The Founding of Woodstock
The Pioneers Arrive at Meductic. -- The Old Durham Boats. -- Origin of the Name of "Woodstock." -- The Grant to de Lancey's Battalions.
As stated in our last article it was probably early in the year 1784 that the pioneer band of white settlers under their leader Lieut. Benjamin P. Griffith arrived at Woodstock. They had received from government a quantity of provisions and supplies of various kinds together with a boat to carry them to their destination. The boat was in all probability patterned after the style of the famous "Durham boat" so generally used upon the river in early days. It was a rude and primitive craft 30 or 40 feet in length and about 8 feet in width, provided with a keel but flatter in the bottom than an ordinary boat, furnished with oars and also with a mast upon which under favorable circumstances a square sail was hoisted. This mast served a yet more essential purpose in upholding above the bushes along the river bank the stout tow-line whereby a crew of four or five men dragged the boat through swift water and rapi ds. There was then no tow path cleared along the banks, but numerous rocks long since removed, and ugly rapids, now greatly improved by the expenditure of much money and labor, rendered the task of propelling the heavily laden up the river no easy one for the old soldiers of de Lancey's brigade.
However they were used to campaigning and they pushed right on despite the obstacles in their path until they reached their destination. At the site of the old Meductic village they saw the ruins of fortifications and abandoned cornfields formerly cultivated by the Indians. Their eyes were gladdened by the indications of the natural fertility of the soil henceforth be their own. The Indians had abandoned their historic camping ground and retired to the Madawaska region. Conscious of the double part they had played during the revolutionary war they were a little uncertain how their conduct would be regarded by the men of the late provincial regiments. They accordingly retired as the loyalists advanced up the river. A little later, finding their fears groundless, they returned in considerable numbers. The lands alloted to de Lancey's brigade were densely wooded.
On the lower St. John there had been extensive forest fires not long before the coming of the loyalists. A great gale on Nov. 3rd 1759 had levelled the woods near the bay of Fundy (in much the same manner they were destroyed by the "Saxby gale" of 1869) and fires once kindled amongst fallen timbers ran in the most destructive fashion. The forest at Woodstock being remote from the sea coast escaped the gale of 1759 just as a century later it did the "Saxby gale."
On the flats and intervals in the vicinity of the town of Woodstock there are still standing here and there a few giant elms of the primeval forest. The writer examined in the summer of 1893 the stump of one of these venerable trees that grew near the road side of his father's place and counted 325 concentric rings showing this old elm had been a sapling in the days of Queen Elizabeth, and there is now standing on the adjoining farm of Mr. Stephen Peabody a yet larger and probably still older tree. The existence of such establishes the fact that there has not been any general forest conflagration in the vicinity of Woodstock for more than 300 years. To clear a densely wooded country was in itself no light task to men unaccustomed to weilding the axe. The trees were many of them of huge size, the axes were not always of the best and they were of a pattern that would be regarded by our modern lumberman with the utmost disdain. Yet with such implements and with such trees to cut down our forefathers, unskilled foresters though they were, set manfully to work; the axe rang through the woods and one by one the old forest monarchs swayed and trembled and finally fell with thundering crash that awoke the echoes for miles around. No doubt many a weary toiler as he surveyed the slow progress made in clearing a spot for his humble log dwelling wished that nature had been less lavish in her "stock of wood." And here we pause to enquire whether the origion of the name of our town and parish is to be found in such a circumstance as this. It would really seem so, prosaic though the idea may be.
There seems to have been no connection between the name "Woodstock" and that of the former residence of any of the first settlers, nor was there any English statesman or notable public character in honor of whom the new settlement might have been named whose title was in any way connected with "Woodstock." The only theory therefore that can be advanced is that the unbroken forest surroundings suggested to the founders of Woodstock the name by which their settlement should henceforth be known. First impressions it may be observed do not always suggest the most euphonious names. However it might have been far worse. The writer very well remembers an amusing incident that happened one dark night at the old railway passenger station just below the creek some years ago. The streets of Woodstock were then unlighted. It was the spring of the year and the train was very late in arriving. Among the passengers was an unfortunate Irishman with his bundle in hand started in quest of a hotel. In the darkness he wandered into the goose pond near the station house the bottom of which was largely composed of brick clay. He soon wandered out again, only to find the beaten track not much better. "What is the name of this town?" he inquired of the first citizen he met. "This is Woodstock," was the reply. "Are ye shure?" said Pat, "for when I landed in it I thought it was Mud-stock."
