Early Settlement of Rawdon

A paper presented to the EHHS in 1968

Notes on the Early Settlement of Rawdon, Hants County, Nova Scotia
By Ralph B. Whittier

Mr. President, fellow members and guests, when first asked to speak to you on the “Early settlement of Rawdon,” I wondered from what angle to approach the subject. Perhaps some historical background would be in order, a few notes on some of the more important people involved would be of interest, the method of applying for and receiving Grants of land, including the methods of surveying and laying out of such land Grants.

As our President told us at our last meeting, Nova Scotia had to some extent been occupied by Indian tribes for some 10,000 years. A few more or less permanent settlements developed along the waterways of which one at Shubenacadie and another at Piziquid were of interest to the Rawdon area. How much travel there was directly across land from Shubenacadie to the mouth of the Avon is not known, but the road from Rawdon toward Shubenacadie is still called the “Indian Road.”

In the year 1745, a young native from Massachusetts, Captain Charles Morris, was sent by the Governor of Massachusetts to make a survey of Nova Scotia to determine its suitability for settlement by the English. The results of this survey were sent to England and had much to do with the decision to found Halifax, which was done in 1749. Meanwhile Capt. Morris, along with Major Gorham, had been sent to make a survey of the Bay of Fundy, at the end of which survey they joined Col. Edward Cornwallis at the site of the new city. Captain Morris was the man who laid out the boundaries and the streets of the new settlement, and in September 1749, he was named “Surveyor General of Nova Scotia,” a post he held until his death in 1781. He also became a “Judge of The Inferior Court,” a member of the “Executive Council” and “Acting Chief Magistrate” of the Province.

He was succeeded the day of his death by his son, Charles Morris 2nd, who held the post until he also died in office on January 26, 1802. Charles Morris 2nd was elected a member of the Legislature for Halifax in 1788. He won by the very narrow margin of 141 votes, and a riot was touched off between the older settlers and some of the newly arrived Loyalists. In the free-for-all, quite a few people were injured. We are not told if this riot was a result of intense interest in the political issues of the day or was a result of the beverages passed out by the candidates and their supporters.

Charles Morris 2nd was succeeded in turn by his son Charles Morris 3rd who held the office until he resigned of grounds of health on April 6th, 1831. The post was then given to his son John Spry Morris who had been “Commissioner of Crown Lands” for some years and who continued to hold two offices until they were merged in 1851. He resigned in 1853 and was succeeded by James B. Uniacke. The post of Chief Surveyor for the province had thus been in the hands of this one family for over 100 years.

The post of “Surveyor of the King’s Woods” was set up to make sure that any land producing good white pine trees suitable for spars for the Navy would not be granted to settlers, and was originally for all of North America. In Nova Scotia alone, some 200,000 acres were so set apart, and all Grants had to be checked and certified by this Officer as not being in any such reserved area. The holder of the position at the time of the settling of Rawdon was Sir John Wentworth, a native of New Hampshire, who while on a trip to England on business for that State was named Governor of New Hampshire, (replacing his own Uncle, who had just resigned) and was also given the post of “Surveyor of the King’s Woods in North America,” with an annual salary of 500 pounds.

When the American Revolutionary War began in 1775, Governor Wentworth, being a British Sympathizer, had to escape. He went to England where he remained until after the war, returning to Halifax in 1783 when he resumed his post as “Surveyor of the King’s Woods.”  In 1792, he was named “Lieutenant Governor of Nova Scotia,” which post he held until 1808 when he retired and was succeeded by Sir George Provost. Sir Richard Hughes had been Lieutenant-Governor of Nova Scotia in 1781 and had been succeeded by John Parr in 1782, who in turn was succeeded by Sir John Wentworth.

Wentworth’s “Chief Deputy Surveyor of the King’s Woods” for a part of his term of office was Michael Wallace, a Loyalist from the Carolinas, but so far as I can determine no relation to the William Wallace who was the founder of the Wallace family of Rawdon and Gore.

Lord Rawdon, Earle of Moira in Ireland, for whom Rawdon seems to have been named, entered the British Army at an early age. He was at the Battle of Bunker Hill and in fact seems to have been present at nearly every battle of any consequence during the whole war. He raised a corps of “Irish Volunteers” from near Philadelphia and took them with him when the war shifted to the Carolinas in 1779. During 1780 and 1781, he was in charge of the British troops at Charleston, and had several engagements with the American troops, in each of which he seems to come off winner. These included “96 District,” “Hobkirk’s Hill,” and “Eutaw Springs,” which was the last real battle of the war. In 1781, he was invalided to England, and later had a most distinguished career in the British parliament. He was for 10 years “Governor of Bengal” and “Commander in Chief” of the forces in India. He was at his death “Governor of Malta.”  I have found no mention of his ever being in Nova Scotia.

