New Brunswick History and Other Stuff

Riots and Demonstrations in Saint John

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Saint John’s old ‘Loyalist man’ would not have done well in the earliest days of that city. The lace cuffs would have become soiled and torn on the first day; and the hat, though stylish, would have been traded in for something more practical. We cannot tell what sort of person he was but assume that he was upright, self-sacrificing, and devoted to the Crown. We know from his broad smile that he was also happy.

None of that is accurate. The politics and customs of the day would have paled in significance to normal human reactions to a nearly intolerable situation. The Loyalists had known for months that they would be taken to Nova Scotia but the shock of landing in a near wilderness would have been difficult to take. Intrigues were under way by the political elite to gain preferences for the few at the expense of the many; and worst of all was the delay. They had been promised grants of land and a new life, but instead they were stuck on the rocky north side of the harbour at Parr Town (Saint John).

The Loyalists had to have been traumatized and subject to depression. ‘PTSD’ was not in the language, but it would certainly have been experienced. Whether traumatized or depressed or not, they were at least angry. In short, the people were not happy and their discontent spilled over into demonstrations and even riot.

Here, then, is some indication of what was going on:

Elias Hardy, and Discontent Among the Loyalists at Saint John

Elias Hardy was born in England, in about 1744. He studied law in England, became an attorney, and relocated to Virginia in 1775. The courts were closed upon his arrival due to the turmoil preceding the American Revolution and he worked for a while as a tutor.

Thomas Paine published his pamphlet Common Sense in 1776. Hardy accepted the American complaints against England, but did not support independence and publicly took issue with the arguments in the pamphlet. He was then seized by a mob, from which he escaped and fled first to Maryland and then to New York City. New York City would become the last bastion of English control in the Thirteen Colonies and was the point of evacuation of Loyalist refugees toward the north in the spring and summer of 1783.

Hardy was a notary public in New York but was not prominent. He was not yet a leader, and played no special role in the courts or government. His talents as a lawyer and his presence in New York City at that time would be formative both for himself and for the future of New Brunswick, however.

Hardy made his first appearance as an advocate for the Loyalists in 1782 when, together with nine prominent New Yorkers, he petitioned Guy Carleton to protect the interests of the Loyalists as the war drew to a close.

Hardy’s reputation among the Loyalists was soon to be established when, in July of 1783, fifty five prominent men petitioned Guy Carleton for special consideration in the granting of lands in Nova Scotia. They said that they were people of the most respectable character and had been influential before the war. They had since lost everything and wanted their positions in society to be restored through grants of 5,000 acres each. They wanted the grants be selected from the best of locations and without quit-rents. They thought that their mere presence in Nova Scotia would be of such advantage in setting a model of uprightness that allowing such grants was only logical. Included among ‘The 55’ was Ward Chipman, who is notable here because of his lifelong business association with Elias Hardy, usually as an adversary.

In the meantime, shiploads of people had been arriving at Parr Town for a couple of months and many more were assembled in New York awaiting the same journey. The people had been promised grants to land but none were in sight. Winter would soon arrive and they would be stuck at the mouth of the river for many more months. They were unhappy, and they were further outraged when a copy of the petition was sent to them from New York. Hardy was still in New York and he and three others were chosen to draft a counter-petition to Guy Carleton expressing their anger with The 55.

The petition was drafted by Hardy, and it was posed at Roubalet’s Tavern in New York to collect signatures. This was in early August, 1783, and 600 signatures were soon on the petition.

The petitioners pointed out that they too had lost land and valuables and that much of what was left would have to be abandoned in New York when they evacuated. This was all because of their loyalty to the Crown for which they had been promised grants of land in Nova Scotia, to be apportioned equitably. Now, the 55 were asking for grants totalling 275,000 acres of the best land on a preferential basis. They maintained that many of the 55 were in comfortable circumstances and were, “with some exceptions, more distinguished by the repeated favors of government than by either the greatness of their sufferings, or the importance of their services”. They said that they were equally entitled to compensation and asked for justice. They considered most of the 55 to be superior to them “in nothing but deeper art and keener policy”. It was also alleged that several of the 55 were planning to return to England anyway.

