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St. David Parish History

Note: If you are searching for documents that are basically name lists, go to either Parish Records or Cape Ann Association pages.
 
EARLY HISTORY
Before 1784 no European settlement had occurred in St. David Parish. The massive clamflats of Oak Bay had attracted Passamaquoddy Indians in the distant past and a few clam 'middens' or garbage heaps of shucked clam shells exist, principally on the west side of Oak Bay, dating to about the year 400 AD. No Acadian settlement existed in St. David Parish, the closest being at the present St. Stephen (then called Lincourt), and Jean Serreau de St. Aubin's possible establishment at St. Andrews.
 
LOYALIST SETTLEMENT
In 1784 the first arrangement of lots was surrounding Oak Bay, as members of the Penobscot Association, originally from Castine, Maine, were given backcountry lots there. A list is available, as is a map of their settlement.
 
Somewhat later in 1784 a settlement was mapped out for the Cape Ann Association, a group of 'economic Loyalists' recruited principally from the areas surrounding Gloucester, MA and Londonderry and New Boston, NH. There is a special section of this website devoted to the Cape Ann Loyalists, and a map of the lands surveyed in the backcountry. Many of these lots were not actually occupied, and some settlers were defeated by the needs of the land, and moved to better properties elsewhere. The geography of development for the Cape Ann lands depended on a quirk of geology. See geology
 
ADMIRALTY MAST & SPAR RESERVATION
With some consternation settlers in St. Andrews found that the British Admiralty in late 1784 decided to keep a huge parcel of land separating the Oak Bay and Cape Ann Assoc. grants and extending eastwards from there. See Map. The settlers had considered this part of their 'backcountry' that would later be available for further development. As things turned out, there was constant pressure from the 1790s to release this land, and by 1800 some lands were being cleared and farmed in this parcel. Officially the lands were available for sale in 1812, but there was earlier settlement.
 
DUNCAN MCCOLL & ST. DAVID
Duncan McColl had been a Scottish soldier in the 74th Regiment at Castine and arrived in first St. Andrews and subsequently moved to St. Stephen. He had a religious conviction towards the Methodist faith, and had a gift as a religious leader, becoming a very effective Minister of the Methodist faith. Certainly by the early 1790s he was active in St. David Parish, and the residents had built a Methodist Meetinghouse on the northern edge of Lot B 5 in the Cape Ann Grants. Among the solid converts were Robert Hitchings and Robert Moore. He travelled in all weather to St. David, year round. In the 1840's he published his Memoirs, which give insight into conditions of the time, but few names.
 
AMERICAN IMMIGRATION
In the period between 1790 and 1825 a considerable number of Americans migrated into St. David for a variety of reasons. The border had little or no meaning when it came to movement of people. Some, like John Stretch and David Keizer of St. David were farmers looking for decent land. Isaac Cook arrived in St. David and Moores Mills in 1795 along with mill machinery and livestock for the Moore brothers. Still others came to work in the mills at the head of Oak Bay.
 
DESCRIPTION 1803
In 1803 a profile of of St. David made clear how few lived there - and other matters. Click here
 
LEONARD SCOTT POEMS
Set in the circa 1820s period, Leonard Scott's poems give vivid depth to growing up on Tower Hill in St. David Parish. Wonderful material published in the 1860s. Click here
 
WAR OF 1812
The war had very little impact on St. David Parish, as there was no fighting on this section of border at all, and no privateering activity on Oak Bay. The militia was called up and trained as usual, but that happened in peacetime anyway.
 
IRISH MIGRATIONS
When the Napoleonic Wars ended at Waterloo in 1815, prices for food products in Ireland dropped drastically. In the years afterwards they did not recover. The first to leave Ireland were the Protestant farmers, who had a little money to pay passage and make a new start elsewhere. A few came to New Brunswick in the years following 1815. By the 1820s prices still had not recovered and this exodus picked up momentum. By the 1830s the movement of these Protestant farming families out of Ireland had become a torrent, and St. David Parish had a considerable shift in population with many finding vacant land here,or purchasing the land from the families of Loyalist extraction. By the 1851 Census these Protestant (i.e. Scottish background) families were the majority in St. David Parish. Many single men did marry into the previous generations of Loyalist and late-American migrants.
 
