New Brunswick History and Other Stuff

New Brunswick, No Country for a Mere Gentleman, 1834

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From the blog at

This story is from A Subaltern’s Furlough, Descriptive of Scenes in Various Parts of the United States, Upper and Lower Canada, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia during the Summer of 1834, by E.T. Coke.

Coke had crossed the Tamiscouta Portage running from near Rivière du Loup toward New Brunswick. For the previous blog postings we followed him from the area of Lake Temiscouta, to just above Grand Falls and then to Fredericton. For this posting he describes Fredericton and the province in general, with comments about the border dispute with the Americans and military preparedness. Fredericton was a very small place, and the legislature hesitated to fund Kings College which served only a half-dozen students, under the guidance of a President and four professors.

This is the first of Coke’s commentaries to display some of his colonial British attitudes. His remarks about the Irish and the Scots might lead them to insist that his attitudes were English, not British.

Christmas Market

The Christmas Market, Fredericton, NB, about 1910

From the McCord Museum


New Brunswick, No Country for a Mere Gentleman, 1834

After the separation of New Brunswick from Nova Scotia, in I785, Colonel Carleton was appointed Governor of the New Province, and selected a spot on the right bank of the river, where Fredericton now stands, as the site of the capital. The situation is good, being at the head of the tide-water and the sloop navigation. Though ships of large burden can ascend to the mouth of the Oromocto, from twelve to fifteen miles below, yet merchandize is usually forwarded from the sea-port ninety miles [sic] distant by small craft, the Falls of St. John, two miles from the harbour, preventing the passage of large vessels except at high water. The town consists of two principal streets, running parallel with the river, and contains about 1200 inhabitants, but as yet has no regular market nor fair. The point of land upon which it is built is flat and low, being but a few feet above the level of the freshets. A low range of rocky hills, however, rises half a mile in rear of the town, and another at rather a greater distance on the opposite side of the St. John’s, into which the pretty stream of the Nashwaak empties itself. The river immediately above Fredericton is studded with many beautiful islands of considerable extent, which, being inundated at certain seasons, produce abundant crops of hay, as is the case with the low land on the banks; but, in general, the soil is cold and poor.

The original Government House, a wooden edifice, was burnt by accident some few years since, and the present substantial and spacious one of fine freestone was erected during the administration of the late Governor, Sir Howard Douglas. In point of situation and style of architecture it far exceeds both that at Quebec and the one at York: and, with the tastefully laid out pleasure-grounds and gardens, occupies a large tract of ground on the margin of the water above the town.

The College, situated at the base of the hills, is another fine stone edifice, and, in addition to possessing the enormous grant of 6,000 acres in its immediate vicinity, has 1000l per annum allowed by the British, and the same sum by the provincial government. The former made their grant conditionally that the province allowed an equal sum; but of late years the House of Assembly have shown a disposition to withdraw their grant, though that of the mother country was made in perpctuum. They contend that they cannot afford to pay so highly for the education of the half dozen young men who study there under a president and four professors. The other public buildings are of wood, and do not display anything either tasteful or expensive in their structure. The officers’ barracks, for the few companies of infantry quartered in the town, are prettily situated on one side of a square, surrounded by line trees and the intervening space laid with grass, where the excellent band of the 31st regiment attracted a crowd of auditors during the fine evenings of September.

Many of the old inhabitants were the royalists of the American Revolution who settled in New Brunswick after the forfeiture of their property in the States, and several of them still hold high official situations. But, as in the Canadas, the same blunt manner and independent spirit which an Englishman is so apt to censure in the United States is here very perceptible, and the lower classes of people assume similar airs. A shopkeeper is mighty indignant if so addressed: forsooth he is a storekeeper; a blacksmith is a lieutenant of militia grenadiers, and sports his full-dress uniform, with gold wings, as proudly as a nobleman; a maid-servant, who has emigrated from England only three years before with scarcely a shoe to her foot, walks in to be hired, and, in the presence of the lady of the house, seats herself in the best chair in the parlour and then enters upon business with the ease of one who is reciprocating a favour: in short, no one confesses a superior. They certainly possess the levelling system in full vigour, inhaled, I should imagine, from the opposite side of the frontier. “Ne sutor ultra crepidam” is not the motto here; the majority of the House of Assembly is composed of ignorant farmers and shopkeepers, the representatives of the eleven counties into which the province is divided. One thing, however, I will acquit them of: they neither chew tobacco nor do they annoy you in their hotels with the essence of egg-nog and mint julips.

