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Loyalists[edit | edit source]

A Cautionary Tale[edit | edit source]

Because of their numbers, influence and positions of power in the new Colony of New Brunswick, the Loyalist myths have tended to overshadow the tales of earlier settlers. Though the Yorkshire immigrants remembered their origins, Planters from New England and Loyalists, often from the same places, got mixed in many people’s historical thinking. In the Dominion of Canada, Ontario had made “Loyalist descent” desirable and the thinking spread to the Maritimes. Be very suspicious of 19th century biographies of prominent men that claim “Loyalist descent.” It was a politically correct claim, made by many, but not necessarily true. Here is a real-life example to serve both as a warning, and as a guide to documenting early settlers. A longer version was published in The Loyalist Gazette, Fall 1995, pages 7-8.

When I started checking my family tree for a Loyalist to justify my UL, I worked backward from my grandfather, Adelbert Cavour Chapman. I found an entry for him in Prominent People of the Maritime Provinces:

Chapman, Adelbert Cavour, Manufacturer, Born Dorchester, New Brunswick., Oct.25, 1860, son of Robert A. and Mary Elizabeth (Frost) Chapman. Married P. Althea Cleveland, October 24, 1883; two sons, two daughters. (page 34).

For his father, Robert Andrew Chapman, I found an entry in A Cyclopedia of Canadian Biography:

Chapman, Robert Andrew, was born in Dorchester, county of Westmorland, New Brunswick, on the 2nd of February, 1835, where he has resided ever since. His father was Robert B. Chapman, and his mother, Margaret Weldon. Both Mr. Chapman’s great-grandfather and grandfather emigrated from Yorkshire, England, in l775. Margaret Weldon’s grandfather on the paternal side, came to America from North Allerton, Yorkshire, in 1770, and her ancestors on the maternal side—the Killams—were United Empire Loyalists. (page 263)

That surprised me a little, but perhaps here was my loyalist. Checking further I found an entry for an Amasa Emerson Killam in A Cyclopedia (page 398) that also claimed the Killams were Loyalists. The Biographical Review—Province of New Brunswick (pages 34-37) contains a longer pedigree for Amasa Emerson Killam, showing his father as a grandson of Amasa Killam, explaining that “Amasa Killam was an officer in the English Army and served during the American Revolution. At the close of that he was stationed at Halifax, Nova Scotia, where he died while on garrison duty.”

Here are Loyalist claims made by two branches of the Killam family, one of them repeating it with impressive details, though no proof. However, the Killam family is not listed by Esther Clark Wright in The Loyalists of New Brunswick. On the other hand, Planters and Pioneers: Nova Scotia, 1749 to 1775, lists two Killam families, one being Amasa Killam (Kellam, Killum) of Sackville. The town book for Sackville Township[1] lists the family of Amasa Killam:

John Killam was born in Providence in the Colony of Rhode Island the 8th day of March l758. This was a son Killam had by his first wife. Captain Amasa Killam and Elizabeth Emerson was joined in marriage.

No marriage date given and it continues with a list of their seven children born in the township with birth dates. In 1851 one of their daughters, Elizabeth (née Killam) Weldon told the census taker she was age 81 and born in the Province, which agrees with her birthdate in 1770 as given in the town book. It also agrees with the 1770 census of the Township of Sackville[2] which lists Amasa Killam [Amava Kellum] as head of a household of seven. Moreover, the Indexes to Nova Scotia Crown Land Grants[3] show large grants to Amasa and Superam Killan [sic] dated 1765.

