Monthly Archives: October 2014

The Death of Robert Hunter Duff – 1917

Robert Hunter Duff, born 7 Feb 1888 in Bridgewater, Nova Scotia, was the fourth of six children born to my great-great-grand-uncle William Menzies Duff and his wife Elizabeth Harriet Hunter.  Robert was the nephew of my great-great-grandmother Annie Prescott Duff.

[Photos are courtesy of Catherine Duff.]


William Menzies Duff, 1849-1920


Standing back: William (Bill), Kenneth Gordon, Jean; Seated: Elizabeth Harriet Duff, Robert (Bob), Ann, William Menzies Duff; Seated front: Prescott Blagdon Duff. c 1898

Robert and his brother Prescott Blagdon Duff both served in WWI.  Prescott was a Captain in the 5th Battalion, and Robert was a Private in the 2nd Canadian Pioneer Battalion.

Prescott Duff with his Battalion, 1917

Prescott Duff with his Battalion, 1917

Robert Duff with son, 1917

Robert Duff with son “Little Bob”, in 1917

Much like my great-grandfather Oscar Krueger and his brother Arthur, only one of the brothers would make it out of the war to return home to their families. Robert was killed in action on 15 Aug 1917 near Lens, France.  His official death and burial record says he was “Struck in the head and knee by enemy shrapnel and killed” during military operations near “Hill 70”.  He was 29 years old.

Robert Duff Death and Burial Record, 1917

Robert Duff Death and Burial Record, 1917

This is as much detail as I’ve seen on an official document, but it still scarcely tells the real story.  As genealogists it’s easy to see “died on such-and-such date” and get very used to it without thinking too much about the real emotional toll of these events.  I was fortunate enough to receive a copy of a letter sent by Capt. Prescott Duff to his Uncle William Hunter.  It goes into more detail about Robert’s death and the events which followed.  I present it as a valuable historic document, but also a reminder that each death date on the family tree had deep emotional and logistical repercussions.

[Transcription follows to allow search of text.]

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France 16/8/17.
Dear Uncle Will: –

You will have heard of Bob’s death befor(e) this reaches you, am sending a short note to Annie, Billy, Gordon, Jean and Father, but cannot settle down to giving all details to each now as am too upset, so will write Gordon fully and you can give details to others. I wrote Sheila [Florence Sheilen Nielsen, Robert’s wife] first of course.

He went out as a runner with Lt. Tremblay and Sgt. Maj. Clements, the morning of the show when his Company “A” went out. Tremblay and Sgt. Maj. had got men to work and the three were about ready to go around looking over work. A shell lit on trench, Tremblay and Sgt. Maj. were wounded but able to walk out, Bob was wounded in knee, arm and back of head. They got him back to dressing station as quickly as possible but he became unconscious on way and died at dressing station. My Company was in reserve and were at “A” Company Billets. Maj. Allen, 2nd in Command, telephoned me from forward Battn. H.Q. [Battalion Headquarters] that Bob was hit badly and was at dressing station and men who brought him out were on way down and would give me more information. Later he telephoned Bob had died, so I got the two men who had come back and went up and got the body on light railway on a push car, sending the men right on to our H.Q. with it while I dropped off at my Company’s location. This was yesterday, today I went down and he was buried at Aix Noulette Cemetery. Maj. Tate, who used to be 2nd in Command of “D” Company with me on Somme, went to funeral with me and will write Sheila. Jack Leets of our Company went down also and helped me through the ordeal. Some men, some “D” Coy. [company] and H.Q. men were there. Harry Corkum was there. Maj. Moffatt, a Pres. [Presbyterian] Chaplain, buried. him. An “A” Coy. Sgt. told me that he was awfully cool under fire and though he was only with Pioneers short time was though a lot of, but knowing Bob you can guess that. Had only seen him once since he joined us as our Companies were separated, but one day walked to “A” Company to see him and he was telling me of his week in line with 25th.

There is best of us gone, the one that mattered so much, it seems the best go. It will break poor Sheila’s heart and you can guess how it has hit me. Well, can’t write any more as have to go to work, but oh, Uncle it’s cruel, old Bob the whitest and finest with a fine wife and little Bob, to have to go, and I worked and tried to save him as much as possible, and, fate seemed bound to beat us.  Our Battn. [Battalion] got the hardest day for a long time that day, though thank God the killed were light, most being wounded. Had two officers wounded, so came off well there.



My cousin Catherine had some additional information about this letter which better puts it into context:

My grandfather ultimately became a Captain in the Canadian Engineers 5th Battalion.  However, at the time of Robert’s death and his writing of the letter to his uncle, he was a Lieutenant in “D” Company and Robert was a Private in “A” Company of the 2nd Canadian Pioneer Battalion, 2nd Canadian Division which served in many locations on the Western Front.  The Pioneers were merged into the Engineers in 1918 which would have been after Robert’s death in 1917.  According to John Cunningham, the picture of my grandfather which was taken Sept. 1, 1917 in Camblain les Abbe (as written on picture, perhaps today Camblain L’Abbé), France, would have been “just out of line at Hill 70 and about to be sent on to Passchendaele.  It was taken four days after Field Marshal Sir Douglas Haig, resplendent on horse back, conducted a late morning inspection of the entire 2nd Canadian Division lined up along a road not far from the Canadian Corps headquarters at Camblain les Abbe.

