Historical notes on John Yerxa

When Johannes (John) was about 21, his father's brother, Johannes died (1772) and left John Yerkes (as he was known then) the sum of five shillings and his new coat.

On 3 December 1774 Daniel Gerow wrote to John Lake of New York City asking him to rent or sell his farm to Daniel's son-in-law, John "Yerkes" whose character he recommended.

The Revolutionary War broke out in 1776 in the Thirteen Colonies. Thousands of British colonists whose only crime was loyalty to their king and native country had their properties confiscated, had no legal rights and their lives were in danger. They knew they had been treated harshly by their king but believed that there were better ways of dealing with their problem than civil war. In 1780 John Yerkes went within the British lines. He served under Colonel DeLancey. The signing of the Peace Treaty in 1783 formally ending the war between the new United States and Britain did not improve the lot of the Loyalists. The harassment became worse. Those with any influence sailed to England. Some went to the Barbados. Most looked to Nova Scotia (New Brunswick and Nova Scotia were then one colony). A few travelled overland to Upper Canada (Ontario) and Lower Canada (Quebec). The size of the immigration exceeded all official estimates, and preparations were inadequate or non-existent. The British Government gave them thousands of acres of land and also money, tools, food and clothing for a while, but they were very poor. Governor Parr was in Halifax, Nova Scotia, and it was difficult to deal fairly with the newcomers as he was too distant and also not the man for that tremendous task of settling the Loyalists.

"The Spring Fleet" arrived at the mouth of the Saint John River in May, 1783. Just a wilderness greeted their eyes except for Fort Howe, a trading post and a very few buildings. This was known as Portland Point. It took a week to clear away the brush wood from the now Market Slip. On 18 May, 1783, the passengers disembarked with not a hut to shelter them. Loyalists continued to pour into Nova Scotia Colony from May until November 1783 and three large fleets, the "Spring Fleet" and the "Summer Fleet" came in August and the "Fall Fleet," in September, but single ships also brought emigrants all through the summer and fall. They were of all classes - clergymen, doctors, teachers, soldiers, farmers, tradesmen and backwoods men. The professions included graduates from Yale and Harvard universities. They settled all along the Saint John River Valley and its tributaries to miles beyond Saint Anne's Point (Fredericton) and along the south coast and other rivers. Governor Parr changed the name of Portland Point to Parrtown.

Agents were sent to allot the land grants. There were prolonged delays, and nearly 2,000 buildings were built with no land titles. There were unequal land grants, grants given to the wrong owners, grants unfit for settlement and favoritism shown. Disbanded soldiers arrived in the fall to find that they had no grants allotted. Some of them were sent up to Saint Anne's Point. As it was late in the season, they were forced to live in tents during the winter. Some women and children died from exposure and starvation.

Henry Bulyea (Hendrick Boyle) and Engeltie (Storm) Yerxa Bulyea came to Nova Scotia Colony in 1783. They settled at Greenwich Hill in Kings County. All the eight Bulyea sons came and at least one daughter, Deborah, who was married to Richard MacDonald. Some of the sons settled at what is now Gagetown and along the Washademoak River.

Engeltie (Yerxa) Bulyea died in 1805. She and husband Henry are both buried in the Anglican Cemetery at Oak Point, Kings County, New Brunswick. Henry had died previously.

In August 1783, the "Summer Fleet" arrived. John Yerkes (5) (now spelling his name John Yerxa) with his wife, Catharine (Gerow) Yerxa, and four children came on this fleet. The children were three sons, Abraham, John and Daniel, and one daughter, Elizabeth.

John Yerxa and family, along with others, went up the Saint John River to Burton first and then to Majorfield (Maugerville) where a small English settlement had been extablished in 1763. This was a tremendous help for the Loyalists during that first hard winter. They were given land grants there later.

In July of 1784 the Nova Scotia Colony north of the Bay of Fundy became a separate province known as New Brunswick, and Colonel Thomas Carleton arrived in Parrtown as Governor. He received an enthusiastic welcome.

The next year, 1785, the name Parrtown was changed to Saint John much to the delight of the citizens as Governor Parr had been quite unpopular. Thus, Saint John became the oldest incorporated city in British North America. The citizens were dismayed that fall when the seat of government was moved up the Saint John River to St. Ann's and named Frederick Town (Fredericton). This was to lessen the danger of attacks by sea in case of war.

In November 1784, John Yerxa obtained Lot #31 from the late agents and purchased the improvements of Ebenezer Whitney on a piece of ground in Burton across the Saint John River from Maugerville. These places are in Sunbury County--oldest county in New Brunswick. Some of the older inhabitants sold their lands to the Loyalists and purchased lots from others.

In March of 1785, John Yerxa had to apply to Thomas Carleton, Governor, along with witnesses to hold Lot #31 as another settler had laid claim to it.

James Chase's Affidavit

Claims of the Loyalists

A transcript of the Manuscript Books and Papers of the Commission of Enquire in the Losses and Services of the American Loyalists held under Acts of Parliament of 23, 25, 26 and 29 of George (3), preserved among the Audit Office Records in the Publick Record Office of England 1783 - 1790.

Volume 19

Examinations in Nova Scotia, etc. Memorials, Schedules of Losses and Evidences. New York Claimants in eight books (Book III)

New Claim


1. Evidence on the Claim of John Yerxa, late of New York #747 (Bureau of Archives, Ottawa, Canada).

New Claim - February 27, 1787, #747, Case of John Yerxa, late of New York

York County Land Petition #257

It is recorded that John Yerxa, along with 52 others, received a lot of land on February 16, 1787, between Middle Island and Swan Creek called the Burton Grant.

