Before the arrival of the Loyalists, about 5000 people lived in the territory that would become the colony of New Brunswick. They comprised a complex mix of indigenous Wulstukwuik (Maliseet) and Mi'qmaq, recently uprooted Acadians, and first generation settlers, most of them from New England, Pennsylvania, Yorkshire, Ireland and other areas of Great Britain.

Within a two-year period from 1783 to 1785, the numbers quadrupled with the arrival of about 15,000 Loyalists. Most of them landed at the mouth of the St. John River, engulfing the over 400 civilians and troops living there, and founding the city of Saint John. The Maliseet and Acadians in the lower reaches of the St. John River had no recognized title to the lands they occupied and were forced to move, the former eventually onto reserves at Oromocto, St. Mary's and Kingsclear, the latter primarily to Madawaska, where they finally received title to land.

David Bell estimates that about 10,000 Loyalists arrived at the mouth of the St. John River in the fleets evacuating New York. The first fleet, which departed from New York on 19 October 1782, was destined for the north side of the Bay of Fundy, but its more than 400 passengers wintered in Annapolis Royal before setting out for the as yet unsurveyed territory they hoped to claim as their own. In the spring and summer the fleets sailed directly for the St. John River - one arriving at the end of May with about 1700 refugees and 450 Provincials, another in June with 15 militia companies among its 1169 passengers. Nearly 1000 more Loyalists arrived in July and another 800 in August.

By the end of the summer Sir Guy Carleton, commander of the British troops in North America, gave the Provincial troops permission to evacuate New York. Over 3000 people arrived in late September in the ships carrying the Provincials and their families. The final Loyalist fleet from New York landed at the mouth of the St. John River on 17 October with over 1000 Refugees and 231 British and German regular troops who had opted to settle in the colony. Still more Loyalists made their way separately to New Brunswick from New York.

An unknown but significant number of Loyalists drifted to New Brunswick from communities in peninsular Nova Scotia. At least 1000 Loyalists evacuated Boston in 1776 along with Gage's army. While their original destination was Halifax, some of them moved to New Brunswick once the new colonial administration had been established. They were joined by emigrants from Loyalist communities such as Shelburne, Digby and Annapolis that seemed to offer fewer opportunities than Saint John. When the British announced in 1784 that United States ships would be excluded from imperial trade, a few merchants quickly took up residence in British-controlled territory.

The distribution of land was a contentious and drawn-out process, especially in the communities of Parrtown and Carleton. With military considerations uppermost in their minds, authorities concluded that it was wise to keep regiments together in case they had to be called into action at some future date. Townships were created up-river for the Provincial regiments and along the Fundy shore at St. George and St. Martins.

The St. John River Valley was the main but by no means the only site of Loyalist settlement. When the boundary line was finally fixed, the Loyalists living on the Penobscot River were forced to relocate to British territory. The "Penobscot Association" settled in St. Andrews at the mouth of the Passamaquoddy, while a group of Quakers found a home in nearby Beaver Harbour. Others settled around Fort Cumberland, along the Miramichi and Petitcodiac rivers, and on the south shore of the Bay of Chaleur.

While the Loyalists were getting settled, British authorities ordered the partition of Nova Scotia on 18 June 1784. The new colony north of the Bay of Fundy was named New Brunswick and its political institutions mirrored those of its parent. The colony's first governor was Colonel Thomas Carleton, brother of Sir Guy, who as Lord Dorchester had been chosen as governor general of British North America.

Many of Edward Winslow's friends had been successful in securing appointments to the new colonial administration. George Duncan Ludlow, a former judge of the Supreme Court of New York, was appointed chief justice, Jonathan Bliss became attorney general, and Ward Chipman was solicitor general. Jonathan Odell, who, among other things, had worked as a translator for Sir Guy Carleton during the war, became the provincial secretary, a position that Winslow had eyed for himself.

Obliged to settle for an unpaid appointment to the governor's council, Winslow was nevertheless pleased that his colleagues gave substance to his dream of creating a government of "gentlemen."

Carleton and his entourage proclaimed the birth of the new province in Parrtown on 21 November 1784. Waiting almost a year to call elections for the first assembly, the governor and his council focussed on setting up legal institutions, processing petitions for land grants, settling the boundaries with Nova Scotia, and creating counties and parishes as a framework for local government. Military and perhaps climate considerations convinced Carleton that St. Anne's, renamed Fredericton in honour of Frederick Augustus, Duke of York, would be the capital. Parrtown and Carleton, meanwhile, were incorporated as the colony's first city, its charter modelled on that of New York, with Gabriel Ludlow (brother of the chief justice) as mayor and Ward Chipman, who drew up the legal documents, as recorder.

The elections for the colony's first 26-member assembly were held in November 1785. Since all white men could vote, voters stated their choice by voice rather than ballot, and elections were often conducted in taverns, the process encouraged masculine rivalry and provided plenty of opportunity for intimidation. The contest was particularly heated in Saint John where the Upper Cove elites represented by men such as Jonathan Bliss and Ward Chipman were pitted against the Lower Cove opposition led by Tertullus Dickenson. As the brother-in-law of Elias Hardy, the leader of a popular faction in the city, Dickenson's campaign focussed on the undesirability of officeholders such as Bliss and Chipman sitting in the elected assembly and on the grievances of the rank and file of Loyalists who had little claim on the governor's patronage.

