Charlotte Taylor Her Life and Times
" Davidson, William (John Godsman) - pioneer, businessman and politician. b. 1740 in parish of Bellie, Banffshire, Scotland; d. at Miramichi, N. B. June 17, 1790. Son of John Godsman. Early in life he became familiar with the trade of curing and marketing fish. At age 24 he came out to the Miramichi and established a salmon fishery in what was then a vast wilderness, at the same time assuming the name of his maternal grandfather William Davidson. Showing vision, sagacity, and enterprise, Davidson shaped the destiny of the whole area for the next 25 years. He established the first British settlement on the Miramichi, developed a trade in salt salmon and furs and in 1773 built the second vessel constructed in New Brunswick. In 1775 he contracted for the export of timber to Britain - the start of New Brunswick's lumber industry. Except for a brief period on the St. John, where he had been forced to retire during the Revolutionary War because of raiding American privateers and the hostility of the Indians, Davidson continued to expand his large and varied business. In 1783 he was elected to the Nova Scotia House of Assembly. With the establishment of New Brunswick, he represented Northumberland in the first assembly. He was a justice of the peace and a judge of the Court of Common Pleas. About 1778, he married Sarah Nevers, daughter of the first physician on the St. John; they had three sons and two daughters."
Letter from his Aunt Miss Betty Godsman
Fochabers 21st June 1804
' just when I was about making a settlement of my affairs before I left Inverness I caused a man of business draw out my will in favour of you your brothers and sisters and I have named two gentlemen of honour and probity as my executors whom I am convinced do you all manner of justice. William Tod Esq. at Fochabers Factor to the Duke of Gordon and Thomas Gillzeen Esq. at Inverness. These are the two who will correspond with you about my affairs. They and my brother and myself have long been on the most friendly footing. While I live I cannot spare any of my income. - Whatever money I leave at my death your Mother is to have the interest of all her time if she survives me as a testimony of my regard for her as the widow of my beloved Brother I urge you to Write immediately on receipt of this if you direct to me at this place North Briton it will surely find me, there are no more of the name now in this country. '
Your affectionate Aunt
Letter from A.A. Davidson to A.A. Stockton 10 November 1875
' Dear Sir:
we have nothing except what is contained in the Public Records and what little has been handed down by tradition in the family. My Grandfather, the late William Davidson came from North Scotland, the family owned property in the Town of Inverness but I am not sure whether he was a native of that town, he certainly was of the shire. His brother was a Captain in the East Indian Army and afterwards until his death factor of the Duke of Gordon. I do not know the date of his leaving Scotland or to what American port he sailed, I think New York or Boston from whence he came to the Saint John River and became engaged in the masting business for the British Navy. He there married Sarah Nevers, Daughter of Dr. Nevers of Maugerville. Believing that the Miramichi offered better facilities for carrying on his business, large pine suitable for masts being abundant on the banks of River, he came here I think in 1763 and commenced operations being the first British settler who came to this part of the Province. He brought all his men and oxen necessary for carrying on the masting business from the Old Colonies - Vermont and New Hampshire principally. He also engaged largely in the salmon fishery for the prosecution of which he brought out a number of families from his native shire, principally from shores of Moray Firth, some his own relations and settled them on lands drawn for the purpose on the Lower part of the River where their descendants are found to this day, Davidson, Gordon, Innis, Murdoch, Stewart. He himself located on NW branch of River about 8 miles above the place where he erected the first saw mill. '
A. A. Davidson
Excerpt from Page 11
" William Davidson, a salmon fisherman and a native of Scotland, came to Halifax 1765 to establish a salmon fishery in Nova Scotia. Later on he went across to New Brunswick and settled on banks of Miramichi. In 1773 he built a vessel of 300 T., the largest thus far constructed in new Brunswick - for the purpose of shipping fish to Mediterranean. In 1775 he built a vessel of 160 T. which he loaded with his own caught fish, and was en route to Europe when the craft stuck on St. John's Island ( now Prince Edward Island) and was lost. This information is contained in a memorial which Davidson addressed to Governor Carleton of New Brunswick."
