New Brunswick History and Other Stuff

The Petition of the Infamous 55

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The following is extracted from The London Lawyer, a Biographical Sketch of Elias Hardy, by W.O. Raymond, and is the story of the petition to Guy Carleton in New York in 1783, asking for preferential benefits to fifty-five prominent Loyalists because of the high positions which they had held in society, all of which had been lost in the American Revolution. This petition caused an uproar among the other Loyalists of New York and Parr Town (Saint John) and was one of many complaints leading to unrest among the refugees. So great was the consternation, that one Loyalist wrote a protest poem in the Royal St. John Gazette in 1784 referring to the Rev. John Sayre, one of the fifty-five: “The choicest tracts for some reserv’d, whilst their betters must be starv’d. May he the author of our woes, far fiercer than our rebel foes, have his due portion near a lake, which is ordained for such a fate. May living worms his corpse devour, him and his comrades fifty-four.”

Guy Carleton

General Guy Carleton, Commander in New York

From Culture et Communications, Quebec

The Petition of the Infamous Fifty-Five

The first occasion of which I [W.O. Raymond] have been able to find any record in which [Elias Hardy] played a prominent part in public affairs was at the time of the evacuation of New York in the summer of 1783, when he figured as one of the leaders of the opposition to the scheme of Col. Abijah Willard and his associates for securing extensive land grants in Nova Scotia. The associates referred to, numbering 55 in all, submitted a memorial to Sir Guy Carleton, in which they represented that their positions in society had been very respectable and that previous to the revolution they had possessed much influence in their several communities. Having lost nearly all they possessed, they now intended to remove to Nova Scotia, and desired that the same grants of land allowed in the case of field officers of the army might pass to each of them, and that if possible the lands should be conveyed free from quit-rents and other encumbrances.

The lands desired by the “55” petitioners were supposed to include the best and most available locations along the St. John River, these lands being then, of course, included within the bounds of Nova Scotia.

When the terms of the petition were understood, there was much excitement not unmixed with indignation, on the part of the general body of Loyalists remaining in New York, and a copy of the obnoxious memorial forwarded to the settlers at the mouth of the river St. John, caused an equal degree of dissatisfaction in that locality.

To counteract the design of Abijah Willard and his associates, a public meeting was held on Friday, the 8th day of August, at Roubelet’s tavern in New York. The sentiments of those assembled were voiced by Samuel Hake, Elias Hardy and others, and a committee consisting of the gentlemen named with Capt. Henry Law and Tertullus Dickenson, was appointed to prepare a memorial for presentation to Sir Guy Carleton relative to the matter. The following notice in the columns of an old New York paper is of special interest in this connexion:—

New York, Friday, August 8th, 1783

The gentlemen who attended this afternoon at the meeting of the Loyalists at Roubalet’s Tavern are hereby informed that the memorial to the commander-in-chief will be left at the same place for their signatures at 10 o’clock tomorrow morning.

N.B., It is earnestly requested that all persons who propose settling in Nova Scotia will call and peruse the said material and sign it should it meet their approbation.

The response to the invitation was hearty and immediate and when the document was presented to Sir Guy Carleton it bore a formidable array of signatures. The style of composition in the memorial affords strong ground for assuming it to have been in a large measure the production of Hardy, who wielded the pen of a ready writer. The memorial is quite too interesting from a historic standpoint to be passed by. It is therefore inserted in full:—

To His Excellency Sir Guy Carleton, Knight of the Most Honourable Order of the Bath, General, and Commander in Chief, etc., etc.:—

The memorial of the subscribers humbly sheweth: That your memorialists having been deprived of very valuable landed estates and considerable personal properties within the lines, and being also obliged to abandon their possessions in this city, on account of their loyally to their sovereign, and attachment to the British constitution, and seeing no prospect of their being reinstated, had determined to remove with their families and settle in his majesty’s province of Nova Scotia, on the terms which they understood were held out equally to all his majesty’s persecuted subjects.

That your memorialists are much alarmed at an application which they are informed 55 persons have joined in to your excellency, soliciting a recommendation for tracts of land in that province amounting together to 275,000 acres; and that they have dispatched Agents to survey the unlocated lands, and select the most fertile spots and desirable situations.

That chagrined as your memorialists are at the manner in which the late contest has been terminated and disappointed as they find themselves, being left to the enmity of their enemies on the dubious recommendation of their leaders, they yet hoped to find an asylum under British protection, little suspecting there could he found amongst fellow sufferers, persons ungenerous enough to attempt engrossing to themselves so disproportionate a share of what government has allotted for their common benefit, and so different from the original proposals.

That your memorialists apprehend some misrepresentations have been used to procure such extraordinary recommendations, the applications for which have been most studiously concealed, until now they boast its being too late to prevent the effect. Nor does it lessen your memorialists surprise to observe that the persons concerned (several of whom are said to be going to Britain) are most of them in easy circumstances, and 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.

That your memorialists cannot but regard the grants in question, if carried into effect, as amounting nearly to a total exclusion of themselves and families, who, if they become settlers, must either content themselves with barren or remote lands or submit to be tenants to those, most of whom they consider as their superiors in nothing but deeper art and keener policy. Thus circumstanced,

Your memorialists humbly implore redress from your excellency, and that inquiry be made into their respective losses, services, situations and sufferings; and if your memorialists should be found equally entitled to the favor and protection of government with the former applicants, that they may be all put upon an equal footing; but should those that first applied be found, on a fair and candid inquiry more deserving than your memorialists, then your memorialists humbly request that the locating of their extensive grants may at least be postponed until your memorialists have taken up some small portions as may be allotted to them.

