The following article about Sackville’s first frame house, researched and written by Paul Bogaard, is probably best described as a case of investigative reporting. I think that the CBC would be proud to include this fascinating story into one of its detailed investigative reports. History does not always sit there, waiting to be found. Like archeological research projects, there’s a lot of digging to do. And Paul, over many years, patiently dug through many layers of archival soil and rock to get to the bottom of the secrets hidden by the Boultenhouses and Bulmers on their historic properties off present-day Queen’s Road, across Bulmer Lane and adjoining Marshview Middle School, in Sackville. Following my initial reading of the article, my first thought was “how many more?” So for those readers who may harbor similar research aspirations, read closely and use Paul’s productive efforts as a template for the work ahead. And when you solve the mysteries associated with a particular historic property or home, send us your story. Your newsletter is always happy to tell your stories, especially those that resolve long-standing mysteries and improve our ratings (or should that be readership?). I do not want to use too much space because Paul’s story and accompanying photos require valuable space and I close with my usual wish:
The First Frame House in Sackville Parish?
By Paul Bogaard
This is the saga of over twelve years research to confirm whether the Tantramar Heritage Trust really does own the “first frame house in Sackville Parish.” We had nothing like this in mind when the Christopher Boultenhouse property was purchased by the Trust in 2001.1 Our attention was focused on the handsome house of a Sackville shipwright, not on the back “ell” he used as a kitchen. All we found in the back was a storage area and a garage with a gravel floor.
At the time of our early research on this property, we were excited to discover about Boultenhouse moving into “lower Sackville” from Woodpoint in the 1840s, and even relocating his shipyard onto the Tantramar River. All of this occurred when many enterprises were shifting into what we now take for granted was the centre of Town. As the home of Westmorland County’s most prolific shipbuilder,2 we were eager to renovate it as our second museum — the only shipwright’s house in New Brunswick now open to the public.
Before we began that restoration, however, we found ourselves in serious need of office space, and decided to make use of that back ell. Only then did we begin to realize that the ceiling, walls and floors being uncovered seemed much older than the front house built by Boultenhouse. We seemed to have discovered an earlier house, but how much earlier? And, had it come with the property? We had already determined that Christopher Boultenhouse likely purchased this property from the Bulmers, but tracking this down through the convoluted land transactions preserved in the Land Registry Office proved elusive. Untangling all the twists and turns that we found there has taken repeated efforts over many years.
We might have dropped the matter at that point, but as luck would have it, Mount Allison had recently hired a specialist in dendrochronology (dating wooden structures by analyzing the growth rings present in the posts and beams of historic buildings) and we had done him a favour by allowing extensive sampling at the Campbell Carriage Factory.3 In return, he agreed to analyze the age of the timbers in the house we had just acquired and also the back ell that looked even older. The results revealed that the trees used for framing the main house — Tamarack, like the timber used in his shipyard — were cut down around 1840 while the Red Spruce used to frame the back ell had been felled fifty years earlier! A house from the 1790s could not have been built by Boultenhouse. If not, it seemed most likely to have been built by George Bulmer. That prompted me to reach for my copy of W.C. Milner’s History of Sackville recalling the story he tells of George Bulmer building the “first frame house in Sackville Parish.” Could that be? Could the Heritage Trust have reached out for a handsome shipwright’s house and unwittingly snagged the oldest frame house in the parish? (See Figures 1, 2, and 3.)
Well, there were complications. It was clearly established that we owned a house dating before 1800; those are very rare in Sackville. Indeed there are hardly any houses of that vintage remaining in the whole region.4 But showing that this one was the same as the house in Milner’s story proved difficult. Registry office information about deed transfers from Bulmer to Boultenhouse were a confusing morass. Not that we couldn’t find such transfers, but rather there were so many: the Bulmers were swapping and selling many parcels during that period and Boultenhouse was purchasing dozens of parcels. (He ended his days with over 40 deeds!)
