BENOÎT (Boneval, Bonwah), PIERRE, Malecite Indian; d. 20 May 1786 in Queensbury parish, York County, New Brunswick.
Pierre Benoit’s importance to the early history of New Brunswick lies with the trial following his murder. Early in the morning of 20 May 1786 two settlers, William Harboard and David Nelson, veterans of the Queen’s Rangers, were out fishing when they heard dogs barking in the distance. Returning home, they found two dogs mauling one of Nelson’s hogs and the other hogs missing. They shot one of the dogs and, assuming that the missing animals had been carried off in a boat, went down to the Saint John River. As the incident was later reported, they called on two Indians in a canoe to stop: “You have got my hogs.” “No, no,” came the reply, “you have killed my dog.” The whites then fired over the heads of the Indians. Nelson fired a second time and Pierre Benoît fell dead. The other occupant of the canoe was his wife.
Four days later Nelson and Harboard were examined by the justices of the peace for York County and bound over for trial. “The Indians . . . are clamorous for an instant decision,” wrote Edward Winslow*, one of the justices who had taken the depositions. The band was camped around the home of the other justice, Isaac Allen, behaving with a “rudeness” that distressed the entire family. The settlers, Winslow commented, “cannot reconcile themselves to the idea that two men of fair character should be sacrificed to satisfy the barbarous claim of a set of savages.”
The trial was held at St Ann’s (Fredericton) on 13 June with Chief Justice George Duncan Ludlow presiding. The solicitor general, Ward Chipman*, prosecuted for the crown; the accused had no counsel and pleaded not guilty to a charge of murder. Only three witnesses were called, none of them Indians. The trial was attended by many of the inhabitants, who showed the “deepest concern and sympathy” for the accused. Nevertheless, the jury found Harboard and Nelson guilty as charged. Harboard was pardoned, apparently because he had not fired the fatal shot; Nelson was hanged on the 23rd.
The execution of David Nelson was credited with averting serious trouble from the Indians at the time. And, although the kind of “trifling provocation” that had led to the murder of Benoît was often to be repeated in the years to come, this early and visible demonstration of justice set restraints on whites and Indians alike.
Military operations in eastern Maine and N.S. (Kidder), 284. Royal Gazette and the New Brunswick Advertiser (Saint John), 27 June 1786. Winslow papers, A.D. 1776–1826, ed. W. O. Raymond (Saint John, N.B., 1901), 332–33, 357n. W. O. Raymond, “The first trial for murder on the River St. John,” Dispatch (Woodstock, N.B.), 13 Nov. 1895, 6; repr. without acknowledgement by “Observer” [E. S. Carter], “First criminal trial in Fredericton,” Telegraph-Journal (Saint John, N. B.), 25 Oct. 1929, 4.
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Cite This Article
L. F. S. Upton, “BENOÎT, PIERRE,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 4, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed April 1, 2023, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/benoit_pierre_4E.html.
The citation above shows the format for footnotes and endnotes according to the Chicago manual of style (16th edition). Information to be used in other citation formats:
|Author of Article:||L. F. S. Upton|
|Title of Article:||BENOÎT, PIERRE|
|Publication Name:||Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 4|
|Publisher:||University of Toronto/Université Laval|
|Year of publication:||1979|
|Year of revision:||1979|
|Access Date:||April 1, 2023|