The Loyalist and Irish Immigration
By the mid 1700's the Province of New Brunswick was not heavily populated, indeed there were only a few hundred families living in Albert County, but that would change during the early 1800's with the arrival of the Loyalist and Irish settlers. When the American Revolutionary War between Great Britain and its Thirteen American Colonies began in 1775, the settlers of the Colonies had a choice to make. Should they remain loyal to the British Empire or join in the struggle for independence? Many who chose to remain loyal to the British would pay a heavy price in years to come for choosing the losing side. The families of men who fought for the British, and those families who sympathized with the British were often attacked, their property seized, and their homes burned. To escape from these dangers most fled to New York where they were protected by the British Army. Following the surrender of General Cornwallis in 1781 many families decided to start a new life in other parts of the British Empire rather than risk further retaliations upon returning home. Most of these ‘Loyalist' refugees would settle in Canada. The majority of the Loyalist settlers who came to New Brunswick decided to settle in the Saint John and Fredericton area. Even though only about twenty families settled in Albert County, the Loyalists who settled here and in other parts of the Province would have a profound affect of the lives of the people of Albert County. The two main reasons why few loyalists settled in Albert County were because the loyalist families wanted to establish new communities with the people they already had close ties with from America, and because the good farm lands around Albert and Westmorland Counties had already been granted. The new settlers soon began to demand a greater say in the political affairs of the area. It was thanks to these demands that the lands north of the Bay of Fundy, including Albert County, became the new Province of New Brunswick in 1784. New Brunswick was named in honour of one of the ruling families in England, the House of Brunswick.
The next major immigration to Albert County was by the Irish in the early 1800's. The Napoleonic Wars from 1803 to 1815 had cut Britain off from its timber supplies in the Baltics. Britain was then forced to turn to British North America to fill its timber demands. Another problem Britain faced was that after raids into Canada during the American Revolution by American rebels, like the men involved in the Eddy Rebellion, Britain found it increasingly difficult to defend the colony from attack. The problem of defending Canada continued during the War of 1812 when British North America almost became part of the United States. In order to solve these problems Britain encouraged settlement of British North America so that the colony would have enough people to defend itself from attack and also so the colony would have enough people to begin to build an economy that could produce the goods Britain needed, including timber. During the early 1800's Britain began to offer free land in Canada to encourage settlement by immigrants from Ireland, Scotland, and England. Many families, particularly those from Ireland, jumped at the chance for a better life in Canada. Most of the families who immigrated to Canada from the British Isles were poor farming families who did not own the land they lived on but paid rent to landlords. Most families barely grew enough crops to eat and pay the rent. Even if they had been successful there were harsh laws in place to prevent ordinary people from owning sufficient amounts of land to maintain even small farms. Many families were forced to leave their land because the land owners found that there were more profits in raising sheep on the land than in collecting rent from the farmers. The economy of the British Isles during this period was stagnant so there were few opportunities to make a better life in that area, many middle class families who were earning a decent living also decided to come to Canada in search of more opportunities. Thus a great migration of people from the old world to the new world began in the early 1800's. Each year ships loaded with timber would set sail for Britain and return with new settlers. The population of Albert County grew from 740 people in 1803 to around 4,000 people in 1834.
Edward O'Donnell was one of the first Irish settlers to set out from Saint John, where most of the Irish immigrants to New Brunswick had arrived from Ireland, in search of a good piece of land to settle on. He left Saint John and traveled east towards Albert County on a small horse trail through the woods. When he did not return a search party went looking for him and found him along the trail clearing land and building a cabin. By 1815 this horse trail was being cleared and turned into a stage coach road to link Saint John to the village of Albert. Soon the mail was traveling regularly along this road and business began to use the road to transport goods to market. However, the road known as the Shepody or Immigrant road was primarily used to link the settlements in the more remote parts of Albert County with Saint John or Albert.
Since most of the rich farmlands close to the Bay of Fundy and Petitcodiac river had already been settled or granted to earlier settlers, most of the families who came here from the British Isles chose to settle in the wooded hills and valleys of the County in places like Elgin and Caledonia Mountain. Others chose to build houses along the Shepody Road. One of the settlements along the Shepody Road, New Ireland, would become the site of a famous Murder in the early 1900's. The immigration which began during the period around 1813 would continue during the late 1840's when the Irish potato famine would bring a new wave of settlers to the Province from Ireland. The Loyalist, Irish, Scottish, and English settlers who arrived in the Province would start business and change the economy of the Province from an agricultural based economy into an export economy. Settlers began to focus more on producing goods for sale to new settlers in North America and to other parts of the British Empire, rather than growing crops. By the late 1800's Albert County became an important shipbuilding and lumbering center in New Brunswick.