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  • Who Was Corporal Richard Moorfield of the 17th Light Dragoons?

    George Freeman Sanborn Jr.

    It must have been a scene reminiscent of many before it, and many since. Thousands of refugees crowded into Manhattan, realizing that the time had come to flee this little bastion of safety. As the last and greatest stronghold of the British and British sympathizers began to weaken, it was clear there was no hope of reversing the course of history. The rebels had gradually pushed back the loyal supporters of the King to this crowded island, and now it, too, was about to fall. The city was teeming with refugees from all over the eastern seaboard, as well as British soldiers and disbanded troops; plans were made to evacuate New York and take the Loyalists to safety in British North America.

    Though not (strictly speaking) Loyalists, the British and British American troops are often considered as such by descendants. Indeed, they shared the Loyalists’ point of view. Certainly many British troops chose to remain in North America, rather than return home. Plans were made to evacuate New York. with the refugees going principally to Saint John and Shelburne, both then in the Colony of Nova Scotia (in 1784, Saint John and the western part of Nova Scotia were set off as the Colony of New Brunswick largely because of Loyalist agitations there for “home rule”).

    Preparing to Leave New York

    By October 1783, most of the men of the British regiments had received their discharges and those going to Nova Scotia were ready to sail. The men of the 17th Light Dragoons were allotted to the transport L’Abondance with Captain Valentine Nutter’s Loyalists, all destined for Shelburne. The men “were to remain in their regiments as a militia and their officers were to continue in their respective ranks and were to be obeyed as such until the Governor of Nova Scotia made other arrangements” (Marion Robertson, King’s Bounty: A History of Early Shelburne, Nova Scotia [1983], p. 76, hereafter King’s Bounty). During 1783 and 1784, between 30,000 and 35,000 Loyalists, disbanded troops and freed blacks had gone to Nova Scotia, with 15,000 of them locating in Shelburne.

    Arrival in Shelburne

    Conditions in Shelburne were hopeless, due to overcrowding, a lack of provisions, scarcity of arable land and adverse economic conditions, including heavy export duties. With these refugees arriving as they did late in the fall of 1783, Shelburne became a veritable “tent city,” a miserable lot for those who had expected better.

    In the case of the British soldiers and disbanded troops, His Majesty consented to grant every non-commissioned officer 200 acres of land. Each man, additionally, was to be furnished the usual ration of provisions for one year, and was to be permitted to retain his arms and accoutrements. As most of the lots in the center of town had already been granted, most of the disbanded soldiers were given lots south of the main part of town, in Patterson’s Division and St. John’s Division. And there it is that we find Corp. Richard Moorfield, formerly with the 17th Light Dragoons, receiving Town Lot No. 11, Letter L, in Patterson’s Division, with a prestigious and much sought-after water lot as well (Land Records, Shelburne Co., Public Archives of Nova Scotia; microfilm, Items #3 and #2). While Moorfield’s allotment was granted (ibid.), it is not clear what he did with his land when he and his family joined the exodus from Shelburne the next year. One winter in the cold shanty-town was enough for many of the refugees, some of whom fled to the western part of Nova Scotia, to the St. John and St. Lawrence rivers, and to Upper Canada, while others chose to cast their lot with the large group going to yet another untried locale, St. John’s Island (known since 1 February 1799 as Prince Edward Island).

    Removal to Prince Edward Island

    Governor Patterson, on instructions from the King, offered liberal terms to those refugees at Shelburne who might desire to come to the Island to settle. Proclamations were posted in the streets of Shelburne telling of this new opportunity. By 12 June 1784. there were 202 Loyalist males in Prince Edward Island, with 178 women, children and servants or slaves. During the summer and fall, several additional groups of Loyalists from Shelburne arrived: 27 men with women and children came on 26 July 26 men with women and children arrived on 13 September, another 55 men with women and children followed on 19 September, and 12 more brought up the rear with their households on 25 September.

    Thus, with those found there earlier in that year, we have, by late 1784, some 600 Loyalists on the Island (Prof. Wilbur H. Siebert and Florence E. Gilliam, “The Loyalists in Prince Edward Island,” Proc. and Trans. of the Royal Society of Canada, 3rd series, 4 [1911]:109-17). Nevertheless, it is conservatively estimated that by the fall of 1786 over half of the Loyalists who came to the Island between 1783 and 1785 had left upon learning how landlords were interpreting the apparently generous terms on which the government had offered the land (George A. Leard, Historic Bedeque [1948], p. 9).

