Origins and Evolution of the Charlottetown City Plan – Part 1

Charlottetown, on the ground, or from the air, is a perfect and intact model of Eighteenth-Century British colonial town planning that is the pride of Prince Edward Island, and in its details, unique in the whole of Canada.

I am inserting into my blog at this time all the material I could find on the origins and evolution of the city of Charlottetown. It is a big and very difficult subject. It will be divided into two essays:

1. The origins and evolution of the city plan as it exists;
2. The probable English and American origins of a city plan with four public squares.

Perhaps the best introduction to the topography of this city is this bird’s eye view drawn just over a century after the plan had been made final and development, as was intended, had begun to give shape to the dream.


1878 PANORAMIC VIEW OF/ CHARLOTTETOWN/ PRINCE EDWARD ISLAND/ 1878/, signed A. Ruger in the lower left-hand corner of the image. Scan of reproduction published by the Heritage Foundation in 1983.

The city was built on the grid plan that had been popular in Europe since it was first introduced in the Thirteenth Century in response to actions against schismatics by the Catholic Church. That very early grid plan, with a major central square, had been inspired by the military camp plans of the Ancient Romans. I tell this story in an earlier blog post on the history of fortifications that can be found using this link:

When the British set up their colonies in North America before and after the conquest of New France, almost without exception, they placed their new towns at the water’s edge or in inland locations with access to water travel. These towns, such as Halifax, established in 1749 to counteract the French presence at the fortress of Louisbourg on Cape Breton Island, were models of clear planning where the life of the new settlement could develop and expand and at the same time be protected by minor fortifications.


Detail from A MAP of the South Part of NOVA SCOTIA and its Fishing Banks, Engraved by T. Jefferys Geographer to His Royal Highness the PRINCE OF WALES, and dedicated To the Right Hon’ble the Lords Commission for Trade and Plantations, This PLATE is most humbly presented by Your Lordships Most obedient and Devoted humble Servant T Jefferys. Publish’d according to Act of Parliament Jan. 25th, 1760, Printed for T. Jefferys at the Corner of St. Martin’s Lane Charing Cross.

In this drawing, made from the topmast of a ship in the harbour, the grid plan is clearly visible, as are the fortified bastions along the perimeter of the town, along with palisade walls to form a secure enclosure. Halifax was vulnerable to landward attacks and so these precautions were necessary. The gallows and stocks are prominently located out of the city and at the shoreline.


There are fine examples of similar towns planned in the American portion of British North America, and I present views of two of them, both French and English establishments, to show that by the time Charlottetown was laid out, the trend and design of waterside grid towns was very well established. For this, a sizeable projection of land was desired, preferably with rivers running inland on at least one side of the town. The first is a French plan for the town of New Orleans, drawn in 1725, followed by the English plan for Savannah, Georgia, drawn in 1734.


Saucier, PLAN DE LA VILLE DE LA NOUVELLE ORLEANS EN L’ETAT QUELLE ETOIT LE 30 may, 1725. Size 42,5 x 34,5 cm. Pen and ink drawing with watercolour on paper. Bibliothèque nationale de France, département Cartes et plans, GE DD-2987 (8826 TER).

The main square is at the water’s edge, and the table in the upper left corner clearly sets out the hierarchy of structures required by the French Government. New Orleans also required, at the start, a series of fortifications, based on the French model of Vauban, to protect the flanks and rear of the town from land attacks.


When the founder of the town of Savannah, Georgia, General James Oglethorpe (1696 – 1785), settled on a plan he too used a grid system, but with the most extraordinary difference: he included four public squares for the people! In this fine bird’s eye view engraved by P. Fourdrinier, but the design claimed by Peter Gordon, we see not only what has been constructed, but in the clearly marked vacant space, those areas that will soon be filled. There are several versions of this image: the original ink drawing, this engraving, and a copy made in 1876 in the Library of Congress. They are more or less identical.

A View of Savanah as it stood the 29th of March 1734 : To the Hon’ble the Trustees for establishing the Colony of Georgia in America This View of the Town of Savanah is humbly dedicated by their Honours Obliged and most Obedient Servant Peter Gordon. Engraved in lower corners, P. Gordon Inv. ; P. Fourdrinier Sculp., and in the centre lower edge, VÜE de Savanah dans la Georgie. London, 1735. Dimensions 40.2 x 55.4 cm, British Library, Shelfmark: Maps 1. Tab.44.


The Savannah city grid, planned under the direction of Oglethorpe, or adapted by him from an earlier design, was a masterpiece of civic space put together with the dignity and pleasure of the citizens in mind. In the original plan of 1733, there were four green public spaces. Each square was surrounded by “wards” of eight blocks, producing this pattern.

For the first time in the Eighteenth Century a town had green parks for the citizens, something which in the past had been the sole preserve of aristocrats and the upper classes. It was a very democratic statement in a new city that would, tragically, in 1750, end up involved in the slave trade.

Development and expansion on this model would soon be swift. Two more squares were added in 1736 and more continued to be added as the city expanded until there were 24. It was an extraordinary project and an amazing achievement. This assemblage from page 201 of Reps shows the development of the town in its first 125 years by repeating the basic module again and again to accommodate progress.


Nearly all the publicity generated about the historic origins of this city give high praise to General Oglethorpe for having invented the park and ward module that could be repeated as required to accommodate expansion. It was not his idea – indeed, the idea was born after the Great Fire of London in 1666 when various individuals came forward with the most extraordinary plans. Somehow one of them crossed the Atlantic and inspired the grid plan for the city of Philadelphia. We will look at the origins and evolution of the grid plan embellished with four green areas set aside for the use of the ordinary people in the next post.



