Anthony Lockwood Surveys the Eastern Shore Islands in 1815

Jegogan and St. Mary’s River, detail of chart from Anthony Lockwood, A Brief Description of Nova Scotia with Plates of the Principal Harbors (1818)

As European shipping traffic increased along the coasts of North America, so too did efforts to chart and describe the region. Along with increasingly detailed nautical charts, written sailing directions, known as Pilot Books, also appeared with descriptions of the coast and each harbour. In Nova Scotia, one of the earliest examples of this genre of publication was written by surveyor Anthony Lockwood in 1818. Lockwood’s book, A Brief Description of Nova Scotia with Plates of the Principal Harbors, provides a snapshot of the state of settlement along the Eastern Shore in the summer and fall of 1815, when he and his survey team passed through the area.

Anthony Lockwood (1775–1855) entered the British naval service in 1791 and was stationed in a variety of locations including Curaçao and Barbados. He is perhaps best known in Canada as the Surveyor General of New Brunswick from 1819 to 1822, the conclusion of a successful career which unfortunately ended with the rapid deterioration of Lockwood’s mind and a diagnosis of madness. But between 1814 and 1818 Lockwood worked for the Surveyor General of Nova Scotia and was tasked with surveying the coasts of the province. Lockwood focused much of his attention on more heavily settled regions, but he also includes an overview of the Eastern Shore Islands area, providing a brief description of each harbour and often discussing the local population.

By 1815, when Lockwood was travelling along the Eastern Shore, the first English settler families had been living there for at least two generations. They were still few in number and even the most well-off were making only a modest living from a mix of farming, fishing, timber, and coastal trading. But the foundations were in place for many of the communities we know today.

Already the modern names for most harbours, islands, and headlands were apparent, even if their spelling was different. In fact, Lockwood made a special point of using what he called the “original” placenames, those known by the local settlers. Of course these placenames were hardly “original,” as they overwrote local Mi’kmaw naming. Instead what Lockwood was referring to was his effort to overturn the work of previous surveyors, notably JFW Des Barres, who assigned even newer names to many locations in an attempt to impress his patrons and superiors.

Des Barres’s Atlantic Neptune charts, based on surveys completed in the 1760s (available for view here), are otherwise considered to have been an extraordinary achievement for their time, but their value to navigators in Nova Scotia was somewhat diminished by the inclusion of these unknown placenames. As Lockwood observed, “Des Barres, in attaching to them the names of noblemen, or men in power, has made his charts of less value; and in one or two instances, has created serious blunders. Inquire of the people of Jedore for Port Egmont, or those of Sheet Harbor for Port North, they know them not, nor would they ever be induced to adopt them.”

Place-based settler community identities were forming along the Eastern Shore, and in each location that Lockwood visited he encountered small enclaves of men, women, and children working the land and sea. It was typical for books such as his to include a brief reference to the people settled in an area, as an indication of where a ship might find provisions of food, wood, or fresh water. There are very few early descriptions of the settlers on the Eastern Shore, so every source is welcome, even if it was originally intended as a sailing guide. Lockwood reports, for example, that at Marie Joseph in 1815 there were three families consisting of 15 people, with large stocks of cattle and two coasting vessels. In Necum Teuch (spelled Nicomquirque) salt marshes were harvested for winter hay by a small settlement of “sober, industrious people.”

Lockwood also observed that some of the islands had been settled at the time of his survey. At Ship Harbour there were “twenty families in the harbor and on the islands in its neighbourhood, who keep small stocks of cattle.” And he refers to Gerard Island and Phoenix Island in Popes Harbour collectively as “Gerard’s Islands, after those who settled them.”

More commonly, Lockwood referred to the islands as landmarks for navigation. He writes that Sheet Harbour “derives its name from a blank cliff, on a rocky island at the entrance, wearing the appearance of a sheet”—a description locals will recognize as Sheet Rock. The White Islands, among the outermost islands in the archipelago, are visible from a great distance along the coast and Lockwood identified them as a key landmark between Beaver Harbour and Liscomb Harbour. They “appear of a light stone colour, capt with ever-green. They are about sixty feet above the sea level, bold on the South side.” And Wedge Island, off the St. Mary’s River, was, according to Lockwood, “too remarkable to be missed” making it “an excellent guide to the harbors in its neighbourhood.” Wedge Island appears on Lockwood’s accompanying chart with the alias “Pierre-à-fusil” (Flint) and the notation “100 feet high.” It is no surprise that the government later chose to place a lighthouse on this island. This is the only chart Lockwood provides for the Eastern Shore Islands area.

In the book’s opening pages, Lockwood laments that this is not a work of literary description and that it does not do justice to the qualities of the province. Instead, he reminds his readers, the book is intended as a guide to safely navigating the coast and thus “plain truth must substitute decoration.” The reality is somewhere in between. For a work intended as a public resource—rather than, say, a personal memoir—Lockwood is often overly opinionated about the places and people he encountered. He particularly disdained the Mi’kmaq, who refused to submit to the assimilation efforts of the church and colonial government. Lockwood’s biographers describe the book as “a rambling, unfocussed series of jottings,” and “amateurish and without structure.” This is the challenge of working with all historical documents, which are seldom eloquent works of literature. Everything Lockwood writes must be taken with a grain of salt and cross-referenced with other contemporary sources. But the hints he provides to a little-known part of colonial history are compelling and worth pursuing.

Click here to read Anthony Lockwood’s A Brief Description of Nova Scotia with Plates of the Principal Harbors (1818) online. This link will open to the first page of the Eastern Shore Islands area, beginning at Jeddore and running to Wedge Island pp21–36.