So, Amasa Killam was a Planter, and a resident of Nova Scotia well before the Revolution. In W. C. Milner’s History of Sackville New Brunswick I found a curious comment “A lot at Crane’s Corner had been owned by Amasa Kellam, who being mixed up with the Eddy War, his property was confiscated and sold at auction and purchased by his son-in-law, Atkinson.” (page 45)

Participation in the Eddy Rebellion was a sensitive subject in 19th century Nova Scotia. Richard John Uniacke was arrested for his support of Jonathan Eddy, but in time became Attorney General of Nova Scotia. Not surprisingly, almost no records of that abortive little rebellion are to be found in the Archives of Nova Scotia. However, I turned up a warrant for the arrest of Jonathan Eddy and 26 others “late of Cumberland”, issued April 28, l777. [4]

Among those listed is Amos Kellum (or Kethum). The annotation on the back, stating that most of the wanted men were not to be found, spells the name Amos Kellam. There being no other Killam/Kellum family in the area at that time, it almost certainly refers to Amasa; remember we are now back in a time of phonetic spelling, when people who could write wrote down what they heard, or thought they heard, spelling a name as it sounded.

Next, in volume 9 (Kab-Lus)Massachusetts Soldiers and Sailors of the Revolutionary War (l902), page 70, I found:

Kellum, Amasa. Courier; pay roll of field and Staff officers and other persons serving under Col. John Allan and stationed at Machias for its defence; entered service June 1, l778; discharged July 8, l778, served 1 month 8 days.

I have found no record of Amasa Killam’s death at the Citadel in Halifax, and in light of the Cumberland warrant, he could hardly have been serving with the British Army. Rather, as a rebel “courier” he may have been captured, as Uniacke was, and placed under arrest there. If he had been executed for treason, some record ought to exist, but if he happened to die while in custody he may have been buried with little ceremony. Administration of Amasa Killam’s estate[5] was granted his widow, Elizabeth Killam on May 24, l779. The inventory shows a “Balance in favour of the Heirs” of £287.17.10. of which £200 represented the value of 1,350 acres of land. There is no reference to Amasa being “Captain,” or to Halifax as the place of death.

Elizabeth (née Emmerson) Killam’s family must have rallied round to help her retain the property and sometime after 1781 she married as his second wife the Yorkshireman, John Wheldon. Her daughter, Elizabeth Killam, married John’s son, Andrew Dale Weldon, becoming the grandparents of Robert Andrew Chapman. Perhaps I could use that ancestry to join the Daughters of the American Revolution, but I have a better line through Robert Andrew’s father-in-law, Shepherd Johnson Frost, architect, millwright, American and bigamist.

And my Loyalist ancestor? He was on my father’s side of the family, one Robert Forsyth, who petitioned and received land on the Mirimichi, abducted Jane Martin thus becoming a defendant in the first case heard by Northumberland County Court of Quarter Sessions, and raised a family of at least 9 children. The family, and the sources of information are detailed by W.D. Hamilton inOld North Esk Revised, pages 154-155.

Loyalists[edit | edit source]

The Revolution Ends 1776-1783
[edit | edit source]

When the American War of Independence ended there were refugees, citizens who had supported the losing side, or were perceived by their neighbours to have done so. From 1776 onwards, some were driven out and some fled, seeking refuge in British territory, determined to remain loyal to Great Britain, or so they say in their many petitions and claims for compensation.

Throughout the rebellion in the North American Colonies, Nova Scotia had remained more or less loyal to Britain, though many of the inhabitants had come from New England, and had friends and family still living there. The Eddy Rebellion was a minor incident, though the seige of Fort Cumberland did leave some hard feelings against the British Army, who had burnt a number of homes.

The Boat People Arrive[edit | edit source]

However, in 1783 the country’s first “boat people” arrived on the shores of Nova Scotia, most evacuated by the British from the New York area, though their homes may originally have been in other colonies. They came by boat, and that meant that unlike those who fled overland to Québec (part of which would become Ontario), some brought a number of personal possessions with them. Quite a lot of silver tableware and mahogany furniture managed to survive the first primitive years in the wilderness, or so families’ legends tell us.

British officials had been making some preparations for this influx, though not enough. There was unsettled land north of the Bay of Fundy and so, on April 16, 1783 so-called “Spring Fleet” of twenty transports sailed from New York, arriving at the mouth of the St. John River in early May. The exact day is disputed by historians but since the majority only disembarked on the 18th that date was later chosen as “Loyalist Day.” The influx had begun and as a result, in August 1784, Nova Scotia was split into three colonies (Cape Breton only lasted for a generation) but New Brunswick would become a province of Canada in less than a century.

