PATTERSON, ROBERT, surveyor, merchant, office holder, and militia officer; b. 1732 in Renfrew, Scotland; d. 30 Sept. 1808 in Pictou, N.S.
Following his emigration to America, Robert Patterson worked for some time as a pedlar, and prior to 1763 apparently was also a sutler with the British army. In 1767 he was living at Cross Roads (Churchville) in Maryland. When the Philadelphia Company, an association of American land developers, organized a group of settlers to go to its newly acquired land grant on the northern coast of Nova Scotia, Patterson was selected as the expedition’s surveyor. In May 1767 Patterson, his wife, and their five children sailed on the Betsey with John Harris’s and several other families. He soon became involved in trading ventures at the new settlement of Pictou, supplying goods to both Indians and settlers in return for furs, timber, and farm produce. Professional fees from surveying and business profits soon made him relatively prosperous; his sons were educated by hired tutors, and he had the first frame-house in the settlement while the other residents lived in rude cabins. When James McGregor*, pioneer missionary to the Highland settlers in the area, preached his first sermon at Pictou in 1786, he did so in Patterson’s barn, where rough benches had been improvised.
An educated man, with influential friends among the Scottish “merchantocracy” that played such a vital part in the North Atlantic trade, Patterson shortly became the leading man in the settlement. As a justice of the peace (appointed 6 April 1774) and known as Squire Patterson to distinguish him from John “Deacon” Patterson, he was the “venerable settler [who] presided over the others . . . while they, with confidence . . . yielded in most cases obedience to his counsels. . . .” He was considered “a sort of factotum for all the settlers, even celebrating their marriages.”
During the American revolution Patterson, unlike most of the other settlers from America, favoured the British side. In his enthusiasm he attempted to arrest some of the disloyal inhabitants, and was warned off by threats of murder. When trying to reach Halifax for copies of the oath of allegiance which Governor Francis Legge* had ordered everyone in the province to take, he was forced to return home by an armed American settler at Truro. Possibly Patterson had not spent enough time in the American colonies to be influenced by the revolutionary movement. It is more likely, however, that as a far-sighted businessman he perceived the opportunities for profitable trade if the colony remained in Britain’s good graces, and he was also well aware that the Highland Scots, the majority of Pictou’s inhabitants, were strongly pro-British. In recognition of his services he was made a captain of militia in 1783.
Patterson retained his prominent position in Pictou until his death. His sons seem to have left the area – by 1900 his only descendants in Pictou County bearing the Patterson name were in Lower Barneys River, where his son George had settled after his marriage to the daughter of Nicholas Purdue Olding, a prominent loyalist magistrate sometimes called the “grandfather of the Nova Scotia Bar.” Patterson strengthened his connections with Pictou when his daughter Sarah married the important local merchant Edward Mortimer. Patterson’s niece Elizabeth of Baltimore was married for a time to the brother of Napoleon, Jérôme Bonaparte, who had visited Maryland in the 1790s as an officer in the French navy. Napoleon, disliking the match, had the marriage annulled in 1805.
Durham cemetery, Pictou County, N.S., tombstone of Robert Patterson. H. R. Beer, The Pictou plantation: 1767 ([Corner Brook, Nfld., 1967]). George MacLaren, The Pictou book: stories of our past (New Glasgow, N.S., ). J. P. MacPhie, Pictonians at home and abroad: sketches of professional men and women of Pictou County; its history and institutions (Boston, 1914). F. H. Patterson, John Patterson, the founder of Pictou town (Truro, N.S., 1955). George Patterson, A history of the county of Pictou, Nova Scotia (Montreal, 1877); Memoir of the Rev. James MacGregor, D.D. . . . (Philadelphia, 1859). Colonial Patriot (Pictou, N. S.), 4 Jan.–3 Dec. 1828. Colonial Patriot and Miscellaneous Selector (Pictou), 17–31 Dec. 1828. A. J. Crockett, “Robe Patterson: the father of Pictou,” Free Lance (New Glasgow), 20 March 1952. Eastern Chronicle (New Glasgow), 1951. R. F. Harris, “A pioneer Harris family and the pre-loyalist settlement of Pictou,” N. S. Hist. Soc., Coll., 33 (1961): 103–35.
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