New Brunswick History and Other Stuff

From Saint John to Annapolis Royal, Around the Bay of Fundy in 1787

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From the blog at

S. Hollingsworth traveled between Saint John, New Brunswick and Annapolis Royal, Nova Scotia, in a clockwise sailing around the Bay of Fundy in 1787; and following is the memoir of that trip from his book The Present State of Nova Scotia …, Edinburgh, 1787.

This is an extremely early description of Loyalist settlements on the Bay, only four years after their arrival. The two Provinces were developing very rapidly.

Map, of the Bay of Fundy and Annapolis Royal, 1712-50, by Nathaniel Blackmore

From the McCord Museum


From Saint John to Annapolis Royal, Around the Bay of Fundy in 1787

Off the mouth of St. John’s River, lies a small island, high, rocky, and covered with woods near to which ships must pass, in going in or out of the river and, as it lies at a small distance from the mainland, is equally fitted to afford protection to the river against an enemy, and for the erection of a lighthouse to guide ships in passing up and down the bay, being very conspicuous for several leagues.

The town is built upon the east side of the harbour, within two miles of Partridge Island, which, lying directly opposite to the entrance of the river, breaks off the sea, and perfectly shelters it from all winds.

The river, a mile above the town, by being confined between some rocks that encroach upon it considerably, though of a great depth, has a large fall or rapid, particularly upon the ebb tide. When the flood has risen 12 feet in the harbour below, the falls are smooth, and continue to be passable for about twenty minutes; and the river is navigable from hence upwards of 70 miles for vessels of 80 to 100 tons burthen. In times of great freshets, when the rains fall, and the snows melt in the country, which is commonly from the middle of April to the beginning of June, the falls are absolutely impassable to vessels bound up the river, as the tide does not rise to their level, and the strong current, which runs continually down through the harbour at that season, frequently prevents vessels that are bound in from entering, unless assisted by a fair wind.

The town consists of upwards of two thousand houses, many of which are large and spacious, and being built upon a neck of land, almost entirely surrounded by the sea, is thereby rendered exceeding pleasant. The streets have been regularly laid out, are from 50 to 60 feet in breadth, and cross each other at right angles, corresponding with the four cardinal points, every house possessing 60 feet in front by 120 in depth, makes it capable of becoming one of the best cities in the New World, as the ground whereon it is built is of a moderate height, and rises gradually from the water.

Amongst other advantages possessed by this settlement, it ought not to be considered as the least, that a very considerable property was imported, together with a number of respectable merchants, from New York, at the evacuation of that city, whose unremitting industry and perseverance has embellished the town with a great many fine houses, the harbour with several fine quays and wharfs, and they already possess 60 sail of vessels, some of which are employed in carrying on trade with the West Indies, and the rest in the whale and cod fisheries. Most of the fur trade that can ever take place on this side of the province, must naturally center here, as no other navigable water extends far inland, besides St John’s River. Very good masts for the royal navy are cut at the distance of 50, 60, and 70 miles from the sea, as large as to 32 inches diameter, which are collected by persons appointed by government, below the falls, from whence they are shipped off for the King’s dock yards in England.

The harbour has from seven to ten fathoms water, with good holding ground, and an excellent beach for landing goods, and graving or repairing vessels of the largest size. Opposite to the town, on the other side of the harbour, is a small settlement, called Carleton, built and inhabited by the Loyalists, amongst whom are a considerable number of ship carpenters, whose talents have already exerted themselves in building many vessels; whilst the large quantity of fine timber, on every part of the river, equal in goodness to that of New England, and almost any other province in America, is not only a proof of their situation being very properly chosen, but a sure prognostic of the advantages which this place derives from shipbuilding.

To all the above recited advantages may be added the extent of population, which exceeds ten thousand persons of all denominations, among whom are several regiments disbanded at the late peace, that are not only highly respectable for their numbers and their industry, but still more so, if possible, from their forming a very strong barrier to the colony against the subjects of the United States. A small fortification, called Fort Howe, defends the town, but is too inconsiderable to withstand a regular attack, being very small, and entirely destitute of out works.

Twelve leagues further up the Bay of Fundy, E.N.E. from St John’s River, is a small settlement belonging to the Loyalists, called Quaco. About six hundred persons are here, who have very wisely directed their attention to agriculture, their lands being generally accounted good, whilst, on the contrary, they have no place fit to shelter vessels in, especially when southerly winds prevail. The timber of all kinds is very good, and the country abounds with game.

