On our visit to the area in September 2017 Doug and Pierre asked if we wanted to see two old cemeteries in the area. They didn’t have to ask twice – and we made our way first to the Sims Field Pioneer Cemetery and then across the road to the Yankee Hill Cemetery. Two cemeteries on either side of what was a country road, one now hidden in an overgrown grove of trees. But why two cemeteries so close together? As so often happens here on the Island it was a dispute over land.
In the Island land lottery of 1767 Lot 21 was granted to the McLaine brothers and in 1773 Robert Clark, a London merchant and Quaker, had bought it with the hope of setting up a lumber and trading centre. The first settlers (according to Clark many of whom were repentant sinners seeking a new life) arrived on Clark’s ship the Elizabeth in 1774 and founded the settlement of Elizabethtown and the broader New London area. Though the brig was a sturdy vessel equipped to withstand the winter extremes the settlers were not. It is thought that perhaps Clark had painted a brighter picture than what they found and the existence of the Old Cemetery (Sims Field) in 1774 would suggest that many did not survive that first winter. And sadly the Elizabeth proved not quite as sea-worthy and sank the next year. The settlement was soon abandoned and very little trace was left other than the cemetery and a street name.
In 1809 Captain William Mackay bought 615 1/2 acres of land from the Clark family. The sale allowed community access, under the High Road Law, on the road to Malpeck (Princetown Road) that ran through his property to New London Bay. Mackay almost immediately began to annoy his neighbours by blocking the road denying them access to the Old Cemetery (Sims Field Pioneer Cemetery), their new chapel, the public ferry dock and shipping facilities at the harbour. MacKay proposed a road that skirted his property and would have proved totally impractical for wagons and carriages. The matter went as far as the Governor and a full report was made that strongly favoured the community and suggested that the barriers be removed. But Mackay had his revenge – his neighbours kept their right of way but were not allowed to enter his property to bury their dead at the Old Burial Ground.
In his report the Inspector of Highways J. B. Palmer does imply that some of the community’s animosity may have also stemmed from MacKay’s earlier refusal to donate land for the building of a chapel. It had fallen to John Cambridge, Clark’s land agent, to donate a plot on the crest of Yankee Hill for the construction of a small log chapel in 1810. It was to serve the staunchly Presbyterian residents of New London, Cavendish (!) and Park Corner as a place of worship for the next 25 years until Geddie Memorial was build in nearby Springbrook. In 1836 the chapel was abandoned and fell into disrepair and decay. There is only approximate knowledge of where it was located on the site.
I mentioned previously that the name Yankee Hill is attributed to the area being a home base for the American mackerel fishing boats that plied the rich waters of the Gulf of St Lawrence. Witnessing some of the destruction of Hurricane Dorian brought to mind one of the worst natural disasters in Island history: the Yankee Gale in October of 1851. For two days the winds buffeted and the seas swept over and sank some 120 vessels. It is estimated that as many as 250 sailors perished in the storm – many of them “Yankees”. Local people rescued the survivors and gathered the dead. All along the north shore of the Island, from Tignish to East Point local cemeteries became the final resting place for many of these sailors. It is thought that at least 25 American sailors were buried at Yankee Hill though their grave makers, possibly being simple wooden crosses, are amongst the 23 grave markers that have survived storms, been overtaken by nature and the elements, now most recently Hurricane Dorian.
Again this entry has turned out a little longer than I expected however in the next (and last, I promise) post I’ll share photos of those markers and a few anecdotes about the people they eulogize.
NB: Much of the historical information I have included comes from an article by Chester B. Stewart in the Island Magazine published by the PEI Museum and Heritage Foundation. Roadblock 1810 is a treasure trove of anecdotes and facts that paint a colourful picture of life in the early days of settlement here in PEI.
The word for July 11 is:
Gale /ɡāl/: [noun]
1.1 A very strong wind
1.2 A burst of sound, especially of laughter.
Mid 16th century: perhaps related to Old Norse galinn ‘mad, frantic’.
Interesting that the U. S. National Hurricane Centre gives the figures for “gale force winds” as being between 61 km/h; 17 m/s; 38 mph and 117 km/h; 32 m/s;72 mph. We’ve experienced a few of those over the past four years.