Records of Chignecto
The Late John Palmer, Esq.
John Palmer came of good stock. His father held a commission in the British service, was a loyalist, and was amongst the thousands of those who preferred banishment in a northern wilderness with all its toils and perils to their homes under an alien flag. Who can tell how much the pluck and enterprise, the spirit of patriotism and domestic virtue that mark the character of our people does not exist by the law of heredity and descent from the Roman spirit of these political exiles that made our shores their home? The dust of Gideon Palmer, the common ancestor of the Palmer family of this County, reposes in the old Dorchester graveyard, his history being briefly recorded on a headstone:
A Lieutenant in
Died Oct. 6, 1824,
aged 75 years.
He was still a young man when the loyalists came over (1783,) but he appears to have been recognized at once as a man of character and importance. Among the first commissions issued by the nearly organized government of New Brunswick, was one to Gideon Palmer, as Coroner and on the first nisi prius Court held in Westmorland County on 18th Sept. 1787, we find him making his first return.*
He was captain of the Dorchester company of Militia. In those war-like days, when an enemy might be apprehended at any time, and when it was necessary to be prepared for attack, the militia were drilled 15 days, 6 in the spring 6 in the fall and 3 in general muster which took place at Sackville. Capt. Palmer drilled his men at Charters. It is related at a general Muster at Dixons’ Island, the officers were dining together, when an altercation arose between Capt. Palmer and Capt. Henry Chapman, one occupying a seat near the head of the table the other near the foot. Capt. Chapman in his excitement shouted out to his brother officer in language more warlike than parliamentary: “You’re a liar.” Capt. Palmer did not reply. He jumped up on the table, where his movements could not be hindered, and made a dash at his opponent, clearing the table of its viands as he went. The results are not known beyond the fact that Capt. Palmer a few days afterwards paid £6 for proken dishes. Mr. Palmer married a daughter of Christopher Harper; he left four sons, Philip, Gideon, Marcus and John. The late Philip Palmer was a leading J. P., and for years a representative in the General Assembly. Gideon became one of the most successful ship-builders and ship-owners in the Province. It is with John whose life has spanned more than a century, we have to deal.
Few realize how far back a century of time takes us. When Mr. Palmer was a baby, the great Napoleon was a Lieutenant in the Regiment of Grenoble, at Valence, and dividing his time between writing sentimental essays and making love to Mlle. Calombier. He was three years old when Napoleon was a witness at the Tuileries, (20 June ’92) of the commencements of the French revolution, when the rioters forced the unfortunate King to appear at the window wearing the bonnet rouge. He was nine years old when General Napoleon returned from his first Italian victories, and twenty when Wellington, engaged in the Peninsular war, was working at his triple line of defence on the heights of Torres Vedras.
He was 24 years of age when Geo. Stephenson constructed the first locomotive which ran at the rate of 6 miles, and he had reached 37 years of age before the first passenger railway line was opened – the one between Stockton and Darlington. He was 56 years of age before Morse brought the electric telegraph into practical use between Washington and Baltimore.
His life seems to span the whole period of modern invention and progress – mechanics, arts, locomotion, printing, education, seem almost to have been created within the past century, so marvelous has been the development.
Mr. Gideon Palmer lived when he first came with the Loyalists at Green Hill, Westermorland Point, which was then the political centre of the country between St. John and Halifax. Fifteen years after, when John Palmer was born, the country had made some slight progress, but the whole Province was then practically a wilderness, the few newly formed settlements being separated by almost interminable forests. In 1784, the only English settler from Pictou to Miramichi was Mr. William Hanington, who that year purchased a tract of 5,000 acres, at Shediac. It was only 20 years previously that Mr. William Davidson arrived from the north of Scotland and settled at Miramichi, and the next year obtained the Elm Tree grant of 100,000 acres. But it was not until 1786 that a number of Loyalists and disbanded soldiers settled there and Mr. Davidson was enabled to start to saw mills and two years later open trade with England in the sale of masts. In 1786, Mr. Solomon Powell an American Loyalist from Poughkeepsie, settled on the Richibucto, where the ferocity of the Indians had previously deterred any English settlers from attempting it.* At this period there were but eight families including Acadians between Baie des Vents Miramichi and Baie Verte and from the entrance of the Richibucto to Grand Lake. On the Bay of Fundy coast, the progress of English colonization and settlement was not much more forward. Twenty four years before Mr. Palmer’s birth Messrs. White and Simonds landed at St. John, and Capt. Peabody at Maugerville to start settlements at these places, at which date there were only 400 Europeans on the River St John, and in the city itself. Five years before his birth the population of the whole province (after the arrival of the Loyalists) was then 12,000. But so slowly did the province progress outside of St. John itself and the up-river country, which was in easy access to it by water, that some years after (1805, when Mr. Palmer was 25 years of age,) it was officially reported there was not ten miles of road in the Province, outside of Sunbury, fit for a carriage wheel.
*The first court was held at the house of Mr. James Law, Westmorland. Mr. Justice Ludlow presided. There were present on the bench James Law, Charles Dixon, Christopher Harper, Robert Scott and William Allen Esquires; Ward Chipman, afterwards Chief Justice acted as clerk, and Thomas Herritt as constable. The bar was represented by Messrs Botsford, Chipman and Hardy. Gideon Palmer, Coroner, made return of an inquisition taken upon the body of Geo. Murphy, (illegible) drowned.
*He went there to carry on fishing and shipbuilding, portaging his implements and supplies from the head of Grand Lake to the head of Richibucto river with the help of Indians. Three years afterward he was followed there by Capt. Jacob Powell, who commenced business, associated with William Pagan, of St. John, under the name of Pagan & Powell. Their head quarters were at St. John, and they had four branch houses. To show the difficulty and delay attending communication in those days, it may be mentioned that the Quebec house had heavy losses, which rendered the firm insolvent, and it was six months afterward before the head house at St. John learned they had been bankrupt for six months. The late Judge Weldon, the late sheriff Sayre and Benjamin Goldsmith, a nephew of the post, were clerks in the Richibucto house. It is also interesting to note that during the revolution, Capt. Powell sailed a vessel from New York without convey, for England. He was met off the coast of Nova Scotia by a French privateer, which called upon him to surrender. He was armed with one gun – “a long Tom,” and he preferred trying conclusions. The French vessel shattered his mainmast, when he got a fair shot at his opponent between wind and water, sinking her, He rescued the crew, landing them at Halifax. The cabin boy, Michaud, was brought up by Capt. Powell, and some of his descendants live in Kent Co.
TO BE CONTINUED