New Brunswick History and Other Stuff

The Northern Colonies: Languishing in Mediocrity – ca 1804

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The Northern Colonies: Languishing in Mediocrity – ca 1804

Suspension Br Grand Falls

The Suspension Bridge at Grand Falls, With the Gorge Full of Logs

N.B. Museum, via the McCord Museum

This blog posting is set in 1804, when New Brunswick was not doing well. It is not a happy story. The population had hardly grown since the Loyalist influx of 1783, and Edward Winslow was complaining about out-migration to the west and to the United States. The economy was stagnant and exports were disadvantaged by competition from the Americans. Britain had not paid much attention to the situation because they had been preoccupied with wars with Napoleonic France. Thomas Carleton had retired to Britain and would not be replaced for another 13 years.

In 1804, the ‘merchants and other inhabitants’ of Saint John petitioned a British Secretary of State with their concerns. This followed another similar petition from business people in Halifax. The petitions focused on trade opportunities between the Maritime region and the West Indies.

The Americans had already rejected any proposed trade treaty that would have excluded them from the West Indian market. In the meantime, shippers in the Maritimes had to pay high insurance rates to guard against French privateers, while the Americans had been neutral in the Napoleonic conflicts and had lower insurance rates. Ships’ crews were also paid more in the Maritimes because of labor shortages. The Americans paid subsidies to their fishermen such that the more they fished, the more they got from government; but these subsidies were not matched by the British. Finally, New Brunswick timber coming down the St. Croix River was being channeled through U.S. mills rather than to N.B. mills.

In general, the fishery was in decline and was facing ruin, while the timber industry could not compete for markets in the West Indies. There were too few ships to support export markets anyway, and shippers often had to lease British vessels. Smuggling was rampant and Maritimers had little option but to sell their products in the U.S. at low prices and to watch as they were resold in the West Indies at higher prices.

There were efforts to restrict illegal trade by Americans, including illegal landings at N.B. ports to load up with fish or timber without paying duties. The province relied more and more on the timber trade with Britain, and masts in particular. The economy began to improve, but the fishery did not develop to its potential and agriculture languished as would-be farmers made their money in the woods.

Following are briefing-notes written in response to the Saint John and Halifax petitions, as found in Letters from Canada written during a residence there in the years 1806, 1807 …, by Hugh Grey.


Memorial and Statement of the Case Referred to in the Aannexed Petitions

As every British province and island in these northern climates in individually able to furnish the West India islands with some essential article of consumption, which in whole, or in part, is deficient in others, the Petitioners, in the following statement, have extended their observations beyond the limits of the single province in which they reside.

The West India islands require to be supplied with the undermentioned articles, viz.

From the Fisheries—Dried cod fish, barrel or pickled fish, viz. salmon, herring (of various species), and mackarel and oil.

Forest—Lumber, viz. squared timber, scantling, planks and boards, shingles, clapboards, hoops, and oak staves.

Agriculture—Biscuits and flour, Indian corn and meal, pork, beef, butter, cheese, potatoes, and onions; livestock, viz. horses, oxen, hogs, sheep and poultry.


Of these articles, the following are produced by the several colonies.—New Brunswick produces, in the greatest abundance, lumber of every kind, except oak staves; it yields already many of the smaller articles which serve to complete a cargo, and its shores abound with various fish fit for pickling. Nova Scotia produces lumber of all sorts, except oak staves, but in a lesser degree than New Brunswick; horses, oxen, sheep, and all the other productions of agriculture, except wheat and Indian corn; the Eastern and Northern parts of the province abound in coal, and its whole coast yields inexhaustible quantities of cod fish, and others fit for pickling.

Cape Breton and Prince Edward islands; the former yields coal in abundance, its fisheries are considerable; but without dealing directly with the West Indies, they serve to increase the exports of Nova Scotia. Both these islands supply Newfoundland with cattle, and with due encouragement would rival some of the more opulent colonies, in articles of agriculture; their fisheries also may be greatly extended, as the whole circuit of these islands abound in fish.

Canada can supply any quantity of oak staves, as well as flour and Indian corn, for six months in the year. Newfoundland yields little lumber, but its trade in dried cod fish has hitherto, in a great measure, supplied all Europe and the West Indies, and it is capable of still greater extension.

The petitioners have therefore no hesitation in affirming, that these mother colonies are able to supply the West Indies with dried fish, and every species of pickled fish, for their consumption; and that at no very distant period they could also supply all the other articles herein before enumerated, except, perhaps, flour, Indian meal and corn, and oak staves.

Having stated the foregoing facts, the petitioners beg leave to request the attention of his Majesty’s ministers to the peculiar circumstances of this province, the permanent establishment of which took place about fifty-four years ago; for previous to the settlement of Halifax, there were few inhabitants in it, and but little trade. The mother country, sensible of the favourable situation of this colony for fisheries, that its harbours are seldom more than a few miles from each other, and that its extensive sea coast teems every season with shoals of fish of the most useful sorts, made every effort to establish them. The fisheries, however, until the close of the American war, languished from one cause only—the want of inhabitants. The influx of inhabitants at that time, and since, has promoted industry and domestic comfort, and a race of people born on the soil have become attached to it. The clearing of the lands, and other causes, have improved the climate; and by a late survey of the interior of the Province, it is discovered that the lands are not only better than had been imagined, but superior to the greater part of the rest of North America.

The present situation of this Province with regard to its trade, resembles that of New England at the close of the seventeenth century; and unless checked at this crisis, it has the most reasonable expectation of a more rapid increase than the latter ever experienced.