We found the deed whereby, in 1784, George Bulmer purchased three adjoining “rights” or “shares” originally granted to an early Planter family, but could not find any record of his selling it or any portions of it. Moreover, the story in Milner says that the house built by George Bulmer was eventually sold to and lived in by Jonathan C. Black. And as Phyllis Stopps (who has completed extensive research on early houses in Sackville) warned me, there were a number of Jonathan Black houses and therefore other candidates for the “first frame house” in the Parish.
Milner’s story is very valuable for anyone interested in the earliest stories about Sackville’s development. He got the story, he tells us, from “an old lady long since gone to her rest, viz.: Mrs. Cynthia (Barnes) Atkinson,” in which she identifies all the houses that were scattered along the Main Post Road by 1820. Milner so appreciated this story that he told it twice! In one telling, he relates that “the first frame house” was at Boultenhouse Corner (where today Bulmer Lane converges with Main Street and Queens Road). But was it on the northwest side of that corner, where the medical clinic now stands, or was it to the southeast towards our Boultenhouse Heritage Centre (see Figure 4)?
When I returned to the Registry Office to see if I could clarify any of these issues, I could begin to see some outlines through the fog. One very unusual item, recorded as an Indenture in 1837, was between one of George Bulmer’s sons, Nelson, and his other siblings. It did not shed any light on the house in question but did explain that by the 1830s their father, George, had fallen ill and was no longer competent to handle his own affairs. It even mentioned that, at his death (George did not pass away until 1841), then and only then would his own extensive land-holdings be passed along to his sons and daughters (or their husbands). A most unusual declaration, I thought, but it certainly helped explain why there were no recorded sales of land from George Bulmer himself.
With that in mind, I soon found one sale from Nelson Bulmer, and another from James, that transferred parcels of the Bulmer Estate to Christopher Boultenhouse. And there were descriptions that confirmed they were somewhere within the 12-acre holding that Christopher was known to have owned. They were each identified as Lots #7 and #8 on a subdivision plan drawn up by their “attorney,” Jonathan C. Black.5 So, we now knew that the Jonathan Black mentioned by Milner played a key role in the dispersal of George Bulmer’s holdings, although no one has been able to locate his plan for this subdivision and thus leaving those lot numbers of little use. And neither of these descriptions included any mention of their father’s house. Later records show Boultenhouse purchasing a number of parcels directly from Jonathan Black and one of them began by saying it was for a parcel in Middle Sackville… so I set that one aside (in retrospect, a serious blunder on my part). But at the time, that seemed to be as far as I could go.
This may be a good point at which to flesh out some background. The person that built “the first frame house in Sackville Parish” had sailed over from Yorkshire when he was still quite young, twelve or thirteen years of age. He came on The Duke of York in 1772 along with his brother, William, the Freezes, Andersons, and notably Charles Dixon’s family who is said to have taken a fancy to young Bulmer. According to George’s son, Nelson, his father had come over apprenticed to Mr. Freeze, a stone mason. Apparently, they spent the next several years in Cumberland where there was likely plenty of work for masons rebuilding Fort Cumberland.6
The Fort was fully garrisoned by the British after it had been won from the French and for several years through prolonged guerilla warfare. But with British forces taking Fortress Louisburg on Cape Breton in 1768 and the Planter settlement of Sackville, Cumberland and Amherst townships well underway, the garrison was substantially reduced7 and little attention was paid to the upkeep of the Fort. At least until rebellious Americans began threatening British sovereignty in the 1770s; then there was need for repairing the stone fabric of the Fort and its buildings. Since a traditional apprenticeship lasted seven years, George Bulmer was likely kept busy there through the 1770s — his teen years. Thereafter, George’s prospects seemed to have improved and by 1784 he had successfully courted Charles Dixon’s second daughter, Susannah, and purchased a large tract of land between what today we call Queens Road and Union Street, extending from below Lorne Street to “the wilderness.” As recalled by his son Nelson, George purchased the “rights” or “shares” to the 1,500 acres granted to Nicholas Cook and sons and then immediately set about building a log house.
What Susannah thought about living in a log home we do not know, except to say that since the early 1760s this was the sort of house in which most couples started their families.8 She might have had more to say about living over in the Salem district (where later the Salem Baptist Church would be built, and where George built his log home) where there were already several other early homes… as it was a long way from her parents’ home on what is now Charles Street (see Figure 5).