The Canadians took Hill 70 at some cost to the Germans and ultimately in November, took Passchendaele.  The picture would have been taken very soon after Robert’s death.  I also note that there is a sad footnote to the story in that Robert’s son fought in WWII and came back home with problems that resulted in him having a lobotomy and living out his life in an institution in London, Ontario.  Robert’s wife Sheila died prematurely as well.  I could send you some additional information about the sorts of tasks undertaken by the Pioneers as these are all documented in the War Diaries.  Off the top, I know they built light rail lines, trenches, repaired bridges, roads, often going out at night to work.  Passchendaele is notorious for the mud – both men and horses were lost drowning in the mud.  In Canadian history, Passchendaele has a very significant place.

Letter from Jane Elizabeth Fairbanks – 16 Jan 1856

Another letter written by my 3x great-grandmother Jane Elizabeth Fairbanks Duff of Lunenburg, Nova Scotia, to her cousin Mary Martha Fairbanks Twining of Halifax.  In this letter my grandmother writes of books she has been sent by Mary, a terrible snowstorm which endangered her husband and two friends, money owed between the two woman, and the family health.  As always a transcription follows the letter, which can be enlarged or downloaded by clicking on the images.

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Pages 1 & 4

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Pages 6 & 7

Pages 8 and 5

Pages 8 & 5

Braco – January 16th [1856]

My Dear Mary,

I received your note and parcel on Monday afternoon and was very glad indeed to hear again from you and much obliged for your attending to my wants again.  I thought the books very suitable indeed and am much indebted to you for your kindness in sending the others belonging to yourself as they are new.  Perhaps you may like to dispose of them of so you can let me know the price.  Fanoff?  seems

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a very nice book and the children are already much interested in it.  The “Illustrated Geography” I will keep as it seems very good and may be useful by and by, although I will commence with this simpler one part now as we have an account with Mr. Morton he can charge it.  I should take much pleasure in teaching the children now if possible to have a little more quiet.  But that is impossible with these younger ones playing about the room.  I have not been very well for the last two or three weeks

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and have quite given up going out.  Indeed I have to leave almost every thing now to Miss Duff as I can no longer take ??in the house.  I think now the event will be over in a few days as I can do little for myself or others at present.  The children are all well but baby not yet walking alone which is rather discouraging.  What dreadful storms we have had lately.  I don’t think I can remember anything worse than last Sabbath Night.  Aunt Margaret and I were talking over the fire feeling

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very anxious about William who had gone to LaHave Bridge when in came Mr. Cossmann [possibly the Rev. Charles Cossman of Lunenburg] and Louise who had also been in the country and had lost themselves in the vain attempt to cross the Lunenburg Common.  It is a dreadful place in a snow storm as there is nothing to guide one and great danger of getting off the road into the ice.  They did lose the road for some time Mr C left Louise with the horse and sleigh and endeavored to find it on foot, but he got perfectly bewildered

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with the drifting snow and for some time lost sight of the sleigh also and wandered about in perfect despair.  He fortunately discovered it at the last so they gave up all hope of getting to Lunenburg and made the best of their way back to us.  Poor Louise was half perished with cold and frightened out of her senses thinking of course her Father had got in the ice and expecting any moment that the horse would dash the sleigh to pieces in his terror at the storm.  We felt very uneasy

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about William, but he made his appearance about an hour afterwards a perfect mass of snow and ice, having been off the road a great many times in the course of his drive.  Since the storms our mails have been very irregular but I hope the roads will be good soon.  I was very glad you sent the amount, it should have been paid long ago.  There is no danger of your defrauding any one but yourself if it is less than I thought

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it would be.  If you remember anything more don’t fail to let me know.  I hope to pay you in full when William goes up to Halifax, which I think will be soon after I am confined.  I had rather he would not leave home just now.  I hope he will bring Annie back with him.  You must resent this horrible writing.  I don’t feel fit for anything but wanted to write a few lines if possible in case of being prevented for a

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time.  I am very sorry you are suffering again with cold and little Charlie [Charles Rufus Fairbanks Twining] also.  I hope soon to hear you are both better.  Miss Duff still suffers greatly with indigestion and lacks constantly[?] some days.  I have persuaded her to drive in to Lunenburg this evening as it is ??.  She would scarcely leave me alone but she goes out so seldom.  I think it would do her good.  I am very tired and must say goodbye my dear Mary.

With much love to Martha and all other friends.  Believe me ever your affectionate cousin,

Jane E Duff

The Mystery of Caroline C. Thomas

In my family tree there are two Caroline Thomases whose lives were, to some degree, intertwined.  I’m going to put all the facts here in this article in an attempt to untangle them to the degree that it’s possible, however, there are certain paradoxes which make this a more difficult task than it might seem.

The first Caroline Thomas was my 3x great-grand aunt, the daughter of James S. Thomas and Sophia Ransom.  She was the sister of my 3x great-grandfather Charles H. Thomas, and (supposedly) the aunt of Charles Franklin Thomas.  The issue here is that there is a Caroline Thomas living with Charles Franklin Thomas at the time of her death, and there is some question in the records as to whether she is his mother-in-law or his (supposed) aunt.  We’ll try to determine the truth of it using all the available documentation.

Note: I will mention at this point that there was a family story told to me by Dave Momot, that Charles Franklin Thomas was actually Caroline’s son and not her nephew.  Supposedly she had him out of wedlock about 1854, and the child was given to her brother Charles H. Thomas to raise to avoid the social implications of unmarried motherhood.  Only when Charles H. Thomas and his wife Louisa Pond both died did she reveal to Charles Franklin Thomas that she was actually his mother and not his aunt.  This story might explain some of what’s to come.

