St. Croix Courier
St. Stephen, N.B.
April 17, 1868

Reminiscences of the Early Settlement of St. Stephen.

It is a lamentable fact that much of the early history of the country has been allowed to pass into oblivion.  Nearly all of the early settlers have gone from our midst and very few are the records of their experience which they have left behind them.  Of the first settlers of this flourishing town but one remains as a connecting link between the present and the past generations.  Many of our readers will know that we refer to Mrs. Porter, relict of the late Joseph Porter Esq., whose life at the present writing has been prolonged to the advanced period of ninety-three years and nine months.  Tho’ feeble physically she retains the unimpaired use of her mental faculties, and enjoys especially the full and active use of a most remarkable memory.  Being the daughter of the late Captain Marks, who acted as the agent of the British Government in the early settlement of the place, she was intimately acquainted with all that took place at that period; and the events of those times are impressed upon her mind with a vividness which enables her to give a clear and connected account of them.  It is to Mrs. Porter that we are indebted for the interesting facts which we are about to lay before our readers.  Captain Marks, who figures largely in this narrative, was the grandfather of our present respected townsmen of that name.  He was employed during the Revolutionary war with his vessel and crew of eighteen men in carrying despatches from one place to another on behalf of the British Army.  At the conclusion of the war, he, along with other Loyalists, left New York to seek a home in the barren wilds of Nova Scotia, where he arrived in 1783.  In the following year (1784) he brought in his vessel from Nova Scotia to this place one hundred and four persons several of them young men, unmarried.  He enjoyed a pension of 96 a year from the British Government.  The settlement of St. Stephen, however, may be dated five years previous to this, for in 1779 nine persons in the exercise of squatter sovereignty had settled on the present site of the town.  Their names were James and Jeremiah Frost, Ebenezer Libby, John Rolfe, Jacob Libby sr., Jacob Libby jr., Dr. McDonald, Benjamin Gitchell, and Samuel Milberry.  The land occupied by these extended from the stream now known as Porter’s brook to the Cove.  When Captain Marks and his party arrived they landed opposite the site of Mrs. Porter’s house and pitched their tents between that and Mrs. Marks’ corner.  The first consideration of the new comers was to erect log houses and prepare for the approach of winter.  The next necessary step was to make sure of their land grants, and with this object Captain Marks proceeded to Halifax, that being the official headquarters previous to the partitioning of this Province from Nova Scotia.  This mission resulted in the grant of one hundred acres of land to each settler, together with an allowance of rations for three years, and building materials such as nails, locks, hinges, glass, &c.-also agricultural implements.  The land was disposed of by drawing lots, and the surveys were made by Messrs. Jones and Morrison, for whose services Captain Marks paid 103 out of his own pocket, expecting to be re-imbursed but was not.  By proclamation of George III, all persons who had settled previously were also allowed 100 acres and their improvements.  After the rations were done the settlers became very poor, and some were reduced to starvation.  Provisions to a small extent were secured at Robbinston.  Their chief support was by fishing in summer and hunting in winter.  As it was all wilderness land at that time the chances for hunting were very good.  Indeed to such straits were some of the settlers reduced that they were actually compelled to dig up and eat the potatoes which had been planted but a few days before.  Fish were very abundant, but there was no salt in the country with which to cure them.  By-and-bye Mr. Robert Pagan (uncle of the late George Pagan Esq. of Richibucto) doing business in St. Andrews, imported a cargo of salt from England which afforded temporary relief.  This Mr. Pagan came from Castine, Me. to St. Andrews.  Ducks, pigeons and other fowl were abundant in the summer, and rabbits were caught and used to a large extent in the winter.

