The Military Settlements, so called, were formed shortly after the close of the "war of 1812." They extended along both sides of the St. John river from Presquisle to the mouth of the Tobique. The first settlers, consisting of disbanded soldiers of the 8th, 98th, 104th and New Brunswick Fencible regiments took possession of their lands in the years 1817 and 1818. They were followed a little later by the Royal West India Rangers, who founded what is still spoken of [as
] "the Ranger Settlement" extending on both sides of the St. John river from the Indian reserve at the mouth of the Tobique nearly to the mouth of Salmon river.
Of course it was comparatively a small portion of the men of these regiments that became permanent settlers; the majority preferred a livelier kind of life that that of clearing land and making homes in such a wilderness region as was the Upper St. John at that time. However certain inducements were held out for their encouragement. Government bore the expense of transporting every man to his location and afterwards for three years supplied an allowance of provisions and some farming tools as well. In the course of a few years the military settlements were strengthened by the arrival of a few settlers from other portions of the province and some emigrants from the old country.
It was on the 10th day of June in the year 1819 that the Royal West India Rangers arrived from St. Kitts in three transports, the Buerdon, Abeona and Star under command of Lieut. Col. Lavicount. St. John at that time was quite a small town and its streets must have presented quite a lively appearance, for during the previous ten days there had arrived not less than two thousand Irish emigrants. Those of the Rangers who were content to settle on the St. John river were alloted lands, farming implements, a proportion of seed and three years provisions. Those not inclined to settle down as farmers were offered merely a gratuity of ten pounds. The choice was soon made and those who know the ways of old soldiers will not be surprised to learn that out of the five hundred and thirty men disbanded on their arrival at St. John only about forty or fifty decided to accept the lands offered them for settlement. The presence of the Irish emigrants added to that of 500 disbanded soldiers, many of the latter indulging in a jollification, caused some anxiety on the part of the citizens. The hands of the local authorities however were strengthened by the arrival of Colonel Sir Robert L. Peor French, as fine a British officer as ever commanded a garrison in this province. Col. French brought with him a company of his regiment from Fredericton and their efforts combined with that of the St. John local authorities sufficed to maintain law and order.
The reputation of the West India regiment is that the men were great fighters but not particularly noted for good conduct in other respects, indeed Col. French is said to have jocularly described tham as "bad everything except bad soldiers." Those that settled in Victoria County appear to have comprised the better elements of the regiment.
In the early days of the military settlements the founders endured very great privations. Like the loyalist founders of Woodstock they had little acquaintance with forest life and they were remote from advantages of education or religion. The first man to interest himself in supplying these very serious wants was the Rev. Frederick Dibblee. In his report to the society for the propagation of the Gospel in 1819 he writes:
"It is lamentable to reflect that from Woodstock to the Grand Falls, a distance of nearly 80 miles and almost entirely inhabited by disbanded soldiers, there is no Christian minister of any denomination, and of course no religion whatever. It was necessary in order to obtain their military allowance that an oath should be administered; a good old churchman, a justice of the peace went up for that purpose. It was with the utmost difficulty and after a day's search that a Bible could be found, and I have reason to belive there are not more than four or five Bibles and prayer-books among the whole population."
To remedy in some measure this state of affairs the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel sent out to Mr. Dibblee for the use of the settlers a considerable quantity of Bibles, Testaments, Prayer books and religious tracts, and also voted an allowance of £15 per annum each to two school masters qualified at the National School, in order to provide for the education of the children living in the new settlements. The two master appointed were Hugh Mount and John Dunphy. The following year Mr. Dibblee wrote the S. P. G. that the military settlers were exceedingly grateful for the appointment of the two school masters and had provided log school houses at convenient centres. In consequence of his recommendation Christoper Walsh and Alfred Moore were appointed additional school masters for the upper part of the military settlements and their appointment was hailed with equal satisfaction. Mr. Dibblee spent ten days amongst the people of the Military Settlements in the autumn of 1820 making visits from house to house in connection with the organization of schools and ministering so far as he could to the spiritual wants of the settlers. He found there were 306 children living between Presquisle and the Tobique. In the course of his trip he baptized 95 children and 8 adults in the families of the following, viz, James Lovely, John Giberson, James Collins, Alexander Hart, John Grant, James Murphy, Robert Murphy, John McGuire, John McDonald, Lemuel Bishop, Thomas Nugent, John Larlee, Robert Miles, Joseph Holmes, Joseph Ward, Joshua Bishop, William Bishop, Thomas Flemming, Alex. Merinsten, Wm. Burns, Archibald McLean, William Ward, John O'Brien, Wm. Higgins, Thomas Pomphrey, John Donantin, David Butler, William Butler, Jabez Squires, Asa Kinney, Thomas Coley, Francis Gallagher, Samuel Kearney, Philip O'Neil, Samuel Fulton, John Weldon, Thomas Lovely, John Tompkins, Elijah Tompkins, Edward Brooks, James Tompkins, Roger Tompkins, James Dyer, Samuel Farley.
The descendants of many of the above are prosperous and worthy citizens of the up river counties today. It will be noticed that a few of the names are those of older settlers on the river but the majority came there after the war of 1812. Mr. Dibblee in his diary has a brief account of his trip up the river in which he states, "There never was at this time of the year (October) better weather, but too warm most of the time for travellers in a canoe. Crops remarkably good up the river, corn and potatoes especially; the settlers have more than their bread."
The following year he again visited the Military Settlements and took the names of the children who desired to attend the Madras Schools about to be established for their benefit. The number that entered were for Christopher Walsh's school, boys 38, girls 28, total 58 [66?]; Hugh Mount's school, boys 33, girls 32, total 65; A. Moore's school, boys 40, girls 37, total 77; John Dunphy's school, boys 45, girls 42, total 87. Total number enrolled 287. Many more would gladly have availed themselves of the advantages provided by these schools if they had lived within walking distance. It was agreed that the people should board the master in each instance and allow him a salary of £30 to which the S. P. G. was to add £15. Mr. Dibblee engaged to visit the schools in June and September in order to examine the pupils, inspect the conduct of the masters and perform divine service for the settlers. He had already baptised 20 adults and 146 children among them.
W. O. Raymond