Elijah Estabrooks was the son of Elijah and Hannah (Daniel) Estabrooks, and he was born in 1727 or 1728. Some of his family had originally immigrated to Boston from Enfield, England in 1660, settling nearby in Boxford, Massachusetts. His journal provides a rich treasure trove of eyewitness detail covering the English campaign in 1758 against the French and Indian forces as they unfolded during an interesting period of the Seven Years War. His journal is also a personal record of his experiences in the Massachusetts Provincial Army during the years 1758-1760. Elijah was a volunteer soldier in a Company commanded by Captain Israel Herrick, an officer under the command of Colonel Jedediah Preble and his Regiment of Massachusetts Provincial soldiers.
Elijah’s record is a very personal account of the heavy casualties and the defeat that the British forces suffered shortly after the death of Brigadier (and Lord) George Augustus Howe. Howe had been a highly competent commander and one of British Prime Minister Pitt’s “chosen” young men. Unfortunately, he was killed in a skirmish that took place just before the battle at Ticonderoga, and tactical command of the assaulting force was assumed by a British General named Abercrombie. Abercrombie chose to conduct a frontal assault against well dug in troops without using any of his readily available artillery. The result was a bloodbath for the British forces. General Louis-Joseph Marquis de Montcalm and his French forces conducted a spirited and successful defence, although the victory was due more to Abercrombie’s poor assessment of the French defences than to the best choice of ground, position, and tactics.
The Journal of Elijah Estabrooks covers about three years of a particularly important period in the history of North America. The conflict in which he participated shaped the future of the whole area for many years to come. Had that war not terminated as it did, the movement of great numbers of efficient settlers, including Elijah Estabrooks, from New England to what was then Nova Scotia would not have taken place in the years immediately following 1759.
On the 11th of January 1759, a proclamation was made by Charles Lawrence, Governor of Nova Scotia, offering grants of land and free liberty of conscience to Protestants dissenting from the Church of England. This proclamation was printed by John Draper at Boston in the same year. The defeat of the French forces led to the release of some women and children who had been captured by Indians in Nova Scotia and taken to Quebec, and made it safe for farmers and fishermen to settle over most of the Province.
When Elijah Estabrooks marched to Cornwallis in June 1760, he would have seen one building which is still standing, namely the blockhouse of Fort Edward in present-day Windsor. About 50 years ago the old shingles were being replaced on the sides of this building. I was visiting relatives in the town at the time and went to see the blockhouse when the huge pine timbers were bare. There were many musket balls embedded about two inches deep in the timbers, mostly near the door and the loopholes.
Elijah Estabrooks would have seen the newly arrived settlers at work on their farms and buildings as he passed through the Townships of Newport, Falmouth, Horton and Cornwallis, which were all settled by New England planters in that year. The soldiers seem to have been sent to Cornwallis to protect the newly arrived settlers from Indian raids, which did not take place. While at that township they would have seen the fruit trees and rich soil as well as the many acres of diked land; exceptionally good land free of rocks, providing pasture and hay for cattle and sheep. The lifestyle in these settlements would have been more compatible to anyone with puritan values than in the city of Halifax of that day.
Farmland in the long-settled towns near the coast in New England was nearly all occupied and expensive, while the lands in Nova Scotia were free. Many who emigrated in response to Lawrence’s proclamation were of Separate Congregationalist, Quaker, and Baptist faith, or leaned toward these groups. They had suffered religious restriction in Connecticut and parts of Massachusetts, including being taxed to pay the salaries of ministers they disapproved of. Governor Lawrence’s proclamation stated this would not occur in Nova Scotia.
Elijah Estabrooks brought his family to Cornwallis where the level land must have reminded him of the interval land on the Saint John River, that had some advantages over the land on the Minas Basin. Both places were subject to flooding at times, but the river water did no harm to the soil, whereas when the sea broke through the dikes, it was said to take three years for the salt to leach out of the soil, so that grass would grow again. Both places were accessible to small vessels of that day. The shores at Cornwallis had extremely high tides and were lined with either high cliffs or very wide mud flats, whereas small vessels could come almost to the doors of the settlers on the Saint John River. No less than seventeen families beside Elijah Estabrooks removed from Cornwallis and vicinity to the Saint John River before the Revolutionary War.
Journals exist of other soldiers who traveled the road to Windsor about the same period as Elijah Estabrooks, but they did not return to the area as he did. Here, he gained considerable influence among the many planters on the Saint John River and religious meetings were regularly held at his house for many years. At least in his later years he was affiliated with what were then called “Newlight Congregationalists” who built a meetinghouse which some called “Brooksite” because the Estabrooks men were leaders in building it. When the congregation with their preacher Elijah Estabrooks Junior formed a Baptist Church in 1800, they “inherited the meetinghouse.”
Major Harold Skaarup has done a fine job, explaining the various campaigns in which Elijah Estabrooks participated and other events of the French and Indian, or Seven Years War. Not only will the descendants of Estabrooks find this book of great interest, but the public in general will find it fascinating reading if they are interested in history. The events described are fact not fiction.
Frederick C. Burnett