Lists of Loyalists[edit | edit source]

Esther Clark Wright’s 365 page book, The Loyalists of New Brunswick, recounts the whole story in great detail. This book is where you start. She prints names given in several source documents, and at the end, a 90 page (in very small type) list of some 6,000.[6] “The New Brunswick Loyalists,” giving the names of heads of families or single men of eighteen and upwards, then if the information was obtainable, their former homes, service during the Revolution, their first grant, and subsequent grants and/or place of residence.

Her interest was demographic and Dr. Wright warns researchers about the 1785 muster by Thomas Knox, explaining “Knox’s list was confined to the Passamaquoddy and St. John River districts.”

There was no mention of the Mirimichi, the Petitcodiac, the Memramcook, nor the Tantramar districts, which all had Loyalist settlers. The distribution shown contains many surprises. The population of the Passamaquoddy Bay area was nearly as great as that of the City of Saint John, and almost one fifth of the total. There were more Loyalists on the Kennebecasis, the Bellisle, and the part of the St. John River between, than in the City of Saint John, and twice as many as in Queens County. Maugerville had nearly as many Loyalists as St. Ann’s and its adjacent lots (Mill to Phyllis’s Creek) [now Fredericton]. (page 107)

Dr. Wright, you remember, wrote histories of the three main river systems and you can trust her advice on where to look for Loyalists. In Chapter Ten she discusses where, when and why they settled in various locations.

For maps, see Volume I, Historical Atlas of Canada: From the Beginning to 1800, Plate 32, the later 18th century settlement, mostly by Loyalists. “The Coming of the Loyalists, plate 7 in Volume II, Historical Atlas of Canada: The Land Transformed, 1800-1891, gives further details of their settlement. As you can see, the Loyalists clustered in the south west quarter of the province, with only a few in the south east, and some on the Mirimichi, probably lured there by the tall pines that the British Navy needed for masts.

Two hundred years after the First Fleet arrived, Sharon M. Dubeau compiled her researches in New Brunswick Loyalists: A Bicentennial Tribute (Agincourt, Ontario: Generation Press, 1983). Terence Punch reviewed it for Canadian Genealogist (Vol. 5, No. 3, October 1983, page 184), and reports “she does not weigh down the book with yet another potted history of the Loyalists”. The book provides “accurate, brief yet comprehensive accounts of many of the Loyalist settlers of a province,” though he also points out some errors and omissions. If she caught your Loyalist in her research, the book will tell you more than Dr. Wright, but she only lists some 1200 names.

Sharon Dubeau missed my Loyalist, Robert Forsyth, who ended up on the Mirimichi, but he is in Dr. Wright’s list of “New Brunswick Loyalists,” probably because of his petition in PANB documenting his Loyalist status. Nevertheless, Dubeau’s book is a must for Loyalist research.

The United Empire Loyalist Association of Canada, Sir Guy Carleton Branch, Ottawa, have produced “A select index to the names of Loyalists and their associates contained in the British Headquarters Papers, New York City 1774-1783 (The Carleton Papers)” a database of 54,658 records, originally issued on 3.5” high density diskettes, now available on CD-ROM.


Passamaquoddy[edit | edit source]

Saint John, which used to call itself “the Loyalist City” has overshadowed the Passamaquoddy Bay region, but around St. Andrews and St. Stephen on the St. Croix River, a large group of Loyalists arrived and founded these towns. Most, however, came from the coastal areas of New England, having moved north to avoid the rebellion and moved again as disputed borders also moved.

Grace Helen Mowat, The Diverting History of St. Andrews, recounts the whole saga and how the Loyalist town just across the Penobscot River, at Fort George, was dismantled piece by piece, the framework, lumber and hardware, and shipped off to the British side of the new border, the St. Croix. It is a diverting tale, contains quite a lot of family information and, used in conjunction with The Loyalists of New Brunswick, and Charlotte County records, can enrich a family history.

