History of the Townships of Dartmouth, Preston and Lawrencetown, Halifax County, Nova Scotia
by Mrs. Lawson (Mary Jane Katzmann Lawson)
Edited by Harry Piers
1. Mary Russell (pp. 125-130)
IT is to be regretted that there are but few private sources of information from which to gather the traditions and legends which belong to Dartmouth. The oldest inhabitants have all passed away, and the contemporary generation is more alive to the living interests of the present, than to the fading memories of the past. Preston has several stories belonging to the "days that are no more." These will be given in the history of that township.
Of all the simple, pathetic legends of the two townships, that which recounts the sad death of poor Mary Russell is one of the most deeply interesting. Its recital has moved many a sympathetic heart with those aching thoughts and memories, which such tales of a past time call forth.
Nathaniel Russell was among the American loyalists who came to Nova Scotia after the American Revolution. He obtained a piece of land,built a house, and settled in Dartmouth near the Cole Harbour Road in the close neighbourhood of Russell’s Lake. He was the father of Nathaniel Russell, whose son, Benjamin Russell, Esq., is professor of contracts and commercial law in the faculty of law connected with Dalhousie College, Halifax. The elder Nathaniel had two daughters. The fate of the eldest, Mary, was tragic and touching. She was engaged to a young Englishman named Thomas Bembridge—a morose, jealous and somewhat intemperate man. His love for the girl was very passionate, and he could not bear to see her walking with or even talking to any other man. Her father disapproved very much of these attentions to his daughter, and it was a long time before he would give his consent to their marriage. The importunity of both, however, at last won the day, but none of Mary’s family were ever pleased with the young man who had gained the heart of the gentle girl. It was not very long, before there were awakened in her mind doubts as to the wisdom of her choice. His temper was violent, and his conduct toward her tyrannical and unkind. Quarrels were the result of every meeting. At last she told him, that he was making her life so unhappy by his jealousy and ill temper, that everything between them must thenceforth be at an end. This rejection of his love only made him more passionate and vindictive. He dogged her when going out and coming in, until her fear of him was so great, she hardly ever left her father’s house unless under the protection of some friend. Often when intoxicated he forced himself into her presence, and his protestations were so vehement and his threats so violent that fear of him became the ruling passion of the poor girl s life.
One night there was a grand illumination in Halifax to celebrate a brilliant victory of arms over the French army. The Russell girls with the rest of their neighbours walked down to the ferry to watch the scene and enjoy the play of light on the harbour. They remained until rather late in the evening. On their return, Mary was joined by a young man who walked home with her. When talking over the events of the evening with her mother, after her escort had said good night, she expressed her pleasure that Bembridge had not molested her as was usual. He had gone to Halifax and was detained there by some business which caused him to miss the party he was looking for so eagerly. He heard from someone that they had gone home, coupled with the unfortunate remark that he had better look after Mary as she had walked home with another young fellow. His cruel jealousy was immediately aroused, and he at once determined on revenge. On his way to the Russells’ house, he called upon a neighbour and asked him to lend a knife which he said was wanted by one of the farmers to slaughter an animal in the morning. Secreting the knife under his coat, he lost no time in making his way to the Russells’. Mary had gone upstairs; the others were sitting round the fire as Bembridge came into the kitchen. "Where is Mary ?" he asked, "I must see her." Mr. Russell refused to call her, but Bembridge was so urgent, saying that he would only detain her a moment while he told her some news of great importance, that her father asked her to come and hear what he had to say while they were all present. The poor girl was much agitated and very unwilling to see him, but pursuaded by her father she came down. Bembridge begged her to go outside and speak with him alone. He was unable, however, to induce her to do so, and she told him he could say all he wished before her father and mother. Finding that entreaties would not move her, he came forward and said, "Let me whisper to you; you only must hear it." With these words he advanced, put his arm round her, and in an instant had plunged the knife into her heart. With a groan she fell to the floor, dead in a moment. He drew the knife from her breast and was about to use it on himself, when her father secured him before the wounds he had inflicted on his own person were fatal. He made no effort to escape, but said with intense satisfaction, "No one can have her now, I have put a stop to all that !"
He was taken to Halifax and imprisoned. Shortly afterwards he was tried and condemned to death, and on 18th October he was hanged. He never showed any penitence for the cruel deed, but died as he had lived, a hardened, unprin-cipled man, the victim of his own selfish, ungov-ernable temper.
Mary Russell was buried in Woodlawn Cemetery. There is no stone to mark where she sleeps, but her tragic death by the hand of her lover has always been a touching chapter in the annals of Dartmouth.
2. Margaret Floyer (pp. 130-144)
In 1793, St. Pierre was taken by the British, and a number of the inhabitants were brought to Halifax. Among them was the governor of the island, Monsieur Danseville. This gentleman was a loyal and devoted adherent of the royal house of Bourbon, and he therefore refused to return to his native land while it remained under the usurpation of Napoleon. Governor Wentworth transmitted a memorial from him to the Duke of Portland on 10th October, 1794, requesting certain rights and privileges during his residence in Nova Scotia. Wentworth remarks, "Monsieur Danseville behaves himself discreetly and professes to be a royalist." This gentleman afterwards went to the Old Preston Road and resided with a lady round whose memory there still lingers much of mystery and romance.