Guy Carleton did what he could to defuse the situation, given that policies with regard to land allocation had not been finalized. He assured the petitioners that no one would receive a grant in excess of 1,000 acres, however, and that grants were to be reserved for those who planned to stay in Nova Scotia.

The mood in Parr Town was not improved. The best of lands on the Saint John River had been granted long before the Loyalist era and the only way to free them up for the newcomers was through the long and difficult process of escheat. Added to this were the Loyalist agents who were commissioned to survey lands for occupation but were accused of saving the best lots for themselves and their friends. Some people demanded that pre-Loyalist lands be seized without compensation to help to remedy the situation in Parr Town, but Governor Parr ruled that payment had to be made for the ‘improvements’ that the pre-Loyalists had made to the land. There were demonstrations against the Halifax government in Parr Town and Hardy, with his new status as protector of the rights of the common Loyalist, was blamed. He travelled to Halifax and convinced Governor Parr that the problem was Loyalist agents, and not him. Hardy agreed to oppose separation of New Brunswick from Nova Scotia and was appointed to investigate the agents. The official class in Parr Town reacted by calling him a “viper”, a “pettifogging notary public”, and a “vagabond” leader of “malcontents” and “undeserving people”. The majority felt otherwise.

Hardy’s efforts to resist the division of Nova Scotia failed, and New Brunswick was created in June of 1784. Then, many of the Loyalist agents, and members of the 55 were appointed to prominent positions.

On the matter of escheats, New Brunswick Governor Thomas Carleton commissioned Ward Chipman to look into the matter and he asked Elias Hardy to gather the facts and to make recommendations. Hardy recommended that a number of old grants be cancelled, but Chipman resisted in most cases.

The next raucous event at Saint John was the election of 1785, when the government slate was opposed by the Lower Cove Party, as it was called. Lower cove was a reference to the geography of the north side of Saint John harbour. The lower cove was associated with the ordinary class of Loyalist refugee, while the upper cove was more establishment-oriented. Hardy was not a candidate in the election but was associated in the public mind with the lower covers who wanted an official enquiry into the conduct of the Loyalist agents or, preferably, their impeachment.

The election was carried out over several days, and on the third day of voting people from the lower cove rioted near the corner of King and Germain Streets and several people from both parties were injured. The troops were called out to restore order. The election results were contested but victory was awarded to the government slate. The lower covers rejected this finding and filed a petition complaining of “most repressive tyranny” which had not been relieved by the forming of the new province of New Brunswick. Some of them had been arrested, and interrogated while in irons in Fort Howe. They said that the election had been corrupt and that the returning officer had acted improperly. As a result, the government slate had been admitted to the Assembly although the opposition slate had clearly won, according to them.

Upon considering these events and the riot at King and Germain Streets in particular, W.O. Raymond wrote: “The riotous proceedings which characterized the first St. John election, will, perhaps, shock the tender susceptibilities of those good people who are wont to suppose that the loyal founders of New Brunswick were an ideal class of men, and free from all ignoble passions. The fact is otherwise, and in the interests of historic accuracy we might as well admit it.”

That was a nice thought; almost modern. Unfortunately Raymond was writing in 1894 and went on to describe the stained reputations of some of the uneducated classes whose disrespect for lawful authority was fuelled by their intemperate habits. Today, it seems clear enough that the stress of refugee life in Saint John combined with government delays in granting lands and the spectacle of the upper classes clambering among themselves for preference and power caused a reaction no different than could be expected anywhere.

Elias Hardy is remembered today for his advocacy for the ordinary Loyalist against privilege and government inefficiency. His legal talents were considerable and were sought out by all classes of society, however. He also served in the provincial Assembly and in Saint John city government. These details are not chronicled here.

Elias Hardy died in Saint John on December 25, 1798.


Written by johnwood1946

February 20, 2012 at 3:15 PM

Posted in Uncategorized

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