Tag Archives: Samuel Holland

Fake News of a Phantom: The Ghost of Holland Cove

Camping at Holland Cove ca. 1895.

A legend is defined as “a traditional story sometimes popularly regarded as historical but unauthenticated.” What then are we to make of “The Legend of Holland Cove?” It is certainly unauthenticated but is it historical?

The tale is a rambling account of the death of Samuel Holland’s mistress and her re-appearance when time and tide are perfectly aligned. It is overlaid with the adventure of a group of campers who just happen to be at the locale at the right time. But as usual with such stories not all is what it seems to be.

To be successful ghostly accounts must have just the right mix of the known and the unknown. The tale is grounded in the residence of Captain Samuel Holland at Observation Cove, now called Holland Cove, in the winter of 1764-1765 while he was engaged in the survey of the colony. With the exception of that single fact, the rest of the tale is fiction. It tells of how Samuel had a mistress, “… a magnificent woman…tall, strait as an arrow with a lovely womanly grace of figure and motion, yet endowed with as much strength as most men; her dark skin, scarcely so dark as to betray the Indian blood in her veins; her hair wound in dark coils round a perfectly poised head, and a face grandly beautiful – a French woman with the added stature of the Micmac race.”  The teller of the tale gives her the name “Racine.” While anxiously waiting for Samuel to return from a winter surveying expedition she wandered out on the ice of the Cove, fell through and drowned.  Her birthday and the day she met Samuel for the first time was on the 14th of July.  This dramatic event is but the pre-amble to the ghost story. In actual fact Samuel was hardly in a position to have mistress while on the Island. He shared the cramped hut built in the woods at Observation Cove with his Quebec-born common-law wife Marie-Josephte Rolet and an infant son.

The highly fictionalized account moves suddenly to midnight, July 14 1776. Holland is away. (He really was away as he lived on the Island for only just under a year in the winter of 1764-1765 and he seems never to have returned. By March 1776 he was far from Holland Cove and was attached to the British forces in New York and he did not leave there until 1778.)  However to return to the story – his lieutenant was asleep on the beach at Holland Cove while two of his crew were in the house. One is awakened by voices and sees Racine in the room. She exits, leaving wet footprints, and walks to the cove and across the surface of the water until suddenly she plunges through and is seen no more. The awakened men return to the house and ponder the inexplicable wet footprints left behind.

The story then lurches forward to the late 1890s where a party of holiday campers are under canvas at Holland Cove. The ghost story is told and a young man of the party stays up until midnight. He sees the ghost – or perhaps he doesn’t. The end. So the alleged ghost story is about a group of teenagers and their chaperones reacting to the “legend” then a century old. As ghost stories go it is a pretty lame affair. What is more interesting is the source and after-life of the tale.

“The Legend of Holland Cove” first appeared in Vol VII of The Canadian Magazine, published in 1896. It is clearly identified in the magazine index as fiction. The author is F. Gerald, a name unassociated with any other publications and, as they say, “not an Island name.”   Yet the author clearly has knowledge of the Island.  A clue to his identity can be found in the Prince Edward Island Magazine for June of 1899 where a story titled “The Smugglers of Holland Cove” has many similarities of style including a party of campers at the Cove cast  as the main characters. This story too, is published over the name of “F. Gerald.”  However in the index to the volume the author is listed as “Justice Fitzgerald.”

Judge Rowan Robert Fitzgerald (1847-1921) was from a prominent family. He trained as a lawyer and was called to the bar in 1869. He was appointed a Judge of the P. E. I. Supreme Court in 1892 and served more than 25 years on the bench.  He was very much aware of Holland Cove as he and his family were among the earliest residents of Charlottetown to holiday at the Cove, initially tenting and later building summer cottages.

Two years after the publication of “The Legend of Holland Cove” Fitzgerald’s story was rewritten and included in Myths and Legends Beyond Our Borders by Charles M. Skinner. Skinner was an American journalist and author whose previous book had dealt with myths and legends of the United States. In casting his net for stories from elsewhere he had obviously spotted Fitzgerald’s recent publication.  However Skinner shortened the story and stripped it of its multiple layers setting the whole thing in 1765 and making Holland himself one of those present at the ghostly re-appearance.