    Of the 388 disbanded troops and Loyalists mustered in the summer of 1784, and who settled on Prince Edward [142] Island and were issued recorded grants, 181 were soldiers and 154 were Loyalists. Of these men, at least 110 were married and came with their wives and some children, too (Orlo Jones, “The Loyalists of the Island of St. John or Prince Edward Island,” The Loyalist Gazette, 23 [June 1985]: 13). Available muster rolls show that 295 men, 85 women, 51 children over 10 and 80 children under 10, as well as 17 servants, and another group of “51 men, women and children” were living on the Island with a few black slaves brought with them (Ibid.). Sixty percent of the Island’s inhabitants in 1784 were Loyalists and disbanded troops, and these groups still represented 25% of the population in the 1798 census (Ibid., 14). Most of the Loyalists settled in the Bedeque Bay and Malpeque areas, with smaller settlements in the Vernon River/Pownal area around Orwell Bay and along the Hillsborough River (Ibid., 13).

    Land Grant at Bedeque

    The Minutes of the Council meeting in Charlottetown on 29 July 1784 show that William Schurman had been to Shelburne and brought from there a number of refugees and disbanded troops, with their families, to take up lands on Lots 17, 25 and 26. This document shows Richard Moorfield receiving 200 acres on Lot 25 (Public Archives of Prince Edward Island. Accession No. R.G.5, Vol. 34 [Petitions]). We further learn that these settlers arrived at Charlottetown from Shelburne 26 July 1784 (ibid., Accession No. 2379, Item 13). The 200 acres granted to Richard Moorfield on Lot 25 fronted on the water near the head of Dunk, or Bedeque, Bay (ibid., Accession No. R. G. 14, Lot 25 Return Warrant of Survey 1786-87). In 1985 the Bedeque Harbour Loyalists, following the centennial of their ancestors’ arrival on the Island, erected a handsome monument listing the names of all the Loyalists and disbanded troops who settled in that area, including the name of “Cpl. Richard Moorfield, wife and 1 child.”

    On 23 July 1787, Walter Patterson, Esq., officially deeded the 200 acres at Bedeque on Lot 25 to Moorfield, the latter subsequently trading this for another grant of two parcels of land, also on Lot 25, on 1 January 1789 (P. E. I.  Deeds, 3:213-219, and 11:11-16). On 7 April 1789, however, for a mere £10, Moorfield sold these parcels to Malcolm Shaw of Covehead, and at that time presumably moved to Park Corner, on the north shore of Prince Edward Island. There, on 20 August 1796, James Townshend sold Richard “Morefield” and Mary his wife, of Park Corner, 50 acres of land which they were then occupying, said land to be theirs “during their natural lives.” The said Richard Moorfield and Mary his wife, or either of them, were to pay a rent of six pence per acre for six years and after that one shilling per acre for the rest of their lives. After their decease the land was to revert to James Townshend or his heirs (ibid., 13:63). Both the Moorfields made their mark. being unable to sign their names. It should be further noticed that this deed is the only place where the name of Moorfield’s wife is stated; it is a supposition and not a fact that she was his only wife and the mother of his child. This deed was recorded on 25 February 1804, which may be significant in that nothing is seen of the Moorfields after the 1798 census. At that time he was head of a household of one male aged 16 to 60, and one female aged 16 to 60, on Lot 21, where Park Corner is located (Duncan Campbell, History of Prince Edward Island [1875, repr. 1972)], p. 209.

    What of this man, Moorfield?

    Little is known about Richard Moorfield, and nothing is known of his wife. The first time we ever see him is in a muster roll of the 17th Light Dragoons, dated “New York.” 9 January 1777, where, as “Robt Moorefield” he appears for the first time, presumably indicating that he had only recently joined (Muster Rolls, 17th Light Dragoons, Public Record Office, Kew, Surrey, England, WO 12/1306, Doc. No.97). He is consistently called Richard thereafter, indicating initial confusion over the new recruit’s given name in the above-cited document. In the muster roll for the period 25 June -24 December 1777, dated at Philadelphia, 7 February 1778, he is shown for the first time as “Corporal,” with the notation, “Appointed” 7 August 1777 (ibid., Doc. No. 111). Appearing regularly on the rolls, taken with few exceptions at New York locations, such as New York, “New York Island” [i.e. Manhattan], Bloomingdale, Philadelphia [Penn] Flushing, Southampton, Hempstead, East Chester, Fort Knyphausen [Penn.], and Harlem, Richard Moorfield’s name is found with other names later seen among the Loyalists in Prince Edward Island: Samuel Barnet, Samuel Birth, Thomas Coughlan, Benjamin Rix, Isaac Birch, John Ramsay, Thomas Murray, George Mabey, and even a William Woodside, though no claim is made in this paper that all of these individuals are identical to those bearing these names who later appear on the Island. In the roll dated at Southampton 2 March 1779, Moorfield is said to have been “Reduced to private,” 21 November 1778, and “Received from Corporal,” 22 November 1778. He was said to be “On duty at Hampstead (sic)” (ibid., Doc. No. 121). In the roll taken at Fort Knyphausen, Pennsylvania, on 8 July 1782, it was stated that Moorfield was appointed corporal again on 16 May (ibid., Doc. No. 166), and he remained such thereafter. In his final appearance on the rolls which, incidentally, is the last one before the 17th Light Dragoons returned to England, it is stated that Corporal “Richd Moorefield” was Invalid & pd to 24 of Septr 1783” (ibid., Doc. No. 178). This notation clearly indicates that he left the service shortly before this date, and soon after set sail for Shelburne, Nova Scotia.

