From the blog at

The following story of the pilot-schooner Rechab was written by W.K. Reynolds, and appeared in The New Brunswick Magazine, Volume 2, Number 2, Saint John, N.B., 1899. The story is about the schooner in general, but focuses largely upon a cruise in search of hidden treasure. If we believe the story of treasure in general, then it might still have been embellished.

“Rechab” is a biblical name.

St John Harbour 1898

The Saint John Harbour about 1898

The McCord Museum


The Cruise of the Rechab

The pilot schooner Rechab, of St. John, had many a lively cruise in the days when wooden ships were plenty and the Bay of Fundy was one of their great resorts. In the quarter of a century of the Rechab’s career, from the day in June, 1845, when she was launched, to that wild night in October, 1869, when she was broken to pieces by the force of the Saxby gale, in Bliss harbor, down the Bay, those who sailed in her could tell many a tale of adventure and of many a time of deadly peril. For the Rechab was one of the famous pilot boats of half a century ago, and some of the famous pilots sailed in her. It has already been told how the Rechab and some of her crew figured at the time of the wreck of the ship England, and there were other incidents which have made the name of the pilot boat remembered by the old timers down to the present day.

There were several noted pilot boats during the forties and fifties. In 1847, those to the front were the Rechab, Grace Darling, Cygnet, and Charles Stewart, and of these pictures adorned the four sides of the first gas lamp put up at Reed’s Point in that year, on the spot where the three-lamp signal was placed in the following year and remains, with some modern improvements to the present time. The Rechab and the Grace Darling were both fast boats, and there was a good deal of rivalry between them. In the autumn of 1848 they had a race for a stake of three hundred dollars, the course being from St. John harbor down the Bay of Fundy, around The Wolves and back, a distance of some 80 English miles. The boats were evenly matched, and kept each other well in sight over the whole course. On the return the Rechab had a slight lead, but there was very little between them as they came into the harbor. Darkness had then set in, but there were excited crowds along the shore in the vicinity of Sand Point, and many boats were around the racers. As luck would have it, the Grace Darling got into a run of the current which carried her ahead at the last moment, and she reached the Beacon Light just in advance of her competitor, amid the cheers of the Carleton crowd. Her crew, of course, claimed the money, but the Rechab’s crew refused to pay it over, alleging that, under the cover of the darkness, the Algerines—as they called the Carleton boatmen—had taken a line from the Grace Darling and towed her ahead. On the following day, the Grace Darling lay at anchor off Reed’s Point, flying all the colors that could be crowded upon her. Moored astern was a six-oared boat, the Pert, that had never been beaten; astern of this was a four-oared boat, the Hazard, that was also a champion, and astern again were two other fast row boats. All this was meant as a challenge that the pilot boat was able to beat her rival with sails or oars, in any kind of a rig. It was a day of triumph for the Grace Darling, but this was all she made out of it, for the bet never was paid.

The great and remarkable cruise of the Rechab, however, was when she went on a secret expedition to the West Indies, in the autumn of the year 1850. The moving spirit of this extraordinary undertaking was a certain Captain Delaney, an Englishman, and in after years a well-known shipmaster of this port. Delaney was a very smart seaman, even for those days when a captain was supposed to know how to do anything, from rigging a ship before she sailed to managing the business of the owners in the foreign port. He was a first class sailor, a good navigator and thoroughly informed on all matters relating to his calling. Delaney had been sailing out of the port of Halifax before coming to St. John, and on a certain voyage one of his crew, an old sailor, had taken sick and died. This sailor had led an adventurous life, and in his last illness he revealed to Captain Delaney the fact that, years before, he had been one of the crew of a pirate which had its cruising ground among the West India Islands. Further than this, he told a curious yarn about a large quantity of treasure which the pirates had buried on a certain barren and uninhabited island, and which was still there awaiting a claimant. Why he had never secured it for himself is not now to be explained, but he gave the captain the bearings from certain landmarks, by which anybody could find it who went there properly equipped for the work. Having thus eased his mind, he expired, and his body was duly committed to the deep.

Captain Delaney seems to have had implicit faith in the statements of the deceased mariner, and he resolved to possess himself of the treasure at the first convenient opportunity. It may have been with this idea that he gave up his command on a trans-Atlantic ship and got charge of a schooner trading to the West Indies, but at any rate, in July, 1850, he succeeded Captain Stephen H. Fought as master of the good schooner Olive Branch, 58 tons, and went to Turk’s Islands with a cargo of boards, shipped by Robert Rankin & Co. While on this voyage, as it afterwards appeared, he made an attempt to locate the pirates’ treasure, but not having the right kind of men with him, and having excited the suspicions of people on the neighboring islands, he abandoned his attempt and returned to St. John, more than ever determined to go back and secure the gold. The Olive Branch reached St. John on the 28th of September, after which, having settled his accounts with the owners, Captain Delaney gave up his command of the schooner and began to look around for suitable men to form an expedition to go expressly in search of the rich legacy which the reformed pirate had bequeathed to him.

He had no trouble in finding both a vessel and a crew. The pilots who owned and sailed the Rechab were much impressed with the narrative of Captain Delaney, and were as eager as he was to secure a fortune at the cost of only a little time and labor. A satisfactory arrangement having been made as to the shares of the wealth to be allotted to the respective parties to the venture, the Rechab was fitted and provisioned for the voyage, but so well was the secret kept that no one outside of those most interested had any intimation of the undertaking.

The expedition was under the direction of Captain Delaney, and the others of the party were Price Thomas, Edward Murray, John Murray, John Haviland and William Donaghey, all well-known branch pilots; Charles Daley and Samuel Rutherford, apprentices; a sailor named Redwing who had not been connected with the Rechab, and who acted as cook, and Christopher Smiler, printer and publisher. The last named might be called the scientist of the expedition. He is still a very well-remembered citizen, who for years published the Temperance Telegraph newspaper in St. John, and was a leading spirit among the total abstinence organizations. He had abundant faith in the existence of buried treasure, and was active in his efforts to find it. His particular usefulness to the Rechab party was that he owned a divining rod, and was one of those in whose hands that mysterious implement was supposed to work. A good deal of Mr. Smiler’s time, before and after this, was spent in looking for pirates’ treasure in the vicinity of St. John, but there is no record that his efforts were in any instance crowned with even a moderate degree of success.

Price Thomas went as master of the Rechab, and took a clearance for Jamaica, in ballast. There is no record of this clearance in the St. John custom house, for the reason that, in order to keep the matter a profound secret, Captain Thomas got a clearance at one of the outports, so that none of the men who used to know everything that was going on in pilot circles had the slightest hint of the Rechab’s projected cruise. Even the apprentices, Daley and Rutherford, had no idea where they were going or what was the object of the voyage. During the middle of October, the Rechab went quietly out of the harbor of St. John at midnight, as if on an ordinary pilot cruise down the Bay, and thus was begun the search for the pirates’ buried millions.

The Rechab was a staunch and speedy boat of 41 tons, and well fitted for pilot work but, after she had got out of the Bay, John Murray began to have doubts whether she was just the kind of a craft in which he would want to go to the West Indies at that season. Besides, he had begun to ask himself if he was not bound on a fool’s errand in any case, and so he decided to leave the boat while he had a chance. He was accordingly put ashore at Moosapeak and returned to St. John. The rest of the crew had a fine run of thirteen days and arrived at their destination safe and well. It was a crowd thoroughly bent on business, and there was no liquor whatever on board of the boat.

In the vicinity of Turk’s Islands, somewhere about one hundred miles north of the island of Haiti, in the neighborhood of 21° north latitude and 71° west longitude, was the particular island to which the Rechab was bound. It was known as Sand Cay, and was about eight miles south of the better known Salt Cay, on the Turk’s Islands Bank. It was an uninhabited heap of sand, partially covered with a growth of stunted bushes, and was some five miles long with an average width of about a mile and a half. The surface around, for the most part, was low and flat, but towards the centre was a hill on which had formerly stood a stone tower, the resorting place of the pirates. The Rechab party found only the ruins of this tower, but this was sufficient for them, as it was from this point that the bearings were to be taken, according to the directions of the repentant pirate who died on Captain Delaney’s ship. Having decided on the right place to start the work, operations were begun.

