Piskahegan and its Road (Part 1) PISKAHEGAN'S PIONEER DAYS
By Rev. Charles M. Smith

On October 3, 1783, the first colonist's arrived at St. Andrew's and this epic story of sacrifice and courage is well quite known to the local public. Several books and many lesser accounts have come down the years of how these first displaced Loyalists from the American colonies, following the Revolutionary War, being cast upon unknown wilderness shores, immediately set to work putting up log structures, "lean-tos", anything, for the immediate future, but ever looking toward the unknown but hopeful future. All they had to welcome them were a rock-bound coast and a forbidding forest, arched by an early autumn sky. Miss Grace Helen Mowat's delightful and vivid presentation "the Diverting History of a Loyalist Town", and Guy Murchie's prolific and scholarly historical study, "Saint Croix--The Sentinel River", give us some insights into these formative years of our Provincial life. Another helpful resource is "University of Maine Studies, No. 64, An International Community on the St. Croix, 1604--1930". This book is abundant in local data on life along the St. Croix River and it's developing communities on both sides of the river. There are many others.

Our particular interest at this point is the development of the old "St. Andrews-Fredericton Road" that came into early use in Charlotte County although its longevity and utility were comparatively brief and not too uneventful; and this road also has left behind it a trail of questions as to its original route. This study will concern itself mainly with a southern section of this road as it passed through Piskehegan area en route northward to the New Brunswick capital of Fredericton. At the beginning Saint John had been the seat of government, but this section though quite acceptable to the public in general, was deemed inadequate by Governor Carlton for purposes known to himself and he forthwith selected St. Anne's Point and had a town laid out naming it Fredericton in honour of the 'King's second son'. (James Hannay's "History of N.B." pages 199-201, 1909)

So, late in 1786 the movement of Government to its new site began and on October 30 of that year the first session of the Council was held--and such transfer most certainly was made via the Saint John River.

One of the first items of official action concerned that of "communication" since there were no roads of any consequence in the Province; so isolated was the head of Government now (winter of 1787-88) it was impossible even to hold a session of the Legislature therefore the Assembly did not meet until the 18th of July, 1788. The House had been called together three days earlier, but there were not enough members then persent to make a forum for themselves; an infant and floundering Government was trying to find its purpose for being, the commonwealth.

On October 15, 1789, however, the Legislature met and although the attendance was poor, and official tranactions were few, Gov. Carlton realizing the reason for such, suggested in his opening address that the Legislature should initiate some action in the development of adequate roads--at least to Fredericton. Now for the first time we have the opening faint echo calling for "roads" for New Brunswick.

About this time (1789) a new highway act was passed which defined and described such roads and suggested they be regarded as "Great Roads of Communication". The House of Assembly Journal provides us with the following so-called "Nine Great Roads" which were proposed--and almost all of which in due time came into being:
From Fredericton to Westmorland via head of Bellisle.
From Saint John to the Head of Bellisle.
From Fredericton to St. Andrew's.
From Fredericton to the Canada Line.
From Fredericton to the River Restigouche.
From Saint John to St. Andrew's.
From Saint John to Westmorland. (This road joined the road from Fredericton at Norton.)
From the bend of the Petitcodiac to Shediac.
From Dorchester to Chatham.

It must be remembered that the above list was merely one in prospect, but it does seem incredible that such an ambitious enterprise could be envisaged so soon after the coming of the settlers, all to be undertaken with comparatively no extra funds. There stood the majestic forests, the unyielding ledges and the desperate rivers to conquer!

The Government forthwith took essential steps to carry out studies for road markings, surveys and for resources for revenue. Progress, however, was slow; even by 1791 no roads were in evidence in all New Brunswick--Indian trails and portages and rivers were still the main lines of communication. Such remained the case for over a decade thereafter. On Feb. 14, 1793, a Major Murray proposed a motion "for appointing of Commissioners and Surveyors of Highways within the several towns and parishes in this Province". (Motion passed on March 6, 1793). This seems to imply that local town-streets and neighbouring rural roads were beginning to reach out from these communities, but no 'Great Roads' were yet in evidence. In fact, it was not until the opening of the 19th Century that any real progress began to show.

'Dr. W. Austin Squires' excellent history of "The 104th Regiment of Foot" (1962) vividly depicts the difficulties and limitations of travel in the first two decades of the 19th century, especially to Fredericton. Travel was often by horseback, meandering through virgin forests, or by fording rivers or by canoe on certain streams. Mention has been made of the use of crude rafts or barges on the St. John River. The special march of the illustrious "104th" is a saga in endurance as well as in dedication and heroism--the boon and pride of every Canadian. This march was made in the winter and spring of 1813 and much of the transit was over trails, not roads, crossing rivers on ice. Some heavy equipment was sent by ship. Most "roads" were such in name only, and more often these were merely trails marked out by spots on the trees of the overhanging wilderness. So-called 'stages' were used intermittently though small settlements were too remote for the romantic "Stage--Coaches" that tumbled over the "Great Roads" or meandered within the large cities of that time. However, towns were developing quickly and lesser roads were slowly reaching out from the centres of population. One account has it that by spring of 1784 St. Andrews had about 90 houses up as well as two saw mills on the St. Croix. But settlements inland were few for the next two decades.

Then we have the surprising story of Capt. Nehemiah Marks who left St. Andrews 26 May, 1784, enroute to the St. Stephen area to settle that town on the Croix and (according to Guy Murchie's "St. Croix Sentinel River") found a very old road--called the "Mast Road"--(also known as the King's Mast Road)--that ran from St. Stephen to "Old Ridge" and beyond. This old route had a tradition of existance since 1729 as being a route in the transit of pine masts for the Royal Navy and (in 1784) became a base-line for marking out lots for Loyalist soldier grants. We may well presume there were similar ancient roads or trails elsewhere in the Province.

But back to our study--there was little if any development of "Great Roads" in the 18th century. There was no "river-road" yet in 1800 when Henry Goldsmith built his tiny house near the mouth of the stream that bears his name,--merely an access to the beach or river. Colin Campbell's report, around 1800, on a road once opened from Passamaquoddy settlements to Musquash was "hardly desernable" and further commented on the old "Charlotte County Coastal Road" as "completely inadequate".
Piskahegan's Pioneer Days found in Saint Croix Courier, 17 Oct. 1974. Written by permission of Saint Croix Courier.Transcribed by Charlene Beney
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