    The 17th Light Dragoons had been stationed in Ireland for some time prior to going to the colonies to help put down the rebellion. For at least three years prior to shipping out for Boston, in April 1775, to be at the Battle of Bunker Hill. the men had been at such places as Clonmel, Kilkenny, Carrick-on-Shane, Laghlin Bridge, Carrick-on-Shane, Athy, Carlow, Callen, Sullow, Mount Mellick, and Maryborough, among others, and were stationed at Maryborough just prior to passage. Many of the men in this unit were recruited in these places in Ireland. After arriving in [143] Boston, the unit spent nearby a year there before proceeding to New York. As Moorfield’s name does not appear until some months after the unit arrived in New York, it is presumed that he was recruited there from among the numerous Loyalists and Loyalist sympathizers in New York at that time. The men of the New York campaign saw fighting at Long Island, Fort Washington and Princeton. Some served at Forts Clinton and Montgomery. In the Philadelphia campaign, the men saw fighting at Whitemarsh and were at the Siege of Philadelphia. Later the men were in the fighting at Monmouth Court House, and in the skirmish at Pound Ridge, New York.

    Besides being reduced from corporal to private, as above, which in the case of a non-commissioned officer may not indicate that a disciplinary procedure had taken place, the only other glimpse we get of this man as a person is found in the Royal Gazette, and Miscellany of the Island of Saint John, printed in Charlottetown on Saturday, 14 July 1792, page 4. There it is reported that John Barefoot [of Lot 20], and Richard “Morefleld” [of Lot 21] were brought from New London to the public “goal” where they were safely lodged. They were then indicted for breaking into a store at New London, and stealing several gallons of rum. They testified that they had first unsuccessfully tried seven different keys to get the door open, but none worked, whereupon they impatiently broke open the door! The thirsty pair pleaded guilty and were sentenced to receive 180 lashes each on their bare backs, 60 of which were inflicted on them then and there, the rest being remitted. One “Mary Browne, alias Marshall,” an accomplice charged with having aided and abetted the men, was acquitted.

    Where did the Moorfields come from?

    The surname is very rare, despite its being a “typical” English name. The International Genealogical Index of the Genealogical Society of Utah shows the name to be fairly numerous in Devonshire, Gloucestershire and Lancashire, with a few early in “London/Middlesex,” with only a few people of the name in a few other English counties. A number of Richard Moorfields appear in the first three counties named above. But it seems likely that our man was an American Loyalist, recruited in New York. At least, he was a resident of New York at the time he joined the 17th Light Dragoons.

    Loyalists from all over the Thirteen Colonies and the Caribbean had gathered in New York as the rebels gained control over one area after another of British North America. With this mixture of people from a great variety of places, it would seem hopeless, in the absence of other information, to find an individual’s origin. Fortunately, the name Moorfield is even rarer in North America than in England. With the exception of one small family in colonial Hingham, Massachusetts (who seem to turn into Merrifields by the time their remnants go to York Co., Maine) the name is confined to Virginia, with branches of that family moving by the latter half of the 1700s into Rowan Co., North Carolina, and Augusta Co., Virginia [now West Virginia]. The name Richard Moorfield is found in the latter place, too late to be the New York Loyalist, but perhaps indicating a relationship. Yet the [West] Virginia branch seems to have quickly become Merrifields (which perhaps they had been all along), and their appearance as Moorfield is possibly an error.