Excerpt from Pages 39 to 43
" according to Louise Manny the earliest sailing vessel built on the river was William Davidson's 300 T. schooner Miramichi built in 1773, 'presumably at his shipyard on north side of the SouWest Miramichi a few miles above tip of Beaubair's Point'. This Davidson was a powerful figure whose life complements the life of the estuary in many respects, since he twice left during difficult times - a war and a shipbuilding slump - only to return as soon as possible to build ships for English and other European customers What happened to Davidson is typical, though he was outstanding, vigorous and determined. Determined as he was however he could not alter the 'Establishment's' ideas of land settlement. In the mid 18th century the only way in which Davidson could operate legally on the Miramichi, in either fishing or lumber and shipbuilding 'business' was for him to obtain a grant of land from government in Halifax. He never intended to develop a colony. Nor did he intend to clear the land except for his own needs. For the land to be possessed, as a colony, it had to be occupied, but settlement and possession are quite different from each other. The gentlemen in Halifax, on the other hand, were only able to think that 1/3 of 100,000 acres could be cleared in four years because they had never seen the land they were giving away. Nor did they ever see it. They thought about land in the only way they knew. The land is scarcely more 'cleared' now than it was in 1765 when Davidson made his application, a not surprising fact since it is unclearable, unworkable and except for the shore and estuary land, undesirable. The extent of the misunderstanding about what might be done, agriculturally, with this part of New Brunswick can be seen if you compare what you see with your own eyes in mid 20th century with documents that demonstrate what people thought New Brunswick was like 200 years ago. So many of them had left Europe before the so called Agricultural Revolution: thus they did not regard the land with a scientific eye at all.
the primary interest of the first settlers in this part of the country was the establishment of a fishery, and a little later, shipbuilding. There was never any real chance of land settlement on land as poor as this, however strenuous the efforts of the first colonizers. Very soon, therefore, the energies of Davidson's 'colony' were diverted to fishing. Packed in imported salt, large quantities of fish were exported to European markets, and to a lesser extent to the West Indies, where alewives and gaspereaux could be exchanged for sugar and rum. This trade flourished for a number of years, though interrupted by war, and by the increased activity of American privateers up and down the coast, which threatened and often cut the supply lines upon which the Miramichi settlement depended. Eventually the area was abandoned and the colony moved to the St. John River Valley for duration of war."
Excerpt from Pages 13 to 50
" William Davidson's purpose in coming to British North America was to establish a salmon fishery in some part of Nova Scotia which then included New Brunswick. He had been concerned in salmon fisheries of North Britain from his youth. Associated with him was John Cort, a native of Aberdeenshire. Encouraged by favourable reception of their memorial William Davidson and John Cort engaged a vessel and spent summer of 1765 exploring east coast. In 1765 the only fishermen on the Miramichi were a few Micmac with their spears. There was not a house or a white settler in whole river valley with possible exception of a few refugee Acadian families; no farms and no large areas of wild grassland, nothing but river and mile upon mile of unbroken forest The breaking out of the American Revolution had interrupted not only the shipping which brought supplies and took exports from the Miramichi but also trading vessels on which the settlement relied to some extent for its requirements. The rebel leader John Allan is reported to have visited Miramichi about this time and rebel sympathizers began to stir up Indians and encourage them to attack British settlers. Raids by Indians began in 1775 and from then until peace was declared in 1783 the settlers on Miramichi were never entirely free from this danger, while those in the lower reaches of the river were as well frequently pillaged by privateers. In 1775 some houses were burned and cattle stolen by Indians who also robbed John Cort's stone house containing over 700 moosehides for shipment. The situation on the Miramichi appeared to Davidson to be hopeless for time being. He could not export his fish or lumber without risk of it falling into hands of American privateers and even if he ventured that risk he could obtain no insurance on his vessels and cargoes. This left him no gainful occupation to offer his workmen and he was not the kind of man to sit idly about his wilderness home eking out a bare existence under the continual threat of attack by Hostile Indians.
