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.

About cthomas1967

Seeking to bring my ancestors out of the shadows of history and into the light. I have always been interested in history, and at a few different times I tried to do a family tree, but wasn't able to do it with the technology that was available then. On a business trip I visited the World War I Museum in Kansas City, MO and it was a very impressive establishment. While I was there I remember thinking, "Didn't my great-grandfather father fight in World War I? And wasn't his brother killed alongside him in some famous battle? I wonder if I can find out where he died." That's what started it all. View all posts by cthomas1967

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