The founding of New Brunswick

By Valerie Casbourn

On June 18, 1784, British authorities ordered that the colony of Nova Scotia be divided in two. As the American Revolution ended in 1783, some 30,000 Loyalists (American colonists who remained loyal to the British Crown) travelled north to flee persecution in the United States. Almost half of these Loyalists settled in the region west and north of the Bay of Fundy. This dramatic influx of settlers prompted the British to create the new colony of New Brunswick.

A hand-coloured print of a map of the province of Nova Scotia dated 1781. The map shows the Gulf of St. Lawrence and the lands now known as Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, the Gaspé and the southwest part of Newfoundland.

A new and accurate map of the province of Nova Scotia in North America from the latest observations [1781] (e007913197-v8)

Changing population: The arrival of the Loyalists

New Brunswick is part of the traditional unceded territory of the Wolastoqiyik (Maliseet), the Mi’kmaq and the Passamaquoddy First Nations. Prior to the Loyalists’ arrival, the region had about 5,000 inhabitants. This included First Nations, Acadians, and small numbers of settlers from the American colonies and from Great Britain.

In 1783–1784, after the end of the American Revolution, about 14,000 Loyalist refugees arrived in this region. The Loyalists included Americans of British or other ancestry, Black Loyalists and people who remained enslaved (sometimes identified as “servants” in colonial records). Some were civilians, while others had fought for the British during the war, either in various Loyalist regiments (often known as Provincials) or as members of the regular British military forces.

British authorities promised the Loyalists and British military veterans land grants. As such, the British surveyed the land for settlement and some Loyalist associations travelled ahead to scout the land. When the Loyalists arrived, they began to claim land and establish farms and settlements, particularly at Saint John and along the Saint John River Valley.

Library and Archives Canada (LAC) holds a variety of records related to the Loyalists’ arrival. You can search for the names of individual Loyalists in LAC’s four Loyalist databases. The Ward Chipman (senior and junior) fonds (MG23-D1) is especially relevant to the story of New Brunswick. Many records from the Ward Chipman fonds are available on the Héritage Canadiana website as digitized microfilm reels.

The new province of New Brunswick

Influential groups of Loyalists who settled in the Saint John River Valley did not wish to be governed from faraway Halifax and asked for the colony of Nova Scotia to be divided. This demand for a separate province began even before some Loyalists left the United States and it continued to grow. Loyalists found support for their campaign in London, England, and New Brunswick was created on June 18, 1784.

Black and white image of the first page of a handwritten letter of thanks to Edward Winslow from representatives of Saint John River Loyalists, dated June 19, 1784.

The first page of a two-page letter of thanks to Edward Winslow from representatives of Saint John River Loyalists, dated June 19, 1784. (MG23-D1 volume 11 page 524, microfilm reel C-13151)

Black and white image of the second page of a handwritten letter of thanks to Edward Winslow from representatives of Saint John River Loyalists, dated June 19, 1784.

The second page of a two-page letter of thanks to Edward Winslow from representatives of Saint John River Loyalists, dated June 19, 1784. (MG23-D1 volume 11 page 525, microfilm reel C-13151)

LAC holds copies of the British Colonial Office’s correspondence about Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and the Loyalists’ arrival. Of particular importance are the 1783–1784 records in the series “CO 217. Nova Scotia and Cape Breton, Original Correspondence” (MG11-CO217NovaScotiaA). The correspondence is described in the Report on Canadian Archives, 1894, and the Héritage Canadiana website has transcribed copies on digitized microfilm reels.

As large numbers of Loyalists settled on lands in New Brunswick, they encroached on the traditional territory of the Wolastoqiyik (Maliseet), the Mi’kmaq and the Passamaquoddy. The First Nations lost the use of much of their territory, which was essential to their traditional way of life, as they were displaced by rapidly expanding colonial settlement.

More information

Try using LAC’s Collection Search to explore other documents, maps and images related to New Brunswick. The Provincial Archives of New Brunswick holds many resources, including records of land grants in the province.

The Loyalists’ arrival in 1783 had a deep and lasting effect on the land and peoples of the Maritimes, and triggered the creation of the province of New Brunswick the following year. As time passed, the people of New Brunswick built up settlements, farms and fishing, timber and shipbuilding industries in the province.

A coloured print of an engraving looking towards the city of Saint John, New Brunswick, with sailboats in the harbour and a few people in the foreground.

The City of Saint John was incorporated in 1785. “View of the City of St. John, New Brunswick.” No date, Peter Winkworth Collection of Canadiana. (e002291761)

Related resources

Related blog posts:

Images of New Brunswick now on Flickr

Do you have ancestors of Black heritage?

The United Empire Loyalists—Finding their Records


Valerie Casbourn is an archivist based in Halifax with Regional Services at Library and Archives Canada.

Validating your ancestor’s arrival in Canada before 1865

So you have searched the immigration records prior to 1865, and still no trace of your ancestor? If you didn’t find your ancestor’s arrival before 1865, Library and Archives Canada (LAC) has other genealogical resources that can assist in confirming an ancestor’s arrival in Canada.

Where did he or she settle?
Is he or she listed in census returns? LAC’s collection of census databases, which can be searched by a person’s name, can confirm an individual’s presence as early as 1825. Perhaps a reference exists for one of the parents (recorded as the head of the family) or for a sibling.

Many early settlers submitted petitions to obtain land where they could establish their family in Upper Canada or Lower Canada. LAC’s databases provide references to land transactions that give the person’s name, the date of the application and the county or township within a province.

Perhaps he served in the military?
Muster rolls, pay lists and various registers can reveal useful information when tracing former military personnel. Have a look at the Military page where many finding aids are searchable by name. For example, the RG8, C Series (British Military and Navy Records) includes records about Loyalist regiments, the War of 1812, and the Canadian militia. The documents for the RG8, C Series have been digitized and are searchable by name on our website. Refer to the Help pages for explanations of the records.

Life events in records
The date of arrival in Canada can be estimated by searching birth, marriage, and death records for first occurrences such as the birth of a child to confirm the presence of the family in a location. Consult our previous blog on how to search for Birth, Marriage and Death Records.

Published sources
Family histories, historical atlases and other published works can be searched in AMICUS, LAC’s online catalogue. It is also possible that your ancestor lived in a location that published a city directory.

The genealogical community
Many genealogical societies have resources specific to where your ancestor settled. Finding aids that describe a location are valuable tools when searching for ancestors.

Happy discoveries!