HARDY, GEORGE, overseer of roads, businessman, and master mariner; b. c. 1740, probably in East or West Knighton, England; d. in or after 1803.
George Hardy first enters the historical record in a letter dated 12 Jan. 1769, now in the county archives at Warwick, England, from the Nova Scotia surveyor Charles Morris to one John Butler, agent for John Pownall, at that time proprietor of Lot 13 on St John’s (Prince Edward) Island. The previous summer Morris had visited the eastern part of Pownall’s lot, on the west side of Malpeque Bay in the neighbourhood now known as Port Hill. There he had found evidence of settlement by about 20 Acadian families but reported, “There is now no Houses on it worth repairing except the one Mr Hart lives in this Man came there last summer from New York with a large Family and Stock and proposes if the land is to be let upon reasonable Terms to bring ten Families from thence who understand both Farming and Fishing.”
Until the discovery of this letter the earliest evidence of George Hardy’s pioneer existence on St John’s Island lay in Thomas Curtis’s detailed account of the shipwreck of the brig Elizabeth off the northern shore in November 1775; however, Morris’s “Hart” can be identified beyond reasonable doubt as Hardy. According to Curtis’s account, Hardy lived 14 miles across the ice from the wreck, itself situated in the vicinity of Cavendish Inlet on the long sand-hills off the shore. A map prepared by Morris and accompanying his letter shows “Hart’s house” at the centre of the area previously occupied by French-speaking settlers, not far from the modern Port Hill wharf and roughly ten miles in a straight line from Cavendish Inlet. The site of the house is still clearly visible as a crop mark in air photographs. Clearly traceable also is a track from the site westwards in the direction of Ramsay Creek, the nearest safe harbour for boats and small vessels.
Here Hardy lived in isolation, the sole European known to have been settled in the western part of the Island in 1769. By 1775 only one other settler, Donald Ramsay, had come to join him, and theirs were the only two houses within reach of the Elizabeth. The vessel had been conveying settlers and stores for Robert Clark*’s settlement at New London, and Hardy was of great help to the passengers in their attempts to recover the cargo some months after the disaster. He emerges from Curtis’s account as a resourceful and skilled woodsman and pioneer, and also, in Curtis’s own words, as “a remarkabl honest good natured man.”
There are shadowy indications of Hardy’s subsequent career in public records. He was an overseer of roads in the 1780s. In August 1787 he and George Penman, who had been paymaster of the Island’s first British garrison and had recently settled on the site now known as Old Port Hill Farm, purchased the schooner Mary, built two years before. The partners sold her in 1788. The following year Hardy was arrested on a murder charge but acquitted on a plea of self-defence. He remained a settler on Lot 13 until it changed ownership in the early 1790s. When the old Acadian clearings then began to fill up and the question of rent arose, he moved with his family out into the wilderness again, to the neighbourhood of the present Alberton, farther north and west on the Island. He appears in the census report of 1798 as the only settler on Lot 6, with a family, presumably his second, of five boys and four girls under 16 years of age. In the same year he was registered at the Charlottetown custom-house as the sole owner of the new schooner Lark, and she remained his property and command until she was lost in the Baie des Chaleurs in 1803. Hardy may have lost his life in this accident, but there appears to be no record of his death.
George Hardy’s known career, and indications in Curtis’s account, suggest that one of his occupations may have been the support and supply of merchant vessels engaged in illegal trade. Be that as it may, he emerges from the fragmentary records as a successful man of the wilderness, kind and generous, with the skills needed for survival in extreme conditions, living beyond the limits of settlement and moving on when these overtook him.
PAC, RG 42, ser.1, 459. Warwickshire County Record Office (Warwick, Eng.), CR 114A/562 (Seymour of Ragley papers). Journeys to the Island of St. John or Prince Edward Island, 1775–1832, ed. D. C. Harvey (Toronto, 1955). Duncan Campbell, History of Prince Edward Island (Charlottetown, 1875; repr. Belleville, Ont., 1972). Basil Greenhill and Ann Giffard, Westcountrymen in Prince Edward’s Isle: a fragment of the great migration (Newton Abbot, Eng., and [Toronto], 1967; repr. Toronto and Buffalo, 1975).