Digging in the sand was not hard labor, of its kind, and the crowd went to work with a will. The weather was against them, however, and they labored under many difficulties. Nearly every night brought a heavy rain, frequently with thunder and lightning, and the wind would blow on shore so hard that the energies of the crew were required to handle the pilot boat and keep her off. By working day and night, however, they soon had a very large hole excavated, perhaps ten feet in diameter, and so deep that it was necessary to hoist out the sand by means of a tub operated by block and tackle. This tub had iron hoops, and one night it was struck by lightning while in mid-air, nearly frightening the wits out of the party. The lightning was so vivid at times that one could have seen to pick a pin off the ground, and some of the party, with overwrought nerves, were ready to see almost anything. One night, after a particularly dazzling flash, Smiler declared in an awed whisper that he had seen a strange sailor, with a sou’wester hat and a blue shirt, sitting down close at hand. Price Thomas was down in the hole digging at this time, and when he came up he was hot, tired and a trifle mad at his fruitless labor.

“Where is that fellow with the sou’wester and the blue shirt?” he asked. “If he is around now I wish he would tell us whether there is any money here or not.”

This daring speech horrified some of the others, and there was a general belief that, even if the money had been there, it would now certainly [have moved] to another part of the island.

Under the direction of Smiler’s divining rod, attempts to find the treasure were made in various parts of the island, one being close to the old castle. The rod would point very definitely to this place or that, and after the digging had gone on for a day or two the rod would point to another place. In this way some ten days and nights were consumed, but all the investigations were equally barren of results. All hands worked hard and amid many discomforts. Tired as they might be, they could not lie down on the island to sleep, for fear of the lizards and centipedes with which the sand abounded, and their home was therefore aboard the Rechab. Then, too, a lookout had to be kept lest some intruding craft would bear down upon them and discover their scheme of wealth. The boarding officer at Salt Cay, Mr. J.W. Baker, who is still living there, heard of the strange craft at Sand Cay, and went in his boat to investigate. When he was sighted in the distance, the Rechab raised her anchor and sailed to the westward. Mr. Baker and his men landed, saw the holes that had been dug, and returned home satisfied that there was no occasion for official interference in the matter.

Captain Delaney at last became convinced that the expedition was a failure so far as getting pirates’ treasure was concerned. Whether there had been money there and someone else had secured it, or whether the reformed pirate had merely told him a fairy story to beguile his last hours, will never certainly be known. At all events, the tired, sunburned and disappointed crew of the Rechab ceased their arduous labors during the second week in November. Then the vessel went to Salt Cay, got a supply of water, and on the 14th of November sailed for St. John, carrying only ordinary ballast, instead of a hold half filled with gold and precious stones.

The return voyage occupied sixteen days, and was without special incident. The Rechab arrived at St. John after dark, on Sunday, the first of December, 1850. So quietly was the whole expedition undertaken and completed that the newspapers of the time have not the slightest reference to what must be considered a very extraordinary cruise. The facts I have obtained have been secured in part from Pilot Daley, the only survivor of the crew, and in part from others who have heard more or less about the affair. These have been corroborated by information which Mr. S.W. Kain, of the St. John customs, has obtained from the Commissioner of Customs at Turk’s Islands, and I have verified the dates by a search of the shipping lists of the time.

While the Rechab was coming up the Bay, homeward bound, a vessel was going down the Bay which in its appearance and antiquity savored more of the days when pirates roved the seas than anything the party had seen in the West Indies. This was the barque William and Ann, bound across the sea with a cargo of lumber. This vessel had been built on the Thames in 1759, had carried General Wolfe to Quebec, and was for half a century a bomb ship in the British navy, after which it was for forty years a Greenland whaler. After nearly upwards of ninety-one years of service it was still sound and seaworthy.

The Rechab, some years later, was sold by the pilots and became a coaster between St. John and St. Andrews. On the night of the Saxby gale, October 4th, 1869, she was driven from one side of Bliss Harbor to the other and was knocked to pieces. Of the party that went to said Sand Cay in her, only Charles Daley remains. Several of the others met tragic deaths in the pursuit of their hazardous calling. Pilot John Haviland took a ship out of the Bay, left it at Little River, in his boat, and was never heard of afterwards. Pilot Donaghey was also drowned at Little River, being knocked overboard from the pilot boat Richard Simonds. Redwing was drowned from a vessel in St. John harbor, off the Beacon Light. Price Thomas took the ship Eleanor out of the Bay and was carried across in her to England. While he was in London he was taken ill and died. Captain Delaney was in time master of several well-known St. John ships, such as the Middleton and the Athenais of the famous Black Ball Line, and finally died at sea. And so ends the story of the strange cruise of the Rechab.

Written by johnwood1946

December 3, 2014 at 10:01 AM

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A Night in the Deep

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From the blog at

The following story of a nearly fatal adventure was written by Henry Town, and appeared in The New Brunswick Magazine, Volume 2, Number 6, Saint John, N.B., 1899. It is a story of deception and of being lost on the sea, while rafting deals on the Northumberland Strait. It was likely enhanced by the person who first told the story, but, as with all such tales, will contain elements of truth.

Ice Boat Service

Ice Boat Service, Northumberland Strait, about 1885

The New Brunswick Museum via the McCord Museum


A Night in the Deep

“Oh yes, the water looks well enough to you, I dare say; but for my part, I can’t bear the look of it!”

I had been driving along the New Brunswick shore of Northumberland Strait one glorious summer morning; and the noon tide hour having arrived, was now in quest of a place of refreshment for man and beast. I had not seen the usual sign denoting such an establishment, since early morning; and being a total stranger in the province, had not yet learned that my friendless position gave me a claim upon the hospitality of the people, gladly and bountifully recognized by all who had anything in the way of hospitality to offer.

Neither did I notice that I had nearly run over an elderly gentleman in a straw hat with a very wide brim and a very high pointed crown, till his exclamation of alarm drew my attention to him. I had reached a sharp turn just as the elderly gentleman was about to cross, carrying a pail of water from a roadside spring.

One glance, however, a moment after, must have assured the old man of his personal safety, and have shown him that, in my anxiety to clear him, I had reined the horse in and was now backing across the road towards the ditch, which I should soon have reached had he not seized the horse’s bridle in time to save us from toppling over.

“Ah! man, who has been the fool to trust you with a horse?” was the somewhat contemptuous though justifiable query when we were all safe again in the middle of the road.

When the excitement consequent upon this little incident had subsided, I began to enquire the where abouts of the nearest public house, with a view to dinner.

He informed me that the nearest house of the kind was still three miles ahead, but that I might have dined at any farm house along the road. Now, however, the noon hour being nearly spent, he supposed I would have to be satisfied with the meal his poor place could supply, unless I cared to run the risk of faring worse by going farther.

I gladly accepted his hospitality, and after dinner we sat upon a pile of logs beside the house, the old man smoking his pipe and I to windward of him, inhaling the sweet scent of fir balsam from the wood, and gazing at the fair prospect of grain fields and meadow land extending right down to the sea, which here lay before us, as still and blue as the tideless Mediterranean.

It was then, in answer to my expression of admiration of the beauty of the scene, that the old man used the words with which this story opens.

Observing the expectant look with which I greeted this peculiar announcement he proceeded to recount the following adventure:

I had been in this province less than a year, working in the lumber woods most of the time, when, the following summer I obtained employment rafting deals for shipment in the vessels which always take in their cargoes outside the bar; the water within being too shallow to admit of anything larger than a fishing schooner riding at anchor in low water.

We built our rafts then as they do now, at the mills at the mouth of the river, by placing the deals in rows, one on top of the other, close together, each row being laid at right angles to that below it, the whole being securely bound by ropes or by stakes running through auger-holes in extra planks, extending across the ends of the raft, above and below. In calm weather two men can easily float one of these rafts out to the vessel that is to receive it, and this work usually fell to me and a man named Foster. But Foster and I were not on good terms. I had, unfortunately, upon one occasion, knocked him off the edge of a raft into the water with one of the planks with which we were making the raft, and although the accident was due as much to his clumsiness as to any fault of mine, he laid the blame upon me, and vowed to “take it out” of me some day. I did not regard this altogether as an idle threat, for the man was known to be of a vindictive temperament, and I supposed he would choose some unguarded moment to give me a ducking in return for the one he had received. And the sequel proved the correctness of my surmise. But I fell short in my estimation of the malignaity with which he intended to carry out his revenge.

It was towards the close of the summer when, with a gang of men, we were loading a bark at the mouth of the Chimogoui River, from a place about five miles up the Shore, that Foster and I were to be ready one night to take a raft that had been completed during the day, to a point of land about half a mile from the vessel, so that no time might be lost in loading next day. The raft was not ready until late that evening, and then we had to wait for the tide to float us off.

