The Founding Years of Sackville Township
The township of Sackville, along with neighboring townships Cumberland and Amherst were laid out and named in 1759 by Governor Lawrence along with six other towns in what was then Nova Scotia. The Township contained 100,000 acres and although the original land grants for the Township of Sackville were outlined in a document dated October 8, 1759, the land would not be settled or developed into any semblance of a “town” until the summer of 1762. This delayed realization of the initial proposed settlement was the result of a mix of challenges inherent in carving a life out of a harsh landscape: the time it took agents to travel back and forth from New England; the administrative challenges involved in establishing viable settlements while having to communicate across the ocean to one’s superiors at Whitehall; the occasionally catastrophic whims of nature; and the guerilla resistance of the Mi’kmaq and the Acadians still living in the area, which made prospective New England Planters wary of relocating their families to a place where they would be vulnerable.
Spurred by Governor Lawrence’s January 11, 1759 proclamation, often called “The Charter of Nova Scotia,” that touted the thousands of acres of fertile land available for development, agents from Rhode Island and Connecticut proposed a visit to survey the lands that April. Pleased with what they saw, the agents returned in mid-May and proposed to establish a township at Menis (Minas). In July, a committee from Connecticut comprised of Bliss Willoughby, Benjamin Kimball, Edward Mott, and Samuel Starr, Jr., proposed a settlement at Chignecto, upon the condition of viewing the lands and deeming them satisfactory. The committee returned on September 28 with a favourable report indicating that the area would be suitable.
In a letter to the Board of Trade on September 20, 1759 Charles Lawrence expressed his satisfaction with the progress of the province’s development, including a list of the settlements that had thus far been arranged. According to the plan, Sackville was to have 200 families settled in total, with 50 families established by 30 September 1760, 75 more families by 30 September 1761, and 75 more families settled by 1762. On October 8, 1759 the “Township Grant for Sackville of proposed settlement for people from Rhode Island” listed the New Englanders who had expressed interest in moving to the town. If Lawrence’s proposed timeline were strictly followed, this would give the first group of families a little less than a year to relocate to the township.
The next months, however, did not herald any flood of settlers to the colony. A gale ripped through the area on November 3 and 4, 1759 causing great damage to the remaining houses and dykes. On December 20, the Lords of Trade wrote up the terms and conditions proposed “to a number of Inhabitants of the Adjacent Colonies to Settle upon the Lands vacated by the French Inhabitants in Nova Scotia,” and on February 19, 1760, Lawrence received His Majesty’s confirmation of the plan for settling the province of Nova Scotia. However, winter was no time to be traveling or setting up a new homestead. The lack of references to these proposed settlements in the Whitehall communication indicates that the British attentions and resources were focused elsewhere during this time – most likely on their war with the French. Lawrence’s sudden death by pneumonia on October 19 also resulted in a slowing of the process of readying the colony for settlers.
In two 1761 maps, titled “A Plan of the District of Chignecto; All the Lands therein contain’d are ungranted; except the Townships of Sackville, Cumberland, and Amhurst [sic],” and “Boundaries of Tantramar or Sackville,” Surveyor Charles Morris outlines the proposed townships in accordance with the grants that were created in 1759. “The List of Subscribers for the Township lying on the Tantramar River – represented by Benjamin Thurber, Cyprian Sterry and Edmund Jenks from Providence, Rhode Island,” probably from 1761 but possibly composed in 1760, proves that people had committed to living in the township. However, the term used, “subscribers,” makes it unclear whether people had actually settled there. Both Morris’ vague “Tantramar or Sackville” title and the list’s reference to “the Township lying on the Tantramar River” indicate that although “Sackville” existed in official, administrative terms – and its boundaries could be mapped by Morris – there was as of yet no sense that Sackville could be considered anything close to a sustainable collection of settlers developing their trade and social relations, which would indicate that it had become an organized township.
In an April 1761 letter to the Lords of Trade, Lieutenant Governor Jonathan Belcher reported that he had “received a list of two hundred persons with their stock ready to embark for Sackville but unable to provide themselves with transportation.” It is clear that some had relocated by that summer, since on June 16, a Doctor John Jenks of the Township of Sackville applies to the Lords of Trade to have Lawrence’s original deadline extended, and “the term for settling the Said Township be enlarged and continued until the last day of September 1762.”
On August 19, 1761 the first Committee of Sackville was appointed, consisting of Captains Winkworth Tonge, Joshua Winslow and John Huston, Esq., and Mr. John Jenks, Joshua Sprague, Valentine Eastabrook and William Maxwill. However, it was not until July 20, 1762, that the first town meeting was held. That meeting took place at the house of Mrs. Charity Bishop, an Innkeeper near Fort Cumberland. The nearly year-long delay between committee appointment and meeting can perhaps be attributed to the necessary priority for the committee members to establish a sustainable life on their newly acquired acreage, for only then could they focus on organizational and administrative matters. During this meeting, the committee set out the villages of Westcock and Lower, Middle and Upper Sackville. Westcock was the “seaport” village, and Lower, Middle and Upper Sackville served the farming community. Each family was allotted property on the marsh for farming and pasturing, a woodlot for firewood and lumber, and a ‘town’ lot in one of the three villages.
A report entitled, “State of the Settlements in the Province of Nova Scotia, 1763,” indicates that Sackville had a modest 30 families and only 200 acres had been cleared out of a total allotment of 100,000 acres. This was nowhere near the 200-family estimate that Lawrence aimed to have living in the township by the end of 1762. However, with a committee now actively working towards the town’s improvement and its decisions being recorded in the immensely valuable Sackville Town Book, Sackville was finally injected with the essential spirit of community. The land grants had been described in 1759, but it was not until July 20, 1762 that Sackville was transformed from being merely a set of boundaries on a piece of paper to a community working together to improve its citizens quality of life. For these reasons, we have chosen to celebrate the 250th anniversary of the Founding of Sackville Township – one of the oldest townships in the nation – on the date of the inaugural town meeting.