The story has one further version. In May 1935 the Charlottetown Guardian published a tale under the title “The Ghost at Holland Cove”  by F. Fitzgerald. The judge was dead by this time so it is unclear just who this was. In this telling the heroine of the story is Captain Holland’s wife whose ghost returns at midnight on the anniversary of her death in 1765, now conveniently dated in the summer, when the Cove had its full complement of summer visitors, most staying at the Summer Resorts. (In reality Holland’s wife lived until 1825.) Curiosity about the ghost led to the visitors to stay up until midnight when one of the party was frightened in the woods by another. No ghost sighting. The end. It was hardly confirmation of a longstanding ghostly tradition.

The story with its fragile foundation was continued with the establishment of a Y.M.C.A. camp at Holland Cove after WW2.  By the time I attended in the late 1950s and early 1960s it was a regular feature of the camp activities that one night of each camp session the juvenile campers, after suitable mood-setting around the campfire, would be led to the shore of the cove to watch for Lady Holland’s ghost.  If the tide was high on the chosen night one of the camp councillors (often “Bones” Likely) would row a boat across the cove with a lantern which would be mysteriously snuffed out, signaling that Lady Holland had met with her fate.  If the tide was low the drama would play out on the sandbars. The event was reckoned a success if first-time campers were kept awake by bad dreams.

So when is a legend not a legend?  The clearly fictional account, much copied and modified, hardly counts as something regarded as historical but unauthenticated.  Simply calling something a legend does not make it so. The tale has become part of a completely ersatz history grounded in nothing but Rowan R. Fitzgerald’s imagination but it lives on in ghost story collections assembled by anthologizers catering to nothing more than curiosity.

Those wishing to read the story in its original form can find Fitzgerald’s tale here, Skinner’s 1898 version can be read here, and the 1935 version is found here. The true story of Samuel Holland and his mistress and wife is told in Samuel Holland, His work and Legacy on Prince Edward Island by Earle Lockerby and Douglas Sobey, published in 2015. The truth is far more interesting than the fiction.

For another nearby location which, in the hands of a latter-day Fitzgerald,  might serve as the locale for a ghost story see the posting here.

The Fort Lot: One of the Island’s Special Places


Detail from A Map of the Island of Saint John in the Gulph of St. Laurence divided into Counties and Parishes and the lots as granted by government [published 1775]. The name Fort Amherst does not appear.

On the port side as you sail into Charlottetown Harbour the land rises and you pass under the site of both the French and English military and civil headquarters for the Island in the 18th century. Today, much of this area is set aside as a National Historic site of Canada with an unwieldy hyphenated name reflecting the three cultures with which the site is associated – Skmaqn-Port-La-Joye-Fort Amherst.  What is not so well-known that from the very beginning of the English colonial period this land had always been set aside and earmarked as a special piece of property.

When Samuel Holland made his survey of the Island in 1764-1765 he lived at nearby Observation Cove (now Holland Cove) while the other staff lived in the location he had rejected – the decaying Fort Amherst, whose earthworks are at the centre of the present National Historic Site. “Fort Amherst,” he wrote, “…is only a poor Stockaded Redoubt with Barracks scarcely sufficient to house the Garrison and the houses that were near it was All pulled down to get the materials to built it.”

Holland famously divided the Island into 67 lots of about 20,000 acres along with reservations for county towns at Princetown, Georgetown and Charlottetown.  He also provided for one other reservation of land – The Fort Lot.  In a detailed description of the survey written on 5 October 1765 Holland notes

There is 520 acres preserved for the Fort Lott, having 1000 Yards to the North South and West from the Center of Fort Amherst and to the East as far as the Waterside, but it must Also be remarked that the Fort Lott takes up Almost all the cleared Land at Port Joy.     

In addition in a table attached to the report which enumerates certain features of each lot, the following is noted for Lot 65

Well situated for Agriculture it has a fine communication by Elliot River, but at present most of the Cleared Lands are about the Fort and taken up for the Fort Lott which has 1000 Yards, South and North and West from the Centre of the Fort and contains 520 Acres. 

One of Holland’s enduring legacies was his naming of Prince Edward Island.  He ignored aboriginal names, except a few which were adopted by the French and replaced most French names through an elaborate system of honouring British worthies.  The name Fort Amherst does not appear on the original manuscript Holland map although later printed versions of the map do name the fortification  A table on Holland’s manuscript map describing the townships does, however, note the Fort Lott.

