A series of 250th Anniversary articles for the Tantramar Heritage Trust
by Paul Bogaard
By scouring all the earliest records, we come up with about 90 surnames, all of them “planters” from Rhode Island, and a smaller number from Massachusetts and Connecticut. If we now scour Sackville’s Little Phonebook, we only find 8 or 9 of these families still here. What happened?
It has often been said they became discouraged, or couldn’t handle the farming, but we think there is a different story to tell. For one thing, when large numbers of Loyalists arrived in the 1780s, they knew they were not going to be welcomed back. When Yorkshire immigrants arrived in the 1770s, they might be welcome to return but it would be difficult. For the New Englanders who came in the 1760s it was quite easy to return, many did not intend to stay, most had family back in Rhode Island and kept up those extended family connections.
The Maxwells came as a single family and are still here, but this was very unusual. Many of the 90 surnames in the records arrived as single families, roughly half of them, but only a small percentage stay. The 7 families who wanted their land near the orchard, discussed in our last article, were all single families and none of them stayed.
By contrast, the Coles, Deslesdernier, Easterbrooks, Hicks, Towers and Wards all arrived as extended families – three or four families all interrelated. The Seamans and Masons eventually arrived with eight or nine related families. And across these extended families someone almost always stayed. It almost seems planned in many cases. Some in the same extended family stayed back in Rhode Island and took care of the home place. Some got their names on the list, received grants of land but never actually arrived or left fairly soon. But none of this would have been possible unless someone else in the extended family looked out for the new holdings of their relatives and perhaps improved them enough to meet the conditions. Most of the planter names we still have with us come out of these extended family groups.
Entire families, like the four Cook families who never arrive, needed to find tenants, but there are few cases of this working out. The three Brown families who are gone already by 1765 had to wait several years to sell their land. These were prominent family names in Rhode Island. It is unlikely they ever intended to immigrate.
For a New England planter family, to accept Gov. Lawrence’s offer of free land in relatively small amounts, when only a small portion of it was arable, the strategy that seemed to work best was to spread the options across extended families. Some in the family would stay, some would stay for a while or move elsewhere within Nova Scotia, some would stay for a minimum time, which seems to have been about ten years, and some would leave their holdings in the care of relatives. To varying extents, each would achieve some success.
Selling land one had received for free was clearly one way to succeed, if you could find a buyer. After ten years there were Yorkshire immigrants with cash, willing to pay for improved land. In another ten years, many Loyalists arrived who were willing to pay increasingly high prices for better land than the new government was offering for free. Whether they were successful at farming, strictly speaking, many of the canny New Englanders did just fine for themselves.
Letís look at some particular cases:
At least four Cole families gained grants of land in Sackville. Isaac was allotted a full share in division A, but by 1769 had sold out to Valentine Estabrooks, though it is not clear Isaac was ever here. Both Ambrose and Edward were here, each received a small grant, but by 1776, after joining the Eddy Rebellion, they could not stay. By comparison, Jonathan Cole drew share #68 in division B, and we still refer to this parcel as Coleís Island.
Valentine and his son, James, were allotted substantial shares in Upper Sackville, but not young William. At ten we can assume he was not yet head of a household, and not entitled. But by 1774 he was assigned 250 acres, so, by then he must have started a family and gained his free land.
Valentine was sufficiently prominent among the ìassociationî of subscribers from Rhode Island to be appointed to the Committee authorized to organize the townships and distribute shares. But that did not gain him any special advantage. He and his extended family got shares, as did everyone else, but no more. By 1771, Valentine had passed away, and in those ten years he seems to have been very active in swapping, selling and buying parcels of land. He started off like everyone else, with a fair share.
Four Hicks families show up in the early records, and receive grants. Ambrose and Josiah, Samuel Sr. and Samuel Jr. Jim Snowden’s research suggests the son returned to Rhode Island, leaving his 250 acres to others in his extended family. Ambrose and Josiah stayed, but in the 1770s joined the Eddy rebellion and both lost their grants.
William Maxwell was one of the few from Connecticut, and may have served in the area, earlier. He certainly was named to the Committee for the Township, and the minutes show he participated in all these meetings.
His own family share was #12 in A, the central farm likely below the road through Westcock and beyond the Hospital Loop. There he raised a substantial family, recorded by the Town Clerk. By the early 1770s, however, there are indications he may have exchanged some of his land for lots in Cumberland Township, and by the mid-1770s was caught up in the rebel cause. He ended his days in Machias.
Although his share in division A must have been lost, it also included a 44 ac. lot way down past Rockport, and on this parcel his eldest son Gresham settled. From this tenacious son, all the Maxwells descend.
The Seamans family no longer appears in our phone book, but they’ve only slipped away in recent years and then only across into Nova Scotia. They are an interesting set of families, one of the extended families who came from Swansea, Mass. beginning in 1763. Not listed among the original subscribers for whom Sackville Township was reserved, by 1763 it was possible for additional families to claim shares if they met the other conditions.
Through the later 1760s grants were confirmed for Charles and Gilbert, and also for Henry, Job, Nathan, Nathaniel and Samuel. There is no evidence Henry or Nathaniel were ever here. But others in the extended family likely looked out for their holdings. By 1771 both Charles and his son, Job, had returned to Mass., and Nathan and Samuel may have sold out by the early 1770s as well. Only Gilbert was firmly planted.
Benjamin and Joseph Tower are clearly listed as receiving halves of the same share in the initial allocation. William also receives two small grants, but then, according to Jim Snowden, was lost at sea.
Milner credits the Towers with running the mills located on the Lower Mill Stream. The problem here is, the records give no indication the lots next to the mill location were granted to the Towers. It is not clear who else held this privilege either, though there are indications it may have passed through several hands. At some point, we just don’t know when, the Towers ended up running both a grist mill and a sawmill, located right about where the “Diamond A Farm” stands today, in Frosty Hollow.
As with the Maxwells, the early Tower grants included a 44 acre lot out toward Rockport, in this case just beyond Green Creek. Some Towers seem to have picked up on that opportunity and have been resident in the Rockport area ever since.
Nehemiah is recorded as one of the few coming from Massachusetts, and Jonathan Ward with him. Both Jonathan and Nehemiah receive their shares in Upper Sackville, though it is not clear how long Jonathan stays, and may have re-settled in Pointe de Bute. But Nehemiah settles in, and along with farming opens a tavern.
Nehemiah was appointed for many years as Town Clerk for Sackville, and was also appointed to the Grand Jury on more than one occasion, as well as Assessor, Pound Keeper, Hog Reeve and Commissioner of Roads. Opening that tavern seems to have been a good start in the community.