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Article Published December 1, 1998



Sandra Devlin EAST COAST KIN (Canada)
By: Sandra Devlin, Biography & Archived Articles


"Boston-States" Lured Maritimers In Droves - Part I

An East Coast Kin reader requests a column about migration patterns between Massachusetts and Nova Scotia where several members of her family went. "Maybe other families went to Massachusetts, too," the e-mail note suggests.

Indeed they did, by the hundreds of thousands. So many and for so long, in fact, that it would take considerably more than a column or two to ferret out all available source of information.

Maybe the next two columns will provide a tip-of-the-iceberg insight to the many and varied New England-Maritime connections sufficient to help family researchers be aware of and trace their own New England connections. For if you are searching in the Maritimes, you are probably also searching in New England.

Most families in the Maritimes had relatives in the "Boston States" at the turn of the century. Migration to New England, particularly Massachusetts, began in the latter part of the 1800s and continued well into the mid-1900s before the wanderlusting eyes of young Maritimers seeking fame and fortune turned more often after the Second World War to southern Ontario; followed by Alberta in more recent decades.

A familiar Maritime lament has long been that its biggest export over the years has been its young people.

In my own family, two of my grandfather’s uncles (Bleakney) and later all three of his maiden sisters (Mills) went to the "Boston States."My maternal great-grandmother (Steeves) joined some of her siblings in Boston in the late 1860s. And she might have stayed but for the events which transpired on a summer visit home to Albert County, N.B. when she feel in love with and married her second cousin in 1871.

One of my mother’s earliest memories, at about age 6, is of a family trip to Boston in 1932 in the family’s beat-up 1928 Buick. Along were two siblings: an older sister, aged 8 and a three-year-old baby brother. The journey conjures up a fascinating picture of an earthy, dirt-farm family packing up the three kids and enough food to last the many days on the narrow, rutty roads between New Brunswick and Boston. Once there, the heady experiences with their comparatively affluent relatives left life-long impressions on a young mind: the first taste of watermelon, a drive in a rumble seat and best of all, a shopping trip to buy ready-made clothes right off the rack.

Booming economies in New England in the latter 1800s and early 1900s, again particularly in Massachusetts, lured thousands upon thousands of young men and women from the Maritimes. They eagerly abandoned the farms and small villages of their childhood in droves, leaving behind the unattractive prospects of life-long poverty and drudgery in favor of the promise of easy-to-get, well-paying jobs in factories, in domestic service to the rich or would-be rich or in the shipping trades. Natick, a Boston suburb, is but one of many examples of how mechanized industry spawned economic prosperity -- or was it the other way around? Natick changed its character from a farming town to a factory town during the 19th Century when mills began to outnumber agriculture as major employers -- gristmills first, then nailmaking, papermaking and woodturning. The shoe industry (which started as a cottage industry with piece work given out and picked up each day by runners) gradually became mechanized. By 1836 (when the Boston and Albany Railroad came through) Natick became one of the largest producers of boots and shoes in North America. By 1880, it had 23 shoe factories to its credit.

The "Boston-States" attracted descendants of every Maritime pioneer group: Acadian French, Planters, Scots, Philadelphia covenantors, Yorkshire settlers, United Empire Loyalists and Irish.

In New Brunswick in 1908, Mary Catherine Murphy and James Hennessey, third-generation Irish, left Moncton by train the day after their wedding to set up housekeeping in the Boston area. Mary, a licensed school teacher, had earlier made the trip to visit relatives there and was probably mesmerized by the comings and goings of the bustling city. In her unpublished diaries, Mary doesn’t record emotion, only facts; so we can only guess why the young couple returned to New Brunswick after a brief stay (and never returned, not even for a holiday). Maybe James got homesick?

In Prince Edward Island in 1870, third-generation Scot, Donald Dewar found himself in serious financial trouble. But one step ahead of the bill collectors, he was off to Boston where he changed his name to Daniel. In a letter "home" the next year, Donald/Daniel wrote to his brother: "We see quite a number of Island folks here and have got the news from home almost every week for some time." Donald/Daniel reported earning "a fair number of greenbacks." And he brought his brother up to date on the fates of other Islanders in Boston: Dr. Gordon does New Perth proud by doing very well; Mary works in a silk factory nearby; while Dan’s daughter is doing housework seven miles from Boston.

This tale is recounted in Katherine Dewar’s newly published book: Deoradh, The Dewars: Storytellers and Relic Keepers, available from the author for $25 including shipping costs: 4 Green St., Charlottetown, PEI C1A 2E6.

Click here to continue (Part II)



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