Detail from A Plan of the Island of St. John with the divisions of the Counties Parishes and the Lots as granted by Government Printed and Sold by A. Drury [1775]

In early printed copies of the Holland map the 520 acre Fort Lot (or Fort Lott) is both named and delineated.  In some later additions of the map the name Fort Amherst has been added.  Neither feature is named on J.F.W. DesBarres’ Atlantic Neptune sheet showing the area.

In John Stewart’s 1806 volume which is the first published history of Prince Edward Island he notes the Fort Lot with its cleared land at the mouth of the harbour and how it had been coveted by Governor Patterson in the 1780s.

There is a reservation of a tract of land called the Fort Lot on the west side of the harbour, extending from the entrance of the Narrows almost to the mouth of the Elliot River, on this tract Fort Amherst formerly stood on an elevated spot three hundred yards from the water, it was erected immediately after the conquest of the Island…   The Fort was dismantled and destroyed by Governor Patterson soon after his appointment to the government, and there being near three hundred acres of fertile cleared land within the reservation, extremely beautiful in point of situation, the governor was tempted to make a grant of the whole to a person who re-conveyed it to himself and on this place built a handsome farm house and extensive offices, and laid out large sums in its improvement.

Patterson was married to Hester Warren and the farm built on the Fort Lot became known as Warren Farm. The name was adopted for the area and the cove on which the farm faced was called Warren Cove or Warren Farm Cove. After Patterson’s fall from grace the Fort Lot appears to have reverted to the Crown. In December 1798 a memorial was received from the Abbe de Calonne, a well-connected French émigré whose brother had Island property seeking a lease of the Fort Lot. The Secretary of State for the Colonies wrote to Lieutenant Governor Fanning, who had succeeded Patterson, directing that the Fort Lot be leased to Calonne. In June of the same year Fanning wrote that the lease had been executed for the Fort Lot and that Calonne had been put in possession but that the buildings were much out of repair. After Calonne gave up the property it was eventually sold or leased to a number of others who farmed the valuable property. One worthy who lived there was Captain (later Colonel) H. Bentinck Cumberland who acquired a considerable estate adjacent to the Fort Lot in what is now the community of Cumberland. His own residence was named Ringwood and it was located on the Warren Farm property but was in ruins by the late 1890.        

Dark lines show the boundaries of the Fort Lot imposed on the 1880 Atlas sheet for Lot 65. Note that the Fort Lot includes the site of Blockhouse Light.

A table in Joseph Bouchette’s 1831 volume on the British Dominions in North America showing the extent of parishes shows Hillsborough parish being composed of Township 29, 30, 31, 65 and Fort Lot, suggesting that the Fort Lot was not considered to be part of Lot 65.  It appears however that by the latter part of the century the 520 acres was consistently included within the acreage of Lot 65.  An undated map at the Public Archives shows 470 acres (all but the northern tip of the Fort Lot) in the name of John Newsom.  The cadastral atlas of 1880 does not show a specific Fort Lot, the acreage having been broken up into a number of landholdings but at this time (and still)  the property lines of the original Fort Lot are evident on the map and the name Warren Farm appears referencing the whole area.

The Fort Lot was the site of the battery at the mouth of the harbour which pre-dated the Blockhouse Light which took its name from the defensive building which was built on the site of the battery.  Other noteworthy elements on the Fort Lot included the ranges, originally on Canseau Point and later relocated as range lights of the south edge of Warren Creek;  the landing place for the first ferry at Ringwood; the later site of the Rocky Point Ferry Wharf; and the Indian Reserve at Rocky Point.

The Fort Lot in 2018. Google Earth image

Today, however, the Fort Lot itself is a forgotten designation. The 520 acres has been carved up but the remaining land now protected as a National Historic Site still provides the sweeping view of the harbour which made it the best site for French and English fortification and references its early and subsequent life as a handsome farm property well into the mid-20th century.