At ten o’clock that night, when I returned to the raft, I found Foster already there and grumbling about our being late in getting off. He said he was afraid we should hardly get over the bar now, as the tide was already running out, and the raft was an unusually heavy one. But there was a good breeze blowing off the shore, and I knew there would be plenty of water. We hurried up, removed the poles which were driven into the mud outside the raft to hold it in its place, tied our boat to the raft and pushed off.

We got over the bar safely, and were fairly on our way down shore, when Foster said he was going to the tavern at the Point, for a bottle of rum he had promised old Comeau he would take to one of the crew of the bark. I objected a little to his leaving the raft at all, but he said he could row back in fifteen minutes, which was true enough, and that the raft would go straight along now, for an hour or more, without any trouble. So he took the boat, and in about five minutes he had landed at the Point. But at the expiration of the quarter of an hour, he had not returned; and the raft, favoured by wind and tide, had got well into deep water. Still, I was not particularly anxious about it. When, however, at the end of nearly an hour, he had not come back, and the wind, beginning to stiffen, was driving the raft out to sea, I began to fear that old Comeau’s bottle of rum had been too strong a temptation for Foster’s power of resistance. The evening had been moonlight, but towards ten o’clock, the sky became cloudy, and it was now so dark that I could not see the shore.

By this time I was going down the strait at a pretty swift rate towards Cape Traverse, for the wind and tide were in that direction. But the nearest point of Prince Edward Island, just there, was twenty-five miles away, and the raft was now too far out for me to hope that it might touch one of the points on the New Brunswick side. I tried hard to keep towards the western shore, hoping to pass near the bark and attract the attention of the people on board by the light of the lantern which was attached to a piece of upright deal. I soon discovered, however, to my great annoyance, that the light was going out. I could not leave my steering gear for the purpose of attending to the lantern, as the wind was freshening every instant, and blowing the raft out to sea in spite of my efforts to keep it inshore; and the waves were dashing against the sides and over the surface of the raft, making it heave and tremble and rock so that at times I could hardly keep my feet.

Presently the light went out altogether, and now, as in total darkness and despair of being able to reach the shore, I drifted helplessly down the channel, the thought flashed upon me that all this was a trick of Foster’s. I had, myself, filled the lantern and trimmed it in the afternoon. It was alight and fixed upon the piece of upright deal when I returned to take out the raft at ten o’clock. He must have emptied out the greater part of the oil before lighting the lantern.

Evidently he had not forgotten his threat to get even with me, nor neglected his opportunity.

Up to this time, however, I had no fear for my personal safety. The raft had been swept on down the straits past the place where it was to have been anchored for the night and past the bark for which it was intended, but at too great a distance to be seen, or my shouting to be heard; and on it would go, of course, till the morning when it would be sure to be seen by one of the vessels constantly passing through the channel, or by people on shore. There would be a heavy bill for towage.—But what was that? A cracking, bumping sound at the tail of the raft. I stooped down and discovered that the stakes which fastened the binding planks had been sawn nearly through, and that, unable to bear the strain, they had at length given way, allowing the lower tiers of deals to escape.

The awful certainty that I was lost now burst upon me. I could do nothing to save the raft, but I quickly got four deals from the upper layer, intending to lash them together to form a sort of float—but only to find that my treacherous mate must have taken the rope away with him in the boat. Quickly, and with a grating, gurgling sound, the deals, one by one, kept floating away, till there was but a small portion of the raft left. This, at length, gave way, and I fell into the black and chilly water. I managed, however, to grasp a plank, and, after a while, to get astride of it. At first, I experienced great difficulty in sustaining myself at all, for whenever I grasped the plank at a point away from its centre, it sank so deep that I had to let go of it. After a while, however, I found the middle of the plank, and drifted along miserably upon it till morning. I have heard that those who are in danger of death by drowning surfer untold mental anguish; that the recollection of their misdeeds crowds upon their memory, and seems to add to the force that is dragging them down. But no thought of home, no regrets for the past, no fears for the future oppressed me while 1 was struggling to maintain my seat on that plank. Only a fierce determination to defeat the purpose of the villain who had planned so miserable a fate for me. But when, towards dawn, the wind had gone down, and I had been drifted into smoother water, and could hold on to the plank with less effort, and my limbs and more than half submerged body were benumbed and weary, in spite of my perilous position I felt an inclination to sleep. Then at intervals, came brief remembrances of home, and of events which happened in my boyhood, hardly yet passed away. And by and bye I found myself repeating a verse of a hymn “for those at sea.” And yet it seemed to be not I, but the choir of a church in Glasgow, singing it as they did one Sunday evening just before I had left home, and over and over again came the words:

“O hear us, when we cry to Thee, For those in peril on the sea.”

But at sunrise I managed to throw off the lethargy that seemed to be overpowering me, and to look about me in the hope of being seen by one of the fishing boats that usually come out at dawn during the mackerel season; and there, to my unutterable joy, was one approaching. I was saved, and strange to say, in a couple of days was none the worse for the perilous voyage I had made across Northumberland Strait, unless it be this rheumatism. Oh, but that was a long while ago. And the old man got up slowly from his seat on the log, as though the very remembrance of that awful night in the deep had chilled every muscle and joint in his body.

Written by johnwood1946

November 26, 2014 at 10:35 AM

Posted in Uncategorized

Robert Foulis (A Misplaced Genius)

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From the blog at

This is the story of Robert Foulis, who invented the first steam-powered fog horn, and is by Percy G. Hall. Hall read a similar paper before the Natural History Society, at St. John, in April, 1898, and this version was published in The New Brunswick Magazine, Volume 1, Number 1, also in 1898.

Quoting from the paper, “Let us, then, remember Robert Foulis as a man of remarkable gifts, as one of our pioneer scientists, and as one who was deeply interested in the welfare, educational and otherwise, of his adopted city. He did much for others with little profit to himself. In another sphere and under other conditions he might have had both wealth and power. As it was, he seems to have been a misplaced genius.”

Original Steam Horn

Original Steam Fog Horn at Partridge Island, ca. 1880 New Brunswick Museum via the McCord Museum


Robert Foulis (A Misplaced Genius)

This first steam fog alarm in America and in the world was that invented by Robert Foulis and built at Partridge Island, at the entrance of St. John harbor. To him also is due the credit of the invention of the system of signalling by steam at sea in foggy weather. The fog alarm which is at the Island today is essentially that which was placed there by Foulis. There have been some modifications and adaptations since his time, the clockwork attachment is no longer used, but the great principle of the invention remains as it was. More than this, the Foulis’ whistle is heard along the coast of America and beyond the ocean, but the credit and the emoluments have alike gone to others who have profited by what was one of the great inventions of the time, which the inventor had not the commercial instinct to protect by patents which might have made him, or those who followed him, wealthy beyond the dreams of avarice.

Here and there throughout the world the visitor to fog signal stations may read the name of this or that man as the patentee of the alarm itself or of some petty improvement. The name of Robert Foulis is not even recorded above his grave in the Rural Cemetery of the city of his adoption, and of the thousands who pass the spot scarcely any know that there rests beneath the earth the earthly frame of one who should have been a great man, and would have been one had he possessed the business instinct in even a small ratio to his ability and the extent of his scientific attainments. Had Foulis had a different environment, had he been under the guidance of a clear sighted patron, he would have been a famous man. As it was, he lived and died a misplaced genius.

Robert Foulis was born in Glasgow, Scotland, on The 5th of May, 1796. His father, Andrew Foulis, was the successor to that celebrated firm of Glasgow publishers, Andrew and Robert Foulis, which produced so many beautiful and accurate editions of the classic authors. His mother was a Miss Dewar. After passing through the usual school career he was sent to the university of his native town, where for some time he bent his energies to the study of surgery. Unfortunately his strength was overtaxed, and he was forced to abandon further study until his health should have improved. In the meantime he received and accepted an offer from a friend of his father to join a whaling expedition in the capacity of surgeon. Returning home after an extended voyage, he decided to abandon the study of surgery, and apprenticed himself to a relative named Thompson, who was engaged in the engineering business. On becoming a journeyman he removed to Belfast, where he followed the profession of a painter under the patronage of a nobleman whose name is now forgotten. Here he met his first wife, a Miss Elizabeth Leatham, by whom he had a daughter. The death of his wife occurred not long after this, however, and he determined to try his fortune in the new world, choosing Ohio as his destination. With this intention he took passage in a vessel bound for a port in the United States, but it was fated that he should never reach the point for which he had started. Very rough weather was encountered on the voyage, and the vessel was finally cast away on the coast of Nova Scotia. Making his way to Halifax, he was induced by some of his countrymen to remain. Instead of proceeding to his destination. Here he lived by his brush, where some of his portraits, it is said, may now be seen. Although he succeeded beyond his expectations, his roving disposition asserted itself, and he removed to St. John about the year 1822, where his card appears in the papers of the day as a miniature painter. In this, judged by the portraits which still exist and which show excellent work, he was well qualified to succeed, but the field for portrait painting was limited. Abandoning this vocation a little later, he devoted himself to civil engineering, making research meanwhile into the various fields of the science of chemistry. His residence was at the corner of Sydney and St. Andrews Streets.

