New Brunswick History and Other Stuff

John Wood of French Lake, New Brunswick, 1788-1868

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By his Second Great Grandson,

John Wood was the son of Daniel Wood and his wife Ann Morgan, and was born on December 25, 1788 in a log house on the Rusagonis Stream, just inside York County in the area of Beaver Dam.  The family relocated to Lot 20 on the Oromocto River at French Lake in the summer of 1795, when John was six years old.  John remained very close to that spot for the rest of his life.

In 1809, at the age of 21 years, John was already involved in logging.  In that year, he was granted the 265 acre Lot number 11 on the Rusagonis Stream at Beaver Dam.  He always treated this lot as a timber reserve, and never lived there.

On November 3, 1814, at the age of 26 years, John married the girl next door, Dorothy Stennick, daughter of Conrad Stennick and Christianna Morganstern.  Dorothy was 20 to 24 years old at the time.  The ceremony was performed by JP John Hazen and the witnesses were John Sinclair and John DeWitt.  They had a family of at least two boys and five girls and they probably lived on his father’sLot19.

The next year, John was sued by Samuel Nevers and his son, Samuel Jr., confirming his active involvement in logging.  I do not have any details of this suit.  The dubious (although not unusual) conduct of his business dealings became apparent a couple of years later, in 1818, when he petitioned for land in Lincoln Parish and then, before the petition could be granted, stripped it of white pine.  He subsequently withdrew his petition on the basis that the land was no good for farming.  He was making successful applications throughout this period to remove timber from Crown lands; for example in 1819 and again in 1821.

In 1820, John Wood and John Mersereau jointly bought two lots on Oromocto Island in the Saint John River, for a total of about 13 acres.  This was likely an investment property only.  Alternately, John Wood may have been involved in some business venture with his brother-in-law George Morrow – possibly involving George’s ship, The Lizzie Morrow. Oromocto Island was regulated by a corporation of proprietors, and there would have been annual meetings for the setting of rules.

In 1822, John trespassed onto Crown land and illegally cut about 50 tons of white pine.  However, he was discovered, and the pine was confiscated.  John’s reaction was to find out what the fine was, so that he could get his wood back and be done of this nuisance.

In 1823 and 1824, John bought two small parts of Lot 18 next to his father’s property in French Lake.  This was his first move in gathering together his homestead property.  A few years later, he bought all of the remaining properties downstream of his and his father’s land, until his holdings came up against Lot D.  At the same time, he bought Lot 19 and the remainder ofLot18 from his father Daniel.  Parts of this land were mortgaged or sold from time to time, but Lots 18 and 19 remained the heart of John Wood’s homestead site.

In 1826, John cut timber belonging to John Hazen, who sued for damages.  This was followed in the late 1820s and in 1830 by dealings with John Bradley, who was in business in Sunbury County.  Bradley had worked for John Wood, and had made loans to him for a total claim of 400 pounds.  However, John did not pay him, and Bradley sued to recover his money.  There was no promissory note to prove the loans, and I do not know if John Bradley was able to win his case.

John’s first wife Dorothy died in about 1830, possibly giving birth to her last daughter, Dorothy Stennick Wood.

By this time, John was still very financially solvent and, in 1831, he bought from Thomas Stennick 160 acres of land in Lot D adjacent to his other holdings.  At this point, he owned everything from the Morrow property on the upstream side, to across French Lake Road and into the traditional Stennick holdings on the downstream side.  He had also got a grant of Lot 2 on the flat on the opposite side of the Oromocto River.  Annual flooding in this area madeLot2 meadow land only.

This expanded homestead property came with some problems, and in 1832 a petition was filed with the Court of General Sessions stating that “We freeholders, resident on the west side (sic) of the Oromocto, beg leave to present … that we have for a series of years suffered very great damages from the vast number of cattle that are annually taken into the meadows from different parts of the county, and beg leave to request that you will be pleased to grant us provision to erect a gate across the public road passing through our settlement to New Gary and on the line between Thomas Stennick and John Foss.  Should you have the goodness to comply with our request (which we trust you will) said gate will be a perfect protection to our properties, we promise to keep it in good order that it may be as little inconvenience to the public as circumstances will permit.”