The New-Brunswickers, generally speaking are a fine athletic race of people, and the lumberers, in personal appearance and strength, will not yield to the peasantry of any nation. They are alike insensible to heat and cold, and with a stock of salt pork and rum remain in the woods without quitting them for months, employed in their hardy occupation of felling timber. The province will doubtless improve rapidly. The timber trade, which has so long employed the energies of the inhabitants already beginning to fail in some parts, and agriculture will be more attended to. The farmers have ever been in the habit of paying their one shilling and sixpence per ton into the crown land office for a license to lumber during the winter months, entirely neglecting their farms for a pursuit which would bring them a little more ready money. Owing to this ruinous system, the specie has found its way into the United States for the purchase of flour and pork, while a system of barter has been established between the inhabitants of the interior of the province, the labourer receiving so many bushels of wheat for his work, and the whiskey dealer bartering with the butcher or tailor.

The population of the province, including the scattered Acadians and original French settlers, who possess considerable tracts of land upon the eastern coast, does not at present exceed 100,000, though it is now rapidly increasing. Many emigrants of a highly respectable class, and men of good education were continually arriving during my stay at Fredericton. They intended purchasing farms on the banks of the St. John’s, near Woodstock; but I could scarcely imagine that persons who had been accustomed to mix in the gay scenes of a college life, and move in the higher walks of society in England, would ever be happy or contented in a comparative wilderness, where they must be solely dependent on their own resources, and their time, devoid of excitement, must hang heavily on their hands. From what little I saw of the vast western continent, I should say it was no country for a mere gentleman, who retained a fondness for hunting and shooting, but rather for artificers and farmers, whose previous habits enabled them to put their own shoulders to the wheel. Of the natives of Great Britain the lower orders of the Scotch are usually considered the best settlers, having been more accustomed to privations and hardships than their English neighbours, who, though not so addicted to spirituous liquors, are a worse class of settlers, and more dissatisfied with the change they have made, than the Irish. The lowlanders again are even a better description of settlers than their Highland brethren, who, like the French, satisfied with a mere existence, care little about the improvement of their farms.

The late order for collecting quit-rents appeared to give universal dissatisfaction amongst the old settlers, who were far from being thankful for having held gratuitous possession of their lands for fifty years. They even hinted at refusing to pay them, acknowledging, however, that his Majesty had an unquestionable right to collect them, but asserting that they were mentioned in their grants merely for form’s sake, and, at the time those grants were made, it was never intended that the collection of them should be carried into execution. The quit-rents, too, bear only slightly upon men of large property, the option being allowed of paying two shillings per 100 acres per annum, or of purchasing out by paying fifteen years in advance; so that for the trifling sum of 15l a landed proprietor may become possessor of 1000 acres of land, which previously were held under the crown. The casual revenue which is expended in roads and other public works, and derived principally from the sale of crown lands and timber, must be fast decreasing, and the collection of the quit-rents, without pressing heavily upon any one, will sustain it for some time. Until the arrival of Sir Archibald Campbell, the present Governor, no part of the world could have possessed so few and such bad roads. Since his arrival, however, the “Royal Road” has been surveyed, and several miles of it are already completed; the intention being to extend it on the opposite side of the river to the Grand Falls. By the course of the stream the distance is 130 miles, which will be shortened 40 miles by the new road, and, at the same time, not only tend to the rapid settlement of the interior of the country, by throwing open a mercantile line of communication, but in time of war will be of incalculable advantage as a military road to Quebec, with the broad stream of the St. John’s, a natural protection against any sudden inroads from the American frontier. Most of the allotments upon the sea coast have been occupied many years, and the occupation of those upon the banks of the principal rivers followed. They are generally of a narrow frontage, so that each occupant may command water navigation; but some extend to the rear as much as five or six miles; and the 2d and 3d occupations from the river are even now filling. The best crown lands are at this time selling at three shillings, and the general average of crops is about eighteen bushels of wheat per acre. The winter being of longer duration than elsewhere, winter wheat is not sown; the soil, however, yields the finest potatoes in North America, which give the name of Blue-noses to the New-Brunswickers, from the small eyes or excrescences with which they are covered, and they are exported to the United States in vast quantities. The province as yet (owing to the dense forests) has been very imperfectly explored, but it is known to abound with coal, slate, freestone, and granite; it also produces some small quantities of various ores. Its climate is dry and particularly healthy, excepting about the coast of the Bay of Fundy, where, from the continued fogs, the inhabitants are said to be liable to pulmonary complaints.

