A 2021 Look at Robert Wilson of Campobello Island, Canada

Last month, I presented my Most Wanted Ancestors of 2021. Instead of being brick walls, I chose 3 ancestors in my family tree and three in my husband’s who appear to have clues pointing to new information about each family.

Today, Robert Wilson, my 6X great grandfather is the subject of my first investigation.

Here are the facts about Robert Wilson who settled early on Campobello Island with his wife Mary and two other families:

1. In 1767, David Owen was given a land grant that included Campobello Island, then in Nova Scotia, but today part of New Brunswick, Canada. When he arrived on the island with 38 colonists (actually indentured servants from Liverpool) in 1770, he found three families already living there, that of Robert Wilson, William Clarke and Mr. Ricker.

2. Robert Wilson took part in Eddy’s Rebellion and the attack on Fort Cumberland  in 1776, which was an effort to bring the American Revolution to Nova Scotia by men supportive of the cause for independence. He was charged with treason, but apparently was not punished.

3. In addition to being his brother-in-law, William Clarke was Robert Wilson’s long time friend and after Clarke moved his family across the water to Cobscook Falls, Maine, Wilson would often visit and they would go fishing. In 1782, the men were both drowned. It is said they served in the French and Indian War together.

4. Robert Wilson’s wife was Mary Woodward and the Woodward surname was given as a middle name to descendants.

5. William Clarke married Susannah Woodward, sister of Mary, on Campobello Island. A son was baptized in July 1770, so they married no later than 1769.

6. Robert Wilson and Mary Woodward had three children named in Canadian documents: James Wilson, Robert Wilson and Elizabeth Wilson.

7. Mary Wilson’s estate administration was opened in 1806.

With a lack of vital records, the description life on Campobello is sketchy at best. However, it is evident that in 1770, Robert Wilson and the others had already been living on the island for “several” years. A court judgement was in the Wilsons’ favor (against David Owen) and allowed their claim of property ownership.

8. Robert Wilson Jr.’s year of birth has been estimated to be c1768 and that of his brother James as c1771.

9. Robert Wilson Jr. didn’t die until 1845, but wrote his will in 1826. In it, he allowed for the care of and eventual burial of “my sister Elizabeth Wilson,” implying that she never married.

10. Robert Wilson Sr.’s year of birth has been estimated within a wide range of years and they are all just guesses. However, if Robert Jr. was born c1768, we would expect Robert Sr. to have been born no later than c1743 and perhaps much earlier.

Lastly, this isn’t a “fact,” but write ups about Robert Wilson state that he was probably born in Ireland (Ballymena, County Antrim) and arrived in Boston, Massachusetts c1751.

What documents were found in Massachusetts about Robert Wilsons?

Google Maps

The first record that drew people to connect Robert Wilson of Campobello to Massachusetts was a marriage record:

Robert Wilson of Lincoln to Mary Woodward of Sudbury
Intentions filed on 30 January 1759, married 22 February 1759

Mary was the daughter of John Woodward and Saphira Moore of Sudbury and both families had been living in the town for several generations.

The entries for marriage intentions and the actually marriage are recorded in the Lincoln, Middlesex, Massachusetts town vital records.

Further, there were two birth entries, the only two for anyone with the Wilson surname:

Mary, daughter of Robert, born 14 May 1761
Elizabeth, daughter of Robert, born 4 September 1764

No other marriages were recorded in Lincoln for Wilsons, nor were any Wilson deaths recorded.

I widened the search area for births involving a Robert Wilson and one sets of records came up on American Ancestors. One Robert Wilson lived in Boston for an extended time, but not a single entry came up in land records for any Robert Wilson in Suffolk County. I don’t know this man’s occupation – perhaps he was a tradesman and didn’t own land – but seven children were born to this Robert and an unnamed wife and baptized at Arlington Street Church: Mary, 24 January 1731, Robert, 4 April 1734, Robert (again), 24 April 1737, Ann, 20 June 1738, James, 26 March 1739, Mary, 20 February 1740 and Jean, 10 September 1742.  No Wilson deaths were recorded there during this time period, even though a child Mary and a child Robert probably both died young, given that the names were repeated.

Whether or not this Wilson family is related to Robert of Campobello is unknown. There is a marriage record at the Arlington Street Church for a Robert Wilson and Mary Hodge (from ye country, whatever that means!) on 12 April 1763. This is probably the Robert born in 1737 and he married just before his 26th birthday. New England men of the 18th century were often about 25 years old when they married.

