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Canadian Historic Sites: Occasional Papers in Archaeology and History No. 23

Gaspé, 1760-1867

by David Lee

Part III: The People of Gaspé

The British

Not long after New France became British, a flood of British adventurers, merchants, traders and fishing entrepreneurs began to appear in Gaspé. Some, like Captain Joseph Deane of the Royal Navy, were granted great parcels of land and never once saw them: Deane's land in Gaspé Bay remained unused until it was finally reclaimed by the crown in the 1820s.1 According to the 1765 census, there were already about 50 British people resident in Gaspé2 and many more came to fish for cod every summer. As early as 1764 the Admiralty expressed concern that these "mixed & tumultuous Multitudes" would become a threat to law and order: it was usually the outsiders who were blamed for crime in Gaspé. In the early 1770s a group of Rhode Islanders came to establish fishing stations at Mal Bay and Pointe-Saint-Pierre. Although they came before the Revolution, their allegiance to the British crown was questioned and they were carefully watched throughout the war.3

One of the first English-speaking families to settle in Gaspé was that of Felix O'Hara, first reported in 1764 operating a fishing establishment at Gaspé Bay.4 In the 1765 census his house hold consisted of his wife, two sons, two servants and four employees. In 1767 he and some partners were granted land for the erection of buildings required for their fishery,5 but fishing became less important to O'Hara as the government endowed him with increased judicial responsibilities. In 1765 he had been made a justice of the peace, in 1779 he became the first judge of the Gaspé Court of Common Pleas, for which he was paid £100 annually, and in 1795 he became the first judge of the Provincial Court of Gaspé at £200 per year. Also, when the lieutenant governor was absent (which was most of the time) O'Hara stood in for him and for many years he was a collector of customs at Gaspé Bay.6 One of his sons, Major Hugh O'Hara, succeeded him as collector at Gaspé Bay and died there in 1818 as a result of helping the sick left behind by a disease-stricken ship. Another son, Oliver, served as customs agent at New Carlisle while a third, Edward, was the first member elected to represent Gaspé in the assembly of Lower Canada.7 The family held many public offices in Gaspé and was trusted and respected by everyone.

In May 1783 Governor Haldimand sent Captain Justus Sherwood and a company of Loyalists on a tour of Gaspé to reconnoitre its potential as an area for Loyalist settlement. The governor's desire to send Loyalists into the area may have been prompted by his long-time wish to see his seigneury of Pabos and Chaleur Bay occupied. Sherwood's guide was Felix O'Hara, who said that he fairly pointed out the disadvantages as well as the advantages of Gaspé. Although the captain reported that perhaps 1,500 families could be settled on the coast south of Gaspé Bay, he did not find the climate attractive nor was he impressed by the life led by the established Acadian residents. Sherwood felt that these residents were impeded by the question of unsettled Indian land ownership and that

this Country never can flourish while under the monopoly of a few designing Traders, who make it their study to discourage the cultivation of the lands, and to keep the poor Inhabitants so much in debt as to oblige them to spend the whole Summer Season in fishing to pay up their arrears. This is the case at present with the poor Inhabitants of Bay Chaleurs, and I think the only reason why so fine a Country is generally reported to be uninhabitable except for a few poor Fishermen.8

(Sherwood later asked that some land on which Acadians were living be given to him; when this request was refused he decided to settle on the upper St. Lawrence instead.) It was years before the Indian lands question was settled and the hold of the large fish merchants on the local economy became more monopolistic during the following decades.

In all, probably 600 Loyalists and disbanded soldiers eventually came to Gaspé.9 Governor Haldimand promised them land and rations in Gaspé equal to those he intended to supply Loyalists settling on the upper St. Lawrence River for he considered settlement desirable "in consideration of the great National advantage to be derived from the Fisheries" there. Felix O'Hara, on the other hand, always felt that the fisheries distracted men from the superior advantages of agriculture.10 Nevertheless, although more rations were expended for settlement in Gaspé, few Loyalists went and fewer stayed.

