Charlotte Taylor     Her Life and Times

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Benjamin Marston

From Incidents in the Early History of Eastern and Northern New Brunswick by Reverend
W. O. Raymond - 

Diary of Benjamin Marston

Excerpt from Pages 95 to 109

"… There is quite an amount of interesting information about the Miramichi region in the diary of Benjamin Marston, the first sheriff of the County of Northumberland.  The period of Marston's residence at Miramichi was brief, extending only from June, 1785 - November, 1786.  He was a native of Marblehead. Massachusetts, where he was a well-to-do merchant before the American Revolution.  He graduated from Harvard in 1749.  His mother was a sister of elder Edward Winslow, who died in Halifax, June 9, 1784; Marston was therefore a cousin of Judge Edward Winslow, of the Supreme Court of this Province.  At the time of the Revolution in America Ben Marston sided with the Crown and was proscribed and banished.  At the peace in 1783 he was employed by the government of Nova Scotia as an engineer in laying out of Shelburne.  Through friendship of Edward Winslow he received from Sir John Wentworth, Surveryor of the King's Woods in North America, an appointment as his deputy in New Brunswick and it is at this point that he comes before us in connection with the Miramichi region …

Marston arrived at Saint John on the 19th of December, and from this point on we shall, for the most part, allow him to tell his story in his own words:"

Monday, December 20, 1784

Waited upon his Excellency Governor Carleton; shew him my appointment and Instructions as Deputy Surveyor of the woods under Gov'r Wentworth.

Sunday, January 2, 1785

Dined with Gov'r Carleton in company with Judges Allen and Putnam, Col. Willard, Col. Robinson, a Mr. Davidson and the Secretary of the Province.

Tuesday, January 18, 1785

Queen's birth night. Governor Carleton gave a Ball and Supper at the House of Assembly Room. Between 30 and 40 Ladies, near 100 Gentlemen - the Ladies were of the best families only, but the Gentlemen were of all sorts - the business was as well conducted as such entertainment could be, where so large a company were to be entertained in so small a room. Arrived this evening from Annapolis the Ship Hermione with provisions for this settlement, a very welcome arrival.

Sunday, June 26, 1785

Having no employment at St. John of any kind I have accepted some appointments in the new County of Northumberland, to which place I set out by way of Fort Cumberland on June 26.

Saturday, July 9, 1785

About noon left the bay of Verte and arrived Thursday 14 at Wilson's, Miramichi Point, having been six days in an open boat without any covering by day or night from sun, wind or rain …

Monday, July 18, 1785

Administered the state oaths and oath of office to John Wilson, Esquire, Justice of the Peace. Served William Davidson, Dr. Prince's notice by personally giving it to him.

Sunday, July 24, 1785

The notification which I put up that I would publish the charter of the County, brought considerable of the inhabitants together, the greater part of whom were drunk at my expense. The most of the people are illiterate and much given to drunkenness, they depend most of them upon the Salmon fishery, which being precarious, they sometimes live poor enough. Necessity and example of some few will, a soon as the banks of the river are all located, make them turn their attention to their lands. They want two things, Law, to keep them in order, and Gospel, to give them some better ideas than they seem to have and to civilize their manners, which attendance on public worship would tend to promote.

"… Some further idea of Ben Marston's first impressions of the Miramichi may be gleaned from the following very interesting letter which he addressed to Edward Winslow after his arrival …"

Miramichi Point, July 17th, 1785.

' … I arrived here only three days ago and it has taken me till now to get myself stowed into a place where I can do business.

The condition of the River respecting the number of Inhabitants has been greatly misrepresented - to me at least.  There are not above 100 families, if so many upon it at present.  They live in a sparse manner, scattered along its banks.  My appointments here will be a mere sound and not much more.  The emoluments of them will never make it worth my while to remain here after I have done these particular kinds of service which I came
hither to execute; these I shall finish at all events.  This makes it more necessary for me to get into some other line of Business for a livelihood and not depend any more on Government for employment …

The Salmon Fishery on this River is an object worth the attention of the Government, but unless it is attended to will be ruined by the ignorance and avarice of those concerned in it.  It has failed very much this season - no doubt thro the impolitic methods used to catch the Fish, which is chiefly by set nets, which are so extended from each side as to leave the fish very little room to run, and at Davidson's are extended fairly quite across the river to the utter exclusion of the poor savages above … I will dare pronounce that Miramichi Point and Beaubear's Island are superior in situation to Fredericton.  A ship of 250 tons from Italy is now lying just by them …

Write to me whenever you can, twill be a supreme consolation to me in this my retreat to know that you sometimes think of

Ben. Marston.

"… Continuing with extracts from Marston's journal, we find a reference to the lands (100,000 acres in all) granted in 1765 to Davidson and Cort.  The conditions of this grant required that a certain part should be cleared within a limited time, that a certain number of settlers should be established thereon, also houses built, cattle raised, etc.  Many large grants on the St. John River and elsewhere in New Brunswick were forfeited or escheated at his time."