On May 26, 1832, John married #2 Gertrude (Mersereau) Mealey, daughter of Andrew Mersereau and Elizabeth Bartlett and widow of James Mealey.  The ceremony was performed by Roper Milner of the Church of England, and the witnesses were Gain Taylor and Martha Taylor.  John and Gertrude had a family of 5 children, 4 boys and 1 girl.

John’s fortunes were about to come under stress and, in 1832, he sold his interests on Oromocto Island.

John was sued by Thomas Bridges in 1833 for payment of about 300 pounds owed for labour, supplies and loans.  This was followed by a suit in 1834 by Cushi Hathaway for payment of about 130 pounds in loans that he had extended to John over several years.  John’s brother-in-law George Morrow then sued John Wood and George P. Nevers, partly in an effort to take possession of and to hold-safe whatever funds they could get from John.  This was to protect him from the large number of other creditors who were taking John to court over logging disputes. George Morrow was represented in that suit by L.A. Wilmot who once told a story about a man who moved to Fredericton to get an education for his family, “… his children went to school and he engaged in commercial pursuit.  His eldest son, having completed his education, was entered as a student at law; and the day his son was admitted a member of the Bar saw his father stripped of all his earthly possessions.  ‘That man’, said Mr. Wilmot, ‘was my father, and that son, he who addresses you!’”  Such events were, unfortunately, normal in the pursuit of the timber industry.  (Lawrence, Judges of New Brunswick, pages 428-29)

In this same year, John Wood and George P. Nevers lost another suit to Rankin and Company and several of their business partners.  This was for goods, services, proxy payments and various old bad debts in connection with their investment in Jeremiah Tracy’s lumber mill. 

John got off quite easily from the Rankin suit, since he was only managing Nevers’ investment.  Nevers did not do so well, and lost land in the action.  The Rankins were not finished with John however, and they sued him separately for other debts of about 350 pounds.  A small part of  this suit was for unpaid merchandise of an ordinary domestic nature, showing that John was nearly bankrupt.  The next month, John borrowed 63 pounds from John Bailey, for which he had to mortgageLot19 where he was living.  This loan was eventually paid, and so John did not lose his lot.

The Rankins were formidable opponents.  They were “… the largest merchants in the world I think.  Their stores at Campbelton, Dalhousie, Bathurst, Miramichi, St. John, Quebec, Montreal, etc. contain each of them more goods (than any store in) Glasgow” (Bailey, The Robb Letters, p 17).

Another suit against John, also in 1834, came to nothing.  James Carruthers had brought a suit, but then disappeared and let the action lapse.

The only reason that the list of lawsuits ends at about this time is that the Archives has not catalogued later volumes of RS42.  There were also many other suits that John may have been involved in, and I have only included those cases where there is no question of his identity.  The suits certainly continued, since his entire homestead was put up for public auction by the Sheriff on December 29, 1840.  However, John somehow got enough money together to go to the auction at the Burton Courthouse and to buy back his own land.  By this maneuver, he was able to liquidate his debts to Rankin and Company at a discount price.

Records show that in 1845, John made a cash payment of 109 pounds and transferred ownership of mortgages that he held on Stennick property to Thomas O. Miles to cover debts.  In 1851 and 1853, he was forced to mortgage some of his Lot D holdings and finally to sell them, to raise additional money.  He also sold half ofLot19 to his brother-in-law George Morrow.

John’s second wife, Gertrude, died at French Lake, some time between 1842 and 1851 and, in 1855, John married #3 Hannah (Miller) Drillon at the Baptist Church in Cambridge, York County.  The ceremony was performed by Joseph Skinner.  Hannah was 47 years old at the time, and was a widow from Waterborough.  John was 66 years of age.

John had many other activities and interests during his life.  As a young man, he was a vestryman at Saint John’s Church of England in Burton.  In the 1830s, he allowed the French Lake School to be built on his land.  I do not know if he collected  a fee for this.  He kept a tavern in his house between at least 1829 and 1837.  He was a Fence Viewer and Pound Keeper throughout the 1830s, 1840s and into the 1850s; and was elected Parish Surveyor of Highways several times in the 1840s.

