Coal in New Brunswick – Part 3

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Photo of New England and Canada from the NASA Visible Earth collection, showing the relatively protected coastline between Grand Lake in New Brunswick and Boston harbour just north of the Cape Cod hook.

There is little doubt that Charles de Saint-Étienne de LaTour learned about Grand Lake coal from Indigenous people living along the Saint John River and its tributaries. As the French Official and fur trader responsible for southern NB and the Saint John River valley in the 1630’s, LaTour had direct contact with the people living near or traveling through Grand Lake. According to Marion Gilchrist Reicker’s book Those Days Are Gone Away, Queens County, N.B. 1643-1901, a settlement at Maquapit Lake was once one of the largest settlements of Indigenous people in the Maritimes. The local people used birch bark and dug out canoes to transport beaver and moose pelts and other goods to the French fort at the mouth of the Saint John or to the small ships sent up river with metal tools, knives and fabrics to trade.

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Colonial Records, Nov 2, 1627, full page with enlarged report of Abraham Shawe agreement to search for local source of coal.

Dr. George MacBeath and Steamboat Captain Donald E. Taylor, in Steamboat Days on the St. John, 1816 – 1946 describe how the French used a flat bottom boat called a bateau for heavy cargo. The bateau was powered by a sail and/or 4 oarsmen, could be up to 40 feet long and could carry up to 6 tons of cargo. A bateau could easily sail up the Saint John River from Fort Sainte Marie into Grand Lake and then sail back downstream loaded with coal.

Charles d’Aulnay de Charnisay was the French Official and fur trader responsible for the other side of the Bay of Fundy. He tried for several years to take control of LaTour’s territory using legal papers which LaTour ignored, then with ships and cannons. This brutal conflict was called the Civil War in Acadia. John Winthrop, the Governor of the British Colony at Massachusetts Bay (Boston) was familiar with both French Officials and wrote descriptions of the conflict. Winthrop’s journal entries and the Colony’s General Court records give detailed accounts of the Civil War and objective confirmation that the coal used at LaTour’s fort and traded to Boston came from the shores of Grand Lake.

Charnisay attacked LaTour’s fort in July of 1643, but LaTour escaped to Boston and hired four ships and fighters from Boston Merchants to help. The Boston ships chased Charnisay back over the Bay and attacked his fort, killing 3 men and burning a building before returning to Saint John. After celebrating their victory, LaTour’s pinnace (a small schooner which had recently returned with 400 moose hides and 400 beaver pelts) was sent upriver to get a load of coal for the Merchants to take back to Boston. Winthrop writes of the pinnace going 20 leagues up the river to get the coal. This distance would take them to the head of Grand Lake, where seams of coal were exposed by erosion along river running into the lake. Several tons of coal would have been dug by hand and loaded into wooden barrels for shipment back to Boston.

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Modern map of Minto NB area with strip mine areas highlighted in white.

Winthrop also identified the Merchants/Ship Captains hired by LaTour as Capt. Thomas Hawkins and Capt. Edward Gibbons. The modern Hawkins and Gibbons families in Minto were unaware of their possible connection to these Boston Merchants, but hope to learn more about them.

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Colonial Records, February 1628, with list of supplies (including 5 chauldron of sea coales which is approximately 7 ton of coal) sent on ships coming from England to New England.

Charnisay attacked again in 1645 when LaTour was away and his wife was in charge of the fort. After several days, with the fort being destroyed around them by cannon fire, Madame LaTour agreed to surrender if their men were not harmed. Charnisay finally took control of LaTour’s territory and his first act was to ignore his agreement with Madame LaTour. All of LaTour’s men were hanged and Madame LaTour died soon after. The fort was re-built in a different Saint John location and used until 1775. It had several names, including Fort Charnisay, LaTour, Monckton and St Jean. LaTour became the final winner of the Civil War by being named Governor of Acadia after Charnisay died in 1650, marrying Charnisay’s widow and living in the new fort until his death in 1667.

Next, did over 11,000 British Loyalists move from the USA to the Saint John River valley and create the Province of NB because of Grand Lake coal?

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