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Saint Croix Courier, St. Stephen, NB
February 22, 1894

GLIMPSES OF THE PAST

Contributions to the History of Charlotte County and the Border Towns.

CIV – PORT MATOON.

(Notes in addition to Articles lxx. and lxxxv.)

[By Rev. W. O. Raymond, M. A.]

In an anonymous pamphlet published at Edinburgh in 1786, a description is given of Port Matoon, or Gambier Harbour, which sufficiently explains the departure of Captain Marks and his associates.  The writer says:

The soil for several miles around is full of rocks and stones and the most barren in Nova Scotia.  One of the regiments, (the British Legion, commanded by Lieut. Col. Tarleton,) which had served with distinction during the Revolutionary war, began a settlement here and built a town late in the year 1783.  Unfortunately for them, being somewhat too late, and the ground consequently covered with snow, they were prevented from observing the nature of the soil until the following spring.  Their town at this time consisted of 300 houses, and the number of people was something more than 800.  They seeing the sterile appearance of their lands, and all their hopes of course frustrated, were meditating upon the best means of getting away to other places, when an accidental fire which entirely consumed their town to ashes, with all their live stock, furniture and wearing apparel, filled up the measure of their calamities.  The summer of 1784 had been uncommonly dry, and many large fires were seen burning in the woods in various places, occasioned either by the carelessness of the Indians, or that of the white people at their work in the woods, in neglecting to extinguish their fires, the ground being at the same time quite dry and covered with moss and decaying vegetables.  A poor woman at Gysburgh, (such being the name the Loyalists had given the place,) was undesignedly the cause of the misfortune; the fire, after it was once kindled, spreading so rapidly and burning with such fury as rendered all attempts to divert or stop its progress quite ineffectual, destroying in a few minutes almost every house, and driving the inhabitants before it into the water; one man more unfortunate than the rest perished in the flames.  Scarcely any of the domestic animals escaped.  In short, a more complete destruction from that merciless element never befel any set of men; and if a king’s ship had not been despatched immediately from Halifax with provisions to their relief, a famine must have ensued.  On her arrival she found them without houses, without money and without even bread.

The remarkably dry summer of 1784 was also the cause of a disastrous fire at St. John, which, starting amongst some brush wood near the site of Centenary church, burned everything before it to the Kennebecasis.  A large number of log houses were consumed, and a woman and child perished in the flames.  The frame for an Episcopal church, at which the Rev. John Beardsley and others were working, on the southwest corner of the old burying ground, was destroyed at this time.  The old 42d Highlanders, whose log houses, standing on the south side of Union street, from the ‘Golden Ball Corner’ eastward, were all burned, pulled up their stakes and went some twenty miles up the Nashwaak, where their descendants, the McBeans, McLaggans, Campbells, Youngs and others, still reside.

Captain Marks and his company escaped the disaster at Port Matoon by removing in the month of May to the Passamaquoddy region.  The majority of their unfortunate townsmen, after the fire, removed to Chedabucto bay, in the eastern part of Nova Scotia, again giving the name of Guysburgh, (or Guysboro,) to their settlement.

There can be little doubt that Nehemiah Marks and his company were amongst those associated in the enterprise referred to in the following extract from a New York newspaper of the time:

Such persons discharged from the several Departments of the Army and Navy as have agreed to form a joint Settlement at Port Matoon in Nova Scotia, and are desirous of proceeding there immediately, are requested to give in without loss of time, a Return of themselves and families to the heads of their respective departments, in order that a proper vessel may be obtained for the purpose of conveying them and their baggage.  They will hold themselves in readiness to embark in eight days from the date hereof.

Loyalists and discharged soldiers who have been admitted to join this settlement are required to give in their names, if desirous of going at present, to Mr. Hugh’s next door to the Bull’s Head, in the Bowery.

    By order of the Managers.
     BILL WARD, Secretary.

New York, Oct. 11th, 1783.

This would seem to show that Nehemiah Marks, Thomas Grimmer, Wm. Murchie and others of the Port Matoon Association, left New York about the 20th of October; in which case it was probably about the first of November when they reached Port Matoon.


FURTHER ADDITIONS & CORRECTIONS.

Article lii.-Following the authority of Knowlton and others, it was stated that William Swain was one of those who had settled on the Maine side of the St. Croix before 1780.  There is good reason, however, to think that he was the Mr. William Sween mentioned in article lxxxi, whose goods were brought from Penobscot; in which case he was not a resident here until 1784, though he might still, perhaps, have been the first to settle above the falls.

Article xciii.-If the tradition that William Vance built the first mill above the mouth of Mohannes stream is founded on a fact, he was probably not its sole owner.  The county records show that in 1795 Abiel and Eli Sprague gave to Samuel Milbery a bill of sale of three-eigths of a saw-mill, ‘situate and upon Scodiac or Saint Croix River, known and described by Mohannes Ripplings’; and there can be little doubt that this was either the same or an earlier mill than that in which Vance was concerned.

Article ciii.-In the list of officers of the 74th who had lands at Digdeguash or at Schoodic, substitute the name of Sergt. Nevin McVicar for that of Sergt. Alex. McNiven.  Lieut. Duncan Stewart should be mentioned with the latter as one of the grantees of St. Andrews.  In 1798, Colin Campbell was administrator of the estate in Charlotte county of Allan Stewart, deceased, and Duncan Stewart, ‘formerly Lieutenant of the 74th, and now or late of His Majesty’s 79th Regiment of Foot, residing in Glasgow.’