In 1758, Nova Scotia was divided into five counties: Halifax, Annapolis, Kings, (Cumberland) and Lunenburg. During the next few years, a number of Grants of Land of over 100,000 acres each were made, some of them to individuals and some to groups of people who were to sub-divide the land among themselves. These were called “Townships.” Generally, in these “Townships,” lots were reserved for churches and schools and sometimes parade grounds. Regulations were laid down as to the maintenance of the boundary lines—“Once in two years to run the lines, make and keep up boundaries of such lands by stones or other sufficient marks; on penalty of twenty shillings fine.” Fence viewers were appointed to see that this was done.

As we can imagine surveying in those days was rather roughly done, as even today qualified surveyors are not too plentiful. The most of the early surveyors were ex-mariners who knew something of reading a compass and of determining latitude by means of a “Sun Dial.” They used mariners’ compasses and laid out their maps by means of what was called a “Plane Table.” All bearings were “By the Compass” or “Magnetic” with no allowances being made for the annual “variation,” which over the years amounts to a matter of degrees. Consequently, extended lines, some of which surveyed in parts over a period of years, are not straight lines. Standard steel “chains” were not available, and measuring of distance was therefore not too accurate. As a result, it is very difficult to lay out now on a map where the exact boundaries of these old grants should be. I have a great deal of sympathy for our East Hants Assessor as he endeavours to determine today just who owns what, and how much. I know of one case where an old survey, and a later survey give quite different lines, while an aerial survey gives still a third. In addition, many early “Descriptions” were not written out correctly, with very obvious errors.

Lineal distances were determined by pacing or some simple form of chaining. Since distances could not be determined in this manner with any accuracy, it became a custom to add a rod or more to the side measurement of each lot, while further allowance was made to “all necessary roads.” This shows up rather graphically in the actual measurements of the first two lots of land laid out in Rawdon. These 1000-acre lots would normally be squares of 100 chains on each side. They were, in the Grant, described as being 100 chains by 110 chains and were actually laid out as 101 chains, 75 links by 111 chains, 75 links.

When the French settlers were expelled from Nova Scotia in 1775, their well-developed farms around the Windsor-Newport area, at the mouth of the Kennetcook River, along the Noel, Selma, Maitland shore and to some extent up the Shubenacadie River were left vacant. To settle on these, settlers were encouraged to come from New England settlements as well as from the Old Country. Several ship-loads came from Rhode Island, and at least one vessel on its way from Ireland to Philadelphia with a load of settlers met trouble off Sable Island. Her people were brought to Halifax and some them were persuaded to settle in Newport. When the American War broke out, some British supporters were forced to leave their homes in New England and came to the Newport area. The land from the Easter line of the Newport Township to Shubenacadie was still “Wilderness Land” and was a part of Halifax County.

In 1781, two “Refugees from Rhode Island” were granted the two 1000- acre lots I have mentioned, which were laid off East of the Newport line. These eventually went back to the Crown and were re-granted in 1811 and 1812, and can hardly be considered as being part of the actual settlement of Rawdon.

When the War ended in the fall of 1782, the British troops were evacuated from Charlestown, Carolina. Governor Parr, in a letter to the Secretary for the Colonies, says: “With the arrival of the heavy ordnance from Charlestown, came some 501 refugees, men, women and children.” Some of these found their way out to Newport that winter where they worked for and lived with the Newport Settlers until land was found and laid out for them. Among this group was a Captain John Bond, who acted as “Agent” and arranged for a Grant of 23,000 acres just to the East of Newport, which was Granted in August 1784, to “Captain John Bond and 55 others.” Captain Bond was, to some extent at least, in charge of the sub-dividing of the land and seems to have generally done a very good job, though all was not “peace and light” according to some of the “memorials” that can be found in the archives.