In the year 1825, Mr. Foulis started the first iron Foundry in New Brunswick, on the premises near the corner of Prince William and Duke Streets, north of the present Custom house. His operations were on a small scale, it is true, but he was the first melter of iron in the city and province, and the premises were subsequently enlarged to accommodate an extensive foundry business by Thomas C. Everitt and others.

In 1826 the Provincial Government, having in view the application of steam-navigation to the trade connected with the upper portion of the St. John River, determined to institute a survey from Fredericton to Grand Falls. Foulis was appointed to carry on the work, received his instructions 21st June, 1826, and on the 21st August, precisely two months after, he submitted his map and report. “It is a grand map,” writes Prof. Ganong, “very detailed—gives by levels the drop in the river for the entire distance covered by the survey.” Another authority who possesses a copy declares that the map is well executed and shows that the surveyor was a capable man. Apparently it has not outlived its usefulness, for the General Report of the Minister of Public Works from 30th June, 1867, to 1st July, 1882, contains a “Tabular View of the River St. John from Fredericton to the Great Falls” which is based upon this very survey. The report is lengthy, about equal to fourteen type-written pages, and is to be found in the Journals of the House of Assembly for 1826.

Foulis was personally interested in the development of steam navigation, and was employed by the Messrs. Ward to fit up the steamer John Ward, the second boat placed on the St. John River. This wonderful steamer for those times was most expensively and thoroughly constructed, having a costly copper boiler and other parts of the machinery on a like liberal scale. It was put on the route to Fredericton in the year 1831.

Mr. Foulis was both a worker and a talker. At various periods of his career he lectured on scientific subjects, keeping in view the practical application of them to the useful arts and manufactures. One of his aims was to instruct apprentices and artisans in the higher knowledge of their vocations. After leaving the foundry, he secured premises in the Hay building, in Prince William Street, later the site of Smith’s building, on the lot south of the present Globe office. An eye witness thus speaks of the place and the lectures:—

“My earliest reminiscence of Mr. Foulis must be somewhere between 1837-1840. I recall a curious shaped building, the upper stories used as a paint shop and the roof of the lower story on sunny days displaying a variety of chairs ‘fresh from the brush.’ Opening on Prince William Street were two or three small shops in which Mr. Foulis delivered a course of lectures on chemistry. On one side of the shop, behind the counter, were shelves, upon which a pile of instruments, retorts, etc., were arranged; on the counter stood an electric machine, Leyden jars and other apparatus, all of deep interest to the lads who composed the audience principally. The other side was filled with seats rising upward on an inclined plane; a flag stretched across the front hid the operation from outside gazers and excluded draughts from the doors. As I have no recollection of door-keeper or display of admission tickets, I judge that the lecture was to a great extent free, the object being to awaken an interest in his auditors,—most of the older lads being apprentices to whom a knowledge of chemistry might prove very useful. The stiffness of a lecture was lacking, and at its close considerable discussion ensued at the counter. The audience behaved well, and if the experiments did not always meet the promise, they cheerfully accepted the apologies and hoped for better luck next time.”

This was in 1838. Though the lectures were, in some cases, free to casual visitors, as suggested above, yet Mr. Foulis evidently hoped to add to his small resources by subscriptions from those who wished to take regular courses, for his advertisement reads as follows:—


R. FOULIS intimates to his friends that he is now fitting up a commodious Room in Mr. T. Hay’s buildings, Prince William Street, where he will commence in a few days his proposed course of Lectures on Practical Chemistry. He will also open Classes for teaching Figures, Architectural and Mechanical Drawing, the principals of perspective, and the Elements of Mechanics.

Those persons who wish to attend either of the above Classes, will please make early application.

August 4th, 1838.

A week or two later, the idea of the lectures became developed into that of a School of Arts, or “a Seminary for the instruction of Youth in the rudiments of Mechanical and Experimental Philosophy and the Fine Arts; also for instructing by popular Lectures and Experimental Illustration, an Evening Class for Artisans, where the practical application of the Sciences to the useful Arts will be demonstrated.” Mr. Foulis further gives reasons why the patronage of the public should be expected, and announces that the lectures will be continued weekly for three months. The charges for admission tickets are regulated as follows:—

“Transferable Tickets for the Course, 20s; Artisan’s Tickets, (not transferable,) 5s.—Free Tickets will be given to a limited number of young men, on their producing a recommendation from a subscriber.—Ladies who accompany their friends admitted without tickets.”

Mr. Foulis offered himself for the office of assistant alderman for King’s ward at the civic elections of 1839, giving as his reason the belief that his Knowledge as an engineer would be of service to the city. It is probable that he withdrew before polling day, however, for the fight seems to have been between Messrs. John Knollin and Joseph Fairweather, the latter of whom was elected.

From letters patent, dated August 17, 1852, it is learned that Foulis “had firstly invented a new and useful apparatus for decomposing coal and other hydrocarbons for the purpose of manufacturing therefrom a superior gas for illumination, and also a new and economical mode of purifying the same, which apparatus the petitioner styled his Hydro-Olifiant Gas Generator, and secondly the petitioner had invented an apparatus for the purpose of decomposing empyreurmatic and essential oils and other liquid Hydro-carbons and for converting the same into illuminating gas. The second apparatus the petitioner styled the Unique Gas Maker, as it contained the means of decomposing the material so to be used.” This document proceeds to explain at length the workings of the apparatus, with frequent reference to diagrams without which no clear description can be given, and is signed by Colonel Freeman Murray, of the 72nd, Acting Governor, J. R. Partelow, Registrar, and John Ambrose Street, Attorney General.

Another work of Mr. Foulis was to draw attention to the mineral wealth of Albert County. He spent both time and money in sinking a shaft in that region, only to find that he could not operate it because it was on another man’s property.

Prior to the year 1854 there was no fog horn on Partridge Island, and warning was given to mariners by means of a bell, which operated by clockwork, rang out at intervals. The need of some more effective means was greatly felt. Foulis was the first to solve the problem, and between the years 1854-59 he agitated the adoption of a steam horn or whistle. It seems, however, that a gentleman named T.T. Vernon Smith became possessor of Foulis’s plans, and made application to the Commissioner of Lights in the Bay of Fundy to erect such a whistle on Partridge Island. The Commissioner finally accepted Mr. Smith’s offer, and in 1859 the erection was begun by Fleming & Humbert, engineers, under his superintendence. Mr. Foulis then petitioned the House of Assembly to inquire into his claim to the invention. The petition was presented by Hon, John H. Gray on April 2, 1864, and on the 11th a list of documents connected with the matter was laid upon the table. Later the select committee appointed to consider the claim, submitted its report. After stating the facts as outlined above, it declared that the whistle was made on the plan originally suggested by Foulis, and that Mr. Smith did not pretend to be the inventor. The committee also endorsed the scheme for “Telegraphing by means of the steam horn from vessel to vessel by a pre-concerted plan of sounds and intervals forming words.” The report was received by the House and on April 12th it adopted the following resolutions:—

“Whereas it appears in the official correspondence from His Grace the Colonial Secretary, laid before the House by His Excellency the Lieutenant Governor on 8th day of April instant, that the invention of the fog whistle or horn which has been of great practical utility in the Bay of Fundy, is claimed by other parties than the true inventors thereof: and Whereas among the papers and documents so sent down to the House, and also by the examination R. Foulis of the City of St. John, Civil Engineer, before the Select Committee of this House, that he is the inventor thereof, and it is but right that this fact should be made known to Her Majesty’s Government, in order that the credit and reward may be given to the proper party; therefore, Resolved, That an humble address be presented to His Excellency the Lieutenant Governor, praying he will be pleased to bring the claims of Mr. R. Foulis under the favorable consideration of the British Government in this behalf, as well as in regard to his invention of Telegraphing by means of steam horns or whistles while at sea, or from Light Houses on land.”