Martha Ford Barto’s Passamaquoddy: genealogies of West Isles Families (Saint John, New Brunswick: Lingley Print Co., 1975) also offers extensive genealogies of Loyalist settlers in this region.

A genealogical guide to “Charlotte Co. Archives, St. Andrews, New Brunswick.” by Shirley O’Neil, published in Generations, Vol. 20, No. 2, Summer 1998, lists the various types of records available at the old Charlotte County Gaol. Preserved and organized by the Friends of the Charlotte County Historical Society, the list of holdings and microfilms is impressive. The two-page list of publications in itself is a most useful Charlotte County bibliography, and informs me than an Index to The Diverting History, has been published.

Theodore C. Holmes,Loyalists to Canada: The 1783 Settlement of Quakers and Others at Passamaquoddy (Camden ME: Picton Press, 1992), has been described as “a combined biographical dictionary, collection of manuscripts and group portrait.”[8] It centres particularly on the Pennfield settlement, contains considerable information on the Quakers, and has an excellent index of names.

Saint John County[edit | edit source]

One worth searching for is George W. Schuyler’s Saint John: Scenes from a Popular History (1984). It covers the history of the city by describing and analysing several specific events, with maps and many contemporary documents and illustrations. “Saint John’s First Election” examines the “serious differences that had festered within the Saint John community almost from the moment the Loyalists had stepped ashore in 1783” (page 18). His sympathies are not with the “governing elite” who managed to “win” on a technicality.

Ross N. Hebb’s Quaco-St. Martins… 1784-1884 tells of this coastal area where Loyalists from the King’s Orange Rangers were granted land. The author was the Anglican minister, and in writing a history of the Anglican Church in St. Martins, he became interested in the “broader historical context of the entire community.” (page 7). Well written, well annotated, and including many original documents, it lacks an index so it is a challenge to winkle out the family data.

The Saint John Branch of the NBGS has published Arrivals 99—Our First Families in New Brunswick, “first generation family group sheets for 620 immigrant ancestors of members and friends of Saint John Branch.” It is a revision and expansion of a 1985 project, and naturally will include many Loyalist families, their Planter connections (because the children of the two groups did marry) as well as later arrivals.

Saint John River Valley[edit | edit source]

Most Loyalists were educated, and while they did not have much time in the early years to write down their experiences, often in old age they did. One such account,Kingston and the Loyalists of the “Spring Fleet” of A.D. 1783 with Reminiscences of Early Days in Connecticut: a Narrative by Walter Bates, Esq., Sometimes High Sheriff of the County of Kings, To Which is Appended a Diary Written by Sarah Frost on Her Voyage to St. John, New Brunswick. With the Loyalists of 1783. ed., with notes by W.O. Raymond, A.B., Rector of St. Mary’s Church, Saint John, New Brunswick was published by Barnes and Company, Saint John, New Brunswick, in 1889. It has been reprinted in facsimile by New Ireland Press, 1980 & 1999. The 32 page booklet is as packed with information as the title page, and even then the editor was lamenting the destruction of other records of early history by those who were part of it.

Up Country Memories and More Up Country Memories, by Linda Aiton and Diane Bormke (privately published, c.2000) contains accounts of early loyalist settlements and life along the St. John River. To judge from two excerpts printed in Generations, Spring 2001, page 13, the hard family data is sparse, the anecdotal and family myth information quite amusing.

Charlotte Gourlay Robinson, Pioneer Profiles of New Brunswick Settlers (Belleville, Ontario: Mika Publishing, 1980), contains 20 biographies of women, mostly Loyalists but a few from other early families. Well written, imaginative and easy to read, with many family tales and legends, and a bit of documentation, these accounts give a picture of life in early New Brunswick settlements. It is the sort of book I would recommend to a client whose family turned out to have “connections” to one or more of the subjects. Unindexed.