It was not until the following February (1784) that lots on Chaleur Bay were advertised among the Loyalists awaiting re-settlement and not until June 1784 that the first Loyalists left Quebec. Lieutenant Governor Cox accompanied the three brigs and six smaller vessels which brought 315 people to Chaleur Bay. After a rough passage of more than two weeks they stopped at Paspébiac, but the Loyalists could not agree upon settlement there, so Cox directed the flotilla on to Bonaventure where they found the beach and some of the best land in the possession of the Acadians. Although some wanted to dispossess the Acadians, Cox decided that they should move back a few leagues toward Paspébiac. There they founded their town of Little Paspébiac (later New Carlisle). Felix O'Hara, working now as a surveyor, laid out the town. The vessels were immediately sent back to Quebec to return with provisions and baggage before winter arrived. Additional small groups came to Gaspé throughout the summer on the supply ships. The total number of Loyalists sent to Chaleur Bay is put at either 406 or 435.11 Cox found them quarrelsome and difficult to please. It was not until 10 July that they first swore fealty and drew for their one-acre lots in the town — too late to plant gardens that year.12

Haldimand's plan was that New Carlisle would be a "fishing town" while a second settlement should be established on Gaspé Bay for "Artificers & those not engaged in the Fishery." The second settlement was called Douglastown, probably after Sir Charles Douglas, Officer Commanding the Royal Navy station at Halifax at the time. About 54 families were settled at Douglastown, bringing the total number of Loyalists sent to Gaspé in 1784 to around 600.13

Some of the land on which Loyalists were later settled was in the seigneuries of Deneau (Port-Daniel) and Restigouche, but it was not until 1797 that the government finally completed arrangements to purchase the seigneuries and thus clear the title.14 Allotting land in the country inland from Paspébiac was delayed until 1785 and clearing did not begin until 1786. Cox and O'Hara made sure that land grants to the Loyalists did not hamper Charles Robin's privileges on the beach at Paspébiac or on the land behind the shore which he used as a source for timber "for the use of the Fishery."15

All lots were drawn for; military officers did not get first choice but were given more land.16 At New Carlisle the officers appear to have received a basic 300 or 400 acres whether they were captains, lieutenants or ensigns. The men who received the most acreage were schoolmasters; one, with four children, got 750 acres and the other, married but childless, got 550 acres. The others generally were given a basic grant of 100 acres and an extra 100-acre lot for each older child. Four unmarried labourers were given only 50 acres each, but all four were choice front lots. Many of the unmarried, discharged, rank-and-file soldiers were given country lots, perhaps because they had come down from Quebec later. In any case, these men and apparently others with better lots did not stay long — perhaps only as long as the rations lasted — but sold their location tickets for small sums and left for New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Canada.17

Most of the Gaspé Loyalists appear to have come from New York, some having been tenants of Isaac Mann in the northern part of that state. A large proportion of them had seen military service with Jessup's and Butler's Rangers or with Burgoyne. The Gaspé Loyalists were said to have received more food and clothing rations per capita than others established in British North America. They were also provided with feed for livestock, as well as tools to clear and cultivate their lands, seeds to sow, arms and bedding, and other essentials of everyday living. Provision of rations had to be extended until at least 1787 because of the delays in surveying, allotting and cultivating the land. The government also arranged for a former army surgeon's mate to settle with the Loyalists as their doctor. In October 1785, Benjamin Hobson began a career which was to last for about 35 years as schoolmaster at New Carlisle; his annual salary in 1785 was £25.18

The only family to establish itself as a true Loyalist elite in Gaspé was that of Isaac Mann who, as a resident of New York, fought for the British in the revolutionary war for a short time as a militia colonel. Imprisoned and subsequently banished to Canada, he applied in 1780 (in the name of the whole family) for land on Chaleur Bay and received 2,000 acres. After the war the rest of the family came to Gaspé, including a daughter and five sons, John, Thomas, Isaac Junior, Edward Isaac, and William. Isaac Mann Senior, a widower at the time of relocation, died in 1791.