With this recognition of his claim Mr. Foulis had to be content, for he received no pecuniary reward whatever for his inventions. At a later period an enterprising American examined the invention of the fog alarm, and, recognizing it as a good thing, he had it patented in his own name and for his own advantage.

Mr. Foulis was one of the promoters of the St. John Mechanics’ Institute, in 1838, and so zealous was he for its early welfare that he devoted for its benefit a considerable sum of money which the government granted to him as a teacher of sciences. From the Institute platform he delivered many lectures on chemistry and kindred subjects. His demonstrations and experiments did not always have the expected results, but this may be accounted for by the fact that he had to work under many disadvantages, often with apparatus made by himself and which was of necessity crude and imperfect. Yet it is affirmed that his lectures were abreast of those on the same subjects in any part of the world, and indeed the complaint was sometimes made that his discourses were too technical to be enjoyed by the casual listener.

Mention has been made of the daughter who was born at Belfast, in 1817. She was sent to her grandfather’s sister in Edinburgh, with whom she lived until the death of that relation, and there she received her early education. Her father went to Scotland and brought her to St. John when she was about twelve years old, and in course of time she founded an academy for young ladies, which enjoyed considerable popularity. Her father assisted, delivering lectures on chemistry once a week, and some of the ladies of today will vividly recall his impatience at stupidity or want of attention on the part of the pupils. Miss Foulis died in Kentville on the 22nd of October 1896, and is well remembered as a gentlewoman of wide culture. Her father married a second time, and two of the five children of that union survive him.

Like his grandfather and father, Robert Foulis died in poverty; not, indeed, in such destitution as the newspaper accounts of that time (Jan. 26, 1866) would lead us to belief, but still in very poor circumstances. He lies buried in lot No. 1061 Juniper Path, Rural Cemetery, but no stone marks his resting place.

Mr. Foulis is described as a man of middle height, spare, and of rather a florid complexion. His eyes were blue, eyebrows long and well marked, hair brown and somewhat wavy. A miniature of his father is said to resemble him, particularly as regards the upper part of the face, from which I gather that he possessed a very remarkable forehead.

Surgeon, mechanical and civil engineer, artist, engraver, inventor, foundryman, lecturer, scientist,—in all more or less successful,—as a business man he was a failure. Of a trustful disposition, he sometimes placed confidence in those who took advantage of his simplicity, and to this weakness is to be attributed much of his want of business success. Let us, then, remember Robert Foulis as a man of remarkable gifts, as one of our pioneer scientists, and as one who was deeply interested in the welfare, educational and otherwise, of his adopted city. He did much for others with little profit to himself. In another sphere and under other conditions he might have had both wealth and power. As it was, he seems to have been a misplaced genius.

Written by johnwood1946

November 19, 2014 at 9:22 AM

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The City Mills

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From the blog at

The following description of mills in the early days at Saint John was written by W.O. Raymond, and appeared in The New Brunswick Magazine, Volume 2, Number 5, Saint John, N.B., 1899.

Jewett Bros Mill

Jewett Bros. West Head Saw Mill, Saint John

ca. 1865, New Brunswick Museum


The “City Mills”

The first aboideau and dyke at the Marsh Bridge were constructed in 1788, by James Simonds, who soon afterwards built two tide saw mills there, with perhaps a grist mill in connection. The first grist mill in the vicinity, however, was situated at the outlet of Lily Lake, and was built about 1770. [Aboideau: A tidal gate to protect marshland, allowing water out at low tide but preventing its return. J.W.]

There was a saw mill at the outlet of the old mill pond, near the St. John Railway depot, as early as the year 1767. It was, of course, a tide mill and was built by Simonds and White. Later on, and prior to the arrival of the Loyalists, there was also a primitive grist mill here. “The Hazen grist mill” was, however, of later date. The story of its erection in the year 1787 is contained in the letter book of the elder Ward Chipman, found by the writer in an old dust pile not long ago. Writing to Messrs. Ludlow and Goold of New York under date, June 4, 1787, Chipman says:—

“I have a share in a set of mills erecting here, for the completion of which several materials will be wanted, which I believe can be procured much cheaper and better with you than elsewhere, a list of them is enclosed together with a letter from Mr. [Stephen] Bedell our mill-wright to his father who lives upon Staten Island, who is a good judge of the quality of the articles we want, and will attend at any time convenient to make choice of them under your direction. He is an old mill-wright, and all his life time used to the business, and his son assures us he will very readily undertake the selection. We wish the things to be shipped on board the schooner St. John, Benjamin Andrews, master. A Mr. Crookshank on board will lake charge of them. It will be best to have the mill stones and iron work put on board as ballast for fear of any difficulty in landing them here, which I imagine may in that case be avoided. The bolting cloths Mr. Crookshank can put in his chest. The amount of these articles will, I suppose, be between £20 and £30.”

The next reference to the mills in Ward Chipman’s letter book is found in a letter to his brother-in-law, Wm. Gray, dated Dec. 12, 1787, in which the following passage occurs:—

“I am concerned pretty largely in a set of Tide mills erected in the City during the last summer, which are so far completed that we have one pair of stones grinding very handsomely; and if Indian Corn is at a low price with you it will answer very well to import a quantity here. I have therefore desired Lovitt not to engage any freight after his arrival at Boston till he hears from you. Part of his freight is already engaged, but he says he shall have room for 300 or 400 bushels of Corn. If then good Indian Corn is as low with you as ½ a dollar a bushel and can be conveniently procured shall be obliged if you will ship to me by him 400 bushels. Perhaps by taking so large a quantity it may be had cheaper. Some time ago, Lovitt tells me your market was glutted with that article. It will be necessary to see that the quality is good as it will be ground intirely for family use, Indian meal being much used here by the poor.”

A more detailed account of the mills is to be found in the letter written by Ward Chipman June 8, 1788, to his old friend of Revolutionary times, Thomas Aston Coffin, then holding a prominent official position at Quebec:

“Respecting the mills which are building here in which I have an interest, the whole expense of them when completed will be about, and not more than, £2,000. At present I hold 8 sixteenths, Bliss (our Attorney General) 2 sixteenths, Mr. Hazen (my father-in-law) and a Mr. White 6 sixteenths. Of this last share 2 sixteenths, Mr. White’s proportion, will be to be disposed of and George Leonard, who is expected out from England every day, has the promise of it if he inclines to take it, but I doubt much if he will have the money to spare. If it is too small I would get you 4 sixteenths if you wish by transferring to you 2 sixteenths of my own. I can only say on the subject, that if I had it in my power I should be glad to take it myself as I think there cannot be a doubt that in the worst of times the mills will yield at least 20 per cent, and if the Province grows, as I think must be the case, a much larger profit will be realized. Mr. Hazen has the principal management of the business so that you will be sure of punctual remittal of your share of the profits. I need not add how much my own inclination and wishes are interested to have you a Partner in the concern if compatible with your other views. If this proposal meets with your approbation let me know in your next in what manner your proportion of the purchase will be advanced; let me know also what is the present price of wheat in your market. I should not have written you anything on this subject, intending to propose it upon your coming this way this summer, which from your last letter I now despair of. You would then have seen the mills and their situation, which is the only one for mills below the Falls, and being Tide mills and in an harbor which never freezes, can never have an impediment to their going. There is also a saw mill upon the same dam.”

“When I speak of the above profits, I mean only what will in all human probability arise from the Toll—but the moment we can employ any capital in the purchase of Grain for manufacturing, the profits will be more than double.”

“We hold the grounds, mill privileges, etc., for twenty-one years commencing last January at the rent of £25 currency annually. At the end of the term the Lessors are to pay us the full value of all our improvements or to extend the lease a further term at the same rent, and so “toties quoties.” * * Our contracts are made for completing the whole this summer; let me know by the first opportunity your determination.”

The “City Mills,” as they were called, were successfully operated by William Hazen for many years. Farmers on the St. John river sent their grain by water and sometimes from considerable distances as will be seen by the letter that follows:—

“Bellmonte, 8th Sept., 1791”

“Dear Sir:—By White I send two bags of wheat, not in good order, to be ground and boiled at your mill. I send likewise four empty bags to be filled with Indian meal, all of which you will please to order put on board White’s vessel on his return and send the price of the meal. You will perhaps think it extraordinary proceedings to send grist from this to your mill, but I really think it the cheapest method I can take to get grinding at this time. I am Dear Sir”

“Your most obed’t Serv’t, Dan’l Bliss”


“Bellmont,” it may be observed, is the property about eight miles below Fredericton formerly the residence of the late Lieut. Governor Hon. R.D. Wilmot and now in possession of his sons.

