Comments at Re-Dedication of William Chapman Monument

Don Chapman
August 8, 2000, Point de Bute, New Brunswick

Welcome to all Chapman descendants, cousins and other relatives, as well as interested visitors. We have come together today to honour our mutual ancestry and to respectfully recognize the lives of those relatives who have gone before us.

I know that among you, there are many who well might be able to speak more authoritatively than we about the circumstance of the migration of our forbearers. To a greater or lesser extent, much of what we may say in the following short comments was learned at the feet of some of you, or by dint of your own efforts at reconstructing the family story.

If Steve or I don’t get it quite right, please be gentle in your correctives Talking here today is an apprenticeship of sorts for us…..

This is a special place for the Chapman family descendants.

The Point de Bute Methodist Cemetery is a place which represents a bridge between our Yorkshire past and our sense of our family in North America and beyond.

This is a real place, one which is tangibly and authoritatively linked to all descendants of William & Mary Chapman, of Hawnby Yorkshire. You will find some of this history acknowledged on the stones in front of you and in the gates through which you passed. In a few moments, Steve will draw your attention to some of these particulars.

I am going to talk briefly about the circumstances in which our ancestors came to be in this area. Steve will talk a bit about the circumstances after their arrival.

In my comments, I would like to touch briefly on two primary themes:

1. The mythical notion that earlier times were more simple times, and
2. The fact that our family ancestors — like most people who migrated to North America, including many still today — clearly were economic migrants.

I am going to try to draw a verbal image of the circumstances which surrounded William and his wife Mary, and their family, as they decided to make such a dramatic change in their life situation.

We think that today we live in a time of rapid change. It certainly feels that way sometimes, and perhaps we do.

However, when I look at the circumstances of William and Mary, as they decided, well on in life, to uproot their family, I cannot help but wonder about the turmoil they must have felt in their own time. In the spring of 1774, when the sea voyage actually took place, William, a Yeoman farmer, was 44 years old. Mary was 41. They had been married almost 20 years. One presumes that they had lived in the same location, certainly the same rural community, Hawnby, for the years of their married life. The youngest of their nine children was a 3-year-old girl, Ann. The eldest was 19-year-old William Jr. Think for a moment about the fact that in the year or two prior to the event itself, they must well have talked at length about their prospects and their move. I know that one or two of you gathered here today have been age 44 and age 41, and have had had children of your own. Imagine the discussions as they tried to decide what to do about their situation.

On the face of it, except for the variations in the seasons and the years, one might well ask why a family of 11 would choose to make such a dangerous and uncertain change.

Well…they did live in turbulent times. As we look at it today, perhaps the most benign appearing of the changes was the religious turmoil of the times. Religious adherence was central to our ancestors’ lives, and not long before their migration, they had decided to take a new and unconventional religious path. The Chapman family had taken up with the dissenting Wesleys, in the cause of the new Methodism — a more grass-roots incarnation of the dominant Church. Early Methodism had an evangelical-emotional appeal. It was a popular movement, but also involved the new adherents in some level of persecution, and no doubt, periods of private questioning as well. The existing Church would not allow the Wesleys to preach in their buildings, so meeting took place in the open.

Speakers and listeners were often pelted with stones.

For at least the century prior to the 1774 migration, the economic circumstances of our Chapman ancestors had been in a state of flux. Robert C. Allen, in his book, “Enclosure and the Yeoman,” (1992), states that, “Yeoman agriculture was eliminated as large estates embarked on a long-term policy of land acquisition towards the end of the seventeenth century. The aim of this policy,” Allen tells us, was to increase farm size for financial reasons. The chance to economize on labour meant that large farms were more profitable than small farms…. Farmers were anxious to lease several small farms to make a large farm if they could keep the gains. Landowners wanted to amalgamate farms, since a 1000-acre estate yielded more rent if it were divided into four 250-acre farms than if it were divided into twenty 50-acre farms [p.86]. It is clear from the passenger lists which indicated rent increases being a problem, that William and Mary and many others had finally reached the end of their rope in terms of their efforts to earn a livelihood under such circumstances.

The technology of the steam engine was invented in the decade prior to our ancestor’s migration. Partly as a result of the agricultural changes above, a migration to English cities had begun, where the economic hardships of the 19th Century industrial revolution were already on the horizon. Although one cannot be too sure what our ancestors may have understood of this, we might assume that they had a similar general unease to that which we may feel today, as the new information industries take over from the older manufacturing industries in our own time, and as well-paying jobs move “off shore.” We may or may not be directly involved in the change, but the sense of change is all about us, and we watch with a wary eye.

If that were not enough, in the region of the world to which William and Mary were planning to move — here where we stand today — the situation was perhaps even more fluid. As William and Mary decided to migrate and were organizing for the trip, a short sailing trip away from the Chignecto, the Boston Tea party took place. Revolution was brewing in the colonies, and what was then Nova Scotia was no less a colony than any of the others. William and May well may have known that Acadian settlers in the area to which they were headed had been expelled twenty years earlier, but that many had returned. They would certainly have been aware that the ever-exotic and unpredictable “Indians” were still present in large numbers. Imagine what little they understood of these people.

On making casual inquiries into the prospects for the region, they also might have heard that the Fort Cumberland area was far from markets, and that both the selling of produce and obtaining of materials would be no easy matter. In fact, at the time, the local economy was very poor, although the publicity of Governor Franklin painted a more rosy image. In fact, it is hard to say what our ancestors may have known of these things prior to their boarding the Albion in the port of Hull in the spring of 1774, but upon their arrival, they were soon to be absolutely immersed in all of this turbulence.

Further encouragement for the journey of our Chapmans apparently came from the captain of the vessel Albion. Nathanial Smith, one of their 180 fellow passengers, in a letter to a relative, tells that prior to embarking, the captain of the Albion indicated to his passengers that his optimistic estimate was that likely only 1/3 would survive the journey. While his prediction fortunately for many of us did not come true, more than a handful of people did die on the journey, and apparently there was much sea sickness and small pox. In the face of such circumstances, either these ancestors of ours were very sturdy folk, or one can assume that the economic and social prospects in England must have been very difficult indeed.

In fact, William and Mary were accompanied to this land of new opportunity by one of William’s older brothers, *Lancelot — who was five years William’s senior — and Lancelot’s wife, Frances, and six of their nine children. In circumstance such as I have outlined for you, it is not surprising that folks would have sought to travel with extended family. They likely would have lent support to one another. We know little of the particulars of Lancelot and his wife and children, but what we do know is that they all appear to have returned to England – most likely quite soon after arrival. We do not even know if Lancelot and Frances moved beyond their initial arrival in Halifax. Records indicate that Lancelot and Frances died in Cold Kirby, not far from Hawnby, in the early 1800s. It appears that not all found the “better livelihood” they were seeking in the new land.

*Genealogical research subsequent to the remarks above does not support the notion that William and
Lancelot were siblings, although, based on Surname and the proximity in which they lived in Yorkshire,
they well may have been related in some fashion. Only one member of the family of Lancelot remained in North America.