Holland chooses a site for his capital

It is no surprise then when in 1765 Captain Samuel Holland created the new British colony of Saint John’s Island, and divided it into three counties to create an ideal British feudal settlement, that he chose to place the three capitals on the edge of the sea. Because of its insular nature, and the exactitude and purpose of the survey, the colony could not go out of control and develop in unpredicted ways. Standing in front of the great map, one is overcome by the clarity and inflexibility of the concept.


A Plan of the Island of Saint John in the Province of Nova Scotia As surveyed agreeable to the Order and Instructions of the Right Honourable the Lords Commissioners for Trade and Plantations by Captain Holland, Surveyor General of His Majestys Lands for the Northern District of America. With the Assistance of Lieuts Haldiman, and Robinson and Mr Wright His Deputys. The Extent of Whose Respective Surveys are as follows: … 1765 [Then follows a list of all the major participants and the precise listing of the areas they surveyed and the soundings they took.] The National Archives, Kew.

This post is focussed on Charlottetown, unique in so many ways, and so, for the time being, discussions of the capitals at Prince Town and Georgetown will be set aside until another time.


The Literary Sources that inspired Holland’s description.

Holland was very careful to explain why he chose the locations of the three principal towns. He wrote a detailed description of Saint John’s Island that fits in exactly with other such descriptions of other British colonies. Having, at that time, no generally available set of instructions or guidebook on how to set up a city, these various accounts always begin with an adaptation of the advice given by the Roman architect Vitruvius and the Renaissance polymath Leon Battista Alberti. Editions of both works had been available since the late Renaissance.

In Vitruvius (c. 80–70 BC – after c. 15 BC) there is only a brief passage, and it is found in Book IV of the De architectura or Ten Books on Architecture. Although written for colonies in the Roman Empire, and is concerned with protection from hot weather, it nevertheless sets the tone that would be the only one available to guide Eighteenth Century surveyors whose education had been completely Classical in nature. Here is the relevant passage with which Samuel Holland most surely have been familiar.


Vitruvius, Chapter 4

In setting out the walls of a city the choice of a healthy situation is of the first importance: it should be on high ground, neither subject to fogs nor rains; its aspects should be neither violently hot nor intensely cold, but temperate in both respects. The neighbourhood of a marshy place must be avoided; for in such a site the morning air, uniting with the fogs that rise in the neighbourhood, will reach the city with the rising sun; and these fogs and mists, charged with the exhalation of the fenny animals, will diffuse an unwholesome effluvia over the bodies of the inhabitants, and render the place pestilent. A city on the sea side, exposed to the south or west, will be insalubrious; for in summer mornings, a city thus placed would be hot, at noon it would be scorched. A city, also, with a western aspect, would even at sunrise be warm, at noon hot, and in the evening of a burning temperature.*.html


Leon Battista Alberti (1406-72), imitating Vitruvius, also wrote a work called De Re Aedificatoria (1452) which was immediately translated in English.

This work would have been known by Holland and all the major surveyors of his era, as well as their continental counterparts. They borrowed the words of Vitruvius and Alberti when they set out criteria for the selection of new town site in British North America. Here is a brief selection of passages from Book I of Alberti with which Holland was most certainly familiar.

Alberti – Book 1

As for the locality, the ancients put much effort into ensuring that it should contain (as far as possible) nothing harmful and that it should be supplied with every convenience. Above all, they took the greatest care to avoid a climate that might be disagreeable or unwholesome; it was a very prudent precaution, even an indispensable one. For while there is no doubt that any defect of land or water could be remedied by skill and ingenuity, no device of the mind or exertion of the hand may ever improve climate appreciably; or so it is said. Certainly the air that we breathe and that plays such a vital role in maintaining and preserving life (as we can ourselves observe), when really pure may have an extraordinarily beneficial effect on health.

Who can have failed to notice the extensive influence that climate has on generation, growth, nourishment, and preservation? As you may have seen, those who enjoy a purer climate surpass in ability others subjected to a heavy and damp one ….

Climate, we may therefore agree, depends on the location and formation of the landscape; some reasons for this variation will seem quite obvious, while others, because of their very obscure nature, lie well hidden and totally evade us. We shall examine the obvious ones first and then those which are obscure, so that we will know how to select the most advantageous and healthy locality in which to live.

When selecting the locality, it is worth ensuring that everything is to the liking of those who are to live there, be it the nature of the place or the company they will have to keep.

Let the site therefore have a dignified and agreeable appearance, and a location neither lowly nor sunk in a hollow, but elevated and commanding where the air is pleasant and forever enlivened by some breath of wind. It should, moreover, be well endowed with all the useful and pleasurable things of life, such as water, fire, and food. Care should be taken, however to ensure that it contains nothing that might prove harmful to the inhabitants or their possessions. Springs should be laid bare and sampled, and their water tested by fire to check that it contains nothing sticky, putrid, difficult to digest that might make the inhabitants ill.



