DOAK, ROBERT, businessman, farmer, office holder, and justice of the peace; b. 4 April 1785 in Ochiltree, Scotland, third of eight children of Robert Doak and Agnes —; m. 3 Oct. 1808 Jean Kirkland, and they had three sons and three daughters; d. 5 April 1857 in Doaktown, N.B.
Nothing specific is known about the youth, education, or financial background of Robert Doak. In 1815 he and his family left Scotland intending to settle in Kentucky. However, inclement weather forced their ship into the port of Miramichi, N.B., and the passengers were landed there. Doak remained in the colony at Newcastle and by 1817 had established himself as an innkeeper in nearby Nelson Parish. The next year his elder brother, James, arrived with his wife and three children, and both brothers entered into partnership with Alexander MacLaggan to operate a mill in Blackville. By July 1822 the Doaks had sold out to MacLaggan and moved approximately 20 miles farther up the Southwest Miramichi River to the present site of Doaktown; there they were joined by their father, who had recently emigrated from Scotland. On 1 April 1825 Robert Doak Jr purchased lot 45 from the Ephraim Wheeler Betts estate (having earlier obtained two adjacent lots for farmland) and his brother James and his family settled in close proximity.
In conjunction with his son James Andrew, whose family was to share the homestead, Doak soon had constructed and was operating a carding-mill, gristmill, and kiln, and later built a sawmill and oatmeal mill, the latter serving the whole of Northumberland County. The mills were operated by water-power; there was a brook-fed mill-pond at the rear of the property which provided a constant source of water. Doak also farmed and, according to family tradition, “raised as many as one hundred hogs every year which they salted down or smoked to be sold. The cellar used to look like a wholesale grocery at times.”
Shortly after his arrival in upper Miramichi, Doak became involved in local government. In 1822 he was appointed overseer of the poor, town clerk, and clerk of the market. The following year he became overseer of highways for the district and in this capacity he supervised the construction of the road between Fredericton and Newcastle. The Miramichi fire of October 1825 affected Doak and his enterprises, although not as disastrously as it did many of the earlier established settlers. Claiming a loss of £20, he petitioned the relief committee set up by the provincial government and received half the amount. In the same year he was appointed a justice of the peace for the county. Unlike most other men after 1800, Doak had managed to bypass many of the lesser municipal offices such as overseer of fisheries and fence viewer: the normal pattern was to hold two or three of the more minor positions before becoming a magistrate. In 1826 he became a school trustee, a post which ten years later enabled him to force long-term squatters from a school reserve lot adjoining his own property and to have the land granted to himself later that year for “safe-keeping.” A school was eventually built on the site. Appointed acting coroner for the area in 1829, he was still holding inquests as late as 1844.
Until the mid 19th century, the settlement had remained nameless, at times being referred to as part of Ludlow and after 1830 as Blissfield Parish. Following the completion of the highway and the establishment of a post office, the village was designated Doaktown, because Doak was the most politically influential and the most affluent resident. When in 1847 the first bridge was built across the Miramichi at the village, Doak, who admired a large elm tree standing directly in line with the road, persuaded the road supervisor, for £5, to place a slight crook in the highway.
Doak’s career was not without blemishes. At a special session of the county council in 1819, he was accused of keeping a gambling house. In 1830 he was fined for the unlawful selling of spirituous liquors – a common offence of the times, yet unbefitting his position. And from 1837 to 1840 he was a key figure in an unpleasant domestic lawsuit between himself and his son-in-law William Robinson, “an absconding debtor”; at the same time he served as a presiding magistrate at the trial.
Doak, commonly known as “the Squire,” was noted for his benevolent spirit; he contributed generously to the religious and educational life of the community, with gifts of land for a Baptist church (although the family was Presbyterian) and the local school.
[Information concerning Robert and Jean Kirkland Doak was kindly supplied by a descendant, the Reverend Douglas Earle of Halifax, from a family Bible in his possession. w.r.MacK.]
Anglican Church of Canada, Diocese of Fredericton Arch., Ludlow Parish, N.B., reg. of baptisms, 1818–24. Central Miramichi Hist. Soc. (Doaktown, N.B.), “Notes on the Doaks.” GRO (Edinburgh), Ochiltree, reg. of births and baptisms, 10 April 1785; reg. of marriages; Sorn, reg. of marriages, 3 Oct. 1808; Stair, reg. of marriages. Northumberland Land Registry Office (Newcastle, N.B.), Registry books, 25: 279 (mfm. at PANB). PAC, RG 31, A1, 1851, Blissfield. PANB, MC 216/46; MYY 262; RG 4, RS24, S38-P42; RG 5, RS55, 1840, Doak v. Hutchison; RG 7, RS68, 1856, Robert Doak; RG 10, RS108, Robert Doak, 20 July 1822, 18 Feb. 1836; RG 18, RS153, 1817, 1822–23, 1826, 1829–30, 1843–44; I7. St Thomas United Church Cemetery (Doaktown), Tombstones of Robert and Jean Kirkland Doak. SRO, RS14/55/206, 14 Feb. 1807. UNBL, A. H. Ross Foster [Hanley] coll., A. H. Ross [Foster] Hanley, “Some account of the families of James Ross, Donald McDonald, Joseph Story, James Doak and their descendants” (typescript, 1959). N.B., Postmaster General, First report of the Postmaster General of New Brunswick, General Post Office, Fredericton, 31st December 1856 ([Fredericton, 1857]), xx. W. A. Spray, “Early Northumberland County, 1765–1825; a study in local government” (ma thesis, Univ. of N.B., Fredericton, 1963), 113. Margaret Doak, “Squire Doak – and Doaktown,” Atlantic Advocate (Fredericton), 58 (1967–68), no.l: 29–33. “Doaktown,” Gleaner (Fredericton), 21 May 1887: 3. Mrs Frank Swim, “History of Doaktown,” Doaktown Rev., 28 March 1902.