Written by johnwood1946

November 15, 2014 at 9:43 AM

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The Brothers d’Amours

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From the blog at

This is the story of four brothers, Louis, René, Mathieu and Bernard d’Amours, who were the non-governmental Acadian settlers on the Saint John River. It is from The New Brunswick Magazine, Volume 1, Number 1, 1898, and was written by James Hannay.

Hannay was a prolific writer about New Brunswick history. He is sometimes called a “popular historian” to distinguish him from professional historians and, unfortunately, he is also distinguished from other popular historians like W.O. Raymond and William F. Ganong. Raymond was well known for uncovering heritage documents in barns and attics; and Ganong was a more rigorous and dispassionate writer than Hannay. On the other hand, to call Hannay a “popular historian” minimizes his contributions which I do not think is fair. His writings remain a valuable source of information and are entertaining to read.

Fort Nashwaak

Fort Saint Joseph, Fort Nashwaak. Built by Villebon in 1691-92.

From Wikipedia, after Clarence Webster, “Acadia at the End of the 17th Century”


The Brothers d’Amours

The First French Settlers on the Saint John River

Most people in New Brunswick, when they speak of the first settlers on the River St. John refer to the Loyalists who came here in 1783, or to the New England men who settled at Maugerville and Sheffield twenty years earlier. Little is ever said, because but little is known, of those French inhabitants of the St. John River, who were living on its banks a full century before the era of the Loyalists, and of whom we obtain very fleeting and uncertain glimpses in the official despatches sent by the commandants of Acadia to the French government. Yet these people cannot but be interesting to us who now inhabit the land which they made their home, and if the whole story of their trials and toils could be told we would no doubt find it as full of romance as the world has found the story of Evangeline, as related by America’s greatest poet. Unfortunately, there is no possibility of going into such details with regard to the early French settlers of the St. John as the poet was able to evolve from his imagination with reference to the fictitious heroine of the Acadian exile. Yet, enough can be gathered from the records of that time to give us a fairly accurate idea of the manner of men who were living on this great river, amidst the vast Acadian wilderness, two hundred years ago.

In 1670 Acadia, which had been seized by the English in 1654, was restored to the French under the terms of the treaty of Breda, and the Chevalier de Grand-fontaine became governor of the colony. The English had held Acadia for sixteen years, yet they had done nothing to increase the number of its inhabitants, and when their fishing establishments were broken up and their forts surrendered to the French, no traces of their occupation remained, with the exception of the fort at Jemseg which they had built, and which was nothing more than a post for trading with the Indians. Fort Jemseg stood on the east side of the St. John River, and just south of the entrance to Grand Lake. It was a 120 feet long by 90 wide, enclosed by pickets 18 feet in height. On it were mounted four small guns, and within it was the house for the garrison 60 ft. by 30. Old Fort LaTour, at the mouth of the river, was then in ruins, and in 1670 there does not seem to have been a single settler, French or English, on the banks of the St. John from the Bay of Fundy to the river’s source. Rich as the territory was in every natural resource, its very vastness and the gloom of the impenetrable forest which shaded the waters of the great river seem to have deterred the humble tiller of the soil from seeking a home there. The great solitude was only broken by the passing of the canoe of the [Indian] or the movement of the wild animals of the wooded wilderness.

The commandant on the St. John River in 1670 was Pierre de Joibert, seigneur de Soulanges and Marson, an officer in the French army who had married a daughter of Chartier de Lotbiniere, who had been attorney general of New France. Joibert, although he lived but eight years in Acadia, for he died in 1678, has substantial claims to recognition as an historical figure for he was the father of Elizabeth Joibert, who was born in old Fort LaTour in 1673, and who became the wife of the Marquis de Vaudreuil, governor general of Canada, and the mother of the second Marquis de Vaudreuil who was the last French governor of Canada. Joibert seems to have wished to become an Acadian Seigneur, and he was the first grantee of territory in that part of Acadia now known as New Brunswick, under the terms of the edict made by Louis XIV on the 20th of May, 1676. This document authorized Count Frontenac, the governor general, to grant lands in New France, on condition that they should be cleared within six years. Such a condition was impossible of fulfilment, for the grants were too large to be cleared within the time specified unless the grantees had been able to place a host of tenants upon them. On the 12th Oct., 1676, Joibert, who is described in the document as major of Pentogoet (Penobscot) and commandant of the forts of Gemisick (Jemseg) and the River St. John, received a grant of a seignory called Nachouac, to be hereafter called Soulanges, fifteen leagues from Gemisick, two leagues front on each side of the St. John River, and two leagues deep inland. This grant, which contained upwards of 46,000 acres of land, embraced not only the territory occupied by Mr. Gibson’s town of Marysville, but also the site of Fredericton, St. Mary’s and Gibson, so that if Joibert’s heirs could lay claim to it now they would he multi-millionaires. Four days after the issue of this grant, Joibert obtained a second concession granting him the house or fort of Gemisick, with a league on each side of the fort, making two leagues front on the river and two leagues in depth inland. This second grant was just one half the size of the first, yet it formed a noble domain and included a fort which might easily have been made a formidable place of strength.

When Joibert died in 1678 it does not appear that he had done anything to improve or settle the valuable territory which had been granted to him by the French king. His widow and her children returned to Canada, and we hear nothing more of her in connection with the affairs of Acadia until 1691, when she received a grant of land on the River St. John of four leagues in front on the river and two leagues in depth, and opposite the grant of M. de Chauffours (called Jemseck), the centre of the grant being opposite the house at Jemseck. This document shows that the grants to Joibert had been escheated or lapsed, and that the territory they embraced had been regranted to other persons. The new grant to the widow was probably intended to compensate her in some measure for the loss of the land granted to her husband, but it does not appear that she ever occupied it or that she was able to sell it to a good purchaser. Land was then too easily obtained from the government to be of much value as a saleable commodity when in private hands.

The Sieur de Chauffours, who was in the occupation of the Jemseg territory in 1691, was one of four brothers who had come to Acadia from Quebec in 1684, or perhaps a year or two earlier. They were sons of Mathieu d’Amours, a native of Brittany who emigrated to Quebec and became a member of the Governor’s Council in 1663. He was created a member of the Canadian Noblesse. From his position in the Council d’Amours was naturally an influential personage, and, like many a modern public man, he used his power to promote the fortunes of his sons. They all received large grants of land in Acadia, and they all resided on the St. John River where they had very extensive possessions. Louis d’Amours, who assumed the territorial name of Sieur des Chauffours, had a grant of the Richibucto and Buctouche Rivers, but he afterwards became possessed of the Jemseg seigniory which had been granted to Joibert. René d’Amours, Sieur de Clignacourt, in 1684, obtained a grant of land on the River St. John from Medoctec to the Longue Sault, two leagues in depth on each side. In the same year Mathieu d’Amours, Sieur de Freneuse, was granted the land along the River St. John between Gemisick and Nachouc, two leagues deep on each side of the river. In 1695 Bernard d’Amours, Sieur de Plenne received a grant of the Kennebecasis River with a league and a half on each side of the said river, by two leagues in depth, and the islands and islets adjacent. Six years earlier the same territory had been granted to Pierre Chesnet, Sieur du Breuil, a resident of Port Royal, but this grant seems to have lapsed because the conditions as to settlement had not been complied with. At all events Bernard d’Amours got the territory to which du Breuil had possessed and the latter did not come to this side of the Bay of Fundy.

The four brothers d’Amours may be properly regarded as the first settlers on the River St. John who were not officers of the government. Governor Villebon found them here when he came to Acadia in 1690, and he appears to have conceived a strong prejudice against them. Writing to the minister in Paris 1695 he complains of the brothers d’Amours, whom he calls soi disants genteil hommes. He says,—“They are four in number living on the St. John River. They are given up to licentiousness and independence for ten or twelve years they have been here. They are disobedient and seditious and require to be watched.” In another paper it is stated of the d’Amours that “although they have vast grants in the finest parts of the country, they have hardly a place to lodge in. They carry on no tillage, keep no cattle, but live with trading with the Indians and debauch among them, making large profits thereby, but injuring the public good.” A year later we find Villebon again writing to the minister in the same strain. “’I have,”.says he, “no more reason to be satisfied with the Sieurs d’Amours than I previously had. The one that has come from France has not pleased me more than the other two. Their minds are wholly spoiled by long licentiousness, and the manners they have acquired among the Indians; and they must be watched closely, as I had the honor to state to you last year.”