The site for the capital city

Here is a detail from Holland’s great map showing the spot, across the harbour of the old French capital Port la Joye, that he chose for his new capital town. True to the desires of colonial administrators the projecting land is bounded on the west by the North or York River and on the east by the great Hillsborough River. The proposed site of the city and the land set aside for future development is split by an inlet and stream that today, since Meacham’s time, is called Ellen’s Creek. Holland called it Hardwicke Cove. Around 1785 Thomas Wright called it North Creek, setting aside forever Holland’s designation. There is another stream that will soon become significant in Charlottetown topography and known as Spring Park River, which would soon require to be bridged in two places, but Holland does not bother to give it a name. Wright calls it West Creek and by the early 1800s it will be associated with the great Spring Park estate of Robert Gray.

Photo: R. Porter

Holland’s description of the site of Charlotte Town.

Holland’s description of the place he has chosen as the capital of Queen’s County and the capital of the Colony is most interesting in its detail. The original is in the British Archives (I don’t know which section) and this transcription was sent to the Island government when they requested a copy which was published in the 1841 Journal of the House of Assembly.

The capital, called Charlottetown, is proposed to be built upon a point of the harbour, betwixt York and Hillsborough Rivers, as being one of the best, and nearly a centrical part of the Island; has the advantage of an immediate and easy communication with the interior parts of the Island, by means of the three fine Rivers of Hillsborough, York, and Elliot. The ground designed for the Town and Fortifications is well situated upon a regular ascent from the water side; a fine rivulet will run through the Town; a Battery or two, some distance advanced, will entirely command the harbour; an enemy attempting to attack the Town cannot do it without great difficulties, viz: having passed the batteries at the entrance of the harbour, they must attempt a passage up Hillsborough or York Rivers, the channels of both of which are intricate, and the entrance of the respective channels will be so near the Town that it must also be attended with the greatest hazard. Should they land any troops on either side of the Bay of Hillsborough, they must still have the river of the same name on the East, or Elliot and York Rivers on the West, to pass, before they could effect any thing of consequence. As this side of the Island cannot have any fishery, it may probably be thought expedient to indulge it with some particular privileges; and as all judicial and civil, as well as good part of the commercial business will be transacted here, it will make it at least equally flourishing with the County Towns.

(Appendix D, Journal of the House of Assembly of Prince Edward Island, Fourth Session of the Fifteenth General Assembly, 1841.)


Is it not a strong echo of the criteria proposed by Vitruvius and Alberti in their separate works? Eighteen hundred years later nothing more useful had been written to inspire future town planners. But we must remember that Holland’s day was at the beginning of the flourishing of the Enlightenment when the Light of Reason and the Virtue of Republican Rome guided progress in its every manifestation. Neoclassicism, which affected every aspect of European life, was in the air.


The Morris City Plan

Lord Hillsborough, the 1st Marquess of Downshire (1719-93) was Secretary of State for the British Colonies from 1768 to 1772. His inflexible and hateful manner caused very bad relationships to develop between colonial administrators and the British Crown. One of his very early projects as Secretary of State was to activate the colony of Saint John’s Island by encouraging/threatening those who had won the various Lots in the Lottery to bring the townships to life.,_1st_Marquess_of_Downshire

He was also anxious set up the county towns, especially the capital of the colony, Charlotte Town. To that end he sent his very busy surveyor Charles Morris (1711-81) to the Island to look at a number of problems that had surfaced, but most importantly to lay out the capital in a grid plan at the water’s edge.

Morris was already quite experienced in planning towns based on a grid, and one of his early projects was to plan, in the 1760s, a town of 160 half-acre lots for the group called the New England Planters at a place called Starrs Point, the site of a rich Acadian settlement left empty after the deportation of 1755-58. The town was called Cornwallis but did not prosper as other small towns settled by the same group of people flourished, leaving Cornwallis to revert to rich farmland.,_Nova_Scotia

However, the Morris plan has survived, and it faced Minas Basin and was near rivers for extensive inland travel. The map shows a major street leading up and through a central plaza, and out again on the other side. The square is bounded by streets, providing a multiplicity of avenues for comings and goings. This design was not only similar to dozens being established in British North America but most probably represented Morris’ thinking in how such small towns should be articulated. The design works extremely well in a waterside situation but can be equally flexible in the placement of an inland town.


Morris, Charles, A Plan of the Town of Cornwallis Containing 160 half acre Lots, 1760, ID: 1181, Nova Scotia Archives.


Although Saint John’s Island had been surveyed by Captain Samuel Holland in 1765-66 and was a model of a perfect feudal settlement with its 67 townships or Lots (because they were disposed of in a lottery in 1767) waiting to be settled by docile tenants, all of it existed only on Holland’s map. Almost no surveying had been done by the time Morris arrived and there were very few who knew how it should be done. Lieutenant Governor Michael Francklin decided how the Island would be administered and sent out Morris to work on a number of surveys, but in the end, he devoted the bulk of his attention to the design and layout of the capital city which would be called Charlotte Town, after the wife and queen of King George III. This task required that Morris be absent from his other survey work from May to October of 1768.

Of deepest interest to me is to speculate how a surveyor set to work to lay out a town. Morris had obviously been given specific instructions about the grid that would be overlaid on the existing topography, regardless of whether it was high ground or swamp. It was desirable that it should project into the water to provide as much docking space as possible in a community that would for some time travel mostly by water. In the end he chose the eastern of two lobular protuberances that Holland had indicated as the town site.


