James Chaffey was born in Somerset in 1747. As a youth, he worked for George Morland, a goldsmith, on Grub Street in London.
After becoming the lone settler on a small remote island in what is now New Brunswick, Canada, he married, raised a large family, acquired land, and established a trading post selling furs, fish, and lumber. His descendants, who called him "Robinson Crusoe," became prominent shipbuilders and traders with the West Indies.
Crime and Punishment
In 1762, while working for Morland, Chaffey was indicted for stealing four ounces of silver (value 23 shillings) and 12 ounces of silver from Henry Curry. He was found guilty at Old Bailey and sentenced to seven years transportation. Officials placed him onboard the convict ship Dolphin, along with 85 other convicted felons, which sailed for Maryland, under Captain Matthew Craymer, in April 1762.
Chaffey's descendants recorded two alternative versions of how Chaffey arrived in America. They must be regarded as efforts by members of the family, or by Chaffey himself, to save face.
The first story was published in a local history in 1876, while Chaffey's youngest daughter was still alive:
"Our Indian Island Robinson Crusoe, James Chaffey, was born in Somersetshire, England, went to London, learned the trade of a goldsmith, and, with the love of adventure strong in his bosom, determined to leave his native England, and see the new world, and gain a firm foothold for himself on the western hemisphere, the great continent of America."
The second story was published in a family history in 1906:
"James Chaffey's father was a resident of Somersetshire, England. He has twenty-one children, and besides James, one other son, a brewer by occupation, came to America, but not liking the country returned to England. James Chaffey learned the goldsmith's trade in London. The last Christmas before he sailed for America he dined at his father's table, surrounded by his twenty brothers and sisters. He embarked in a vessel bound for Boston, Mass., but after putting out to sea, the captain found that his sealed orders instructed him to go to the Coast of Guinea for a load of slaves. After getting their cargo of human beings, they once more headed for America, but a storm disabled their vessel, and leaving the slaves on the sinking ship, the passengers and crew were taken off by a passing vessel: James Chaffey said that the sinking ship, with its human cargo, was a heart-rending sight."
Descendants in the nineteenth-century referred to James Chaffey as "Robinson Crusoe." Like Crusoe, he became the lone settler of a remote island. The island is located in New Brunswick just across the modern border between the United States and Canada.
James evidently did not serve a full labor term. He must have either paid off his passage, or run away from his American master. Descendants recall that he lived in Philadelphia and then in Gouldsboro, Massachusetts (now Maine) before becoming the first permanent white settler on Indian Island.
William Henry Chaffee writes:
"James Chaffey carried on an extensive and lucrative business in fish and fur; his fearlessness and integrity gained for him the respect of the Indians, and he gained great influence and power over them. It is told of him that during the Revolutionary War Colonel (John) Allen sent a party of Indians to him to make him say that he loved General Washington. Although he was ill in bed, and the Indians gathered around him with upraised tomahawks and drawn knives, he refused to renounce his fidelity to his country, and the Indians withdrew without causing him any injury."
After living on the island as a bachelor for eight years, he married the daughter of a French trader. They became the parents of a large family.
Styled a yeoman, he left a will in 1796, which includes the following bequests:
His estate consisted of: "Horned Cattle Sheep Swine Farming Utencals, Houshold furneture Bonds Notes Book Debts &c."
- Wife Elezebath Cheffey became residuary legatee
- Suns James Thomas and John Cheffey and Daughters Susanna Elezebath Cathrine and Nelley Cheffey "the Residue and Remainder of my Estate Lands Tenements Hereditaments Goods Chattels with all other properties"
Some of James's children were minors at the time he wrote his will.
James Chaffey, Goldsmith, Yeoman, Trader, of London, England; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Gouldsboro, Massachusetts (now Maine); and Indian Island, New Brunswick, Canada. James, born 1747 in Somerset, England; died 20 March 1797 (or 1796) Indian Island, New Brunswick; married Elizabeth Fontain.
- Susanna Chaffey, m. Justus Justason
- James Chaffey
- Elizabeth Chaffey, never married
- Thomas Dollard Chaffey
- Catherine Chaffey
- John Fountain Chaffey
- Eleanor Chaffey
- Martha Chaffey
- Schneider, Dorothy Pringle. The Chaffey Dynasty of Indian Island, N.B. Fredericton, New Brunswick, Canada: Centennial Print, n.d. I would like to acknowledge Kirby Law for bringing James Chaffey to my attention and collecting a wealth of material about him.
- Apprentices of Great Britain (1710-1774), FindMyPast.com (subscription website). The following entry may apply: "1753 Jas Chaffey, son of Thomas, apprenticed to Trevellion Taylor, of St. Catherine, Middlesex, Silversmith, £5 (reference: 19/93)." The Worshipful Company of Goldsmiths of London informed us they have no apprenticeship record for James Chaffey.
- Old Bailey Trial, 14 Jan 1762
- Old Bailey Transportation Sentence, 14 Jan 1762
- Coldham, Peter Wilson. British Emigrants in Bondage, 1614-1788. Baltimore, Md.: Genealogical Publishing Co., Inc., 2004. Pages 152, 1153.
- Chaffee, William Henry. The Chaffee Genealogy. The Grafton Press, 1909.
- Lorimer, J.G. History of Islands and Islets in the Bay of Fundy. St. Stephen, New Brunswick: Office of the Saint Croix Courier, 1876. Pages 73-77.
- Holmes, Theodore C. Loyalists to Canada. Picton Press, 1992. Page 181. Testimonies from early traders before the Boundary Commission (1796-1798), place Chaffey at Indian Island as early as 1764-1765.
- Perley, M.H. Reports on the Sea and River Fisheries of New Brunswick, 2nd ed. Frederictown: J. Simpson, Printer to the Queen’s Most Excellent Majesty, 1852. Page 116.
- Barto, Martha Ford. Passamaquoddy Genealogies of West Isles Families. Fairhaven, New Brunswick: Lingley Printing Company, Ltd., 1975.
- Will of James Chaffey, of Charlotte County, New Brunswick, Canada, will dated 1796, will recorded 1800, Family History Library Microfilm 851139 Item 2, Salt Lake City, Utah.