Murdoch, John

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Loggieville’s First Settler John Murdoch

Going to school in the fifties and sixties left me with a certain emptiness. In our study of geography we had to know the states of the American Union and their capitals of by heart. In addition we had to know about the population and industries of each state. As for Canada, it was sufficient to know the provinces and their capitals. If one also happened to know the two territories and their capitals and maybe the prime minister and governor-general that was like gravy on the potatoes. History wasn’t much better. All the pioneers were American; Canada apparently had nothing.

But we did have pioneers and heroes. Settlers filled with adventure and hope left the security of their homeland for a new life in a new world. One such pioneer family is that of John Murdoch of Banfshire, Scotland whose family was the first to settle in Loggieville.

John Murdoch was a man of some wealth and considerable influence. He came to the New World in 1774 and settled in Island St. John (Now P. E. I.) where he remained for three years before coming to Miramichi in 1777.

The Miramichi was pretty rough territory in those early days. If it were not for the help of the friendly Micmac Indians, the settlers could not have survived. Murdoch family tradition recounts how the Indians would give salmon and deer meat to the settlers along with some supplies from their garden. As time went on the Indians showed the new settlers how to get their own salmon and deer and other game.

However, this friendship was not to last. Following the American Revolution of 1776 many Loyalists settled along the Miramichi, American privateers arrived with liquor and guns and turned the Indians against their former friends. Many people left but Murdoch persevered.


In March, 1780, Mr. Murdoch’s home was burned by the Indians. The “Innes Papers” prepared in the early 1800’s by two bachelors of the same name recorded the following: “The Indians once more renewed their oath of allegiance, became peaceable, more through fear than affection .....Mr. Murdoch with a young and helpless family, was stripped destitute of clothes and clothing, which the Indians had deprived thereof. The sheep being their only dependence was butchered by which they had for three years afterwards without any increase.”

Even without that problem, life was pretty difficult. Murdoch had to clear land, keep his animals, provide for his family. The marshland was extremely important since, until land could be cleared, it was the only source of hay for the animals. A formal statement in 1787 by John Wilson, one of his majesties justices of the peace for Northumberland County, gives a good indication of just how industrious Murdoch was: “...John Murdoch had possession of a piece of lot marsh at a place called Napping and began to cut it on July 28th 1777 and cut seven loads of hay and could find no more grass to cut... and by labour and clearing and improving it has brought it to such perfection that he can cut between thirty and forty loads yearly...”.

While the farm provided food and sustenance it was the fishery that provided much-needed cash for supplies. Murdoch was engaged in the salmon fishery. In 1788, the year in which Murdoch formally received his grant there was a serious problem with the fishery. Apparently some of the newer settlers were concentrating their efforts on taking salmon rather than homesteading. Catching Salmon was easier than clearing land-and much more profitable. Some of these people ran their nets from the shore as far into the river as was possible to drive a picket. A sort of posse under the direction of John Wilson Esq., one of his majesty’s justices of the peace for Northumberland County, was sent out to remove these nets. In the process they wrongfully removed, by force, the nets of Murdoch and others.

In July of 1788 a special law, “An Act for Regulating the Fisheries in the different Rivers, Coves and Creeks of this Province” was passed. It contained a section on the Miramichi River which outlined the fishing rights of Murdoch and others. In November of 1789 Murdoch had obtained letters of introduction and character from Alex Taylor J. P. And James Horton, J. P. Murdoch intended going to London to demand restitution for damage done to his nets and the two justices of the quorum supported his claim, The Murdochs have continued to fish from one generation to the next right down to the present day. They are probably one of the few families on the river who can trace their fishing rights in a direct line through several generations back over 200 years.

In these early years there were only a few hundred inhabitants on the Miramichi. Medical assistance was not to be found here. In September of 1794 Murdoch went to Island St. John (now P. E. I.) to get medical attention for cancer. He was unsuccessful and later the same year he went to Quebec for the same purpose, but to no avail. He died Jan. 11, 1797 at the age of 62 years. John Murdoch touched almost the entire river. His oldest daughter married John Malcolm and they were the first settlers at Nelson. Among the many familiar family names along the river that are connected to the Murdoch family Are: McLean, McKinnon, McDonald, Doyle, Fitzpatrick, Searle, Morris, Murphy, Taylor, Innes, Henderson, Kelly, Savoy, Harriman, Harper, Fraser, Gordon, Washburn, Anderson and many many more.

John Murdoch pioneer of Miramichi is buried at Burnt Church with a simple sandstone marker at his grave.

By Andrew Fraser


Source: Northumberland News – February 02, 1983

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