At least half of the “55 others” were from Carolina, and practically all of these had been living in a small inland settlement called “District 96” about 150 miles west of the city of Charlestown on the Saluda River. One of the others at least was the son of a Rhode Islander, Shubael Dimock, and there may have been others who came from other places. Another group of Loyalists, most of whom had come from East Florida, but were known to John Bond, were not included in this grant. Captain Bond interceded for them and 18 of them were granted land to the “South and East” of Rawdon, near where the “Brushy Hills Road’ joins the “Beaverbank Road.” Some of those who participated in this Grant did not remain there very long before moving over into the Rawdon area.

The Memorial John Bond sent to Governor Parr, regarding these people shows something of the type of man he was, and his dislike of Governmental “red tape.” (1785) It reads:

“The Memorial of John Bond on behalf of the Loyalists from East Florida, whose name is inserted in the within list; most humbly sheweth, that your Memorialist did wait on the Chief Surveyor and he declares of doing nothing without a Warrant of Survey. Therefore, your Memorialist doth humbly pray that Your Excellency will be pleased to order a Warrant of Survey to be made out for them, as they are now gone up to Rawdon, agreeable to your encouragement. And your Memorialist as in duty bound will ever pray.  John Bond.”

This Grant was not issued until 1787, and in the meantime a group of five men, also ex-soldiers, were granted 250 acres each on the Eastern edge of the Bond Grant.

In June 1784, just two months before John Bond secured the Grant for his first group, a large area to the East and North, 105,000 acres was granted to Colonel John Small, for the settling of his men and their families, his 2nd Battalion of the 84th Regiment, “The Royal Highland Emigrants.” This area was not yet named either, and the Colonel is credited with naming it the Township of Douglas. This land included the Noel Shore, Selma, Maitland, the Kennetcooks, the Gores, and the Nine Mile Rivers. The story of the 84th Regiment is another tale which should be told, but I can only mention it tonight. I only speak of it here because it provided a boundary to the East beyond which Rawdon could not go. There was still an area of about 5000 acres in the North-East corner of Rawdon not taken up, and in the years 1809 and 1810, this land was given out in three separate grants—one to Rev. William Colsell King of 500 acres, one to Isaac Smith (one of the Irish Smith family of Stanley) of 500 acres, and a final grant of over 4000 acres to “James Dewell and 15 others,” which took in all the really arable land between Newport and the Township of Douglas.

A few farms were deserted, went back to the Crown, and were re-granted to others. Most of the southeastern part of Rawdon was eventually granted as woodlots, with a few of the grantees attempting to make farms, but all that area has now gone back to nature, with here and there ruins of buildings, cellar walls and a few fields not yet completely grown over, and apple trees showing where some had tried to start orchards.

Perhaps that is enough to say about the Grants as such, but who were these people who came to Rawdon, and what do we know about their background?David Ross and Gilbert Stewart, we are told in the Warrant of Survey for their Grant, were “Refugees from Rhode Island,” and as they did not remain, their farms were taken back by the Crown and re-granted; we may never know much more about them.

The best source of information about early settlers that we have are their “Applications” or “Memorials” asking for Grants, or “Confirmation of Grants,” as they generally told something about where they came from and why, what family they might have, whether or not they had served in the British Forces with some reference to the Colonel and their Battalion, perhaps their type of service and any engagements in which they may have taken part, periods as prisoner of war, and so on. Unfortunately, we do not have too many of these “Applications.” “Warrants of Survey” as quoted above sometimes give a clue. Another good source was their “Evidence” given at the Court of the Commissioners, which was set up to evaluate property lost to or confiscated by the Americans during the Revolution. The proceedings of this “Commission” are to be found in the Archives at Halifax and fill two large volumes. Since Captain Bond acted as “Agent” for the first large group, there were apparently no individual “Applications” from them; however, about half of them made application for property lost to the Americans. Practically all of these came from or had been living for a short time at least in “District 96” in South Carolina, about 150 miles inland from Charlestown. Two were Colonels Pearson and Gibbs, and there were several Captains besides Captain John Bond.

