“Here Stays Good Yorkshire” — The Yorkshire Imprint on the Tantramar Part I

Approximately one year from now the New Brunswick/Nova Scotia border area will be playing host to people from all parts of North America and beyond. They will be attending a celebration marking the arrival, more than two centuries ago, of some seventy families from Yorkshire, England. The latter emigrated to the Isthmus of Chignecto during the years 1772–1775.

For over a year, a Yorkshire 2000 Local Arrangements Committee has been at work planning events to commemorate this historic milestone. Appropriately, it’s chair is Sackville’s Al Smith, a direct descendant of an early Yorkshire settler, Nathaniel Smith (17201791). Also included on the committee are representatives from a number of other first families. The key dates for the event, August 3–10, 2000, should be red circled on everyone’s calendar!

Another direct Yorkshire descendant was Amherst author Will R. Bird (1891–1984). Unfortunately, Bird’s award-winning novels and short stories are seldom read today. This is especially regretable, because they reveal, as no other medium, the life and times of these early settlers. Flashback readers are urged to seek out Bird’s books; for there is no better way to prepare for Yorkshire 2000. Although now out of print, copies may be found in local libraries. Also, check out used book stores and auctions. I have found several of his novels and collections of short stories in this way.

In one of Will R. Bird’s most important novels, Here Stays Good Yorkshire, a character, Asa Crabtree, participates in an act of great symbolism. The day before sailing from Scarborough for Nova Scotia in March of 1772, Crabtree found a sunny corner of his garden free of frost and there filled an old leather sack with soft earth. He would take some of Yorkshire with him so that he could always see and touch it.

Like all emigrants who leave their homeland knowing they will never return, the Yorkshire settlers were sad and disconsolate. But their sorrow was tempered by a sense of hope and determination. These prospective settlers were hardworking men and women; excellent farmers and skilled artisans. They were emigrating not by chance or forced circumstances, but by choice.

During the long trans-Atlantic voyage a printed handbill was passed around to be read and reread by the Yorkshire emigrants. It began: Desirable farmland to be had consisting of marshlands and upland of great fertility, mostly cleared, along with some excellent wooded land…

Gazing westward over the seemingly never ending Atlantic they pictured a new life. There would be an opportunity to own one’s own property instead of renting at unreasonable rates; to farm and ply an honest trade; to hold religious beliefs without fear of reprisal; to live and let live in peace and harmony. For once, the land agent’s hype was basically correct and in short order the Yorkshire settlers were involved in mastering their new environment.

The main group purchased farms on the Chignecto Isthmus, while others took up land beyond Amherst; especially along the fertile Nappan, Maccan and Philip Rivers. A few settled elsewhere, in Newport and Granville Townships in the Annapolis Valley. Still later, in the early 1800s, a second but smaller migration, found new homes at York on Prince Edward Island.

In the years between the 1755 Acadian expulsion and the newcomers arrival in the 1770s, much of the Chignecto territory was occupied by New England Planters. Those who were true planters or farmers succeeded; however, a number were uninterested in the land, and quickly became disenchanted. Many seized the opportunity and sold their farms, at bargain prices, to the canny newcomers. It is worth noting that in letters back home the Yorkshire settlers did not conceal their disdain of the New Englanders; calling them lazy and indolent.

More important, within months rather than years, the Yorkshire settlers became embroiled in serious conflict with some of their neighbors. The New England Planters were in regular communication with their families and friends in Connecticut, Rhode Island and Massachusetts. By the early 1770’s the storm clouds of revolution were gathering and the question on everyone’s lips was simply: Would Nova Scotia be the fourteenth colony to rebel? (The separate colony of New Brunswick would not be created until after the Revolution).

Certainly the two local MLA’s, New Englander Jonathan Eddy (1726–1804) and Scotsman John Allan (1746–1805) thought it should; and gave active leadership to the revolutionary cause. The Eddy Rebellion was a complex event and has already been mentioned in several Flashbacks. At this stage it will be sufficient to record that Eddy and his Sons of Liberty were unsuccessful in mounting an all out rebellion on the Tantramar.

At first, the New Englanders thought that the revolutionary cause would appeal to the non-conformist Yorkshire settlers. Not so. When they compared their former life in England with the many opportunities on the Chignecto, they were content. As another of Bird’s fictional Yorkshiremen, Adam Chipley, explained when urged to support the revolutionary cause: We’re from Yorkshire and have paid in a year more taxes than you do in ten, and no talk against it. You have a bluster over threepence on tea and nothing else You’re tempting Providence when you try to stir up trouble in a land the Lord has so richly blessed.

In 1927 The Historic Sites and Monument Board of Canada erected a monument on the grounds of Fort Beausjour marking the role of the Yorkshire settlers in the revolutionary conflict. Most historians are in agreement that their loyalty was an important contributing factor in the British retention of the fourteenth colony Nova Scotia.

But beyond their pivotal role in the events of 1774–75 the Yorkshire settlers were destined to leave a longer imprint on the Tantramar region. Tangible traces of Yorkshire influence may be seen in areas such as: agriculture; religion and education. Part II of Here Stays Good Yorkshire will explore these topics. Look for it on August 11th.