I have absolutely no way of knowing, but it just seems very likely to my romantic spirit that when George set about building for his bride a proper “frame” house, he would situate it just beyond where the Main Post Road turned across his land, out on the brow of that height of land where, from the front of his new south-facing house, Susannah could easily look across to the next hill and see her mother hanging out the wash. For her, he would build “the first frame house in Sackville Parish”! And it also seemed that if the timber for that new house was cut down around 1790, the timing would be about right. But if I wanted to confirm that Susannah’s frame house was the same one dendrochronology confirmed was built in the early 1790s, we still had some nagging discrepancies to sort out.
The Fog Lifts
Milner’s story claims that George and Susannah’s frame house went to Jonathan C. Black but the descriptions of the parcel purchased from Nelson Bulmer makes no mention of the house nor J.C. Black. It does, however, suggest that the land in the direction of the frame house was under the ownership of one Benjamin C. Scurr, and until recently, I had no idea who this was and I could see no way through these complications.
Until last summer, I must confess that the solutions were in the photocopies I had taken at the Registry office years earlier, sitting there sniggering at me from the folder labeled Bulmer House Puzzle. But it was only when we made an extra effort last summer, working closely with two of our summer students to refine the family trees for both the Boultenhouses and Bulmers, that a glimmer of light broke through. We had been encouraged by the public reception of our Anderson family tree as a key feature of the Octagon House exhibits, and so we decided it was time to do the same for the two houses built by Christopher Boultenhouse and (we hoped) George Bulmer. What the work of these students uncovered was that Benjamin Scurr had married George and Susannah’s second daughter, Mary, and that Benjamin & Mary’s daughter, Elizabeth Ann, had married Jonathan c. Black – the attorney who had done so much to sort out the George Bulmer Estate.
I will take some care in laying out why these additions to their family tree proved so important. When I reopened my file of registry documents and re-read the descriptions, this is the sequence that became clear (keep your eye on Fig. 6):
1) Firstly, from the Registry for January 15, 1842: “Nelson Bulmer…in consideration of 150 pounds…paid by Christopher Boultenhouse…has sold a parcel of upland situated in Sackville…and described on a plan made by Jonathan C. Black of the Real Estate of George Bulmer, deceased…North & West by lands of Benjamin C. Scurr, North & East by a Road leading to Dixon’s Landing, South & West by a Road laid out on the aforesaid Plan for the use of the owners of the land belonging to the aforesaid Estate…And containing 3 1/2 acres…w/appurtenances.”
While I had known for years that Christopher had bought a parcel from Nelson, I had not realized then that Jonathan Black, as the attorney who drew up the plan of George Bulmer’s Estate, was an in-law of the family. Similarly, I had not realized that Benjamin Scurr was married to George & Susannah’s daughter, Mary, and that it was they who held the portion of their father’s estate to the northwest. Otherwise, the reference to a road leading to Dixon’s Landing clearly located Nelson’s parcel to the southwest of what we now call Dufferin St. – roughly the land on which Marshview Middle School now stands. And finally, we now know that George passed away sometime in 1841 and his wife, Susannah, about 1836. It seems likely that it was just after Susannah passed away when their children registered their agreement concerning their father’s Estate, declaring him legally incompetent. And similarly, as soon as their father passed away in 1841, title to his lands passed to his heirs, and that’s when they began selling off portions of it.
2) The very next item in the Registry, on the same date: “James Bulmer…in consideration of 100 pounds…paid by Christopher Boultenhouse…has sold a parcel of upland situated in Sackville…and described on a plan made by Jonathan C. Black of the Real Estate of George Bulmer, deceased, as the lot number #8: North & West by lands of said Christopher Boultenhouse, lately purchased from Nelson Bulmer, North & East by a Road leading to Dixon’s Landing, South & West by a Road laid out on the aforesaid Plan for the convenience of the proprietors of the land belonging to the aforesaid Estate…And containing 5 1/2 acres…w/appurtenances.”