Less than 100 miles overland to west as settlement on the St. John River started only a few years before he arrived on Miramichi - Maugerville Township. As if he were familiar with the possibilities of the profitable employment of his energies on the St. John River, in November 1777 Davidson gathered together his 'family' as he termed the 20 or 30 workmen and servants in his immediate employ and with most of the settlers on the Miramichi moved to the St. John River taking with them what property they could transport. The exodus from the Miramichi must have been a sad but impressive sight it is probably the biggest mass-migration of British subjects in the history of New Brunswick, made in canoes with only a few miles of portage. So ended the first phase of British settlement on the Miramichi, for although a few settlers stayed on in spite of the dangers and hardships, little progress was made in development of settlement of the Miramichi Valley and much of what had been done was lost before Davidson and his 'family' returned to the Miramichi five and one half years later
The termination of the American Revolution made it practicable for Davidson to plan his return to the Miramichi. He arrived at Miramichi with his vessels and cargoes early in June 1783. After having suffered so many trials and losses it must have been a bitter experience for him to survey the ruins of what had been accomplished between 1766 and 1777. His stores and buildings had been burned during the War and his fishing craft and gear destroyed. Now he had to begin all over again as he had 17 years ago but he was 43 instead of 26. The Miramichi valley was almost as much wilderness as it was when he first saw it in 1765. Records indicate that only 3 of the settlers he had brought to the river before the war had risked staying when others left in 1777. Some families had come to the river even during the war but on the Davidson and Cort grant five and one half years absence had been sufficient time for the forest to reclaim most of the cleared lands and the Indians had destroyed the other evidences of settlement. John Cort had died between 1777 and 1786, predeceased by his wife.
In addition to settlers brought to the Miramichi by Davidson before the war and those who returned with him after peace was declared, other families had come to the Miramichi from Scotland, Prince Edward Island, and later from the New England colonies. These included such familiar Miramichi names as Anderson, Atkinson, Blake, Brown, Clarke, Delesdernier, Drysdale, Dunn, Dunphy, Farseau, Fitzgerald, Gillis, Gordon, Hay, Henderson, Innes, Loggie, Lyon, Malcolm, MacDonald, McCullum, Murdock, Newlands, Reid, Stewart, Stimiest, Taylor, Tushie, Welsh, Wishart, Whitney, Yeoman and others. The condition of the settlers on the Miramichi during the war was almost unbearable. Most were in lower reaches of the river, below the Davidson and Cort Grant, where they were exposed to raids by the American privateers, which, for a time, infested the waters of Northumberland Straits. Few ships could be found which would risk bringing provisions to such an outlying and unprotected region. In writing to Lord George Germain on September 26, 1779, Michael Francklin, Superintendent of Indian Affairs, writing of sending supplies to the Indians said, 'I hope I shall be able to prevail on some of the traders to venture supplies for them to Mirimichy, at any rate as far as Fort Cumberland, altho' the hazard will be great from the privateers who swarm and infest the whole coast'.
The return of Davidson and his 'family' was not welcomed by all those who had remained or settled on the river. A certain amount of bitterness and ill feeling developed between the old settlers, the new arrivals, the Loyalist refugees, and the disbanded soldiers. Jealousies and rivalries over the fisheries, grants of land and the rights of cutting timber sprang up and were not always peaceably settled. Davidson, however, was still the leading figure and he provided necessaries for many of the settlers after his arrival. The cost of assistance furnished by Davidson to settlers during the next two years amounted to over £5,000; on re-establishment of his business - upwards of £10,000. He was admitted to membership in the North British Society in 1783. During this time Davidson suffered further losses at sea. Two vessels and their cargoes meant a financial loss of £2,200. The following year another schooner valued at £600 was lost. On the three losses only £1,000 insurance was recovered. In spite of such losses and disappointments, to which by this time Davidson must have become accustomed, considerable progress was made in advancing settlement by June of 1786 there were 40 families who had built homes and made improvements on the lots approved to them
It is regrettable that Benjamin Marston, whose diary and letters give us much interesting information about the Miramichi, seems to have been quite unable to give an unbiased reliable opinion or description of people with whom he came in contact. Almost always his remarks about the people with whom he had business of any kind reflect a bitter intolerance if they were not his friends or associates.