Other Sources[edit | edit source]

The Loyalist Guide: Nova Scotia Loyalists and their Documents (Halifax: Public Archives of Nova Scotia, c.1983) was compiled by Jean Peterson assisted by Lynn Murphy and Heather MacDonald, also because of the bicentennial. Of course, in 1783 New Brunswick was still part of Nova Scotia, so a lot of the secondary sources listed in Part 1 are applicable as is the bibliography, pages 90-92. Part 2, primary sources, also lists a great many documents and lists that make no distinction based on place of settlement. A useful finding aid.

Brenda Merriman’s Genealogy in Ontario (3rd ed. 1996), Chapter 11 on “Loyalist Ancestors”, covers most of the important collections of Loyalist documents generated by the British Government as well as those in American sources. The bibliography for the chapter also ranges beyond Ontario.

She, in turn, points out (page 204) that “One of the best monographs written to introduce genealogists to Loyalist sources is How to Trace Your Loyalist Ancestors by Patricia Kennedy.”[9] At the time, Patricia Kennedy was Chief of the Pre-Confederation Archives, Manuscript Division, at LAC. You will find she also wrote many of the “Introductions” to the finding aids for the manuscript groups you will use. Read these explanations, they are clear, easy to read, and will clue you in to what documents survive, and where.

Survey of Settlement 1785[edit | edit source]

When the new New Brunswick government had to find land for all the Loyalists, they first had to find out where people were already settled and holding land, and what sort of legal title, if any, they had. The surviving maps and lists can be valuable, but they are scattered.

In Chignecto most Planter grants are found in Nova Scotia’s Crown Lands Department since by 1784 most of the land was granted. The Studholm Report, however, records many along the St. John River had “no title but possession.”

In Dr. Wright’s The Mirimichi, is a copy of a map from the Crown Lands Office, Fredericton, showing lots along the River, some with owner’s names. Some names are in brackets, others not. In the National Map Collection (NMC 24194-Mirimichi April 1875) is what must be a preliminary map, without the lots marked, but with every creek inlet, the names of settlers, and a tiny drawing of a house if one had been built. The names are the unbracketed names on the later map.

A manuscript in LAC, MG9-A5 Volume 1, pages 93-94, a transcript of documents in the New Brunswick Crown Lands Office’s “Register and Index of Loyalist Lots” is “Mr. Micheau’s Survey on Miramichi River South Side”, a list of all the settlers and their lot numbers. By comparing the list and the maps, one can separate the old settlers from the new Loyalist grants.

Daniel Michaud was a Loyalist from Staten Island, a surveyor, who in April 1785 mapped the Mirimichi river (LAC NMC-24194) and in July, the Washademoak (later Canaan) River, as well as the upper reaches of the Kennebecasis (Salmon River) beyond Sussex, and the Memramcook, reporting on the quality of land and timber, and noting where settlers were already established. Several copies of his lists of lot-holders are found at LAC, MG9 A-5, Volume 1; note that the originals have been returned to the Provincial Archives of New Brunswick.

The Loyalist Collection[edit | edit source]

Harriet Irving Library
University of New Brunswick Loyalist Collection

In Fredericton, New Brunswick, is a repository of Loyalist resources that is unique in Canada. The Loyalist Collection is a special collection on microfilm of British, North American Colonial, and early Canadian primary sources from approximately 1760-1867. Started in the early 1970s, a project to identify, list and microfilm all Loyalist primary sources in the United States, Great Britain and Canada focused on the American Revolution and the early years of Loyalist settlement in British North America.

The Canadian portion of the project ceased in 1976 and some 700 reels of microfilm were deposited in the UNB Library. In 1982 the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada awarded the UNB Library a three-year grant to expand both the Loyalist Collection and the Library’s resources which support Loyalist research, and confirmed the position of the UNB Library as the principal Loyalist research centre in and for Canada.
There are now over 3200 reels of microfilm and 700 microfiche in the Loyalist Collection. It is largely unindexed and contains only original sources. However, there are numerous finding aids to records in the Collection. The Loyalist Collection is arranged by five categories of material:

  • Church Records
  • Family Records
  • Military Records
  • Public Records
  • Special Collections

The inventory of the collection is in preparation and may be accessed on the Internet at the Harriet Irving Library. Inquiries regarding the inventory should be directed to the following department:

Christine Jack, Manager of Microforms
Harriet Irving Library, University of New Brunswick
P.O. Box 7500
Fredericton, New Brunswick E3B 5H5
Telephone (506) 453-4834

Researchers planning to visit the UNB Library to use the Loyalist Collection and related material should write or telephone in advance.

