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, February 12, 2010

Five shillings each for the black pilots' land on McNutt's

In the early 1930s the lightkeeper at Cape Roseway had showed Clara Dennis a bill-of-sale for McNutt's Island Lot No. 23. This lot of fifty acres was granted to four black pilots in 1785 as a reward for their service to the King during the American Revolution. But only four years later they sold the lot. In early December of 1789 each of the four (or, in James Jackson's case, his mother, who survived him) received five shillings as the price of the sale.

Five shillings each was not much. But times were hard in Shelburne and even harder in Birchtown. The Anglican priest in Shelburne at the time thought that by 1788 four-fifths of white Loyalists had left there and returned to the United States, walking away from their property in what they called Nova Scarcity. Land in and around Shelburne was worth hardly anything by then.

And 1789 was the year of famine. Boston King writes in his Memoirs:*

About this time the country was visited with a dreadful famine, which not only prevailed at Burchtown, but likewise at Chebucto, Annapolis, Digby, and other places. Many of the poor people were compelled to sell their best gowns for five pounds of flour, in order to support life. When they had parted with all their clothes, even their blankets, several of them fell down dead in the streets, thro’ hunger. Some killed and eat their dogs and cats; and poverty and distress prevailed on every side; so that to my great grief I was obliged to leave Burchtown, because I could get no employment. I traveled from place to place, to procure the necessaries of life, but in vain.
Painting: A Black Wood Cutter At Shelburne, Nova Scotia  / National Archives of Canada / C-040162
Five shillings each would not have gone far to protect London Jackson and James Robertson and Richard Leach and Jane Thompson and their families from starvation in that dreadful time, with another winter looming. But it may have done something.

*Boston King was a former slave whose memoirs are a compellingly immediate account of his experience in Shelburne and Birchtown, and then as a participant in the 1792 exodus to Sierra Leone. First published serially in London in 1798 in The Methodist Magazine, The Memoirs of Boston King are available online. For the effect of the 1789 famine in Shelburne and Birchtown, see also James W. St. G. Walker, The Black Loyalists: The Search for a Promised Land in Nova Scotia and Sierra Leone, 1783-1870 (Dalhousie University, 1976; reprinted by The University of Toronto Press, 1999) 52-54.

Image," A Black Wood Cutter At Shelburne, Nova Scotia, 1788," by William Booth, courtesy of Archives of Canada.

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