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PAGAN, ROBERT, businessman, politician, jp, judge, and militia officer; b. 16 Nov. 1750 in Glasgow, third son of William Pagan and Margaret Maxwell; m. Miriam Pote, daughter of Jeremiah Pote, and they had no children; d. 23 Nov. 1821 in St Andrews, N.B.

Robert Pagan emigrated to North America in 1768 or 1769 and was established by his father, a prominent sugar refiner of Glasgow, in the expanding timber and shipbuilding trade of Falmouth Neck, Mass. (Portland, Maine). In partnership with the firm of Lee, Tucker and Company of Greenock, Scotland, Robert undertook to gain a firm position in the lucrative West Indies trade, where his elder brother William* had already been apprenticed. Robert expanded his contacts in the business world through another brother, John, who capitalized on the promotion of Scottish immigration to North America. This brother had formed a partnership with Governor William Franklin of New Jersey and the Reverend John Witherspoon, later president of the College of New Jersey, to entice settlers to Boston and Philadelphia in the 1760s. In 1773, under the title of the Philadelphia Company, the same associates and others organized the Hector expedition to Pictou, N.S. [see John Harris*]. Through these family and financial connections Robert Pagan developed one of the largest businesses in general merchandise and shipbuilding in Falmouth during the first half of the 1770s. The youngest Pagan brother, Thomas, joined him there in 1775.

In October 1775, however, the community of Falmouth felt the first impact of open hostilities in the American conflict. Upon orders from the commander-in-chief of the North American station, Vice-Admiral Samuel Graves, who was responding to rebel activity in the area, Captain Henry Mowat bombarded the harbour front and laid waste many of its commercial establishments. The property of loyalists as well as non-loyalists was destroyed, including the business premises of Robert Pagan, Jeremiah Pote, his father-in-law, and Thomas Wyer, his brother-in-law. By February 1776 the threats from rebel committees in Falmouth against suspected tory sympathizers forced Pagan and his family to flee to the West Indies. A year later, however, Robert and Thomas were reunited with their brother William, who was then engaged in trade at New York.

Prompted by the announcement that a haven for loyalists would be established at the mouth of the Penobscot River, the three brothers soon decided to base their commercial operations there, under the protection of the British garrison at Fort George (Castine, Maine). Leaving his wife behind until proper accommodation could be found for her, Robert Pagan moved to the Penobscot in December 1780. Over the next few years he and his brothers acquired a lumberyard, built two sawmills, and operated two stores. Their firm, Robert Pagan and Company, also had an interest in ships and shipbuilding. Some of the vessels the brothers constructed were sent to Britain with timber cargoes and sold there, and at least one of their fleet was engaged in privateering. Thirty-six ships of which the Pagans were sole or principal owners were lost by capture during the time they spent at New York and Penobscot.

Robert Pagan’s standing in the community is reflected by his appointment as a magistrate in June 1781 and by his replacement of John Caleff*, who left for England in 1780, as inspector and commissary, the highest non-military posts at Fort George. Unfortunately, however, the future of the settlement was cut short by diplomatic deliberations among Great Britain, France, and the American states. It was obvious by the beginning of 1783 that the Penobscot River was not to become, as loyalists had hoped, the new boundary between the United States and British North America. Instead, the peace treaty of that year would designate the St Croix River as the borderline. In anticipation of an evacuation Pagan and his brothers gathered intelligence through their wide-ranging commercial connections in Nova Scotia on possible sites for a new home. The conclusion was that the peninsula nearest the St Croix River was the most desirable location for a settlement, particularly in view of its advantages for the West Indies trade and its unlimited hinterland. Robert Pagan became the main spokesman for the Penobscot Associated Loyalists. Along with brother William, William Gallop*, and others he arranged for their removal to Passamaquoddy Bay, where he also superintended the allocation of grants. Not surprisingly Governor John Parr* of Nova Scotia appointed him one of the first magistrates for the Passamaquoddy district, his fellow justices of the peace being William Pagan, Pote, Wyer, and Gallop.

During the ensuing decade Robert Pagan came to be the life-blood of the new community, named St Andrews in 1786. Backed by an international network stretching from Glasgow, Greenock, and London to the West Indies, New York, and Quebec, based primarily on family ties, he established himself firmly as the most prominent merchant in the Passamaquoddy region. Under the business style of Robert Pagan and Company, he engaged in the timber trade, mill operations, shipbuilding, the fishery, and wholesaling and retailing. In 1792 alone he built several seagoing vessels for the West Indies trade and a fine ship of 400 tons, large by the standard of the times, for the transatlantic and Caribbean trade. All of these vessels were constructed of black birch, which Pagan and his shipwrights were among the first to prove an effective and durable material for ship construction. He also established, with his brother William, a packet service from St Andrews to Saint John. In spite of competition from American ports, Pagan’s lumbering operations prospered. During the course of them he and his brothers were accused by the deputy surveyor of the king’s woods, James Glenie*, of taking timber from lands reserved to the crown but the charge, if there was any truth in it, was not followed up. Pagan was the principal source of financial backing for many of his fellow settlers and was thus able to orchestrate the economic development of the Passamaquoddy region. So successful was he in his shipbuilding and timber operations, it seemed in the 1790s that St Andrews would surpass Saint John as New Brunswick’s chief port and commercial centre. “To his activity and enterprising spirit,” Patrick Campbell noted in commenting on the town, “his country is indebted for this colony.”