Revisionist History?[edit | edit source]

A recent background work, Ronald Rees’s Land of the Loyalists: Their Struggle to Shape the Maritimes (Halifax: Nimbus Publishing, 2000), is reviewed in The Beaver, April/May 2001, by retired history professor Ann Gorman Condon. She found it “the best popular history of the Loyalists I have read”, but wonders at the end “whether exiles, with their bitterness and longing for former homes, make good trailblazers.”[10]

Canadian Border Crossing Records[edit | edit source]

The United States kept records of people crossing the border from Canada to the United States. These records are called border crossing lists, passenger lists, or manifests. There are two kinds of manifests:

  • Manifests of people sailing from Canada to the United States.
  • Manifests of people traveling by train from Canada to the United States.

In 1895, Canadian shipping companies agreed to make manifests of passengers traveling to the United States. The Canadian government allowed U.S. immigration officials to inspect those passengers while they were still in Canada. The U.S. immigration officials also inspected train passengers traveling from Canada to the United States. The U.S. officials worked at Canadian seaports and major cities like Québec and Winnipeg. The manifests from every seaport and emigration station in Canada were sent to St. Albans, Vermont.

The Family History Library has copies of both kinds of manifests. Because the manifests were sent to St. Albans, Vermont, they are called St. Albans District Manifest Records of Aliens Arriving from Foreign Contiguous Territory. Despite the name, the manifests are actually from seaports and railroad stations all over Canada and the northern United States, not just Vermont.

Border Crossing Manifests. Manifests may include each passenger's name, port or station of entry, date of entry, literacy, last residence, previous visits to the United States, and birthplace. The manifests are reproduced in two series:

Manifests of Passengers Arriving in the St. Albans, Vermont, District through Canadian Pacific and Atlantic Ports, 1895–January 1921. (608 rolls; Family History Library films 1561087–499.) Includes records from seaports and railroad stations all over Canada and the northern United States. These manifests provide two types of lists:

  • Traditional passenger lists on U.S. immigration forms.
  • Monthly lists of passengers crossing the border on trains.

These lists are divided by month. In each month, the records are grouped by railroad station. (The stations are listed in alphabetical order.) Under the station, the passengers are grouped by railroad company.

Manifests of Passengers Arriving in the St. Albans, Vermont, District through Canadian Pacific Ports, 1929–1949. (25 rolls; Family History Library films 1549387–411.) Travel to the United States from Canadian Pacific seaports only.

Border Crossing Indexes. In many cases, index cards were the only records kept of the crossings. These cards are indexed in four publications:

  • Soundex Index to Canadian Border Entries through the St. Albans, Vermont, District, 1895–1924. (400 rolls; Family History Library films 1472801–3201.)

The Soundex is a surname index based on the way a name sounds rather than how it is spelled. Names like Smith and Smyth are filed together.

  • Soundex Index to Entries into the St. Albans, Vermont, District through Canadian Pacific and Atlantic Ports, 1924–1952. (98 rolls; Family History Library films 1570714–811.)
  • St. Albans District Manifest Records of Aliens Arriving from Foreign Contiguous Territory: Records of Arrivals through Small Ports in Vermont, 1895–1924. (6 rolls; Family History Library films 1430987–92.) The records are arranged first by port and then alphabetically by surname. Only from Vermont ports of entry: Alburg, Beecher Falls, Canaan, Highgate Springs, Island Pond, Norton, Richford, St. Albans, and Swanton.
  • Detroit District Manifest Records of Aliens Arriving from Foreign Contiguous Territory: Arrivals at Detroit, Michigan, 1906–1954. (117 rolls; Family History Library films 1490449–565.) Only from Michigan ports of entry: Bay City, Detroit, Port Huron, and Sault Ste. Marie.