The first mention of this Caroline Thomas is in the 1850 census.  The Thomas family was living in Burke, Franklin, New York with a woman named Catherine Mott.  Caroline is listed as 16 years old (b 1834), born in New York, and her father James is listed as a “Shoemaker”.  Since this is the first record, I tend to take the birth date more seriously for this record since 16-year old women don’t usually fib about their ages.

In the 1860 Census, Caroline is living in the home of her brother Joel Wells Thomas with her parents in Burlington, Chittenden, Vermont.  Her age is 26 (b 1834), and the birthplace listed is New York.

In the 1870 Census for Burlington, Vermont, Caroline is listed as “Caroline C. Thomas”, age 33 (b 1837), born in Vermont.  She is living in the home of Burlington Police Chief Nobel Hanagan where she is listed as a domestic.  Her brother Beriah W. Thomas and her niece Hattie Thomas are living with her.

Caroline’s brother, Charles H Thomas (b 1821), died on 7 Dec 1873 in Canton, Saint Lawrence, New York.  He was listed as a blacksmith, and was only 52 years old.


St. Lawrence Republican and Ogdensburgh Weekly Journal, 16 Dec 1873, p3

On 5 Jun 1875, there is recorded a marriage between “James Nite” and “Caroline Thomas”.  Caroline is listed as being 43 years old (b 1832), born in New York, and it being her first marriage.  Her parents are listed as James Thomas and Sophia, which matches perfectly.  The year of birth doesn’t really match up with the 1834 we’ve seen previously, but it starts a trend of her birth year creeping backward, opposite of most women who tend to say they are younger than they are when asked in census and other official records (assuming they are not accurate.)

Thomas/Nite Marriage 1875

Thomas/Nite Marriage 1875

The groom’s card for the marriage lists him as 53 years old (b 1822), a clerk, and born in Scotland.  It was the groom’s second marriage.

Wedding card for James Nite (Knight)

Wedding card for James Nite (Knight)

I’ve also obtained the original church record for this marriage which says James was born in Glasgow, Scotland.  It says that Caroline was born in “Troy, NY”.

Burlington Methodist Church record

Burlington Methodist Church record

I have been able to find no other mention of this James Nite (spelled Knight in most documents) in Burlington.  Neither in the Census records for 1870 or 1880, nor in the City directories for the years around 1875.  I can find neither James nor Caroline in the 1880 Census records.  So far I can find no mentions of him in the newspapers of the time.  There are some entries in the New York City Directory in 1882 and 1884 for a James Knight who was a clerk.  In 1886 his wife Caroline is listed as a “Widow”.  So that James Knight seems to have died about 1885.  We have no way to prove at this point that they are the same James and Caroline who got married in Burlington, however.

I’ll switch gears at this point to talk about the other Caroline Thomas.

One year after Caroline Thomas and James Knight were married, Caroline’s nephew Charles Franklin Thomas married Mary “Polly” Thomas.

Charles Frank Thomas Sr., his son Charles Jr, and wife Mary

Charles Franklin Thomas, his son Charles Jr, and wife Mary “Polly” Thomas c1890.

The documents show the groom’s parents as Charles H Thomas (brother of Caroline Thomas) and Lois Pond.


Mary, on her record, is listed as the daughter of Henry Thomas and Caroline Smith.  Mary is listed as 21 years of age (b 1855) and having been born in Burlington, Vermont.


Obviously Mary’s mother Caroline Smith was Caroline Thomas after her marriage to Henry Thomas.  So what do we know about Caroline Smith Thomas?

Mary Polly’s death record from 1902 lists her parents as “Henry Thomas” and “Caroline C. Thomas.  Despite her marriage record saying she was born in Burlington, Vermont, Mary’s death record says she was born in Burke, NY on 19 May 1854.  No Henry and Caroline Thomas have been found in Burlington, VT or in Burke, NY in the 1860 census (when Mary Polly would have been about six years old, and presumably living with them).

Mary Thomas Death 1902

Mary Thomas Death 1902

We need to keep in mind that it’s very possible she was estranged from her parents (she is, after all, living alone in the 1870 census at the age of 16, working as a servant), and thus upon her death nobody was around who could give reliable information about who here parents were or where she was born.

In the 1880 census, Charles Franklin Thomas is in the census for Canton, NY with his wife Mary (listed as being from NY with both parents being from NY), and their son Charles F. Thomas Jr.  As stated previously, I can find no mention of Caroline Thomas or her husband James Knight in the 1800 census.

Louisa Adams Pond (b1823), supposed mother of Charles Franklin Thomas, died in Canton, NY on 8 Aug 1896.  She was 73 years old.


Death announcement. From “The Palladium”, Malone, New York, Thursday August 20, 1896.

Again… according to family rumors, this is when Caroline Thomas came forward and supposedly told Charles that she was his mother.  Records after this point do list her as his mother on multiple occasions.

In the 1900 Census for Brattleboro, Vermont, Charles Franklin Thomas and his wife Mary “Polly” Thomas are listed as living with a Caroline Thomas.  This Caroline was born in Oct 1832 in New York, and is listed as the widowed “mother” of Charles F. Thomas.  She is listed as the mother of one child total and one living child.  She is also listed as having been married since 1854, which unfortunately is the birth year for both Charles and his wife Mary Polly, so not a distinguishing characteristic.  We don’t know that Caroline Thomas (the aunt) was ever married apart from her 1875 marriage to James Knight, but it’s possible that either she was briefly married, or that she was saying she was married at the time of Charles’s birth for obvious social reasons.

