New Brunswick History and Other Stuff

City and County of Saint John, New Brunswick, 1838

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The City and County of Saint John in 1838: An Inhabitant’s Report

These descriptions are from Notitia of New Brunswick for 1836 and Extending Into 1837, by ‘An Inhabitant’, published in Saint John in 1838. It is usually attributed to Peter Fisher but has also been attributed to Alexander Wedderburn.

I had to read this book twice. The descriptions of Saint John are like a tourist advertisement with nothing negative to say. Other tracts are very critical, however, and upon re-reading the paragraphs about Saint John I find that they point out problems with the city, but play them down to such an extent that they are nearly invisible. Thus, there was no discussion of disease being brought into the city as immigration continued apace, but there was a ‘pest house’ to deal with it. There was also no discussion of life in a 19th century industrial city (albeit The Pickwick Papers was published in 1836), but there was a poor house, and a separate savings bank catering mostly to the poor, and an association concerned with the welfare of worn out and destitute sailors. Also, old wooden houses were rapidly being replaced with new ones of stone and brick, but only on a few select streets.

And so, here is the Inhabitant’s honest but overly discreet description:

City of Saint John

“Saint John, the only incorporated City in the Province, is situated in the County of that name, on a rocky peninsula at the estuary of the River Saint John, in North latitude 45° 15′ – longitude 66° 3′, West.”

“This is the most important and wealthy town in New-Brunswick, and may well be called the New-York of the Province. The trade of this City, considering its age, is immense, and rapidly increasing, and from the excellence of its harbour, accessible at all seasons of the year, and the enterprise of its merchants, it will soon attain and hold a high rank among the first trading cities of America. It is now the emporium of New-Brunswick.”

“The harbour is convenient and safe, and is capable of containing a great number of vessels of the largest class. Partridge Island lies at the entrance, on which there is a Light House and Signal Station, where signals are carefully attended to, and made on the first approach of vessels. There are also a Pest House and other conveniences for the comfort of invalid Emigrants, who on arriving off the harbour, are frequently obliged, by order of the Sanitary Board, to land thereon for the purpose of effectual recovery prior to their proceeding to the City. Within the Island there is a Bar which extends from the Western side and passes the lower point of the peninsula on which the City stands. It has a Beacon on the outer end, and in its neighbourhood buoys are fixed for the purpose of directing vessels going or coming. The Bar is dry at ebb tide, but within the harbour, there is sufficient water for the largest ships. The tide ebbs and flows from sixteen to twenty-four feet perpendicular in the harbour. A pier or Breakwater has been constructed at the extremity of the City, called Lower Cove, for the protection of the Shipping.”

“Saint John carries on a brisk trade with Europe, the West Indies and the United States. The trade of the Port extends to Africa, South America, and all other parts of the world wherever her merchants can drive a trade, as they are not restricted by the Home Government. While the Ports along the Gulf Shore are frozen up, and the mighty St. Lawrence locked up in ice, thereby sealing up the Canadian Harbours for more than half the year, the Port of Saint John continues crowded with shipping. Such is the activity of its merchants that they continue their shipping business throughout the year. Late in the winter they are fitting out and loading their ships, and early in the spring receiving their return cargoes. Even in the severest season of the winter, their ships are entering or leaving the port, and there are few days sufficiently cold to put a stop to the customary labours. The great store of lumber and other articles always on hand and daily arriving enables the merchants to furnish abundant cargoes, with the least possible delay.”

“Ship-building forms a considerable branch of trade, and is prosecuted by the merchants of Saint John with great spirit. Many vessels are built in Nova-Scotia on their account. Indeed the chief of the trade of the best part of that Province, bordering on the Basin of Minas and the Annapolis River centres at St. John, and most of the Ship-building in those parts is on account of merchants belonging to that Port, who thereby create a trade for themselves and furnish employment for their neighbours. Some idea of this branch of trade may be formed from the number of Vessels registered at that port yearly. In 1836 there were 75 Vessels, measuring 23,010 tons, built by merchants of that place, besides 6 vessels registering 1,669 tons, built by them and sent to England under certificates, making together nearly twenty-five thousand tons of Shipping built in Saint John in one year; being more than one-fifth part as much as was built in the United States in the same year, and on an average as much as was built in five States, or very nearly so, in that period.”

