TALES OF THE SOUTH SHORE
A bit of local History of Emerald Isle
by Gilbert Nickerson
Away back in 1700 the exact date is not known-a lad was born in the town of North Shields, England, and named John Stoddart. When old enough, he, like many another English lad, took to the sea; and finally found himself on board a man-of-war, where, after a few years of service, he attained the rank of boatswain. At the time of the American revolution, and the English loyalists were leaving what is now the New England States, and coming to Shelburne, Nova Scotia, John Stoddart was boatswain on one of the ships. It is not known at what time he married, or where his wife belonged. Her name was Nanoy; and she had been on the ship three years. But she was landed in Shelburne, and she stayed there for a time. John Stoddart sailed on the ship for another voyage; and when the ship returned to Shelburne, he gathered up a few of his clothes, (a pair of his white luck pants is in the possession of his great grandson, Mr. Henry Stoddart, of Bear Point), strapped them on his back, slipped down over the bow of the ship, deserting her and swimming ashore, joined his wife.
After the ship sailed, John Stoddart obtained a boat and came up to Cape Negro Island, and stayed there a year. During that year, his eldest son, John, was born. They did not care to live on this island, and so moved up to Barrington Passage, to Sherose Island, where his second son, George, was born, in 1791. From Sherose Island, he moved up to Shag Harbor, and settled on an island, which Dr. Edwin.Crowell, in his Barrington History, says was called Hope Island; but I think the doctor was wrong in that statement, as the early map of Nova Scotia, which used to hang on the walls of the old schoolhouse of sixty years ago, at Shag Harbor, gave that name of Hope Island to the island, which is known today as Bon Portage. But after John Stoddart settled on this island, it was always called after him, “Stoddart’s Island,” until it came into the possession of Mr. Michael Wrayton, when it became locally known as “Wrayton’s Island;” but on charts and in government circles it is still known as Stoddart’s Island,”. Tradition has it that the island was granted to John Stoddart, for his services on the man-of-war; but as he was a deserter, that tradition cannot be correct.
John Stoddart made his homestead on the harbor side of the island, probably on the site where the present owner Capt. Larkin’s house is now situated. At that time fishing was the main industry, and the fishing was good. When young John came of age, and thought he would like to have a home of his own, he took unto himself, for wife, a young lady by the name of Miss Rhoda Lonsdale, of Wood’s Harbor. He chose for his home site the top of the hill to the east of his father’s home. Once, in later years, when on board an American vessel in the harbor, after a social glass had been passed around, and partaken of by him, he turned to the captain and crew, and as he was gifted in a small way for making rhymes, he said this, pointing up to his home on the hill: “There stands Stoddart’s castle, as you may plainly see; And the man, who invades it, defeated he shall be.”
Of the children of John Stoddart, Jr., there was only one son, Samuel Stoddart, who settled on the island; and his field and cellar are still to be seen down on the southeast point of the island. Another settler, by the name of Hughie Blades, lived further up on the eastern side of the island. The remains of his little wharf, his field and cellar can still be seen there today. Hughie’s wife was a daughter of John Stoddart, Jr., . George Stoddart, second son of John Stoddart, Sr., took unto himself for a wife a young lady by the name of Elizabeth Atkinson, of Cape Sable Island. And strange as it may seem, her father was a seaman on a man-of-war, having been born in Dorchester, England. He was a carpenter and also a captain of the maintop on his ship. He also deserted his ship in Shelburne, and came to Cape Sable Island and married a Miss Hannah Nickerson; and one of their daughters became the wife of George Stoddart, as already stated. George Stoddart must have lived with his father, as part of his house is in the present one standing there today, of his sons, three settled on the island. Robert, whose nickname was “Toot,” settled on the very southern end of the island, and that point has always borne the name of “Toot’s Point.” His cellar and field are still to be seen there, with the stone walls, which show that some hard labor was done in those early days.
Next, one of George’s sons was called john, and he married a Miss Margaret Sears, and he settled on the southern side of the island. There is a small cove near his homestead, which is still called “Jack’s Cove.” Another son of George Stoddart would be Isaac, and his wife was Miss Jane Crowell, of Shag Harbor. His homestead would be about where the house of Mr. Ashford Fox stands. He would be using water from the original well dug by Isaac Stoddart. When the people had settled around the island, a public road was granted to the settlers, and it was duly cut out from the landing at Stoddart’s wharf right down through the island. It was made a public road and was kept in such good order that it is easily passable today. After some years had passed, the question of wood began to appeal to them, and they began to cast longing eyes to the main, where there was an abundance of wood. So finally, like the Arabs, “they folded their tents and silently stole away,” and made new homes for themselves on the main.
