HENRY MAGEE – AN EARLY VALLEY MERCHANT (January 21/00)

Born in Ireland in 1756, Henry Magee emigrated to America, establishing a mill in Pennsylvania. During the American Revolution, Magee was separated from his family and imprisoned for his Loyalist views. Magee escaped and fled to Canada. After wandering in the wilderness he eventually arrived in Nova Scotia where he was reunited with his family. Magee settled in the Annapolis Valley, first establishing a grist mill in Windsor and later a mill and general store in Kentville. He is mentioned in Eaton’s Kings County history as one of the first Kentville settlers and a Loyalist grantee.

Magee’s emigration from Ireland and his flight from war-torn 18th century America is recorded in a document written by Eliza Orpin, a great-granddaughter; this document is in the possession of another Magee descendant, Harry Smith of Port Williams. While lacking details, Orpin’s account gives us a glimpse of the turmoil in North America in this period and the effect it had on Nova Scotia. We will see that during their battle for independence, tyranny and oppression were used by the Americans.

The Orpin account opens with Magees move to Pennsylvania and tells of his success in the milling trade after recovering from an unnamed malady. With the War of Independence Magee’s troubles begin. Magee refuses to side with the rebels and his mill is seized; he is imprisoned along with other British sympathizers. Magee’s wife and eight-year-old son are driven away, literally at sword point, and it will be years before he see’s them again.

Magee’s wife and son eventually reached New York where they are offered passage to Halifax. “Meanwhile the husband and father lay like a chained lion in prison with his companions in misery, not knowing of his wife and child,” Orpin’s account continues. “After some months they succeeded in breaking out and fled to the woods. Finding a friendly Indian, they engaged him as a guide… to Quebec.”

Several months later Magee and his companions are still in the wilderness. They avoid hostile Indians, narrowly escape from American soldiers on several occasions, and are near starvation when Loyalist sympathizers offer assistance. Magee is aided by a friend who helps him reach the coast; there he finds a ship that will take him to Quebec. By a strange twist of fate, the ship runs into a storm and is forced to head into Halifax where Magee’s family now abides. In Halifax Magee learns that Loyalists have been arriving from new York but he is unable to locate his family.

“After having conferred with the authorities there and making all possible inquiries for his wife and son,” Magee removes to Windsor. While waiting for word of his family Magee purchased a grist mill (the former property of one Colonel Butler if local historians would like to follow Magee’s trail). Orpin does not tell us how much time passes before Magee is united with his wife and son but apparently it is not until he has established a business in Windsor.

As compensation for his losses in America, Magee has been rewarded with a 500-acre grant in Aylesford. The grant and Magee’s move to Kentville are noted in Eaton’s Kings County history. “About 1798 a Loyalist Henry Magee, who had received land in Aylesford in 1786, built a grist mill on the Kentville brook (Magee Brook?) probably on the exact site of the mill afterwards owned by Mr. William Redden. Magee built a house… and at some point opened a shop for general trade.”

Magee died in 1806 and is buried in Oak Grove Cemetery. Eaton has a sketch in his history on the Magee family in which Henry is mentioned. You will find when reading this sketch that there is some confusion over which Henry Magee was the Loyalist who fled from America and became a prominent merchant in the Annapolis Valley.

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