Wednesday, August 3, 1785

The Jury of inquest on Davidson and Cort's Grant returned their verdict this day, 'conditions not performed'. …

"… During the remainder of the month Ben. Marston was engaged in laying out lands on a stream he calls the  'Little S. West' for the following parties: Capt. John McLean, of Shelburne, a loyal refugee; Roderick McDonald, a disbanded soldier of the 76th Regiment; Alexander McMillan, who had been in the sea service ; John Donald, of Scotland ; and John Watson."

Sunday, September 4, 1785

Left my Lodging at Squire Wilson's and came to Mark Delesdernier's at 10 shilling pr week.

Thursday, November 17, 1785

To-day held an election for two members to represent this County in General Assembly. Wm. Davidson, an inhabitant of this river, an ignorant, cunning fellow, but who has great influence over the people here, many of them holding land under him, and many others being tradesmen and laborers in his employ, was chosen for one, and by the same influence Elias Hardy, an attorney of no great reputation in his profession, an inhabitant of the City of St. John, was chosen for the other. … This is the first election ever held in this place.

"… Marston's sarcastic references are evidently inspired by pique at the thwarting of his wishes as regards the election of his personal friends.  Elias Hardy was far from being 'an attorney of no reputation' ; … As regards Mr. Davidson, he was by no means an uneducated man."

Tuesday, November 22, 1785

Left home with J. M. Delesdernier in a canoe …

Friday, November 25, 1785

Pleasant, returned homeward - crossed the Little Napan River and arrived at big Napan about one O'clock. …

Sunday, November 27, 1785

… crossed the Napan. Went to George Murdoch's thence crossed the river to James English's and there lodged.

Monday, November 28, 1785

Returned home, having been absent 7 days.

Thursday, December 1, 1785

Made return of the election, also of my swearing in John Wilson Esq., a Justice of the Peace and Robt. Reid Esq., Coroner, for the County of Northumberland. Wrote Ward Chipman - enclosed a duplicate of my letter to E. Forster, at Halifax, for saw mill irons.

"… The year 1786 commences in Marston's journal with an account of surveying lands on Indian Brook for George Manning, Daniel Merchant and John Burns.  In this, as in the other surveys, his chainman was John M. Lesdernier.  Marston received for his work ten shillings a day and the chainman two shillings and six pence. In this trip they experienced some very cold weather in which Marston was frost bitten and Lesdernier returned home.  The diary continues:"

Sunday, January 22, 1786

Returned home, a fatiguing march of 30 miles thro a sharp frozen crust.  Wrote Robichaux that I would take Savoy's oxen - that Lesdernier would come for them the last of May ; sent him the petition for land for the French people.

"… Marston gives some details of surveys at 'Negayac' and Bay du Vin." …

Tuesday, February 14, 1786

Measured Peter Henderson's lot, found it 10 chains wide.

Saturday, February 18, 1786

Was informed by an elderly man of good character, that if Stewart, whom I have located next to Martin Lyons, should fail of getting that lot that my life will be in danger if I return to this river again.

" … While at Miramichi Ben. Marston corresponded with his cousin Edward Winslow, upon the subject of joining him in trade and lumbering, and on his arrival at St. John he wrote a letter to Colonel Winslow, dated at Portland Point, March 11, 1786 in which he says:"

'… I arrived here from Miramichi the day before yesterday, after a 16 days march, very well.  I was in hopes to have found you in town, for I wish much to see you respecting what we have so often talked about, and I have wrote so much.  As soon as I have settled my business with the Surveyor General I shall go off for Halifax to get the Irons for our mill, stores for the Salmon Fishery, etc., etc.  I have started a new object in that county, which will be a capital affair if I can obtain liberty to pursue it - that is the mast business.  Could I get any introduction to the Commissioner, so as to obtain a contract ; I think that in a course of a  season I could procure the best part of it, if not quite, one hundred sticks of the largest size.  From Halifax, after doing what I can with the Commissioners, I shall go back to Miramichi.'

" … Marston failed to secure the mast contract of which he speaks in his letter quoted above.  The pine trees of the Miramichi country were magnificent trees at this time … Sir John Wentworth, who visited Miramichi for the first time in the autumn of 1788, wrote thence, on Oct. 15th, to Edward Winslow, 'I have found on this river the best Mast timber in British America, great quantities of which are on the Reservations.  The pine timber for size, length and soundness, exceeds any I ever saw in New England' … The manufacture of lumber was an infant industry at the time Sheriff Marston made his journey to Halifax to procure the mill irons needed for his saw mill.  We must proceed now with the extracts from his diary:"

Halifax, April 27, 1786

Arrived here from St. John.

Halifax, May 4, 1786

Shipped my mill irons for Miramichi in John Watson's vessel.

Halifax, May 18, 1786

Shipped on board Kavenagh's shallop, under care of Mr. Fraser, three bbls. pork. Bread, 5 salmon nets, for Miramichi. (Written later) The salmon nets fell short and 1 bbl. pork, and rest uncertain, received none of them.

Monday, June 5, 1786

Left Halifax for Miramichi.