So, in this case, a parcel also to the southwest of Dufferin, now has Christopher as the owner immediately to the northwest (towards Main St. – as least he had now been its owner for an hour or so!) which clarifies that this parcel is downhill from Marshview Middle School and likely extended all the way to where Dufferin crosses Lorne and meets the other road, just prior to the railway line. And for the second time, we read that this was a road, or lane, used by George Bulmer and his family. At the upper end (at what came to be called Boultenhouse Corner), we now think a private lane came along the same way the street does today and then curved in to provide access to the house built there in the early 1790s. It makes sense that there would also be a lane from this farmstead down the hill to their marsh holdings. And as it happens, Nelson Bulmer recalled a time when “Grampa” Charles Dixon had been visiting. Nelson was only eight or so, but his father and brothers were elsewhere, so his mother asked him to hitch the oxen up to the cart and drive Grampa down the hill to the aboideaux (again, right about at the present day railway crossing). He was surely making use of the same lane described in the deeds from both Nelson and James.
3) The crucial evidence comes from this next one, which I had set aside years earlier. From the Registry for October 15, 1845: “Jonathan C. Black & Elizabeth, his wife…in consideration of 110 pounds…paid by Christopher Boultenhouse…has sold a parcel of upland situate in Middle Village…and containing 3 acres, bounded as follows: West by the Main Post Road passing through Sackville; North by a road leading from the Main Post Road to Dixon’s Landing (so called), East by lands of Christopher Boultenhouse; South by a road leading also from the Main Post Road to Dixon’s Landing, Together with all the Estate…with appurtenances…with all the improvements and privileges belonging to the same.”
There are several points about this that are relevant: one is that at 3 acres, this one added to the two previously listed adds up to 12 acres, and it is known from Christopher Boultenhouse’s own estate that his house (and its back ell) sat on a holding of 12 acres.
Of course, it was the reference to “Middle Village” which had thrown me off, years before, reading it as Middle Sackville. This time I realized it is intended as a reference to Middle Village in the original layout of the Township or Parish of Sackville – extending from the upper mill stream issuing from Silver Lake to the lower mill stream flowing down Frosty Hollow. I should also have noticed that the description not only places it just along Main Street, but also along Dufferin Street…which means it must have been adjacent to the two parcels purchased from Nelson and James. There is even a reference to the old lane running down the other side (now listed as another road to the Landing) since Boultenhouse had already registered an arrangement with his neighbors to the south having agreed to a roadway being constructed – the one that came to be called Boultenhouse Street (and now referred to as an extension of Queens Road). That would neatly encompass 12 acres within these three streets (clearly named in Fig. 6).
This is of particular importance since these descriptions do not locate the precise boundaries. but they do give us the streets and we know exactly where those are. So, if one measures out 3 acres from Main Street towards Marshview Middle School, there is no way one can reach 3 acres without including the early Bulmer house. Or starting from the other end, when you measure out 5 1/2 acres from James and 3 1/2 acres from Nelson Bulmer, you have encompassed the school and probably the hosue that used to sit where the parking lot of the Boultenhouse Heritage Centre is now located, but not the Bulmer frame house.
And yet, I think there is a more human element involved than the geometric solution just given. It begins with the solution to how Jonathan C. Black gained possession of this parcel and house. Frustrated by this remaining gap, I recently returned once more to the Registry Office and almost immediately came up with a deed from Benjamin & Mary Scurr, selling their parcel (with exactly the same description as the parcel listed above as #3):
Unto the said Jonathan C. Black…All that certain piece or parcel of upland situate in Sackville and containing three acres, more or less, which the said Benjamin C. Scurr has or claimed in right of his said Wife, and she the said Mary has claimed by inheritance of in to or out of the real Estate of the late George Bulmer of Sackville, deceased, as one of the Daughters and heirs of the said George Bulmer and which fell to her as one of the upland Lots in the division of said Estate…with all the Estate, right, title, Dower right…To Have and to Hold…the lands and premises…with the appurtenances.