The earliest records of Courts in Northumberland County are the minutes of the Quarter Sessions of the Peace. From extracts compiled from these records by Miss Louise Manny of Newcastle it appears that a Court of Quarter Sessions of the Peace was held at Beaubair's Point, probably at John Willson's house, on Tuesday, September 15, 1789. 'before William Davidson, James Fraser, John Willson, Alexander Wishart, James Horton, Arthur Nicholson, and Alexander Taylor, Esquires, Justices appointed to Keep the Peace of said Lord the King by Commission under the Great Seal of the Province of New Bunswick bearing date at Fredericton, the 10th July in year 1789'. At January 1790 Session of the Court the first recorded assessment of the County was made when Forty Pounds was assessed for 'publick uses'.
Davidson was now in a position to look forward reasonably to advancement and prosperity. While his debts were large he had well established markets in Europe and West Indies. He had an active shipyard and three large double saw-mills with contracts for all the masts and lumber he could produce, a wife and five children and a pleasant home in a beautiful and peaceful valley. He was a leader in every phase of life of the community and prominent in business and the political life of the province. His three sons were growing up. He was only 50, well established and active and one or two good years could easily solve his financial troubles. Such was his situation when in February 1790 after the Session of the Court he went down river to look after his business interests there, preparing for the spring fishing. Only means of travel in mid-winter was by snowshoes but he was undoubtedly used to covering great distances in this way as were most of the early settlers. Returning from the lower reaches of the river with James Davidson of Oak Point a thaw set in, making travelling difficult. Coming to the Grand Downs marshes, a few miles above Burnt Church, the travellers were caught in a rainstorm and sought shelter in a stack of marsh hay, there being no other refuge available. The storm continued and they were obliged to spend the night in the hay stack. During the night the weather turned frosty and by daylight the two men were nearly perished with wet and cold. From this exposure William Davidson contracted an illness from which he never fully recovered. On July 17, 1790, 25 years after he first saw the Miramichi Valley, William Davidson died at 50 leaving a widow and five children. Like most of the wives and mothers of pioneer days in New Brunswick Sarah Davidson has received little notice in the histories of our province but she must have been a fitting mate for William Davidson and undoubtedly contributed her full share to the successful re-establishment of the settlement. Family tradition tells of this hardy and courageous woman, the first winter after her husband's death, travelling on snowshoes, with only an Indian guide, to Fredericton from her home at the Elm Tree in an attempt to obtain some settlement of her husband's affairs
On Wilson's Point, on part of the land granted to him in 1765 and overlooking the confluence of the NorthWest and SouthWest Branches of the Miramichi, in a burial ground later granted to the Church of Scotland at Newcastle, is the grave of William Davidson. Amid graves of some of the earliest British settlers on the river his was, until very recently, the only one preserved and cared for."
Excerpt from Page 136
" On Miramichi another independent, adventurous and determined man set up a business. He was William Davidson who, with partner John Cort, saw that wealth could be gained through fisheries. They also secured a grant of 100,000 acres of land there. Like Walker, they hired Indians and Acadians to help them spear salmon. Caught thousands of pounds each year and shipped catch as far away as West Indies and Mediterranean."
Excerpt from Page 147
" Other parts of the country were not so fortunate as the Saint John River area. The rebels had persuaded the Indians that they would lose their freedom if they did not keep up the war against British settlers. Rebels supplied them with plenty of ammo. Indians seemed to enjoy carrying out their part - paddling up Miramichi, whooping and waving their American flags. They had destroyed Davidson's trading centre, burned houses, and stolen livestock, until finally settlers had left.. Davidson began a new business on the St. John River."
