The theme this week is “A fresh start”. Many of my ancestors started over, but Ben Darby is one who started over several times.
Benjamin Darby, my 4th great-grandfather is said to have been born in Devon in 1744. Family lore says that he came over as a young soldier (age 16 or so) during the 7 years war (1754-1763). That would have made him 10-19 years old. Supposedly, he landed in Rhode Island with the army and marched to Montreal. During the Revolutionary War he served as scout in Roger’s Rangers and was “carrying dispatches from General Howe to Sir Guy Carleton, from New York to Montreal.”
Another story states that Mrs. Darby was routed from her bed, after giving birth, as Washington’s soldiers marched on Newburgh, NY, where they lived. She and the baby supposedly died en route to Saint John and were buried at sea.
The problem with all this “Family Lore” and compiled information is that I can’t prove it…any of it.
It is definitely true that Ben was a Loyalist (received land in Canada for being loyal) but no one seems to have found him on a pay list or muster roll for Roger’s Rangers, and I have looked.
So what do I really know about Ben and his family?
I have found Ben in a number of records in and around Newburgh, He signed a pledge “of Association” for the committee of safety in 1775, and a pledge “of non-importation” in 1776. He was jailed for being a “Tory” in 1777. He worked on board the sloop “Return” for Captain C/Golden. He obtained permission for his wife, Lois, his two daughters Mary and Elizabeth and his son, Daniel, age 2, to sail on the same sloop to New York City in November of 1779. He was evacuated from NYC on “the Spring Fleet” in 1783, sailing to Saint John, New Brunswick. In 1785 his property in Newburgh was confiscated.
Concerning the information about Ben’s wife and child dying en route to PEI, I am fairly sure this is not true. I found Ben and family in a list in Early Loyalist Saint John, by D.G. Bell. Benjamin is recorded as being on the “Spring Fleet”. Bell says,”Not all civilians arriving at Saint John, either in public transports or in private vessels, were attached to one of the numbered companies [civilian militia companies]. The major exception was the Spring Fleet of May 1783, which came before the Militia Company system was adopted by the Bay of Fundy Adventurers.” Bell records a comparison of the family make-up leaving NYC, arriving in Saint John and the following spring. Benjamin’s family unit while at New York and on arrival at Saint John seems to have been consistent: one adult male, one adult female, two children ten and over, and three children under ten. There is no record of the family the following spring but he went directly to Grimross on arrival and wasn’t in the Saint John area. Family lore has said that Benjamin’s wife and infant daughter died en route to Saint John. It seems that is not the case. Is it possible that they may have died earlier, and Benjamin quickly remarried at New York? This would explain not finding any trace of his marriage to the “Widow Bremble” in New Brunswick or on Prince Edward Island. It would also explain the five children he came to Saint John with. We know that he came with Elizabeth, (born c1773) and Mary (born 2 Apr 1774) and that Sarah Bremble came with three daughters, Mary, Ann and Frances. This makes a family of husband, wife and five children!
They spent a year at Grimross (now Gagetown, New Brunswick) and along with several other settlers petitioned the Governor to complain about the land they received. The Saint John River is notorious for flooding and if he lived near the river he would have learned after only one season that this wasn’t the best location. He moved to Green’s Shore (now Summerside) the following year and settled there, finding the conditions much more to his liking.
Once settled on Prince Edward Island, Benjamin and his second wife Sarah settled down and raised 9 More children. He was a member of the legislature, and it was noted that he was often late. Ben died there on 3 March 1844. This is likely the only fact about Ben that I can say I have definite primary source documentation. Ben’s son-in-law Robert Ellis (my 3rd g-grandfather) note in his day book, “Old Mr. Benm. Darby died this morning Sunday 5 o’clock aged 99 years 9 months”.
I am still working on the challenges of proving the family lore and the sometimes bigger challenge of spreading the information that I have found.
(Sources available on request)