“The number of vessels belonging to the Port of Saint John on the 31st December, 1836, according to the Custom House returns was forty-one Ships, thirty-eight Barques, thirty-nine Brigs, eleven Brigantines, one hundred and ninety Schooners, eight Steamers, and eighty-three River vessels making a total of four hundred and ten vessels measuring sixty-nine thousand seven hundred and sixty six Tons, and navigated by two thousand eight hundred and seventy nine Men. The total number of vessels entered at Saint John and the Out Bays in 1836 was 2,549, measuring 289,127 tons, navigated by 13,685 men. Total amount of Imports during the same period £1,185,473 Sterling; the Exports £555,709 Sterling, as will fully appear by the tables under the article Trade. St. John has also an excellent Fishery, which is common to the Freemen and Widows of Freemen, by whom the berths are drawn for annually, on payment of one shilling each. The draft usually takes place in the month of January. The privilege of the first choice of the fishing lots is generally sold to the fishermen by the person obtaining it, for from £40 to £50. The numbers up to about one hundred gradually decrease in value: the others are not saleable.”

“The City of Saint John comprehends both sides of the Harbour, – the district on the Eastern side, formerly called the Township of Parr, and that on the Western side, called Carleton. It is divided into six Wards, – two of which are in Carleton, and four in St. John, properly so called. Being an incorporated City, its internal Police is under the government of a Mayor, Recorder and six Aldermen, with an equal number of Assistants, under the style of “the Mayor, Aldermen, and Commonalty of the City of Saint John.” The other Officers are a Sheriff and Coroner, (who likewise act for the County of Saint John,) a Common Clerk, a Chamberlain, High Constable, six inferior Constables, and two Marshals. The City Revenues under the controul of the Corporation amount to about £5,000, annually, besides a large property not yet leased. Saint John, as far as its situation will admit, is laid out in squares, the streets intersecting one another at right angles; it is well built up, and contains several blocks of lofty houses, many of which are of stone and brick. The old low wooden houses are fast disappearing, and in the same proportion the City is improving in appearance. There are a number of substantial Wharves crowded with lofty Stores and Ware-houses. These Wharves form a number of good Slips, where Ships of the largest class lie and discharge. Every facility is provided in this place to expedite the Shipping business, and vessels now discharge a heavy cargo, take in their loads, and get ready for sea within a fortnight. A few years ago it usually took from six to eight weeks to do the same.”

“Saint John suffered a heavy loss by a destructive fire which broke out on the I4th of January, 1837, and consumed one hundred and fifteen houses and stores most of them being of the latter description, and among the best in the place. By this calamity more than a third of the business part of the city containing buildings and property to the amount of about £250,000, was swept away. It is, however, fast rising from its ruins with many important improvements.”

“The principal Public Buildings in the City on the Eastern side of the harbour are two Episcopal Churches; two Presbyterian Churches – one of which is built of brick; one Catholic, one Wesleyan-Methodist, one Baptist, one Covenanters’, and one Christian Chapel; a Grammar School; a Madras School House, of brick, and one of wood; a Methodist Sunday School House; a spacious and handsome stone Court House; a Jail; Poor House; Cholera and Marine Hospitals; a stone building for the Mayor’s Office, and the offices of other public functionaries of the City and County; the Bank of New-Brunswick of stone; the City and British North American Banks, of brick; two Markets, with two substantial ranges of stone and wooden Barracks, and other Military buildings. A spacious brick edifice, intended for a Market House, is now erecting by the Corporation in the Market Square, in place of the building formerly used as a Court House, Common Council Chamber, butchers’ market, &c; but as the public carts and coaches, to the number of one hundred and fifty, congregate in the square, and as seven of the principal thoroughfares diverge from it, a strong feeling exists among the citizens against a building of such large dimensions as the one now in progress, being erected there many, indeed, incline to the opinion, that it would have added to the public health and convenience, if the square had been kept entirely clear, and another site selected for the building. Two Squares are reserved for public purposes: one, called King’s Square, is situated at the head of King Street, and commands a fine view of the town and harbour; the other, called Queen’s Square, is situated in Duke’s Ward; it is a pleasant healthy spot, but not much improved. As the junction of Saint John and Carleton as one city, seems at variance with the natural features of the place, I shall refer the reader for the description of the latter place to the description of the County of Saint John, where it seems most properly to belong.”

“Saint John contains a vast number of Public Institutions and Associations for Commercial, Religious and Benevolent purposes, among which are:- Four Incorporated Banks – the Bank of New-Brunswick, capital £50,000 ; the Commercial Bank of New-Brunswick, capital £150,000; the City Bank, capital £100,000; and a Branch of the Bank of British North America, – whose capital is £1,000,000 Sterling; a Savings Bank for depositing the small savings of the poor; a Fire Insurance Company, capital £50,000; a Marine Assurance Company, capital , £50,000; a Mining Company, capital £20,000; Bridge Company, capital £20,000; Mechanics’ Whale Fishing Company, capital £50,000; Water Company, capital £20,000; Saint John Mills and Canal Company, capital £37,000; Stage Coach Company, capital £25,000; Saint John Mills and Manufacturing Company, capital £20,000; a Chamber of Commerce; with the following Humane and Religious Associations:- A Bible Society; a branch of the Society for promoting Christian Knowledge; Saint John Sunday School Union Society; Saint John Religious Tract Society; Saint George’s Society; Saint Patrick’s Society; Saint Andrew’s Society; Albion Union Society; British American Society; Orphan Benevolent Society; Friendly Sons of Erin Society; Temperance Society; Abstinence Society; a Female Benevolent Society; a Branch of the Wesleyan Missionary Society; with several other literary, benevolent and friendly associations.”

