Beaubear's Island - The Fraser Years (1790-1838)

by Lois Martin and Andrew Fraser

James Fraser, a Lovat Fraser of Farraline, Inverness, Scotland came to Halifax in 1780. By 1789 he was on the Miramichi. When William Davidson made his will that year, before an intended trip to Great Britain, one of the executors was his "beloved friend, James Fraser, Merchant of Mariemeschie". At the same time, Davidson sold to Fraser Strawberry Point, later called "The Marsh" for 20 pounds.

After Davidson's death in 1790, James Fraser and James Thom acquired most of his business interests (the fishing, shipbuilding and lumbering) from William Forsythe and Co. which had a lien on much of the estate.

Fraser and Thom set up a large business establishment at Beaubair's Island where they built a good number of ships; the island became a very successful operation. In 1791 there is a record of a store there. By his untimely death at the age of 50, Davidson missed the period of prosperity which would have given him and his family a share of the profits and industries he had pioneered and developed.

James Fraser and James Thom made the business at Beaubear's Island, then called Fraser's Island, into the largest business establishment in the province.

In 1795 Fraser was elected to the New Brunswick House Of Assembly as the representative for Northumberland County. He was a very popular representative and even though he moved back to Halifax in 1802, the people continued to deal with the government through him. For several years he made frequent trips to Miramichi. In 1818 he was appointed to the Council of Nova Scotia and did not return to Miramichi.

In the meantime, in 1803 John Fraser came to Halifax from Scotland. He was married to the former Margaret Fraser; a sister to James. In 1813 John and Margaret Fraser moved to Miramichi where John was to manage James Fraser's business interests. John inherited the business when James died in 1822.

A man named Benjamin Marston is worthy of note. His name crops up many times in all the early accounts of Beaubair's Island and Beaubair's Point.

Marston was the first sheriff of the county, having been appointed in June, 1785. He was a Loyalist from Massachusetts, a graduate of Harvard and according to "The Life of William Davidson" by W. H. Davidson, he was "somewhat intolerant of the rude and uncultured way of life in this raw new country, harsh and sarcastic in his opinion of people he encountered, particularly if they differed from him in their opinions or were not of what he considered the best families."

He arrived at Wilson's Point, or Miramichi Point, as he called it, in 1785 and took up residence with John Willson at ten shillings per week.

It is interesting to note that, in spite of his criticism, he recommended that the County Seat be established at the Point where a town had previously existed. In a letter to his cousin, Edward Winslow, Judge of the New Brunswick Supreme Court, he wrote: "I will dare pronounce that Miramichi Point and Beaubear's Island are superior in situation to Fredericton. A ship of 250 tons from Italy is now lying just by them."

However, the owner of another piece of land was able to persuade the county authorities to establish the seat of the county in Newcastle much to the dissatisfaction of provincial authorities.

A church, constructed at the Point, between 1791 and 1797 by James Anderson, was abandoned after the planned township was shifted to what is the present Town of Newcastle. Before St. James was built, services were held in the Court House.

In the 1830's John Fraser was faced with a difficult decision. Should he remain at this advantageous business location or should he move into town in order to better provide for the education of his eight-year old son? By 1837 the decision was made. John Fraser would move to Newcastle.

Great Activity At Beaubear's

Fraser advertised the sale of this property in February of 1837. The advertisement, part of which follows, gives a good idea of the activity at Beaubear's Island:

"A Valuable Mercantile Establishment, commonly called Fraser's Island, containing 165 Acres, 20 of which are under cultivation and the Island is well watered with Springs. There is on the premises,
1 Two Story Dwelling, the Kitchen, built of Bath Stone and Brick, slated, with ample frost proof cellars, bricked; and a Scullery and Coal Hose attached; 1 Two Story Dry Goods Store, of wood, with a cellar under 2/3 thereof, studded and planked; 1 One and a half story Salt Store, with Fish Sheds and Vats connected therewith; 1 One and a half story Cooper's Shop; 2 One and a half story Dwelling Houses on the point of the Island; 1 Barn, Stable, and other Out-Houses; with a good Garden, well stocked with English Gooseberry, and native Currant Bushes, Plumbs, etc. A Ship-Yard, which is suitable for building the largest ships; 1 Work Shed, with Moulding Lofts and Saw Pitts; 1 Blacksmith's Forge, with two fires; 1 Fireman and Cook's House; Wharves. Booms for Timber ..."

The property was purchased by Joseph Russell who ran the business until 1849.

John James Fraser

John James Fraser, the son of John Fraser who was mentioned earlier, is worthy of some notice. Born on Beaubear's Island August 1, 1829, he moved to Newcastle with his parents in 1839. There he attended Newcastle Grammar School.

By 1845, at 16 years of age, John James Fraser had begun to study law with the firm of Street & Davidson in Newcastle. In 1850 he was admitted as attorney. When Mr. Street became Attorney-General of New Brunswick in 1851, Fraser moved to Fredericton with him. A year later he was admitted as barrister. Fraser opposed Confederation and in 1865 was elected to the Provincial Assembly as member for York County. After a year in office the government resigned. In the election that followed, Fraser failed to retain his seat.

In June, 1871, Fraser was named to the Legislative Council and appointed president of the Executive Council. He resigned both positions in 1872 to become Provincial Secretary in the King administration, having regained his provincial seat in York. The following year he became a Queen's Counsel (QC).

By 1880 King had retired and Fraser became Premier and Attorney General of New Brunswick. Two years later he resigned to become a candidate for Dominion House. He was not elected.

When Mr. Justice Duff died in December of 1882, Fraser was appointed to the bench of the Supreme Court. He resigned a year later to become Lieutenant Governor of New Brunswick.

Lieutenant Governor Fraser entered a period of ill health. At his doctor's request he took a three month vacation in Europe. He died in Genoa in November of 1896. He was survived by his wife, J. M. Paulette, daughter of the Hon. Charles Fisher of Fredericton. Following her death, the residence, a mansion located near the legislature, became the "J. J. Fraser Farraline Home for Aged People''.

(Acknowledgements: "William Davidson" by W. H. Davidson; "Ships Of Miramichi" by Louise Manny; "Joseph Russell - Miramichi Shipbuilder And Financier" by Grant Nielson; Rev. D. F. Hoddinott).

(Northumberland News, April 20, 1983)

Copyright © Lois F. Martin, 1985. All rights reserved.