Gowen: Scotland to Nova Scotia

When teen-aged William Gowen left Scotland aboard the Unity as one of about 150 prisoners of war following defeat by Cromwell’s forces in the Battle of Dunbar, we can barely imagine what he was thinking about the New World across the Atlantic. Would he survive the voyage? Would he return home after his seven years of forced indenture? What kind of future lie ahead?

The English government was certain of one thing: it did not want these defeated Scots, especially the highlanders, to remain in their homeland. New England and other destinations like it were carefully chosen:

On 3 Sep 1650, the English defeated the Scots at the Battle of Dunbar. There were 4000 dead, 10,000 captured, and 4000 more escaped. After being captured, they were marched from Durham to Newcastle. They were given very little to eat. Between the march and lack of food, many died along the way. Disease was rampant. Some men were shot because they either could not or would not march. When they reached their destination, they happened upon a field of cabbage. They ate all of it, which of course made them even sicker than they already were.

The surviving Scots presented the English with a problem. Holding such a large number of prisoners could be costly. However, letting them go could prove to be very dangerous. One week after the battle, the Council of State, which was England’s governing body, decided to turn the problem over to the committee and informed Sir Arthur Hasenlrigge, that he could [dispose] of as many of the Scots as he felt proper to work in the coal mines.

With that authority Hasslrigge sent forty men to work as indenture[d] servants at the salt works at Shields. He then sold another forty men as general laborers and set up a trade of Linen Cloth, twelve prisoners became weavers. While this was going on, the Council had received several petitions from persons, who wished to transport the Scots overseas. On September 16th, the secretary, Gualter Frost, was ordered to confer with the petitioners, to terms under which they would undertake the project. John Becx and Joshua Foote conferred with their partners, the Undertakers of the Iron Works [at Lynn (Saugus), Massachusetts Bay Colony]. Three days later, Hasseltigge was directed to deliver 150 prisoners to New England, with conditions that these men were well and sound and free of wounds because Hasslrigge, was concerned that these men were all infected. They were sent to London by water.

It was not until November 11th that clearance was granted for the Unity to sail. The ship arrived at Boston in December, after what was likely an unpleasant voyage.

It appears William completed his seven years of servitude at the mills in Berwick, Maine.

William, by the way, is found in some records as William Smith or William Gowen alias Smith. This, however, is a bit misleading as Gowan means a smith and, by trade, William was a carpenter.

In May 1667, in Kittery, Maine, William married Elizabeth Frost. She was daughter of Nicholas Frost and Bertha Cadwalla who came in 1634 to New England from Tiverton, Devonshire.

In July 1650, when Elizabeth was barely ten years old, her mother and sister Anna were captured by Indians and taken to their camp at the mouth of Sturgeon Creek. Her father, Captain Nicholas Frost, and brother Charles unsuccessfully attempted to rescue them. The following day they found the bodies of her mother and sister in the abandoned camp. [1]

William Gowen prospered, as did many of the Scot POWs. He and fellow countrymen Peter Grant, William Furbish, John Bray, and Alexander (Sander) Cooper all had grants of land in Kittery. Between 1669 and 1671, William had accumulated 200 acres.

His time on the battlefield in Scotland, hard work at the saw mills, and the harsh life of the wilderness in Maine took their toll. William died in Berwick on April 2, 1686, when he was probably less than fifty years of age. [1]

His son Nicholas had two grants of land in Kittery, in 1694 and 1703, which totaled eighty acres. He was an Indian scout in his younger days and among those ordered to have garrisons or ensure that their houses were defensible. In the latter year, Nicholas, obviously named after his grandfather Frost, was admitted to practice as an attorney at the York County court and was a representative to the General Court in 1709. [GDMNH:279]

Nicholas and his wife, Abigail Hodsdon, were the parents of nine children. Their five daughters married and raised their families locally, as did three of their four sons.