Morris’ map of Charlotte Town in the National Archives at Kew is quite large, made up of sheets pasted together. It faithfully reproduces the outline marked off by Holland in his great map and is filled in with all the elements required by the instructions received from Francklin. Near the water is the eastern lobe of land set aside for the city. Separated from it by a stream draining into the harbour from a source inland is a smaller projecting area that in time will become the Governor’s estate. Beyond that, and accessible via the north/south streets in the town was a large area of approximately 500 acres known as the Common. In English tradition common land can be an area owned by a single person, or a group of individuals, to which other persons may have access for pasturage, gardening and the cutting of wood. It was vital, at the moment of creating a new town, that such an area be made available for the town dwellers, owners of city lots only, to have access to these amenities. An amusing aside is that is where we get the word commoner, now largely out of use in our language.

Beyond the common was a very large tract of land called the Royalty, which consisted as first planned of 6401 acres of land divided into 12-acre fields. While of the greatest use to the citizens of the town, the Royalty, in the larger plan for the future, was the area into which the town would expand in the passage of time. The very process of allowing, under various conditions, the citizens to clear the land and make parts of it arable made expansion easier.

With the passage of time, vast private estates were carved out of both the Common and the Royalty, factories were built, quarries were dug, and the land was made to give up everything it could. But the city continued to expand in a predictable and orderly fashion, as was intended from the start.


1768 – Charles Morris. A Plan of Charlotte Town on the Island of St. John, and the Pasture Lotts and Reservations & by order of the Honourable Michael Francklin Esquire, Lieutenant Governor of the Province of Nova Scotia. Done by Charles Morris, Chief Surveyor. June 1768. Photos taken by Dr. Douglas Sobey in the National Archives at Kew, 2013-06-04.

Photo courtesy of Doug Sobey


Already there existed from the French period tracks that led to Malpeque and to Saint Peter’s. At once Morris would have seen the wisdom of aligning his plan to ancient trackways, knowing their use would only increase in time as they evolved into cart roads. And so, using a grid very similar to what he used 8 years before at Cornwallis, his main avenue, which would be called Great George after their Great King, began at the water’s edge, and at a northwest angle crossed the central square and joined up with the track to Malpeque, which in reality was Prince Town, the capital of Prince County. Soon, due to lack of refined surveying, and unwillingness to give up trackways leading to the waters edge, the city plan was ignored, and pathways crossed the rigid geometry of the plan as they had done long before it was laid down. This was recorded, perhaps unhappily, in the maps produced before the century’s end.


1768 – Charles Morris. Detail of the plan for the new city of Charlottetown. Composite from photos taken by Dr. Douglas Sobey in the National Archives at Kew.

Photo courtesy of Doug Sobey

As is visible in this detail from the larger map, the town plan was laid over three major swampy areas, the central one reaching right up to the edge of the central square. It is at a moment such as this that we can compare the British colonisers to the Ancient Romans who behaved in the same fashion: the plan on the chosen piece of land comes first and any inconveniences will be eliminated by the engineers trained to do that sort of thing.

The city plan consisted of what Morris called six RANGES, running roughly north/south. The plan was horizontal to the water for obvious reasons and the city blocks marked out for settlement went six across and five up. There were twenty-eight blocks, with seven lateral blocks left blank, three of them only partial rectangles because of the lay of the land. The central square, taking up the space of two blocks laid end to end was mitigated in its extent by reserved areas for church and courthouse. Other reserved areas were coded with colour in the map and can be identified by the References table from the larger map.

The settlers in the new city would have to rely on the administrators to dig public wells to supply potable water. As time progressed carts roamed the city selling buckets of water at one penny each (Rogers 1980).

It took two years for a Governor to be appointed, and then the real work began to make sense of the vestiges of the Morris survey on the ground, and to find the means to have the properties ready to be settled by new arrivals fit into the grand plan devised by Samuel Holland. And fit they must.


Walter Patterson is appointed as first Governor of the Colony.

Oil on ivory miniature portrait of Captain Walter Patterson, Library and Archives Canada. MIKAN 3636066


Walter Patterson was born c. 1735 in the Republic of Ireland. He began life as an army officer, became a large land proprietor on Saint John’s Island and in 1770 was appointed Governor of the colony, answering to the Halifax colonial administration.

The situation faced in the new colony by Patterson was a disaster in every way. The conditions under which this new feudal colony in the New World was to be established were foolish beyond belief. The chief protagonists in this struggle truly believed that a mediaeval feudal society could be created in the New World. Perhaps the clearly define borders of the small island had something to do with it. The folly of the concept, based on naive political theorising, was beyond belief. It was not enough to work around these strictures, but they had to be changed if the colony was not to fail completely. For nearly one hundred years the rule of absentee landlords prevailed, and most of that time was wasted, holding back development and progress decade after decade. There were some good landlords, and some of the agents they hired were good, so in some parts of the Island progress was made.

Patterson became embroiled in questionable complexities by becoming himself the landlord of vast tracts of land whose ownership travelled from hand to hand. The details of his appointment were not made final for some time, and he was away for long periods on other business. For those of us who are not familiar with the details of his career and are not aware of his often-herculean efforts to bring order and system into this chaos, there is a tendency to condemn him out of hand.

 There survives a correspondence between Governor Patterson and Lord Hillsborough, who had just been made Secretary of State for the Colonies from 1768 to 1772. Hillsborough was a horrible man, incompetent and hateful, and that, coupled with Patterson’s own problems, impeded progress on the Island to a great degree. When he took over in Charlottetown Patterson realised that no matter how keen new settlers were to establish homesteads in the wilderness, it was almost impossible to find a competent surveyor to penetrate that wilderness and establish the boundaries. He badly needed an official surveyor.

