Archaeological Excavation at the Loyalist Site, Bliss Islands, Quoddy Region, New Brunswick

David W. Black

During the summer of 1992, I directed the excavation of part of a remarkably undisturbed, single-component Loyalist occupation, dating A.D. 1783–1803, on the Bliss Islands, Quoddy Region, New Brunswick. The field crew consisted of 12 UNB archaeological fieldschool students, who worked under the supervision of Chris Blair, Susan Blair and Sam Gallagher. This excavation formed part of the third phase of the Bliss Islands Archaeology Project.

The Loyalist site (BgDr66), on the shore of Lighthouse Cove, is believed to represent the homestead of Samuel Bliss, for whom the islands are named. I recorded it as an archaeological site during my first fieldwork on the islands in 1983. The Loyalist site is located at the western end of the central island, which is the only part of the islands with agricultural potential. Here, a glacial deposit covers much of the bedrock, producing patches of arable soil and the clearest, most dependable freshwater source on the islands.

Our test excavations showed that the area with the densest concentration of domestic refuse is to the west of the cellar hole marking the location of the house built on the site. We laid out a grid of contiguous 1 m2 units to produce a cross-section of the main part of the site, extending from the top of a rock outcrop downslope to the level of the high-water line. In all, we excavated an area of 19 m2 to depths varying from 20 cm to 80 cm.

Samuel Bliss was born in 1750 at Concord, Massachusetts, the youngest son of a prominent Anglican clergyman. Samuel’s older brother, Daniel Bliss, held prominent political and social positions in Massachusetts, and, eventually, held similar positions in the first Loyalist government of New Brunswick. Both brothers were officially banished from Massachusetts during the American Revolution.

During the war, Samuel Bliss accepted a commission as lieutenant in the 84th Regiment of the Royal Highland Fusiliers, and served as recruiter and paymaster among other duties. The 84th Regiment was disbanded in October, 1783, with many members receiving land grants in Hants County, Nova Scotia. However, Samuel Bliss and some others received grants on the lower Magaguadavic River and the Letang Peninsula in what is now Charlotte County, New Brunswick.

Apparently, Bliss had decided to live on what became known as the Bliss Islands even before demobilization, because, from July 1783 to March 1784, he and some companions from the regiment built a house on the islands. In 1784, Bliss gave up most of his grants on the mainland in order to be officially granted the Bliss Islands. Historical records indicate that he lived there, with his family, from 1784 until his death in 1803.

Apparently, the house was abandoned after his death and allowed to collapse. The area was never re-occupied. The result is the Loyalist site, which preserves evidence from a narrow slice of early Loyalist life in coastal Charlotte County.

During our excavation, we recovered thousands of pieces of ceramic, glass, metal and stone artifacts, construction materials such as bricks and mortar, and an extensive assemblage of food remains in the form of animal bones and shells. Analyses of this material are being conducted at the Archaeology Lab, Department of Anthropology, UNB.

References:

Black, D.W., and C.R. Blair 2000. Faunal Remains from the Loyalist Occupation of the Bliss Islands, New Brunswick. In T.M. Friesen (ed.), Studies in Canadian Zooarchaeology: Papers in Honour of Howard G. Savage. Ontario Archaeology 69:39–54.

Balir, C.R. 3013 Looking for Bliss: An Early Loyalist Family in Passamaquoddy Bay. In P. Erickson and J. Fowler (eds.), Underground New Brunswick, Stories of Archaeology, pp. 107116. Halifax: Nimbus Publishing.


Bliss Islands photo 1

Figure 1: The location of the Loyalist site (BgDr66) on the shore of Lighthouse Cove, Bliss Islands.


Bliss Islands photo 2

Figure 2: Fieldschool students excavating in the area immediately west of the cellar hole; the rocks probably represent debris from the collapse of the house walls.


Bliss Islands photo 3

Figure 3: Chris Blair excavating; as shown here, all excavation was conducted using hand tools, such as trowels, brushes and dustpans.


Bliss Islands photo 4

Figure 4: Sam Gallagher (left) and fieldschool students screening on a foggy day; all excavated soil was screened through 6 mm steel mesh.


Loyalist

Figure 5: Susan Blair (second from left) and students with the Loyalist shell-bearing deposit.


Bliss Islands photo 6

Figure 6: Tin-glazed earthenware (“delftware”) ceramic sherds in situ; this is the earliest of several types of ceramics found at the Loyalist site.


Bliss Islands photo 7

Figure 7: Animal bones—in this case, butchered bones from the forelimb of a domestic cattle beast—are common in the site.