Home: People: Influential: John Parr
John Parr was born in Dublin in 1725. Although he was a descendant of a noble family, Parr was not extraordinarily wealthy or privileged. At the age of 19 he became an ensign in 20th Foot Regiment. This particular regiment was brave in battle, but constantly mutinous in peace. Parr served as a secretary to the regiment's commander, the famous James Wolfe. Parr was wounded, promoted consistently, and wounded again, traveling all across Europe. Parr participated in a famous battle with the French where 6 infantry regiments attacked, then broke through three lines of cavalry due to a mistake in their orders, and was severely wounded again.
Parr served with the 20th regiment for 27 years before being promoted to command it. After five years of leading the regiment he took two years off and was appointed to command the Tower of London. Four years later, in 1782, was appointed governor of Nova Scotia.
Here he would face enormous difficulties. By 1782 it was clear that the war was lost in the colonies, and that the Loyalists would have to be evacuated. Where would they go? England was already overpopulated and there was no land for them at any rate. Scotland and Ireland were possibilities, the West Indies promising, but the most likely location was the seaside colony of Nova Scotia. There were only about 10 000 settlers in the whole province at the time, and it was only about 5 days to sail from New York.
Soon hundreds of ships from all of the colonies began to arrive and dump their cargo of Loyalist refugees. Many people, both black and white, had nothing but the clothing on their backs. All of their property in the colonies had been seized by the rebels, without much hope of compensation. Although restitution was promised by the peace treaty, even at the time Loyalists realized they would never receive compensation. All these people were completely dependent on the government for support and supplies. At the same time land had to be surveyed for all of the new settlers, and the justice system had to deal with thousands of penniless ex-soldiers without any fixed address. The colony only had enough officials for a population of 10 000, but within a year its population had tripled.
Although Parr made some errors, and there was some chaos, he did well under the circumstances. He not only had to deal with hundreds of petitions for various types of relief, but also with many pressures from the British administration to give priority to specific claimants. Even though promised equal treatment, blacks soon slipped to the bottom of every list.
Parr showed some interest in the fate of the Black Loyalists. He assisted David George a number of times, bringing his family to Shelburne and giving him significant charitable relief. He also took an interest in the operation of the black schools, personally appointing Isaiah Limerick to be the schoolteacher at Brindley Town, a decision that caused some difficulties.
In 1784 the difficulties of administrating all these problems came to a head. At the time, all of what's now called the Atlantic Provinces, was part of the colony of Nova Scotia. Parr suggested that it be split up into four separate administrations, Nova Scotia, Cape Breton, New Brunswick, and Prince Edward Island. Parr retained some authority over the separate provinces.
Crime was still a serious problem in the province, and the authorities responded with brutality to try and force people into submission. Over 20 people were executed in Halifax in 1785; three of them blacks, including one woman who had simply stolen a bag of potatoes. Parr seems to have taken an expedient approach to the problem; certainly he did nothing to discourage the executions.
Parr continued to deal with many problems, including the hostility between the original Nova Scotia settlers and the Loyalists. Although he regularly received various petitions from Black Loyalists, Parr obviously assigned them a low priority. They may have been about 10% of the colony's population, but as far as the administration was concerned, they were the least important 10%, and more pressing issues constantly captured official attention.
This changed when Clarkson arrived from England. Parr had received two letters. The first was from the Secretary of State Henry Dundas, urging him to appoint official agents for the Company and to cooperate fully, and another private letter suggesting that he not over exert himself while encouraging blacks to leave. Parr had every reason to agree with the second letter. If the blacks were too eager to depart it would suggest they had been treated less than fairly. That in turn would reflect badly on his administration.
Parr refused to meet with Peters when he returned from England to promote the Colony, but he immediately acted to counter his allegations. First he appointed a commission to investigate the charges made by Peters. Of course, the decisions were made long before the commission met. Peters was to blame for not having received land; he had left for New Brunswick before it could be granted. It was never mentioned that the survey had been made, but the grant had been rejected because it infringed on church land. Church grants were usually shifted for settler's farmland, but not for the blacks of Brindley Town.
Parr appointed agents for the company, but wrote them that 'you need not be over anxious in procuring or persuading the Blacks to remove'. Many of the agents actively resisted blacks who wished to be enlisted, demanding 10 year old certificates of freedom and allowing trumped up debts to stand as an obstacle to their enlistment.
Parr seem to have some change of heart, eventually confiding in Clarkson about the letters he had received. Maybe it was in hope of redemption, because within weeks he was dead. His public funeral came only two months before the exodus to Sierra Leone, fitting since he had entered office only a few months before the first black refugees had arrived.