At the close of the war of 1812 the country bordering the St. John river between the military post at Presquisle and the Madawaska Settlement, a distance of eighty or ninety miles, was still an unbroken wilderness with the exception of the military post at the Grand Falls near to which one or two families had established themselves. As soon however as peace was proclaimed steps were taken for opening up this extensive territory the resources of which were beginning to be known and appreciated. As early as the year 1815 military working parties were employed by the provincial government in the construction of roads between Aroostook river and Grand Falls. The parties appear to have been taken chiefly from the New Brunswick Fencible Regiment.
The desolate condition of the country rendered a journey to Quebec via the St. John river an arduous and, at certain seasons, a dangerous undertaking. It was the custom of the House of Assembly at that time to vote considerable sums of money to induce settlers to locate themselves at convenient intervals through the unsettled regions of the province in order that passing travellers might find shelter and accommodation at their houses. Accordingly at the session held in 1816, there was voted $200.00 to encourage the establishment of two settlers on the road between Presquisle and Grand Falls.
We have now to consider more particularly the origin of the Military Settlements. Our first provincial historian, Mr. Peter Fisher, (father of the late Judge Fisher of Fredeericton and of ex-mayor Fisher of Woodstock) says in his little work written about six years after the formation of these settlements:
"After the peace with America in 1814, a number of disbanded men of the 8th, 98th, and 104th regiments, and of the West India Rangers and New Brunswick Fencibles settled on the river St. John, chiefly between the military post at Presqu-Isle and the Indian reserve at the mouth of the Tobique. Many of these settlers have made good improvements and have already secured a comfortable independency. The wilderness has been converted into cultivated fields covered with habitations, and the district formed into a parish, and named after his Royal Highness the late Duke of Kent. It extends on both sides of the river from Grand Falls to the Parish of Wakefield."
The surveyors employed in laying out the Military Settlements were Colin Campbell, Allan McLean and James A. McLauchlan. The last named of these, Mr. McLauchlan, had served as an ensign in the 104th regiment and naturally felt great interest in the fortunes of his comrades. The settlers endured very considerable hardships at the outset. We learn from the journals of the House of Assembly that on February 26th, 1819, Capt. Stair Agnew, M. P. P. for York County, presented the petition of James A. MacLauchlan "praying relief for the Military Settlers of the late 104th, the New Brunswick Fencible and the 98th regiments, located upon the River St. John between Presquisle and the Great Falls." The Assembly responded by voting the sum of $400. to purchase potatoes and other seed for the ensuing spring for the benefit of the settlers. The kindly assistance was indeed sorely needed for the experience of the Military Settlers during the first two seasons was of the most discouraging nature in consequence of a general failure of the crops. With the year 1816 there began the first of a series of extraordinary seasons long remembered as the "cold years." The month of June 1816 was marked by a succession of very severe frosts extending over the whole of New Brunswick and the adjoining State of Maine. The spring birds from the south were chilled and died in large numbers and crops were everywhere destroyed. Mr. Fisher in his history says there was much speculation as to the cause of the unusual rigor of the summber of 1816.
"Some ascribed it to spots on the sun's disc others suppose that large masses of ice had been detached from the shores of Greenland and floated so near America as to occasion the uncommon chill of the air, with other conjectures of a like nature totaly unsatisfactory. Whatever might have been the cause, it is certain the genial warmth of the sun appeared nearly lost; for when shining in meredian splendour in the months of June and July, a cold rigorous air was felt. There was a fall of snow which was general over the province and extended to the United States, on the 7th of June, to the depth of three or four inches in the northern parts of the country. This was followed by severe frosts in every month of that year. The crops were very light; fields of wheat were totally destroyed; even the never failing potato was chilled and did not yield half a crop."
It is said that in the Madawaska region snow fell to the depth of nine inches at this time. The testimony of Mr. Fisher is corroborated by Rev. Frederick Dibblee whose diary contains the following record:
"June 7th 1816: Snow fell last night so as to cover the ground.
June 8th: This morning the hills on the east side of the river covered with snow.
June 10th: Hills on the other side of the river entirely covered with snow; never was there such a June.
June 11th: A very heavy frost, the gound all white. At 10 a. m. it grows warm and we lay aside our great coats which we have worn eleven days!"
The consequences of a local failure of the harvest in those days when people depended almost entirely on the home supply are not easily imagined by people who live in days when the markets of the world are at their command. The immediate consequence of such an absolute failure of the crops as that of the year 1816, was that the price of provisions went up to an extraordinary height. Rye flour, for example, was quoted at Fredericton at $17.00 per barrel. At the ensuing session of the legislature the House of Assembly in their reply to the Lieut. Governor's speech refer to the matter as a calamity, and express their resolve. "At this distressful moment occasioned by the failure of the late crop to adopt every means in their power to alleviate the effects of it." So wide spread was the distress that the legislature voted the sum of $24,000 out of their then limited revenue for the purchase of seed and provisions to be distributed by commissioners amongst those in need of help. Of this sum $4,800 was apportioned to the County of York and expended by Messrs. James Ketchum, John Morehouse and John Essington. In the report subsequently submitted by those gentlemen they remark that they were obliged to expend 192 days in their arduous duty of distributing "relief, provisions, potatoes, etc., to provide for the necessities of the settlers, many of whom were in great straits." Their report was accompanied by an immense bundle of vouchers and receipts.
The following year the anxiety of the inhabitants was increased by another rigorous season. Under date June 18th, Rev. F. Dibblee has the following short entry in his diary which speaks volumes:
"A succession of frosts. Few fish; provisions scarce and dear. God have mercy on us!"
As the Military Settlers were not located on their lands before the year 1817, it was the second and third of the "cold years" by which they were chiefly affected. Thr provincial government in order to assist them in their difficulties furnished employment to many of them on the highway road leading to Canada, the completion of which was felt to be a necessity for the developement of the upper St. John region and had also been strongly urged for military reasons by the Duke of Richmond, governor general of Canada, and Major General Smyth, lieutenant governor of New Brunswick. The work performed north of Presquisle was chiefly under the direction of James A. Maclauchlan.
In the autumn of the year 1823 Rev. Frederick Dibblee spent some days with the people of the Military Settlements whom he found rejoicing in the prospect of an abundant harvest. They had at this time but few cattle or sheep but these were gradually supplied as the land was cleared. Log school houses had been built at convenient centres and three of the schools then lately established were doing excellent work, but in the fourth the master had been discharged for immorality. The Madras system had been introduced into the province just in season to benefit the new settlements. Rev. Mr. Dibblee remarks that four years prior to his visit there was but one school in his entire mission but that through the introduction of the Madras system there were now ten, averaging in summer and winter about forty scholars each. A Sunday school opened by Christopher Walsh had been productive of the best effects. The four schools referred to were situated two of them on the east side of the river, and two on the west side. That part of the parish of Kent below the Tobique was divided into four districts for school purposes. John Dunphy was for several years teacher in the 1st district, and Peter O'Farrel taught in the 2nd district, Patrick O'Connor in the third district for a short time, the school in the 4th district (situate in the vicinity of what is now Muniac Station) was taught by John Baird, father of Lt. Col. Baird of Woodstock.
The further consideration of the history of the Military Settlements must be deferred to the next article.
W. O. Raymond