Note that the birthplace of Mary Polly Thomas’s parents are both listed as “unknown”.  If the Caroline living with her is her mother, why would this be the case?  In the 1880 census Mary Polly Thomas said both her parents were born in New York.  Then again, whoever answered the questions from the census-taker could just have not known the answer, whether the person living with them was the aunt or the mother-in-law.

Thomas Census 1900

Thomas Census 1900

Next, on 11 Apr 1902, Mary Polly Thomas dies of cancer of the uterus.  There are a couple of death notices in the newspapers of the time.  The first says she “leaves, beside her husband, one son, Harold (Wilmer) Thomas”.  No mention of a mother still being alive, much less living with them.


St. Albans Messenger, St. Albans, Vermont, 17 Apr 1902

The second simply says she used to live in Burlington, that she died in Brattleboro, and that she would be buried in St. Albans.  It also mentions that my 2x great-grandfather Horace Luther Thomas is the brother of her husband Charles Franklin Thomas.


Burlington Weekly Free Press, Burlington, Vermont, 17 Apr 1902, p3

The next record chronologically is for the death of the above Caroline Thomas on 22 Apr 1902.  She is listed as 67 years old (b 1835), widowed, and having parents Henry [no last name, which might indicate Thomas] and Maria Ransom.


So right away we can see that the father’s name listed is the same as the mother-in-law’s husband (Henry), but the last name of the mother is the same as mother of the aunt (Ransom).  Once again this feels to me like someone living filling out a death record who didn’t have all the right details.

There are several obituaries for this Caroline.  They have contradictory information, which makes things more difficult.  The first obit from the Brattleboro Phoenix (25 Apr 1902) lists her as Caroline C. Knight, “mother of Mrs. C.F. Thomas” (i.e. mother of Mary Polly Thomas).  It says she was born 19 Oct 1831, that she was buried in Burlington, Vermont, and that she had a brother in Burlington in 1902.  Aunt Caroline had living two brothers in 1902, Beriah Ransom Thomas, who was living in St. Albans in 1902, and Joel Wells Thomas, who was living in Burlington in 1902.


Brattleboro VT Phoenix, 25 April 1902

The next obit only adds that she died of cancer.  The death record says an “ulcer of leg”.  I’m sure such ulcers can be cancerous.


The last obit says that Caroline Thomas was the mother of C.F. Thomas.


Burlington weekly free press., April 24, 1902, Page 5

So what do we make of this?  Two of the obits list her as Caroline C. Knight, and the Caroline Thomas which married James Knight clearly said that her parents were James Thomas and Sophia Ransom.  The death record also lists her mother as “Maria Ransom”, and the mother of Caroline Thomas (the aunt) was Sophia Ransom.  Several articles and other documents list her as the mother of Charles Franklin Thomas, while a couple list her as his mother-in-law, including one that mistakenly says her maiden name was Knight when that was her married name.

Looking over what we have, I’m not convinced any of these records have anything to do with Mary Polly’s mother.  I feel like most of what we see could plausibly be explained by Caroline Thomas coming out as Charles Franklin Thomas’s mother after the death of his parents, and the other non-aligning facts being due to bereaved people putting the wrong information on forms, or having their words misinterpreted by the press in the local news papers.


Silver Flatware from “Woodside”, the Fairbanks Family Home

My cousin Catherine Duff is the current owner of a set of silver flatware that was purchased by my 4x great-grandfather John Eleazer Fairbanks while on a business trip to London, England sometime around 1840.  It was used for many years at “Woodside”, the Fairbanks family home near Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada.  These very forks and spoons were used by my 4x great-grandparents as well as my 3x great-grandmother Jane Elizabeth Fairbanks.

I’ll let Catherine tell you about the flatware:

The sterling silver flatware from Woodside is King’s pattern double struck (pattern on both sides),  The silver markings for the items in the picture indicate it is Joseph and Albert Savory sterling made in London in 1839.  The standard mark is the leopard without crown for sterling .925 and the city mark is the “lion passant” for London.  I also have a gravy ladle from 1837 which is also Joseph and Albert Savory.  The duty mark on the 1837 ladle is that of King William IV and the duty mark on the 1839 pieces is that of Queen Victoria.  The date mark on the ladle is an Old English “B”  for 1837 and the date mark on the pieces in the picture is the Old English “D” for 1839.  The makers mark is Joseph and Albert Savory.  The pieces are big and heavy – for example, the dinner fork is 8.25 in. and weighs 3.6 oz (the weight of three of my stainless steel kitchen forks).  Joseph and Albert Savory would have been high end silversmiths in London at the time.  The tea set on eBay shows you some of the markings – the makers mark is in the middle, lion to the right, leopard at top, duty mark (sovereign) is left and date should be an Old English “C” for 1838 at bottom.  The Woodside sterling is not monogrammed.  The rest of the set seems to have been auctioned in 2002 in Nova Scotia.