FISHING, FARMING, FORESTRY AND SHIP-BUILDING
Until very recent times Oak Bay was an active fishing area, with 7 herring weirs early in the 1900s, flounder and pollock in reasonable numbers, and scallops and lobsters present. Until well after 1945 Oak Bay had its own harbourmaster.
 
Lumbering was always considered important, and many of the farmers sold the timber off their St. David lands to the mills at either Moores Mills (the Moore brothers) or at Gallop Stream (William Gallop, Thomas Wyer & Colin Campbell). This lumber was then shipped out of Oak Bay from both the above sources, to markets and trans-shipment points of either St. Andrews or Eastport. One family story of this writer relates to Isaac Cook taking a load of lumber from St. David Ridge down to Oak Bay, and then by boat towards Eastport in 1820. The boat was 'flagged down' at the Mansion House at Robbinston, ME where workers were building an addition on to the house.
 
From the mid-1800s onwards it was common for some farmers at St. David to work for part of the year at the Ledge or elsewhere in carpentry and rigging jobs, preparing the dozens of ships for sea that were being built in the northern half of Charlotte County's seacoast.
 
For St. David Parish, one very significant development was the development of both gristmills and sawmills at Moores Mills, beginning in the 1780s. According to the stories passed down on upper St. David Ridge, this mill machinery reached Moores Mills up over the 'Bay Woods Road', now called the Back Road. This route avoided virtually every stream crossing, and allowed the heavy machinery to make the journey by ox and wagon. It should be noted that the very first horse to be seen in St. Stephen was ridden into town by Robert Moore of St. David, in 1795.
 
1865 TO 1914
The population of St. David Parish started declining after the US Civil War, as many of the younger generation chose to try their hand clearing land or cutting forests in Minnesota and Eureka, California. This trend continued with the opening of lands in Manitoba, South Dakota and elsewhere in the North American West. As well, there was a movement of young men and women to jobs in the urban areas, especially Boston and Bangor. The development of the Cotton Mill in Milltown, NB (now part of St. Stephen) drew others to factory work. The relatively harsh conditions and lack of potential for new development in St. David Parish meant a decline in population.
 
1914 TO 2000
The outmigration continued, to some degree seasonally reversed by the development of cottages around Oak Bay. In addition the improvement of roads created the potential for St. David as a 'bedroom community' for those working in jobs in St. Stephen, Calais, and St. Andrews. As this trend continued, there was increased development of linear communities of houses along the roads.
 
The fisheries of Oak Bay declined, through overfishing and mismanagement, and never recovered. One interesting development was a very successful farmed Atlantic salmon hatchery on the west side of Oak Bay, owned by the Cook brothers, who are based in the St. George area. Besides that large facility, the only large industry in St. David Parish is gravel, some being trucked to the Bayside Port for shipment to US destinations. see Geology
 
BLUEBERRIES AND CHRISTMAS TREES + WREATHS
The blueberry industry began in Washington Co. during the US Civil War, and quickly spread to Charlotte County in the 1870s. A history of the blueberry industry Blueberries have become increasingly important. First everything was done by hand, and now it is more mechanized, but the acreage keeps increasing.
 
Christmas Trees began to be important after WW 2, with many acres of former pasture being turned into tree farms. But by the late 1980s there was increasing competition from growers in Maine and Quebec, and many turned instead to the wreath-making market. 'Tips' of fir are gathered wherever a sign doesn't prohibit it, by young children as well as adults, and several operations exist both within St. David Parish and in nearby places such as Lawrence Station. Wreaths now leave St. David Parish by the transport-trailer load for destinations across the US and Canada.
 
THE PRESENT MIX OF RESIDENTS
In the new millenium the people living in St. David reflect its history. Some are the descendants of the Loyalist and early 19th century US immigrants. Many more are descended from the Scottish-Irish immigrants of the 1820s and 1830s. There are a few families that have arrived in the 20th century, and some of Acadian or Madawaska origin, but most families in St. David have some connection back to the Irish, American and Loyalist heritage, if not in St. David Parish, then in Charlotte County. In other words, St. David Parish has been a region of greater outmigration than inmigration since 1850.
 
This makes St. David Parish a very different jurisdiction from the vast majority of urban and rural areas in North America. It is a region with strong roots in its past, yet few know much about the history of St. David.
 
- Tom Moffatt, Nov. 2000

 

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