Many years previous to the arrival of the governor of St. Pierre, certainly as early as 1780, Lieutenant Floyer, said to be a gentleman in His Majesty's service but not in any regiment stationed in Nova Scotia, arrived at Halifax from England with a lady whom he introduced to the very few who saw her as his sister, Miss Floyer. He purchased a property near Allen’s tanyard on the Old Preston Road. There he built a pretty, com-fortable cottage, and lived for some time with the lady who was always known as his sister. She is described by those who remember her, as a refined, intellectual woman, with a sweet, sad face, gentle and winning address, very reticent and quiet, but exceedingly courteous to all who knew her. While Lieut. Floyer remained with her, they were constantly together, not seeking the acquaintance of anyone, and most uncom-municative to the few who had access to them. The tradition is vague as to the length of time he stayed in the township, but probably it was not longer than a year or two. When his departure was announced, it was said that he was going to join his regiment which had arrived at Jamaica. To the surprise of everyone, Miss Floyer did not accompany him. No reason was given for her remaining in Dartmouth; and if any questioned, no information was bestowed. Good servants were engaged to do the indoor and outdoor work of the cottage and garden, and Lieut. Floyer, as was generally believed, went to the West Indies. Curiosity and gossip were busy with the names of the mysterious pair. The lady lived on in extreme seclusion, looking more frail and sad than on her first arrival, but no word of complaint or loneliness was heard from her. She was very fond of quiet walks through the woods, as well as of books and flowers. Often was she met in the green lanes and shaded wood-lands about the village, with a book in her hand, frequently stooping to gather the sweet wild-flowers. All who saw her were attracted by her sad, patient eyes, and face so full of memories. Her little garden was her only recreation, and it well repaid her care by its borders of bloom. A few visited her. She always made them welcome, but rarely returned the calls unless she could bestow a kindness or be useful in illness. She was very fond of children and exceedingly kind to them. The little ones often went to see her, and she took great pleasure in their visits and always had for them a store of sweetmeats and toys. There are some still living who dimly remember the kind lady who always had some new pleasure in reserve for her little visitors.
When Monsieur Danseville decided to take up his quarters in Dartmouth, he was attracted to the little cottage by its refined appearance and garden of flowers. He called to enquire if he could be accommodated with lodgings. To the surprise of the neighbourhood, his request met with an affirmative answer. Miss Floyer willingly accepted him as an inmate of her home. He was a charming companion—polished and polite as French gentleman generally are, a man who had travelled and seen much of society and was acquainted with all the accomplishments of refined life, fond of books and fonder of flowers. Under his tasteful care, the cottage and garden became most charming. He had a wife and family in his own dear France. With his neighbours he was very genial and companionable, talked freely of his people and his home, and of all the change of fortune and position consequent upon the chances of war. A few still remember the courtly old gentleman with silver hair and charming manners, who made himself happy under adverse circum-stances, and like a true philosopher, took without stint all the pleasure which even exile offered to his easy, simple nature. He and Miss Floyer always appeared to be on terms of the most pleasant friendship, but none knew whether he had ever gained her confidence or learned the mystery of her story. Miss Floyer was always in easy circumstances. Remittances arrived punctually from England. Her wants were few, but she lived in comfort, almost in affluence, and her cottage was a pleasant, pretty home.
Governor Danseville fearing that it might be years before he could return to France, and also to fill his leisure time, induced Miss Floyer to consent to the building of a larger house on another part of her property. The result was a long, low, stone cottage with a flat roof, set in a sheltered situation and surrounded by forest trees. He spent a great deal of time and money in the ornamentation of the grounds. Walks were cut through the woods, a fish-pond was made near the house, and the immediate grounds filled with flowers. Before the cottage was quite finished, the one in which they had been living was destroyed by fire during their temporary absence from home. This fire occurred in the summer. They took possession of the new house before it was finished and personally supervised its completion. Soon it became even more bright and comfortable than their old home. The Governor’s good taste made the surroundings very charming. The low verandah was covered with roses and creepers, the lawn in front was green and smooth, and the grass-plot filled with flowers. In those early days, when cultivation of the roughest kind was all that could be accomplished in the vicinity of Dartmouth, "Brook-House", as the Governor’s residence was called, had the admiration of all who passed by.
There the two exiles lived in quiet companion-ship until 1814, when the glad news was brought to Halifax that the great Napoleon was a prisoner on the Island of Elba and that the Bourbons had once more come to their country and throne. Governor Danseville was overjoyed at the restora-tion of the royal family. His enthusiasm and excitement were unbounded. He at once dressed himself in his long-unused uniform, put on his hat with its white cockade, and walked up and down the road during the whole afternoon of one day, shouting "Vive la France !" He made preparations for his immediate departure, and in the first ship bound for the old world he took his passage from the land he had so long trodden. He parted from the gentle lady who had shared his exile, with every demonstration of friendship and regret, and he went back a free and happy man to the home and friends from whom he had been so long separated.