After a time many of the settlers became discouraged and sold out, Captain Marks in most instances becoming the purchaser.  Others of them staid near the shore for four or five years, then went into the back country and began farming.  Probably the first transfer of property was the purchase by Captain Marks of the lot of Jacob Libby sr. who died of small pox in the spring of 1785.  This lot extended from the spot where the Bank now stands to the draw-bridge (so called) a short distance above Mr. Chipman’s store, and the amount paid for it was 25 a barrel of beef and a barrel of flour.  Captain M. who appears to have been remarkable for large minded generosity and great public spirit, and who were he living now, would doubtless be a warm supporter of the Branch Railway and other public enterprises, gave out of this purchase the land between Watson’s Corner and the drawbridge for the purposes of a Public Landing.  The late Aaron Upton Esq. subsequently applied for and obtained a grant of a portion of this public property where the Upton wharf now stands.  There were other sales as follows: Benj. Gitchell sold to Capt. Frink.  The Messrs. Libby sold a large part of their grants in lots, but a large portion of it is still retained in the family.  Dr. McDonald sold out to Col. Stewart, Lieut. Duncan and Lieut. Hugh Stewart.  These properties were subsequently purchased by Capt. Marks, and embraced the lots where Mr. Waddell and Mr. G. N. Lindsay now live.  Col. Stewart and Lieut. Duncan sold to Mr. N. Lindsay.

The first settlers were destitute of the services of a minister or a schoolmaster and there was no practising physician nearer than St. Andrews.  Finally about the year 1786, Mr. McCall of the Methodist persuasion who had been a Sergt. in the army came from Halifax and began preaching.  A Society was soon formed which first met from house to house but presently a small church was built on the site now occupied by the Methodist Church.  And it says much for the devotion of the worshippers that although they were none too well clad and there was no stove in the building they attended the services regularly the house being crowded in winter as well as in summer.

The ladies could not get their shopping done nearer than Saint John and Saint Andrews, as there were no stores in those days with the latest styles of Dry Goods like Cullinen’s or Ray’s or Gedney & Golding’s, with fine silk hats like Everett & Vaughan’s or boots and shoes like C. O. Barker & Co.’s, or ready made clothing like Skillen’s, or Neal’s, or gents’ furnishing goods like Clewley’s, or pure family groceries like Bixby’s and Arthur Thompson’s, or cologne water like Stevens’ and Love & Clark’s, or wholesale establishments like Todd & Clewley’s, or Smith & Stevenson’s, or Barnard’s, or Eaton & King’s, or the numerous others that might be mentioned.

The only Bank in the place was the bank of the river, and an institution like the ST. CROIX COURIER was not even dreamed of.  The first attempt at mercantile business was by a number of the inhabitants who built a log hut for the purposes of a store on the spot now occupied by the residence of N. Marks Esq.  This was a trespass however and Capt. Marks displaced the intruders by a writ of ejectment at a cost of about 7.

It soon became necessary to lay out streets through the settlement and King Street was opened.  Union Street was then laid out but was afterwards shut up, and Water Street opened.  A jury of twelve men from all parts of the county was appointed to appraise the value of the land used for the purposes of these streets and Capt. Marks was awarded 16 damages, and other land owners were awarded damages in like proportion.  For a long time after Water Street was opened a large stump occupied the centre of the street opposite the site now occupied by the store of S. T. King & Sons., but by and bye it met its doom at the hands of advancing civilization.

The early settlers had no horses, cattle or domestic animals of any kind.  Several years elapsed before these useful aids were obtained.  Some pairs of steers were procured from Mr. Robbins of Robinston [sic].  These were a great assistance.  About four years after Capt. Marks got a cow from Nova Scotia, which was gladly welcomed to the new settlement.  The first horse in the place was owned by Mr. Watson, father of our respected cashier.

At the time about which we are writing there were only 4 or 5 houses in all Calais, one at Salmon Falls, one opposite the Cove, two near the site of the Post Office, and one at McAlister’s wharf.

The Indians who were numerous used to be very saucy and were frequently thrashed by the male emigrants which had the excellent effect of making them civil.  Their chief camping ground was at Pleasant Point, a short distance above Eastport.

The St. Croix river was then very much narrower than it is now, one or two rods of the bank having been since washed away by the actions of the tide and weather.

The first vessel built was by Mr. Alex. Gordon in 1797.  It was sold to Smith & Robinson of St. John.  The next vessel built in the place was by Mr. Porter in 1799, in which year Capt. Marks died.  This vessel was launched in 1800 from the place still known as the Porter Farm and was of 110 tons burthen.  In the winter of 1799-1800 ship timbers were hauled from Calais on the ice so it will be seen there was cold weather in those days as well as now.