Shediac’s First English Woman Settler
By Lucy Hanington Anglin
Mary Darby was feeding the chickens in her father’s yard, when along came an oxcart carrying a handsome gentleman. To her amazement, he stopped the cart, dismounted, raised his hat in greeting and approached her for a chat. The story told is that young William Hanington (age 33 years) proposed to her on the spot and she (age 18 years) accepted just as quickly. After their marriage, she was taken across the Northumberland Strait from her father’s home in St. Eleanor’s, Isle St. Jean (now Summerside, PEI), in a canoe paddled by a couple of Indians, to her new home in Shediac, New Brunswick, where her English husband had settled seven years earlier in 1785.
Mary Darby was the daughter of Benjamin Darby, a Loyalist of Newbury, New York. Born in England in 1744, he emigrated to America in and settled in Newburg, 50 miles from New York City. He was imprisoned at one time for his Loyalist sympathies and suffered great hardships at the hands of the rebels. In 1783, hearing that Washington’s troups were marching on the town, he snatched his ailing wife from her sickbed and fled to New York with their five children. They embarked for Isle St. Jean at Long Island. Poor Mrs. Darby died on the voyage and was buried at sea. Mary Darby was only nine years old. Her father re-married and had another family.
Mary’s first home was the log house her husband William had built in 1787, just two years after his arrival from England. Although her first child died at birth, the next five of her twelve children were born in that log house. In 1804, he built a three-storey frame house for his wife and family. The house was all hand-wrought, the boards and beams were hewn by hand, the shingles were hand split, the trimming hand carved, split boards served as laths and the nails were all hand- made. Water was obtained from a deep well by means of a bucket attached to a long well-sweep or pole. Their son Daniel (my great great grandfather), born in 1804, was the first of the next seven children born in that frame house.
It’s hard to imagine but Mary was without female companionship for the first three years of her life in Shediac. It must have been such a relief when her sister Elizabeth and husband, John Welling, also came over from PEI in 1795 to settle in Shediac. John bought 200 acres of land from William for 20 pounds sterling (about $20 then). Once settled, Elizabeth and John also raised a large family of 12 children.
William died at the age of 79, in 1838, and Mary lived another 13 years without him. Her life must have been one of hardship and suffering and yet she lived to the age of 77 years. Amazing!