What a Difference a Survey Makes – A Tale of Two Maps

The events of last week marked the peak of the orgy of Hollandia on Prince Edward Island. With the Holland family reunion, the unveiling of a weathervane at Holland College, the launch of a new book on Holland and the opening of a major exhibit on Holland and his work at the Confederation Centre Art Gallery it would be hard for anyone in the province to remain ignorant of the 250th anniversary of the Samuel Holland Survey of Prince Edward Island (or more correctly St. John’s Island).

Both the book, Samuel Holland, His Work and Legacy on Prince Edward Island, authored by Earle Lockerby and Douglas Sobey, and the exhibition curated by Boyde Beck and Edward MacDonald are major accomplishments. The book is a fine piece of research which builds on Stephen Hornsby’s Surveyors of Empire and A.J.C. Johnson’s PhD thesis Charting the Imperial Will and adds many details specific to Holland and Prince Edward Island. The exhibit, which runs until the end of 2015, features the original manuscript Holland map, an impressive 3 metre by 4 metre display of cartographic achievement The map has been loaned for the exhibit by the United Kingdom’s National Archives

The original map is supplemented by cartographic images, mostly from the Museum and Heritage Foundation’s McNutt collection. However there is a major gap in the exhibition which may result from too great a reliance on the McNutt holdings.

Montresor portrait

Samuel Holland’s rival John Montresor

One of Samuel Holland’s rivals was an army engineer named John Montresor who had a successful career which in many ways paralleled that of Holland. He served at Louisburg, helped map Quebec, surveyed parts of New England and Atlantic Canada. Although nominally Holland’s superior in the Quebec survey Montresor, an officer in the Corps of Engineers, apparently bore a great deal of animosity towards Holland and other officers who were members of regular regiments. Maps which  Montresor produced were impressive but his disagreements with both his superiors and his staff detracts from his output and soon Holland came to be regard as the most competent officer of the Quebec survey. Montresor’s reputation plummeted when he was caught out in 1763 in his blatant attempt to take credit for Holland’s work on the Quebec and St. Lawrence survey by erasing the latter’s name from maps submitted to William Pitt in England.

In 1768 Montresor again appropriated Holland’s work. Montresor claimed credit for a large (1.5 metre by 2.0 metre) map titled ” Map of Nova Scotia or Acadia; with the Islands of Cape Breton and St. John’s, from actual surveys, by Captn Montresor, Engr”  The map capitalizes of the interest in the lands acquired from the French only a few years earlier.  The first state of the map shows a uniform design with details derived from a variety of French and English maps drawn with out the benefit of accurate surveys.

Montresor 1 BNF

John Montresor’s Map of Nova Scotia or Acadia published 1768 – first state. Copy in the Bibliotheque Nationale de France

It is the second state of the map, with the same 1768 date that shows what an impact the Holland Survey made. The map is identical save for the precise mapping of the Island which the survey had provided. No credit is given to Holland for the revised information.

Montresor2 TPL

Map of Nova Scotia or Acadia 1768 – second state. Copy in the Toronto Public Library

The contrast is best shown in detail. Both maps are vague as to the mainland but vastly different for the Island of Saint John. Although the Island is smaller than in maps published in 1773 and later, the Island portion of the Montresor map is still notable for its accuracy and for its modern cartographic style. It includes the civil divisions and many of the place names in the 1765 manuscript map.  No changes were made to the map’s title information to acknowledge the inclusion of the Holland contribution.

Montresor 1 NAC

Detail – Montresor map 1768 first state. Copy at Library and Archives Canada

Montresor 2 NAC

Detail – Montresor map 1768 second state. Copy at Library and Archives Canada

The 1768 Montresor map appears to be the first published acknowledgement of the information Holland gathered and is the single most striking depiction of the difference made in the cartography of the region and the impact of Holland. As such it is a very important and dramatic illustration of the impact of Holland on the cartography of North America.  Its absence from the exhibition is both striking and curious, especially as copies of the second state of the Montresor map exist in collections at both the University of Prince Edward Island and at the Public Archives and Records Office. Other copies are held by institutions in the region.

While Holland went on to great success after his survey of Prince Edward Island things did not go as well for John Montresor.  He served several periods as chief engineer in America during the revolutionary war, was promoted Captain in 1776 and retired in 1778. However a later audit of his accounts for the period resulted in large claims by the government and he was soon in financial difficulties. He died in prison in 1799.