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18. WILSON ISLAND

Yarmouth Vanguard, Tuesday, May 2, 1989.


The students of the sixth grade of the school in Wedgeport have asked for an article on Wilson Island, which lies just east of their village. It is with pleasure that I comply with their demand.


Wilson Island is just one of the many islands which are scattered along the coast of Townsend Bay, the official name of what we know as Lobster Bay. People used to say that there are as many islands between Yarmouth Harbour and Cape Sable Island as there are days in the year. We might come close to this number if we were to include all the rocks and ledges of this rockbound coast. Many of these islands have their history, none though which is more noteworthy than that of Wilson Island, which is two and a half miles long and from 50 to 150 feet wide.


The first occupant of the island was Paul Clermont (now written Clairmont, given also as Clements). He had married Marie-Josephte Mius (Muise), daughter of Charles-Amand and Marie-Marthe Hebert. He was in the vicinity of Barrington when the Acadians from this region were sent into exile in Massachusetts in 1756. This is where was born François Clermont, whose name is closely linked to that of Wilson Island.


Paul Clermont came back from exile in the late 1760’s or early 1770’s. He established himself first on Surette’s Island, but just for a short time, before settling definitely on Wilson Island. Here his house was located on the south end of the island, on its western arm which projects towards Wilson Point, at 75 to 100 feet north of what a map of 1850 calls a “large barn”. This is the house that his son Francois will occupy, after marrying around 1795 Ludivine Doucet, daughter of Joseph and Ludivine Mius of Wedgeport. It is in this house that his nine children were born.


We read in Brown’s history of Yarmouth, p. 397, that “in 1763, or earlier, had been granted to Gov. Montague Wilmot the tract, about 5,000 acres, lying between what is now Tusket Village and the sea, and including Surette’s and Wilson’s Islands. The title of these lands appears to have reverted to the government; for in June 1801, they were again granted to Joseph Moulaison and twenty-seven other Acadians” (sic, for 26, whose names we have). It comprised exactly 4,874 1/2 acres, which is all that section on the east side of Tusket River, including Tusket, Hubbard’s Point, Amirault’s Hill, Sluice Point, Surette’s Island and Wilson Island. This Joseph Moulaison was from Amirault’s Hill, the son of another Joseph Moulaison, the one who, born in Pubnico or vicinity, stayed in the woods during the Expulsion, coming out of hiding in 1764, three years before any other Acadians came back to what is now Yarmouth County. This island was granted under the name of Sheep Island, a name it will keep until the second half of the last century. But the Acadians have given to it other names, one of which was “l’ile à Sauge (Sauge Island), because François Clermont was called, for no known reason, “Sauge”, the French word for “sage”, which is a medical mint. People of a certain age still remember having heard, in their young days, old people make use of this name.


In the summer of 1812, the U.S. declared war on England because England threatened to interrupt the American trade, especially with France, so to keep its naval power. A number of American privateers started to roam along the coast of Nova Scotia.


In the evening of October 8 of this year, 1812, the soldiers of one of them landed on Sheep Island. Tradition tells us that immediately François Clermont took his gun and stood half hiding behind his house, watching what was to happen. Unfortunately, he was discovered and killed in cold blood. Then the soldiers went into the house and ransacked everything, even knocked down a cradle in which there was a seven-month-old baby, then killed a pig, which they took with them, along with other stocks, and finally went away. As soon as the news reached the authorities, they sent an officer to Sheep Island for an investigation. It was then, Oct. 11, which was a Sunday, that the burial took place, most likely on the island itself. The privateer was shortly after captured by a Canadian cruiser, the Slogan, and the homicide was identified among the prisoners as the first lieutenant of the privateer. François Clermont was leaving a widow and nine children, the oldest only 17 and the second daughter a helpless cripple. It has been said that the invaders had left their gun on the pig pen, which afterwards was taken to the Tusket Court House; if so, it is not there now.


The next occupant of the island was Jean Emmanuel Mius, born in 1809, son of Charles-Amand, Jr., and thus first cousin to François Clermont. Hilaire Pothier, in his sketch of Wedgeport, tells us that he “lived at the same place as Sauge.” He had married in 1831 Isabelle LeBlanc of Amirault’s Hill, the granddaughter of the one called “Uncle Amand” I referred to in my sketch no. 11. He was known by everybody as “Brock,” a name given by the Acadians to the hadger. The name “l’ile à Brock” (Brock Island) is still given at times to Wilson Island. “Xavier à Brock.” standing for Francois-Xavier, son of Brock, who was indeed his only son, was for a long time a “household” name among the French people of the region. The descendants of the “Brock” family are still numerous, especially in Yarmouth County and in Massachusetts.


Emmanuel Mius was still living on Sheep Island when Hilaire Pothier wrote his sketch in 1884-5. At that time was living also on the island Léon Cottreau, son of Thomas, born in 1833, married first in 1868.


Transactions for the ownership of the island or parts of it were started early after it was granted to those 27 Acadians in 1801, some even taking place that same year, and they kept on up to this day. On a plan of the island, made in 1981, there are inscribed 15 different names.


You have been asking yourself, why “Wilson Island”? The grant of 1801, mentioned above, was made “exclusive of fifty acres on the south end of sheep Island which is marked off and reserved out of this grant to Andrew Wilson,” which would mean that the Clermont family’s dwellings were located on Andrew Wilson’s property. He was a Loyalist from Shelburne who, it would seem, was established on the Shelburne-Annapolis Road, commenced in 1787, 200 acres having been granted him at this location the previous year. It was in the same year, 1786, that he applied for another grant of 200 acres on “Tusket River South”, in which surely were included the 50 acres of Wilson Island. It is strange that the island kept on to be known as “Sheep Island” for 70 years or more before the name of “Wilson Island” appeared on the maps. On Church’s map of Yarmouth County, which came out in 1871, we read “Sheep or Wilson Island”.


Some 13 years later, Hilaire Pothier uses only the name Wilson Island, which is still its official name.

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