It would not be quite fair to judge of the character of the d’Amours brothers by these statements, although Governor Villebon doubtless made them in good faith. Acadia, at that time, was so full of jealousies and cabals that no man escaped censure, not even Villebon himself. The French government encouraged the forwarding of complaints to France, not only against private parties but against their own officials; and the French archives are full of letters written by all sorts and conditions of men against the governors, the judges, the priests and against each other. The d’Amours were engaged in trading with the Indians and this was enough to raise the ire of the governor, who deemed such conduct an infringement of the monopoly of the company which was supposed to control the trade of Acadia. But as this company did not provide a sufficient amount of goods and sold them at exorbitant prices, nearly every person in Acadia was engaged in trading, or at all events, every person was accused of it, even Villebon himself being charged with having secret transactions with the English in the sale of furs. Even the captains of the men-of-war which arrived from France every year with supplies for the fort were engaged in trade, for they brought out goods for the traders in Acadia who were ruining the company’s business.

Fortunately we are not without the means of correcting Villebon’s statement that the d’Amours brothers had hardly a place to lodge in, kept no cattle and carried on no tillage. In August, 1689, a little English boy named John Gyles, then nine years old, was taken prisoner in an Indian raid against Pemaquid, in Maine, and carried to Acadia. He remained six years a captive among the Indians of the Upper St. John, but in 1695 was sold as a slave to Louis d’Amours de Chauffours, the oldest of the d’Amours brothers. Gyles lived with this man for more than three years, and served him so faithfully that, at the end of that time, he gave him his freedom and sent him back to his people in New England. So far from having hardly a place to lodge in, Louis d’Amours at that time had quite an extensive establishment. His residence was at Jemseg on the east side of the St. John River, and he seems to have lived in much comfort. Gyles, who published a narrative of his captivity many years afterwards, says that he did a great trade with the Indians and kept a store of which the English captive had charge while he lived there. He also possessed cattle and raised crops, and Gyles mentioned particularly one very fine field of wheat of which the birds had made great havoc. Louis d’Amours was married to Margaret Guion, a native of Quebec, and they had two children when Gyles lived with them. This lady treated the poor English captive with great kindness, and the narrative of Gyles, which has been widely circulated, has handed her name down to the present day as that of a good and true woman.

Mathieu d’Amours, Sieur de Freneuse, lived on the east side of the St. John River opposite the mouth of the Oromocto. Gyles stopped a night at his house in 1695, but he gives us no details as to how he lived. The fact that he had his residence in this fine farming country, rather than in a place more convenient for trading, would lead us to infer that he engaged largely in agriculture. His wife was Louise Guion, a sister of the wife of Louis d’Amours, and they had several children. Louise Guion, under the name of Madame Freneuse, occupies a large space in Acadian history, and for nearly ten years there was hardly a despatch or letter sent from Acadia to France which did not contain some reference to her. Unfortunately these references were not always complimentary, tor Madame Freneuse was a sort of Acadian Cleopatra who came near undermining the foundations of the little colony. One commandant she ruined and the Port Royal colony was kept in a continual state of ferment over her, for she had partisans and defenders as well as unrelenting enemies.

René d’Amours, Sieur de Clignacourt, who had a large grant of territory on the Upper St. John, does not appear to have lived upon it, but probably resided with his brother Mathieu. Bernard, about the year 1701, married Jeanne le Borgne, a granddaughter of Charles de la Tour, the most striking figure in Acadian history. René appears to have been in France in 1696 or earlier; he was probably the youngest of the four brothers. Like his brother Louis he was engaged in trading with the Indians. John Gyles, in his narrative, informs us that when he was residing with the Indians at Medoctec—“when they would come in from hunting they would be drunk and fight for several days and nights together, until they had spent most of their skins in wine and brandy, which was brought to the village by a Frenchman called Monsieur Sigenioncour.” The reader will readily recognize in this name that of René d’Amours, Sieur de Clignacourt. Perhaps we may discern in this statement, also, the principal reason for Villebon’s dissatisfaction with the d’Amours brothers. A man who was engaged in selling the Indians wine and brandy, and keeping them drunk for days until he had obtained from them all the furs they had gathered in the winter’s hunt, was not likely to be a favorite with the Acadian governor. Yet the time soon came when Villebon had good reason for looking on the d’Amours with some degree of favor for at a very critical period they rendered essential service to him and to the state.

In 1696 Villebon was established with a garrison of one hundred men at Fort Nashwaak, which was then the headquarters of Acadia. It had been chosen because it was near the principal Indian villages, and so far from the mouth of the St. John River that it could not be easily attacked by the English of Boston, with whom a constant state of war existed. The story of the combats which were carried on between 1690 and 1700 between Villebon and the English would make a paper of itself, and therefore I shall not touch upon it further than it relates to the fortunes of our first settlers, the d’Amours brothers. If settlement was tardy on the St. John River it was not without good cause, for the tiller of the soil above all things needs peace to enable him to prosper, and he is not likely to be content to live in a land where his fields are being constantly ravaged by an enemy, his buildings burnt and his cattle killed or driven away. Yet that was what he might expect if he lived on the banks of the St. John two hundred years ago.

The English made several attacks on Acadia during the last decade of the seventeenth century, but the principal one was in 1696. An expedition was fitted out at Boston in the autumn of that year and placed under the command of Col. Benjamin Church who had been a commander in the Indian war of 1675, generally known as King Phillip’s war. Church had about five hundred men with him and they were embarked in open sloops and boats. They ravaged the coast of Acadia from Passamaquoddy to the head of the Bay of Fundy, and were on their way back to Boston when they were met by a reinforcement of two hundred men in three vessels under Col. Hathorne, one of the Massachusetts Council. Hathorne, who now took the chief command, and had orders to besiege and capture Fort Nashwaak, and the expedition returned to the St. John for that purpose, and ascended the river. Villebon was attacked in his fort on the 18th of October, but after cannonading it for two days the English retired. Villebon was ably assisted in the defence of his fort by two of the d’Amours brothers, Matthieu and René, who arrived on the evening before the English appeared, with ten Frenchmen, their servants and retainers. Louis d’Amours was in France at this time and he had left his affairs in the care of his faithful English slave, John Gyles, then a lad of sixteen. I doubt whether I can tell the story of what occurred to the family of Louis d’Amours during the English invasion better than in the words of Gyles himself, who in the narrative of his captivity describes the affair thus:—

Some time after, Col. Hathorne attempted the taking of the French fort up this river. We heard of him some time before he came up, by the guard which Governor Villebon had stationed at the river’s mouth. Monsieur, my master, had gone to France, and madam, his wife, advised with me. She desired me to nail a paper on the door of her house, which paper read as follows:—

“I entreat the general of the English not to burn my house or barn, nor destroy my cattle. I don’t suppose that such an army comes here to destroy a few inhabitants, but to take the fort above us, I have shown kindness to the English captives, as we were capacitated, and have bought two, of the Indians, and sent them to Boston. We have one now with us, and he shall go also when a convenient opportunity presents, and he desires it.”

When I had done this, madam said to me, “Little English,” (which was the familiar name she used to call me by,) “we have shown you kindness, and now it lies in your power to serve or disserve us, as you know where our goods are hid in the woods, and that monsieur is not home. I could have sent you to the fort and put you under confinement, but my respect to you and your assurance of love to us has disposed me to confide in you, persuaded you will not hurt us or our affairs. And, now, if you will not run away to the English, who are coming up the river, but serve our interest, I will acquaint monsieur of it on his return from France, which will be very pleasing to him; and I now give my word, you shall have liberty to go to Boston on the first opportunity, it you desire it, or any other favor in my power shall not be denied you.” I replied:

“Madame, it is contrary to the nature of the English to requite evil for good. I shall endeavor to serve you and your interest. I shall not run to the English, but if I am taken by them I shall willingly go with them, and yet endeavor not to disserve you either in your person or goods.”

The place where we lived was called Hagimack, twenty-five leagues from the river’s mouth, as I have before stated.

We now embarked and went in a large boat and canoe two or three miles up an eastern branch of the river that comes from a large pond, and on the following evening sent down four hands to make discovery. And while they were sitting in the house the English surrounded it and took one of the four. The other three made their escape in the dark and through the English soldiers, and coming to us, gave a surprising account of affairs. Upon this news, madam said to me, “Little English, now you can go from us, but I hope you will remember your word.” I said, “Madam, be not concerned. I will not leave you in this strait.” She said, “I know not what to do with my two poor little babies.” I said, “Madam, the sooner we embark and go over the great pond the better.” Accordingly we embarked and went over the pond. The next day we spoke with Indians, who were in a canoe, and they gave us an account that Signecto town was taken and burnt. Soon after we heard the great guns at Gov. Villebon’s fort, which the English engaged several days. They killed one man, then, drew off down the river, fearing to continue longer, for fear of being frozen in for the winter, which in truth they would have been.

