In May 2011, after four years of life on McNutt's Island, we moved to Montreal. This blog remains, though, as a (sort of) daily record of our time on the island, and a winding path for anyone who would like to meander about among its magical places. For additional perspectives and insights I recommend Greg's book, Island Year: Finding Nova Scotia (2010), and my Bowl of Light (2012). I'll continue to post once in a while. If you do want to read this blog, one option would be to begin at the beginning of it (which is, as we all know, in blog-world, at the end), and read forward, concluding with the most recent entry. It's a journal, really, so it does makes more sense if you read it that way. But, you know, read it any way you like.

Friday, January 2, 2009

McNutt's geography: Old Grant Plan

The Loyalists, so called because they had been loyal to the British Crown during the American Revolution, arrived in Port Roseway (soon to be renamed Shelburne) in 1783 and 1784. They were a huge influx of need, overwhelming the skimpy resources put in place by the colonial government. Among the promises made to them had been a town lot and a farm lot for each household. Unfortunately there was little land suitable for farming near the newly-named town. The island’s two thousand acres, though mostly forested, would provide the requisite farm lots for thirty five Loyalists.

Surveyor Benjamin Marston writes in his diary of his days spent on the island surveying the lots, April 23 - 26, 1784. The Old Grant Plan, the result of Benjamin Marston’s 1784 survey, lays down the definitions of McNutt’s as they exist today.

At the unforested granite southern tip of the island, some one hundred acres were reserved for the building of a lighthouse. Along the rocky eastern edge, overlooking the deep eastern channel into Shelburne, two sites were reserved for the engineers of the War Department. The smaller reserved lot overlooked the Tea Chest, a large rock on the Shelburne side of the harbor. The larger reserved lot was opposite Government Point, a promontory that marked the entrance into the eastern channel.

The Old Grant Plan contains descriptive comments which are still accurate today. What we call the Point, where the sheep graze seaweed in winter, is described as a beach of small stones, dry at low water. McNutt's house is designated at the location where you can still see its cellar foundation. The "bold rocky shore" on the eastern side is the place where a lobster boat wrecked a few weeks ago. Our house is located on what was Lot #1, land granted to Moses Pitcher.

It seems that the Loyalists did not take up these island assignments. For the most part the Loyalists so hurriedly deposited in Shelburne had moved on within a few years: into New Brunswick, which seemed to offer something better than this, or back into the United States if they could, or (for the wealthy) on to England or the Caribbean. Of the some three thousand African Americans, former slaves who had bought their freedom by casting their lot with the British, and whose reward was so meager, more than two thirds of those who survived their harsh Nova Scotia experience sailed away in 1792 to the promise of Sierra Leone.

According to the Old Grant Plan, four black Loyalists, who had served the British by piloting them along the Virginia shores of Chesapeake Bay, were granted one fifty acre plot to divide among themselves. It is thought that the black pilots did live on the island lots granted to them and piloted ships into Shelburne from their vantage point at the mouth of the deep eastern channel. It would be extraordinary if former slaves of the American South became the inhabitants of this island even for a brief time in their remarkable journey. I hope I can find out more about it.

The poll tax of 1791 shows only four extended families associated with the island, including members of the McNutt family. They were boat owners, mariners, farmers, and a cooper. The island’s cove may have been a place where shallops were built. There was said to have been a cooperage. And enough land had been cleared by then to support some farming.

The diary of surveyor Benjamin Marston is housed at The University of New Brunswick. You can read it online here.