“There are a Society Library and a Circulating Library in the City; a Vaccine Establishment; a Marine Hospital; an Agent for Emigrants; and six Printing Establishments.”

“The Public Seminaries are the Central Madras School; a Grammar School, with a number of Sunday and other schools.”

“The Committee of the Chamber of Commerce of this City, in their report for 1837, among other important matters, notice the appointment of Committees for reporting on the following subjects, viz:- the propriety of their having a Charter of Incorporation, similar to those in Glasgow, Greenock, and other towns in Great-Britain, to enable them, if they see fit, to erect and hold a Building for a Chamber of Commerce, &c; the probable expense of a Railway between Shediac and a Port in the Bay of Fundy; the expediency of urging on by another petition a new survey of the Bay of Fundy; and the adoption of such means as may be likely to result in the establishment of an Hospital for poor Mariners belonging to the Province, who are worn out and left in destitute circumstances, and for the establishment of a School for the education of their children. This shews the just views which that body entertains of the importance of ameliorating the condition and elevating the character of a class of men, on whose intelligence zeal and fidelity so much depends. It likewise points out the watchful care of the Chamber of Commerce over the welfare of the City and the vital interests of the Province.”

County of Saint John

“This valuable County comprises but a narrow strip along the Bay of Fundy, but it possesses a great portion of the wealth, enterprize, and trade of the Province. It is bounded northwardly by a line running east-north-east and west-southwest from the southernmost point of the Kennebeckasis Island; westwardly by a north line from Point Lepreaux; eastwardly by Hopewell Township; and on the southward by the Bay of Fundy. It is divided into five Parishes:- the City of Saint John, Portland, Lancaster, Saint Martin’s, and Carleton, and has a population of 20,668 souls.”

“This County has several fine harbours, the principal of which is the harbour of Saint John, at the mouth of the river of that name, and which was described in the account of the City of Saint John. This harbour, by being accessible at all seasons of the year, gives the port a decided advantage over all the ports in the Province to the northward of it, and also over many of the ports in Newfoundland, and likewise the two Canadas, which are shut up from the sea from November to April. This harbour has also a valuable salmon, shad, and herring fishery, which is more or less productive in different years. There is also a cod fishery near Partridge Island, but this is not frequented. The other harbours are, Quaco, Musquash, and Dipper, the latter lying down the Bay, near the County of Charlotte ; they have water sufficient for vessels of four hundred tons burthen.”

“The land in this County on the seaboard, is not so good for farming as in the interior; it is generally rocky and broken, interspersed with barrens covered with a growth of stunted trees. There are, however, numerous good spots intermixed, and many places that formerly appeared doomed to sterility, have been brought under a good state of cultivation. Great improvements have lately been made in this County in farming; many new settlements have been formed, which are rapidly improving. A number of persons of wealth in the City of Saint John, have lately improved farms in Its vicinity, particularly on the Marsh and at Loch Lomond. A strip of Marsh lies contiguous to the city, which is highly improved, and yields large crops of grass. The craggy hills also, skirting the Marsh, have been converted into gardens, and studded with beautiful seats by the wealthy citizens, and the whole district adjacent to the city is rapidly improving.”

“The principal place in this county, next to Saint John, is Carleton, which, by an unnatural union, has been incorporated with that city, of which it comprises two Wards. It lies opposite the main city on the western side of the harbour, on the point fronting Navy Island, and may be called a small town, having several streets considerably well built up, with wooden buildings. It contains a neat Episcopal Church and Meeting House. It has a good fishery, and some share in ship-building; but this branch of business is most always carried on for the merchants on the eastern side of the harbour. Carleton, indeed, possesses but little of the enterprize of her sister; it has but little trade, and has improved very little for a number of years. It is however probable that it will soon begin to emerge from its lethargy, as a number of merchants in Saint John have lately procured building lots along its shores, for the purpose of forming mercantile establishments.”

“The site of old FortFrederick is still to be seen at the extremity of the point facing St. John, but it is fast mouldering into oblivion. Carleton is a distinct Parish within the City of Saint John.”