For more information on Lockwood, read Peter Thomas and Nicholas Tracy’s Master & Madman: The Surprising Rise and Disastrous Fall of the Hon Anthony Lockwood RN (Goose Lane, 2012).

“Spots beautiful and pleasing”: Nicolas Denys Describes the Eastern Shore Islands in 1672

Nicolas Denys, The Description and Natural History of the Coasts of North America (1672), edited and translated by W.F. Ganong (Toronto: Champlain Society, 1908), extract from pages 156–157.

In 1672, French trader and colonist Nicolas Denys published one of the most important early European accounts of Acadie, The Description and Natural History of the Coasts of North America. Did you know that this 17th-century book includes a brief but fascinating description of the Eastern Shore Islands? The excerpt appears above (click the image for larger text if needed).

Mainly interested in the cod fishery, Denys travelled extensively in Acadie but was frequently beset by personal and professional calamities (including a stint chained in the dungeon at Port Royal). Heavily in debt, he hoped that a book about his travels might generate revenue for him and encourage further settlement, from which he would also benefit. Unfortunately the book did neither, and it was not until many years later that its immense historical value was understood.

Denys’s account is now recognized as uniquely valuable for its detailed description of the natural environment, its extensive discussion of the cod fishery, and its important early depiction of the Mi’kmaq, with whom Denys lived and traded peaceably for more than forty years.

Denys’s description of the Eastern Shore Islands begins in the southwest, at “River Theodore,” which has been interpreted by historians to be Jeddore Harbour. From there he sails to what he calls the “Baye de Toutes Isles,” or Bay of All Islands, which in his account stretches from about Ship Harbour to Liscomb Harbour. This geography follows Samuel de Champlain’s earlier use of this name, but it is distinct from the more recent meaning of Bay of Islands, which refers to the area specifically around Necum Teuch Bay. Passing beyond the bay, Denys describes sailing beyond the shoals off of Liscomb and then turning back along the land and into the Liscomb River.

Throughout this expanse, Denys is impressed to report, “there are only islands, of which I have never been able to learn the number.” This is no surprise – the Eastern Shore Islands archipelago contains more than 700 islands, from small exposed rocks to large forested isles, each one unique. Denys also remarks on the beauty of the area, emphasizing the “fine woods and good land, and spots beautiful and pleasing.”

Although brief, Denys’s account provides important historical information about the Eastern Shore Islands area. From an environmental perspective, his description of the flora and fauna reveals both change and continuity. Denys’s reference to the abundance of “wild Pines” around Jeddore is a reminder that the composition of coastal forests has changed over time. But his description of the “little Firs, very low and much branched” will still be immediately recognizable to anyone familiar with this coast. Throughout his book, Denys used “fir” [or sapin in the original French] for balsam fir, but also for the various spruces native to Nova Scotia. Short-lived balsam fir and black spruce still dominate the forests along the Eastern Shore.

The natural diversity of the islands was also apparent to Denys. Interspersed with the tree-covered islands were others “which have upon them only moss; others have heathers or low shrubs.” This brings to mind the low crowberry barrens and coastal wetlands of many islands in the archipelago today and it is easy to imagine that the view from the deck of Denys’s ship might not have been so different from our own view of the islands in the twenty-first century.

Denys also observed that game was plentiful in the area, most likely in reference to seabirds, which are still present today. Since 1976, the nesting seabird population in much of the archipelago has been protected by the Eastern Shore Islands Wildlife Management Area. Denys’s reference to the thriving mainland moose population in his time, in comparison to its dwindled numbers today, highlights the importance of responsible wildlife management.

Denys’s description also provides invaluable documentary evidence of Mi’kmaw activity among the Eastern Shore Islands in the early colonial period. Although it is only a brief reference, it nevertheless supports our understanding of local resource use and mobility. Denys observes that the Mi’kmaw presence in the 17th century was primarily centered on the many rivers that empty into the Atlantic along the Eastern Shore. These rivers were an elaborate and well-travelled highway system, connecting the resources of coastal ecologies to those of the interior in a seasonal cycle of natural abundance and trade.

Denys’s knowledge of how to navigate the waters of the “Bay of All Islands” is also significant. It is important to note that Denys was not travelling simply for the sake of documenting the coastline or creating maps. He was a trader, motivated by revenue. Today’s charts and navigation technology make sailing through the Eastern Shore Islands safe and pleasurable, but in the 17th century, ships travelling along the coast would have avoided this labyrinth of islands – unless there was a compelling reason to go inside. And so it is significant that Denys knew of “a passage … among the islands, for a boat or a longboat” (a smaller craft carried onboard ship for navigating coastal waters), adding that it was “necessary to be well acquainted with the route in order to pass there.”

This unassuming comment suggests that European boats were travelling in the waters of the Eastern Shore Islands and that at least some Europeans were becoming “well acquainted” with the area. Coupled with the presence of Mi’kmaq “in great number,” this suggests that Mi’kmaq and Europeans were engaged in a regular trading relationship within the Eastern Shore Islands area in the 17th century. This is further supported by the presence of the “Baye de Toutes Isles” on so many early maps.

There is an absence of formal documentation about human activity along the Eastern Shore in the early colonial period. This makes fragments and hints like those in Denys’s book all the more important. We may never locate the remains of a formal trading post, but a close reading of early colonial documents can bring to light aspects of the past that have so far gone unremarked. There is more to the Eastern Shore Islands than “spots beautiful and pleasing.”

Click here to read the full text of Nicolas Denys’s The Description and Natural History of the Coasts of North America, translated to English by W.F. Ganong of the Champlain Society in 1908. The extract about the Eastern Shore Islands appears on pages 156–157.