Excerpt from Page 173
" William Davidson had taken refuge on the St. John River during the Revolutionary War. There he turned chiefly to cutting masts and spars for sale to the Royal Navy. Afterwards he returned to rebuild his ruined settlement at Miramichi. But others had stayed on the Miramichi; a few years earlier all the 'Principal Old Settlers', as they called themselves, had decided to register claims for their land with the Nova Scotia government. Now they were all afraid that they might lose them to the New Brunswick government. One well-known settler, the Widow Blake, had married three times. After the death of her first husband, she snowshoed to Fredericton during the winter to get the governor's assurance that she could keep her grant. Some of her sons settled first at Tabusintac, and she became known as 'the Mother of Tabusintac'. Davidson did lose much of his huge grant to the Loyalists. In spite of this disappointment, he was soon carrying out his plans to market his fish in Europe and the West Indies again, run a shipyard and three large sawmills, and sell ships' masts and lumber."
Excerpt from Pages 70 and 71
" In 1765 William Davidson, a native of Scotland, who was familiar with the Scotch method of curing salmon, went to reside on the Miramichi. The total population of that part of Nova Scotia which is now New Brunswick, according to the census of 1767, was 1,196, of whom 147 were Acadians. Of remainder, 874 were natives of America, 60 Germans, 53 Irish, 25 English and 17 Scotch."
Excerpt from Pages 101 to 119
" The autumn of 1775 was a period of great alarm all over Nova Scotia. Many of the settlements had been attacked and plundered, and no man who had a residence near the coast, felt himself safe from robbery The outrages committed by American privateers on the coast of Nova Scotia, at this time, and throughout the war, were very discreditable, and partook of the nature of piracy rather than legitimate war. No settler who lived near the coast was free from danger. At any time he was liable to have his house plundered and burnt, his cattle stolen, his fields ravaged by these robbers. Their depredations extended to every part of the province. Mr. Davidson's extensive fishery on Miramichi was broken up by them, and the same fate befell all the fishing establishments on the North Shore."
" Several shipwrights emigrated to the Miramichi district of New Brunswick where some few years after the conquest of Canada, a Scot named William Davidson of Inverness established a shipyard at which they presumably found employment. As in the case of the founders of Kingston Davidson was not a shipbuilder, the lure which brought him to the new colony being salmon fishing and exporting. This business prospered so much that he needed ships to carry fish to Mediterranean and other ports in Europe, also spars for the naval dockyards in England for the purpose of making into masts. His first ship built on the Miramichi River in 1773 was of 300 tons capacity and was the largest vessel built in New Brunswick up until then. A number of tombstones in Miramichi bear such familiar sounding names as Russell, Buie, Hay, Simpson etc., and as hailing from Speymouth and Speyside, and upon the tombstone of one Patrick Henderson, it is recorded that he was born at 'Spaside Murrayshire' and died in 1842."
Excerpt from Page 95
" British enterprise had found its way to Richibucto and Miramichi. At latter place William Davidson, in spite of the opposition of the natives, who voted his death at one of their conventions in 1778, brought out a number of settlers from the old country to hew the lumber, and till some of the more fertile patches on the banks of that noble stream. Three years after, Johnathan Leavitt, at St. John, had launched the first vessel built in New Brunswick, Davidson finished the first built on the Miramichi."
Excerpt from Page 16
" In 1765 William (Godsman) Davidson and John Cort of Scotland arrived in the Miramichi. They applied for a grant of fishery, and on October 31, 1765, the Province of Nova Scotia granted a township of 1000,000 acres, in the proportion of 2/3 to Davidson and 1/3 to Cort. They were entitled the rights to salmon fishing, but Indians were entitled to fish as before. Grant No. 38 was a five-sided area extending from the east end of Beaubair's Island westward 13 miles up the NorthWest and SouthWest Miramichi Rivers. Davidson and Cort were to fulfill certain conditions Within 10 years they were to 'plant, improve, or enclose', 52 square miles, which was 1/3 of grant. They were to settle 39 square miles, 1/4 grant, with 500 settlers. On August 3, 1785, the Davidson and Cort grant was escheated by the New Brunswick government. John Cort had died, or was to die soon afterwards. Davidson was given a new grant of land June 7, 1786, reduced in size to 14,450 acres, and consisting of a number of separate parcels of land on both branches of Miramichi river. The requirements were less demanding than those stipulated for the first Grant. Davidson was not required to bring in settlers ... Davidson sold about 1/5 of his grant to settlers."