“A splendid wooden bridge is in course of erection across the river St. John at this place. This magnificent structure will reach from the Carleton shore to the highlands in Portland, A distance of fourteen hundred feet; the span across the river from the towers will be four hundred and thirty-five feet, and the height about eighty feet, allowing for the different states of the tide. This work when completed will be an ornament to the City; but it is to be feared it will never repay the spirited proprietors a fair return on the capital invested.”

“A little above the bridge on the Carleton side, and directly opposite the falls there are a number of excavations; mills and buildings are in progress, owned and conducted by an association called the “Saint John Mills and Canal Company,” composed principally of enterprising capitalists in the United States. The place where this Company’s operations are carried on has been long known as Connabell’s Point, but is now called Union Point. A canal has been cut from a small cove above the point, which projects into the falls. Three sections of the dam (two hundred feet each,) are completed, and the other two in progress; the first block of mills, to contain eight gangs of saws, is in a state of great forwardness, and is intended to be in operation early in the Fall; sixteen more saws will immediately be added to the establishment. A number of buildings connected with those Works are already finished and occupied by the workmen, and the Company expect soon to carry on an extensive and profitable business. – Another extensive mill establishment is also in progress at this place. Messrs. C. D. and T. C. Everitt having procured a valuable privilege on the outer part of the point, have made preparations on a large scale for carrying on milling business. They have erected a commodious flour mill, which at present (1838,) is in active operation, and buildings to contain machinery for other manufactures, have also been put up, and are being furnished with the necessary works. These enterprising individuals, being desirous of extending the business, have recently procured an Act of Incorporation from the Provincial Legislature, under the title of the “Saint John Mills and Manufacturing Company,” and have offered a number of shares of the stock to the public on fair terms. – Those works have every appearance of prospering, and will doubtless add to the county a milling village of vast importance.”

“A little above those works on the opposite side of the small bay above the falls is the site of the old Indian House. This place is still called Indian Town, and is of considerable importance, being the point where vessels of all descriptions coming down the river St. John land, to wait for the proper time of tide to pass the falls; here also the steam-boats land, and from this place they start for Fredericton, and various other parts of the river – so that during the summer season, it is the resort of all kinds of river craft. There is a cluster of houses at the landing place, most of which are occupied by raftsmen and others. There are a number of coves near Indian Town where timber is laid up till it is wanted for shipping, when it is taken through the falls in small rafts, and put into ponds, where it is properly squared, and made ready for shipment. Near Indian Town is a steam mill for sawing deals, &c. From this place to the City of St. John is about one mile – the road is excellent, and passes through Portland, which may be called the suburbs of St. John, being connected with the City by a bridge. It does indeed seem strange that Portland, which joins St. John, should have been made a separate Parish, while Carleton which is separated from it by a wide river, should have been incorporated with it. – Portland has one main street running through the whole length of it, which is well built up. It has two good iron foundries, (the first ever erected in the Province,) and it is also the place where most of the vessels fitted out at Saint John are built. It has a very thriving appearance, and having a great number of ship-yards and timber ponds, may well be called the workshop of the city.”

“There are a number of other considerable settlements and villages in this county, the principal of which are Black River, where there are a number of good mills; Quaco, which is a good place for ship-building; Manawagonish, and Musquash, the latter being a flourishing village, with a number of good mills, a church, &c. An association has been formed, called the Lancaster Mill Company, with a capital of £l 00,000; they have erected a number of mills, with a gang of saws in each, and likewise circular saws for edging, with other machinery for cutting laths, clap-boards, shingles, &c. The Company own about fifty thousand acres of timber land, extending from the head of the tide at Musquash to near Mather’s, on the Nerepis. Their present water power is reckoned equal to four hundred horses; but they are erecting a dam of solid masonry, which they expect will give them the command of at least a third more water power. All their works are executed in the best manner; they have several lumber roads, and a village laid out in farms, and are making every effort to improve their lands, and increase their mills, and expect to cut upwards of twelve millions of superficial feet of lumber this season. The principal stock of the Company is held by capitalists in St. John.”


Written by johnwood1946

September 26, 2012 at 9:27 AM

Posted in Uncategorized

2 Responses

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  1. It takes my breathe away to think of all those ships! I wish I could go back in time to set up my easel on a hill near the harbour and paint them! Very interesting glimpse into the past of Saint John, enjoyed it immensely! Thank-you.

    Donna van Eeghen

    September 26, 2012 at 9:37 PM

    • Thank you Donna.

      I also wish you could paint the scene. The paintings that we have are just not enough to tell the story of rapid growth of the city. If I could also step into a time machine, then I would take a camera.

      Ahhh!, but it’s just a dream.


      (I replied a couple of days ago, but that was from hotmail and I bet you didn’t get it. In the meantime, my wordpress screens have been down due to an ‘errors on page’ problem, and my son just fixed it.)


      September 28, 2012 at 6:58 PM

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