As former officers, the five sons got at least 400 acres each. With their original grant and the purchase of location tickets of Loyalists who left the bay, the Manns became the major landholders of the area, yet they still appealed to the government for more land. The Mann brothers filled such local positions as justice of the peace, sheriff and members of the Gaspé Land Board. They quarrelled constantly with the Indians and Acadians and because of their powerful position, usually succeeded in getting their own way. In 1819 Edward Isaac was described as "all powerful in those remote places [Chaleur Bay], and holds over the Petitioners and other Inhabitants, as well as over the Indians, a tyrannical Dominion." When Monseigneur Plessis visited the Restigouche Indians in 1812, he called Mann an "exploiter" of the Indians, but when Anglican Archdeacon George Mountain visited Chaleur Bay in 1824 he found Mann to be "a decent kind of Man." He says that Mann was "owner & Master of a tending-vessel to the W. Indies etc.," but he also observed that Mann's house was "comfortless" and his farm buildings "make-shift."19 The Manns wielded considerable influence on Chaleur Bay but never became rich. Gaspé offered little opportunity for Loyalists to build a fortune nor was any Gaspé Loyalist ever chosen to serve in either the legislative assembly or the legislative council of the province.

Lieutenant Governor Cox and Judge O'Hara were frequently exasperated by the troublesome behaviour of the Loyalists. Before they arrived O'Hara had hoped that "their Examples of Industry and Regularity . . . may produce happy Consequences" among the local Acadians. They had scarcely landed when he wrote that "to please these discontented people will be the hardest Task I ever undertook." Later he described them as being "unsteady." Cox found that it was the officers (who, as Haldimand pointed out, "should influence the lower people to an observance of Regularity and good order") who were the worst offenders. Haldimand suggested that Cox cut off their provisions for a time to make the Loyalists more tractable. Even Charles Robin, who might have welcomed the arrival of an English-speaking group on the bay, noted as late as 1798 that "these ignorant people have no Idea of Laws & Regulations, their caprice is their Rule."20

Perhaps half of the Loyalists left Gaspé realising that there was no fortune to be made there; most of the residents of Douglastown were reported gone by 1811 — replaced by Irish emigrants.21 The Loyalists who remained did not attempt to set themselves apart from the rest of the English-speaking population and some intermarried with the French-speaking people, their children becoming Roman Catholic and sometimes French-speaking.22

The British population of Gaspé was divided by religion and even language so one can even talk of intermarriage within the British group. For example, the Irish were English in language but Roman Catholic in religion; the Jerseymen and Guernseymen were French in language but Protestant in religion; many of the Channel Islanders were Anglican but some were Methodist, and the Scots were English-speaking but generally Presbyterian in denomination.

The Anglican Church was slow to send missionaries to serve the British population of Gaspé. Bishop Inglis of Nova Scotia visited Gaspé Bay in 1789 and reported that there was no church there. The Anglicans of Paspébiac requested a minister in 1801, but it was not until 1819 that the first missionary, John Suddard, was sent to Gaspé Bay. A second minister, Richard Knagg, was sent in 1821 to serve the English and Jersey population of Chaleur Bay. As a result of his first visit as Bishop of Quebec (1837), George J. Mountain created a third mission covering the coast between Gaspé Bay and Chaleur Bay (that is, Mal Bay, Percé and Cape Cove). All the missionaries were supported by the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel. Mountain paid a total of six visits to Gaspé, two as archdeacon and four as bishop (1824, 1826, 1837, 1853, 1859 and 1862).23

The Channel Islanders had a Methodist chapel at St. George's Cove (near Grande-Grčve) early in the 19th century that was served, apparently, by a preacher who resided at Gaspé Bay. When Archdeacon Mountain visited there in 1824 the Methodists begged him to hold services in their chapel. Mountain was reluctant to do so, but was eventually persuaded. Since many of the Jerseymen and Guernseymen could not understand English, he preached in French. Mountain stopped at St. George's Cove on later visits to Gaspé (1826 and 1837) and again preached to the Methodist Channel Islanders in French.24

A third religious group among the British population were the Presbyterians, most of whom were Scottish. They had a mission in the Hopetown area by 1830 and at New Richmond by 1847.25

Religious differences seldom led to any serious conflicts; however, in 1819 there was trouble between the Channel Islanders and the Irish at Grande-Grčve and St. George's Cove; the Roman Catholic cemetery and church were desecrated and the Methodist chapel was demolished and the preacher roughed up.26 Although there was little strife and some intermarriage, religious differences continued to divide the British population of Gaspé throughout the 19th century.

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