Causes of the Yorkshire Migration

On a day in early May of 1774, the lookout on Citadel Hill in Halifax raised his telescope to watch two brigantines beating their way into the harbour. Although the port was but twenty five years old, such sights were common. Nor was it out of the ordinary that these vessels were crowded with immigrants.

The event was of sufficient importance for the governor, Francis Legge to draft a dispatch to the Earl of Dartmouth, then Colonial Secretary in the British cabinet. He wrote: Within these few days, two brigantines [the Albion and the Two Friends] have arrived from Hull, importing two hundred eighty persons from Yorkshire… These people, my Lord, do not come here with the expectation of having lands granted to them, some come to purchase, others perhaps to become tenants and some to labour.

During a four year period from 1771 to 1775 approximately 1,000 to 1,200 Yorkshire settlers arrived in the then colony of Nova Scotia. New Brunswick was not to be set apart until 1784. The first question that must be answered is: Why this migration at this particular time? The answer may be found in the enterprise of lieutenant governor, Michael Francklin, and with the prevailing conditions in Yorkshire.

Michael Francklin was a prominent Halifax merchant, land speculator and entrepreneur extraordinaire. Once described as a hustling, scrappy, widely disliked wheeler dealer; his career began inconspicuously with a small dram shop on George Street in Halifax. Soon his business interests included contracts to supply the British forces stationed in the city. Later, trade in rum and fish with a little privateering on the side added to his wealth. Along the way Francklin accumulated several important land grants, one of which was located on the banks of the Petitcodiac River, with a second grant in the Maccan — River Hebert area. It become known as Francklin Manor.

In 1769, Francklin sailed for England with the purpose of recruiting settlers for his properties. The timing of the trip was fortunate. Northern England and especially Yorkshire, was experiencing an agricultural revolution. Scattered farm holdings were being consolidated into large estates. The imposition of major rent increases by landlords soon followed. Furthermore, the rural population of the county was increasing faster than agricultural growth.

Along with these economic changes, the same period also witnessed the growth of the revivalist movement that became known as Methodism. Started by John and Charles Wesley it had gained a strong foothold in Yorkshire. The Methodist emphasis on conversion and holiness, stress on Bible study and fellowship appealed to an economically oppressed population. While the people called Methodists were not persecuted as were many other religious groups, they did endure considerable harassment. The next Flashback will investigate the impact of Methodism on the Tantramar and beyond.

Consequently, throughout Yorkshire economic instability and religious enthusiasm were pparent; and talk of emigration was in the air. It was to these restless people that Francklin directed his attention. Of the hundreds who answered the call to move overseas, not all settled on his lands; however, Francklin and his numerous agents may be credited with pointing the Yorkshire migration in the direction of Nova Scotia.

Once on this side of the Atlantic, the vast majority settled on the Isthmus of Chignecto; specifically in the three townships that were created in 1763, Sackville, Cumberland and Amherst. However, a sizeable minority selected land in five other locations: on the Petiticodiac (present day Hillsborough, Coverdale and Riverview), in the Maccan-River Hebert area, the River Philip valley, and Newport and Granville Townships in the Annapolis valley.

The outbreak of the American Revolution spelled the end for Yorkshire migration to Nova Scotia. In the years following 1775, there would be a few additions to the Yorkshire stock, but nothing on the scale of the period from 1771 to 1775. The most significant was a small migration that followed the end of the Napoleonic Wars. It was at this time that Little York, now York PEI, was founded.

A study of the passenger lists of the various ships that carried Yorkshire emigrants to Nova Scotia indicates that Governor Legge was correct in his analysis. There were three distinct groups in the migration. First were those who came to purchase and who had been able to sell their properties, small though many of them were, before leaving home. They had cash in hand with which to purchase farms. Included in this first group were a number of skilled craftsmen such as carpenters and blacksmiths.

A second category were those with little in the way of ready cash but who had a burning desire to make a fresh start in the New World. They were looking for farms to rent and most of them became tenants of either Francklin or J.F.W DesBarres.

Finally there were those who came to labour. Included in this group were a number of servants and workmen, many of whom were already in the employ of emigrants with some wealth. Significantly, a number in the second and third category were ambitious and upwardly mobile. Before too long they had saved sufficient money to purchase farms for themselves.

The passenger lists for the various Yorkshire emigrant ships also included the ages of those on board. The typical family unit included parents in their thirties or forties, while families of six or more children were common. Lastly the Yorkshire immigrants were obviously in reasonably good health as casualties on the long trans-Atlantic voyage were few in number.

Those who may be interested in learning more about the life of the Yorkshire settlers at the time of their migration and later, are directed to the novels and short stories of Will R. Bird. Based on careful historical research these books convey, as no other medium, the life and times of the Yorkshire people. Unfortunately, most of his books are out of print and available only in libraries. It is hoped that a special edition of Bird’s most famous novel Here Stays Good Yorkshire will be available at the Yorkshire 2000 book stall. The celebrations running from August 3rd to 10th are a mere two weeks away!