As well, the situation in Charlottetown was discouraging beyond belief. In the two years since Morris had staked out the new city, the weather and vandalism would have eradicated most of his plan, which, to be realistic, still existed only on paper. In desperation Patterson wrote this letter to Lord Hillsborough, begging for help and pleading the cause of Thomas Wright, an excellent surveyor who had worked with Samuel Holland on the great survey of Saint John’s Island.


23 May 1771

When the civil establishment of this Island was under consideration, I believe most of the Proprietors thought as I did myself, that it would be as easy to find out the lines or boundaries of the lots upon this Island itself, as upon the Map; but this I experience to be impossible in most of them, as they are merely imaginary, except upon the Map: They are only so far useful that they will guide a Surveyor and no farther; but the greatest Loss I find is the want of a Surveyor at present, and in which I cannot stir one step without one, in the laying out the Lots now before me, and cannot comply with one of them for want of such an Office.

[This symbol representing a town  is inserted at several points in the letter and represent county towns, for which there was the greatest need as centres of information and supplies.]

When I took the liberty to mention Mr. Wright, I know both himself and his abilities were very well known to your Lordship, and did believe you would take it for granted, I would not have entertained him unless by his own desire: he is still here, and intends to write to the same purpose himself by the first opportunity which offers.

I am happy Your Lordship sees the necessity of our having a Church, a Court House, a Gaol, and publick house, and I wish with all my heart Your Lordship may succeed in your endeavours to provide the money to carry them on, and I hope the Alarms we have lately heard will convince the Officers, to whose departments it belongs, of the necessity of stationing a Detachment of the King’s Troops here: taking it only in the light of security.

(Great Britain. Colonial Office: Prince Edward Island, original correspondence (CO 226) – 13955; C-13955, MG 11 CO 226, 104266, lac_reel_c13955, LAC, from PARO copy.)



Patterson and Thomas Wright begin to redraw the Map of Charlotte Town

Thomas Wright (c. 1740 – 1812) was probably born in London where he studied drawing and mathematics. In 1758, at the age of 18, he moved to North America where he furthered his education under the guidance of the Surveyor General of Georgia. He returned to England after this period of training but in 1763 returned to North America as assistant to Samuel Holland. He played a significant role in the survey of Saint John’s Island in 1765. His work was concentrated mostly in West Prince County where, quite incredibly, although the contours of the land appear correct, somehow, they became compressed to such a degree that over 20,000 acres were not recorded – the size of an entire Lot (see Lockerby and Sobey, pp. 44-45)! He returned to England after this but was back at Quebec in 1769 to observe the Transit of Venus. This was a rare astronomical event from which data about the exact longitude of the observation point could me measured. At this time determining exact longitude was still almost impossible and the miracle of Holland’s map consisted in his being able to achieve an accurate longitude that created, in Saint John’s Island, what may be the first accurate outline of a geographical entity in the history of surveying. Wright then returned to work with Holland on the survey of the Northern District of British North America. When Saint John’s Island was made a separate colony from Nova Scotia in 1769, and Governor Walter Patterson was appointed its Governor in 1770, Wright was appointed a member of council, where he does not appear to have been very active because of his many surveying duties for the landlords. Patterson’s plea to Lord Hillsborough were successful and Wright was made Surveyor General in 1773. Thus, Wright was able to work with, and perhaps advise Patterson in a most significant way, about revising the Morris plan of Charlottetown which, in the few years of its existence, did little else but establish the spirit of the place.

Work on a new map of Charlottetown seems to have begun at once, and in a scrappy sort of way that was based on the nature of the settlement that had grown to the point of Patterson’s arrival in 1770.

There is a very interesting manuscript map in the national archives in Ottawa that is dated – improbably I think – to 1779, which shows a very peculiar configuration of what parts of Charlotte Town could be distinguished on the ground at this time. It was drawn by Thomas Wright and is usually passed over in embarrassment in historical accounts of the development of the city as a monument to Patterson’s greed. I believe that it represents the beginning of the production of a new map of the city, based on the Morris matrix as it had evolved in the two previous years. It is a summary of what was on the ground and a record of the short-term plans requested by Patterson in 1770-71.



[1770-71] Wright, Thomas, CHARLOTTE TOWN The Capital of the ISLAND of SAINT JOHN by Tho’s. Wright Surveyor, (1779), Library and Archives Canada. Item 4129091. Scan of microfiche courtesy of PARO.

To provide you with more detail I insert this, the best detailed view of the area of development in this map that I have been able to obtain.

All the development is centered in the southwest corner of the city, where there is a primitive wharf at the bottom of Queen Street, and at the lower angle a battery named after Patterson, a guard house, a flagstaff and a Mill. There are two buildings labelled barracks. We must remember that until the 1850s Charlottetown was a military outpost with a permanent garrison that waxed and waned over the years. The only other public facility sems to be a pump near the bottom of Queen Street. Only 16 city blocks have been drawn in, six of them empty of buildings. With the limitations imposed by the quality of the scan from LAC one might estimate that at this time the town consisted of about 33 structures, at least two of them military. There is no evidence whatsoever of development – even street articulation, north of what is now called Richmond Street and east of Prince Street. Everything north of that, including the great central square, has not yet been laid out in a manner that demanded recognition at this time.

What is visible and very fascinating is the dramatic shaded sketch of the oblong hill in the middle of the city with a centre line going north. Thomas Wright has given great prominence to this area, now contained roughly at the base by Richmond Street, on the west by Pownal Street, on the east by part of Confederation Centre and beyond that, Confederation Court Mall. It all ends a bit beyond Kent Street.

