Loyalist of the Day – Government and the Church

Milt and Dawn study the Queens County State Oaths looking for their ancestors' names. Courtesy of Gerald Breau

Milt and Dawn study the Queens County State Oaths looking for their ancestors' names. Courtesy of Gerald Breau

With the influx of settlers in the St. John River valley, it soon became apparent that Halifax was simply too far away to effectively govern the swelling population of Loyalists.  In 1784 the Province of New Brunswick was established.   The British authorities in London were careful not to repeat the mistakes of the recent past.  It was felt that the American colonies had been lost because British authority was not strong enough or visible enough.  To address this perceived problem, a strict hierarchical governing structure was created.  The new province was divided into eight counties, of which Queens County was one.  Each county was further subdivided into parishes, with local authorities in each parish responsible to county officials, represented physically by a shiretown in each county.  The county was then responsible to the province which was in turn responsible to the Crown.  Queens County was initially divided into four parishes: Hampstead and Gagetown west of the St. John River, Wickham and Waterborough to the east.  By 1788 lists of county and parish officials began to appear with numerous Loyalists swearing oaths of allegiance to the King and filling various offices from Justices of the Peace to Tax Assessors.

Case Family Bible, 1769, gift of Misses Robie and Olive Case, 1978 (1978.03)

Case Family Bible, 1769, gift of Misses Robie and Olive Case, 1978 (1978.03)

In conjunction with a formal governing authority, the Church played an equally important role in creating stability and normalcy within the region.  Evidence of strong religious ties is seen in the Case and Peters family Bibles; both dated before the Revolution and considered important enough to be brought to Queens County.  Until well into the 19th century, the Anglican Church was the only religious authority that could baptize, marry or bury.  Conversions and devoted church service were therefore common.  When Quaker Daniel Babbit converted, he not only supplied the land upon which St. Johns Anglican Church at Gagetown was built in 1790, but also hosted church meetings and served as the church warden for decades.

For more information about the early county documents or to see them in person, visit the Loyalist Legacy exhibition on now at the Court House until 18 September.

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3 Responses to Loyalist of the Day – Government and the Church

  1. Carol says:

    What exactly is a shiretown? Have heard the term in relation to St. Andrews (I think) but unsure of meaning. Thanks:)

  2. Hi Carol,
    It’s another word for “county seat”, the administrative center of the county. In the case of Gagetown, like most others in New Brunswick, that meant the county gaol, court house, and registry office were all located in the village.

  3. Carol says:

    Thanks for the explanation of shiretown. It was a term that was never mentioned in any university history courses I’d taken. I’d found it mentioned in a local history book while working in the Archives. However, no explanation of the term in the book was given as it was likely assumed anyone reading it would be familiar with it.

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