Pennfield, New Brunswick
Associated names: Beaver Harbour; Penn’s Field; Belle View; Bellevue.
Location: at the current location of Beaver Harbour, Pennfield Parish, Charlotte County, NB. 45.073056 N, -66.742778 W.
Pennfield was settled by Quakers who left Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New York after the American Revolution, or War of Independence. They were unwelcome because they had failed to support the revolution or, once it was over, did not demonstrate sufficient support for the outcome, in the view of Patriots. Pennfield may have been the first settlement in British North America to formally forbid slave-holding by all its residents without exception. The name honours William Penn, an early British Quaker, a pacifist, believer in religious freedom, and founder of Pennsylvania, one of the original Thirteen Colonies in the United States.
A meeting was organized by Quakers — also known as The Society of Friends — in New York in June 1783 to propose a group departure to Canada. Forty-nine attendees signed on to travel to Nova Scotia. They were a mix of Quakers, Quakers who had been disowned because they had failed to uphold pacifist principles (such as refusing to swear allegiance, to engage in military service, or to otherwise aid military activities), and other people including Baptists. These future Pennfield residents were Loyalists in the sense of expressly choosing to live under British rather than American rule. However, for the Quakers among them, this presented a conundrum. A partisan stance, in itself, went against the Quaker principle of neutrality with regard to state conflict. To be a Loyalist and a Quaker was, for many, a contradiction in terms. Nonetheless, Pennfield has been called a Loyalist Quaker settlement by Dorland, a Canadian Quaker historian.
The prospective travellers to Nova Scotia signed their names, at the outset, to a set of six rules and regulations governing how the settlement was to function. The fourth of the six reads: “That no slaves be bought or sold nor kept by any person belonging to the said society on any pretence whatsoever.” Above the handwritten list of names is the injunction: “No slave master admitted.” This no slaves, no slave masters rule was significant given that slave-owning and indentured servitude were practiced in the region at the time, as they were elsewhere by English, French and Indigenous peoples on lands that became Canada.
The group landed in the autumn of 1783, first at Saint John (then Nova Scotia; New Brunswick became a separate jurisdiction in 1784), and soon after at Beaver Harbour. The settlers were granted 945 acres (382 ha). It was divided into parcels and then distributed to settlers by drawing lots. As in the case of other lands granted elsewhere in Canada, certain land improvements had to be achieved for the grantee to retain possession. These could include clearing forest, draining swamps, putting a number of acres into agricultural production or pasture, constructing a dwelling, and so on. It was a struggle to meet these goals in the Beaver Harbour area. Settlers were so destitute that they were sent emergency rations by Quakers in the U.S., England, and Ireland which allowed them to carry on.
Extant plans of the town show the numbered lots, acreage (mostly 10 acres each), and the names of grantees.
The lots are aligned along nine streets running east-west and six running north-south, with a large undivided area for public uses on the town’s northeast, plus a large undesignated area to the west of the public reserve. There were a couple of sawmills, a small meeting house built in 1786, and a burying ground. The size of the population and number of dwellings are not well documented. Fire appears to have been a regular hazard which eventually brought Pennfield to its end as a Quaker settlement. In 1790 a single blaze destroyed all but one dwelling. Settlers scattered to surrounding areas and some returned to the U.S.
For an overview of Quakers in the Maritimes, including Pennfield, and elsewhere in Canada, see Dorland (1968). Holmes (1992), whose ancestors settled in Pennfield provides a detailed history. Fuller interprets the census data regarding Quaker families for all of New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. Whitfield (2016) describes the slavery context in the Maritimes including for the Pennfield period. For contemporary activities concerning the site, see Rayner (2015).
by Beth Moore Milroy
26.05.16; revised 31.07.17; 11.10.17
- Dorland, Arthur Garland. 1968. The Quakers in Canada, A history. Toronto: Ryerson Press. (First ed., 1927, has title: A history of the Society of Friends (Quakers) in Canada).
- Fuller, Sandra McCann. 2011. “Census of Quaker families in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, 1787.” Canadian Quaker History Journal 76: 39-44.
- Holmes, Theodore C. 1992. Loyalists to Canada: The 1783 settlement of Quakers and others at Passamaquoddy. Camden, ME: Picton Press.
- Rayner, Barb. 2015. Monument heralds Beaver Harbour Quakers’ no-slavery stance. St. Croix Courier (NB), 22 September 2015.
- Whitfield, Harvey Amani. 2016. North to bondage: Loyalist slavery in the Maritimes. Vancouver: UBC Press (see esp. pp 92-95).