The Old Parish of Wakefield

The parish of Wakefield as constituted in 1803 included the present parishes of Wilmot, Simonds and Wakefield, and also the parishes of Brighton and Peel on the east side of the river. The garrison at the mouth of the Presqueisle was in early days the chief centre, but in the year 1822 the place was abandoned as a military post and the few soldiers hitherto stationed there withdrawn. The appearance of Presqueisle in 1825 is thus described by Mr. Fisher in his little work on the early days of New Brunswick:-"This place was formerly a military post, barracks, etc., having been erected shortly after the American revolution sufficient to accommodate three companies of foot, which are now in ruins. A few soldiers were stationed here till 1822; since that period the place has been totally abandoned as a military station. The bank at this place is high and the spot where the barracks stood very pleasant, commanding a fine view of the adjacent country, having a beautiful island directly in front."

Mr. Fisher appears to have been profoundly struck with the forlorn appearance of the deserted buildings and outworks, and he goes on to moralize after this fashion: "The soldiers who forced their way from Fredericton through the wilderness to construct these works have fallen by the sword and disease; the men who projected tham, as well as those who superintended their construction, are moulding in their graves; the conductors of the boats which transported the supplies are now no more, and the boats themselves that are still in view from the site of the barracks lying in the bushes are falling gradually to pieces."

The inhabitants along the upper St. John were for many years obliged to depend largely upon the river as a means of travelling both in winter and summer. Indeed it was not till after the close of the war of 1812 that much was accomplished in the way of road making, and then for years long stretches of road were only fit for travel in the winter season. This was very clearly shown in Sir George Head's description of his journey from Fredericton to Presque isle in 1815. The House of Assembly, however, was beginning to awake to the necessity of opening up the country by voting money for the roads, and in 1814 they voted the sum of 850 to improve communication between the French village above Fredericton and Presque isle, also 150 for the road between Aroostook and Grand Falls to the Madawaska Settlement. From this time forward the government rendered annual assistance and gradually the streams were bridged and the highways became passable for summer as well as winter travel.

The oldest settlement in that part of the original parish of Wakefield on the east side of the river was at the mouth of the Becaquimic. Here the Indians in early times had one of their favorite camping grounds. The first plan of the River St. John north of Woodstock -- made some years before the coming of the Loyalists -- shows the existence of this settlement by the word, "savages" placed at the mouth of the Becaquimic. In the year 1789 the Indians made a small clearing here at the instance of Frederick Dibblee who supplied them with axes for the purpose. They planted corn for a few years on the site of the town of Hartland, but soon after went up the river to Tobique or Madawaska. A grist and saw mill were erected here at an early date, earlier apparently than any built at the mouth of the Meduxnakic. The Woodstock settlers in dry seasons were sometimes compelled to take their grain to the mill at Becaquimic. For example, Parson Dibblee writes in his diary under date March 10, 1814: "No grain yet; mills continue dry; William went to Buckagumock with 16 bushels."

The first settlers in Wakefield included a number of members of the old Loyalist corps who had become dissatisfied with their lands down the river, and also some of the old Maugerville settlers. Among the former were Lawrence Woolsey (or Wiltsey) of the King's American regiment; George McGee and John Stanley of DeLancey's brigade; John Tompkins of the Queen's Rangers, and others. Among the settlers who came from Maugerville were Samuel Nevers, James York, Jonathan and Elisha Shaw, Asa Kinney and Samuel Farley. Others of the early settlers in old Wakefield were Arden Dickinson, Hilkiah Kearney, Anthony Baker, Sr., Caleb Phillips, Jeremiah Hopkins, John Bradley, Jonathan Giberson, William Orser and William Simpson. Many of these were prominent in early days and filled various parish offices, and their descendants are foremost among the sturdy yeomanry of Carleton County.

As time went on others of the old Maugerville colony or their descendants moved up the river and in this way such names as the following were introduced among the people of Carleton County, viz., Atherton, Burpee, Estey, Estabrooks, Gallop, Hovey, Hartt, Jewett, Larlee, Nevers, Noble, Peabody, Plummer, Perley, Palmer, Rideout, Stickney and Upton. The time had now arrived when emigration from the old country was to play an important part in the development of the province. This began immediately after the close of the war of 1812 and it received a tremendous impetus in consequence of the distress occasioned in Ireland by the failure of the potato crop. The New Brunswick legislature offered free grants and other inducements to attract emigrants, and new settlements were laid out by deputy surveyors George West, Adam Allan, George Morehouse, J. A. MacLauchlan and others under the direction of Hon. George Shore, Surveyor General (late a Captain in the 104th regiment.)

The year 1819 was a notable one as regards Irish immigration. There arrived no less than fifty vessels at the port of St. John alone with over 7,000 immigrants of whom 4,542, or nearly two thirds of the whole number, came from Londonderry, and 1,217 from other Irish sea ports. Of the remainder, 261 were Welsh emigrants from Cardigan who settled at Cardigan in York County, 150 came from Dumfries in Scotland, and 223 from various parts of England. The balance comprised the Royal West India rangers numbering 530 men besides women and children. The average ocean voyage that season was about 45 days; the best passage being that of the ship Marcus Hill, which arrived from Londonderry May 5th after a passage of 27 days with 272 emigrants "all well." Some vessels took more than 60 days in crossing. A few years later the Marcus Hill brought over a most unwelcome importation, namely, small pox! Her Captain was convicted of having wilfully concealed the disease and a fine of 220 imposed. The disease spread over a considerable portion of New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, destroying may lives and creating general consternation.

Many of the emigrants found their way up the St. John river, some of them even walking through to Canada. What was known as the Irish Settlement was founded about this time by Messrs. Atkinson, Strong, McKee and others. The only expense then attending the formation of a settlement appears to have been a fee of twenty or twenty-five dollars for the grant which was surveyed at the expense of the government. A company of settlers would usually unite in securing the grant and then draw lots for the part each was to take. The settlement of Jacksontown, or Jacksonville as it is now called, was formed in this way about the year 1816 and soon became a very flourishing one. Like many of the other Carleton County settlements it united in its composition families from the old country as well as a few of the old Maugerville colony and some of the loyalists. Among the loyalists were the Jacksons, after whom the settlement was named, and the Simonsons. The latter are descended from Lieutenant John Simonson who was born in Richmond County, New York, and came to New Brunswick in 1783, He served through the war in the 4th New Jersey Volunteers and settled first at Maugerville, where he taught school for several years under supervision of Rev. John Beardsley. He held a commission as Lieutenant in the Kings New Brunswick regiment from 1793 to 1800 when he again retired to half pay. His eldest son, John Ness Simonson, was born in the garrison at Fort Howe Feb. 11, 1799, and was named after Adjutant Ness of the regiment. Lieut. John Simonson died at Maugerville in 1816 and his family afterwards moved to Jacksonville where his widow lived until her death in 1850.

Another of the earliest settlements in the old parish of Wakefield was located at its extreme upper boundary about three miles above the old commissariat post at Presquisle. The place was originally known as "Buttermilk Creek" but shortly after the Crimean war the inhabitants decided to name it Florenceville after Florence Nightengale. Other villages in Carleton County today are known by different names from those familiar to their founders. There is a curious instance in one of the rising villages of Carleton County of the conflict between the new and the old which might well puzzle a commercial traveller. He meets, let us say, a man who lives at the Shiktehawk but who afterwards writes to him from Bristol to send certain goods to Kent Station. How is any stranger to know that Shikethawk, Bristol and Kent Station are one and the same place. The issue of this conflict of names will probably result in the survival of the fittest.

W. O. Raymond

 

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