A Fenian Reminiscence

Thursday, May 22, 1913

A Fenian Reminiscence

(By P. F. Lawson)

"It’s ‘thin red line of ‘eroes’ when the drums begin to roll."

When the drums of Canada rolled in ’66 summoning the good men and true to the defence of the country against the Fenians there was no ‘red line’ to respond. The call was to the homespun clad yeomanry of the country. In no part of Canada was there a more hearty response than in the good old county of Kings. From the fertile dyke lands and the wooded mountainsides, from the mid-valley villages and the fishing hamlets and ports on Fundy’s shore there stepped proudly forth the pride and chivalry of every township, gathering at the appointed meeting places.

No regiment had a more complete muster than the Sixth of Kings. Eight companies strong it assembled on the field at Somerset and heard the proclamation read ordering all to be in readiness to take the field and promising a reward to any who gave information of the approach of the foe. Of the Sixth regimental officers of that day only two remain, both of them well known to thousands of readers of the Register: H. E. Jefferson, Esq., of Berwick and W. P. Lyons, Esq., of Waterville.

In those days the citizen soldiery were not provided with arms or uniform. They drilled without pay. It is but common justice that in these days of Canada’s prosperity some recompense should be made; so here’s hoping that each and every one of the boys of ’66 gets his hundred dollars bounty, election or no election.

I always did like wartime stories. There is something so stirring about a war story that one believes it in every detail. At times such stories might not stand before an X-ray investigation but to doubt their authenticity would be unpatriotic. I am writing this for patriotic readers only, not for doubters or cynics. The story I am about to tell came somewhat unwillingly from one too modest to proclaim in print his own great part in the stirring times of ’66, but he told it to me and it is too good to keep to myself.

This story, then, is to be a reminiscence of Guy Balsar of Black Rock Mountain, who will excuse me for the liberty I am taking of bringing him into the public prints.

In ’66 Guy was but twelve years of age. He was a husky youth, abounding in courage, overflowing with good nature. These qualities he holds even to this day.

"I wonder," said Guy to me, "if Chip Parker couldn’t put in a claim for me to get some of that Fenian bounty. If these fellows are all to get a hundred dollars apiece for turning out to drill. I ought to get that much anyway, for I upset all the Fenian plans."

When Guy told me this he had my attention hypnotized and the rest of his story I will give in his own words, and hope that the Militia Department at Ottawa will not pass by the claim herewith presented.

Said Guy:

"One night my brother Pete Balsar came to our house over at the shore and told us boys about the proclamation of the Governor calling out all the able-bodied men in Nova Scotia to resist an expected invasion. I wasn’t old enough to drill and I wasn’t just cut out for a soldier but I was brim full of fight, and as Pete told how it was expected that the Fenians would likely sail up the Bay and make a landing I made up my mind that I’d have dad’s old musket loaded for one shot anyway.

"My father drove the mail in those days. Sometimes I took it over the mountain myself. A few days after Pete was at our place I was over with the mail and had to go to Somerset on an errand. There I met Stan Fisher and he told me a whole lot more about the Fenians. I remember how Stan was full up for fight. He was sergeant, I think, in the Bellona Rangers. By George, I felt bad because I couldn’t get into the drill!

"The day after I was in Somerset. I went out fishing with Captain Dan Haggerty. When I went down to Canady Creek to meet Captain Dan I took dad’s old musket along to have a few practice shots at a target I put up on the beach amongst some old driftwood that lay right in where Jim Dickie now builds his weir. I remember I had just fired a shot as Captain Dan came along. That old musket kicked like an ugly steer and the Captain made a lot of fun of me, but I loaded her up again and took her in the boat.

"It was high water a little before nine o’clock in the morning and there was quite an air of wind from the sou-east. We went out on what they now call the Murray Brook grounds. The fishing there in those days was away better than what it is now but the prices for fish were low. The tide was still setting up when we reached the grounds, and we saw coming up the Bay a big brig. She was keeping quite close inshore and when we first noticed her she was just off the point to the west’ard of Black Rock Light, and sailing like a demon.

"Captain Dan was puzzled. He knew pretty nearly every vessel on the coast and he declared this was a new one on him. At once I began to think of the stories my brother Pete and Stan Fisher had told me about the Fenians and, believe me, my hair got right up on end. Captain Dan got out his old glass and the first thing he saw was that there were three or four old-fashioned short-barreled cannon on the deck. We had our anchor down by this tome and out sail tied up waiting for the tide to slacken so that we could commence to fish. When Captain Dan told that the brig had cannon aboard I got hold of that boat rode and commenced to pull in on the mud hook, Captain Dan called me a ----- and made me quit. The brig kept coming on and on. I could see two men up for’ard and the man at the wheel. They had her jammed by the wind and kept her so close that the royal was lifting and rattling. It looked to me as if they were going to run us down.

"The wind hauled us to the east’ard and freshened considerably, knocking the brig off nearly a point. By this time she wasn’t more than fifty fathoms off from us but the ebb had set down and she was making little headway. I could see two men standing by the windlass for’ard and on the quarter there were two women. I noticed that the women seemed to be talking down the after companionway and it was evident that for a vessel of her size she had a lot of cabin room and she had the biggest deck house I ever saw on a brig, so there was no telling how many people might be aboard of her. The four old cannon were now in sight. I was sure she was a Fenian craft.

"The two women noticed us and were leaning over the side ready to speak. One of them was just a girl. She had blue eyes and a kind of reddish hair all wavy and kinky like, just like a picture I’ve seen since of a famous Irish beauty. The other was a hard looking old hag with eye teeth that stuck down like tusks. The old woman hailed us and as she hollered about a dozen of the ugliest looking rascals I ever saw in my life piled up on deck. I thought of the description Stan Fisher had given me of Fenians and these fellows were it to a T. Their ugly looks scared me and the first thing I had grabbed the old musket. When they saw me do this they poured out the worst profanity I had ever heard in my life, and, believe me, I have heard some pretty strong stuff.