Miss Floyer’s lonely life was now more lonely still. She seldom left her house. The neighbours rarely saw her, and when they did, it was to discover that her health was failing under the continual strain of solitude and memory. Not long after the departure of Governor Danseville, she became ill with erysipelas in the face and head. She was so quiet and uncommunicative that even her servants were not aware of her serious illness until it was too late for help to avail. Going into her room one morning, they found her unconscious. Medical aid was procured, kind nursing and womanly sympathy gave their best, but in a few days, without any return of consciousness, she passed into the great unknown country. She died as she had lived, baffling curiosity, and her story remains a mystery until this day.
It was generally believed that the gentleman who accompanied her from England was her lover, not her brother; but why he never returned to her or what was his fate was never known. Others believed that she had brought disgrace upon herself and her family in England, that Lieut. Floyer was really her brother and that he had conveyed her to Nova Scotia to expiate her sin or her shame in this solitary exile.
Her death was announced to her family, through the agent by whom her money had been remitted, by Sir John Wentworth who was then living privately in Halifax. John Gould Floyer, repre-senting himself as the son and heir-at-law of Anthony Floyer of Retsby or Ketsby, Lincoln, who was the eldest brother of Margaret Floyer, spinster, late of Preston, gave Sir John Wentworth a power of attorney to administer in his aunt’s estate. Mr. Robie was Sir John’s solicitor. Mr. John Waite, mayor of Boston, Lincoln, England, brother-in-law of Miss Floyer, represented the claimant in England. Much correspondence passed between the parties. The heir-at-law urged the sale of the property, and after payment of all just debts, to have the balance of the proceeds remitted to him. This reasonable request does not appear to have been granted. Correspondence with regard to the business was extended between 1815 and 1819. The property was sold to Lawrence Hartshorne, Esq., who purchased it for the use of his brother-in-law, Rev. Charles Inglis, then rector of Dartmouth. Mr. Inglis lived there for many years, and in addition to his other duties, lodged and taught a number of boys. Of all those who spent their boyish years in the old French Governor’s house, laying in a store of knowledge to make them good citizens and useful men, only T. B. Akins, D. C. L., G. A. S. Crichton, and Henry Lawson arenow living.
Miss Floyer was buried in Woodlawn Cemetery, close to the quiet home where so much of her lonely life had been spent. The gentle lady’s spirit was said to wander round the house and grounds during the ghostly midnight hours, always wearing the sweet, patient look which characterized her in life.
By the desire of her English friends, a large stone slab was placed over her grave, where it remains until the present time, weather-worn and moss-grown. The deep lettering is filled with the rust of time, but her name and the date of her death are still legible. The lines below, were written when standing by her grave some years ago
Lone grave girt round by dusky trees
Whose branches, rustling in the breeze,
Keep well the secret tale of her
Who sleeps in this rude sepulchre.
What was her story? why the doom
Of banishment, neglect and gloom?
None ever knew, and we to-day
Perplexed and curious turn away.
Lying around her many a form,
Whose graves are lapped in sunshine warm;
Simple and weary souls who rest
Forgotten on earth’s quiet breast.
We see their graves, we pass them by,
They hold for us no mystery;
But to this stranger’s tomb to turn,
Still curious what it hides to learn.
Years have gone by, full many a score,
Since exiled to this lonely shore,
She came in woman’s tender grace
With stately step and sweet, fair face.
Of courteous speech and gentle mien,
Cultured in schoolcraft lore and keen,
Subdued and silent, seeking none,—
She came, she lived, she died, alone!
From youth, through womanhood, to age,
Her story fills a turned-down page;
While none have seen, and none shall see
Her secret of a century.What had she done? why did she come?
We question, and the years are dumb.
Whate’er the shame, whate’er the sin,
Her punishment should pardon win.
Here in the shadow of this wood,
She knew life’s loneliest solitude;
Here where the tasseled pine trees wave,
Time has been tender to her grave.
The cold gray stone, in letters deep,
Her name and birthplace plainly keep;
The moss-grown brick and morticed wall,
Hold faithful watch and ward through all.
Leave her in peace,—nor sung, nor said,
Be word of doubt to vex the dead;
The Judge with whom the verdict lies,
Has balanced sin by sacrifice.
After Mr. Inglis left Brook House, the place became almost a ruin. The garden was overgrown with weeds, the summer-houses crumbled into decay. The cottage, unoccupied and forsaken, was shaken by the storms, until with windows broken and front propped with great posts, it bore little resemblance to the pretty villa once ornamented by the old French Governor. Many years afterwards it was purchased by Thomas R. Grassie, Esq. He put it in order, and used it as a summer residence until his removal to England. It was then sold to the late Hon. Michael Tobin, who with his family occupied it for some years. It is now in the possession of his son. The shadows of romance still surround the old place, and it will always be associated with the memory of Governor Danseville and the mysterious Margaret Floyer.
During the residence of the French Governor in Dartmouth, his secretary, Mr. Mizansean, or Mozanzien, was always in attendance upon him. This gentleman did not return to France with Danseville. He married a daughter of one of the neighbouring farmers and afterwards settled on a farm at the Eastern Passage.