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Researching the Fortress of Louisbourg National Historic Site of Canada
  Recherche sur la Forteresse-de-Louisbourg Lieu historique national du Canada


Extracts of Matters of Historical Interest from "The Huissier, News For and About the Fortress of Louisbourg Heritage Presentation Staff" By The Fortress of Louisbourg Heritage Presentation Staff


(June 14, 2006)

John Low, Beverly, Massachusetts, Buried on Henry Island, Cape Breton, 1723

By Ken Donovan

The following account of one individual, John Low, a New England fisherman, offers a unique glimpse into how Cape Breton was frequented by its New England neighbours, despite the island’s status as a French colony.

Two ledger books donated to the archives of Cape Breton University in Sydney, Nova Scotia, tell the story of the burial of John Low on Henry Island, located off Port Hood on the west coast of Cape Breton. The ledger books were the property of Dan MacLennan, a lawyer who had practised law in Port Hood from 1899 to 1940. In one of the ledger books, on the inside cover, there appeared the following inscription written in approximately 1900: A Gravestone at Henry Island, Port Hood, Nova Scotia, states that John Low, Beverly Mass., was buried there Aug 2nd 1723.[1]

John Low was doubtless a fisherman. New England fishermen, stationed at Canso, went into the Gulf of St. Lawrence to fish during the eighteenth century.[2] After mid July French schooners from Ile Royale (Cape Breton) also moved their fishing operations from the Scotian shelf off the eastern coast of Nova Scotia and Cape Breton Island to the fishing banks of the Gulf of St Lawrence during the years 1713 to 1758.[3] The Canso schooners, including captain or crewman John Low, followed the migratory movements of the fish much like the French and thus the reason for Low’s death in the Gulf of St. Lawrence during late August 1723.[4] William Vaughan (1703-1746), a fishing and lumbering entrepreneur, confirmed such an interpretation. Vaughan, who had a fishing operation at Matinicus Island off the entrance to Penobscot Bay in Maine, sent his fishing vessels to Canso and the Newfoundland Grand Banks in the first half of the eighteenth century.[5] A Harvard graduate (1722) and a lieutenant-colonel in the 1745 siege of Louisbourg, Vaughan wrote a study entitled “Remarks on the State of Newfoundland, Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, and Canada” on 3 January 1746. Speaking of Cape Breton, he noted: “The fish are plenty allaround the island at the different seasons of the year, first to the south, then east, then northwest. The English from Canso when the fishing on the banks was poor, went to the last-mentioned place and got their load within a week.”[6]

John Low’s grave was marked with a carved gravestone and the stone may still be on Henry Island. It was more typical, however, for the graves of New England fishermen along the Nova Scotia coast during the eighteenth century to be marked with a wooden cross. On 31 April 1745 William Waldron, a member of the New England forces on the way to besiege Louisbourg, called at Island Harbour, a bay approximately 46 miles to the west of Canso, Nova Scotia. Waldron noted that he went ashore on an island and saw a Grave with a board at the head of it on which was cut the name of Jon Pinkins & Thos Jenkins. [7] Since some individual had taken the time and effort to return to Massachusetts and to pay for a carved gravestone, John Low may have been a person of considerable status such as the captain of a fishing schooner. The New England Historical and Genealogical Society of Boston has been unable to find any information concerning John Low and thus the only historical record is his stone grave marker on Henry Island.

 [1] The author donated these ledger books to the archives of the Beaton Institute of the University College of Cape Breton, Sydney, Nova Scotia, in 2000.

[2] For the New England fishery at Canso, see David B. Flemming, The Canso Islands: An 18th Century Fishing Station (Ottawa: Parks Canada, 1977) and Judith Tulloch, "The New England Fishery and Trade at Canso, 1720-1744," in James E. Candow and Carol Corbin, eds., How Deep is the Ocean? : Historical essays on Canada's Atlantic Fishery, Sydney: University College of Cape Breton Press, 1997, pp. 65-73.

[3] B.A. Balcom, The Cod Fishery of Isle Royale, 1713-1758 (Ottawa: Parks Canada, 1984), pp. 47-48.

[4] For a list of New England vessels fishing out of Canso during the 1730's, see "The Naval Office Shipping Lists for Nova Scotia, 1730-1820," Public Record Office , London.

[5] William Goold, “Colonel William Vaughn of Matinicus and Damariscotta,” Maine Historical Society, Series 1, vol. 8, (1881), pp. 293-313; G.A. Rawlyk, "William Vaughan," Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 3, (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1974), pp. 641-42.

[6] William Vaughan, "Remarks on the State of Newfoundland, Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, and Canada," 3 January 1746 (old Style), Chatham Papers, MG 23 A27, pp. 115-26, Library and Archives of Canada.

[7] William Waldron to his father Richard Waldron, 31 April 1745, Louisbourg 1745 Siege Papers, William L. Clements Library, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. Waldron stated that "Country Harbour which Lies about a League [east of] above Island Harbour and was the place the fleet was destined to."