CLARK, ROBERT, merchant and colonizer; b. in London, England, son of Wotherton and Mary Clark; m. c. 1750 Elizabeth – ; m. secondly 6 July 1775 Ann Berry in London; d. July or August 1794, probably in St John’s (Prince Edward) Island.
Details of Robert Clark’s early life are unknown. He became a Quaker some time before 1753 and was active in the Society of Friends; in 1767 he was stated to have been a minister, or leader, for some years. He and his wife lived in Reading from 1753 to 1758 and in Faringdon from 1761 to 1764, when they moved to London. After 1773 legal documents list his occupation as salesman or merchant. He purchased Lot 21 on St John’s Island in March 1773 and later added other lots, or townships, to his holdings. The next year he brought over 100 settlers, many of them indentured servants, to the north shore of the island and founded the settlement of New London. There is some indication that he was motivated by religious enthusiasm. Governor Walter Patterson stated that Clark “really thought himself a second Penn” and added that he “hoped to make New London a place for the recovering of sinners.” Few of Clark’s settlers shared his religious affiliation, however, and New London was to provide instead the roots of Methodism on the Island.
Clark returned to England in 1774, leaving his colonists without proper shelter or provisions. He had painted an attractive picture of the new world for prospective emigrants, but the diary of one settler, Benjamin Chappell*, details the near starvation which prevailed the first winter. By 1775 there were 16 houses and a sawmill at New London, but the settlement did not meet the expectations of the London investors, who had hoped for quick returns of timber, and colonization efforts do not appear to have been repeated. In 1779 Clark offered land at £100 for 500 acres, but there were no land sales before 1787 and few after. Many people left New London to settle nearby. Patterson wrote in 1784 that the settlers had been supplemented by “all the Vagabonds of the Island.” He also felt that Clark was ruining himself by allowing his settlers “Wages, Victuals and Drink at Will” and by letting them do “as they pleased.”
Patterson’s account of New London may have been coloured by his conflict with Clark over land sales. In 1781 Patterson had seized several lots, including some of Clark’s, for non-payment of quitrents and had resold them to himself and his friends. Clark, one of the loudest in protesting this action, petitioned the Privy Council in 1785. His efforts, together with those of Captain John MacDonald*, another proprietor, led to the successful prosecution of Patterson and several members of his council in 1789.
Clark returned to St John’s Island in 1786, possibly only for a visit. By 1792 he was identified as a resident of the colony. The last years of his life were difficult. The lack of any financial return from the New London settlement, along with a heavy debt, involved him in several law suits. One of these, with his New London agent John Cambridge*, whom he had appointed in 1784, had to be appealed to the governor in council and eventually to the king in council. The suits did not end with his death in 1794 and his widow remained in the colony for several years attempting to regain his property. By 1800 the estate had been sold and the houses of New London torn down or moved; the dream of a Quaker colony on St John’s Island was at an end.
P.E.I., Supreme Court, Estates Division, will of Robert Clark (unregistered) (mfm. at Public Archives of P.E.I.). PRO, CO 226/8, pp.165–67; 226/10, pp.94–126, 135–43, 234–41, 253–94; CO 388/62, p.1207. Public Archives of P.E.I. (Charlottetown), Benjamin Chappell, diary; RG 3, House of Assembly, Journals, 1775–89; RG 6, Courts, Supreme Court case papers, 1784–1800; RG 16, Registry Office, Land registry records, conveyance registers, liber 1234, ff.4, 5, 6, 8, 9. Thomas Curtis, “Voyage of Thos. Curtis,” Journeys to the Island of St. John or Prince Edward Island, 1775–1832, ed. D. C. Harvey (Toronto, 1955), 9–69. [John MacDonald?], Remarks on the conduct of the governor and Council of the Island of St. John’s, in passing an act of assembly in April 1786 to confirm the sales of the lands in 1781 . . . (n.p., [1789?]). A short description of the Island of St. John, in the Gulph of St. Lawrence, North America (n.p., 1779). “Dictionary of Quaker biography” (typescript), available only at Haverford College Library (Haverford, Pa.) and Library of Religious Soc. of Friends (London). D. C. Harvey, “Early settlement and social conditions in Prince Edward Island,” Dal. Rev., XI (1931–32), 448–61. [R. W. Kelsey], “Quakerism on Prince Edward Island in 1774,” Friends’ Hist. Soc. of Philadelphia, Bull., XIII (1923), 75–77.