Capt. James Gowen, however, joined the fight in the French & Indian War at Lake George. It had been ongoing for nine years in what was described as a “see-saw battle”. The “British commanders were desperate to drive the French out of upper New York.” [2]

James Gowen, at age 43, had seen militia duty for several years, but this was the first time his company had been involved in an amphibious landing against a strongly fortified position. His troops were farmers, shopkeepers and mechanics and were struggling to keep their boat in formation. Strung out across the lake in disorganized confusion was the flotilla composed of 900 bateaux, 135 whale boats and 16 barges bearing the artillery.

This spectacle is all the more interesting as Lake George is landlocked with the nearest large water body at Lake Champlain and waterway the Connecticut River–neither of which connected with Lake George–plus mountainous Vermont as a barrier. A look at any aerial map will show that there is no direct waterway connecting to it. The “flotilla” literally had to be carried overland great distances along ancient Indian paths to reach the lake. (The idea of whale boats being on the lake is nearly unbelievable. How did the military leaders get them there?)

Capt. Gowen later commanded a company at Crown Point, New York, which is on Lake Champlain. His nephews, Corp. David Gowen and Pvt. Samuel Gowen, served under his command. Samuel reportedly was killed in battle. Capt. Gowen returned home briefly but, with his troops, joined the Battle of Quebec under Major-General James Wolfe, who was fatally wounded. By 1762, Capt. Gowen and other war veterans signed a petition asking for land grants at “Mt. Deseret, Massachusetts Bay Colony”. He was soon back in Canada, however, on “occupation duty” in Quebec City. [2]

Meanwhile, his older brother Patrick and wife, Miriam (Shackley), and their teenage son, Moses, made plans to leave Maine. Few of Patrick’s thirteen children reached adulthood or established families.

It is believed that they traveled to Nova Scotia together in spring 1762 and helped settle the permanent non-French settlement at Yarmouth.

Although it might be assumed that they were part of a group of colonists, they were not. In fact, the first “thirteen”, as they are called, do not appear to have been related in any way other than perhaps familiarity with the area based on long-term fishing practice. Even then, the area was unsettled and unfriendly enough that after fishing season passed, the hardy New England fishermen returned to a less-harsh winter in Massachusetts.

A history of early Yarmouth County, Nova Scotia informs:

Patrick Gowen of Kittery, Maine, settled in this area in the spring of 1762, followed later in the year by Seth Barnes, Cornelius Rogers and George Bridgeo. They built log homes among the trees near the shore line. Patrick Gowen was a land surveyor, the first in the County of Yarmouth. He died in March, 1776, and was buried on his own property, for many years known as Gowen’s Point. … [On] April 7th, 1767, those in this community receiving grants of land included Patrick Gowen, George Bridgeo, Cornelius Rogers, William Curtis, John Symonds and Lemuel Churchill.

A list of settlers in Yarmouth was compiled in 1763. It shows the name of the settlers, the number in their family, the number and type of livestock they had, and how many acres of land.

Patrick Gowen and Moses Gowen appear on the list. There were three persons in Patrick’s family and only the one, Moses, in his. Patrick had six cattle, six sheep, and four acres of land. Moses had one acre of land and no livestock.

Another list included the dates of arrival, names of the settlers, where they came from, and where they settled.

It confirms that Patrick Gowen came in 1762 from “Skatawa River” [Piscataqua River] and settled on Gowen’s Point, Chebogue. He was the only settler from that area or, in fact, from anywhere in Maine or New Hampshire.

The first census returns for Yarmouth County were in 1773. It includes Patrick Gowen as 1 man total.

Perhaps because of the remoteness of this new foreign land Patrick Gowen died in Nova Scotia, on March 5, 1776. He and his wife, Miriam, are buried on their own land, in the Gowen Family Burial Ground on Chebogue Point, Yarmouth.

Why did Patrick and his wife and son make this move? One reason, perhaps, is that his brother, Capt. James Gowen, received the bulk of his father’s farm. James was also a war hero, destined for bigger and better things. Even while he was at war in New York and Canada, James found time to take care of political and business matters back home.

And maybe, just maybe, Patrick was like so many other early settlers, he may have developed itchy feet to move on to something different, challenging, and new. He chose his destiny, unlike his grandfather, the young Scot POW William Gowen, who had had so little say in his.

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