M’ALPINE (McAlpine), JOHN, office holder, surveyor, and businessman; b. 1748 in the Highlands of Scotland, son of Peter M’Alpine and his first wife, Christian –; m. first Jane –; m. secondly 29 Jan. 1784 Rebecca Barss, née Gammon, in Liverpool, N.S.; m. thirdly 1790 Sarah Hills, née Caverly; m. fourthly 1796 Sarah Walker; there were two children from each marriage; d. 26 May 1827 in Halifax.
John M’Alpine’s career had three phases. As a settler in upstate New York he found himself the victim of two sets of circumstances: the rivalry of New Hampshire and New York over the area where he was living, and the crisis of loyalty posed by the outbreak of the American revolution. As a man of 35 in Nova Scotia he was caught up in the conflict between pre-revolutionary settlers and loyalist newcomers. Finally, there was the older M’Alpine who made ends meet in Halifax by a fascinating range of activities.
M’Alpine’s first North American homestead was situated on 600 acres bought from a Colonel Reid. Hardly had he arrived in 1773 when he was driven out by the Green Mountain Boys, who were asserting New Hampshire’s right to the area east of Lake Champlain (now Vermont). M’Alpine retreated to a smaller farm near Crown Point (N.Y.). When the American revolution began he suffered the loss of his land, house, and stock, and became a refugee in Fort St Johns (Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu) and Chambly, Que. After a period of procuring cattle for John Burgoyne*’s expedition in American territory, M’Alpine was captured. Once released, he was sent to Long Island, N.Y., where he was soon embroiled again with the Americans. Late in 1779 he returned to Scotland.
The following year M’Alpine published a memoir which recounted in vivid detail his adventures from 1773 to 1779. Although he spared none of his wrath in condemning the Americans as rebels and pillagers, his strictures on the British conduct of the war were telling. The British, he felt, had put “over much trust . . . in men who misled or betrayed our people, while our commanders distrusted and despised their loyal adherents and substantial friends.”
The disgruntled M’Alpine appeared in 1783 at Shelburne, N.S., among the loyalist settlers, but quickly moved on to Liverpool, a more established community. On 11 Feb. 1785 the loyalist claims commissioners heard M’Alpine’s story, which included a claim for £5,000 in losses. They felt that he had no just demand for compensation, maintaining that his claim was “very improper” and “fraudulent,” and “ought to be so reported to the Lords of the Treasury. “On 28 Nov. 1786, however, Simeon Perkins* noted in his diary that “Capt. John McAlpine . . . is allowed £70 a Year on a Military list for Services in the Late war . . . . Three years pay will be due the 24th of Next month.” Neither the rationale for M’Alpine’s commission as captain nor the specific reason why the authorities changed their minds is known.
M’Alpine made his living at Liverpool by keeping a house of entertainment, operating a ferry, carrying supplies, repairing roads, and acting as deputy surveyor of the king’s woods. At first his position and his marriage into the locally respected Barss family assured him of good relations in the town. Then in July 1789 he was appointed deputy naval officer for Queens County, with instructions to ensure that those fishing at Liverpool had the proper documents. M’Alpine attempted to execute his commission and stirred up the settlers of Liverpool against him. Within two months two naval vessels were sent from Halifax to search every ship in the harbour. Repeated requests for M’Alpine’s dismissal were made by local inhabitants but without success.
Elkanah Freeman, an old settler and neighbour to M’Alpine, attempted to put pressure on him by fencing him off from the street. At least twice an angry mob assailed M’Alpine’s premises, and the elder of his step-daughters, 17-year-old Hannah Barss, was remanded on bond to the county sessions on charges of taking down the pickets from Freeman’s fence. In April 1790 the girl was relieved of the charges, but M’Alpine, like other deputy naval officers across the province, was discharged as part of the government’s attempt to abate the widespread opposition to these officials. The death of M’Alpine’s wife in May removed another tie to Liverpool, and by December he had left for Halifax. When his property was auctioned later, Elkanah Freeman bought it for only £28.
M’Alpine left Liverpool with nothing but his government pension, and his early years at Halifax reveal that he had to shift considerably to support himself and his dependents. An incomplete list of his activities includes selling horses and potatoes, road work, carrying supplies, money, and passengers, and acting as a drover, butcher, and undertaker. Between 1792 and 1795 he was a principal in five assault cases, and a key witness in a sixth, being sent to jail at least once until his fine could be paid.
By 1797 M’Alpine had erected Edward’s Valley Inn, overlooking Bedford Basin near Halifax. This hostelry was much frequented during the time Prince Edward* Augustus was at Halifax and throughout the Napoleonic Wars. Part of the property was occupied by the military after the Leopard and Chesapeake incident in 1807 [see Sir George Cranfield Berkeley*], and a pentagonal blockhouse, Fort McAlpine, was built on it to guard the northern approaches to Halifax from an American attack. After the War of 1812, his lands were returned to M’Alpine. A fire destroyed his house in 1819 and he lived in his inn while a replacement was erected. He leased the inn to other operators during the 1820s. M’Alpine’s declining years were quiet, and he served locally as an overseer of roads. At his death he was referred to as “an old and respectable inhabitant.”
John M’Alpine is the author of Genuine narratives, and concise memoirs of some of the most interesting exploits & singular adventures, of J. McAlpine . . . , published at Greenock, Scot., in 1780. A subsequent edition was published (n.p., 1788), and a reprint of the 1780 version was issued at Greenock in 1883.
PANS, Places, Great Britain, half-pay officers, 1807–13 (mfm.); RG 1, 225, doc.69; RG 34–312, P, 7. Perkins, Diary, 1780–89 (Harvey and Fergusson); 1790–96 (Fergusson). Acadian Recorder, 13 Oct. 1821. Halifax Journal, 16 Sept. 1811, 22 Feb. 1819. Novascotian, or Colonial Herald, 7 June 1837. Royal Gazette and the Nova-Scotia Advertiser, 26 March 1793, 19 July 1796, 15 May 1798. Weekly Chronicle, 19 Nov. 1791, 10 Oct. 1795. T. M. Punch, “Loyalists are stuffy, eh?” N.S. Hist. Quarterly (Halifax), 8 (1978): 319–43.