MARSTON, BENJAMIN, merchant, surveyor, and office-holder; b. 22 Sept. 1730 at Salem, Massachusetts, eldest son of Benjamin Marston and Elizabeth Winslow; m. 13 Nov. 1755 at Marblehead, Massachusetts, Sarah Swett; d. 10 Aug. 1792 at Bolama, Portuguese Guinea (Guinea-Bissau).
Benjamin Marston obtained his AB from Harvard College in 1749 and later went into business with two of his brothers-in-law at Marblehead, where he achieved prosperity and respectability. With the onset of the American revolution Marston emerged as a marked, outspoken loyalist. In November 1775 he fled to Boston after his house was attacked by a patriot mob; his wife, left behind to watch his property, died soon afterwards. In March 1776 Marston accompanied the British garrison of Boston to Halifax, Nova Scotia, where he was to have a chequered career as a merchant and supercargo, mainly in the West Indian trade. He was captured three times by American privateers but was exchanged each time. In December 1781, on a voyage from Annapolis Royal to Halifax, his ship was blown off course and trapped in ice near Cape Canso. It was almost three months before Marston reached Halifax. There he lived in poverty until April 1783, when he was appointed surveyor of the new loyalist settlement of Port Roseway (Shelburne).
For the next 15 months Marston carried out a difficult task, exacerbated by what he called “This curs’d Republican Town meeting Spirit” of the disputatious refugees. In the summer of 1784 he was forced to flee to Halifax when disbanded troops rioted against free blacks [see David George*]. He was accused, probably unjustly, of partiality in the surveying and distribution of land and was dismissed by Governor John Parr.
Soon afterwards, on the recommendation of his cousin Edward Winslow*, Marston was appointed by the surveyor general of the king’s woods in North America, John Wentworth*, to be his deputy in the newly created province of New Brunswick. In December 1784 he took up residence in Parrtown (Saint John), where he shared a house with Ward Chipman*. Appointed sheriff of Northumberland County, Marston travelled to the Miramichi River in June 1785. There he surveyed the woods, worked as deputy surveyor of crown lands, operated a mill, and, in partnership with John Mark Crank Delesderniers, traded with Indians and settlers. He found the sheriff’s pay inadequate and his economic prospects poor, however, and in March 1786 he resigned as sheriff, returning to Saint John in November.
In March 1787 Marston went to Boston and obtained documentation to aid the Winslow family’s claim as loyalists for compensation from the British government. Late that summer he left to press his own claim in London, where, sometimes close to starvation, he eked out a living for four years. To his great disappointment he was awarded only £105, less than one-quarter of his claim and sufficient only to pay his debts. In 1792 he accepted a position as surveyor for a private company intending to settle Bolama, a West African island. Most of the colonists, including Marston, died of fever shortly after arrival.
Benjamin Marston kept a diary from 1776 to 1787 which is an important source for the history of Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. A versatile person, with an attractive, blunt, optimistic personality, and liberal political views, he was a loyal friend and something of a poet and an artist. Like many loyalists he remained an American patriot and had high hopes for New Brunswick.
PANB, RG 10, RS107, Letterbook of George Sproule, surveyor-general, 1785–89. University of N.B. Library, Archives and Special Coll. Dept. (Fredericton), Winslow papers, 20, 21, 22; Benjamin Marston, Diary, 1776–87. W. O. Raymond, “Benjamin Marston of Marblehead, loyalist: his trials and tribulations during the American revolution,” N.B. Hist. Soc., Coll., III (1907–14), no. 7, 79–112; “The founding of Shelburne: Benjamin Marston at Halifax, Shelburne and Miramichi,” ibid, no.8, 204–77. M. M. Vesey, “Benjamin Marston, loyalist,” New England Quarterly (Orono, Maine), XV (1942), 622–51. J. L. Watson, “The Marston family of Salem, Mass.,” New England Hist. and Geneal. Register, XXVII (1873), 390–403.