It was 1766 and a certain Robert Wilson decided to settle with his family on an uninhabited rock in the Labaye Francoise (so named by the rather insensitive explorer Champlain). The Passamaquoddy had been living around this Bay and using this rock for generations but, of course, nobody cared about that.
Wilson was to become the first of many independent, take matters into their own hands, hard-headed men and women who made their lives on this windy island. He refused to acknowledge the authority of the Feudal Lord who was granted title to the entire landmass by some foreign dignitary in 1767. He, and his descendants, were painful thorns in the sides of each of the subsequent “rulers” playing Lord & Master of their domain over the next 120 years.
One of the Lord Proprietors (as they were titled) was a man named David Owen. He does not come across sympathetically in any of the research I’ve done. He also never seemed to realize just what type of characters he was dealing with.
David was very intent on protecting the fishery. To that end, he sentenced a man name Appleby to jail for “feloniously taking and carrying away some fish from flakes at Campobello.” The jail, however, was in Saint Andrews so he told the now convicted felon to sail himself over there and report forthwith. He did have a Sheriff accompany the boat – that poor unfortunate was dropped overboard a short way across the Bay and Appleby sailed off to parts unknown.
The next Lord Proprietor was Admiral William Fitzwilliam Owen. He arrived on the Island after a distinguished career of colonization and exploration – in fact, he named Owen Sound after his brother.
The Admiral was very big on obedience from his subjects and very creative when it came to acquiring money. He taxed everything – the weirs, the geese, the pigs, dogs, and anything else which struck his fancy.
There was a time, particularly in the late 18th and early 19th Centuries, that this Island was known for bootlegging/smuggling. One group of smugglers set up camp next to a fresh water pond on the Island and spent their spare time digging for pirate treasure. The Admiral, not wanting to lose any opportunity to tax something, went up there most mornings to check on their progress.
One such day, the Lord Proprietor arrived to discover that all signs of the camp had disappeared – as had they. What was left was a hole and “far down on its side, marked out by the iron rust which had clung to the earth, the outlines of a chest were visible.”
In the much more recent history there has been no Lord Proprietor, but the tradition of land being purchased by, and rules established by, folks from distant lands has been maintained. One of the fallouts from the brush with International Scandal on this Island has been the development of land along the coast for wealthier individuals – particularly from the United States. There are some beautiful homes out there. They all fall under the umbrella of a Home Owners Association. This is not something we see often in Canada – we do see Strata Councils in Condominium developments. Subdivisions ruled by HOAs are rare.
One of the homes on the cliff overlooked an active weir and, as usual, much of the fishing was done at night. The homeowner felt that this was an invasion of his privacy so he mounted floodlights on the outside of his home and would turn them on to disturb the herring. The Owens could have told him not to be surprised that on one dark night somebody on the water accidentally shot out those lights.
I was visiting one of those homes a couple of years ago and, standing in the two story foyer, looked up at the woodwork under the 2nd floor banister and asked “Are those bullet holes?”. I was told it was just the result of kids messing around on the road. Coincidentally, this took place when the HOA had issued a decree that one of the coves on their side of the Island was for the use of its members only. That particular idea was dropped.
I’m not saying Campobello is analogous to the American Wild West. I am saying that my research so far indicates that the people who call it home are hard working independent thinkers (what’s celsius?), occasionally short-tempered, inclined to listen to what they consider complete shite and just nod while ignoring anything they don’t like, and quite capable of making their feelings known when necessary.
My deep dives into Census data show the same family names I meet everyday were living on this Island more than 250 years ago. They have history and tradition bred into them and, like Robert Wilson and his descendants, they aren’t going to back down. It’s no wonder it sometimes feels like a place on a different world.
They tell me I fit in. I’ve decided to take that as a compliment. 🙂