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A full and accurate history of Woodstock can never be written; early events were either not recorded at the time, or the records have been lost. The former seems most plausible — wresting their subsistence from a wilderness likely left little time, or desire, to write detailed diaries and journals. In the absence of such material, much reliance must be placed on the writing of Rev. W. O. Raymond during the late 1890s.
Little more than a general outline of the settlement, and some of the progress, of Woodstock can be presented here, with perhaps identification of historical gaps that may inspire further research by others.
Woodstock was first settled by disbanded veterans of the 1st Battalion, deLancey's Brigade, after the close of the American Revolutionary War. The grant to the 110 men, covering about 26,000 acres, was signed by Governor Parr and registered at Halifax October 15, 1784, but it was earlier in that year when these settlers, lead by Lieut. Benjamin P. Griffiths, reached their lands. Capt. Jacob Smith, the officer in charge, was ill at French Village, above St. Ann's (Fredericton) and came up the river later. Not all of the men named in the grant made the journey up the St. John river; nor did all who arrive at Woodstock remain there. W.O. Raymond noted that in 1790 only 23 families were settled at Woodstock, and 20 years after the grant was issued, only 10 of the officers and men of the battalion retained possession of any part of it.1
One of the deLancey grantees, Peter Thompson, is listed in Esther Clark Wright's Loyalists of New Brunswick as a free Negro, who seems to have settled in Fredericton instead of coming to Woodstock. Slavery has never been legal in New Brunswick, but neither was it prohibited, and early New Brunswick newspapers carried advertisements for slave sales and notices of runaway slaves. Some of the surviving New Brunswick probate documents definitely list slaves as chattels2 as late as 1812. Jacob Smith certainly had a black servant named Andrew3, and he perhaps had others.4.
No records of blacks in the households of the other settlers have been found, but "the absence of evidence is not evidence of absence." In any case, the black population of Woodstock during that period must have been very small. A census taken in 1803 states the population of the parish of Woodstock consisted of 87 men, 76 women, 225 children, and no slaves. The census also noted there were 65 horses and 380 cattle in the parish, the latter figure obviously including oxen, but made no mention of sheep, hogs or poultry.
W. O. Raymond commented, at some length, on the efforts by government to improve navigation on the upper part of the St. John River, citing the removal of rocks, deepening channels and clearing the river banks, thus making the use of towboats possible. Clearing some of the obstructions doubtless eased the task of rafting timber down the river. Export of logs and "ton timber" (timber hewn square), which began around 180510 brought a measure of prosperity to the area.
At left is a section of the 1825 Road to Canada map. This section provides some indication of the extent of the Woodstock settlement, the location of Lower and Upper Woodstock, as well as "The Creek" and "The Corner." These latter two, of course, ultimately formed the Town of Woodstock.
The de Lancey grant began about two miles north of Eel River, extending up the west side of the St. John to above Lane's Creek. The Road to Canada was then but a meandering path through the wilderness. No man-made bridges existed anywhere in New Brunswick, so a traveller on the Road must rely on fallen trees or shallow fords where the various streams entering the St. John river could be crossed in relative safety. But the River St. John was a serviceable "highway" during the greater part of the year. At the first sitting of the New Brunswick legislative assembly, an Act was passed to facilitate the navigation of the River St. John, ordering, "that the banks and shores thereof, be cleared of all incumbrances and obstructions to the Navigation thereof, that they may be safe and convenient for the purposes of passing up and down the same, with small vessels, boats and rafts of lumber."5 Later legislation stipulated the manner in which winter roads were to be laid out and marked on the river as soon as the thickness of ice permitted.
W. O. Raymond6 wrote, "the pioneer band of white settlers under their leader, Lieut. Benjamin P. Griffith, arrived at Woodstock. They had received from government a quantity of provisions and supplies of various kinds together with a boat to carry them to their destination. The boat was in all probability patterned after the style of the famous "Durham boat" so generally used upon the river in early days. It was a rude and primitive craft 30 or 40 feet in length and about 8 feet in width, provided with a keel but flatter in the bottom than an ordinary boat, furnished with oars and also with a mast upon which under favorable circumstances a square sail was hoisted. This mast served a yet more essential purpose in upholding above the bushes along the river bank the stout tow-line whereby a crew of four or five men dragged the boat through swift water and rapids. There was then no tow path cleared along the banks, but numerous rocks long since removed, and ugly rapids, now greatly improved by the expenditure of much money and labor, rendered the task of propelling the heavily laden up the river no easy one for the old soldiers of de Lancey's brigade."
Dr. Raymond continued, "To clear a densely wooded country was in itself no light task to men unaccustomed to weilding the axe. The trees were many of them of huge size, the axes were not always of the best and they were of a pattern that would be regarded by our modern lumberman with the utmost disdain." Gesner7 stated that the province was heavily forested, and white pine trees grew to 18 feet in diameter, towering 150 feet in the air.
