SCHURMAN (Schureman), WILLIAM, businessman, politician, and office holder; b. c. 1743 in New Rochelle, N.Y., third child of Jacob Schureman and Jane Parcot; d. 15 Sept. 1819 in Wilmot Valley, P.E.I.
On his father’s side William Schurman was descended from Dutch settlers in New Amsterdam (New York City) who witnessed the English capture of New Netherland in 1664 and some 30 years later moved to New Rochelle. His mother’s family were French Protestants who had fled France after the revoking of the Edict of Nantes in 1685, sojourned briefly in England, and then come to New York with other Huguenot refugees and established the settlement of New Rochelle. Schurman grew up in a comfortable middle-class home, related by blood or marriage to most of the prominent families in the town. Events leading to the revolution and the revolution itself polarized families in New Rochelle as they did elsewhere; while Schurman’s two brothers-in-law adhered to the patriot cause, his own brother was imprisoned for two years after signing a protest against sending local representatives to the 1775 Continental Congress. William, too, cast in his lot with the loyalists. Taking what property he could salvage, and in his own ship, with wife, five sons, and two slaves, he sailed first to Port Roseway (Shelburne), N.S., and then on to Tryon, St John’s (Prince Edward) Island.
He arrived at Tryon in 1783 and the following year established himself in the nearby loyalist settlement of Bedeque, on the site of what is now Central Bedeque. He early became the community’s most influential resident. Like the other refugees he built a log house and prepared his land for farming, selling in Charlottetown the timber he cleared. Not content with these occupations, he found an outlet for his energies in other ways: he started a shingle-mill (and possibly a grist-mill); he became the agent for a group of settlers whom he brought in 1784 from Shelburne to Bedeque in his own ship; he kept the vessel busy in coastal trade, bringing merchandise to Bedeque and setting up shop in a part of his house to sell it; and he was elected Bedeque’s first representative to the colonial legislature in 1785 and later held appointments as justice of the peace and overseer of roads for the district.
In 1792 Schurman’s house and store burned to the ground. He rebuilt, restocked the store, and in 1793 invested in a new ship. Six years later the vessel was lost at sea with all aboard, including his 19-year-old son. With characteristic resilience he turned his attention to a new sphere of activity, shipbuilding, and between 1801 and 1803 launched at least three vessels he had built on the shore of his property with the aid of sons and hired men, using lumber from his woods and supplies from his store. The profit from the sale of these ships in St John’s, Nfld, and Halifax, N.S., led him to a more ambitious undertaking: in 1808 he bought for £800 a huge tract of land, ten miles long, in the richly wooded valley of the Wilmot River. He soon had the river dammed, a sawmill erected and operating, and shiploads of lumber leaving his wharf for ports on the Island and in nearby provinces. About 1809 he built a new house near his mill, gave the homestead at Bedeque to his eldest son, and moved the short distance to Wilmot Valley, where he spent the last decade of his life, carrying out the duties of local magistrate as occasion arose, and supervising his mill, farm, and store, surrounded by sons and daughters whom he had settled on good properties.
William Schurman was a man of ability and intelligence, with the courage and versatility required for success in his time. He was conspicuously practical as well, apparently able to turn his hand to almost anything, from shipbuilding to coopering and blacksmithing, and able to ride out the forced move from New Rochelle and later losses to arrive at a comfortable old age, a man of substance, entrusted with dispensing justice to those of his neighbours who appeared before him in court. “His public duty as a Member of the Assembly and as a Magistrate,” states his death notice in the Prince Edward Island Gazette, “were ever of a piece with his other conduct, marked with strong discernment and vigorous activity of mind, which were always evinced by his purity of intention and sound judgment.”
Schurman was twice married: in 1768 to Jane Bonnet and in 1778 to Elizabeth Hyatt; four children were born of the first marriage and seven of the second. His family in New Rochelle pronounced the name Skureman and generally spelled it Schureman; William retained the Dutch pronunciation but signed himself Schurman after settling in Bedeque. Although almost all his descendants have followed his spelling, most of those who have left the Maritimes have adopted the pronunciations Shureman or Sherman. The former became widespread because of its use by William’s best-known descendant, his great-grandson Jacob Gould Schurman, author, educator, adviser to American presidents for many years, and minister of the United States to Greece, Montenegro, and China and ambassador to Germany.
This sketch is based on a more detailed account given in Ross Graves, William Schurman, loyalist of Bedeque, Prince Edward Island, and his descendants (2v., Summerside, P.E.I, 1973). The principal sources used are listed below.
North Bedeque Cemetery (North Bedeque, P.E.I), William Schurman, gravestone. PAPEI, RG 9, Customs, shipping reg., 1 (1787–1824); RG 16, Land registry records, 1792–1833. Private arch., A. Reeves (Bedeque), William Schurman, account book, 1784–1819. Supreme Court of P.E.I. (Charlottetown), Estates Division, liber 1: f.130 (will of William Schurman); Inventories and accounts, William Schurman, inventory of estate. P.E.I, House of Assembly, Journal. Records of the town of New Rochelle, 1699–1828, ed. and trans. J. A. Forbes (New Rochelle, N.Y., 1916). Prince Edward Island Gazette (Charlottetown), 23 Sept. 1819. Schuremans of New York, comp. Richard Wynkoop (New York, 1903). L. U. Fowler, “Bedeque and its people . . . ,” Prince Edward Island Magazine (Charlottetown), 2 (1900–1): 117–24, 165–68, 259–62. D. S. McHugh, “William Schurman, loyalist,” Westchester County Hist. Soc., Quarterly Bull. (White Plains, N.Y.), 8 (1932): 121–30.