"What possessed me, I don’t know, but I pointed the old musket at the head of the man at the wheel and hollered; "Lay to!" At that the crew on the deck, which by this time had grown to at least fifty, set up a laugh that made me mad all over. I hollered again, and again they laughed, and I pulled the trigger. The old musket kicked me over into the bottom of the boat and I remember Captain Haggerty saying to me: ‘There Guy, see what you’ve done. You’ve killed a man.’

"When the fellow at the wheel dropped, the old brig shot right up into the wind and was taken all aback. A quick squall took the topmast out of her and then it was plain that the crew was mostly land lubbers. Such yelling and swearing I don’t believe was ever before or since heard on the Bay. They didn’t seem to know what to do and the vessel commenced to drift down the Bay at about twelve knots an hour. Captain Haggerty and I thought sure she would fetch up on Black Rock and tear the bottom out of her but she cleared all right, and they managed to get her around and headed out towards Isle au Haute. It got rough for us to think of hanging on to do any fishing so Captain Haggerty thought we better put back into Canada Creek. We decided to keep quiet about what we had done for fear there might have been some mistake and that the man I killed wasn’t a Fenian after all.

"Eight years after that my brother Wallace and I took a trip to Boston in a little schooner out of Harborville. A little ways up from the wharf I went into a saloon. (I used to take a drink occasionally in my younger days). In that saloon they had a girl helping to tend bar. As soon as I set eyes on her I knew it was the girl that was on the old brig. Of course she didn’t know me. I talked to her kind of nice like; I had a pretty smooth tongue in those days. I got her talking about sea going for she knew I was a sailor and by and by she up and tells me about her experience on the Bay of Fundy and I got the whole story about how a lot of Yankees had helped the Fenians to fit out three vessels to come to Nova Scotia. It seems the other two got into the hands of grafters and never sailed but her uncle had charge of the brig and intended taking her up to Windsor while the others were to land somewhere near Halifax. I found out, too, that the man I shot wasn’t killed but managed to get out of the scrape with only one eye and a piece of his ear lost. I’ve heard since that the old Fenian brig had her rig changed and afterwards came up the Bay and was bought by Captain James Northrup, of Harborville.

Some other details of the story it would be unfair to give to the public without Mr. Balsar’s permission, but enough has been told to justify his claim to a generous share of the Fenian Raid Bounty. Unfortunately Captain Haggerty, the only witness of the exploit, is dead. The hero of the occasion, however, wants it distinctly understood that if the receipt of bounty money is for the purpose of influencing his vote in any way he wants none of it for he is a staunch upholder of the purity of the ballot box and a denouncer of any tricks political.


The Fenian Raids (in Canada)- were carried out by Irish Americans (the Fenian Movement in the U.S. around the end of the Civil War was about 10,000 strong), who were organized to attack British North America (Canada) in order to draw away troops from Britain and to ultimately weaken the British forces left in Ireland.

P. F. Lawson - was Peter Fern Lawson, a regular contributor (many years) to the Register. Mr. Lawson was the son of Thomas Lawson and at one time worked for John E. Woodworth (owner and editor of the Register). Pete is quoted as writing: "My best and greatest friend was John E. Woodworth".

Guy Balsar - I don't have a thing on Mr. Balsar and I am not certain if he ever collected the Fenian Bounty.

Captain Charles Haggerty - was from Canady Creek. I have another one of his adventures posted at https://sites.rootsweb.com/~canbrnep/aug081912.htm . Pete Lawson is mentioned in this story.

Captain James Northrup was from Harbourville and lived to be at least ninety. This following is from his 90th birthday:

Berwick Register, May 8, 1929

Celebrates Ninetieth Birthday

James W. Northrup

James W. Northrup, one of Berwick’s most highly respected and esteemed citizens, recently celebrated his 90th birthday at his home on Foster Street, when he was the recipient of hearty felicitations from his numerous friends.

Mr. Northrup’s history is varied and interesting, and we wonder if the present generation, if obliged to go through the routine of our aged nonogenarian, could weather the storm. As he relates, he has worked from sunrise to sundown, and received, at one time, recompense to the extent of 33 (pounds) for a period of something less than a year. Mr. Northrup was born in Rawdon, Hants Co., in the year, 1838, leaving there when a very young lad. He has been twice married, first, in 1859 to Miss Susan M. Parker of Margaretville, by whom there were five children, four sons and a daughter. Of these, only one son, Fletcher M. Northrup, proprietor of the Northrup House, Berwick, is living. His second marriage was in 1897 to Miss Eudevilla Cleveland, who is a most faithful partner in his old age.

In 1871 Mr. Northrup owned and sailed his own schooner out of Harborville to Boston, carrying cargoes of wood to that port, and bringing back a mixed cargo. He spent six years on the sea, experiencing in that time many violent storms, but through his keen knowledge of the sea, always came through without a mishap. On retiring from the sea he conducted a shoe and tannery business in Harborville, and later devoted his time to farming in that vicinity. In 1898 he moved to South Berwick, owning a large farm there for many years. About ten years ago, he moved to Berwick where he now resides.

Mr. Northrup is most active for his age, being able to drive down town daily. He is the possessor of a keen and active mind, and has always been very public-spirited, taking a keen interest even today in all that pertains to the welfare of his town and province. In his earlier years he served for a number of years as Justice of the Peace, and was also Councillor of the Municipality for several terms. A few years ago he was offered the Mayorship of the town of Berwick, which honor, due to his advanced years, he declined.