Flatware from "Woodside"

Flatware from “Woodside”

There is a tea set by the same manufacturer currently for sale on eBay. The current price is set about $5,768 US. This is a photo from that auction:

Tea Set

Joseph and Albert Savory Tea Set


The Brissette and Moreau Families – Brides for Brothers

This is just another one of those oddities that one discovers while doing genealogy.  The Moreau family of Bertherville, Québec, Canada is related to me because Anthime Duplesse Moreau (1876-1947) married Marie Victoria Olivier (1876-1945).  Victoria was the niece of my great-great-grandmother Cordélie Olivier.

Anthime Moreau Family, 1916

Anthime Moreau Family, 1916

[“Victoria, Anthime, and their children”. Back row: Joseph Jean Baptiste, Marie Blanche Délia, Angélina, Aurore, Philibert. 2nd row: Anthime, Herminie, Victoria, Aldéa. Front row: Adélard, Donat, Marie-Jeanne.  Courtesy of Micheline Tremblay.]

While doing the Moreau family tree, I came across an interesting fact.  Anthime and Victoria had 13 children, two of which died very young.  Of those that survived, seven of the Moreau siblings married members of the Brissette family:

Joseph Jean Baptiste Moreau (1901-1966) married Marie Auréa Elienne Brissette (b 1905).

Marie Aurore Paméla Moreau (b 1905) married Armand Brissette (1904-1956).

Marie Angélina Moreau (b 1903) married Roméo Brissette (1902-1972).

Joseph Ovila Adélard Moreau (b 1910) married Adrienne Brissette (b 1912).

Joseph Ulric Donat Moreau (b 1912) married Marie Jeanne Simonne Brisette (1916-1935).

Marie Blanche Délia Duplessie Moreau (1902-1927) married Joseph Sylvio Brissette (b 1899).

Délia Moreau and Sylvio Brissette c 1919

Délia Moreau and Sylvio Brissette c 1919

When Délia Moreau died in 1927, Sylvio married Délia’s sister Marie Exilda Aldéa “Aldéa” Moreau (b 1909).  Sylvio had TWO Moreau brides!

So seven members of this Moreau family married six members of the Brissette family.  I can only imagine the scene in the Moreau home:

Donat Moreau: “Papa, I have some news!”

Anthime Moreau: “Let me guess… you’re getting married to one of the Brissette girls.”

Donat: “Yes!”

Anthime: [dryly, without looking up from his paper] “What a surprise.”

Letter from Rev. William Duff – 25 Sept 1846

This is a letter sent by my 3x great grandfather Reverend William Duff to his wife Jane Elizabeth Fairbanks.  The Reverend Duff was 38 years old, and his wife was only 23.  In the letter, my grandfather complains that some church politics are going to keep him away from home for another week, and expresses his disappointment that he has not received a letter from his wife.

A transcription of the letter follows.  Click on the images to enlarge or download them.

Pages 1 & 4

Pages 1 & 4

Pages 2 & 3

Pages 2 & 3

The letter is courtesy of my cousin Catherine Duff and her family.

St. John’s Newfoundland, 25 Sept 1846

My Dear Jane,

Here I am arrested for another fortnight, and I have only time barely to tell you so.  I was ready to be off when a committee of the congregation came after me to urge this point.  Mr. Martin had written by last mail offering to send an establishment now? – a Mr. MacDonald from the other province, which would have the effect of setting them all by the ears again.  [“To set them by the ears” is an old expression meaning “to put them at odds with each other”.]  They agreed upon this ground as well as others the necessity of my remaining for the next steamer in the expectation that an arrangement may be gone into respecting the church property before then, which would prevent further dispute.  I did not think that I was altogether warranted in leaving them in the face of this, although I am nearly as sick of N.F.L. [Newfoundland] as I am desirous to be again in Nova Scotia.  You may be assured that no difficulties here will prevent my return, if well, by the following packet.  I did not hear *from* you, but from Mr. Robb I heard *of* you and with a minuteness of detail

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which implies a knowledge of human nature on his part.  I was relieved and delighted to hear that you were well and looking well.  It would have been still more satisfactory to have had all this confirmed under your own hand and seal.  Indeed I was somewhat suspicious of the accuracy of the postmaster, for this I believe is the most blundering office in British North America, where all are bad.

Mr. Robb writes me that some kind friend had spread the rumor in Lunenburg that I had no intention of returning and that then was some dissatisfaction in consequence.  This is either an episcopalian or a residuary effort which will not succeed.  I have written to one of the elders on the subject and also in reference to house repairs.  I hear that they have been at work in it, and I trust that it may by this time be habitable,

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and that in the course of a few weeks it may be inhabited.

I regret that I did not arrange with Mr. Robb to remain here these few weeks and I could have taken change in Halifax in this way.  I should not have been so pressed for time.

I have felt very well since landing here.  The long and stormy passage, although disagreeable enough at the time, I think has been very beneficial to me.  While under the pestering care of my dear friend Mrs. Fraser I have regained more than my former strength.  You have no idea how many hints and hard rubs I get about my manifest anxiety to leave for Nova Scotia.  They give me but little credit.  When I assign as the cause any *public* duty, and I should have some fears to have my motives analyzed at this point.

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I find that I shall be too late for the mail bag, so I must enclose this in a parcel for Mr. Robb and entrust it to someone on board.

Believe me, dearest love, ever yours affectionately,

William Duff

Rufus Fairbanks and the Settlers

There are several documents in the Halifax National Archives which outline a land dispute between my 5x great-grandfather Rufus Fairbanks, Esq. (1759-1842) and a group of Black settlers who purchased land from him on his property near Halifax.