Nevertheless, trees were felled, crops were planted around the tree stumps in the cleared areas, and the logs thus obtained used to construct homes and barns, satisfying the immediate need for shelter and food. Still, the progress of the Woodstock settlement was slow. The road to a reasonable level of self-sufficiency was tortuous. The first mention of saw and grist mills is found, in the diary of Rev. Frederick Dibblee, in 1805, although such mills probably existed somewhat earlier. His first mention of a blacksmith was in 1816, but there must have been a blacksmith plying his essential trade, at least part time, much earlier in the settlement.
The first store at Woodstock is reputed to have been established near Bull's Creek, about 1805, by Aaron Putnam, of New Salem, Massachusetts, who later removed to Houlton, Maine. Mr. Putnam purchased Daniel McSheffrey's tavern, adding a store to the property.8 Not long afterward, Thomas Phillips opened his store at Upper Woodstock.
Jacob Smith's son, Richard, built the first frame house in Woodstock. Rev. Frederick Dibblee noted in his diary, under date of 9 November, 1805, "Boys gone to help Richard Smith raise his House." Richard evidently built a second frame house not long thereafter, and Capt. Jacob Smith built one for himself in 1811. In 1820, Governor King of Maine sent Major Joseph Treat on an expedition to survey timber and timber cutting on the Penobscot and St. John rivers. Treat's journal contains a rough sketch map of Woodstock, showing the residences strung along both sides of the river, close to the water. His map, not reproduced here, shows the separate parts of Woodstock as it then existed: the "Creek," on the upper bank of the Meduxnakeag, and the "Corner," at the junction of the great road to Canada and the road leading to Houlton. He noted that Richard Smith, Benjamin Smith, Alain(sic) [misread of Oliver] Smith and George Bull were building a mill at the mouth of the Meduxnakeag,9 but made no mention of any other sawmills in the area.
"It was not long before the clumsy Durham boats first employed gave place to the more modern 'tow-boat,' of which John D. Beardsley, Sr., was the designer and builder; and by the year 1815 horses were used in towing these craft up stream. It is a curious fact that, despite all our modern inventions and appliances of steam and electricity as a motive power, the tow-boat has not been entirely driven off the river, and to this very day the long scow-like craft with its snug little cabin, its single mast and long sweep or rudder is not an unfamiliar object on the St. John."11In 1831, when Carleton County was created, Woodstock was decreed by the Act of the Legislature to be the shiretown of the County, and directed that a gaol, court house and registry office be erected within the said Shire Town, above the Madusnikik river. The initial location of gaol and court house, at Upper Woodstock, was possibly a bit farther above the Meduxnakeag than the members of the Legislature intended.
The progress of Woodstock, as well as all other settlements on the upper part of the River St. John, depended not only on the determination and industry of the inhabitants, but was strongly influenced by the advances in the more populous centers, Fredericton and Saint John, on the lower section of the River, as well as the interest and efforts of the New Brunswick government. In addition to funding work on the Great Road to Canada, the provincial government allocated money for the roads to Jacksonville, Richmond and Houlton, promoted emigration, and surveyed farm lots for new settlers.
In 1812 the Legislature passed "An ACT to encourage the erection of a Passage Boat, to be worked by steam, for facilitating the communication between the City of Saint John and Fredericton.". The Act was renewed in 1813, and again in 1814, but it was the 10th of May, 1816, that the first steamboat, the General Smyth, made her trial run. Thereafter, the General Smyth and later vessels made regular trips between Saint John and Fredericton. It was not until 1833 when the lighter draught steamboat, launched the previous year and optimistically christened Woodstock, made a serious attempt to reach this town, but had to turn back at Meductic. The New Brunswick Courier, in the issue of 29 June, 1833, printed a letter describing the difficulties encountered. A later, more powerful, steamboat, the Novelty succeeded in reaching Woodstock on April 30, 1837.12
While the Novelty was the first steamer to reach Woodstock, the Carleton, built at Saint John in 1845 for George Connell, is supposed to have been the first steamboat to make regular trips between Woodstock and Fredericton. George Connell owned two other steamboats, one of them, the John Waring, was built at Woodstock, in 1851 or 1852, by George Dow of Sunbury County. The other may also have been built by Dow about the same time.
On March 16th, 1836, the Woodstock and Fredericton Stage Coach Company was incorporated. This may not establish the commencement date of stage coach travel between Woodstock and Fredericton, for during the same month, the New Brunswick Legislature passed two other acts incorporating the Saint John Stage Coach Company and the Fredericton Hotel and Stage Coach Company,13 yet regular stage coach service existed in the southern part of New Brunswick at least as early as 1816, so a Fredericton-Woodstock coach may have operated prior to 1836. As late as 1832, the Road to Canada (one of the several so called "Great Roads of Communication" within New Brunswick) between Fredericton and Woodstock required travellers to cross and recross the St. John River by ferry, which may have deterred the implementation of a stage coach line.
