Willow Grove Settlement

On the road to St. Martins in southern New Brunswick you see a sign in a clearing on a corner. Willow Grove Black Settlement Burial Ground, it says. Behind it is a large cross and a tiny church. You stop to take a look.

sign-cross-and-church-2016-photo-j-stewartThis small meadow marks the memory of a once vibrant community, the Willow Grove Black Settlement. Its significance goes beyond local history, to the War of 1812 between Canada and the United States as well as slavery in the US.

The tiny church is a scaled-down replica of one that stood there a hundred years ago. Looking in the windows, you see photographs of what that church looked like, and the community around it. Also notices and papers pertaining to the settlers and land grants of 200 years ago.

Cemetery beside the church

inside-church-2016-photo-j-stewartThe cemetery is beside the church but there are no longer any individual grave markers. Two large granite markers tell you the history of the site and the settlement.

L: Edmund Hillyer Duval… R: The Black refugees arrived May 25th 1815… (tap to enlarge)

The settlers at Willow Grove were African-Americans who escaped the United States during the War of 1812. Royal Navy Commander Alexander Cochrane invited them: “…they will have their choice of either entering into His Majesty’s Sea or Land Forces, or of being sent as FREE settlers to the British Possessions in North America or the West Indies…”

A Proclamation, 2 April 1814

2 Apr 1814 Proclamation by Vice Admiral Cochrane, Library of Congress (tap to enlarge)

So slaves took him up on this offer. Some joined the British armed forces, in a newly formed Corps of Colonial Marines. About 4000 people left the Chesapeake Bay area in 1815 on British vessels. Many went to Nova Scotia, others to Trinidad. But nearly 400 came to Saint John in New Brunswick on HMS Regulus.

A community built

The new settlers received grants of land east of Saint John. Each grant was about half the size of those given to white settlers who also came. The land was less arable and farther away from the desirable Saint John River Valley. Still, they made a community here at Willow Grove. They farmed, ran businesses and raised families. They built a school and the church.

willow grove hwy-111-base-rd-nb google
photo Google Streetview – on Hwy 111 at Base Road, east of Saint John airport

Over the following century, the community dispersed. The church burned down in 1931, grave markers in the cemetery disappeared. Only the cleared field where they stood remained.

But in the 1980s, descendants of the Willow Grove settlement brought back their history. They built the tiny church, using photos of the original. The sign and cross tell passersby what this place was, invite you to stop. Invite you to feel the lives lived there.willow grove baptist church-2016-photo-j-stewart


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8 thoughts on “Willow Grove Settlement”

  1. Hi Dorothy,
    I would like to request permission for your photo of the church interior (looking through the window) for a Black History educational resource to be published by Nelson Education. Please let me know if you can send a high-res file. Thank you.

  2. Where can I get the names of all the family’s that came here .
    This sounds so much like the story of a family . That my great grandfather was offered land here in exchange for fighting a war . I wonder if this is where he started off?

  3. Hi Dorothy,
    I just wanted to thank you for the pictures and the history lesson! I found your site and this article via Google.

    My wife and I (Black) and our best friends (White) live in Houston, Texas and vacationed together during the fall of 2014. We like cruising together and I also dabble in photography, so we decided to take a Fall Foliage Cruise from New York to Nova Scotia. We hired a local tour guide in Saint John to take just the four of us to picturesque areas “off the beaten path” to see particularly scenic fall colors and lighthouses. Well, on our way (I believe) to Saint Martins, our tour guide thought we might be interested in stopping at this church; we did, and I took several really good photographs of the church and its surroundings. Unfortunately, two years ago (before I decided to actually publish online some of my photography from over the years) the external drive on which I’d stored all of my RAW and post-processed photos failed and I lost many of my photos, including all of the ones from this church.

    I’ve often told people about that part of our visit to the Saint John area, but didn’t have the pictures or historic details to share with them until now!

    Again, many thanks and kind regards,
    Ron Washington


    1. Thank you, Ron, for writing. I went to your website, and your photographs are amazing! I am so sorry you lost the ones of the Willow Grove church. I’m sure they were fantastic. It is on the road to St Martins. You have two from there in your landscapes – the covered bridge. I hope you keep taking photos and posting them. You have a great eye! I enjoyed the tour you gave me of places I’ve been and places I’ve not. Thanks!

    1. Hi Ralph, and thank you. My husband took them. We were trying to photograph the text on the very interesting display boards inside. But it was a sunny day so difficult to not get reflective glare. It gave a nice effect for some of them though.

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