The old Indian name ofMeductic clung to the locality for several years after the arrival of the first settlers and frequently occurs in old letters and documents referring to the Woodstock settlement. For example Munson Jarvis writing from St. John, August 5th, 1788, to his brother in England, says that their nephews William and Randolph Dibblee, with their brother-in-law John Bedell, had taken up lands "at Meductuck," 130 or 140 miles up the river, where the lands were much better than at Kingston. The report of the society for the propagation of the gospel in foreign parts for the year 1789 states, "The Province of New Brunswick is daily increasing and there are several places where ministers may soon be wanted, about Petitcodiac, Sussex Vale, Oromocto and Moductuc, where the inhabitants begin to be numerous." Rev. Frederick Dibblee in the memoranda connected with his Indian school (extending over the years 1788 to 1791) sometimes speaks of "Woodstock," but quite often of "Meductic." However, in course of time the more modern word supplanted the older.
It was not until the 15th day of October, 1784, that the grants to deLancey's first and second battalions was issued under the great seal of Nova Scotia; on the same day grants were made to several other loyalist regiments. The grant to deLancey's men, very slightly abridged, reads as follows:
"George the Third by the grace of God of Great Britain, France and Ireland, King, defender of the faith and so forth. To all to whom these presents shall come, greeting:- Know ye that we of our special grace, certain knowledge, and mere motion have given and ganted and by these presents for us and our heirs and successors do give and grant unto Robert Brown, etc. [here follow the names of all the grantees] a tract of land containing 24,150 acres in the County of Sunbury in the Province of Nova Scotia, being 44 lots of land on the west side of the St. John river and 3 Islands (Meductic and two other islands next above it); the said lot being known by the numbers from 1 to 48 both inclusive, except lots 10, 11, 12, 13; situate lying and being, beginning at an ash tree on the west bank of the River St. Johns about two miles below the island called Meductic, then to run west by the magnetic needle 360 chains of 4 rods each, thence north 700 chains, thence north 25 degrees east 365 chains, thence east to the river aforesaid and thence down stream to the bounds first mentioned, including Meductic Island and 2 other islands next above it, containing in the whole by estimation 24,150 acres more or less, being all wilderness land with all woods, underwoods, timber and timber trees, lakes, ponds, fishing waters, water courses, profits, commodities, appurtenances and hereditaments whatsoever. . . . Saving and reserving all mines of gold, silver, copper, lead and coals and all white pine trees. . . .Each grantee to pay a quit rent of 2 shillings for every 100 acres to be paid on Michaelmas day, the first payment to be made ten years from the date of the grant and yearly thereafter. Grantees to clear and work 3 acres for every 50 acres, or else to clear and drain 3 acres of swampy or sunken ground and to put and keep on every 50 acres accounted barren 3 neat cattle and continue the same thereon till 3 acres for every fifty be fully cleared and improved, and if no part be fit for present cultivation without manuring and improving the grantee to erect one good dwelling house, at least 20 by 16 feet. And if any part of the said tract be stony or rocky ground the grantee shall, within 3 years, employ and continue to work for 3 years one good able hand for every 50 acres digging and stone querry or mine." This grant was given under the great seal of Nova Scotia and signed, "John Parr, Esq., captain, general and commander in chief."
The number of grantees was but 110 in all, which is but a small proportion of those who were enrolled in the two battalions. There can be but little doubt that many of the men were discharged at New York and did not come to New Brunswick. Of those who arrived in St. John many took lands elsewhere in consequence of the delay in locating and surveying their grant. The general boundary of the deLancey grant was about the same as that of the present parish of Woodstock, except that it began not at Eel river but two miles above. In our next article we shall endeavor to give the locations of the original grantees with the present owners of their lands.
W. O. Raymond