The Milkish Settlement
In 1785, a 2,600-acre plot of land was allotted to black settlers in Milkish Creek, on the Kingston Peninsula. It was the largest of three plots allotted to black settlers in New Brunswick at this time.
These plots were created to honour the Philipsburg Proclamation of 1779, which guaranteed freedom and liberty to all slaves who “deserted the Rebel Standard” during the American Revolution.
A list at the New Brunswick Museum seems to suggest that over a hundred black refugees lived in Milkish in 1784. By the end of 1785, at least thirty-seven black men had the right to land possession there. A 1787 petition also notes that at least twenty lots were improved while provisions lasted.
Above: Saint John River map of 1787, Library of Congress; Left top: Survey no. 157, PANB; Left bottom: Photo of Milkish c.1900, NBM.
In many ways, the Milkish grant was set up to fail. While white settlers received 100-acres and provisions for three years, black settlers received 50-acres and provisions for just two months. The land itself was also very difficult to cultivate on lots of this size.
With insufficient support, most black petitioners worked as wage labourers to earn a living, leaving them unable to cultivate their own land. The rules of the land grant system meant that petitioners had to demonstrate successful improvement in order to secure ownership of granted land. If they could not demonstrate acceptable levels of improvement, they lost possession.
In 1787, a land surveyor ordered a number of men in Milkish to stop working, stating that they no longer had right of possession. A grantee named Moses Simpson then petitioned the government for additional time to work the land. He argued that the alleged lack of improvement was due to lack of support and undue hardship, not neglect.
But, in October of that year, Lieutenant Governor Carleton ruled that all uncultivated land in Milkish be redistributed. At this time, most settlers lost their land and the black settlement dissipated before a fully-fledged community was able to take root.
Here is a brief look at some of the people who were central to the Milkish Creek settlement.
Cox petition of 1785, PANB.
The first petition for land ownership in Milkish was organized by a man named Peter Cox.
Peter Cox escaped slavery in Connecticut in 1780 and arrived in Saint John on the Aurora, a loyalist ship, in 1783. Cox arrived as the indentured servant of a loyalist named Thomas Rogers. Though technically a free man, Cox was effectively re-enslaved.
In 1784, Rogers posted a runaway advertisement in the Saint John Gazette, seeking the return of six slaves/servants: Peter Cox, Edward & Charity Morris and their child, and Andrew and Eanus Bush. In his notice, Rogers also sought punishment for a "Mr. Dibble," who aided their escape. This likely refers to Fyler Dibblee, a prominent member of the Kingston Dibblee family.
Cox then moved to Milkish, where a large number of black refugees likely already lived. In 1785, he filed a petition on behalf of himself and twenty-two other black refugees. This petition was granted.
Simpson petition of 1785, PANB.
The second petition for land ownership in Milkish was organized by a man named Moses Simpson.
Like Cox, Simpson escaped slavery in the United States. Unlike Cox, Simpson was not re-enslaved in Saint John. In fact, records show that he was granted a residential plot in the city by 1784.
In 1785, Simpson filed a petition for land in Milkish along with fourteen other men. This petition was also granted, meaning that at least thirty-seven black men had the right to work land in Milkish by the end of 1785.
In 1787, Simpson filed another petition on behalf of these men requesting additional time to work their land grants in Milkish. It seems that a local land surveyor had recently ordered a number of black men to stop working their land, claiming that they no longer had right of possession.
In October 1787, Lieutenant Governor Carleton denied this request. Instead, he ruled that “Those of the Blacks who hold possession and cultivate their Lots will have Grants – The vacant Lots will be granted to the first Cultivaters.” According to legal standards, almost no lots were effectively cultivated, meaning that the vast majority of black people in Milkish no longer held possession.
After losing his land in Milkish, Simpson continued his struggle. He moved to St. Anne's Point, now Fredericton, and petitioned for land there. When his petition was won, he became the first black man to be granted land in the city.
Lorraine petition of 1788, PANB.
Carleton’s ruling allowed men who managed to cultivate their land to government standards to maintain possession of it. Though it is unclear how many people in Milkish qualified, it is possible that at least one of the original petitioners, William Lorraine, was able to successfully retain his land during this period.
William Lorraine appears on Peter Cox’s petition in 1785. Several years later, a William Lorraine was still living on land that had been allocated to black settlers. In 1788, this man was granted an additional two-hundred acres of land.
It is unclear if the William Lorraine in Milkish in 1788 is the same man who petitioned for land with Cox. His 1788 petition for land was supported by men who initially seemed to resist black settlement in Milkish, including the land surveyor.
The specific wording in the letter of support also seems to imply that Lorraine was not black; however, the name William Lorraine was not common in New Brunswick at this time, making it unusual for two different men of the name to petition for land in Milkish within three years.
Johnston and Borum petition of 1819, PANB.
Henry Borum & Benjamin Johnston
Another case that sheds light on the story of Milkish is that of Benjamin Johnston and Henry Borum. Johnston and Borum worked in the Kingston and Springfield area and petitioned for land in the Parish of Springfield decades after the dissolution of the land grant.
Johnston and Borum persevered for years and had the full support of some of the most powerful men in Kings County but were unable to successfully obtain land from the government.
Johnston and Borum's petitions were actively supported by eight Justices of the Peace and Judge David Pickett. Kingston community members who lent their support to Johnson and Borum included Sheriff Walter Bates and Reverend Elias Scovil, and one letter of support was signed by fourteen different people from prominent local families.
Still, the land grant system prevented these two men from obtaining land ownership. In the end, the land that they sought was granted to less suitable white farmers.
An incomplete list of people who petitioned for land in Milkish follows:
Peter Cox, Moses Simpson, Andrew Bush, Benjam Moore, Thomas Brayan, Thomas Wallace, Adam Harovest, Thomas Andrew, Simpson Burgone, Abraham Mitchel, Abraham Grant, Caton Dedong, John Claton, Gabriel Johnson, William Williams, Prince Richardson, Sampson Pagan, Philip Young, John Williams, William Lorrain, Obediah Hammon, Cuffe Bird, William Bolia, Daniel Carey, York Lawrence, Edward Burr, Ishmeal Conley, John Conley, London Day, London Derry, John Hide, Thomas Hide, Andrew Jackson, William Picket, John Potter, Samuel Richardson, George Townsend, and John Wilkins.
Most of those who petitioned for land in Milkish likely left New Brunswick entirely on the Sierra Leone Expedition of 1791. Others continued to work as wage labourers or secured land in other parts of the province, such as Willow Grove.
To read more about the journey of these petitioners and the Milkish Creek settlement, please visit the Kingston Peninsula Heritage Archives at the John Fisher Memorial Museum.
Young Canada Works and the Canadian Council of Archives