It became harder and harder to eke out a living in Colonel Connecticut as its population swelled from around 38k in 1740 to 76k in 1750 to 141k in 1760. So opportunistic New Englanders must have rejoiced when the English Governor of Nova Scotia, Charles Lawrence, posted placards offering free land. The British troops had just evicted the local French inhabitants, the Acadians, following France’s loss in the French and Indian War. Looking back, there is some regret in Canadian history since this episode involved the expulsion of many settled families including women and children. Over 10000 eventually left in 1755 including the majority of those Acadians who resettled in Louisiana and became known as the Cajuns. However, for the English Perkins family, this land presented a great opportunity since much of it was quite fertile due to the Acadian’s hard work in creating a system of dykelands in the high tidal area region. Proclamations were issued in various New England states to entice settlers. This group of 8000 individuals are called the “New England Planters”. Francis Perkins, along with many others in the area, accepted the offer. In 1761 they settled in Horton, Nova Scotia.
New London County was a particularly popular area for recruiting. Per New England tradition, the locals used a town meeting to negotiate the terms with an agent of Charles Lawrence which included the land, free transport, freedom of religion, and military protection. Initially, the signup concluded around 1758, but unrest in the region due to local Indians and rebel French delayed the settlement for a few years. During that gap, the list morphed as individuals opted to remain in Connecticut. Finally, the selected individuals, including members of the Perkins and Peck families, sailed for their new land as described by R.S Longley in “The Coming of the Planters”, 1960:
“On June 4, 1760, the main flotilla, consisting of twenty-two ships hired by the Government of Nova Scotia to transport the Connecticut Planters to Horton and Cornwallis rounded Cape Blomidon and anchored in the estuary of the Avon and Gaspereau rivers. It was escorted by a brig of war under the command of Captain Pigot. Assuming that the vessels were the usual sloops and schooners of average size, they must have carried an average of fifty passengers each, plus stock and equipment. The total cost of the Rogers and Pigot ships was about £1500. The Cornwallis settlers landed at what was Boudreau’s Bank, now Starr’s Point, and the Horton settlers at Horton Landing. At first they lived in tents and temporary shelter. Almost at once they held Town Meetings, or assemblies of grantees, at which the usual lot layers and other officials such as clerk, constable, and herdsmen were appointed. The lot layers divided the land which was drawn for in the usual way. Most heads of families received the regular share of 500 acres, but some were granted a share and a half, and a few a half-share. Each had a town lot and a portion of marshland, upland, and woodland. Soon all were busy building houses and tilling the soil.”
A couple of lists of the early settlers remain. First, the original grant of the township of Horton can be found in the files of the Nova Scotia Archives at Dalhousie University. Second, a fascinating plot of the town lot, or Palisade, survives with the names of initial settlers. The townspeople initially lived in this palisaded area for safety, but then ultimately settled on their farmed land. These lists contain some different names reflecting the changing population of Planters, but they share one big surprise: Francis Perkins name is not named, but rather it’s Abraham Perkins, presumably Francis’s father. So Abraham probably showed interest during the initial town hall meetings, and that he could have set foot in Nova Scotia. Other names on the map include various members of the family of Francis and Elizabeth, most notably her father, two brothers and an uncle.
|Original Grant||Palides Map||Relationship to Francis Perkins (FP) or Elizabeth Peck (EP)|
|Abraham Perkins||Abraham Perkins||Father of FP|
|Joshua Perkins||No known relationship to family|
|Eleaxer [sp?] Mather||Eleazer is father-in-law to FP’s sister Elizabeth (Perkins) Mather|
|Edward Loveridge||Husband of EP’s sister Esther (Peck) Loveridge|
|Benjamin Peck||Benjamin Peck||Father of EP|
|Benjamin Peck Jr||Brother of EP|
|Cornelius Peck||mispelling of EP’s brother Cyrus Peck?|
|Silas Peck Jr||Silas Peck||Uncle of EP|
|Samuel Peck||likely, Uncle of EP|
|Thomas Lee||Husband of EP’s sister Mehitable Peck|
|Nathan Dewolf||father of FP & EP’s daughter-in-law, Sarah (Dewolf) Perkins|
This first description of the land comes from “Extract from a letter of Lieut. Gov’r Belcher to the Lords of Trade”, 11 Jan 1762:
“This Township begun its Settlement 1760, was granted to Two Hundred proprietors. The present Families now settled in this Township are in Number One Hundred and fifty containing Nine Hundred persons. They have imported a large Stock of Cattle cut Hay sufficient for their Stock, but their Corn mostly blasted by the excessive draught this Summer. This Township contains about Five Thousand Acres of Marsh Lands, and three thousand Acres of Cleared upland. The Proprietors have divided their Lands which they judged improvable Land, and it amounts to One Hundred Acres to each Right or Share. The remainder are unimprovable Lands, two Ridges of Mountains Running thro’ the Township, the west end of this Township, Sandy barren Land, the natural growth is Spruce, Fir, White Birch, poplar and white Pine, the growth of Timber small, the Woods having been leveled by Fire about fifty years since. This Township lies on the Basin of Minas, the River Gaspero lying near the Center on which the Town is laid out, is navigable for any Vessel that can lay aground, their being Seven fathom at high Water, at low Water the Lands are in a manner dry.”