    Consistently Moorfield (or Morefield), the Virginia family seems to trace back to either Thomas Moorfield, here by 17 November 1664, or John Moorfield, here by 16 March 1665/6 (Stratton Nottingham, Certificates and Rights, Accomack County, Virginia 1663-1709 [1977], pp. 12,24). Though it is not known where these men settled, descendants are found by the mid-1700s in south central Virginia counties, but the name was never numerous. Any relationship to early Virginia Merrifields is unknown. Whether Richard Moorfield of New York, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island came from Virginia, West Virginia or North Carolina, or whether he was from England, is also unknown. There is no clue whatsoever to the identity of his wife.

    Curiously, the couple seems to have had only one child, born in New York. which may indicate the gallant young corporal married there, perhaps to the daughter of another Loyalist family. That the child, a daughter, may have been born about 1777, allowing her to be about 22 years old at the estimated time her first child was born, is evidence for thinking that her father was either recently married at the time he joined the 17th Light Dragoons, or that he married very soon after. During 1777 and 1778 he was in New York. Bloomingdale, Philadelphia and Bushing. Perhaps his marriage record, and the baptismal record of his daughter, may one day be found in one of those places.

    Descendants of Richard & Mary Moorfield

    Elizabeth Moorfield (known as Betsey), the only child of this couple, was born in New York about 1777. She married in Prince Edward Island, about 1798, Patrick Quinn, an Irish-born Roman Catholic fisherman. As many of the early Irish people on Prince Edward Island (only a few Irish families were enumerated in the 1798 census) are said to have first been either in Newfoundland or at the Miramichi River in New Brunswick, it is possible that Patrick Quinn had been in one of those places earlier. Those early Irish adventurers came largely from southeastern Ireland - Waterford, Wexford, Carlow and southern Kilkenny, and adjacent areas within a radius of 30 miles of the city of Waterford - often sailing from the port of Waterford. Little is known of Patrick Quinn: he seems to have lived first around Princetown or Malpeque; he lost a court case against Sylvester Bryant, 10 September 1810, to recover four days’ wages (Capt. George Eden Meggison Diary, Public Archives of Prince Edward Island, Charlottetown, P.E. I.., Accession No. 2814); he and Edmund Reilly bought four sheep of Capt. Meggison on 25 July 1816 (ibid.). Quinn’s Inlet, an old name for one of the inlets off Cascumpec through the sandhills, was presumably named for him. He was living 25 July 1816 when he bought the sheep mentioned above, but dead by 28 June 1826 when William Maddox Hull of Cascumpec swore to the [144] accuracy of his list of the tenants of Harriet Hill of Exmouth, Devonshire, who were then resident on Lot 6, P.E. I. “Widow Quin,” age 49, and her surviving dependent children Thomas, age 16; Eliza (sic), age 14; Ann (sic), age 13; Patrick. age 11; and Catharine (sic), age 9, were among those on the list (P.E. I. Deeds, 33:251-254).

    It was probably Mrs. Quinn who, as “Elizabeth Morphil, widow,” was remarried 18 May 1834 to William Gain (Justice of the Peace marriage book), an old Irish-born sea captain and widower of Margaret Warren, whom he had married by a license dated 20 February 1800 (P.E. I. Marriage Licenses), and who died leaving a number of children. This second marriage for both was recorded by a French-speaking priest who, as was their custom, recorded the bride under her maiden name, finding it difficult to spell “Moorfield.” William Gain, born about 1771 in Ireland, lived first at Princetown and then Fermoy, in Lot 18. On 19 February 1838, some four years after his marriage to Widow Quinn, he petitioned the legislature, through William Clarke his representative, for relief, saying that he was an infirm pauper,” and had an affliction that would require amputation of his left leg. He was granted £5 by the Island legislature 5 March 1838, the record stating it was “towards the support of William Gain of Lot Eighteen, a deaf and dumb person in indigent circumstances” (Betty M. & Leo E. Styer, Styer, Gahen & Poehnelt Families of Wisconsin: History and Lineage, 1785-1935 [1981], p. 56; letter [30 Dec. 1989] to the writer from Betty M. and Leo E. Styer). Nothing further is known of Elizabeth (Moorfield) (Quinn) Gain. She presumably died on P.E. I., and, like her Loyalist parents, saw many changes in her life before coming to rest in an unmarked grave, long ago forgotten.

    Following her death, her aged husband may have gone to North Tetagouche, Gloucester Co., New Brunswick. to live with his son James, later joined by his son Benjamin. About 1850, James Gain and his family, together with his unmarried brother Benjamin and their aged father William, moved to Springville, Adams Co., Wisconsin, where William resided in the family of his son Benjamin. The poor, old sea captain died in 1861, aged about 90 years, having been called 94 and an “idiot” on the 1860 census of that place, a less-than-charitable way of describing an old amputee who had probably suffered a serious stroke many years before.

