Captain John Savage, Loyalist, who became the leader of associates in the Township of Shefford, spent nearly all of the years of the American Revolutionary War in one or another rebel jail. He would escape from one, only to be caught and imprisoned once more, under conditions that grew increasingly worse. At one point, he even stood with the noose around his neck, beside the rebel executioner ready to pull the rope, when., because of his wit, he made some remark that amused his captors. He was released but thrown back into jail. He must have remained in jail in either Norwick, Conn. or Poughkeepsie till around 1780 or 1781, at which time Governor Haldimand of Quebec began his campaign of raids and surprise attacks. The daring, almost story-book-hero Savage, the man for helping the scouts, who came through carrying messages, was brought to the attention of Secretary Mathews and is mentioned in the Haldimand Papers.

John Savage was born in Ireland in 1740 and came to America with two uncles while still a young man. He took up land near Spencertown, N.Y., not far from Albany. Sometime before 1769, he married Ann, daughter of Deacon Elisha Pratt of Proprietors’ Meeting House. Most of this family were Whigs but John Savage declared himself for the King early on. He drank to the “King’s Health” openly and soon was arrested for the first of many times to come, but was released after paying his fine.

He was a born leader and soon was organizing groups of men, both inside and out of jail, sometimes to break out of the prison, sometimes to gather a group to join a larger Loyalist unit. In May 1782, he discovered that his property in Spencertown was being confiscated and realized that he must move his family from the area as soon as possible. In August of that year, he took a trip to St. Johns on the Richelieu River in Quebec (now Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu). He found that Colonel Henry Caldwell was happy to receive Loyalists in his seigniory, known as Caldwell Upper Manor. This settlement into which Savage came was the gathering place, and for a while the home, of a great number of families who were to go out ten years later and open up the Eastern Townships. * At this time, Vermont was playing a game of diplomacy, trying to incite Congress to admit her into the Union and pretended to become a British Colony again. In 1783, Ethan Allen wrote to Sherwood (negotiator with Vermont) “Earnestly requesting that the Loyalists in Canada might be settled in the northern part of the State (i.e. Caldwell Upper Manor). Captain John Savage and his family settled at Windmill Point, North Hero, Vermont. The land was fertile and the trading possibilities excellent. In 1791, everything changed, however, when Vermont joined the Union as the l4th State. So Captain John Savage must move again as the conditions became intolerable for him in Vermont.

In Canada, the Constitutional Act of 1791 divided the old Province of Quebec into Upper and Lower Canada. The next year, the surveys were started to divide up into townships the lands to the east of Missisquoi Bay on which settlement had previously been outlawed. Loyalists and others were permitted to move into the newly surveyed forest, where they could obtain grants of land in free tenure (i.e. without having to pay seigneurial dues). So began the settlement of the “Eastern Townships” of Lower Canada. During the previous years, many petitions had been addressed to the government, requesting the opening of this territory to Loyalist settlers. Among the foremost of the petitioners was Captain John Savage.

The Captain was soon approved as leader of associates in the Township of Shefford. In October of 1792, he took his family to stay in St. Johns while he and a crew went back to the forests of Shefford to clear a road and build a cabin for the coming winter. Like most of the early cabins, Savage’s also had an outdoor fireplace , known as a “Dutch Back”.

Home of nephew and namesake of Captain Robert Savage in West Sheffort (now Bormont) Que. Picture from Scrapbook of Mary Olive Vaudry.

The cabin was located quite near the Yamaska River and on high ground. Hemlock boughs served as beds. Animal skins served as replacements for glass in the openings, and there was an opening in the roof, when the cooking was done inside, to allow smoke to escape from the fire, built on flat stones inside the cabin. One night while Ann Savage was alone with the children, John having gone to Quebec City for several days, a bear appeared at one of the openings and would not go away. Ann and the children took poking at the bear’s nose with burning sticks, until the animal left. The family was quite alone in the wilderness for the remainder of the winter, eating the supplies which they had brought on their trip north. By 1795, more settlers arrived, to help clear the land, build mills and roads, and generally bring the wilderness to life. By the next year (1796), Savage had his own grist mill for grinding grain. He had been able to bring some sheep with him, and soon Mrs. Savage was busy spinning and weaving cloth from the wool. The first cabin was replaced in the next year by a larger and better log house and in the early 1800’s, by a frame house.

Ann Savage passed away in 1822 at age 81 and Captain John died in 1826 at age 85. John had donated the land for St. John’s Anglican Church, and seen it completed in 1821. They are both buried in St. John’s Anglican Church Cemetery in West Shefford, now Bromont, Quebec. Through their many years of trials and challenges, both John and Ann Savage had served with honour and courage to found a community.

By Jean Darrah McCaw, U.E., C.M.H.
Branch Genealogist, Sir John Johnson Centennial Branch
The United Empire Loyalists’ Association of Canada


M.O. Vaudry, “A Sketch in the in Life of Captain John Savage” (1921).
Cyrus Thomas., History of Shefford (1877).
Brome County Historical Society, Papers & Journal of Capt. Savage.
A.J. H. Richarson, Captain John Savage and the Settlement of Shefford.
The Story of St. John’s Anglican Church.. West Shefford.. Winona Mathews.