johnwood1946

New Brunswick History and Other Stuff

The Fort at Oromocto, 1780 – 1783

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By JohnWood1946@hotmail.com

Planters and Indians:

By the mid to late 1770s there was a small population of New Englanders on the Saint John River who for the most part supported the American Revolution. Maugerville was the largest of their communities. Any real revolutionary action needed military help from New England, however, such as in late in 1776, when Jonathan Eddy launched an attack on Fort Cumberland with recruits from along the River. In response to all of this, the British placed the settlers under duress and extracted their signatures onto an oath of allegiance. This was in May of 1777.

Also in May of 1777, John Allan, Superintendent of Eastern Indians for Massachusetts, tried to establish a trading post to strengthen the support of the Malecites to the American cause. George Washington sent a letter and wampum belts offering friendship and cautioning the Indians not to listen to “the King’s wicked counsellors”. Allan was chased off and Colonel Gould met with the Malecites and made a speech in French. Several leaders swore their allegiance, and Gould promised to ask the Governor to supply them with a priest. Allan was determined to continue his work with the Malecites, and a military force left Machias on May 30, 1777, and arrived at Musquash Cove near Portland Point on June 2, 1777. This raid also failed.

Changing Times:

The Saint John River had always been a hinterland as far as Halifax was concerned, and the small military force at Saint John had been enough to watch over the neighbourhood and to chase off privateers. The American Revolution was not going well, however, and communications between New York and Quebec were in jeopardy. The route from Halifax and thence up the Saint John River to Quebec was therefore gaining strategic importance. At the same time, there was a threat that the Americans could invade the mainland part of Nova Scotia from Machias as long as the Indian routes via the Eel River and the Oromocto River remained available. Added to these factors was the growing importance of the Saint John River as a source for pine masts.

Occupy and Protect the Route to Quebec:

Fort Hughes was a block house and was built at Oromocto in 1780. It was named after Nova Scotia Lieut. Gov. Sir Richard Hughes as were at least two other Forts Hughes, one in Cornwallis and the other in Annapolis. Log huts, or post houses, were also built along the courier route all of the way from Halifax to Quebec, spaced out at about one days apart.

Constant Connor, gentleman, was named a Second Lieutenant in the Royal Fensible Americans in 1775. He had been stationed in Fort Cumberland where, following the siege, there was a lapse in discipline (too much drinking). On May 29, 1777, Connor shot Lieut. Lewis De Beaudoin in a duel. This did not harm his career prospects, however, and he was placed in command of Fort Hughes. The building and servicing of the fort attracted a number of men with “large poor families”, and they became a significant proportion of the population of the area.

Couriers:

Most of the couriers were Indian or Acadian and all would stop at Fort Hughes. It took two weeks to travel from Oromocto to Quebec; longer in the winter. Prominent couriers included Louis Mitchel and Acadian brothers Louie and Michel Mercure. In 1782, Louie was paid 80 dollars for one trip between Halifax and Quebec. He was prominent in Acadian history but was also accused from time to time of overcharging for his services; and for having private clients in addition to his military employers; and for cheating those that he guided. These accusations may not have been accurate since he was in the favour of the military authorities.

Contacts and Negotiations with the Maliseet:

There were no doubt many contacts, but most of these are not documented. W.O. Raymond noted that Col. Francklin’s hosted a conference at Oromocto in November of 1781. Nearly four hundred Maliseet were present and some of them had helped to defend the block-house during a recent alarm. They were pleased with the missionary that had been provided and were planning to grow corn again on the river.

I infer that there was some reluctance to plant corn in the fertile Maugerville area with the Fort being nearby, but the presence of the priest had helped to reduce tensions.

Masts for the Navy:

The Saint John River and its tributaries were a valuable source of masts for the English navy. Many people were engaged in cutting these masts, but William Davidson was prominent among them and had a contract. Davidson’s operations were favoured unfairly by the government and military, and Fort Hughes played a role in this. Lieut. Gov. Hughes wrote to Lieut. Connor asking him to give Davidson all of the assistance that he could.

In a letter someone noted that:

“I am sorry to say that Lieut. Connor is much atached to Davidson and Andrews, his orders from Sir Richard Hughes specifying to give Davidson all the assistance in his power, and on that account Davidson carries much more sway than he otherwise would.”

