Guysborough Township

Port Mouton, Queens County, Nova Scotia

In 1783 and 1784, a township was laid out along the north shore of Port Mouton Bay by British officials. It was immediately after the end of the Revolutionary War, and 20,000 people would come from the former colonies to Nova Scotia. Over half of those would find themselves at the new town of Shel burne, located approximately 50 kilometers south along the coast from Port Mouton. The new Guysborough Township was therefore created in order to accommodate some of the Loyalist refugees from the American Colonies.

Right: The south wall of a cellar can be seen in the woods in the old Guysborough Town Plot.

The Guysborough Township was situated immediately west of the Liverpool Township that had been established 14 years earlier and settled by Planters from New England. The Guysborough Township was 5.8 kilometres in width and ran seventeen kilometres back from the shore of Port Mouton Bay. A town plot was laid out along the western shore of Jones Cove, consisting of 12 blocks separated by roadways, with common land located uphill, behind the plot. Fish lots were laid out between the town plot and the cove, and sea lots were laid out on adjacent shores. In addition, 100-acre wood lots were drawn in the inland areas around the great river of Port Mouton, now called Broad River. Thomas Raddall's 1947 paper, published by the Nova Scotia Historical Society, is the best source of archival research on the Guysborough Township. Raddall tells us that the first of the Loyalists to arrive in Port Mouton were 125 men of the British Legion, along with 175 women and children. Simeon Perkins, in his journal, puts the date on which the "English Legion" landed at "Port Mutton" as October 10, 1783.

Tarleton's Legion

The British Legion, commonly known as 'Tarleton's Legion', were arguably the most despised British troops in the Revolutionary War. Their leader, Lt. Col. Banastre Tarleton, was dubbed "Bloody Ban" by the Americans in the southern colonies. While the name of the Legion is still known in Queens County, the reputation and phenomenal history of this group is largely forgotten. Ironically, it is the descendants of the people who despised the Legion that are keeping their memory alive. The Mel Gibson movie "The Patriot" features a British commander based on Tarleton, and a legion of dragoons (cavalry) that are based on Tarleton's Legion. Read more about the Legion, their exploits and their leader on our Tarleton's Legion page.

On October 17, 1783 - just a week after the Legion landed at Port Mouton - HMS Sophie came into the harbour with 70 African American Loyalists. The crew of the Sophie told the Legion people that another 700 people would be coming from the British Commissary-General's base in New York (where Loyalists had gathered for evacuation). Radall believed that over 2000 additional people - the entire New York Base staff - arrived in Port Mouton through the rest of October and November.

Through that winter, as many as 2500 people struggled to survive on the rocky shore of Port Mouton Bay. Many ships had brought supplies and dissembled dwellings, and other dwellings were constructed from local sources. In Liverpool, Simeon Perkins waited until January, when he received a written contract with the British government, to send any lumber to Port Mouton as he had been requested to do. Many people died of exposure and disease that winter, and are presumably buried in the small cemetery that can be seen there today.

In May of the following year (only six months after their arrival) many people left Port Mouton in search of greener pastures (Port Mouton, like most of the Atlantic coast of Nova Scotia, is very rocky). Apparently, most of these people were the New York base personnel, who went on to found the towns of St. Stephen, New Brunswick and Guysborough, Nova Scotia.

Right: Remains of a stone wall in the woods. The wall may date to 1783.

At this point, the history is a little hazy. Around the same time as these people were laving in the spring of 1784, a fire apparently swept through the Guysborough Township, destroying almost all of the dwellings and contents. Local tradition has it that two dwellings survived the fire, although these are likely houses that were constructed soon after the fire. In any case, the sight of the rocky sub-soil and barren landscape likely convinced many to leave the area entirely, while others relocated to nearby shores.

We know that a significant number of the Tarleton's Legion people stayed, because the names and stories live on today. Oral tradition tells us that the town plot may have consisted of up to 300 buildings prior to the fire, and that 800 people wintered in the settlement.


Left: The 'Haystack Road' may have been built by Loyalists in 1783.


The Mersey Heritage Society threw some light on this interesting history in the survey of the visible archaeological remains that it carried out between 2001 and 2003. See "Guysborough Archaeology" for more information. The final installment of this work will be carried out in 2004: the creation of a digital map of the features using GPS technology. This map will help to make sense of the configuration and layout of the features, and provide information about the general layout of the town plot.

Contact us at if you would like more information.

See what we discovered during our 2001 to 2003 archaeological survey: Guysborough Archaeology

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© 2004 Mersey Heritage Society