This curious feature is what makes me believe that this is the earliest map produced by Wright for Patterson – 1770 or 1771 – because only the inhabited part of Morris’ plan is represented. For some reason the hill is given dramatic prominence with an area set aside for a complicated military installation and north of that, an enormous field, an area of about three city blocks, which is labelled as “Gov’r Patterson’s Field.” I have not yet discovered to what use the Governor intended to put this field.

Another thing to notice in this map that the track out of the north end of the city begins at the bottom of Queen Street and goes up, climbs the hill and soon splits into the Lower Malpeque Road and Saint Peter’s Road.

There is another topographical feature that is most interesting. In line with the large hill containing the place for a military installation along with Governor Patterson’s huge field, is a smaller roughly oval hill to the north where the road splits. At this very point the public gallows was erected and it is represented for the first time ever on this map.

In the manner of these English gallows, it was equipped to manage several simultaneous hangings, with nooses arranged along the tall crosspiece. There is a good reason, in British and Christian tradition, why the gallows was placed here, outside the city walls, as it were.

In the Christian and Jewish traditions there were very clear instructions about cleanliness within the city walls. There is a peculiar verse in Leviticus 14:33–45 that is obsessed with cleaning mold off house walls and taking the contaminated filth outside the city walls for disposal. In John 19:17–20, it is clearly stated that Jesus was executed outside the city walls to avoid polluting the town by becoming useless dead flesh. There is a very long, though not exclusive, European tradition of performing executions outside the walls. Euston Street was the north wall of Charlotte Town, which unlike the fortified north wall of Halifax, faced friendly, not hostile wilderness. That small hill in Charlottetown on which the gallows was erected, is still called Gallows Hill and the Inn on the Hill faces the place of execution. It is a dubious privilege, and one wonders to what degree it brings joy to the guests.


The New Plan of Charlottetown by Thomas Wright

Surveyor-General Thomas Wright set to work at once to draw a new map of Charlottetown, consisting at the largest extent of 10 ranges, with the fullest ones 12 blocks deep. In the territory north of the city itself were the Common and Royalty. This coloured version of the map is in the national archives in Ottawa and is very large, almost six feet square. Alas no high-resolution scan is available for study, only this pretty picture with such poor resolution that it is impossible to make out any details.


1771 – A plan of Charlotte Town the capital of the Island of St. John delineated by order of His Excellency Walter Patterson Esq. by Mr. Tho. Wright, Surveyor. [In script] Enclosure in Letter of July 24th 1771, Patterson to Hillsborough. Dimensions almost 6’ square. Library and Archives Canada, Item number 4129090.

The most reliable description of the nature of this map, and what the various elements mean, is to my knowledge, found in Rogers (1983), pages 1-3. I present it here, directly from her book.


The main town consisted of 500 town lots of 84 feet by 120 feet, increased from 60 feet by 100 feet in the Morris plan; streets 101 feet wide stretching from the water; east-west streets at right angles 80 feet wide; and a central square for public buildings as well as the four green square already mentioned. Around the town on the sides not bounded by water were 565 acres of land called a common, “reserved,” Patterson said, “for extending the town when circumstances warrant the enlargement.” Beyond that again were 6401 acres of pasture land divided into 12-acre fields.

A few changes to this plan were made later. An encroachment on the east-west streets of 40 feet was allowed, so that the lots today are 84 feet by 160 feet.’ In the upper part of the town some streets were eliminated and lots joined each other at their extremities to allow the lots 160-foot length without narrowing the streets.

This orderly plan had an influence on the settlement pattern. Instead of stretching along the river, ribbon-like, as do so many towns, Charlottetown proper developed along its intended grid pattern. Because of the town being a northern climate, Patterson had envisioned all houses facing south with a service entrance from the rear; in actuality, buildings were constructed on streets at right angles to each other and faced north, east, and west, as well as towards the sun. The largest grouping was naturally on the streets close to the water, but there was a surprising growth outward, best explained by considering the type of town it was.

(Rogers 1983, pp. 1-3.)



The biggest surprise is the introduction of a very democratic benevolence in the form of four green areas set aside for use and pleasure of the population.

This is how they make their first appearance, the arrangement constricted because of the narrowing of the city plan as it approaches the water.



They are:

On the northwest, Pownall Square;
The northeast, North Square;
The southwest, Fitzherbert Square;
The southeast, Hillsborough Square.

More information on the various squares, and the many name changes they endured can be found in this informative site provided by the City of Charlottetown.

Picturing A City: Historic Squares


Thomas Wight is inspired.

The immediate inspiration for this extremely significant departure from Morris’ plan is to be found, I believe, in the new city of Savannah, Georgia, where the 15-year-old Thomas Wright was sent to be apprenticed to its founder, General James Edward Oglethorpe (1696 – 1785). In that atmosphere of Enlightenment free-thinking, Wright, at an impressionable age, must have absorbed some of Oglethorpe’s ideas for liberty – and for town design.


Alfred Edmund Dyer after William Verelst, James Edward Oglethorpe; oil on panel; 5 1/2 in. x 4 1/2 in.; 1735-36. National Portrait Gallery, London.

Oglethorpe was a soldier, Member of Parliament and a great philanthropist who founded the Colony of Georgia, the last of the Thirteen Colonies to be established. He was a great social reformer with an interest in the condition and future of the poor people who emigrated to the New World, often selecting them from Debtor’s Prison where they languished in despair.