Eleven leagues east from the last mentioned place, the Bay of Fundy, after carrying everywhere in its course a great depth of water, and continuing from fifteen to six leagues wide, is suddenly divided by the land into two distinct arms, the largest of which, called the Basin of Mines, takes its course nearly due east for almost eighty miles, but having the rise and fall of the tide continually increasing as is advances, so as to be equal to 70 feet perpendicular at its head, and receiving the waters of several rivers, which from thence penetrate considerably into the country. All these rivers have settlements upon them, the inhabitants of which amount to upwards of 4000. The lands in the environs of Mines Basin are very good, and have store of timber, particularly on the south side, and continue so almost all the way to Halifax, from which it is distant upwards of 40 miles. The other head is called Chignecto Bay, taking its course N.E. from where the separation commences, for about 50 miles, receiving the waters of several rivers which discharge themselves into it, one of these being pretty considerable, called Petitcodiac, where about 2000 Loyalists are settled, and have the appearance of being a thriving colony. Many advantages are held out to persons that are obliged to settle in this province, whose views are not solely confined to trade, but who wish to attend to agriculture, and the raising of cattle, as most of the lands round the head of the Bay are very good, having been formerly possessed and cultivated by the ancient French colonists, distinguished by the name of Neutrals, whole industry had been crowned with a degree of success not always equaled, and but seldom exceeded, by the inhabitants of the southern colonies; nor can it be doubted, but that the persons in whose hands they now are, will very speedily render them an object of jealousy to their New England neighbours. There is a small fort, formerly called St Laurence, and now Fort Cumberland, built upon the isthmus which joins the peninsula to the main land, and, though of no great account at present, may, in a more improved state, be looked upon as the key of Nova Scotia, against the invasion of a land army. Returning from hence, down the Bay of Fundy, to the westward, there is no harbour, until nearly opposite to St John’s River, when we find Annapolis Royal, which has one of the noblest harbours in the world, perfectly sheltered from all winds, the entrance into it being between two capes or headlands, with from 20 to 30 fathoms water. This entrance is near a mile wide, and has a strong current, both upon the ebb and flood tides; the shore, at the same time, being so steep, that a ship may run her bow-sprit against the rocks, and yet be in 10 fathoms water. Immediately within this straight, is a large piece of water, called Annapolis Basin, capable of holding a considerable number of ships, with a sufficient depth of water for vessels of any size, and at least 20 miles in circumference, entirely sheltered from all winds. On this basin, a very handsome town, called Digby, has been built by the Loyalists. The situation of it is exceedingly well chosen, both for the fisheries and every other kind of trade adapted to the province. A small settlement is also forming at the mouth of Bear River, near Digby, by some Germans, formerly belonging to the auxiliary troops during the war in America.

From the Basin to Annapolis Royal, it is about 12 miles, upon a deep and narrow river, in which there is a great rise and fall of the tide, both sides of it are well peopled, and in many places are highly improved. A small island, half way between the Basin and the town, may be easily made to command the navigation of the river entirely, as nothing can pass either up or down without going close in with it. Since the arrival of the Loyalists, amounting to 2500, the town has increased to six times its former dimensions, the country about it clearing fast of the woods, having received an increase of population, unknown in any former period. The raising of black cattle will probably be one of their principal employments; as the inhabitants, who came here prior to the war, not only raise the largest and best cattle of any in the Province, but equal to any in America, except Rhode Island and Connecticut; so that they will be able, in a little time, to gather with the people of St John’s River, to raise all the livestock, or nearly so, that will be wanted for the West India marker. The anchorage of the town is very good, and on the side next the river; the fort which defends the harbour is of some consideration, but totally inadequate to a defence toward the land.


Written by johnwood1946

August 9, 2017 at 8:45 AM

Posted in Uncategorized

One Response

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  1. I have ancestors on both sides of my family who went to N.S. in 1783; some to Digby, some to Prince Edward County. Some also to Prince Edward Island. It’s been a teeth gritting experience tracking them. The Prince Edward Island family left no trace of themselves other than the 1798 census. There are days I think I will just leave them there and work on someone else and then I read something like this and I’m encouraged all over again.


    August 9, 2017 at 10:40 AM

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