Tuesday, June 11, 1786

Arrived at Charlottetown, the capital of the Island of St. John. A very poor, miserable place, as all the places must be which are inhabited by an idle, indolent, poor gentry, who are at perpetual variance among themselves, and ready to make advantage upon all who come among them - which is the case of Charlottetown in ye present year of our Lord.

Sunday, June 18, 1786

Arrived in Miramichi and got safe home to LesDerniers.

Tuesday, July 4, 1786

Employed laborers getting frame for saw mill - Coon, Cram, Atkinson. Between this and Sept. 20th laid down the sills, sawyers cut boards. On 27th July raised frame ; 29th began digging foundation for the dam, find a good bed of clay (Thank God).

" … Marston continued to engage in his profession as a surveyor during his residence at Miramichi as opportunity offered … Benjamin Marston left Miramichi on the 20th October, 1786, on board 'Skipper Chappel's boat for Bay Verte', and about the 20th of November arrived at St. John.  His intention was to return early the following spring but he was destined never again to see the Miramichi.  He went, in the course of the winter, to New England to obtain some documents necessary to establish the claims of the widow and daughters of the elder Edward Winslow for compensation from the British government on account of sufferings and losses consequent upon the American Revolution.  The following summer he embarked for England to prosecute his own claims for a like compensation.  Just before his departure he wrote to Thomas Robie, at Halifax, one of his creditors, describing the state of his affairs at Miramichi.  From this letter it appears that J. M. Les Derniers was concerned in trade with Mr. Marston.  They sold goods to the Indians, which were to be paid for in furs, and to the white settlers, to be paid in fish, etc.  He adds:

"… I am likeways half concerned in a saw mill which was nearly compleated when I left the river, and would have been entirely last fall, but the early setting in of the winter prevented it.  About 10 days would have been sufficient to fit her for going and I expect she has been compleated and at work.  Besides this, I shall have two nets a fishing this spring and I intended to have been there early this spring myself.'

" … Ben. Marston found himself in very straitened circumstances shortly after his arrival in London.  The compensation he received from Government was exceedingly small in view of his really severe losses.  After three years in England he wrote Edward Winslow, 'If I can bring my affairs to any kind of bearing in time to do it.  I mean to go out to Miramichi and pick up what property I have there, and if there is an annual ship there, which there used to be, to ship what I may collect fr Leghorn and myself with it' … This intention Marston never carried out, and a few years later he died on the west coast of Africa, far from home and kindred … Benjamin Marston was, as already mentioned, the first sheriff of the County of Northumberland."

From The Winslow Papers Edited by W. O. Raymond

Excerpt from Pages 708 and 709

Benjamin Marston to Ward Chipman

London, March 26, 1792

'… My dear Chippy, - God in his merciful providence has at last opened me a door to escape out of England and I have embraced the opportunity with as much joy as I ever did to get out from the worst prison I was ever in.  It does not indeed bring me to New Brunswick, it carries me rather farther off - to the coast of Africa, whither I am going as Surveyor Gen'l of Lands to a large Company who are about making a settlement on the Island Boolam, which lies in the Atlantic Ocean, about four miles from the main continent of Africa in 11 degrees some min. N. Lat., right opposite the mouth o Rio Grande. …

Yours,

Ben. Marston.

P.S. - Don't neglect to tease Lesdernier when you can do it without much trouble to yourself - and why can't you institute a process against my real property at Miramichi, have it let for whatever it will and apply the money to payment where I owe, of which I have given you an account.'

" … Note. - Soon after the arrival of the settlers at their destination they were attacked by the deadly African fever, and of their company of 275 persons only a few survived who abandoned the enterprise and went home.  Among those who perished was Benjamin Marston.  His death occurred August 10, 1792."

Excerpt from Page 410

Ward Chipman to Edward Winslow

St. John, N. B., May 13th, 1794

" … But to another subject.  Being at length satisfied that our worthy unfortunate friend Marston was really dead, I the other day opened his chest.  The uppermost thing was a tin-case enclosing some papers all of which I now send you. I opened the cover containing his will in the presence of Mr. Hazen and Coffin.  By it you will find you are his sole executor.  Poor fellow his fate was hard and he must have been most vexatiously disappointed at the amount of his compensation.  There are besides his private books and papers, a few articles of trifling value and his surveying instruments, all of which are subject to your disposal.  In respects to the debt to me for cash, which I have loaned him since coming to this country, he some time ago wrote requesting I would proceed against him as an absconding debtor and sell his property at Miramichi to pay myself. I took no steps but writing to Delesdernier for an account of the property in his hands, but never received an answer.  I don't suppose it is worthwhile going there to look after it, as I understand Delesdernier is but a Slippery Chap.  There are some creditors I believe at Halifax from a letter to Mr. Robie, which you will see in the last books of his journal dated July, 1787, just before he left this.w of any here, but myself, except McCall and Codner.  You will determine however what is best to be done, if anything.  As to myself I have long time ceased to expect anything, unless the good fellow had met with that good fortune which he so richly merited."

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