We can establish from this that Jonathan C. Black purchased the property he subsequently sold to Christopher Boultenhouse from his wife’s parents and that his mother-in-law, Mary, received this same parcel by inheritance from George Bulmer when he died. The description of the parcel is exactly the same and I can only wish it had been more explicit about “the lands and premises.” It does not say (but what I suspect is) that this hinges on George Bulmer becoming incompetent. Extraordinary measures had been taken to ensure the family’s inheritance (the registry declaration of 1837 mentioned earlier) when their father could not do so for himself. But more than that, someone surely had to care for him, especially once his own wife had passed away in the mid-1830s. And where more likely than in his own home. This might have fallen to one of their daughters but Jane had long since married a preacher from Maccan and had moved there, Elizabeth had married and moved to Lunenberg, and Mary was still nearby but had married Benjamin Scurr and they lived on the farm he inherited from his in-laws, the Cornforths.
Of the daughters, we know it was Mary who inherited the portion of George’s estate that included the frame house, and her own daughter, Elizabeth Ann, married Jonathan C. Black in 1833. So, my suspicion is that it was Jonathan and Elizabeth Ann who moved in with Grampa and Gramma Bulmer (Milner says that Jonathan lived there). Clearly, it was Jonathan who played the pivotal role in laying out and subdividing Grampa Bulmer’s considerable holdings. They would have been there when (or soon after) Susannah Dixon Bulmer passed away and stayed on until George Bulmer finally died in 1841.
Before 1841 was over, Jonathan had seen to it that George’s heirs inherited their portions, and he actually stepped in and purchased inherited portions from John, William, and George’s daughter Elizabeth, through her husband Henry McCellan. Most likely, these siblings had established themselves elsewhere by this time. And from the work of Phyllis Stopps on the house across Main Street – the one many of us can recall as the Nurse’s residence (where the Medical Clinic now stands) – this seems to be the lot Jonathan purchased from John Bulmer and one which he proceeded to build a house for himself and his family. Phyllis noted a newspaper account that suggests it was built in 1842.
The year 1842 is when Christopher Boultenhouse acquires the parcels from Nelson and James Bulmer and seems to be the most likely year in which he adds his handsome house onto the older house of the Bulmers. That’s what dendrochronology tells us and it happens to be the only year for a decade in which he does not have his carpenters busy building a ship. And this ties in with Jonathan Black moving his family across the road to their own newer house, also in 1842. A decade thereafter, a daughter of the Blacks is married to Christopher’s son, William. So, there were close connections between these families.
Perhaps that explains why the final settlement for this land and the old frame house was not registered until 1845. It was not uncommon for titles to be registered at a later date, until there was compelling reason to do so. Or perhaps there were financial or other arrangements still unfolding (Christopher and Jonathan engaged in a whole series of land transactions). What is clear is that when the registration finally took place, the transfer from Mary and her husband Benjamin Scurr to Jonathan Black was registered on the very same day as the transfer of this same parcel to Christopher Boultenhouse. They are literally #12.145 and #12.146 in the registry. Clearly, this had all been planned ahead. In the meanwhile, no one in the family had any reason to doubt whose property and whose house was involved.
Some of this is surmise, but the facts we do have make a compelling case:
George Bulmer purchases a large tract from the original grantees, which we can locate on the grant map of 1791. After building a log house, within a few years, he moves his growing family into the first frame house in Sackville. We know this one was built in the 1790s so it has to have been George, as it was on his land, and his own sons were still too young. This frame house and the parcel on which it stands is inherited by his daughter, Mary, and subsequently sold to her son-in-law, who sold it to Christopher Boultenhosue. Then, Christopher builds a handsome new house attaching it to the Bulmer house, now 50 years old, to use as his kitchen. As a consequence, when the Tantramar Heritage Trust purchased this shipwright’s house in 2001, we inadvertently bought the first frame house in Sackville Parish. The donor who made this possible did us a bigger favour than he will ever know.
- The beginning of that saga was announced in issue #16 of The White Fence in October 2001. Issue #33 in December 2006 carried the opening of the Boultenhouse Heritage Centre and our first mention of the earlier back “ell.”
- See Shipbuilding in Westmorland County, New Brunswick, 1784-1910, compiled by Charles A. Armour with additions by Allan D. Smith, among the Trust publications.