The document recording the sale follows:

This document was recorded in Sunbury County Registry Office - Burton.

In 1788, John Yerxa fulfilled his desire to obtain land on the Madame Kisaway River now known as Keswick, in York County, when he purchased the land of Capt. Frederick DePeyster of the New York Volunteers. Captain DePeyster left the province and returned to New York. It was not the Lot 4 in the Pioneers Block for which Yerxa had petitioned but a lot in Block 1 which had been turned over to the New York Volunteers. There in the pleasant valley of the Keswick River was the good fertile land for farming (husbandry) for John Yerxa and his descendants.

(Madame Kisaway was closer to the Malicete Indian pronunciation of the river's name than the modern Keswick taken from Esther Clark Wright's book Loyalists of New Brunswick.)

John and Catherine Yerxa spent the rest of their days in the settlement which became known as Mouth of Keswick.

Catherine (Gerow) Yerxa's father, Daniel Gerow, died in 1791 and his will which had been left in the care of Nehemiah Knapp was badly damaged so it could not be read.

Knapp made a written statement regarding the contents. An agreement was entered into on March l, 1791, between the widow and all the children except two sons James and Daniel and a daughter, Catherine Yerxa, who had settled in New Brunswick to divide the estate as follows: one-third to the widow, Elizabeth (mother of Catherine Gerow Yerxa) with the best room in the house as long as she remained a widow - all of the landed estate together with two bonds from Isaiah Green to be equally divided between the five sons, William Gerow, John, Elias, James, and Daniel who were to bear their equal parts in the payment of all debts against the estate - all the movable estate together with all debts due the estate except the bonds mentioned to be equally divided among all the daughters.

On April 14, 1792, Quit Claim deeds were given to William, John and Elias for their parts of the farm by all the other heirs. On August 20, 1792, a quit claim deed was given to William Gerow, Plattekill, New York, in the settlement of the estate of Daniel Gerow by Catherine and John Yerxa of the Mouth of Keswick Creek, York County, New Brunswick.

Elizabeth (Coutant) Gerow, widow of Daniel by her will dated 14th February 1816, left everything to her seven daughters and named her sons, William and Peter Coutant, executors. She could not sign her name so made her mark. Witnessed by William's son, Daniel, his daughter Esther Birdsall, and James Russell. The heirs of Elizabeth Gerow gave receipts for their share of Elizabeth's estate in an amount of $46.87 each on April 12, 1816. Apparently not all received their shares at that time.

A letter written by John and Catherine Yerxa dated July 30, 1821 mentioned that Catherine had not received her share. A copy of the letter follows:

John and Catherine Yerxa sent a receipt for $65.50 in full for legacy by Elizabeth (Coutant) Gerow. Page 125 of ref. Gerow genealogy.

This appears to indicate that not all the shares were equal amounts as another daughter, Deborah (Gerow) Denton, received $70 in 1826.

John Yerxa petitioned for more land in 1821.

The death record of John Yerxa may be found in the Saint John Museum, New Brunswick, from the Saint John Globe Scrapbook R 971, 532 W21, Page 139: "Died in Parish of Douglas, York County on 11 June 1828, in the 77th year of his age, Mr. John Yerxa, one the first settlers in this province. He has left 14 children, 86 grandchildren and 55 great-grandchildren."

The exact date of Catherine (Gerow) Yerxa's death has not been located but it occurred sometime between 23rd January 1825 and March 1828. John and Catherine are said to have been buried under the big tree on their farm but there are no stones for them now. The large Yerxa Cemetery at Mouth of Keswick is on their old farm but John and Catherine's graves were outside the cemetery. Their son James (1794-1866) lived on the farm and later their grandson, James Jr. (1824-1903)

On the 11th of March 1828, John Yerxa had made his will and named as his executors his three sons, Abraham, John and Daniel Yerxa. On July 2, 1828, Daniel Yerxa relinquishes and renounces all wish or right to act as an executor of the said will. Also on the 2nd day of July, 1828, Abraham Yerxa and John Yerxa appeared before the Surrogate of York County with the three witnesses to execute the disposition of said will of John Yerxa.

The Will:

He gave and bequeathed to his well loved sons, Abraham, Daniel, John and Isaac Yerxa, the farm that he resided on at that date known as Lot #6 in the Grant to be equally divided among them except an acre to beloved daughter, Rachal, where she now lives for life and then to her heirs. To well beloved son, James Yerxa, he gave the lot that he now lives on called in the Grant No. 4 during his natural life and then to be his heirs.

He also gave to his beloved daughters, Elizabeth, Mary, Hannah, Catherine, Sarah, Rachal, Fanny, Ann, Martha Ann, all his movable estate to be equally divided among them except one cow which was at his house which he gave to his daughter, Fanny, and she was to have the privilege of living in his house if she abided by certain conditions. The will was witnessed by three persons, Roger Boone, Stephen Cameron, Benjamin Stickney.

An inventory was taken on property of late John Yerxa 7th July, 1828. One of his estates on 2nd August 1828, property values Lot No. 6 valued at 90 pounds, and Lot No. 4 120 pounds. The writer does not know the agreement which the four brothers made regarding the property Lot No. 6 in the Grant, but Abraham obtained the entire property.