Signposts Along Tantramar's Past - Yorkshire Settlement
The early settlement history of Tantramar is a fascinating tapestry of human struggle dating back more than 300 years for people of European descent and more that 3000 years for aboriginal peoples. Prince Henry Sinclair, from the Orkney Islands off northern Scotland, may have been the first European to visit the area. Scanty evidence suggests that Prince Henry traveled through Chignecto in the summer of 1398 following traditional travelways connecting the Northumberland Strait and the Bay of Fundy.
Trading between native communities at Chignecto and the french settlement at Port Royal was initiated by Father Baird in 1612, but it was not until 1672 that french farmers first established a permanent settlement at the village of Beaubassin - now Fort Lawrence. By the mid 1700's the french Acadian population of Chignecto had grown to 3000-4000. British forces captured Fort Beausejour in June of 1755 and shortly thereafter most Acadian residents were expelled from the area. Continuing harassment of British military installations continued by French guerillas and their Micmac allies until the fall of Quebec in 1759 which ended all hopes that Acadians may have been able to repossess their lands. The end of guerilla warfare thus lead to a greater sense of security for potential settlers.
Nova Scotia's Governor Lawrence issued a proclamation in 1758 inviting New Englanders to come to Nova Scotia and take up free land grants. Military personnel completing their enlistments at Forts Cumberland and Lawrence were offered land grants in 1760 and some stayed to establish homesteads. The first major wave of English settlement occurred in 1760-61 when 25 families arrived from New England. Family names such as Tower, Estabrooks, Cole, Finney, Briggs, Seaman, Robinson, Brownell, Casey, Ward and others came to Chignecto - largely from Rhode Island. Additional waves of immigrants from New England arrived in 1762-63 (Oulton, Tingley, Ayer, Richardson and others) plus a group of 13 Baptists from Swansea Massachusetts.
The Townships of Sackville, Cumberland and Amherst were laid out in 1763 each containing 100,000 acres. The first formal land grants were issued in 1765. The Township of Sackville had a population of 349 persons in 1767, nearly all from New England.
Settlement of the granted lands did not proceed as quickly as hoped by British authorities and some New Englanders were wanting to sell their properties to return home. Thus in 1771 Governor Michael Franklin went to north Yorkshire to seek immigrants for Nova Scotia. During the following four years (1772-1775) over 20 ships carrying more than a 1000 settlers left Yorkshire bound for Nova Scotia. In contrast to the New Englanders, the Yorkshiremen were mostly tenant farmers in old England and left for Nova Scotia "in order to seek a better livelihood" or "due to rents being raised by my landlord". England was in an economic depression at the time and tenant farmers received very low wages and had no hope of purchasing their own lands. Thus the attractiveness of purchasing lands in the new world was a powerful inducement to uprooting family and possessions and making the perilous 6-8 week crossing to Nova Scotia. For the most part Yorkshiremen did not receive grants from the government, but they came with money and purchased their lands from New England settlers who were beginning to leave the Province.
The first shipload of Yorkshire immigrants to arrive was in 1772 on board the Duke of Yorke which left Liverpool on 16 March with 62 passengers on board, arriving at Fort Cumberland on 21 May 1772. On board were Charles Dixon, Thomas Anderson, George Bulmer, John Trenholm and others. During the period 1773-1775 additional vessels arrived with the largest number coming in 1774 when 9 passenger vessels carried settlers from old England to Nova Scotia. Undoubtedly the immigration would have been larger had it not been for the uprising in the American colonies in 1776. Nonetheless, the entry of 1000+ Yorkshiremen into Nova Scotia, at a time when the entire population of the province (which included all of present day New Brunswick) was just 17,000, had a major impact on the early settlement history of the region.
The Chignecto Isthmus felt the greatest impact of the immigration. Settling at Amherst were: Black, Freeze, Robinson, Lusby, Oxley, Foster and others; at Nappan, Maccan: Brown, Ripley, Shepley, Pipes, Coates, Harrison, Fenwick & others: Westmorland Point, Point de Bute and Fort Lawrence: Keilor, Siddall, Wells, Smith Lowerson, Truemen, Chapman, Donkin (actually from Northumberland), Read, Carter, King, Trenholm, Dobson and others; and at Sackville: Dixon, Bowser, Atkinson, Anderson, Bulmer, Harper, Patterson, Fawcett, Richardson, Humphrey, Wry, and others. Aside from the Chignecto region up to 15% of the families settled in Annapolis County and included the names: Clark, Wilson, Oliver, Milner, Mills, Halliday, Jefferson and others.
The settlement generally known as “the Yorkshire Immigration” has had a profound effect on settlement patterns in eastern Canada, and may have significantly contributed to the political landscape of the Maritimes. Loyal Yorkshiremen helped British forces at Fort Cumberland (now Fort Beausejour National Historic Park) quell the Eddy Rebellion of 1776. A monument at Fort Beausejour, erected in 1927 by the Historic Sites and Monuments Board, pays tribute to role played by these early settlers. The Yorkshire pioneers were staunch Wesleyan Methodists and were responsible for establishing the first Methodist chapels in Canada. In the year 2000, descendants of these early pioneers will be gathering on the Tantrramar to celebrate and remember 225 years after the completion of this immigration.
If you would like to learn more on the Early Settlement of Tantramar join the Tantramar Heritage Trust's "Ride Into History" on Sunday, September 13, 1:30 - 5PM. This will be an escorted motorcoach tour departing from the Sackville Tourist Bureau at 1:30 PM with a mid afternoon break at Fort Beausejour's picnic pavilion for tea and English scones. Cost is $10.00 per person. Please reserve by calling 536-4895 before 5 PM Friday, September 11. Thereafter you could get in touch with one of the two tour guides: Al Smith 536-0164 or Colin MacKinnon 536-4283.