Excerpt from Pages 4 to 6
" The early ship builders of New Brunswick were pioneers in every sense of the word the first British settler on the Miramichi, William Davidson. This enterprising Scotsman from Inverness-shire had come to Halifax in 1764 with intention of establishing himself in the salmon fishing business. But having received on 31 October 1765 a grant of 100,000 acres on the southwest branch Miramichi, Davidson straightaway moved north to settle on this tract, which he was to hold jointly with one John Cort, a fellow countryman, and a native of Dundee. It was not until 1772 that Cort arrived from Scotland to join his fellow grantee in his enterprise. The two partners set cross-nets in the river and caught annually from 1400 to 1800 tierces of salmon. Year after Cort's arrival, to meet the demands of a rapidly expanding trade, Davidson built a 300 T. schooner the 'Miramichi' to ship salmon catches and other fish to Mediterranean ports Davidson and his partner also engaged in the fur trade, though to a lesser extent In October 1779 he appealed to the government in Halifax, then in need of masts for the navy, for permission to cut masts on the Royal Reserve in the vicinity of Maugerville, he having removed to that place two years earlier. He offered the Lieutenant Governor, Sir Richard Hughes, to deliver masts, yards and bowsprits at Fort Howe, trimmed and ready for shipping. The desired permission was granted, and Davidson engaged quite extensively in this branch of the industry, at one time coming into conflict with Simonds, Hazen and White, who were engaged in the same trade further down the river, over territorial rights."
Excerpt from Pages 314 and 315
Minutes of an Inquiry into the State of Davidson and Cort's Grant, 1785
NorthWest Branch Miramichi
SouthWest Branch Miramichi
The Ship Yard, The houses at present in Ruins; being burnt by the Indians, about 1779 - 1 acre clear - SouthWest Branch Miramichi.
What is called Miramichi Point - 12 acres clear - Southwest Branch Miramichi.
Excerpt from Pages 324 and 325
Memorial of Wm. Davidson April 4, 1786
City St. John
William Davidson's proposals in consideration that he will give up his Grant at mariemeschie
Endorsed April 4th, 1786. Mr. Davidson Miramichi. Miramichi.
Excerpt from Pages 45 to 47
" Wentworth left Halifax in early June 1788 to carry out a detailed exploration of the Miramichi country. As he sailed along the eastern and northern coasts of Nova Scotia in his small schooner, he made numerous excursions ashore. It was his second or third visit to many of the harbours and rivers. To his distress he found that the expansion of settlement had resulted in many fires. He was now searching out young growths of timber to meet naval needs in 50 or 60 years time. The flies and mosquitoes were worse than usual and continuous bad weather delayed him but eventually he reached the Miramichi. He first canoed up the NW branch of the river, often landing to travel into the surrounding woods. Much of the best timber was on lands already granted so he could not make any reservations, only mark individual trees. When he ran out of supplies, he returned to his vessel to replenish before heading up the SW branch
In the Miramichi he had located the largest and best growth of true mast
trees he had ever seen, exceeding, as he informed the Admiralty, 'any shipped
from New England for forty years past'. This growth, when marked out along
the SW branch of the Miramichi, was the largest reservation he had ever made,
nearly 40,000 acres
Not only did Wentworth's deputies in New Brunswick come
under overwhelming pressure to conform to the wishes of the government, the
settlers and the timber merchants, they were often inexperienced in their
duties. Many could not be trusted to issue licences for cutting useless
timber on private lands or for supervising the cutting of mast trees by
merchants holding naval contracts. In the Miramichi only the aggressive
Scot, Wm. Davidson, had the necessary experience, gained through his long
involvement in the trade and the time he had spent in the woods with Wentworth.
(Davidson, who prided himself on his woodmanship and ability to endure hardship,
collapsed with fatigue on one trip with Wentworth, whose own ability had become
legendary among New Brunswick woodsmen)."