Loyalist Refuge

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By 1820, after the world’s first severe industrial depression, which followed the Napoleonic Wars, legal trade too flourished. And it was in the increasing finery of their new homes that the merchant princes of St. Andrews best expressed their civic sensibilities. The simple Georgian bloomed into the neoclassical town house. (Some architectural historians use the terms neoclassical and Federalist interchangeably, though the word Federalist, for obvious reasons, never gained currency in Canada.) Like its Georgian antecedent, the neoclassical house is gracefully proportioned, but it incorporates a profusion of classical motifs: ornately detailed pediments, pilasters, and columns, decorative gable windows, and an elaborate central entry. A fine example at St. Andrews is Chestnut Hall, home of the Ross Museum.

Chestnut Hall was built about 1810 by the son of the Boston Loyalist Col. Christopher Hatch, who, like Robert Pagan, had been proscribed as a traitor and banished from Massachusetts in 1778. Little changed over the years, the house was acquired in 1938 by the American philanthropists Henry Phipps Ross and Sarah Juliette Ross, his wife, whose father was an early chief at Dun & Bradstreet. The museum is furnished with the Rosses’ extensive collection of antique furniture and decorative arts, some from China but much of it the accomplished artistry of nineteenth-century New Brunswick cabinetmakers. Because the pieces are exhibited in the context of a private home, you can’t help feeling that you’re a privileged guest in another era.

 

In St. Andrews, staunch Loyalists were for the most part staunch Anglicans, since membership in the Church of England was required to obtain a royal land grant. The first minister to arrive, in 1786, was the Anglican clergyman Samuel Andrews, of Connecticut. (The town had been named not for Parson Andrews but for St. André by a seventeenth-century French Jesuit.) The original Anglican church, built in 1790 but now gone, served all congregations until 1818, when the Reverend John Cassilis, a Presbyterian minister from Scotland, decided to build his own kirk, as the Scottish church is called. The project soon ran out of funds, however, inviting the sectarian scorn of the Episcopalians. One evening at a dinner party a wealthy Scottish merchant, smuggler, and rumored privateer named Christopher Scott suffered a slur about the idleness of Presbyterian saints and resolved to finance the church himself. Thus St. Andrews acquired what many regard as its architectural centerpiece: the Greenock Presbyterian Church.

In the 1850s, after sixty years of furious economic activity, St. Andrews went bust.

The Greenock builders too were guided by the pattern books, notably Asher Benjamin’s popular New England builders’ series. Hence the church combines three traditions—New England, New Brunswick, and Scottish. Its crowning glory, plunging heavenward through the tree line, is its triumphant spire, modeled on a Christopher Wren steeple in Scotland.

 

Entering the church’s narrow double doors, you find two long galleries, left and right, supported by solid bird’seye maple pillars. The central pulpit rises to the level of the galleries and is clasped shut by gates, symbolizing the exclusion of worldly things. Look carefully. You’ll find not a nail or metal brace in the entire edifice; the craftsmen cut and carved each member lovingly, painstakingly, from prime Honduran mahogany and local bird’s-eye maple, locking them together, like hands in prayer, with invisible bonds. The silver communion chalices, the collection boxes, the pulpit Bible, and the box pews are all original.

A few blocks north and east, you’ll find the 1791 Loyalist Burying Ground, the final resting place of many town fathers, including Robert Pagan and Thomas Wyer, who in 1777 escaped a dunking in a Massachusetts tar barrel by traveling two hundred miles in an open boat to Nova Scotia. Angus McDonald, a cousin of Flora Macdonald, Jacobite heroine and accomplice of Bonnie Prince Charles, lies here too, as do a number of sailors “in harbor here below,” hapless women lost in childbirth, and young victims of those once inscrutable and intractable poxes and fevers of childhood.

The cemetery’s most dramatic inhabitant is Charles Briscoe, who died in 1830, a wraithlike figure who had wandered the town on a great white horse and hinted that the bluest of blood ran through his veins. He claimed, moreover, to have papers to prove it, which he had buried with him with the provision that they be disinterred fifty years after his death. The documents, after half a century in the damp Maritime soil, were illegible; nevertheless, an ivory miniature bearing the image of George IV was found. From this scant evidence, an artifact set in pearls and bound with a locket of hair, some believe Briscoe to be the natural son of the regent George and Mrs. Fitzherbert, a Roman Catholic, whom he married secretly in London in 1785. The marriage was officially declared childless.