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Saint Croix Courier, St. Stephen, NB
November 17, 1892

GLIMPSES OF THE PAST

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

XLII – CAPTAIN FERRELL.

In the early days of our history, there is no more striking figure than that of Capt. Thomas Ferrell, who claims our attention, not as grantee of timber lands on the Digdeguash in 1771, which he soon after sold to John Curry, but as purchaser and first resident proprietor of Deer Island.

Thomas Ferrell was born in Virginia,1 and was an ensign in the British army at the time of Braddock’s defeat.  He followed the rough life of a soldier in those stormy days; was in several important battles in the West Indies and elsewhere; and was at one time a prisoner in France.  In one engagement he was shot in the shoulder; the bullet remaining in the flesh for years, until a brother officer cut it out with a penknife.

While still a young man, he went to England; where he married a daughter of Admiral Fielding.  They had three children-a son and two daughters-neither of whom, however, seems to have ever visited West Isles.2  When military duty again called the captain away, his wife remained in England; where she held an appointment at court, as a lady in waiting to the queen.

Capt. Ferrell was at the storming of Morro castle, in the harbor of Havana, in 1762,3 and soon after that date must have come to Nova Scotia.  Weary of military life, he sold his commission, and, in 1770, he purchased Deer Island from the original grantee.  He took up his residence at a beautiful spot near the head of Chocolate Cove; where the house in which he lived is still standing, though no longer used as a dwelling.

When he visited Fredericton in 1810, to ask for a regrant of his land, he secured the friendship of the governor of New Brunswick through their mutual regard for a friend of former days.4

For the last thirty years of his life, Capt. Ferrell was a total abstainer.  He was also a very devout man; but it is said that the warlike passages of the Old Testament were always those in which he took the most delight.5

His retired and peaceful life at this time would mark him as more deserving of the name of hermit than his better known contemporary of the outer island.  There are persons living whose memory can recall his tall, straight form, and the red cap which he usually wore.  Walking along in silent reverie, giving little attention to his earthly surroundings, he would often seem to strangers to be wandering in mind; though his moving lips showed to those better acquainted that he was praying, as was his custom, in the open air.

Unlike the Owens, he made no effort to keep the sole control of his island.  He sold land willingly to those who lived there, or who were willing to become residents; and often at a merely nominal price, so that in some instances his deed of sale was almost equivalent to a deed of gift.  If his income was small, his needs were few; and he was ready to share the hardships of those about him.

Capt. Ferrell died on Deer Island, about 1820, and was buried near the spot where he thus ended his days in humility and devotion.  No obtrusive headstone breaks the turf above his grave.  The place where he lies is unmarked, and even now, perhaps, unknown.  And this is, doubtless, as he would have desired; for who that had renounced all worldly vanities would wish his memory to outlive the love of kin and friends?  His heirs have lately sold the last remaining portion of his island property, and the estate has thus passed into other hands.  His name remains now but as a memory of the past; yet Deer Island is the better for his having lived upon it.


1This account of his life, except where otherwise noted, is on the authority of Mr. Alfred McNeill, of Chocolate Cove, who was intimately acquainted with Capt. Ferrell, and at one time a member of his household.  (For assistance in preparing this article, the writer is especially indebted to Mr. Chas. N. Haney.)

2A grandson made a short visit to the island after Capt. Ferrell’s death.

3On the authority of Mr. Edward Jack.  Capt. Ferrell has described to Mr. Jack’s father the great piles of silver found in the vaults of the castle.  The spoils divided among the captors amounted to more than 700,000.

4Mr. Jack has heard that on this occasion Capt. Ferrell brought his court dress with him.  He has also been told that Capt. Frink, who at one time represented Charlotte county in the provincial legislature, chanced to say something to affront Capt. Ferrell; and that Ferrell, who had been a famous duelist, went to Fredericton while the assembly was in session for the purpose of challenging Frink to mortal combat.

5Mr. Jack.  


Correction: Article LXXX contains the following correction to this one: "Change the first part of the last paragraph to read, ‘Capt. Ferrel died on Deer Island in 1823, at the age of 93 years, etc.’