Shelburne, a historic loyalist town and the Ross-Thomson House

With the 4th of July in the rear view mirror, stateside we just celebrated Independence Day, but have you ever wondered what happened to those living in New England that supported King George and the English troops? It is hard to imagine what it would have been like to keep living in the area after the war ended, so I was fascinated when I visited the town of Shelburne, Nova Scotia on a travel writer trip and learned that some of the pro-British refugees left New York and settled in Canada.

In 1783, four hundred families arrived and named the town on the south shore of Nova Scotia Port Roseway. The refugees arrived with the promise of free land, tools and provisions. Later the town was named in honor of the English Prime Minister, Lord Shelburne. According to the walking tour map, “Within a year, the Town mushroomed to a population of 10,000. The region however, could not support so large a settlement, and most of the refugees moved back to England or to other parts or the province or to New Brunswick while others returned to the United States.”
The coastline of Shelburne is amazing with the largest collection of pre-1800 buildings anywhere in Canada. A walking tour includes sights like the Shelburne County Museum, Ross Thomson House &Store, the J.C. Williams Dory Shop, several houses shipyards and more.

A visit to the Ross Thomson House and Store offered insight into life in Shelburne in the late 1700’s. Our guide, Sheila Fekas has been a volunteer at the house for 24 years. While showing us around the house we learned that the Ross-Thomas House is the only original store building remaining in Shelburne.

In this house, the Ross Brothers, George and Robert traded internationally in tea, coffee, rum, port and wine. The store served as a general store for the locals. The Ross Brothers were born in Scotland came to America and settled in Shelburne where they traded the areas pine planks, codfish, ship’s knees, spars and picked herring.
The Ross Brothers hired Robert Thomson as their clerk and he married and had six children. Thomson sailed ships while, George Ross stayed at home and ran the business. The Thomson family shared the home with George Ross who eventually sold it to Dorcas Thomson, Robert’s wife.

When the government in 1787 quit distributing food, settlers of Shelburne found it hard to survive because although the harbor was full of fish, the land did not easily provide for the population of the area and soon houses were up for sale and the town dwindled to a population of around 300.

The town offers an amazing history about the Revolutionary War that American’s truly don’t know. I enjoyed walking the area and seeing the distinct beauty of the pre-1800’s buildings and coastal influence.

Shelburne was the setting of the 1994 movie The Scarlet Letter and today there is part of the remaining movie set. During our visit we also heard that they just completed filming The Book of Negros and I learned that in nearby Birchtown was the largest settlement of free blacks in North America.
During our visit we stayed at the lovely Cooper’s Inn Bed and Breakfast that was built in 1784. That evening after a boat ride and an amazing lobster dinner on the Brown Eyed Girl we stopped in at the Loyalist Inn and I had the pleasure of meeting Karen Harris Mattatall, Mayor of the Town of Shelburne.

Mayor Mattatall shared that the history of Shelburne is amazing, but added that along with visitors the town like in the past welcomes visitors to settle and start up businesses and place roots to help the town grow blending both the past and present to help make Shelburne a vital community.

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