From what I can gather, Rufus sold five parcels of land to a group of five families for ten shillings each on the condition that they live there uninterrupted for seven years, and that settlers cultivate and improve the land in that time.  If they did not meet these conditions, the land reverted back to the Fairbanks family.  Each parcel was about 12.6 acres in size, and the settlers were given rights to take wood from the land adjoining their lots “for erecting huts, houses or other buildings on the Lot .. or for fuel to be consumed thereon, but not for the purposes of sale or transporting [of] the same”.

The dispute seems to have arisen over two points: Mr. Fairbanks was to have provided supplies and provisions for the settlers to allow them time to work toward being self-sufficient.  He was also to pay them six shillings per cord of wood that they cut.  The settlers said he did not do this.

More importantly, the settlers alleged that Mr. Fairbanks had shown them one parcel of land prior to the deed being drawn up, and then tried to get them to move to a different parcel of land which was, in their opinion, unsuitable for settlement, being “low swampy ground with small & scrubby bushes unfit for fuel or building .. the land is too sunken for cultivation”.

I cannot pretend to sit 200 years later and judge right or wrong from these few documents.  I’ll let others come to whatever conclusions they wish after reading them.  I’m simply amazed that letters exist from 200 years ago that tell me more about my grandfather, and that one of these letters is in his own hand.  That makes it valuable to me.


The first document is the deed itself, dated 24 Oct 1815 between Rufus Fairbanks and the settlers.  It is signed by Rufus himself and his two sons Samuel Prescott Fairbanks (1795-1882), and Charles Rufus Fairbanks (1790-1841).   The deed describes the position of the five parcels of land, and the terms under which the settlers would successfully obtain the land.  A transcription follows.

I believe the parcel of land in question is visible in this map.  There are two “Duck Lakes” West of Porter’s lake, but this one seems the more likely candidate:





This indenture made the twenty-fourth day of October in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and fifteen between Rufus Fairbanks of Halifax in the County of Halifax in the Province of Nova Scotia Esquire of the one part and John Lynch, Henry Brown, Charles Cephas, Adam Green and James Wallace all of Halifax aforesaid in the County and Province aforesaid, Labourers of the other part witnesseth that for and in consideration of the sum of ten shillings of lawful money of the Province aforesaid by the said John Lynch, Henry Brown, Charles Cephas, Adam Green and James Wallace severally and respectively paid to the said Rufus Fairbanks at or before the ensealing and delivery of these presents the receipt whereof is hereby acknowledged, the said Rufus Fairbanks hath granted bargained, sold, aliened, enfeoffed (?) and confined and by these presents doth grant bargain sell alien enfeoff an confine unto the said John Lynch, Henry Brown, Charles Cephas, Adam Green and James Wallace respectively and their heirs and assigns forever the following lots and parcels of land with all and singular their appartenance that is to say until to said John Lynch the Lot number one, unto the said Henry Brown the Lot number two, unto the said Charles Cephas the Lot number three, unto the said Adam Green the Lot number four, and unto the said James Wallace the Lot number five, which said five lots of land are part and parcel of a tract of land lately purchased by the said Rufus Fairbanks from Gerald Murphy and are situated on the West side of Lake Porter and are described as follows: that is to say Lot Number One begins on the Western shore of a small Lake called Duck Lake situated west of Porter’s Lake and at the intersection of the North side line of the said tract with Duck Lake thence it measures westwardly therefrom forty five rods, thrice at right angles Eastward to Duck Lake aforesaid and then to the bound first mentioned and number two three four and five measure each in breadth from North to South twenty rods, and bound successively on Duck Lake and extend to the Westward as far therefrom as the Red Line of Lot number one and the Lot number two adjoins the South Side of Number one; and number Five is the most distant therefrom to the Southward.

And also all houses outhouses Buildings Woods underwoods ways waters watercourses Easements profits commodities and appurtenance whatsoever to the said five Lots of land or premises belonging or in anywise appertaining on to or with the fame usually occupied or enjoyed or accepted reputed taken or known as part parcel or member thereof and the reversion and reversions, remainder and remainders and other rents issues and posits thereof and of every part thereof; and also all the Estate right title interest use trust inheritance property claim and demand whatsoever both at Law and in equality of heirs the said Rufus Fairbanks of into and out of the said five lots of land and promises hereby granted or sanctioned or intended so to be on any of them on any part or parcel thereof with their and every of their appartenances.  To have and to hold the said five lots of land and all and singular other the promises hereby granted or mentioned or intended so to be, and every part and parcel thereof with the appartenances respectively unto the said John Lynch, Henry Brown, Charles Cephas, Adam Green, and James Wallace each Lot to the person to whom it is above mentioned to be granted and to their heirs and assigns respectively to the proper and absolute use and behoof of the said  John Lynch, Henry Brown, Charles Cephas, Adam Green, and James Wallace and their heirs and assigns forever.