Hearing no report of cannon for several days, I, with two others, went down to our house to make discovery. We found our young lad who was taken by the English when they went up the river. The general had shown himself so honorable, that on reading the note on our door, he ordered it not to be burnt, nor the barn. Our cattle and other things he preserved, except one or two and the poultry for their use. At their return they ordered the young lad to be put on shore. Finding things in this posture, we returned and gave madam an account of it.

Here we are brought face to face with the realities of war and the fears and miseries it brought to those who were its victims in ancient Acadia. It is pleasing to know that the fidelity of John Gyles to his mistress did not go unrewarded. When his master returned from France in the spring of 1697, he thanked Gyles for the care he had taken of his affairs, and said he would endeavor to fulfil the promise which his wife had made. Accordingly in the following year, after peace had been proclaimed, an English sloop from Boston came to the mouth of the St. John River and Louis d’Amours sent Gyles back in her to his people from whom he had been parted about nine years.

Mathieu d’Amours did not fare so well as his brother. As he had taken part in the defence at Fort Nashwaak, the English, in coming down the river, burnt his residence and barns at Freneuse and killed his cattle. The Sieur de Freneuse was left without a house and was wholly ruined, but this was not all the price he had to pay for his loyalty to his country and his king. The exposure to which he was subjected during the siege brought on an illness from which he died, leaving a widow and a large family of young children to struggle as best they might against the world’s troubles and cares. René d’Amours, the other brother who had taken part in the defence at Fort Nashwaak, had also been ruined by the English invasion, for his goods, which were stored at Freneuse, were seized or destroyed. He afterwards joined the Indian war parties that were making raids on the English settlements of Maine. Thus the ruin wrought by war brings about reprisals and breeds more ruin and destruction of life and property.

In 1698, Governor Villebon removed his garrison from Fort Nashwaak to the old fort at the mouth of the river, on the Carleton side of the harbor, which had been originally built by Latour. Villebon died there in the summer of 1700 and his successor Brouillan, who arrived at St. John in the summer of the following year, resolved to abandon the fort there and remove the military establishment to Port Royal. This was immediately done, and as a consequence the settlers on the St. John were left without protection. As the war between France and England was renewed in the spring of 1702, these unfortunate people had no resource but to abandon their properties on the St. John and remove to Port Royal. By this time it appears that Margaret Guion, the wife of Louis d’Amours, was dead, for her sister, Madame Freneuse, had taken charge of her children and was providing for them. These children were indeed in a bad plight and were destined soon to be doubly orphaned. Their father was made prisoner by the English in 1703 and taken to Boston where he was confined in prison for more than two years. When he was liberated, under the terms of an exchange, and returned to Port Royal he was broken in health as in fortune and soon afterwards died. We learn this fact from an entry in the register of the parish of Port Royal recording the marriage of “Pierre de Morpain, commander of the Marquis de Beaupré, on the 13th August, 1709, to Mdlle. Marie d’Amour de Chauffour, daughter of the late Louis d’Amour, ecuyer, and Sieur de Chauffour, and of the late dame Marguerite Guyon,”

Madame Freneuse, who had not only her own large family to look after but also the children of her sister, appears to have removed to Port Royal about the time of the transfer of the garrison to that place. In 1701 she was a petitioner to the French government for a pension on the ground of the death of her husband and the losses he had suffered by the English invasion. Two of her sons were at that time cadet-soldiers of the companies in the Port Royal garrison, so Madame Freneuse must then have been nearly forty. Yet she had captivated the too susceptible heart of M. de Bonaventure, a brave naval officer, who was in command of the King’s ships on the coast of Acadia. Nor does it appear that Governor Brouillan was insensible to her blandishments, for he shielded her in every possible way and defended her from her enemies. The French government encouraged what may be properly described as the “pimp” system, so that every person in Acadia was a spy on someone else. In November 1702 we find de Goutins, the commissary of Port Royal, in a letter to the French government, complaining of a scandal caused by Madame Freneuse and Bonaventure. This story was repeated by others and the priests of Port Royal brought the matter to the notice of the Bishop of Quebec, who wrote to the French minister suggesting that Madame Freneuse be sent to Canada. In the autumn of 1703 Madame Freneuse had a child, but the infant was spirited away and kept at the residence of an inhabitant who lived up the river of Port Royal. Brouillan, the governor, was, however, aware of the affair, and so was one of the priests, for the child was baptized by the name of Antoine, on the 7th Sept. 1703. Yet all through these proceedings Madame Freneuse, instead of manifesting an humble and contrite spirit, held her head high, and her partisans, who included the two most influential men in the colony, the Governor and Bonaventure, made it uncomfortable for anyone who dared to look unkindly upon her. Among the letters in our archives is one from Pontif, Surgeon Major of Port Royal, to the Minister, complaining of the ill treatment which he had received from Bonaventure on account of Madame Freneuse. Even M. de LaTour, the seigneur of Port Royal, and the principal man in the colony, was made to realize the danger of offending a friend of Bonaventure, for in a letter to the Minister he protests against his interdiction and attributes it to the fact that neither he nor his wife had visited Madame Freneuse. In the autumn of 1704, Madame Freneuse was sent by Governor Brouillan to the River St. John, but she soon returned, alleging that she could not live there because the place was deserted. Brouillan had been ordered to send her to Quebec, but he excused himself on the ground that he had no opportunity of doing so. A journey from Port Royal to Quebec was a serious matter in those days. For nearly a year the cause of all this trouble lived up the river, at a distance from Port Royal, at the house of an inhabitant, but in the autumn of 1705 she went to France. She did not remain there very long, for she was again at Port Royal in the summer of 1706, and was the subject of much correspondence. Subercase, who had succeeded Brouillan as Governor, required her to live at a distance from Port Royal, but she seems to have returned to it occasionally. It was not until the summer of 1708 that the instructions of the French government with regard to this remarkable woman were carried out and she was sent to Quebec.

It might be supposed that this would be the last heard of Madame Freneuse in Acadia, for Quebec was a place which no person could leave without the consent of the Governor General. But this Acadian widow was quite irrepressible, and it would almost seem as if she had become as influential with the Quebec authorities as she was with the leading personages in Acadia. After the capture of Port Royal by the English in 1710 she turned up as emissary of the French government, and the attempt which was made in the summer of 1711 by the French inhabitants and Indians to recapture that place was thought to be due to instructions she had brought from Canada. Major Paul Mascerene, an officer of the Annapolis garrison who afterwards became Lieutenant Governor of Nova Scotia. In his narrative of the events of 1710 and 1711 at Annapolis, has the following reference to Madame Freneuse:

About this time they dispatched almost unknown to us—the “priest” from Manis to Canada with an Acco’t as may be supposed, of all this—and at the same time a certain woman by name “Madam Freneuse,”—came from the other side of the Bay of Fundy in a Birch Canoe, with only an Indian and a young lad, her son—in the Coldest part of Winter. This woman as there is a great deal of Reason to believe was Sent by Orders from Canada, brought by Mr. St. Castine—to keep the French in a Ferment and make them backward in supplying the Garrison with any necessary’s and pry into and give an Account of our Secrets, till occasion should offer of endeavouring to drive us out of the Country. In all this Indeed She was but too lucky, tho she came with quite another story at first, she said that want of all manner of necessary’s had put her to the Extremity of venturing all—for all to cross the Bay—at that unseasonable time of the year—that the Indians of Penobscot—were entirely Starving, and that she was forc’d to come to try whether she could be admitted to live under the new Government she was upon this received Very Kindly by Sr. Chas. Hobby—and had the Liberty she desired granted to her.

Here we obtain our last glimpse of the first French settlers of the St. John River, for the documents in the archives of Acadia make no further mention of Madame Freneuse. The river had ceased to be a French possession and more than half a century was destined to pass away before the first English settler made his appearance on its banks. All the surviving members of the d’Amours family doubtless returned to Quebec, their original home; their graves are there; the fields they cleared were soon reclaimed by the wilderness. Yet, if in telling what is known of their story, I have awakened an interest in the mind of the reader in the men and manners of that bygone time, this paper will not have been written in vain.

Written by johnwood1946

November 5, 2014 at 9:34 AM

Posted in Uncategorized


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