It has not been possible to identify the person who created this extraordinary city plan which, for the first time in the Eighteenth Century, considered the needs of the common people enough to provide them with their own green areas for use and pleasure. If Oglethorpe is not the designer of this city, then where does the idea come from? He seems to have known exactly what he wanted to do and there is evidence that the design had been settled upon in 1730. In my next post we will try to answer this question by going back in time nearly a century and travelling to Philadelphia.

Each square quickly developed a community of eager settlers around its boundary. Traditionally parks had always been the prerogative of the wealthy upper classes, places in congested cities to which they could retreat to stroll in happy conversation, or to display themselves in their finery in their open carriages as they moved about at a leisurely pace.

In Savannah the city plan was the embodiment of the great ideals of the European Enlightenment, particularly the beliefs that Jean-Jacques Rousseau would write in 1662 on the dignity of human beings in Du contrat social: Man is born free, but everywhere he is in chains… The English people believes itself to be free; it is gravely mistaken; it is free only during the election of Members of Parliament; as soon as the Members are elected, the people is enslaved; it is nothing.


The miracle of Charlottetown, the work of the Oglethorpe-inspired Thomas Wright, came into being in 1771. A high optimism was in the air. There was a quite significant change in the disposition of the squares, In the first draft the southern ones were a block closer to the centre line of Great George Street, but in the next version of the map, of which there is a copy in PARO, the squares have been moved a block to the east and west. I believe that this was done to create distance between obvious public spaces and the centre of power found in the central square.

Detail of: A PLAN/ OF Charlotte Town/ The Capital of the ISLAND/ Delineated by Order of HIS [HONOUR]/ WALTER PATTERSON/ Governor of the Said Island/ By/ Mr. Thomas Wrigh[t]/ Surveyor of the Ninth District, dated by PARO at c. 1785; 78 x 75 cm, ink on paper with linen backing, PARO, Ref. 1162?.


Maps continue to appear, in simple and smaller format, and they present the most up to date status of the city lineaments. This lovely clear map of uncertain date shows the city that emerged in the early Nineteenth Century, when Queen’s Square was still a civic dream with a temporary chapel and market house, to be built in 1800, not yet visible. All but one of the green squares have had name changes.

Later, probably in the 1780s, the plan would be tightened up. It would still have its 10 ranges of blocks, but some of them would be combined so that their number was reduced from 12 to 8, to accommodate the insertion of the new green areas. This can be clearly seen in the following map where compression has taken place in the top half of the plan.


A Plan of/ Charlotte Town/ [with a reference table], circa 1795-1800, PARO, 0397.

In its final arrangement in the time of Thomas Wright, the squares are now more democratically located in the extremities of the town, away from the centre of power.

In a very brief time the names of the green squares began to be changed in a significant manner. I don’t yet know the reasons for these changes, but will include them at a later time if I am able to obtain the necessary information. I would like to do it as a table with dates and annotations. Here are the changes effected before 1800.

On the northwest, Pownall Square becomes Rochfort Square;
The northeast, North Square is renamed Kings Square;
The southwest, Fitzherbert Square  is renamed Pownal Square, eventually to be disfigured by a jail;
The southeast, Hillsborough Square remains the same.

Here is the cartouche with its table of references showing what parts of the infrastructure had been built at this time.

The ever-present gallows is still very clearly sketched in at the junction of Euston Street and the Prince Town Road. Here is a detail from the top edge of the map.


A very interesting bird’s eye view drawing, the first of a series of six by the late Canon Robert Tuck, give a clear idea of the exploitation that has taken place by about 1811 when the Plaw Courthouse was built. There seems to be a phobia to move into the east end of the square, a fear that will only begin to go away when the Plaw/Smith Round Market is placed in the centre of the square in the 1820s.


Canon Robert Tuck, Queen’s Square 1770-1820, pencil drawing, part of a set of 6, produced to illustrate a display on the evolution of Queen’s Square in the vestibule of the Coles Building. Circa 1995. PEI Museum. (The originals are lost.)


Edmund Fanning (1739-1818)

The Governor who would replace Patterson was Edmund Fanning (1739-1818) who was an American born administrator, land agent and army officer. He was educated at the new Yale University and was a brilliant scholar with many abilities. He received several honorary degrees, including one from Oxford University. However, early in his career his actions were interpreted in the most hostile manner, by those who saw him as an enemy of the common people, and after terrible attacks on his person and property, he was moved to New York. In American historical accounts he has a very bad name.

Escaping an intolerable life in the American states in 1783 he became Governor of Nova Scotia. He got married during this time and started a family. In 1786 he was named as Walter Patterson’s replacement and then began the painful process of transition, living in a scruffy cottage with no hope of a Government House on the horizon. Fanning thought this would be an interim appointment, but it lasted from1786 to 1805. They were excruciating years starting unpleasantly with Patterson, rather like Donald Trump, refusing to hand over the seals of office and insisting that his protegees in the government be kept on to help promote his numerous agenda while he went to England to be tried for some of his alleged wrongdoings.

The Fanning story is very well told by J. M. Bumstead in this DCB article.

