Sackville: The FIRST Town in all New Brunswick!

A series of 250th Anniversary articles for the Tantramar Heritage Trust by Paul Bogaard

The town called Sackville was the very first “township” in what is today New Brunswick. That is quite a claim, not one that has been made before. It is based on original records for the earliest towns in the region, but deciphering them is like figuring out an ancestor’s wedding anniversary. One might not think that establishing a town is like getting married, but it turns out that both wedding ceremonies and the founding of Townships turn on the phrase “to have and to hold.”

This year is a major anniversary for Sackville. It is exactly 250 years on July 20th that something momentous happened. However, it was momentous only because it had been legally authorized in advance. For most of us, to make our wedding day legitimate, we had to arrange for a marriage licence in advance. That’s the document that says you have the right to marry each other. But we do not celebrate the anniversary of our becoming “licenced,” rather, we celebrate the day we were asked if you take this person “to have and to hold” and you said: “I do!”

253 years ago, in October of 1759, the Township of Sackville was issued a “licence” of sorts, which authorized everyone listed there not a hand in marriage but a right to a share of land in Sackville. To each was granted what this document calls “the precious Right . . .to Have and to HoldÖRespective Shares” of the Township, which Right belongs to a specified list of 155 names. Most of these folks were still in Rhode Island having signed up as subscribers to the “Providence Association” and had applied as a group to the Governor of Nova Scotia for a township in the district of Chignecto. Notice they weren’t doing any having or holding as yet, but they had the right to, if they met certain conditions.


The old name for the colony of Rhode Island was the Providence Plantations, using the old-fashioned way of describing settlements as a “planting” of people on new ground. Throughout the New England colonies folks who established new settlements were known as “planters,” and that was the name still being used when their grandchildren and great-grandchildren began itching to plant new settlements in Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine (as these areas were later called). It was to these New England planters that Governor Lawrence issued open invitations to take up free lands in Nova Scotia. An attractive opportunity, but rather like marrying someone you’d never seen!

Not all of these subscribers listed in 1759 made the effort to emigrate, but by the summer of 1760 and 1761 many of those named had transported their families to our shores, with the assurance that they had the exclusive right to land in this township. A hundred thousand acres had been set aside, reserved for those listed. And the “pre-nuptial” agreement signed by the Governor of old Nova Scotia included a procedure for how these lands were to be distributed, on the condition that families – those with this precious Right – would settle, build shelters and cultivate the land. But first they needed to know which allotments of land were to be theirs, and till then, any celebrating was a bit premature.

That is what began to be sorted out on the 20th of July, 1762. A Committee, which included Valentine Estabrooks, William Maxwell, John Jenks and Joshua Sprague, was authorized by the Governor & Council in Halifax to distribute the lands of this township. We still have the minutes from their first official meeting when they began setting up a land-distribution system, and then had folks on the list draw for a token marked with the number of their own share. Of course, they could always walk away from their “pre-nuptual agreement,” and in one or two cases the records show someone “refusing to settle those lands.” For each of the others, however, this was the moment when a planter and his land came together and were asked: do you take this lawfully offered share, to have and to hold? In Sackville they began saying, “I do,” in July of 1762.


As soon as all this was reported to the authorities (rather like signing the official marriage documents after the ceremony) a final document was issued which listed each planter, along with the share or portion of Sackville township that had been allocated to them, inscribed with those most important words: “to HAVE and to HOLD.” I hasten to add, it did not include the terms, “till death do us part,” since whenever a planter passed away the title to their land (unlike a marriage!) passed on to his heirs.

That almost concludes our case. We only need to point out that no other towns in New Brunswick were even “engaged” by 1762. Maugerville came close, as there were planters on that shoreline of the Saint John River by then. But they had not been issued a “marriage licence” (no township in that area had been reserved for them) so there were no wedding bells for another year or two. The communities on the Petitcodiac River are planted in the mid-1760s, but these were more like arranged marriages, where distant proprietors arranged to bring in tenants, who would not themselves own the land. None of these became officially sanctioned until 1765-66.

Until 1784, of course, New Brunswick was still officially part of old Nova Scotia. Other Townships had been reserved for specified groups of New England planters at the same time as Sackville, including Amherst and Cumberland in between, and several others from Falmouth and Horton to Annapolis and Yarmouth. Some of these even beat Sackville to the altar! They have been celebrating their 250th anniversaries over the last two years. But of all these, only Sackville found itself on the New Brunswick side, at the time of partition . . . so we really are the only town in all New Brunswick which can, as yet, celebrate their 250th anniversary!


Tantramar Heritage Trust | Sackville 250