Encouraged by the prospect before them, and conscious of the abuses that have crept into the fisheries the Petitioners are looking forward to the aid of the Provincial Legislature, and to other means, for correcting those abuses and for establishing and improving the fisheries, that great source of wealth to the parent state, the colonial husbandman, and merchant: but they perceive with regret, that their efforts will prove ineffectual, unless the citizens of the United States, according to the ancient policy of Great Britain towards foreigners are wholly or partially excluded from the islands, or a permanent equivalent is granted to the colonists.

The American Legislature has rejected the 12th Article of the late Treaty; the citizens of the United States would have been excluded from the West Indies, if the governors of those islands had not, under the plea of necessity, by proclamation, admitted them. In this trade the Americans possess the following advantages over the colonists.

First,—In the Islands of Barbados, Antigua, Saint Kitt’s, and Jamaica, a stranger’s duty of two and a half, or more, per cent, is imposed on imports, and in the Island of Saint Vincent, British subjects exclusively are subject to a duty of three per cent, which must be paid in specie, and to procure which a forced sale is frequently made of part of the cargo to great disadvantage. From this duty the Americans, being invited by proclamation, are exempt.

Second,—During the late and present war, the citizens of the United States, being neutrals, have not been burthened with the heavy charge of insurance against the enemy, which to the colonists has increased the premium ten per cent, to the smaller islands, and twelve and a half per cent, to Jamaica.

Third,—The northern States have granted a bounty of near 20 shillings per ton, on vessels in their fisheries.

From those circumstances, so unable are the petitioners to contend with the Americans in the West India markets, that they derive greater advantage by selling their fish at an inferior price in the United States; whence the Americans re-export them to the West India Islands under the above-mentioned advantages, so as to make a profit even on their outward voyage.

It is well known, and in an ample report made to Congress in the years 1790 and 1791, by the now President of the United States, then their Secretary of State, it was set forth, that the fisheries of New England were on the verge of ruin, and he recommended, what was afterwards adopted,—the grant of a bounty to counterbalance the disadvantages the trade then laboured under. At that period, the fisheries of Nova Scotia made a rapid increase; the whale fishery alone from the port of Halifax Consisted of twenty-eight sail of ships and brigs from 60 to 200 tons burthen; but the succeeding war and other unfavourable circumstances soon destroyed this important branch of the fishery. By the aid of bounties from the State Legislature, the American fisheries recovered their former vigour, and are now carried on with great spirit, increasing their trade with the West India to an incredible extent; considerable numbers of our best fishermen have emigrated from Newfoundland and this Province, to the United States, within a few months, and more are daily following them: thus it appears evident, that a wise policy, steadily pursued, will preserve a sinking trade, and that this Province is not wanting in exertion, when favourable opportunities for it are offered.

Should the Americans obtain by treaty an indulgence of their trade in fish with the West Indies, it will prove the ruin of that of the British Northern Colonies, and draw away from them their most industrious inhabitants. The islands will then depend on Foreign States for supplies of all the articles before enumerated; and if at any time hereafter differences should take place between Great Britain and the American States, from what quarter, it may be asked, are the Islands to obtain their supplies; the ruined trade and fisheries of those colonies may prove, too late, the fatal policy of throwing into the hands of foreigners a trade, which, with a little encouragement, might have been almost, if not entirely, confined to British subjects.

From these considerations the justice and policy of giving encouragement to the Northern Colonies are evident. Should the stranger’s duty, imposed in the Islands, be taken off; should a bounty equal to that granted by the State Legislature be allowed, and the present war succeeded by a peace, then may the West India Islands receive from these Colonies supplies of all kinds of dried or pickled fish, on terms as advantageous as they are now furnished with them from a Foreign State. It is obvious that the Americans, and the West India planters, have a mutual interest in the free trade to the Islands, but the planters have no right to expect supplies from a neutral nation in time of war, merely because it affords them at a cheaper rate than the British Colonies; they should bear the inconveniences of war as well as their fellow subjects, who have been driven into these northern regions by their zealous loyalty in support of the happy constitution under which they now live. The supplies required by the Islands cannot greatly increase; while the Northern Colonies, from their great extent and growing population, will every year be more and more able to furnish those supplies. The Islands are, in a measure, limited in their extent; but the Northern Colonies are almost unbounded.

The inhabitants of those colonies have acquired their present condition, which, at best, is mediocrity, by a continued exertion of industry and frugality, under a climate and a soil, which yield their blessings to persevering exertion alone. The West India planters have ever been in a different situation, and can afford to wait a reasonable time for the accomplishment of those expectations which are justly entertained by the colonists; in the interim, they ought to give a fair equivalent for the articles of which they stand in need, and not expect, at an inferior price, commodities whose value the imperious circumstances of the times have tended to enhance. The northern colonists have struggled with all the difficulties incident to a young country, and they are now arrived at a period, when, if duly encouraged, they may be enabled to reap the fruits of their honest labour: but restricted in their trade to the Mediterranean by an ancient regulation, which obliges them to land their cargoes in some English European port, before they can proceed on homeward-bound voyages, and burthened also in the manner here stated in the West India trade, the petitioners cannot contend with the Americans, but look forward with the most distressful prospects to means of procuring a future subsistence, unless his Majesty, in his goodness, shall be pleased to afford them protection and relief. They therefore anxiously hope, that the observations contained in this memorial may not appear unworthy of the attention of his Majesty’s ministers, but that whatever temporary indulgences may be granted to the American citizens, the British colonists, agreeably to their former solicitations on that subject, may be permitted to return to America, without entering at any port in Great Britain.


Written by johnwood1946

May 18, 2016 at 8:37 AM

Posted in Uncategorized

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