From uncleared forest at the time of Holland’s survey in 1764 Charlotte Town grew slowly. It was inhabited mostly by colonial officials and a few merchants but the military presence was important to the capital. During and following the revolt of the Americans defense of the British colonies was a pre-occupation of the authorities. In 1785 General John Campbell made a tour of the region from his headquarters in Halifax. One of the earliest accounts of Charlotte Town was left by Lieutenant William Booth of the Royal Engineers who was a member of the inspection party.
The itinerary of General Campbell’s tour was decided by the prevailing winds. The party embarked on the brig Maria not exactly knowing which direction they would take.
July 25th 1785
The wind continued against us for Shelburne tho’ quite in our favor for stretching to the Northward, the General’s intended route, after having finished his Tour to the Westward ‘t was now given out that; should the wind be North or South, on our clearing the Harbour, We were to sail.
We clear’d the Beach by 12 oClock, and finding the wind So. Wst we altered our course for the Island of St. John’s, where we arrived by the 28th without anything remarkable on our passage, except our, fortunately, passing between the main land and a Shoal of Rocks near the entrance of the Gut of Canso, which our pilot, who was a Fisherman we met with on our way, declared, was “only whale playing” on the Water, and that, for his part, he had been more than a hundred times, Fishing about the Coast, with his Boy, and Shallop, and never met with any accident, so that, in his idea, our, Poor Brig, was diminished to a Boat. We kept our Eyes, for several miles, upon this whale, as he term’d it, but found the appearance still the same, which confirmed our opinion of its being, a Breaker.
This morning Captain Calbeck, the Attorney General of this Place, and two Gentlemen with him visited us. This is a good harbour, having in the middle of the Entrance, from 12 to 14 fathoms Water, and not less than 8 up to Charlotte Town, the Capital of this Island. The entrance of the Harbor is 1000 Yards in width, and runs, about a mile before it opens to the Town, and three fine Rivers viz. : one on the left call’d Elliot River, that in front, and due North, in the direction of the Entrance, is call’d Yorke River, and by some the North River, and that which runs from the Town to the Eastward, is named Hillsborough River. These Rivers are said to be full of Fish, of every kind, common to this Climate, great quantities of Oysters, are Bedded here, and Trout are found in vast abundance. There are between 60 and 70 Houses in Charlotte Town. The Governor has a small House there, and one at this Farm, situated near Fort Amherst, on the west side of the entrance of this Harbour [There has been a Barrack in this Fort, but no remains of it are at present to be seen, and the Fort quite in ruins, an old french Mortar is the only piece of ordnance in this Fort or rather Redout, bring Square, without Flanks.]
To-day we dined with the Chief Justice; the Brigade Major Gordon, was not of the Party, having rode to St. Peters, to explore that part of the Country. I walk’d round the Town, and examined the Ground on which part the of the Barracks, that had been built for the Troops, Garrison’d here, in the war, are still standing, vizt. one wing of a Pile of Barracks, that were never completed, the other wing, and return, having been taken away by the Refugee’s, and others, for fire wood etc. Capt. Calbeck says, the part that is gone, was only Framed. There are also standing a barrack, in front, and near Patterson’s Battery, a Guardhouse , an Hospital, and a Commanding officer’s Quarter. In the rear of the Town, has been a Field Fort, thrown up for the Inhabitants to retire to, in case of an Enemy taking possession of their Works in front. [The Inhabitants set fire to it, saying twas a harbor for muskito’s. Capt. Calbeck inform’d me this on my observing the Fascines burnt & also a Gun Carriage partly destroyed.] This Fort is now totally in ruins, as is the battery above mention’d The Fort consisted of 4 confined half Bastions; the whole faced, and lined with Fascines, having, on each Flank, a Gun; but the Ground, in the rear again of this Work, has too great a command to render it a permanent Post. Patterson’s Battery consists of 9 Guns of different Calibres, tis 30 feet or so above the Water and is well situated for defending the approach to the Town, on that side.
Agreeably to General Campbell’s orders, I examined the state of the Officers’ and Soldiers’ Barracks , in order to have them repaired, for the Two Companies of the 33rd Regiment expected to arrive in three weeks; the General desired that this business might be done by contract: I accordingly agreed with a Mr. Clark, master Carpenter, for the completion of those Quarters, and when done, to enclose the whole with a good Palisade forming a handsome Parade; this estimate amounts to £363/7/6 H. Cy.
Dined with the Governor, and the principal Gentlemen of the Town.
Dropt down to the Governor’s Farm, near the entrance of the Harbor, where we remained during this day, the wind being unfavorable for our intended voyage to Spanish River [In the Island of Cape Breton.] The soil of St. John’s Island is good, and the Country remarkably level, the inhabitants say there are only two Hills, of any note, in it, and they lay near the centre; some Seasons the Farmers have their Grain surprisingly destroyed, by the sudden appearance of an astonishing number of a reddish kind of Mice. By way of amusement today I made a Sketch of the Governor’s Farmhouse, & Barn, and also a rough Drawing of the Town and part of the Harbor [The latter I lost by sending by the B. Major Gordon’s request to a Gent on Shore to look at.
Sail’d this morning
After leaving Charlotte Town the military group proceeded to Cape Breton and then back to Halifax. William Booth (1748-1826), author of these observations had joined the Royal Engineers as an ensign in 1771. He was promoted to lieutenant in 1779 and served at Gibraltar before being transferred to Halifax in 1782. He retired with the rank of Lieutenant Colonel in 1800. A number of his watercolour sketches survive but unfortunately none are of his brief visit to Charlotte Town. As a part of an official military visit Booth was more concerned about the state of defences of the town than its civil aspect but because so little is recorded about the history of the town, as opposed to the political infighting of its officials, his diary remains an important document .
The original of Lt. Booth’s report is at the Public Archives of Nova Scotia, MG1 Vol 44 pp 2-7. Other details of the military history of the colony can be found in David Webber’s A Thousand Young Men, published by the P.E.I. Museum and Heritage Foundation.