BATES, WALTER, office holder and author; b. 14 March 1760 in that part of Stamford, Conn., that is now Darien, fourth son of John Bates and Sarah Bostwick; m. first 7 Oct. 1784 Abigail Lyon in Kingston, N.B., and they had four children, three of whom died in childhood; m. secondly 12 Sept. 1826 Mrs Lucy Smith in Hampton, N.B.; d. 11 Feb. 1842 in Kingston.
Walter Bates was raised as a farmer in eastern Connecticut and, given his genuine piety and reliable, unadventurous disposition, would probably have remained in that state and station had not external events compelled him to choose otherwise. His three elder brothers had become involved on the tory side of the American War of Independence, and at the age of 15 Bates was captured by rebel sympathizers, examined before a committee, subjected to indignities, and threatened with death if he did not reveal the whereabouts of one of his brothers and other leading tories suspected of being concealed in the neighbourhood. Eventually freed, he absented himself from the community for two years. He returned to find his father dying of smallpox but was obliged within three days to take refuge with the British garrison in New York. There he took the oath of allegiance to King George III.
The year 1783 found Bates among the tory farmers of Long Island (he had been teaching school there for a time) who decided to accept the king’s offer of 200 acres of land in Nova Scotia plus two years’ provisions and transport to their new home. He was a passenger on the Union, the first ship in the spring fleet of 1783 to arrive at what would become Parrtown (Saint John, N.B.). He was one of the initial group to settle at Kingston on the Belleisle (Kingston) Creek, where he would remain until his death. He became a selectman at the early age of 26 and was to serve for many years as high sheriff of Kings County.
Bates’s narrative of his experiences, Kingston and the loyalists of the “spring fleet” of A.D. 1783, was published posthumously in 1889. It reveals a tory partisan of extreme personal modesty, much concerned with factual accuracy, who both in his conscious decisions and in the conduct of his life was greatly interested in the welfare of the Anglican church in general and of Trinity Church in Kingston in particular. Bates took a leading part in the founding of that church and involved himself in its affairs until the time of his death. He was early chosen to succeed Frederick Dibblee* as lay reader in the absence of a clergyman.
Doubtless Bates’s interest in the notorious thief and confidence man Henry More Smith came from the attraction of opposites, although Smith possessed a strongly developed religious side. Be that as it may, Bates’s chief claim to fame is his authorship of The mysterious stranger; or, memoirs of Henry More Smith, first published in 1817. This work went through many editions in North America and England and sold thousands of copies. It remains an extremely readable book. Two factors account for its attraction. The first is the remarkable character of its protagonist, the gentle, ingenious, and altogether puzzling thief, who, had he turned his attention to honest living, could quite easily have been an eminent clergyman or politician. The second is the literary skill of Bates, whose selection of circumstantial detail, concern over veracity, and modest, unassuming style are, in this book, comparable to the best work of Daniel Defoe in combining suspense with credibility.
Walter Bates is the author of Kingston and the loyalists of the “spring fleet” of A.D. 1783, with reminiscenses of early days in Connecticut: a narrative . . . , ed. W. O. Raymond (Saint John, N.B., 1889; repr. Fredericton, 1980); The mysterious stranger; or, memoirs of Henry More Smith; alias Henry Frederick Moon; alias William Newman: who is now confined in Simbury mines, in Connecticut, for the crime of burglary; containing an account of his . . . confinement in the gaol of King's County, province of New Brunswick . . . with a statement of his succeeding conduct . . . (New Haven, Conn., 1817), which was published in London the same year under the title Companion for Caraboo: a narrative of the conduct and adventures of Henry Frederic Moon, alias Henry Frederic More Smith, alias William Newman – now under sentence of imprisonment, in Connecticut, in North America, containing an account of his unparalleled artifices, impostures, mechanical ingenuity, &c. &c. displayed during and subsequently to his confinement in one of his majesty's gaols in the province of New Brunswick, with an introductory description of New Brunswick, and a postscript containing some account of Caraboo, the late female impostor, of Bristol (London, 1817); and A serious conference by letters on the subject of religious worship, and of the church of God, from a member of the established episcopal Church of England, in . . . New-Brunswick, to a member of the established congregational Presbyterian Church, in the state of Connecticut . . . (Saint John, 1826).
PANB, RG 4, RS24, S24-P29, S24-P35. Saint John Regional Library, “Biographical data relating to New Brunswick families, especially of loyalist descent,” comp. D. R. Jack (4v., typescript; copy at N.B. Museum). New-Brunswick Courier, 19 Feb. 1842. Royal Gazette (Fredericton), 19 Sept. 1826. DAB. W. G. MacFarlane, New Brunswick bibliography: the books and writers of the province (Saint John, 1895). G. P. Beyea, “The Canadian novel prior to confederation” (ma thesis, Univ. of N.B., Fredericton, 1950). E. B. Huntington, History of Stamford, Connecticut . . . (Stamford, 1868; repr. with corrections, Harrison, N.Y., 1979).