Denominationalism in a Loyalist county: a social history of Charlotte, 1783–1940

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University of New Brunswick


This thesis is a study of changing conditions and the factors that produced them in a segment of New Brunswick colonial society, Charlotte County, over a period of more than a century and a half. The purpose has been twofold, to demonstrate the social, economic and political changes which occurred within the period and to analyze the reasons for these changes. This examination of the social structure and ideas of the county has been accomplished through the medium of the religious denominations of the area. These denominations are generally the earliest and frequently the only social organizations in the communities under study and thus provide the most complete picture of the changes occurring over a period of time. Four major social movements may be observed throughout the period under study. The first of these was the arrival of the diverse Loyalist groups in the county in 1783–84, and their settlement, in many cases with the pre-Loyalist Americans. The second was a period of social and economic depression, extending to the end of the Napoleonic Wars, during which there was little growth but during which a distinctive colonial culture began to emerge among the county's inhabitants. The third movement was one of buoyant expansion engendered both by economic prosperity and a prolonged influx of British immigrants. This movement created a conflict between the traditions of the earlier colonial and later British settlers. By 1865 fully half the population of the county was of lrish, mostly Ulster, descent, and it is doubtful if one-quarter of the population could show male descent from a Loyalist. The principal reason for Charlotte's affirmative Confederation vote in 1866 probably stems from the antipathy between the county's Ulster Irish population and the American Fenian group: Finally, particularly after 1870, county society entered a period of economic regression. Increasingly the population became homogeneous in composition and parochial in outlook. This period also is marked by the triumph of the colonial American tradition within Charlotte. Throughout the entire period, two dominant themes can be traced, one economic and one social. Practically the whole economic history of Charlotte was shaped by the market demand for its rather specialized products: timber and fish. Prior to 1830, the principal market was primarily the British West Indies; from 1830 to 1860, it was primarily the British market; and from 1860 to 1875, the American. When the timber markets largely disappeared after 1875, the mainland economy split. Under the aegis of the National Policy, the middle St. Croix Valley developed an industrial manufacturing economy to provide for an internal Maritime market. The South Shore areas of the county reverted to a fishing economy similar to the islands with its major market in the United States. Thus, with the exception of brief periods, the county produced for market in which New Brunswick products were protected: the West Indies prior to 1830; the United Kingdom 1809–1860; the Canadian market after 1879. The social theme prevalent throughout the pre-1900 period is the conflict between the British and colonial American traditions. The conflict is discernible even within the early Loyalist Establishment. Its resolution in favour of the colonial tradition was complicated and delayed for at least a generation by the arrival of the British immigrants between 1816 and 1849. Only in the generation after 1870 did a value system, based upon the early puritan ethic of poverty with strong evangelical overtones, became generally accepted throughout the county. Over a period of time, every denomination in the county, regardless of its origins, has tended to become more staid and rational. Consequently there developed in almost every generation a radical Arminian sect to meet the social and emotional needs of a large segment of the population which deserted a real or nominal allegiance to the older denomination in which it felt a dissatisfaction. Of particular significance in the development of Charlotte were the demographic patterns of settlement and the population movements within the county. In periods of depression, emigration from the county generally occurred in a two generation cycle. The first generation moved from rural to village areas within the county, the second migrated from the county itself. Thus in each succeeding generation after 1860 it was the offspring of the rural inhabitants of the previous generation who came to dominate the county.