From The Scrapbook By Rev. Bill Randall


December, 1995

By Rev. Dr. Bill Randall

Alvia Brockway And His Wife Mary Stewart

Visiting Ted and Lynn Brockway they showed me an album of pictures and stories Ted’s sister Donna Neilson has prepared so that her children will know something of their family history. Such a project thrills me! I wish more parents would do this! Donna has given me permission to share with you one of these stories.

The life story of Alvia and Mary (Stewart) Brockway has all the ingredients for a novel. Writing such a novel could be accomplished if we knew a few more actual details of their times and some personality traits and descriptions. However, we are left only to marvel at the framework of their lives.

Alvia Brockway was born in Newport, New Hampshire, in 1805. Or was he? That is what old established information says, but records at the Archives put his birth somewhere else between 1803 and 1808. He is reported to have moved to New Brunswick with his parents, Reuben and Anna, and several brothers and sisters. If he was the 3-month old child that came with his parents it is possible he left N.H. as a newborn since the journey could have taken many weeks. So his first introduction to this world would have been one of unsettledness.

Alvia’s parents and family moved to an uninhabited area and established a new community named Brockway. They cleared the land to build a rough camp to live in, so Alvia’s childhood would have been spent as a true pioneer — living, playing, and undoubtedly working on the stump-dotted, semi-cleared land, as his father tried to raise crops enough to feed a large family in the uncertain weather conditions of New Brunswick.

It would appear, at that time, that the main link for Brockway was by the Magaguadavic River to St. George and Second Falls, since marriages often occurred between residents of these two places. It was likewise that Alvia married a girl from Second Falls. It is possible that Alvia lived and worked in St. George. If not, on one of his trips down river from Brockway for supplies: he probably met and was charmed by the teenaged Mary Stewart with her Irish accent. And in April of 1830 Alvia and Mary were married. Witnesses were William Stewart and David Stewart.

Mary was of Irish birth. She immigrated from Ireland in 1828. However, it is believed that her people were originally from Scotland. She was born about 1812 and so would have been about 16 when she came. Names and records of her parents have yet to be found and information on her is very elusive. However, at least one brother came with her, a fellow named William Stewart, who was 2 years older than her. (And possibly another brother or perhaps a cousin, David Stewart, who was also older than her.)

History tells us of the turbulence going on in Ireland at this time. In the 1820s, 30s, and mostly the 40s, the potato famine struck Ireland repeatedly, and thousands of people facing starvation and death immigrated to Canada. Many of these persons were poor and the conditions under which they crossed the Atlantic were deplorable. Hundreds died on ship and outbreak of disease made quarantine on arrival necessary.

Yet, at the same time, emigration from Ireland to New Brunswick began as far back as 1819 due to the promotional efforts of the New Brunswick and British governments. From 1812-1850, 71% of the total emigrants to New Brunswick came from Ireland. Not all were destitute. Many had been saving for years for their passage to the great New World! Others were helped by relatives already here, and still others, mainly widowed, orphaned, and aged were given free passage so they would not remain a burden on their landlords.

It is interesting to speculate under what conditions Mary’s family arrived. Possibly they too were driven out by the famine, or the over-crowding of the country, or because of religious persecution. Or, perhaps they just chose to come! Where they came from, and the type of ocean crossing they endured is unknown. My search for information on Mary (Stewart) Brockway’s family and background has been a most difficult one, so far.

Unfortunately, a great fire in 1922 destroyed many of Ireland’s historical records, so research back in Ireland could prove fruitless or at least difficult. Listening to a presentation last summer made by an archivist from Ireland I found out that before much information can be forthcoming from Ireland that we here should know the County our ancestor came from, and if possible the “townline”, of which there are thousands and thousands.

Many of the ships carrying the Irish landed at Saint John, and many of the immigrants stayed there. Other ships docked at St .Andrews. There is no indication as to where Mary Stewart, and family (?) arrived,. In 1828 the ship “James Bailie out of Belfast landed in St. Andrews. On May 12; 50 passengers came, and on September 12, 16 more passengers arrived on board her from Ireland. Who these people were, I do not yet know. However, Mary did come in 1828.