To illustrate I will quote the Claim evidence of Captain John Saunderson, late of District 96 South Carolina:

“He is by birth an Irishman, came to America in 1766 and settled in 96 District. Got 150 acres first then bought another 100 acres. Was living there when trouble broke out. Was obliged to do duty in Rebel Militia. Did it sometimes, but paid fines twice. Joined the British army soon after the reduction of Charlestown. Was in the Militia under Colonel Cunningham. Was taken prisoner at Congaree Fort, but was exchanged. He produced a Certificate from Richard King of Longland Militia, R. Cunningham, Keating Smith, John Hamilton and I. Allen, that he had served in one of the Companys of Dragoons in the Longland Militita, “to the great satisfaction of the Officers,” and recommending him as a “Gallant Soldier,” “Honest man,” and “good subject.” With further recommendation from Colonel King that Claimant was chosen Lieutenant and afterwards Captain in the said Militia. He had 250 acres, 30 cleared, 26 cows, 10 sheep, 14 hogs, 8 horses, 7 tanned hides of leather, 126 yards of linen spun by his family, furniture including a spinning wheel. When the British troops left 96 District, the Rebels seized all his property and turned his wife away. He was then in the British Service. He came to Nova Scotia in November 1782, before the evacuation of Charlestown. February following he got to Newport adjoining Rawdon, there continued until he got his land then went to Rawdon. Stayed about 16 or 17 months in Newport. Says there was very little communication between the Townships of Newport and Rawdon till the settlers made a sort of road; and very little communication between either of them and Windsor. There was at the time of their settling no communication between Rawdon and Windsor. It is now getting to be a pretty public road. Positively says he never knew of the Act till long after Lady Day 1784. Provisions were fetched from Windsor, a half year’s provisions at a time. At first they got a boat by which they were brought ten or twelve miles, then they carried them as they could.  He carried his on his back seven miles through the woods.”

Few of the other records of Claim Evidence were so complete, and Captain Saunderson is the only one who gave any picture of what conditions were in Rawdon in those very early days. Other Rawdoners who made claims were; Captain Robert Alexander, Captain John Bond, Captain George Bond, Lieutenant John Brison, William Brison, James Carter, David Densmore, Captain Adam Fralick, Henry Green, Lieutenant Samuel McAllister, Henry Martindale, Reuben Lively, William Meek Wagon Master, John Murphy, James Nickels, Colonel Thomas Pearson, George, David and Daniel Snell sons of Barnet Snell, Thomas, Eli and Abraham Thornton, sons of Captain Thomas Thornton, William Wallace, John Withrow, and his two brothers David and Jacob. All of these Claims make very interesting reading. John Withrow and his father had both served in the British Army and the father had been killed. David and Jacob were too young to bear arms.

Application for Grants of land were made individually by a number of early Rawdon Settlers and their sons. I have secured several of these;

Alexander Barron, a Loyalist with a large family arrived in 1783.

John Carter, a Loyalist from South Carolina.

Moses O’Brien, late from Providence Rhode Island, wife and 5 children.

Captain Daniel Phillips, late of Georgia, wife and 1 child.

Richard Fenton, a native of Great Britain, late an inhabitant of 96 District South Carolina since the year 1774, wounded in His Majesty’s service, went with his helpless family to Whitby, Yorkshire in 1782. Prevented by poverty and distress from laying in his claim with the Commissioners within the time limit not received even “King’s Rations.” In April 1787 had lately arrived in Rawdon.

Captain George Bond, who had been wounded in three places and had still “a ball in his collar,” through distress had sold his 500 acres soon after receiving it and desired a second Grant or “Permission to Settle.” He was refused at first but later did receive a second grant of 300 acres on the Beaverbank Road at what is called “Parker’s Meadows.”

Captain John Bond himself in 1808 asked for confirmation of a Grant of 500 acres which he claimed had been promised him by Governor Parr. He states that he had taken possession of this land about 22 years before. That the land had been given to him as a recompense for his extra services as an agent to the Loyalists, and as an encouragement for him to erect a saw mill and a grist mill for the benefit of the settlement. That he had erected such mills and had the misfortune to lose both in a freshet. That he had already rebuilt both at a great expense where the former mills had stood. This land was a strip on both side of the Herbert River upstream from his home farm lot which was at “The Bond Bridge” on the river where it is crossed by the back road from Centre to South Rawdon. None of the present inhabitants seem to know the exact location of the early mills.  (Granted 1813)

Many of these first settlers soon left Rawdon, but we still have with us the names of Withrow, Bond, Casey, Lively, Murphy, Meek, Brison, Mason, Pearson, Wallace, Fenton, O’Brien, Barron, McPhee, Whittier, McLearn, Smith, to mention only a few. By 1830, several other names had appeared on the scene. These were purchasers of land and not original “Grantees.” My original research was on land “Grants,” and I am only now really getting into the fascinating story of the inter-marriages between these families, and the parts played by each in the development of the community.