During my ten days’ residence at Fredericton I had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Audubon, the celebrated ornithologist, who, with his sons, was searching for additions to his laborious undertaking. He had only been fortunate enough to meet with one rather rare bird in the province; and I am afraid he would not add many subscribers to his valuable but expensive work. His original drawings were certainly much more beautiful and spirited than the English coloured engravings. His time appeared entirely given up to the performance of what he had undertaken, and in the pursuit of which he has expended a considerable fortune. His manners are very mild, and he has unprepossessing and benevolent countenance, with a sharp eagle eye and prominent features.

The militia were called out for three days’ training, and the battalion which assembled at Fredericton 1000 strong was composed of fine athletic men. Only 200 of them were armed, and about the same number had clothing and accoutrements. There was also an African company, who had decked themselves very gaily, and carried the only drum and fife in the field. They appeared quite proud of their occupation, not being exempted, as in the United States, from the performance of military duty. The province could, in case of emergency, furnish 20,000 men, (but, unfortunately, there are neither arms nor clothing for one-tenth of that number,) and six troops of yeomanry cavalry. The Fredericton troop made an exceedingly neat and clean appearance, being well clothed and partly armed; and in active service, in such a country as New Brunswick, would prove of very essential utility. In case of immediate aggression from their neighbours, the province must for some time be intrusted to their care alone, there being only six weak companies of regular infantry in three distant detachments, with a frontier of 200 miles in extent, and a province of 22,000 square miles in charge, while the Americans have two garrisons close upon the boundary line (at Eastport and Houlton,) and an excellent military road nearly completed to Boston. The New-Brunswickers have already given ample proof that they are well qualified as soldiers to undergo any hardships and privations. During the last American war the 104th regiment was entirely raised in this province, and made a march unparalleled in the annals of English history, and only equalled by that of the Russian campaign in 1812 through the extensive forests to the Canadas in the depth of a severe winter. No troops ever behaved better in the field, and the corps was nearly annihilated at the storming of Fort Erie. Many Americans settle in the province, and are always the most enterprising and money seeking men; many too are prevented naturalizing by an oath of allegiance, or some similar form, which the law requires to be taken in a Protestant church; and, being considered as aliens, they pay a fine of thirty shillings in lieu of performing militia duty.

That one party at least in the United States care little for embroiling themselves with Great Britain, in order that they may have a pretext for invading her colonies, may be gathered from the following paragraphs in the American Quarterly Review of June, 1832: “If then a war should ever again arise between the United States and Great Britain, the policy of our country is obvious—the Acadian Peninsula must be ours at all hazards, and at any cost of blood or treasure. Were this once gained, the rest of the colonies would fall almost as soon as we might please to summon them.” . . . . “For this purpose, a fortress, capable of sustaining a siege until it could be relieved, should be erected upon the upper valley of the St. John’s (which is debatable ground)” and connected with the settled country by a military road and a chain of fortified posts.” ….”As Americans, we cannot fear the final result of any contest that may arise. The relative strength of the two countries is continually changing, and becoming more and more favourable to us.” This language, which savours so strongly of confident assurance, arises from a discussion upon the boundary in dispute between the State of Maine and New Brunswick. The article proves how fully alive the Americans are to the value of the disputed ground, as an annoyance in a military point of view to their rival, which has already been almost cut off from the protection of the Canadas by concessions of the British Government, who have ever lost by treaty what they gained by the sword. It is a difficult matter to glean the full merits of the case, each party so pertinaciously adhering to its own interested statement. So far back as the treaty of Ryswick in 1697, when the boundary line was attempted to be settled between Acadia, then under the dominion of the French, and New England under that of the mother country, an undecided question arose respecting the true river St. Croix, each party maintaining that stream to be the correct one which threw an additional tract of country into its territory. The same question was mooted with equal results in 1783, when time had wrought a wonderful change upon the face of affairs; that which had formerly been New England was now a free and independent state; and that which had been a French settlement was now New Scotland, paying allegiance to Great Britain. In the treaty of London, in 1794, the 5th article directly stated, “Whereas doubts have arisen what river was truly intended under the name of the river St. Croix,” that question should be referred to the final decision of commissioners.