    Children of Patrick and Elizabeth (Moorfield) QUINN (list perhaps incomplete):

    i. MARY QUINN, b. ca. 1799, d. Lot 11, P.E.I., ca. 1901, ae. 102, and was bur. St. Anthony’s Roman Catholic Cem., Bloomfield, Lot 5, P.E.I. She m. MARTIN LYNCH, a native of Co. Kilkenny, Ireland, and had at least nine children. The 1891 census shows her mother’s place of birth as “N.Y. U.S.” Blind for many years, Mary’s eyesight returned some time before she died. They lived at “Martin’s Cove” on Foxley River, Lot 11.

    ii. MARGARET QUINN, b. ca. 1801, d. Lot 11, P.E.I., and was bur. there in the old St. Brigid’s Roman Catholic Cem. 12 Sept. 1873 (gravestone states that she d. 18 Aug. 1873). She m. PHILIP GAIN, son of Philip and Helen (Coughlin) Gain, and nephew of her step-father, William Gain. Their old home was finally razed in 1982. She had at least nine children.

    iii. THOMAS QUINN, b. Lots, P.E.I., and bp. May 1810 (“The Roman Catholic Book” Public Archives of Prince Edward Island, Charlottetown, P.E.I., Accession No. 3011); it was perhaps he who m. MARYDEVLIN and res. briefly at Tignish, Lot 1, P.E.I., after which all trace of them is lost. One child is seen, bp. Tignish.

    iv. ELIZABETH QUINN, b. ca. 1812 d. Tignish, Lot 1, P.E.I., between the birth of her youngest child 16 Sept. 1858, and the marriage of her second son 27 Nov. 1860, in which record she is called deceased. She m. JOSEPH RICHARD “JR.” of Tignish, son of Hilaire and Thersile (Bernard) Richard, an Acadian and descendant of the founding families of Malpeque and Tignish. Known also as Eliza, Betsey or Isabelle, she had twelve children.

    v. ALICE QUINN, b. Kildare, Lot 3, P.E.I.., 6 Oct. 1814, bp. as “Anne Queen,” 23 Oct. 1814 (St. Augustine’s Roman Catholic Parish Reg., Rustico, Lot 24, P.E.I..), d. Coates’ Mills, Kent Co., N.B., 4 Feb. 1894 (Buctouche Circuit Methodist Church recs.), and was bur. there (called a “Roman Catholic” and ae. “94”) in the cem. of the Coates’ Mills Wesleyan Methodist Church. Often called Elsie or Ann, she m. P.E.I. 10 Sept. 1833 (Justice of the Peace marriage book) PETER COLLINS, believed to have been a native of Co. Cork, Ireland. They res. many years in Lot 11, P.E.I., where their children were born and where Peter Collins died before the birth of their youngest child. Their old house was destroyed by the forest fire which swept Lot 11 in 1960. Alice was blind for many years before her death. She had seven children, including the writer’s great-great-grandmother. One of her daughters married a grandson of Alice’s step-father William Gain.

    vi. PATRICK QUINN, b. Cascumpec 1 Feb. 1817, bp. 23 March 1817 (St. Augustine’s Roman Catholic Parish Reg., Rustico, Lot 24, P.E.I..), d. Grand Falls (Portage), Victoria Co., N. H., 27 Dec. 1890 (N. H. Vital Statistics). He m. ELIZABETH NICHOLSON, a native of Ireland. There were no children.

    vii. CATHERINE QUINN, b. say 1819, m. 16 Nov. 1841 MURDOCH MacDONALD of Pierre Jacques (now Glenwood), Lot 8, P.E.I.. (Justice of the Peace marriage book), son of Ronald & Margaret (___) MacDonald of that place, and widower of Margaret Smith, whom he had m. 1 April 1834 (ibid.) Catherine did not long survive, for he soon m. (3) by early 1843, Sarah MacIntyre. Catherine appar. had no children.

    Numerous descendants of this family are found in New England and throughout the United States and Canada; several are members of the Society.

    George Freeman Sanborn Jr., Director of Technical Services at NEHGS, recently (with his wife, Melinde Lutz Sanborn) compiled Vital Records of Hampton, New Hampshire, to the Year 1900 (NEHGS, 1992). He is president of the New Hampshire Society of Genealogists and edits that society’s journal, The New Hampshire Genealogical Record. One of his other great interests is research in Prince Edward Island.

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