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Published June 13, 1998

Canadian Maritime History Lesson, Part II - Planters; Yorkshire settlers
By Sandra Devlin

Picking up where we left off last time , this column will overview the roles that Planters and Yorkshire pioneers played in the early settlement of the Maritime provinces. A column entitled Co Leis Thu by Bill Lawson in the Gazette, From The Outer Hebrides to Prince Edward Island & Wallace, Nova Scotia dealt so expertly with the Scots settlers in Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island that anything other than to list a a few resources would be redundant.

First a quick review of the eight definable pioneer settlement cycles in New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island:
  • Mi'kmaq and Malecite Indians
  • Acadian French
  • Planters
  • Scots
  • Philadelphia covenantors / and Foreign Protestants
  • Yorkshire settlers
  • United Empire Loyalists
  • Irish

Last time we discussed the first two and left off with the expulsion of the Acadians by the British from Nova Scotia (which then included present-day New Brunswick) and Prince Edward Island. The Planters and Yorkshire pioneers have three major things in common. Primarily, both were enticed to emigrate as a result of a concerted colonization efforts of the eastern seaboard of British North America and secondarily, they were tough and full of religious zeal.

Although beneficiaries by default to some tracts of cleared agricultural land and the innovative dyking constructed by the Acadians; settlers who put down roots in the countryside in the mid to latter 1700s encountered major obstacles in the inhospitable, vastly underpopulated landscape. The only major concentrations of population at the time were in the British stronghold of Halifax and in lesser degrees at far flung outposts -- the fortress of Louisburg on Cape Breton Island, Fort Cumberland at the Chignecto Isthmus and Fort Frederick at the mouth of the St. John River.

In chronological terms, there were both German and Irish settlements in this era as well. But those groups will be discussed in a future column. Few areas of North America could claim the ethnic diversity of old Nova Scotia in the 18th century.


Until recent times, history largely overlooked the Planters, a term coined (or perhaps more accurately, resurrected) by acclaimed Maritime historian Esther Clark Wright in 1978. Planter is an Elizabethan English word meaning settler.

Before Clark, the 8,000 settlers who came to Nova Scotia (remember that New Brunswick did not exist until 1784) from New England after the Expulsion of the Acadians and before the United Empire Loyalists were called, if mentioned at all, early-comers or pre-Loyalists. Althea Douglas, Maritime-specialist in history and genealogy, warns researchers to be wary of “mythinformation” in oral family histories. Many 19th-century families, anxious to be with the in-crowd of their day, claimed to be of United Empire Loyalist stock, when they were actually descendants of Planters.

Planters settled primarily in the Annapolis Valley (Kings County), Digby, Queens and Yarmouth counties, Nova Scotia. The large families which they spawned had easy access to the Bay of Fundy, the main thoroughfare of the late 1700s and early 1800s, and many second-generation descendants spread into current-day St. John, Kings and Albert counties, New Brunswick and beyond. Another major group of original Planters settled at Maugerville (pronounced Major-ville) across the St. John River from current-day Oromocto, N. B. .

Planters came laden with basic tools, furnishings, livestock and solid agricultural know-how from their well-established communities. They came mainly from Connecticut, but also from Massachusetts and Rhode Island. They left before the outbreak of the Revolutionary War; but when the troubles later spilled across the borders, many found they had brought their political biases along, too. It was common in Planter families to have close family members with opposing sympathies; one brother a rebel, another a loyalist, for instance.


Yorkshiremen in England’s largest county were prime candidates to be lured from the moors and dales of the Old Country in the 1770s. Sky rocketing rents on tenant farms or pending evictions posed a bleak future, particularly for young men and young families.

Time after time the reason given on the ship’s lists for immigrating to Nova Scotia was “high rents” or “to seek a better livelihood.” The prospect of being able to get out from under the oppressive thumb of aristocratic landlords and of freehold land ownership drew thousands to the promised land -- Nova Scotia.

Yorkshire settlers, largely from the societal lower middle class, were a breed apart in their new surroundings. Some had comparative affluence and brought servants along. Most had education and trade skills. All had a keen sixth sense of well-established social order and nicety. Stowed in the holds of the wooden sailing ships destined for the New World were elaborate pieces of finely crafted furniture, giant clocks, fancy china, silver cutlery and family heirlooms. Packed with the essentials in the carry-on baggage were prayer books and Bibles.

The epicentre of Yorkshire settlement between 1772 and 1775 was heavily concentrated in the Chignecto Isthmus (latter day Cumberland County, N.S. and Westmorland County, N.B) and north westerly along the Petticodiac River to what would later become the Salisbury parish of Westmorland. Second-generation tentacles spread easterly across the Northumberland Strait to Prince Edward Island and southerly into present-day Colchester County, N.S. But the influence of Yorkshire settlers had a ripple effect, both economically and socially, throughout the entire region.

Relevant sources and resources:

Acadia University in Wolfville, N.S., Centre of Planter study and repository of record.

Planters and Pioneers by Esther Clark Wright, 1978

They Planted Well

Making Adjustments; Change and Continuity in Planter Nova Scotia 1759-1800 by Margaret Conrad, 1991.

Yarmouth Nova Scotia Genealogies, transcribed from the Yarmouth Herald by George S. Brown, 1993 ISBN 0-8063-1372-2

Rebels and Royalists by M. A. MacDonald, 1990, ISBN 0-920483-37-2.

The Chignecto Covenantors by Eldon Hay, 1996, ISBN 0-7735-1436-8

Ralph Pickard Bell Library, Mount Allison University, Sackville, N. B., E0K 1B0.

Moncton Museum, 20 Mountain Road, Moncton, N.B., E1C 2J8

Cumberland County Museum, 150 Church St., Amherst, N.S. B4H 3C3.

Kings Courthouse Heritage Museum, 37 Cornwallis St., Kentville, N.S. B4N 2E2

Queens County Museum, 109 Main St., PO Box 1078, Liverpool, N.S. B0T 1K0.

Yarmouth County Historical Society, 22 Collins St., Yarmouth, N.S. B5A 3C8.

Pictou County Genealogical Society, PO Box 1210, Pictou, N.S. B0E 2T0.

The Island Magazine (ask also about back issues), 2 Kent St., Charlottetown, PEI, C1A 1M6. Published twice per year by the P.E.I. Museum and Heritage Foundation.

The People’s Clearance 1770-1815, by J. J. Bumsted, 1982.

Hebridean Pioneers by Malcolm A. MacQueen, 1957.

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