Departure of the Fleet for St. John. Loss of the "Martha." Col. Hewlett's Letters. The Pitiable Situation of the Newcomers.
A large fleet of transports left New York on the 15th day of September, 1783, under convoy of one or more men of war. Some of the vessels were bound for Shelburne and others for St. John. They sailed in company until near Nova Scotia, when those for St. John turned their course towards the mouth of the Bay of Fundy. During the voyage the ships became separated more or less from one another, and did not arrive at their destination in a body. One unfortunate ship, the Martha, having on board detachments of the Maryland loyalists and of de Lancey's third battalion, was wrecked on a ledge of rocks near Yarmouth, and out of 174 souls about 100 were lost. The other vessels arrived safely after a voyage of from ten to twelve days.
Major Studholme's correspondence shows that the transport, which brought Captain Buskirk's company of the 3rd battalion, New Jersey Volunteers, had reached St. John on the 25th September. (A party of soldiers from on board this ship having landed on the east side of the harbor managed to get into a fine squabble with some of the Royal Fencibles in garrison at Fort Howe. Several of the latter were wounded, and two sergeants and five privates carried as prisoners on board the transport. Major Studholme writes a very indignant letter to General Fox complaining of the treatment of his men.)
By the 27th of September nearly all the fleet were at anchor in the harbor and preparations were at once made to disembark both passengers and stores.
Lieut. Col. Hewlett's letter to Sir Guy Carleton announcing his arrival is of special interest. It has never, so far as the writer is aware, appeared in print, and is now given to the public for the first time in the columns of The Dispatch.
"St. John's, Bay of Fundy,
29th September, 1783
Sir, I have the honor to inform you that the troops under my command arrived at the River St. John's the 27th inst., except the ship Matilda, [should be ship Martha] with the Maryland Loyalists and part of the 3rd Battalion DeLancey's Brigade, and the ship Esther with part of the New Jersey Volunteers, of which ships no certain accounts have been received since their sailing. This day a small party of the Guides and Pioneers landed, which will proceed from the falls up the river tomorrow if the weather permits. The other troops are to disembark tomorrow and go up the river as soon as possible.
I have the honor to be, &c., &c.,
His Excellency Sir Guy Carleton."
A fortnight afterwards Lt.-Col. Hewlett wrote Sir Guy Carleton that since his last letter of the 29th September the ship Esther had arrived. The Martha transport, with the Maryland Loyalists and a detachment of the 3rd Battalion DeLancey's had been wrecked on a ledge of rocks off the Seal Islands Heads. "Yesterday (Oct. 12th) arrived the Bridgewater and this day the entire number of the troops were disbanded and they are now getting up the river as speedily as possible. The want of small craft is the only delay they have."
The commander-in-chief wrote from New York, Sept. 29th, to General Fox, enclosing a list of the troops who were to be disbanded and settle on the river St. John and other parts of Nova Scotia. Each man was to be paid up to the 24th day of October and to receive two pairs of stockings, two pairs of mitts, two pairs of shoes, also an axe and a spade. The troops were to be "victualled" on board the transports until the day of landing after which the king's allowance of one year's provisions was to commence.
Col. Hewlett says that great dissatisfacion was caused among the troops in consequence of having hatchets in lieu of axes.
One of the busiest men at St. John after the arrival of the ships was Lt. Col. William Lyng, deputy commissary general. The following brief little epistle will indicate some of the problems with which he had to grapple.
Fort Howe, 1st Oct., 1783
Sir, It being your wish that the victualling ships should be unloaded with all possible dispatch and this garrison being insufficient to afford a working party, I take the liberty to request you will recommend to the commanding officer of the British American troops [Col. Hewlett] to furnish such parties to assist in unloading them as may be necessary. Lt. Col. Hewlett has promised to order a party, but I apprehend your recommendation will have full influence.
I have the honor to be, sir,
Your most obd't serv't,
Wm. Lyng. Dep. Com.
Hon. Brig. Gen'l Fox.
It was the intention of Sir Guy Carleton that the several corps should be sent immediately on their arrival to the lands on which they were expected to settle in order to be there disbanded. Unfortunately the lateness of the season and lack of forethought on the part of those whose duty it was to provide for their accomodation, rendered such an arrangement impracticable. The vessels did not reach St. John until the end of September and several days were occupied in disembarkment. After the men were landed they found themselves in a pitiable situation. Colonel Edward Winslow in writing to his friend Ward Chipman thus describes it: "I saw all those provincials which we have so frequently mustered1 landing in this inhospitable climate in the month of October, without shelter and without knowing where to find a place to reside. The chargin of the officers was not to me so truly affecting as the poignant distress of the men. Those reputable Sergeants of Ludlow's, Fanning's, Robinson's, etc (once hospitable yeomen of the country) addresed me in the language that almost murdered me as I heard it; 'Sir, we have served at the war, we were promised land, we expected you had obtained it for us. We like the country only let us have a spot of our own."
Col. Winslow had been especially sent, he tells us, by Sir Guy Carleton, to explore and locate lands for the settlement of the officers and men of the provincial regiments upon the river St. John. The government officials at Halifax were so overwhelmed with the work of providing for the settlement of loyalists already arrived that all the endeavours of Winslow to provide for the settlement of his old comrades in arms immediately upon their arrival in the country were futile. Annoyed at the delay he says, "I proposed to General Fox, who was also a witness to their distress, the measure of forming a new government as the only possible effectual way of relieving them." This suggestion was carried into effect the next year and the Province of New Brunswick separated from that of Nova Scotia greatly to the satisfaction of its loyalist founders.
When Lt. Col. Robert Morse of the Royal Engineers by order of Sir Guy Carleton made a tour of inspection through the old province of Nova Scotia in the autumn of 1783 and the summer of 1784, he found a very small proportion of the men of the loyalist regiments were yet upon their lands. The causes of this he says were; "Firstly, their arriving very late in the season; Secondly, timely provision not having been made by escheating and laying out lands, in which great delays and irregularities have happened; Thirdly, a sufficient number of surveyors not having been employed; Lastly and principally, the want of foresight and wisdom to make necessary arrangements and steadiness to carry them into execution." He adds, "If these poor people, who from want of land to cultivate are unable to raise a subsistence for themselves are not feed by government for a considerable time longer they must perish. They have no other country to go to no other asylum. They have hitherto been mostly employed in building towns at the principal settlement. At Port Roseway (Shelburne) and at the mouth of the River St. John, astonishing towns have been raised and in less time perhaps than was ever in any country before." Col. Morse mentions the fact that one of the consequences of the delay in laying out lands for settlement was that many of the Loyalists who had intended settling on the River St. John finding no immediate prospect of securing their lands contented themselves with drawing town lots at the mouth of the river where the towns of Parr and Carleton had been laid out by Paul Bedell. He thinks that the distribution of town lots among the loyalists who went with a view of settling up the river not a good thing, and that the time spent in erecting houses, etc., would have been better employed in cultivating their lands.
In our next article we shall see how the founders of the new settlements on the River St. John fared during their first winter in the country.
W. O. Raymond
1. Col. Edward Winslow was commissioned on July 30, 1776, as muster-master General of Provincial troops and a year or two later Ward Chipman was appointed deputy muster-master General.