The Lower Cove faction won the election amid violence that was put down by troops from Fort Howe. Determined to stamp out opposition to his administration, Carleton discounted enough Lower Cove votes to give the Upper Cove elites a victory. Notwithstanding the governor's heavy-handedness, the first assembly in New Brunswick included his chief adversary Elias Hardy, who was elected in Northumberland, and several other members who were willing to stand up to authority. "The meeting of the legislature in January 1786," historian W.S. MacNutt notes, "marked the commencement of the robust political life of New Brunswick").

With the Loyalists came the full range of eighteenth-century political ideologies, which raised the level of political debate, and lowered the level of political conduct in British North America. The Loyalist elite proved unable to curtail the democratic tendencies that were being embraced in the era of the American and French revolutions, but they added weight to the conservative side of the political spectrum. In legal matters, Loyalists such as Ward Chipman, and the students who articled under him, had an enormous impact on the relatively conservative approach to law that took root in the colony.

The culture of middle class Loyalists such as Winslow and Chipman influenced New Brunswick in other ways as well. Having enjoyed the amenities of urban life, they were impatient to establish churches, schools and newspapers in their new homeland. In 1787, Charles Inglis, the Loyalist rector of Trinity Church in New York, was consecrated the first Church of England bishop of Nova Scotia, with jurisdiction over all the British North American colonies. The first overseas bishop in the British Empire, Inglis supported the founding in 1788 of King's College in Windsor, Nova Scotia, as an exclusive institution for sons of the Anglican elite. In New Brunswick, the Loyalists, Edward Winslow among them, signed a petition in 1786 urging the establishment of a similarly exclusive Academy of Arts and Sciences, which received its charter as the College of New Brunswick in 1800. Two weekly newspapers, the Saint John Gazette (1783) and the Royal Gazette (1785), ensured lively public debate in the new colony.

Despite the assistance they received from the British government, many of the Loyalists in New Brunswick found it difficult to put down roots. Some people were psychologically ill-prepared for pioneering life and drifted away. This was especially true of soldiers without families to help develop a domestic economy. Others, once set in motion, seemed unable to stop moving, convinced that there were always greener pastures elsewhere. A few moved on to Quebec, and many more to the new Loyalist colony of Upper Canada where generous land grants provided by its first lieutenant-governor, Loyalist John Graves Simcoe, served as a strong magnet in the 1790s. An untold number returned to the United States once it was safe to do so. So debilitating was the exodus that Edward Winslow, under the pen name Tammany, cautioned his fellow New Brunswickers in the Royal Gazette of July 1802 against voluntarily surrendering "the peace, comfort and happiness of their families" to seek opportunities elsewhere.

The fortunes of the colony gradually improved, stimulated by the economic impact of more than two decades of warfare known collectively as the French and Napoleonic Wars. As Great Britain entered the final round with its old adversary France, demand for colonial fish, foodstuffs and timber skyrocketed. Production was further stimulated by the Navigation Acts and the whole framework of mercantilist regulation that gave colonial products preference over foreign competition. Between 1805 and 1812 the exports of fir and pine timber from New Brunswick, Great Britain's preeminent "timber colony," increased more than twenty-fold.

Businessmen, many of them based in Greenock, brought their capital, labour and technology to the shores of the Miramichi and St. John rivers. Shipbuilding soon emerged as a sideline of the timber trade. By 1815, the year of Edward Winslow's death, New Brunswick's economy was dominated by forest-based industries.

Attempts by the United States after 1803 to remain neutral and trade with both sides was met by Great Britain's insistence on a strict definition of the rights of neutral countries, which it could back up with sea power. President Thomas Jefferson responded in 1808 with an embargo on British trade. While this hurt American exporters, it also wrought havoc with the British war effort. Great Britain retaliated by making Halifax, Shelburne, Saint John and St. Andrews "free ports," a clever manoeuvre that effectively undermined the embargo. New England shippers, annoyed by the restrictions, sold their produce through the free ports and bought British manufactured goods and colonial produce. The policy not only served its purpose of keeping the British army and navy supplied, but it also made the designated ports vibrant commercial centres in the expanding regional economy.
If the trade war between Great Britain and the United States benefited New Brunswick, the official war, known as the War of 1812, brought more economic blessings. Buffered by New England, whose leaders refused to participate in the war, the Maritime region was spared military invasion and became the centre of a vigorous clandestine trade between the two belligerents. In July 1814, the excitement of the Loyalists could scarcely be contained as British troops under Sir John Sherbrooke occupied American territory from the Penobscot to the New Brunswick border.

As the French and Napoleonic wars came to a weary end, the demand for staples declined and prices fell, but the foundations of New Brunswick's timber and shipbuilding industries had been laid. The hard currency introduced into the colony during the war helped to establish one of British North America's first major financial institutions, the Bank of New Brunswick in 1820. Even more important, though harder to quantify, is the role of the wars and the resulting economic growth in confirming an important truth for the Loyalists - that while they may not have chosen the winning side in the American Revolution, their decision to move to New Brunswick had not been a bad one.

Atlantic Canada Portal, Harriet Irving Library, University of New Brunswick
Atlantic Canada Portal, Harriet Irving Library, University of New Brunswick

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