One of the things that Fanning did do, that will be to his everlasting credit, was to designate, in a corner of the large Colonel Grey map of the divisions of the Charlottetown Commons, a field of 100 acres that took up the other lobe in Holland’s map, the west one, where it was to form the basis of an estate for the Lieutenant Governor. This land would in time also be used for other purposes other than being simply the Governor’s farm and ornamental gardens. At the end of Fanning’s tenure, a battery called Fort Edward was built to augment the defense of the harbour, paired with the battery already present at the southwest corner of the city. The next Governor, Joseph Frederick Wallet DesBrisay (1805-12), a great surveyor and cartographer, extremely anxious about the inability of the surveyors who were dividing up the Island into farms having no means of adjusting their instruments so that the discrepancies at the end would not be too great, introduced legislation in 1809 to regulate the surveyors in the colony. His intention was to lay out on the ground a series of stones that marked the compass directions of the day, and indicated the Magnetic North of 1764, so that surveyors could come to this place and adjust their instruments so that there would be consistency in their various works. The Act was passed but it was not until 1820 that the first stones were laid, setting up accurate compass points for 1764 (Holland’s lines which had to be followed) and the true north of the day. These stones – which together form a scientific instrument – are still there and and can be easily visited. There is an account of them, with pictures, in this previous blog post.


Governor Fanning’s reserved 100 acres for the future estate of the Governor, a detail from A Plan of Charlotte Town Common divided into Lots of 12 Acres each, those which are otherwise marked excepted. [In pencil] by Col R Gray. 1786-1805, PARO 0639-37.


Captain Thomas Christian

The construction of a bridge and sluice to join the two batteries.

Before the construction of the Fort Edward battery in 1805 there was little need for a bridge across the salty tidal inlet that had been called by various names over the years. Nobody needed urgent access to the 100 acres set aside by Governor Fanning to build a residence for the Governor in the English country house style with vistas and formal gardens and ornamental walks for promenades as was the custom in those days. But with the construction of the Fort Edward Battery a bridge became necessary, and a most unlikely person provided it.

Allow me to let the story unfold in the journalistic excesses of the day, as it is not without charm. I am grateful to Harry Holman for having discovered this article just as I needed such specific information. In the British Press [London] 9 October 1809 p.3, there is an account of a farewell celebration in the form of a never-ending garden party given by an officer from New Brunswick who had been resident on the Island for several years. He appears to have been entirely incompetent, useless and, according to one source, perhaps mad. This is how the newspaper account begins:



On Saturday, the 15th July last, Captain [Thomas] Christian, of the New Brunswick regiment, gave a splendid entertainment, at the barracks, in Charlotte-Town, Prince Edward’s Island, to all the fashion of the place. The following is a copy of the card of invitation:

Thus concluded a day, which will be spoken of long after the departure of the Captain, who was that very evening relieved, having obtained leave to go to head-quarters on private business; but he has left a more substantial reason to remember him; for he has, at his own expense, erected a most beautiful bridge, uniting the two batteries, called after him, “Christian Bridge;” and made a piece of water, which Capability Brown, was he living, might envy, as an ornament for Governor Des Barres; thus displaying the most ample proof of his talent as an engineer, and his liberality as a man.


Yes! Captain Christian designed and supervised the construction of a bridge for the soldiers to come and go between the two batteries, but he did much more. He dammed the river at its outlet and controlled the backwater with a sluice gate, and in doing this created a beautiful reflecting pond that completely eliminated the unsightly view of the tidal flats. What is most significant in the newspaper account is the mention of Capability Brown, the greatest of all the great English landscape architects, who achieved his effects by tearing down all the Baroque formal gardens around the country and creating landscapes with pastures, groves of trees, rivers, reflecting ponds and ornamental bridges. Captain Christian KNEW the destined use of the Fanning legislative project and deserves the credit for creating a Palladian landscape setting for the future Government House as well as providing a direct path from one battery to another. The whole landscape was changed at one fell stroke! When finally, in 1834, Government House was built, the landscape planned for it was maturing beautifully.


This detail from a picture by George Ackerman shows Christian Bridge, the contained ornamental pond on the right, and, in the distance, the Battery, now a part of the picturesque landscape.


Detail from Ackerman, George (1803-91), Government House, showing Christian Bridge and the Battery beyond. Watercolour on paper, 34.4 x 52.7 cm. Circa 1877. Government House Collection, Charlottetown.


I have yet to obtain verifiable data on the second bridge built over Spring Park River at the merging of Euston Street and Brighton Road. When I do I will insert it here.

And so, Part I of this three-part blog post on the history and evolution of Charlottetown comes to an end. It is very long but could have been longer if deeply interesting secondary aspects had been discussed in full.

It is, I believe, good, to leave you with a coup d’œil of all that has been accomplished to make Charlottetown into the capital city of the colony of the Island of Saint John. This crisp, austere detail of the Wright/Peacock chart of Hillsborough Bay tells the whole story I have been talking about at a glance.


Detail of CHART of HILLSBOROUGH BAY and the Harbour of Charlotte Town, Surveyed under the Colonial Statute 2nd VICTORIA Cap. 5, by GEORGE WRIGHT, SURVEYOR GENERAL AND GEORGE PEACOCK, MASTER R.N. (H. M. SHIP ANDROMACHE.) Commissioners appointed under said Act, 1839. Drawn by G. Wright Jr. Private Collection.



Special Thanks

For the help, encouragement and kindness they provided in the past months I wish to thank Harry Holman, Doug Sobey and John Boylan from PARO for giving me exciting leads and insights, locating material in a moment that would have taken me months, and for being there, always encouraging and critical in equal measure, to inspire and motivate me to do my best in assembling and interpreting and presenting this material. Thank you all.



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