The early years proved challenging. They started without established government, churches or schools. Their main religion was Congregationalist, which meant they distrusted the British government and expected a form of Puritan self-rule based on town meetings. However, they now lived on an island, isolated from their former homeland. It took years for a minister to arrive, and he proved unpopular. This gap would give an opportunity to other religions to gain a strong foothold, most prominently the Baptist with its evangelical tone, that evolved from the Great Awakening.
The Revolutionary War occurred over 14 years after the settlement of the New England Planters. It was a very complicated situation because you had individuals sympathetic to the colonies and to the crown in both Lyme and Horton – even within the same family. But reality dictated that they could not go back home. Their means of livelihood, farming their land, lay in Canada. Nova Scotia, which almost joined the fight as the 14th colony, would remain neutral, in part, so that brother would not have to fight brother.
After the war, Nova Scotia saw a new influx of New Englanders – the Loyalists – displaced individuals who wanted to remain loyal to the crown. Loyalists had some different values than their Planter brethren. Their religion favored Church of England with a more centralized government control, so you see political power shifting to Halifax. Initially, friction developed with the newcomers who competed for land and resources. However, as time went on, the similarities of the two group overcame the differences. After a while, both groups referred themselves as Loyalists since Canada remained proudly a British Colony.
In the context presented above, we can better understand surviving accounts of Francis and Elizabeth (Ely) Perkins. Caroline Perkins describes the family of Francis and Elizabeth (Ely) Perkins:
“FRANCIS, born Dec. 14, 1741; married Elizabeth Peck, sister of Cyrus and half-sister of Benjamin Peck. In the stirring times preceding the Revolution he was a Loyalist, and on that account found life in Lyme uncongenial, and about 1761 he and other ardent Loyalists emigrated to Horton, Kings County, Nova Scotia, where they took up or were granted lands after the expulsion of the Acadians. He was a small man, but very active; his wife was a very large woman, as were her sisters, and her brothers were also large men. His wife died in 1820 and is buried in the old Oak burying ground in Horton. After her death he sold his property and moved to Aylesford, Kings County, Nova Scotia, where his son Ely had previously settled, and about two years later, in October, 1822 or ’23, he died. He is buried in the Randal burying ground in Aylesford.”
Cyrus A Varnum, a Perkins descendant, visited relatives in Canada in 1895 and heard this surviving oral account which he wrote in his diary:
“Eli Perkin’s Father was native of Mass, one of 11 brothers, a United Empire Loyalist, the other 10 being patriots.”
These accounts have some accuracy issues. First, Francis and Elizabeth started a New England Planters, sometimes referred to as “Preloyalists”. Second, Francis likely died closer to 1821 as indicated by his surviving will. One wonders why he would not be buried with Elizabeth if she died a year earlier in 1820. Overall, however, one senses that Francis and Elizabeth ultimately succeeded in their new location. Son William Francis Perkins studied in England where he became a doctor, while Cyrus Peck Perkins joined the Anglican Clergy in Annapolis. Ely, eldest son and our ancestor, would have received his father’s land.
Family of Elizabeth (Peck) Perkins
Elizabeth (Peck) Perkins was the daughter of Benjamin and Sarah (Champion) Peck, both names with long Lyme CT history. As mentioned, a lot of the Peck family became New England Planters. There was father Benjamin, Sr., uncle Silas, brothers Benjamin, Jr and Cyrus. The location of the farm of Benjamin, Sr and later Benjamin, Jr can readily be located because a portion of their land become a local burying ground, later renamed Oak Grove Cemetery. Elizabeth, who died around 1820, is said to be buried there. Benjamin Jr had a daughter, Olivia, who married Joseph Barass, considered Nova Scotia’s most famous privateer (pirate).
The Revolutionary War really made life complicated for this family. Elizabeth remained with husband Francis, along with her brothers Benjamin, Jr. and Cyrus. However and her father Benjamin, Sr, returned to Lyme, where Silas fought in the War. Elizabeth’s sister, Mehitable Peck, and her husband Thomas Lee, residing in Lyme, declared themselves Loyalist and moved to Horton during the war before returning to Lyme in 1782. Elizabeth’s brother, Lee Peck, fought for the Colonists. Through it all, Benjamin Peck Sr seems to show no favoritism towards Canadian or American children in his will written in 1782.
Siblings of Frances Perkins
Francis had many brothers and brothers-in-law, some whom served in the war. William Perkins became a Captain of the Connecticut Militia apparently overseeing the construction of Fort Trumbull in New London CT. Sarah Perkins’ husband, Nathaniel Pratt, participated in the Lexington Alarm and later in the capture of armaments from Ft Ticonderoga. Another brother, Abraham Perkins, may have suffered the heaviest price for his service where he fought in a decisive loss in the Battle of Long Island. His pension file describes a poor, ill man with little means. Service records for other family members including Daniel Perkins, Frederick Mather (husband of Elizabeth Perkins) and Samuel Perkins has not yet been found . They may or may not have participated. George Washington, after initial enthusiasm, struggled to field an army for the bulk of the war. These men may have been been part of the majority of the middle class that did not serve. After independence, almost all the family, except Abraham Jr, moved near Woodstock, Windham County, VT. The movement coincided with exploration of the Continental US that began after the war in search of better property.
Ultimately, the move from Lyme CT to Horton NS would have isolated Francis Perkins from the rest of his family. Yet the fertile land available compared to rocky Connecticut soil enabled Francis and Elizabeth to prosper despite the interruption of the Revolutionary War. In the end, Francis and Elizabeth became outstanding Canadian citizens, loyal to the British government. Descendants were so proud of this legacy that the unusual names of Cyrus and Eli would show up for many generations.