The major port for the maritime provinces has always been Halifax, Nova Scotia. As with the rest of eastern Canada, New Brunswick has a few scattered ship lists for the period before 1865. The few ship lists from the Acadian period can be found at the Acadian Center, Moncton University. There are a few British ship lists from about 1815 to 1860 on microfilm reels F-1697 and F-1698 at the National Archives of Canada.

The Provincial Archives has recently indexed a series of passenger lists. The sub-series RS23E consists of the passenger lists. These lists are for the following ports and years:

  • St. John—1816, 1833, 1834, 1838
  • St. Andrews—1837, 1838
  • Bathurst—1837

Shipbuilding and Shipowners[edit | edit source]

Because Great Britain and Ireland were islands, the sea and everything that sailed on it, became matters of record. The British Admiralty, and in civilian guise the Board of Trade, as well as Lloyds insurance brokers, kept detailed records of all British ships and their crews, and British Colonies came under their care. Library and Archives Canada has filmed almost everything relating to ships and shipping in the colonies that became Canada.

In 1878, the year when Canadian ship ownership peaked, 4,467 vessels, totalling 943,583 tons were registered in the Maritime provinces, and many of these were built in the Timber Colony, where shipbuilding was a major industry and being a “shipowner” an “occupation” of the better off members of society.

There are records of both the people who owned the ships and the people who sailed them that can be useful if your research leads into this field.

Shipping Registers[edit | edit source]

Every ship over 15 tons, owned by any of His/Her Majesty’s subjects, was required to be registered. Until 1874, Saint John was the Port of Registry for ships built along Fundy, including Moncton, Sackville and Dorchester. After Confederation, registration became Ottawa’s responsibility and political gift so just about anywhere that ships were built, a registrar was appointed.

The 18th and early 19th century records are incomplete, but almost everything after 1824 has survived, though the “casually” assembled microfilms at the “Canada Archives” gave Esther Clark Wright some problems.[11] The registers describe the vessel in some detail, some give the date of launching so you can check local newspapers, and every time a share changed ownership, this had to be registered and a new list of owners entered in the Registry Book.

Vessels were owned in 64 shares, the same number for a 100 ton coastal schooner or the 1600 ton Marco Polo, and in theory, there could be could be 64 owners. Ownership patterns varied, in a community where wealth was concentrated in the hands of two or three families, they owned everything. In places where wealth was more widely spread, so was ownership.

For example, in the county town of Dorchester, New Brunswick, many well-to-do lawyers invested in local vessels. Such “shipowners” might hold shares in a dozen vessels, rather like a stock portfolio today, spreading the risk of loss.[12]

These registers of owners can contain a great deal of personal information. A small wooden coastal schooner did not require a great outlay of capital, and a sawmill operator or blacksmith might accept shares in payment for the lumber or hardware they supplied. Usually the Master held a few shares, and in the boom years of the 1860s, even caulkers and other workmen, or merchant’s clerks, are found among the lists of owners. If an owner died, the register will give the date of death, details of probate, names of executors or administrator, and disposition of the shares. The history of a long-lived vessel may be spread through several books.

A Selective Database[edit | edit source]

You will find a searchable database of Canadian shipping registers on several Internet sites and on a CD-ROM Ships and Seafarers of Atlantic Canada now for sale.[13] The Atlantic Canada Shipping Project was set up in 1976, when computer memory was limited and every byte counted; it indexes each vessel by name, official number, and owner’s name, with some further bits of information.