Alvia and Mary had 11 children. Many references have been made to Alvia and Mary living in Kingsclear. I thought at first they actually resided in Kingsclear, but now know that is not the case. The Parish of Manners Sutton was not established until 1855. Prior to that, Brockway was in the Parish of Kingsclear and so accounts for reference to that particular area. It is believed for the most part of those early years they lived in Brockway on land that Alvia’s father had, Alvia having the piece of land on the west side of the Magaguadavic River.

While in Brockway Alvia supposedly operated a sawmill for long lumber, made shingles and clapboards, ran a grist mill, a brick kiln, and a match factory. So he too must have learned much from his father, Reuben, if he did all these things. However, several of them would have been operations already started by Reuben.

One small note in the paper “The Royal Gazette” on October 18, 1848 says, “Alvia Brockway, Kingsclear, was granted bankruptcy”. Was this our Alvia? What did it mean? Was this an issue in his life that made him become a 49er?

And what was a 49er? In January of 1848 gold was discovered in California’s Sacramento Valley. Although news of the California Gold Rush did not reach New Brunswick until the early months of 1848, it was immediate that many young men (and some not so young) were lured to the adventure and riches. And so it was that Alvia Brockway, plus others, sailed from Calais in 1849 around Cape Horn at the southernmost tip of South America.

At least one ship, named the “Brazilian” left Calais, Maine in September of 1849 with about 30 or more men, for the newly discovered California gold fields, and arrived on April 11, 1850 in San Francisco.

It is estimated that each 49er needed a minimum of $750 for his fare, clothing, supplies and food. To me, that seems like a lot of money at the time for Alvia, with a large family, to come up with,  someone who had just declared bankruptcy. Ship passage was crowded, food very poor and scarce, and there were terrible storms. Passage around the Horn Itself could take 1 week to 1 month. For the passengers it was a nightmare.

The trip to California was long and very hazardous and it took from 6 to 9 months to get there as the journey was 17,000 miles. Communications were scarce. There were more than 750 ships which sailed from the East Coast of the United States to California in 1849. Of these, 15 were wrecked or burned.

When the men who had come to find gold arrived in San Francisco, they hurried up the Sacramento River to Sacramento City. Alvia, like the others, would have headed to the diggings by stagecoach, mule, horseback, or on foot.

Digging or searching for gold was hard, intense work. Men often worked all day standing in cold water with the hot sun shining on their heads. The mining towns were composed mainly of tents or rough log or bark structures. It was unsanitary and crowded. Yet, a comradery developed among many of the men.

However, as fast as miners made money, they had to exchange it for necessities. Many so-called business people took advantage of the situation. Prices became very high. For example, a single potato or onion could cost $1.00, or a single candle, $1.25.

The majority of the miners were far from healthy. Many diseases were prevalent (malaria, diarrhea, rheumatism) plus fleas and lice. Many died and were buried without ceremony.

When the men were finished with the gold fields, they had to find some way to pay their way back home – hopefully they would have made enough money for that To return home to the east coast, they had three choices, just as they did coming. One was the long trek across what is now United States by oxen and wagon. People who did this once were hesitant to do it again. There were wide rivers to forge, dry desserts to cross, and hostile Indians to contend with The second choice was to make the long dangerous sea voyage back by the Horn of South America. And the third choice was to go by ship to Central America and walk across Panama. The distance to walk was short but the conditions were tropical and disease visited most of those who tried it.

Some of the 49ers found gold and became prosperous, but most were fortunate if they succeeded in paying their expenses. When they found the gold region not so attractive, some Maritimers with lumbering experience discovered the redwood trees and developed a thriving lumbering industry. One such man, William Carson of Charlotte Co., who made the 1849 trip made a fortune in lumber. By 1856, however, the Gold Rush itself was virtually over.

As to Alvia’s fate, I cannot factually say. Did he find gold or didn’t he? If he didn’t I am surprised he too did not turn to lumbering in California. But he must have found something alluring, because, according to information I was given regarding some Calais records, Alvia made the trip to California again sometime later and had his brother, Artemas, with him on the second trip.

As for Mary, she was left back in New Brunswick with a family to care for. Alvia was gone so long and communications were so poor that when the 1851 census were taken, Mary Brockway, age 38 was listed as a widow.

THANKS to the Harvey Community Fair Day committee for their support.

Source: Rev. Bill Randall’s “From The Scrapbook Vol. One.”

Recommended Reading

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