William Davidson (originally John Godsman from Banffshire) came to North America for the purpose of establishing a salmon fishery. With him was John Cort from Aberdeenshire. They arrived in 1765.
The huge grant of 100,000 acres, issued in the proportion of two thirds to Davidson and one-third to Cort, extended from the east end of Beaubear's Island thirteen miles up both branches of the Miramichi River. It also included what is now part of the present town of Newcastle and the village of Nelson.
There were a great many conditions attached to the grant including the payment of an annual quit-rent, the cultivation of one-third of the grant within ten years, one-third more within twenty years and the remainding third within thirty years; the settling of one Protestant person for each 200 acres of land or 500 settlers within the first four years.
W. H. Davidson in the biography of his ancestor ("William Davidson: 1740-1790) wrote: "Davidson and Cort had not sought such a large tract of land. Their primary interest was in establishing a fishery and not in agricultural settlement or colonization. However, it was the policy of government not to grant the fisheries to one party and the land to another and so a substantial acreage was granted under conditions which made it necessary for Davidson and Cort to settle the Miramichi instead of using it merely as a fishing station; otherwise they must risk losing their fisheries as well as the granted lands. They could not see that circumstances beyond their control were to make it impossible for them to fulfill the conditions of the grant. "
Davidson went to New England to get the necessary men, materials and supplies. The following Spring, having collected his gear and about 25 men, he sailed to the Miramichi with two vessels. So began the first British settlement on the river.
The first fishing station was established at the Elm Tree, about twelve miles above Beaubear's Island on the South West Miramichi.
In spite of many difficulties, Davidson managed to establish trade with Britain and the Mediterranean markets and West Indies.
In 1773 Davidson brought out from Britain a master builder, shipwrights and other craftsmen. His men built the first ship to be launched on the Miramichi. Named the "Miramichi" it was a schooner of 300 tons. Loaded with salmon and cod for the Mediterranean, the vessel was lost off the coast of Spain. At least two other ships built by Davidson were shipwrecked as well.
The American revolution interfered with the shipping which took Davidson's exports out and brought supplies in. The Indians were encouraged to attack the British settlers and the raids were carried on from 1775 until peace was declared in 1783. This situation was very discouraging for Davidson who had established in ten years the industries of fishing, lumbering and ship building and had just signed a contract to supply fish and timber at a guaranteed price for seven years. This was the beginning of the province's lumber industry.
Because he could not export his fish or lumber on account of the risk of it falling into the hands of American privateers, he gathered up his workmen and settlers in 1777 and moved to the established Maugerville township on the St. John River where they lived until 1783. During the war he got out white pine for masts for the Royal Navy. This was the beginning of the province's masting industry.
Nevertheless, the production and export of timber was resumed and saw mills were established. Davidson had accomplished a great deal in spite of almost insurmountable odds. He had established a fishery, built ships, developed a farm at Strawberry Marsh, began the clearing of Beaubair's Island for a sheep pasture. He had cleared twelve acres of land and put up some buildings at Beaubair's Point, where the town was to be situated. He had also cleared twelve acres under cultivation near his house at Elm Tree which he had built after the war.
He received a terrible blow in 1785 when he was informed his grant had been escheated by the yearling New Brunswick government which claimed he had not lived up to the conditions of his grant. His protests were of no avail. He was issued a reduced grant in which Beaubair's Island and Beaubair's Point were not included.
It is interesting to note that William Davidson, along with Elias Hardy were the first members representing Northumberland County to be elected to the House of Assembly. Elected in 1785, Davidson served until his death in 1790.
The first recorded deed in the county was executed by William Davidson before John Willson, Justice of the Peace, a New Jersey Loyalist whom Davidson had settled on the South West Miramichi in 1784 and who later obtained a grant of part of Beaubair's Point, later called Wilson's Point. According to "From Whence We Came" by Rev. D. F. Hoddinott, Wilson's Point got its name from a Scotsman who came from Stromness, Orkney, rather than from John Willson of New Jersey.
William Davidson's grave is at Wilson's Point, now the Enclosure. The tombstone reads: Sacred to the Memory of William Davidson, Esqr. Representative for the County of Northumberland Province of New Brunswick Judge of the Court of Common Pleas & Contractor for Masts for his Majestys Navy. He died on the 17th of June 1790, aged 50. He was one of the first settlers on this river and greatly instrumental in Promoting the Settlement. He has left a widow and five children to deplore his loss.
(Acknowledgements: William Davidson by W. H. Davidson; the North West Miramichi by Doreen Menzies Arbuckle; From Whence We Came by Rev. D. F. Hoddinott).
(Northumberland News, April 6, 1983)