John probably fished commercially.  He petitioned with others in 1811 to the Court of General Sessions to require all mill owners on the North Branch of the Oromocto River (Hartt and Tracy) to maintain fish sluices.  In 1832, there was another petition: “The fishery of Alewives and Gaspereau at the falls of the North Branch … was of inestimable value before the erection of mill dams on the said stream.  That not only the settlers on the branches of the Oromocto but the inhabitants of the River St. John and its tributary streams for a distance of fifty miles above Fredericton were plentifully supplied.  That at one time an old resident on the Oromocto recollects to have counted eighty-four boats and canoes on the fishery ground which went away loaded.  That by the erection of mill dams on the said stream the passage of fish to the Oromocto Lake (which they periodically visited) has been totally obstructed.  That the vicinity in general and the Branches of the Oromocto in particular have therefore sustained an incalculable loss. Petitioners therefore pray your Honorable Court will compel the overseers of Mills on the said stream to make sufficient fish-ways past the respective dams, that the few fish which yet come to make the attempt may find a practicable passage.  Petitioners flatter themselves your Honorable Court will agree with them in opinion that a matter of such importance should not be longer neglected as the advantage resulting will in all probability extend to remote posterity.”  Fish-ways were provided thereafter.

John was listed as eligible to sit on the Grand Jury several times and, in 1845, he served on a jury in Oromocto in a dispute between Thomas Moran and Odber Miles.  The decision was in favor of Odber, and his lawyer Thomas O. Miles wrote in his diary “Morin gets pretty drunk and threatens to have revenge by burning or any other way, by day or by night, that he would not leave me or Odber worth a dollar.”  Morin went back the next day to apologize.  Another legal matter was in 1851, when John and his son Thomas served on a board of inquest into the death of Stephen Creekmore who died in a snow storm.  This story is embedded in the collective oral history of the area, and it recounts that Creekmore was walking from Rusagonis toward the Stennick house in French Lake, but never arrived.

In 1840, there was another argument about the operation of mills, and about a hundred people including John petitioned.  “Your petitioners have heard with much surprise and regret that your Honorable Body are about to pass an act to prevent mill owners from throwing slabs into mill streams in certain parts of this province. That petitioners consider that such a law would be unnecessarily imposing a serious tax on mill owners in this county as petitioners do not consider that any difficulty or damage can arise to any person from throwing slabs in the streams in any part of the county of Sunbury, but on the contrary we consider they are a very great benefit, large quantities being used annually as fuel, fencing and many other purposes –  a privilege which we should be very sorry to be deprived of.  Your petitioners therefore humbly pray that the Honorable Legislature will not pass any law preventing mill owners within the county of Sunbury from throwing slabs in any of the streams within the said county.”  John’s lumber investments were apparently greater than his fishing interests at that time.

We are condemned not to be remembered for our greatest accomplishments, but for some small thing that is so typical of us that it cannot be forgotten.  So it is remembered that when John was old he became rheumatic and was often confined to bed.  “He would send his son Gain out to fetch his cane.  Once Gain returned with it, John would crawl out of bed and beat him with it.”

John Wood died at French Lake, without a will, in September of 1868 at the age of 79 years.  He is buried in the French Lake cemetery with no gravestone.  Five months later, Hannah petitioned to be named administratrix of the estate.  She mis-stated the list of John’s children, but later corrected this mistake.  A hearing was called for May, 1869, to consider Hannah’s petition.

John’s children Thomas Wood, Jane Nason and Dorothy Bunker replied to the notice of hearing, saying that they would not be able to attend.  However, they wanted it to be known that they opposed Hannah’s petition and that “someone more nearly interested” should be named administrator.  In particular, there were debts to be handled, and they wanted them to be settled by the family in such a way that the homestead property was not lost to them.  Thomas’s, Jane’s and Dorothy’s letters were nearly identical.

The hearing was held, and “after hearing all (of) the objections made by the heirs”, it was ruled that David Morrow and William Sinclair be made administrators.  The family had even objected to proposals that Hannah be made a co-administrator.  David Morrow was the son of John’s daughter Elizabeth and her husband George Morrow; and William Sinclair was the husband of John’s daughter Eliza. 

