Archives provinciales du Nouveau-Brunswick

Fort Havoc (Wallace Hale)

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Plan For Settlement of the St. John River


The State of Affairs at the Close of the American Revolution. — Royal Instructions Respecting Disbandment of Loyalist Corps. — Names of these Corps.


The American Revolution was in reality much more of a civil war than has generally been supposed. On the battle fields of the Revolution neighbor often met neighbor, and brother sometimes met brother. About forty Loyalist corps were organized during the war and incorported into the British army. Many of them gained an enviable reputation for steadiness and courage on the battle field. A conservative estimate places the number of inhabitants of the old colonies, who at one time or another were enrolled in the king's service, at 25,000 men. Of course not all of these were on active service at the same time for the composition of the Loyalist corps, like that of Washington's army, was constantly changing. However, at the close of the year 1780 there were nearly 9,000 efficient Loyalists enrolled among the British forces in America, at which time the actual strength of the American army was but little over 21,000 men.

Unfortunately for the cause of the mother country the haughty, arrogant demeanor of the British "regulars" towards the "provincials," combined with the ill treatment of loyal inhabitants and plundering their property by the English and German soldiers lost to the royal cause thousands of friends and well wishers. Had the Revolution been the rising of the American people en masse, it would have resulted in the attainment of independence much sooner than it did. But the divided state of public opinion was such that England was several times on the verge of success and in the end failed chiefly on account of the incapacity of her own generals. Lord North, the leader of the British ministry, once said with grim humor, "I do not know whether our generals will frighten the enemy, but I know they frighten me whenever I think of them." It was not till the appointment of Sir Guy Carleton to the command, just at the close of the war, that the control of the British army passed into competent hands. Col. Henry Lee, the United States military historian, aptly observes: "By a strange fatality the soldier best qualified for the arduous duties of war was reserved to conduct the scenes of returning peace. America may justly rejoice in the misapplication of such talents and Great Britain as truly lament the infatuation of her rulers who overlooked a leader of such high promise.

New York remained in the hands of the British until about the close of November 1783. During the war it had served [as] a rallying point, and the Loyalists naturally turned their faces thither, as to a city of refuge, when the success of their enemies was assured.

The commanding officers of fourteen Loyalist regiments, on the 14th of March, 1783, presented a memorial to Sir Guy Carleton, in which they stated:—

"That from principles of loyalty and attachment to British government they took arms in His Majesty's service, and relying on the justice of their cause and the support of their Sovereign and the British nation, they had preserved with unabated zeal through all the vicissitudes of a calamitous war. . . That whatever stipulations may be make at the peace for the restoration of the property of the Loyalists and permission for them to return home, yet should the American provinces be severed from the British Empire, it will be impossible for those who have served His Majesty in arms in this war to remain in the country. The personal animosity arising from civil dissensions have been so heightend by the blood that had been shed in the contest that the parties can never be reconciled. . . . Many who have served in the ranks of the Provincial troops during the war have been respectable yeomen of good connections and possessed of considerable property, which from principles of loyalty and a sense of duty they quitted, and in course of the contest have shown a degree of patience, fortitude and bravery almost without example."

The memorial closes with a request for grants of the land and assistance in making settlements in some part of America where they may still live under the British flag; that provision be made for non-commissioned officers and privates disabled by wounds and for the widows and orphans of deceased officers and soldiers; and the officers be allowed to retain their rank with an allowance of half pay on the disbanding of the respective corps. Sir Guy Carleton at once forwarded the memorial to England with a strong recommendation that the requests contained therein be approved by the British ministry. The result was that on the 9th day of June following, the Royal Instruction were issued which provided that all con-commissioned officers and privates willing to settle in Nova Scotia should receive grants of land, 200 acres to non-commissioned officers, and 100 acres to privates exclusive of what each man should be entitled to in right of his family. Rations of provisions to be supplied for one year, and the disbanded troops to retain their arms and accoutrements. The commissioned officers were to receive grants of land in proportion to their rank and to be retired on half pay at the disbanding of their respective corps. The non-commissioned officers and privates to receive a gratuity of fourteen days pay.