That means their database does not include a great many ships built in other ports once these became ports of registry. Dorchester, Moncton, Sackville and St. Andrews among others in New Brunswick. The large Vaughan and Moran fleets originated in St. Martins New Brunswick, which never did become a port of registry and Esther Clarke Wright points out that St. Martins ships were registered not only in Saint John and Halifax, but further afield in Irish ports, in Scotland, and Liverpool.[14]

Crew Agreements - A Sample Only[edit | edit source]

Some data compiled from crew agreements of vessels registered in the ports of Saint John, New Brunswick (and Halifax, Yarmouth and Windsor, Nova Scotia) for the years 1863-1914 is also in this database and CD-ROM. The files contain information on some 20,000 masters and 182,000 seamen, their ports of call and voyages from Atlantic Canada. Just remember, this database is only a sampling of the records that actually exist. The actual records are, for the most part, now at Memorial University in Newfoundland. Other repositories are acknowledged by Eric W. Sager in his Seafaring Labour: The Merchant Marine of Atlantic Canada, 1820-1914 (Montréal, Kingston, London: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1989), a valuable source if you are researching seamen, as is Judith Fingard’s Jack in Port: Sailortowns of Eastern Canada (Toronto, Buffalo, London: University of Toronto Press, 1982). Library and Archives Canada in Ottawa has colour microfilms (some 54 reels) of Lloyd’s Captains Registers (MG 40 O 3).

Women’s Lives[edit | edit source]

For a glimpse of the lives of women connected with ships and shipbuilding, look for Helen Petchy’s little booklet, Signal Sea Changes (1997) which tells of two Dorchester “daughters of the shipyards,” Emma Chapman O’Neal and Sarah Palmer Ryan. Donal M. Baird’s Women at Sea in the Age of Sail (Halifax, Nova Scotia: Nimbus, 2001), 226 pages with map and illustrations, among other stories, tells that of Captain Daniel Smith Cochrane, born in St. Martins, New Brunswick, and his wife Annie Meldrum Parker, born in Tynmouth Creek, Saint John, New Brunswick, who accompanied his many voyages on the Prince Lucien of the Moran-Galloway fleet. It is important to note that they were married in Liverpool in 1866, and ended their days in England where they are buried. With seafaring families, this is always a possibility to watch out for.[15]

References[edit | edit source]

  1. LAC, MG9 A12 vol.6 (mf.C3201), Page 73.
  2. Report of the Public Archives of Nova Scotia (1934), Appendix B.
  3. PANS, RG20 Ser.A, Vol.12, Books 6 and 7.
  4. PANS, RG39, Series "C", Box 17.
  5. PANS, Record Book A, Cumberland County, Abstract of Wills, pages 17, 18, 19. (mfm.19,256 "Early Cumberland Wills")
  6. See page 166: "The list has been carefully screened to delete Pre-Loyalists, Captains of Transports, Nova Scotia Loyalists who had grants on the St. John River but remained on the south side of the Bay of Fundy, officers who had grants with their regiments but were not present in the province. Disbanded soldiers are not included unless there is some trace of their having actually been present in the province.
  7. Douglas, Althea. "New Brunswick Loyalist Settlers and Records (National Institute)," The National Institute for Genealogical Studies (2012),
  8. Nova Scotia Historical Review, Vol. 13, No. 1, 1993, reviewed by Allen B. Robertson, page 164.
  9. Kennedy, Patricia, How to Trace Your Loyalist Ancestors: a review of source material (Ottawa: Ottawa Branch OGS, 1972; revised 1982).
  10. Douglas, Althea. "New Brunswick Additional Loyalist Settlers and Records (National Institute)," The National Institute for Genealogical Studies (2012),
  11. "Introduction", Saint John Ships... describes the state of register books and detail her frustrations.
  12. Douglas, Althea, Here be Dragons! Navigating the Hazards found in Canadian Family Research (Toronto: Ontario Genealogical Society, 1996)m pages 57-58
  13. Contact The Secretary, Maritime History Archive, Memorial University of Newfoundland, St. John's Newfoundland A1C5S7, Canada, Telephone: 709-737-8428, Email:
  14. Wright, Esther Clark, The Ships of St.Martins (Saint John, New Brunswick: New Brunswick Museum, 1974), page 12.
  15. Douglas, Althea. "New Brunswick Ships and Shipowners (National Institute)," The National Institute for Genealogical Studies (2012),