The following letter from Hazen & White to Colonel Francklin also illustrates what was going on (underlining added):

“Dear Sir, Since our last we have been at Maugerville viewing the masts, etc, etc. Mr. Peabody has cut down and procured as many sticks as could be expected under the disadvantage of having the other contractor at his elbow. You will find enclosed Mr. Hayes account and certificates of the number and sizes of sticks on the banks, trimmed four square and fit for rafting. They have about 120 more cut, many of which cannot be got out this season. Mr. Peabody set off on the 14th inst. to view a glade of Pines on the Grand Lake, about 40 miles from Mr. Simonds’ house, where he has a number of men to work. The French people at Kanibikashes have about 100 sticks cut. They say they will be able to get out and bring here this Spring about 40 sticks, the others they can get out in Summer. Pork, beef and corn is very scarce and dear; the two former not to be bought. Have engaged what wheat and Indian corn we could on the River. Davidson expects to have 200 sticks out this season and near as many more cut in the woods; he gives the people larger prices for sticks (and takes them at Maugerville or elsewhere afloat) than we give Mr. Peabody delivered here. We must have two or three hundred pounds in cash here by the first conveyance.

“Yours etc., “Hazen & White.”

Fort Hughes and the Loyalists:

D.G. Bell found no evidence that Fort Hughes was used to provision the Loyalists. In fact, by 1784 Connor was in Halifax but was still receiving his Loyalist provisions from Fort Howe. This letter was to William Hazen at Fort Howe:

Halifax, 27th October 1784

Sir

on the arrival of mr. knox I obtained an order for my self and wife to receiv our provision at fort Howe. I must request of you to draw my back provision with the present Six months that is due and take Care of it for my use – I hope major Studholme has Settle with you for the provision he has drawn of mine last year I have put my papers in mr Batfords hands to Settle with you

beleiv me Sir yours most truely

Constant Connor

The End for Fort Hughes:

Fort Hughes was used only between 1780 and 1783. After that it fell into disrepair until it was re-commissioned during the War of 1812 to ’14. Constant Connor eventually settled in Halifax, but the date of his departure is uncertain. He was in Halifax in 1784 when he wrote the above letter; and also in 1785 when he wrote the following to William Hazen. However, in this 1785 letter he is still discussing property near the blockhouse and speaking derisively of Perley:

10thAugt – 1785

Dear Sir

I have been under the necessity of Raising Some money to pay for a house that I lately purchased. and in order to make an assortment in my Shop. I have been obliged to make use of your bond with mr – Lawson who will writ to you by this opportunity – I hope you will not take it ill of me in So doing, be assured their is no man Could wish to Serve you readier than what I would. Idleness drove me home last winter. and of Course deprived me of many pounds. I met with mr – porteous. and Capt – monrow. in london last January. he highly approved of Capt –  monrow giving me a deed of one hundred Acres at the Block house for my Services as agent for the proprietors. which in Evitably puts perlys attempts to an End

my best respects to mr – Hazen and family

believ Sir with the greatest respect

your Sincerely
Constant Connor

A Challenge!

I have my books and the net.

If you are living in N.B. then you also have the Provincial Archives and the Harriet Irving Library in Fredericton, and the Free Public Library and the N.B. Museum in Saint John.

So go ahead: re-write this article and add to our collective knowledge on the subject.

Selected References:

  • Bell, D.G., Early Loyalist Saint John, Fredericton, N.B., 1983.
  • Conrad, Margaret, editor, They Planted Well, Acadiensis Press, 1988.
  • Hannay, James, History of New Brunswick, Volume 1, Saint John, N.B., 1909.
  • Maxwell, L.M.B., The History of Central New Brunswick, Sackville, N.B., 1937.
  • Raymond, William O., The River St. John, Saint John, N.B., 1910.
  • Wright, Esther Clark, The St. John River and its Tributaries, 1966.
  • Dictionary of Canadian Biography On-Line.
  • Saint John Free Public Library, Manuscript Number A58, letter to William Hazen, Esq. from Constant Connor, October 27, 1784.
  • Saint John Free Public Library, Manuscript Number C11, letter to William Hazen, Esq. from Constant Connor, August 10, 1785.
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Written by johnwood1946

December 29, 2011 at 3:48 PM

Posted in Uncategorized

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