CROSSKILL (Croskill), JOHN, ship’s captain and landowner; b. 1740 in Norwich, England, the son of a shipbuilder; m. c. 1785 Charlotte Fillis, daughter of Nova Scotia merchant John Fillis*, and they had seven children; m. secondly 1812 Frances Morrison, née Gidney; d. 23 May 1826 in Bridgetown, N.S.
Brought up by an aunt in London, John Crosskill was placed in the merchant navy, and rose to the rank of captain by the time he was 30. During the American Revolutionary War he was engaged in transporting German auxiliary troops to North America for the British army. After the peace he went to the West Indies, where he lived at Nassau in the Bahamas and Bridgetown in Barbados. While in the Bahamas he acquired property on Rum Cay, Andros, and New Providence islands, and also some vessels, two of which were lost in the hurricanes of September 1785 and August 1787. He claimed in a later memorial to have held the positions of justice of the peace and harbour-master during his stay at Nassau, but these appointments are not confirmed in the records. John Fillis, his father-in-law, died in 1792, and Crosskill brought his family to Halifax in June 1793 to receive a “small portion” left to his wife, the farm of Henley, 1,500 acres along the Annapolis River.
Although he remained in Nova Scotia, Crosskill had not decided whether he wished to settle permanently there. In February 1795, as he was about to set out in a sloop he owned on a trading voyage to the Bahamas, Lieutenant Governor John Wentworth* offered him the command of the Earl of Moira, a snow of 135 tons mounting 14 guns which had been built for the provincial service the year before. Crosskill readily accepted. In his own words, “I hesitated not to accept his offer; my Heart ever beat high in my Countrys cause, and in a station of that responsibility I had no doubt but I would do credit to myself, and be of service to my Country.” Under the command of Crosskill, who was described by Beamish Murdoch* as “a skilled pilot,” the Earl of Moira was employed in protecting the fisheries along the coast of Nova Scotia and in the Gulf of St Lawrence, convoying merchant vessels to Quebec, driving off smugglers, and watching for privateers. In August 1795, moreover, Wentworth reported that the vessel had been of great assistance to Lieutenant Governor Francis Le Maistre* in quelling disturbances between Indians and fishermen in Gaspé. Early in 1796 Wentworth issued Crosskill letters of marque. Thanks to the Earl of Moira’s light draught, privateers could be chased in shallow water; during the time Crosskill was in command he seized three ships. Wentworth consistently praised the captain’s efforts, and in January 1796 even the Duke of Portland, secretary of state for the Home Department, recognized that Crosskill’s services had been “of great utility.”
In June 1796 the Earl of Moira sailed for Boston, as usual carrying a complement of soldiers of the Royal Nova Scotia Regiment. While in Boston some of the soldiers deserted, and on the vessel’s return to Halifax in July a military court of inquiry was held. On the 15th Crosskill was informed by Wentworth that, since the presence of soldiers on the Earl of Moira required that a commissioned officer be in charge, he was being relieved as the ship’s commander. At the same time the lieutenant governor expressed his “full approbation” of Crosskill’s conduct. Captain Jones Fawson of the Royal Nova Scotia Regiment replaced Crosskill the next day.
The reasons for Crosskill’s dismissal remain somewhat obscure. Prince Edward* Augustus, commander of the forces in the Maritime provinces, was convinced that “the person from whose disobedience this Desertion has happened can not otherwise be punished than by being dismissed from the ship” But Crosskill was not on board when the desertion occurred. He had dismissed the second mate for his negligence in allowing the desertion, but the man was later reinstated. It is known, however, that the prince was displeased about Crosskill’s having authority over the officers and soldiers on the vessel, and that there was friction between Crosskill and the army officers, whom he described as ill fitted for their positions. A family tradition holds that Crosskill disapproved of the prince’s companion, Mme de Saint-Laurent [Montgenet], and forbad his wife to attend social affairs where she would be present. Perhaps in reprisal for this affront, Edward Augustus had insisted that the captain be dismissed. Whatever the circumstances, Crosskill did not regain his position. In a memorial of 23 July 1796 he appealed for justice to the Duke of Portland, but without success.
Crosskill then retired to his wife’s property on the Annapolis River. The site was at the head of navigation, and over the bridge erected there ran the road between Granville and Annapolis townships. Crosskill, seeing the advantages of the location, had long wanted to lay out a town site on the land, but after Charlotte’s death in 1806 the property went to their children, and it was the autumn of 1821 before he could obtain a controlling interest. He then laid out the property in town lots, deeding the streets to the county for perpetual public use. Thereafter a community grew rapidly, developing as a centre for small vessels which exported the products of the surrounding region. In 1823 more than 100 vessels loaded there, and by 1828 Thomas Chandler Haliburton* could write that the village contained 3 churches, 25 houses, 12 stores, and 13 shops, and conveyed “an idea of comfort and thrift.” At a dinner on 15 Feb. 1824 the name Bridgetown was proposed and adopted. Although his children had been baptized in the Congregational-Presbyterian church of Mather’s (St Matthew’s) in Halifax, Crosskill gave a lot in Bridgetown to the Church of England in May 1825, and with his second wife subscribed £30 for the building of a church. His last public act seems to have been the christening of the first vessel to be launched in Bridgetown, on 16 October of the same year. At his death he left the bulk of his estate to his surviving children.
PANS, MG 4, 46–47A. PRO, CO 217/67: 212–17 (mfm. at PANS). E. R. Coward, Bridgetown, Nova Scotia: its history to 1900 ([Bridgetown], 1955), c.2. Murdoch, Hist. of N.S., 3: 140. Seasoned timbers . . . (2v., Halifax, 1972–74), 1: 84–85. John Irvin, “History of Bridgetown . . . ,” N.S. Hist. Soc., Coll., 19 (1918): 31–51. J. F. Smith, “Crosskill vs Kent,” N.S. Hist. Quarterly (Halifax), 2 (1972): 269–81; “John Fillis, MLA,” 1 (1971): 307–23.
Cite This Article
Ethel A. Crathorne, “CROSSKILL, JOHN,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 6, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed October 1, 2014, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/crosskill_john_6E.html.
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|Author of Article:||Ethel A. Crathorne|
|Title of Article:||CROSSKILL, JOHN|
|Publication Name:||Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 6|
|Publisher:||University of Toronto/Université Laval|
|Year of publication:||1987|
|Year of revision:||1987|
|Access Date:||October 1, 2014|