There is also a Boston marriage record, not at that church, for Robert Wilson to Mary Miller on 3 May 1755. No other records relating to this couple have been found. Could this be a first marriage for my Robert Wilson? It’s possible, if Mary died giving birth to her first child and Robert waited a year or so to remarry. This marriage is a loose end that might never be connected.

Next, Middlesex County land records were searched. The name Robert Wilson appears but a handful of times.

Middlesex County Deed Books: Robert Wilson

The first two entries are clearly a different man or men:
3:144, J. Brown to Robert Wilson, 27 October 1665
10:90, Robert Wilson to E. Angier, 19 March 1688

Remember, no one has any evidence of the year of birth for Robert of Campobello. What do you think of these next two entries?

43:547, J. Richardson to Robert Wilson, 2 February 1743
45:462, 464 Robert Wilson, tanner of Hopkinton to R. Price, 11 acres of land in Sudbury, 22 July 1746

There are only those two entries for the 1740s, but the fact that Robert is selling land in Sudbury gives me pause. If this is my Robert Wilson, then he is a fair amount older than most people have estimated. He would have been born no later than 1725 to be selling land in 1746 and even older to have previously purchased it.

He is identified as a tanner, whereas Robert of Campobello was a farmer and fisherman. I tend to think this is some other Robert in spite of the link to Sudbury.

The last set of entries I think definitely pertain to Robert who married Mary Woodward:

64:5 Robert & Mary to D. Wyman, share of Eliab Moore’s estate, 17 August 1765
66:555, J. Maynard vs Robert Wilson, judgement, 24 May 1767
67:238, 630, Benjamin Parker giving up/returning rights to deed given to him by Robert Wilson, 3 October 1767
67:634, Robert Wilson to D. Jones, 25 April 1768

After 25 April 1768, Robert Wilson completely disappears from Middlesex County deed books. Remember, by 1770, the Wilson family had already been living on Campobello Island for some time.

There are no death or probate records recorded for Robert, wife Mary Woodward or any children.


I have to say that circumstantial evidence does point to Robert and Mary Woodward who married on 22 February 1759 being the same couple who removed to Campobello Island.

Unfortunately, no single record has been found for Robert Wilson with wording such as “I Robert Wilson formerly of. . . .and now a resident of  . . . ”

However, we have:

1. A Robert Wilson of the right age.

2. A marriage record for a Robert Wilson and a Mary Woodward in exactly the right time frame.

3. Don’t forget that Robert Wilson Jr., in a will written in 1826, left instructions for the care and eventual burial of his sister, Elizabeth Wilson. If his sister is the Elizabeth born in 1764 in Lincoln, then she was only a few years older than Robert and represents another piece of evidence suggesting that Robert and Mary of Sudbury are the same Robert and Mary of Campobello.

4. It is also significant that Robert Wilson of Lincoln/Sudbury completely disappears from town records at precisely the time that Robert Wilson and family appear living on Campobello Island.

5. Lastly, remember, too, that Robert of Campobello took part in Eddy’s Rebellion, supporting the American cause for independence. If he is the same man as Robert of Middlesex County, he would have still been living in Massachusetts as the time of the hated Stamp Act of 1765 and may have even taken part in heated discussions about the King’s actions and that of Parliament, feeling them to be unfair.

What do you think? Please comment. 🙂



2 thoughts on “A 2021 Look at Robert Wilson of Campobello Island, Canada”

  1. I just happened on this. Am pretty sure that Robt is also my 6th great g’father. I found, some while back, a birth date reference (online), for Robt Sr 1725 (I think), in Ballymoney Ireland. We still own two islands, just off of Wilson’s Beach Campobello — Sandy Island and Spruce Island. My father (William Sr) was born in Eastport (Me.) — just across from Campobello. His father, Burpee, was born on Deer Island (also just across from Campobello) I have much more info , on paper, at home (I’m away right now) Where are you located? Bill

    1. Hi William . I came across this post as i was doing some DNA research. We still have the Wilson property in our family as my great-grandfather was Aden Fitzgerald and his mother was Clarisa Wilson. Her Uncle James left her the house in Pollock Cove on Campobello island. I live in CT but my mother and father live on the island. She in the nursing home and he in the house that borders the shared property we own with cousins that belonged to James Wilson. I was interested in Sandy island and Spruce Island piece…very interesting! Please contact me cousin . Thanks! Angela Dean at angecdean@gmail.com

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