Again, in 1814, an article was framed in the treaty of Ghent, agreeing upon commissioners being appointed to survey the boundary line which had been described in former treaties. At this time the question might have been decided; the resources of the United States were exhausted, and they would gladly have made peace upon any terms, now, that tranquility was restored upon the continent of Europe, England could turn its undivided powers against her more implacable enemy. But the high-minded British Commissioners yielded too easily to American chicanery, and, granting what could not be proved above a century previous, permitted a stream to be called the St. Croix, and that branch of it the main one, which at once deprived them of the strongest argument in their favour, and, to use the expression of a nautical man with whom I was conversing upon the subject, “Now, they have let fly the main sheet, and are snatching at the rope’s end.” No person endowed with common sense could imagine for a moment, upon inspection of the map, that the British Commissioners, in the treaty of 1783, would have consented to the territorial possessions of the United States approaching within thirteen miles of the St. Lawrence, and so deeply indenting into the British provinces. The Kennebec, to the westward of the present St. Croix, was the national boundary between the English and French in the 17lh century, and it is affirmed by many that the Penobscot was the original St. Croix. In the commission, dated September, 1763, appointing Montague Wilmot, Esq., Captain-General and Governor of Nova Scotia, the western boundary of that province is described as having “anciently extended and doth of right extend as far as the river Pentagonet, or Penobscot;” and the whole country to the eastward of that river was in actual possession of the British at the treaty of 1783. De Monts, the celebrated navigator ordered out by Henry IV of France, in 1603, to explore the coast of Nova Scotia, had the honour of giving name to the river where he wintered, which has been the subject of so much controversy. It is not probable that such an experienced seaman would risk his vessels amidst the drift ice opposite the present town of St. Andrews, when so many safe harbours were scattered along the coast to the south-west.

The boundary line is defined in the late treaties as passing up the centre to the source of the St. Croix; thence due north until it strikes the headlands, which divide the waters running into the Atlantic Ocean from those which join the St. Lawrence; thence along the said highlands to the north-westernmost head of the Connecticut River, and down along the middle of it to the 45th degree of north latitude. The commissioners differed so materially in the determination of these highlands (upwards of 100 miles in a direct line) that, in conformity with the treaty of Ghent, reference was made to the King of Holland, as umpire, who decided the matter to the disapprobation of both parties, giving the British so much of the territory as would include the mail road from Quebec to Halifax, and to the Americans a fortress built by them within the British frontiers near Lake Champlain, the most vulnerable point of the State of New York. At this very day the settlement of the question appears as far from adjustment as it was a century since. The United States would no doubt lay aside all claims, were an equivalent in the long sighed-for free navigation of the St. Lawrence offered to them. Maine has committed various acts of sovereignty upon the debatable ground within the last few years in granting lands, allowing her citizens to lumber upon the Aroostook River, and even opening a poll on the St. John’s, a few miles above the Madawaska settlement, the several candidates for magisterial offices addressing the people from a cart. Soon, most probably, the American standard would have been flying upon the ramparts of a fort had not, fortunately for the British interests, Sir Archibald Campbell arrived from England at this critical period to assume the reins of government, and, with that firmness and active decision which are so characteristic of him, proceeded in person upon a tedious journey 400 miles in extent and seized some of the aggressors. The principals absconded into Maine, and the authorities of that State interceded for the remission of the punishment justly awarded to those who were captured. The intrinsic value of the few thousands of square miles involved in dispute is trifling, but they are inestimable when viewed with regard to the future prosperity and retention of the British provinces.


Written by johnwood1946

July 22, 2015 at 8:29 AM

Posted in Uncategorized

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