Provided always nevertheless and it is the true intent and meaning of these presents and of the parties hereunto that if any one of the said grantees his heirs and assigns do not and shall not within the span of seven years next after the day of the date of this Indenture clear cultivate and improve the respective lot to him as aforesaid above conveyed or do or shall within the time limited as aforesaid quit the Lot so convened to him as aforesaid and leave the same unoccupied for and during the space of one whole year at a time, that there and in every such case the Estate hereby convened to such grantee shall determine and be wholly void and it shall and may be lawful for the said Rufus Fairbanks his heirs and assigns to enter into and upon such Lot of land so uncultivated or deserted for the respective times aforesaid and the same to have again repossess and enjoy as of his first and former Estate everything in this Indenture contained to the contrary thereof in any


wise notwithstanding — and the said Rufus Fairbanks for himself and his heirs executors and administrators doth covenant promos and agree to and with the said grantees respectively and their respective heirs and assigns that each and every of them shall and may at any and at all times during the space of seven years from the date hereof enter into and upon that part of the land above mentioned to be convened by Gerald Murphy to the said Rufus Fairbanks and which is adjoining the lots of land herein respectively granted and there cut down take and carry away as much wood trees and timber as such grantee at any time during the said term of seven years shall stand in need of or require for erecting huts, houses or other buildings on the Lot to him above respectively granted or for fuel to be consumed thereon, but not for the purposes of sale or transporting the same from off of the said land… In witness whereof the parties to these presents have hereunto their hands and seals subscribed and set the day and year above mentioned.

Signed Sealed & Delivered in the presence of

Samuel P Fairbanks
Charles R Fairbanks

Rufus Fairbanks

A census of the settlers is included in the collection.  It is dated 30 Oct 1815, so about a week after the deed was signed.  It shows five families with a total of 24 people.  John Lynch and his wife have three children ranging from ages 1 to 9 years old.  Henry Brown and his wife have two children, ages 7 and 1 year old.  James Wallace and his wife have a 17 year old child.  Charles Cephas and his wife have five children ranging from 2 years to 19 years old, and Adam Green and his wife have three children ranging from 1 to 5 years old:


It also shows that six months of provisions were approved starting 2 Nov 1815.

Included with the deed is a letter from the Halifax Council Chamber dated 30 Oct 1815 which supports allocating funds for six month’s provisions for the settlers, and to continue to supply them on an on-going basis as long as they were continuing to improve the land.


Halifax Counsel Chamber Note

“Deed from Rufus Fairbanks Esquire to John Lynch and others”.  We are of opinion, the within conveyances for the location and settlement of the Refugee Negroes therein named, being concluded upon at their own desire, and to their contents a sufficient justification to his Excellency the Lieut. Governor, to cause to issue to them respectively, six months provisions in the first instance and to continue to issue to them quarterly, the allowance authorized by Government for their support to each family, so long as they continue to occupy and improve the respective lots of land herein conveyed to them. —

Council Chamber
Halifax, 30 October 1815
Mich. Wallace
Nat. Hill

The next document, sent 4 Mar 1816, is a letter from Rufus Fairbanks to Henry H. Cogswell, Deputy Provincial Secretary, regarding settlement of Black Refugees on his lands.  Mr. Fairbanks claims the settlers did not move onto the land he had sold them, so he has withheld their provisions.  Mr. Fairbanks claims that the settlers complained about the supplies they received, but he also says they were doing very well “under [his] direction”.




Halifax 4th March 1816


I beg leave to state to you for his Excellency’s information, that the Blacks, John Linch (sic), Henry Brown, Charles Cephas, Adam Green, and Charles Wallace, residing on my land at Lake Porter, have declined moving onto the lands I have conveyed to them to make them permanent settlers in the country; and that in consequence of such refusal I have, agreeably to his Excellency’s instruction, withheld them supply since that period –

They have been informed that thou(gh) settled in Preston, under the direction of Mr. Chambertown, have in addition to their provisions, been supplied with clothing, tools to work with, cooking utensils, etc, which determines them that those have better terms than they have – and, in fact whatever they are informed another has, and they do not receive the same, becomes a source of uncanness(?) and dissatisfaction –

They have cleared a large piece of land where when they now live, which is fit for cultivation, and would must rather remain there than to move again upon a new place –

While under my direction, they certainly did very well. The last year they raised upwards of three hundred bushels of potatoes besides other vegetables, upon lands which the year before was covered with a forest, which, I think, was far better


better than they would have done on lands of their own under their own guidance, being fully convinced that they are not a description of people capable of getting a living in this country, without more experience, or some person to direct them –

They have large and increasing families. One man and woman are very old, two of the other men have been very much out of health for the past Winter. They are now destitute of provisions, excepting potatoes, which they raised the last season; under these circumstances I wish to know whether it is his Excellency’s pleasure that I should continue their supply.

I have the honor to be sir your most obedt. and humble servt.

Rufus Fairbanks


The final document is a reply written by Henry Cogswell which is not dated, but was likely written later in March 1816.  In it he outlines the settlers’ side of the story.  It seems to be a partial letter, with at least one page missing.

Cogswell Letter, p1

Cogswell Letter, p1

Cogswell Letter, p2

Cogswell Letter, p2

John Lynch and Henry Brown, Black refugees located upon lands of Rufus Fairbanks Esq near Porter’s Lake say that they with their families have lived upon the said lands for about 15 months last part. That when they agreed with Mr. Fairbanks he promised to give them six shillings per cord for cutting wood and furnish them with provision. That they have often endeavored to obtain a settlement with him but were unable, that he informed them he had charged them with their provisions and that John Lynch was indebted to him 18 pounds and Henry Brown 5 pounds in December last. That in September last he informed them that he would give them six acres of land each for themselves and families forever and that government would supply them with revisions and that they might occupy their present places this Winter. That they agreed to such proposal and have received provisions, that Mr. Fairbanks in January last showed the lots which he said he had given them a deed of. That there was no road leading to it, and it lay about 2 miles back, that it was low swampy ground with small & scrubby bushes unfit for fuel or building. That the land is too sunken for cultivation and they think that they could not have walked over it


it with safety had it not been very hard frozen. That they immediately told him they would not go upon the land. That they have been employed ever since in cutting cord wood and other labour for Mr. Fairbanks and have never received one penny therefor in money. That they have never been employed one day upon their own lands and will never willingly go upon the lands which Mr. Fairbanks ?? them. That Mr. Fairbanks now refuses to allow them any provisions which occasions much distress to their families. That they think Mr. Fairbanks upon a fair settlement is in their debt.