In the early part of 1800 there was a boy born in the city of Dublin, whose name was Michael Wrayton. He grew up apace, went to the various schools and graduated with a good business education. He also possessed a good musical gift, and was a good violinist, a pianist and also a flute-player. As he attained to young manhood, the desire came to him to get out into the world, and go into a business career. So finally he gathered some merchandise and took passage in a ship for the city of St. John, N.B., intending to establish himself in business in that city. But the fates willed it otherwise, as the ship was wrecked in the vicinity of Stoney Island (Cape Sable Island). She proved to be a total wreck. This young Wrayton with a small pistol got up into the rigging, and kept popping away with it until he had exhausted all of his ammunition. When asked why he was doing that, he replied, “Sure and I am firing signals of distress.” -Hearing sounds out in the fog, which had enveloped the coast, at the time Of the wreck, boats put off from the shore to investigate. Soon after leaving the shore, they heard strains of music, from out of the fog. of the fog; and soon the ship’s boat, with the crew, came out of the fog, and, standing in the stern, was a young man playing a flute for all he was worth, which he claimed was also for distress signals. Young Wrayton saved about all of his goods, and opened ‘up a store about Barrington Passage and began business there. Finally he married a Miss Maria Cunningham, and located himself at Doctor’s cove, where his eldest son, Michael, was born. When the Stoddart families moved off from the island, Michael Wrayton thought that the prospects for making a living would be better at Shag Harbor than at Doctor’s Cove, so he made arrangements with the Stoddarts and bought the island from them. He finally moved up and took possession of it, and built a store, enlarged the wharf and went into business, ant-fitting fishermen and buying fish. About that time mackerel used to be plentiful inshore; and in the little cove to the eastward of the wharf occasional schools of mackerel used to show up there. Mr. Wrayton conceived that if a weir or trap were set there, he could make some good hauls of mackerel. His son told him that was the place to set a trap, and said that he should set it out further towards the point. He says, “Ah now sure, and at any rate; and when they are there, they are here; and when they are here they are there.” And the old gentleman set his trap in the little cove.
He interested himself in sheep-raising; and in the first memory of the writer, he was in the ice business, furnishing ice to the local and American fishermen, as there was plenty of herring bait in the summer season at that time…Mr. and Mrs. Wrayton had a large family, whose names, in the order of birth, were as follows:-Michael, Belle, George, Addie, Arthur, Sophie, Maggie, William, Aggie, Carrie and Lovell. The greater part, or maybe all, of the family, except Michael, would be born on the island. When the family had grown up, they began to marry and make homes for themselves. To go back to Mr. Wrayton again; One Saturday as one of our local fishermen was coming in the harbor, the old gentleman went down and hailed the vessel, “And have you any halibut today?”-The answer came back, “No halibut today.”-The old gentleman hailed, “And sure now, have you got any fins?”
A few years later an idea came to the old gentleman that he would name his island after the land of his birth. So one day he had a party of his friends from Barrington and Shag Harbor gathered on there, and they had a social time. A bottle was broken and the island was re-named “EMERALD ISLE;” and it is still called locally by that name…Finally, Mrs. Wrayton, who had been an invalid for some years, died; and that was a severe blow to the old gentleman. His daughter Sophie had married a William McDonnell, at Lower Argyle. One day the old gentleman, and his two youngest children, Carrie and Lovell, took passage on a schooner going to Argyle; and when to the west of Pubnico Point, the vessel suddenly began to fill with water and foundered; and as they had no boat with the vessel, they had no means of escape. The captain and young Lovell went to the bottom with her. The old gentleman and his daughter Carrie were picked up, but not in time to save their lives.
After his father’s death, William took charge of the island for a few years; and then Arthur, who in the meantime had taken the position of light-keeper at the Bon Portage light station, thought that he could look after the old homestead better than William; so he made an exchange with him, and William went to Bon Portage, and Arthur came back to the old homestead, and took charge of affairs there. Some years later, while on a visit to the mainland, and on returning in the evening, a strong southwesterly fog breeze was blowing; and despite entreaties not to attempt to cross to the island, he left for his home in a boat too small to venture out in the gale of wind that was blowing. Next morning his body was found on the shore, with his little boat overturned.
After Arthur’s death, the island was sold, and came into the hands of Capt. Ephraim Larkin, who had the old house re-built and re-modeled. Some years later, he divided the island with his grandson, Ashford Fox, and the two families are living there today. Emerald Isle had its scenes of gaiety and pleasure; also its times of sorrow and sadness; its comedies and its tragedies, and the end is not yet.
Taken from Sharing History in Shag Harbour by Trudy D. Atkinson