A traveller to Woodstock, in 1832,14 noted that in 1827 "there was only a dwelling house and shop — now from sixteen to twenty buildings form what is usually called 'The Corner'." Of "The Creek," he stated, "A broad street nearly parallel to and in parts on the immediate bank of the stream connects the highway with the public landing. About twenty five buildings of various descriptions, exclusive of barns, have been, with three exceptions, erected in the space of four years." Continuing, he remarked there were "three or four mills" on the Meduxnakeag, and four stores at "The Creek," singling out that of Messrs. Connell Bros. for its apparent volume of business. He lamented that "Mr. Harvey's fine tavern and stables" were located at Upper Woodstock, a mile and a half distant, and blamed Capt. Jacob Smith for that situation.
About fifteen years later, Dr. Gesner15 stated the population of Woodstock was 2,000 and contained four churches, a bank, and a grammar school, and a mail coach ran three times a week to Fredericton and the upriver districts.
View of Woodstock W. F. Brand 1850
Brand's 1850 sketch of "The Creek" village shows the main street, part of the Road to Canada, coincides with the 1825 map illustrated above. The "Projected Alteration this Season" noted on the 1825 plan had not been implemented 25 years later. The residence of Charles Connell and the Orange Lodge can easily be identified in the sketch, and the locations of Water, Connell and King streets shown with reasonable accuracy. Later survey plans or maps showing the evolution of Woodstock's streets would be both interesting and useful, perhaps a project for other researchers.
Census returns are valuable resources, but the early census records of Carleton County included the Woodstock village residents in the enumeration of Woodstock Parish, which extends beyond the boundaries of the town. The 1851 Census is particularly frustrating in this respect as the parish extended west from the river to the international boundary, thus included the area that later became the Parish of Richmond. More frustrating is the grouping of stores with barns and out-houses. The Census indicates the population of the Parish was 4,272, which tends to support Dr. Gesner's statement above. The census also states there were 488 inhabited houses, 32 houses uninhabited, and 37 houses under construction in the parish, and 9 places of worship. It further reveals emigration was a major contributor to population growth, and slightly over two-thirds of the immigrants came from Ireland.
As population of the area continued to increase, and the villages flourished, "The Creek" and "The Corner" finally merged. On 22 February, 1856, the Honorable Charles Connell, in the New Brunswick House of Assembly, presented a petition, signed by Charles Perley, James R. Tupper, L. P. Fisher, M. McGuirk, E. M. Trewsdell and one hundred and fifty-eight others, "inhabitants of Woodstock, in the County of Carleton," praying that the part of the Parish of Woodstock "lying between Upham's Creek and Baker's upper line," may be incorporated.
The petition accepted, Mr. Connell was granted leave to bring in a Bill to incorporate the Town of Woodstock, which received first reading on that same day, and was signed into law by Lieutenant-Governor J. H. T. Manners-Sutton on 1 May, 1856, when the House was prorogued. The Carleton Sentinel published Sheriff Samuel Dickenson's notice, in the May 3rd edition, that nominations and election for mayor and councillors would be held on May 12th. The Carlton Sentinel also publishd a synopsis of the Act of Incorporation in the May 10th, 1856, issue.
By the Act of Incorporation, the new Town of Woodstock was divided into three Wards, the ratepayers of each Ward to elect two councillors and one assessor. Three nominees vied for the office of Mayor, George Cleary, Lewis P. Fisher and James Robertson. Reporting the results of the election, the Carleton Sentinel remarked that Mr. Cleary "got very few votes," and only published the numbers received by Fisher and Robertson. L. P. Fisher was elected by a narrow margin of 20 votes, the beginning of a term of office that extended to 1880, a span of twenty-four years; the longest of any of Woodstock's fifty Mayors.
There is much more to be written on the history of Woodstock, and additional material will be added as time and resources permit. In the meantime, this must remain a
Frank Cilley, 37, stout lad, (Jacob Smith). Formerly slave to Richard Ireland, Hackensack, New Jersey; left him in 1779. GMC [General Musgrave's Certificate].None of these appear in the 1784 Annapolis "Return of Negroes" muster roll and their names have so far not been found elsewhere. These people were from Smith's area, but how he acquired them, and whether he kept or sold or freed them has not been determined.
Ann, 27, stout wench, (Jacob Smith). Formerly slave to Jacob De Motte, English Neighbourhood.
Sarah, 5, (Jacob Smith). Formerly slave to Jacob De Motte, English Neighbourhood.
Tom, 1½, (Jacob Smith). Formerly slave to Jacob De Motte, English Neighbourhood.
8. Rev. W. O. Raymond, LL.D., "Houlton Men at Woodstock," published in the Woodstock Dispatch, 16 October, 1895. In another of Raymond's articles, published later, the date appeared as 1815, perhaps a printer's error, but the earlier date appears to be correct.