Pagan also came to dominate the public life of the Passamaquoddy area. In 1785 he was elected to the House of Assembly for Charlotte County, a seat he held until 1819. With the support of his brother William and several leading merchants of Saint John, especially William Black*, he was able to introduce major pieces of legislation beneficial to the economic growth of the county and of the province generally, such as the act to encourage immigration in 1803. In committee he drafted legislation relating to fisheries, roads, mills, revenue, customs, trade, and communication. Despite their differences with James Glenie, both brothers found themselves making common cause with their aggressive fellow countryman against the administration of Lieutenant Governor Thomas Carleton*. Reaffirmed as a justice of the peace in 1785, Robert Pagan became as well a judge of the Inferior Court of Common Pleas for Charlotte County. From 1787 to about 1808 he was colonel commandant of the Charlotte County militia. A member of the Friendly Society in St Andrews, founded by the Reverend Samuel Andrews*, he was, along with another Scots merchant, Christopher Scott, a principal supporter of the town’s Greenock (Presbyterian) Church, for the building of which he donated ; £100. In 1816, at least, he was a trustee of the local grammar school.

Robert Pagan performed an important service for New Brunswick during the discussions in 1796–98 to determine its border with the District of Maine. At that time he assisted Ward Chipman, who was responsible for arguing the British case before the boundary commissioners. Indeed, it was the excavations conducted by Pagan and surveyor Thomas Wright* in 1797 that to a large extent settled the issue. Their discovery of the remains of buildings erected by Pierre Du Gua* de Monts and Samuel de Champlain* in 1604 determined which of three rivers known as the St Croix was the St Croix intended in early documents.

By 1815 Pagan was one of the 12 wealthiest men in the province, and in 1820, along with John Robinson and others, he became a founding member and shareholder of the Bank of New Brunswick. The scarcity of timber and shipping in Britain during the Napoleonic Wars and the ability of New Brunswick merchants to trade “on the Line” during the War of 1812 had brought large profits. However, a combination of factors had already begun to undermine St Andrews’s rapidly acquired commercial prominence. Greater competition from the Americans in the West Indies trade, the loss of a major portion of the hinterland behind the town to a crown reserve, and the rise of St Stephen (St Stephen-Milltown) as a rival in shipping and commerce all eroded the influence of the town and its representatives. Pagan may also have suffered financially from the collapse of other businesses within the family empire. Although his estate was estimated to be worth some £20,000 at his death, it was reduced by a series of court judgements over the next 35 years to near bankruptcy. Pagan’s sense of responsibility toward his community is shown in a statement he made on his deathbed. “No person,” he stipulated, “[is to] be imprisoned on account of any Monies he owes to my Estate, and I would Rather Lose the amount than take such a Step during my life time.”

David S. Macmillan and Roger Nason

Charlotte County Hist. Soc. Arch. (St Andrews, N.B.), Mowat papers. Charlotte Land Registry Office (St Andrews), Record books. N.B. Museum, G.B., Army, 74th Regiment, order-book, 1784 (transcript). PANB, RG 7, RS63; RG 18, RS148, A1. PRO, AO 12/11: 71–72; 12/61: 71; 12/109: 246/1695; AO 13, bundles 51, 93. SRO, RS54. P. Campbell, Travels in North America (Langton and Ganong). “United Empire Loyalists: enquiry into losses and services,” AO Report, 1904. New-Brunswick Royal Gazette, 11 Dec. 1821. Jones, Loyalists of Mass. Sabine, Biog. sketches of loyalists. C. A. Armour and Thomas Lackey, Sailing ships of the Maritimes . . . 1750–1925 (Toronto and Montreal, 1975). M. N. Cockburn, A history of Greenock Church, StAndrews, New Brunswick, from 1821 to 1906 (n.p., 1906). I. C. C. Graham, Colonists from Scotland: emigration to North America, 1707–1783 (Ithaca, N.Y., 1956; repr. Port Washington, N.Y., and London, 1972). MacNutt, New Brunswick. R. P. Nason, “Meritorious but distressed individuals: the Penobscot Loyalist Association and the settlement of the township of St. Andrews, New Brunswick, 1783–1821” (ma thesis, Univ. of N.B., Fredericton, 1982). R. W. Sloan, “New Ireland: loyalists in eastern Maine during the American revolution” (phd thesis, Mich. State Univ., East Lansing, 1971). D. R. Jack, “Robert and Miriam Pagan,” Acadiensis (Saint John, N.B.), 2 (1902): 279–87. W. H. Siebert, “The exodus of the loyalists from Penobscot and the loyalist settlements at Passamaquoddy,” N.B. Hist. Soc., Coll., 3 (1907–14), no.9: 485–529. R. D. and J. I. Tallman, “The diplomatic search for the St. Croix River, 1796–1798,” Acadiensis (Fredericton), 1 (1971–72), no.2: 59–71.

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Cite This Article

David S. Macmillan and Roger Nason, “PAGAN, ROBERT,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 6, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed May 20, 2024, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/pagan_robert_6E.html.

The citation above shows the format for footnotes and endnotes according to the Chicago manual of style (16th edition). Information to be used in other citation formats:

Permalink:   http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/pagan_robert_6E.html
Author of Article:   David S. Macmillan and Roger Nason
Title of Article:   PAGAN, ROBERT
Publication Name:   Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 6
Publisher:   University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication:   1987
Year of revision:   1987
Access Date:   May 20, 2024