And your memorialists as in duty bound will ever pray, etc.

The closing paragraph of the above memorial reveals the distress to which the unfortunate Loyalists had been reduced by the ungenerous conduct of their fellows. In the community at the mouth of the river St. John there was general uneasiness and apprehension. Vague and alarming rumors filled the air, followed by hostile demonstrations against the government of Nova Scotia. Murdoch in his History of Nova Scotia confesses his inability to understand the ground of this hostility, but a few moments consideration will throw light upon the subject. There were at this time some thousands of Loyalists encamped at the mouth of the St. John River all anxiously awaiting some definite information with regard to their lands. These lands had been promised them in the king’s name ere they left New York. The hope of speedily establishing themselves in new homes on British soil was the beacon star that led them northward and eastward. But landed in the Acadian wilderness they found no adequate preparations had been made for their coming. Congregated in huts and tents on the rocky hillsides weeks and months passed by in which preparations should have been made for the coming winter, and still they remained in helpless inactivity because of the vexatious delay in allotting the lands. Doubtless the old sergeant was the spokesman of a large number of his fellows when he addressed to Edward Winslow the words “We like the country only give us some place we can call our own.” The imperfect and uncertain means of communication with the authorities at Halifax served to increase the anxiety and perplexity of the poor victims of hope deferred. They were in no position to appreciate the difficulties which beset Governor Parr and his council in their desperate endeavors to provide not only for the immediate wants of the thousands so unexpectedly thrown upon their hands but also for their speedy settlement in some 30 or 40 different and widely separated localities. Still making all due allowance for the exigencies of the times it would appear that the Loyalists at St. John had substantial grounds for irritation. When Capt. John Munro made his tour of the St. John river valley in the summer of 1783 as agent for the proprietors of the Canada Company’s lands in the townships Burton, Sunbury, and Newtown, he may have been perfectly right in saying, “It will be the ruin of the Refugees so many settling at Fort Howe, they would have done better had they gone into the woods.” Colonel Morse in his well-known report on Nova Scotia in the year 1784 may have been especially correct in saying that “it was much to be lamented the great exertions displayed by the Loyalists in building astonishing towns at Port Roseway and at the mouth of the river St. John bad not been more profitably directed in cultivating their lands.” The real trouble was they had no lands to cultivate. Many who came to the river St. John with the intention of becoming farmers were obliged to content themselves with a lot 40 by 100 feet in the town of Parr, and to build thereon a shelter for the coming winter. The following season some of these removed to lands allotted them in the interior of the country, others remained as permanent settlers at St. John, and others again discouraged by the outlook abandoned the country.

When the news of the attempt of the “fifty-five” associates to procure for themselves 275,000 acres of the best unappropriated lands on the St. John River arrived at Parr Town, mutterings, as of a coming storm, were heard. In their indignation the Loyalists assumed that they were the victims both of deliberate neglect on the part of the Nova Scotia authorities and also of the cupidity of a small aristocratic clique of self-seekers in their own ranks, with whose designs Governor Parr was believed to be in sympathy. The hostile demonstrations which now broke out the governor vainly attempted to remedy by removing the ring leaders across the Bay of Fundy. The governor’s presence and personal influence might have done something to restore tranquility at the town which was named in his honor but it does not appear that he ever visited that portion of his province that lay north of the peninsula.

At this time an agreement was signed by 400 individuals to remove from St. John to Passamaquoddy where it was believed some good lands were still available.

The firmness and decision of Sir Guy Carleton did much to dispel the anxiety of the Loyalists at New York, for when Elias Hardy and his friends waited upon him with their memorial, they met with a most favorable reception. “His excellency informed them that from information received within the last few days, he had reason to believe that no one person would obtain a larger grant of lands in Nova Scotia than 1,000 acres. That the power of issuing patents for lands there resided solely in the governor, to whom he would immediately forward their memorial, which he apprehended would arrive before patents could be made out for the tract of land mentioned in it. It was his excellency’s opinion no person should be allowed to take up lands in Nova Scotia but those who meant to reside there until the Loyalists were first served. In dismissing the committee Sir Guy assured them he would do everything in his power for the memorialists and believed that they would have no cause to complain.

One is surprised to find among the famous “fifty-five” petitioners the names of men who were afterwards closely and honorably identified with the early history of New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. In some instances, doubtless, their names were appended to the petition without a full understanding of all that it involved. Among the signers were: William Campbell, for 20 years mayor of the city of St. John; Bartholomew Crannell, first clerk of the St. John common council; Ward Chipman first recorder of St. John, afterwards judge of the supreme court and at the time of his decease, administrator of the government of the province; William Wanton, first collector of customs at St. John; Abijah Willard and Christopher Billopp, memberrs of His Majesty’s executive council for the province; James Peters, agent for the settlement of the Loyalists and for many years a member for Queens county; Harry Peters and Colin Campbell, members for Queens and Charlotte counties respectively; Thomas Knox, deputy commissary to the disbanded troops and Loyalist settlers on the St. John, and subsequently province agent in London; Col. E.G. Lutwyche. province agent in London, A.D., 1808-1815; Thos Horsfield, an old St. John magistrate and first warden of Trinity church; John Sayre, agent for the settlement of the Loyalists and afterwards first rector of Maugerville; George Panton, first rector of Shelburne, and Charles Inglis, first bishop of Nova Scotia.


Written by johnwood1946

September 23, 2015 at 8:17 AM

Posted in Uncategorized

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