The Benjamin Marston Diary Project

Benjamin Marston (b. 22 Sept. 1730, Salem, Mass., d. 10 Aug. 1792, Bolama, Guinea-Bissau) was a prosperous and respected Harvard graduate whose peaceful and comfortable life was torn asunder by the turmoil of the American Revolution. A declared Loyalist, Marston quickly lost his wealth, position and family, and spent the remaining 17 years of his life struggling to survive.

In 1776 Marston arrived at Halifax, Nova Scotia, where he began a new life as a merchant and seaman, mainly in the West Indian trade. In Dec. 1781, on a voyage from Annapolis Royal to Halifax, his ship was blown off course and trapped in ice near Cape Canso. It was almost 2 months before Marston reached Halifax. There he lived in poverty until April 1783, when he was appointed surveyor of the new Loyalist settlement of Port Roseway (Shelburne). After 15 difficult months in this position, Marston was appointed by the Surveyor General of the King's woods in North America, John Wentworth, to be his deputy in New Brunswick. In Dec. 1784 he moved to Parrtown (Saint John), where he shared a house with Ward Chipman. Appointed Sheriff of Northumberland County, Marston travelled to the Miramichi River in June 1785. There he surveyed the woods, worked as a Deputy-Surveyor of crown lands, operated a mill, and traded with the local aboriginal Peoples and settlers.

In 1787 Marston went to London to press his claim as a Loyalist for compensation from the British government. After living in poverty for over 4 years, he was finally awarded 105 pounds, less than one quarter of his claim and sufficient only to pay his debts. In 1792 he accepted a position as surveyor for a private company intending to settle the West African island of Bolana. Most of the colonists, including Marston, died of fever shortly after arrival..

Benjamin Marston kept a diary from 1776 to 1787 which is an invaluable source for the history of the Revolutionary War and Loyalist period, and especially for the history of the early development of Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. It offers a vivid description of life and politics of the time, including Marston's dealings with such notable figures as Edward Winslow and Ward Chipman.

The Diary

Image on the leftBenjamin Marston's diary is housed at the University of New Brunswick Archives, Fredericton, New Brunswick. It consists of three volumes, covering most of the years 1776 - 1787 . The diary is part of the larger Winslow Papers, a collection of papers and documents begun by the Winslow family of Plymouth Massachusetts. Edward Winslow (1746-1815) was the cousin of Benjamin Marston and is referred to quite often in the diary. It was to Winslow that Marston left his diary, letters and personal items upon his death in 1787. The diary was apparently for some time in the possession of historian W.O.Raymond. It disappeared until 1935 when it was found in the ownership of one of Winslow's descendents in Victoria, British Columbia. From there it moved to the Provincial Museum in Saint John. In 1956 the Winslow Papers were transferred to the University Archives through the generosity of the late Lord Beaverbrook.