It was not until the beginning of August these instructions were recieved in New York. Immediately upon their receipt Sir Guy Carleton entered into communication with General Fox, commander of the forces in Nova Scotia, and with Governor Parr, to arrange as speedily as possible for the settlement of men of the Loyal regiments. He also dispatched Col. Edward Winslow, muster master general of the Provincial troops, to the river St. John to explore and locate land for the accommodation of his old comrades in arms.

The selection of lands on the St. John river above the settlements at Maugerville and Burton was partly because the most accessible and promising ungranted lands were to be found there, but was also designed to facilitate communication between Halifax and Quebec and to serve for the defence of the frontier in case of future war with the United States.

The general plan adopted in laying out the settlements is detailed in the Royal Instruction to Governor Thomas Carleton, from which we here quote:—

"Whereas we are desirous of testifying our entire approbation of the loyalty, sufferings and services of the commissioned officers of our provincial forces it is therefore our will and pleasure that on application of the said commissioned officers who shall be willing immediately to settle and improve lands in our said province, you do direct that warrants of survey and grants be made in the following proportions: To every Field Officer 1,000 acres, to every Captain 700 acres, to every subaltern and staff officer 200 acres, to every private 100 acres exclusive of the number of acres to which in each case their families are entitled. And in order to strengthen the proposed settlements in our said province and that they may be in a state of security and defence, it is our will and pleasure that the allotments to non commissioned officers and privates shall be, where the same is practicable, by corps and as contiguous as may be to each other and that the allotments to the several commissioned officers shall be interspersed therein that the same may be thereby united and in the case of attack be defended by those who have been accustomed to bear arms and serve together."

This plan was adhered to in laying out the grants for the disbanded corps; but alas, admirable as was the idea in theory, in practice it proved a dismal failure. The surveyors, acting doubtless under their instructions, proceeded to lay out tracts for settlement along the borders of the river St. John and its tributaries the Nashwalk, Keswick, etc., all lots fronting on the river and running back thence from three to four miles. The soldiers lot of 100 acres had a breadth of only sixteen rods which was but one seventieth part of its length and when the unfortunate owners came to examine the boundaries of the real estate they had received from their country's bounty, they not inaptly described their property as "all length and no breadth." The evil results of this arrangement we shall consider hereafter.

At the close of the revolutionary war there may have been as many as 8,000 loyalists in arms. Of these probably 2,000 settled on the upper St. Lawrence and along the shores of Lake Ontario and a like number in the peninsula of Nova Scotia and in Prince Edward Island. Some went to England, but these were principally officers who had contrived to save something amid the wreck of their fortunes, or who received sufficient compensation from the British government for their losses to enable them to live in independence. A few went to the British West India Islands, the remainder comprising about 3,000 men came to the St. John river in September 1783. The corps to which they belonged were the Kings American Regiment, the Queen's Rangers, New York Volunteers, Pennsylvania Loyalists, Maryland Loyalists, Carolina Kings Rangers, De Lancey's Brigade, Prince of Wales American Regiment, Royal Guides and Pioneers, Loyal American Legion, Royal Garrison Battalion, Kings American Dragoons, and a part of the Royal Highlanders.

The men of these corps were settled in various localities some remaining at St. John, others establishing themselves on the Kennebecasis and in the lower river counties of Kings, Queens and Sunbury but the majority proceeded to their locations on the upper St. John, many of them grappled bravely with the difficulties before tham and they and their descendants became the pioneer settlers in the counties of York, Carleton and Victoria. These stout hearted old veterans could say with Caesar "I came, I saw, I couquered," but with many of their comrades it was "I came, I saw, I went away." After the stirring scenes of the tented field, the monotony of life in the back woods with its inevitable hardships and privation had little attraction for many of the men of the disbanded corps. Others broken down in health by wounds and exposure during the war were unfitted for the task of clearing land and cultivating the soil. Many of them sought an easier life in the towns and villages that upon the arrival of the Loyalists had sprung into existence in the province of New Brunswick, not a few eventually found their way back to their old homes in the United States.


W. O. Raymond


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[Published 22 May 1895]