- The timbers of that factory were large, accessible, and there were dozens of them. These were just what Colin LeRoque and the team needed to help establish a reference set of growth rings from trees harvested in this area and which enabled them thereafter to date other samples.
- Between the work carried out by Rob Summerby-Murray’s geography students at Mount Allison University over ten years ago and our own local historians, there are reasons to suspect that Sackville retains an unusual number of pre-1800 houses – often as back ells.
- Jonathan C. Black si listed in at least one place as their “attorney” but at this time it was unlikely he was an attorney-at-law (a lawyer) but rather was simply recognized as acting on Bulmer’s behalf. In some of the registered land transactions he is listed as a “merchant.” Why he was acting as their agent, at this stage, was not at all obvious to me.
- One of the places Milner tells Nelson’s story on p. 117 is the section about the Bulmer family. The other is on p. 28 where he is acknowledged as the oldest descendant of Charles Dixon on the occasion of their family celebration.
- Webster tells us in Forts of Chignecto that General Gage withdrew most of the soldiers, leaving only a small garrison in charge.
- We know from Charles Dixon’s “Memoirs” that when Susannah arrived as a small girl in 1772, ehr father immediately bought two or more farms which already had houses built on them. They must have been log houses. He later built a grander house for his family but Susannah herself likely grew up in a log house.
- These divisions and the circumstances of their being laid out are all told in The Struggle for Sackville published by the Heritage Trust on the occasion of Sackville’s 250th anniversary.
- You can try this yourself online, by calling up “GeoNB” at http://geonb.nsb.ca. Zoom in until you can see parcels outlined and then use the “Draw and Measure” tool.
- When Christopher passed away in the 1870s, he held part-interest in Jonathan’s house and land and owned ship builder’s good in the shop close by. Look again at Fig. 5 where you can see Jonathan’s house identified with his Estate (he had passed away in the 1850s) and even the shop nearby.
Anonymous matching commitment will help the Trust become debt-free
by Geoff Martin
Members who follow Trust finances will know that at the end of the move and rehabilitation of the George Anderson Octagonal House project, the Trust Board of Directors took out an $80,000 loan, repayable in four annual installments. The reason for the loan was two-fold. We began the octagonal house project while we were still paying off the most recent major improvements at the Campbell Carriage Factory Museum and, as any home owner who is doing high-quality renovations knows, the octagonal house project cost us a bit more than we anticipated. Thanks to donations large and small we have successfully made the first two annual payments and another two are due in December 2015 and December 2016. However, I am pleased to announce that thanks to an anonymous donor, every capital campaign contribution made in the 2015 and 2016 calendar years will be matched dollar-for-dollar up to a maximum of $10,000. That means that our challenge this year and next will be to raise the latter figure. We will be asking those who have made multi-year commitments that have ended to continue their commitments for this year and next, and this is a perfect opportunity for those who have not yet donated to this project to do so, knowing that your donation’s impact will be doubled. More detailed information will be provided in the coming months, but please do plan on some kind of special donation to this project as you consider your 2015 giving.
Calendar of Events
Wednesday, May 27 – Annual General Meeting, 7 p.m., Anderson Octagonal House. Guest speaker: David Mawhinney, Mount Allison Archivist, “Archival Narratives.”
Sunday, June 21 – Campbell Carriage Factory Museum opens for the season, plant sale
Wednesday, July 1 – Canada Day Strawberry Social, 3-5 p.m., at the Boultenhouse Heritage Centre, 29 Queens Rd., Sackville
July (dates to be announced) – Under the Sky Festival – a series of heritage-themed arts events, taking place outdoors at the Campbell Carriage Factory Museum. Details TBA.
July (dates to be announced) – Children’s MAKE IT! Workshops at the Campbell Carriage Factory and Boultenhouse Heritage Centre. Every Wednesday morning in July there will be a fun and educational heritage-themed workshop for children aged 7-15 at one of our museum locations. Details TBA.
Sunday, August 9 – Heritage Field Day at the CCFM.
Check our website for further details as plans progress. If you’re interested in helping out with any of these events, we’re always looking for volunteers, so please give Karen a call at the office at 506-536-2541.