Which brick wall would you most like to have break wide open in 2021? For me, my Loyalist ancestor, Robert Carlisle, is well represented in a brick wall. There are a few chinks, here and there, but not a peep of light shining through anywhere!
I know quite a bit about Robert after he married, probably in Parr Town (today, St. John, New Brunswick, Canada) in the summer of 1785.
I know almost nothing of his life before the American Revolution.
Here is what I do know, working backwards in time:
1. Robert died in 1834 in Charlotte, Washington, Maine, according to widow Catherine’s statement when she applied for a widow’s pension available in Canada for soldiers of the “old war.”
2. The family lived in Sussex Vale, Kings County, New Brunswick, Canada until they removed to Charlotte, Maine in the 1820s.
3. Robert filed two land deeds in St. John in the summer of 1785. Both were for land sales. In the first, no wife released dower rights. In the second, Catherine released her rights, so Robert apparently married in the summer of 1785. That fits with the birth of their first child about 1786.
Before Robert’s appearance in St. John in 1785, I have only one bit of proven information about him. He served with the Royal Fencibles. Again, Catherine supplied that helpful detail in her pension application.
You would think that would be a huge lead for further research. Well, not really. My research has shown that relatively little is known about the Fencibles during the war.
Here are a few facts:
1. The Fencibles were recruited in Boston (Massachusetts), Newfoundland and Halifax, Nova Scotia in 1775. By October of that year, the regiment consisted of about 200 men. However, no muster rolls survive.
2. The only known combat for the Royal Fencibles was the defense of Fort Cumberland, near Sackville, New Brunswick in late 1776.
3. The regiment constructed Fort Howe at the mouth of the St. John River in 1777. They served under Gilbert Studholme there until the end of the war.
4. They disbanded at Fort Howe and Halifax on 10 October 1783.
5. There is no evidence that the Fencibles ever entered the American colonies as a military force.
Back to Robert Carlisle –
The only American census record for Robert shows him living in Charlotte in 1830 with son James and his family. Living next door is another son, John, and his family. The census places Robert’s birth year between 1751-1760 and wife Catherine’s between 1761-1770. Catherine’s pension application indicated she was born in 1761, so the 1830 age categories are likely correct.
I have no evidence that Robert Carlisle ever lived in the American colonies before the Revolutionary War. None of his children lived to the 1880 census in the U.S. or the 1881 Canadian census. If he did live in the colonies, he hid his past well.
It is likely that Robert was born 1755-1760 since Catherine was born c1761. He would have been about 20 years old if he joined the Royal Fencibles in 1775. Since he evidently was a private or perhaps of some other low military rank, his young age would fit that scenario.
On the other hand, It is entirely possible that Robert Carlisle was not a member of the Fencibles for the entire length of the war. He might have only served with them for a year or two. With no muster rolls or payroll lists surviving, it is impossible to verify the length of his service. More on that in a bit.
Have Nova Scotia records shed any light on Robert Carlisle?
I wish I could say yes. I was fortunate enough to visit the Nova Scotia Archives in 2019 and spend a couple of hours there.
Robert was unmarried until the war ended. Not only does he not appear in land or probate records there, the Carlisle surname isn’t even found in those early records.
Except. . . . for one mention. Dennis Heffernan married one Mrs. Jane Carlisle in December 1761. Where they married isn’t stated on the library catalog card, but Dennis Heffernan lived in Halifax, so it seems likely he married Mrs. Carlisle there.
Dennis Heffernan was a business man. He had two known children, Dennis, born c1762 and Jane, born in the 1760s. Mr. Heffernan died on 24 March 1789, also found on a card in the Nova Scotia Archives catalog.
I think part of my difficulty in finding family for Robert might be that he had no brothers and, perhaps, didn’t even have any full siblings. It’s a possibility that Mrs. Jane Carlisle was his mother and was a young widow with a toddler when she married Dennis Heffernan.
However, aside from the notation of her marriage, Mrs. Jane Carlisle slipped into history leaving no other trace of her existence. Given that Dennis Jr. was born c1762 and a daughter was named Jane, she probably is the mother of those two Heffernan children.
Is she Robert Carlisle’s mother? I have no idea. Robert didn’t have any known daughter named Jane, but it is certainly possible that he could have had a daughter by that name who died young.
Robert’s first three children were sons Robert, John and James. I’d guess from those choices that his own father likely bore one of those names.
There are Carlisles/Carliles in southern Maine around York County at the turn of the 19th century. However, I’ve found no documentary links between that family and my Robert Carlisle.
Apart from the marriage of a Mrs. Jane Carlisle in 1761, there is one other possibly tantalizing clue to follow.
Loyalist Walter Stewart was the father of John Stewart who married Robert’s daughter, Catherine Carlisle, in Sussex Vale, New Brunswick, Canada in 1814.
Walter Stewart was from Dutchess County, New York and in his memorial, it is stated that he served with the Loyal American Regiment, based in Dutchess and Westchester Counties, New York.
What is intriguing about the Loyal American Regiment is that one JOHN Carlisle enlisted with them on 21 December 1782 AND on 25 June 1783, one JAMES Carlisle is noted as having deserted the same regiment.
Could Robert be related to this John or James Carlisle? Again, I don’t know.
A search of Dutchess County land and probate records hasn’t turned up any instances of the Carlile/Carlisle surname in the years leading up to the American Revolution.
I would dearly love to find parents and siblings for Robert, but I have been stymied at every turn.