Letter From Jane Elizabeth Fairbanks – 1 Oct 1855

This is another letter from my 3x great-grandmother Jane Elizabeth Fairbanks (1823-1856) to her cousin Mary Martha Fairbanks (1819-1876), courtesy of my cousin Catherine Duff.  This one was sent on 1 Oct 1855 from Braco, the Duff family home in Lunenburg, Nova Scotia to Mary in Halifax.  Jane discusses some sewing Martha did for her, troubles with the mail getting delivered, and begs Martha to bring her children and come for a visit.

Pages 1 & 4

Pages 1 & 4

Pages 2 & 3

Pages 2 & 3

Pages 6 & 7

Pages 6 & 7

Pages 5 & 8

Pages 5 & 8

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Braco, October 1st [1855]

My Dear Mary,

I intended answering the note I received from you last week, before this, but thought afterwards I would wait and make inquiries about the missing packet before visiting.  It is really so bad after all the trouble you have had with my things to have so many mistakes and when you have been at so much pains to send packets, that they should not be delivered, however this is all right, I received it this morning.  I made inquiries last week, but could hear nothing of it.  But the packet returned yesterday

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and our boy got it from the captain this morning.  I suppose he took it back to Halifax the last trip, it was certainly very stupid when it was directed so plainly.  I am greatly obliged to you Dear Mary for making up the little garments, I liked the patterns very much, I have no doubt they will fit and am waiting until Annie returns from school to try on hers.  I am quite sorry dear Mary that we are not to have the pleasure of seeing you here.  I should have been very glad indeed to have had a visit from you.  If you had felt able to undertake either a voyage or drive, but as you say you are afraid to try either.  I do not like to urge you to come lest it should be too much.

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You of course are the first judge of your own strength had it been warmer weather I should certainly think it would do you good to try change of air.  I would have been delighted to have had you any time in the Summer had you volunteered and, although often wishing for you, felt that we were so unfortunately situated that we could not make it either very comfortable or agreeable to any of our friends.  That alone prevented me from sending before, and then Mr. McKnight’s unexpected visit disarranged my plans.  However, dear Mary, I shall expect you to volunteer whenever you feel that you are able to undertake the journey.  You must not wait for any further invitation, or come just when you

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feel inclined.  You may be sure we shall be pleased to have you at any time and tell Martha with my love, if she will undertake it, I shall be very glad indeed to see her and Charlie.  I am sorry to hear he is not very strong but think he will improve soon.  At his age children are so often delicate that he may soon outgrow the weakness which I suppose has been occasioned by.  Mr. Fern? Lewis was in Lunenburg Friday night and came out for a little, but did not stay as he was to go on to Shelburne the next day.  I had a note from Kate and Annie by him.  I am sorry to hear Kate so not well but think it is nothing more than

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fatigue from moving.  If you see either of them soon, please tell them, I was to have written but fear I cannot find time.  Aunt Margaret goes away tomorrow to spend a few days with Mrs. Gow in the country, probably until Saturday and having at thus much work to be done and people to work.  I fear that I shall have my hands full as I cannot expect much help from the servant worker.  So much else to attend to. I have given up all expectations of visiting Woodside [John Eleazer Fairbanks’s family home] this year much as I should have liked it.  I feel it will be impossible now.  Your notes, even though old, contained much new to me, I am always so glad to hear from you and must thank you most sincerely for all your kind offers

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of assistance. What you are doing will be a great comfort but really dear Mary I feel some scruples about encroaching further upon your time, you have been sewing so much for us all that I scarcely think it right to send you more.  But I do hope you will not hesitate to lay them aside at once if you find other things requiring attention.  I am sure you must have many calls upon your time and I value your kindness greatly in bestowing so much of it as well as your sympathies upon us.  I did intend making a set of Chemises for myself and as you say you will not send me the cotton I will send one of my last set.  It is a pitiful rag as you may see

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and scarcely fit were for a pattern but I won’t apologize, as nearly all I could do this Summer was mending for the children and my own garments just went to pieces.  Take your own time to the making and purchase any material necessary.  I should feel I was really imposing upon you were it not for your expected assurances.  I have put – tried on Annie’s garment and like the shape better than any she has had before.  It sets very well but is rather large and long for her.  I think a little more than an inch less around the neck and an inch and a half shorter

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would just do.  I like the opening and button for she is apt to tear her clothes.  Maggie’s does nicely.  I send the parcel & letters there by Mrs. Borden who has been here on a visit.  I hope it will reach you soon.  You must make allowances for my penmanship, although I am better than when I last wrote.  I have rheumatism in my head and am obliged to hold it with my hand while I try to finish this.  Annie, Margaret and the children send much love and with love to Martha and all at your mother’s believe me ever dear Mary your affectionate cousin

Jane E. Duff