Hannah’s lawyer George F. Gregory protested the proceedings, but with no success and he therefore filed an appeal based on procedural flaws a couple of days later.  This prompted the Court of Probate to issue a ‘reasons for decision’ document.  In the meantime, the naming of Morrow and Sinclair was confirmed.  Hannah obtained a bond to guarantee payment of her legal costs and was ordered to compile an inventory of the estate for the administrators.  The inventory had a total value of $1,531.35, consisting mostly of land ($1,400).  In late 1869, the Court of Chancery decided in favor of Hannah’s appeal, and Hannah petitioned the Court of Probate to issue letters of administration to her.

By 1871, Hannah was still living on the homestead, with her daughter Priscilla and her husband Lewis Gereau and a number of grandchildren and, in a couple of more years, Henry Bunker and Orin Smith were ordered to compile a new inventory of John’s estate for Hannah.  This new inventory totaled $1,242.25, including $1,200. worth of land.  An auction was held to sell the personal items, and this brought in $36.00.

The house where Hannah was living was about 100 yards upstream of the house that sat nearer to the road for most of the 20th century.  In Hannah’s time, the house was known as the ‘old woman house’, and Hannah was ‘the old woman’.  In the earlier times, this was John Wood’s homestead house.  The house was founded directly on the rock and had no foundation.  Most signs of it are entirely missing today and its size can only be discerned from the pattern of brush growing in the area.  It was either a very large house, or was a house and barn.  In 1993, I was able to find remnants of apple trees, cherries, lilacs, tiger lilies, rhubarb and raspberries; proving its status as an old dwelling site.  The other house, closer to the road, was built around 1910 or 1915 by Harry Wood, a carpenter.  The foundation of this other house probably supported George Wood’s house, which burned before 1910 or 1915.

In mid-1876, Hannah filed an account of administration (an expense account) for $71.88 with the Court of Probate, net of the proceeds of the auction.  She also applied for authority to sell the homestead to cover John’s debts of $924.24.  The homestead was occupied in four parts at that time by John’s sons Gain and George, the family of William (deceased), and son-in-law Gain Mersereau.

A hearing was held in August of 1876 to consider Hannah ‘expense account’ and her application to sell land.  The atmosphere at the hearing was hostile and the Wood family objected to the proceedings at every opportunity.  There was also an argument over a $256. claim that Hannah’s daughter Priscilla had, and there were accusations of a conspiracy between Priscilla and Hannah to raid John’s estate.  Hannah complained about all of the difficulties that she had had to put up with.  She said, for example, that George Wood had walked off with a horse, that Thomas Wood had taken a watch, that Gain and George Wood had taken away her crops (she did not know where), and that someone had stolen two cows which she was still trying to recover.  Hannah’s ‘expense account’ and her application to sell land were approved.

In July of 1880, the 300 acre homestead was sold at auction for $852.25, and in May of the following year Hannah sold her right of dower to George D. Morrow in return for a pension of $22.50 per year.

In late 1886, Hannah bought back a 107 acre part of the homestead property for $325., having obtained a mortgage at 8% over two years to cover.  George Wood and Gain Wood also bought parts of the original homestead, on the same day and with the assistance of the same mortgage lender on the same terms.  The Woods and Hannah were finally working together.

Hannah died in 1887 or later.

John’s business dealings have been described as unscrupulous, and the story of the rheumatism might cause us to add cantankerous to his list of descriptions.  We cannot be certain of any of this, but I am not inclined to think of him as a nice guy.

On the positive side, Daniel and his son John were very different people but were both men of their own time.  Daniel grew up in colonial America, while John was born in the woods of New Brunswick and lived into the age of steam.  John’s business dealings were in accord with the standards of the day by which, rightly or wrongly, the courts were used to settle many arguments arising out of the logging industry.  Daniel was transplanted from an old environment into a new one, but John was not uncomfortable in his surroundings.  He was simply well adapted to them. 

– – – – – – – – –

The attached pdf file is a chronological arrangement of the events of John’s life, with references. It also contains commentaries and notes on particular aspects of this study:

 John Wood Chronology


Written by johnwood1946

August 2, 2011 at 3:35 PM

Posted in Uncategorized

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