History of Coveys Island in Mahone Bay
with Maps and Photos
Footnote numbers are links to the appropriate footnote - click to see the reference.
Click on any photo to see the large version and launch the slide show.
Navgation for the slide show is at the bottom of each large photo. Photo captions are below each large photo.
2018. Meisners Cove. Photo by Rolland C. Reynolds.
The subject of this article is the second island, now an unoccupied 108-acres of Crown land in Mahone Bay (44.421932 N, 64.30451W2) north of the Town of Lunenburg. It is commonly known as the location of the 1756 murder of 61-year-old French Huguenot merchant Louis Payzant.
Coveys Island was formed by the melting of glaciers 12,000 years ago, and the local Mi'kmaq have occupied the Atlantic Provinces for more than 10,000 years.3 In the 17th and 18th centuries, the French and British occupied the region. In 1753 British authorities granted the area to the "Foreign Protestants" who settled in Lunenburg that summer, including Payzant and his family, who had sailed from Jersey, Channel Islands.
Historical references to the island are listed chronologically:
- About 1754 "Islands in Mahone Bay no. 7, 100 acres to Lewis Paysant [sic]" 4 was granted to Louis Payzant, along with nearby Backmans Island.
- In 1755 the island was identified as "Paysan's I" [sic]. 5
- On 8 May 1756 First Nations people (sent by the French in Quebec to attack British territories) raided "Louis Paysants [sic] Island"6 where they killed and scalped Louis, as well as his servant Anne Riovant, her infant son, and a young male from nearby Rous Island, captured as a guide.7 Payzant's stock of merchandise was seized before his house was torched.
- On 12 May 1756 Colonel Patrick Sutherland in Lunenburg sent a dispatch by sea to Lieutenant Governor Charles Lawrence in Halifax. He wrote: "Yesterday in the afternoon I received the melancholly [sic] account of Mr. Pizant's [sic] House being burned (in Mahone Bay) and that himself and other people were killed. I immediately sent an officers party which returned this morning by whom I am informed that on Pizants Island the House is burned, he with another young man kill'd near it and scalp'd. A woman Servant and Child also kill'd and scalp'd near the water side. His wife and four Children missing."8 They were taken captive eventually to Quebec City, returning to Nova Scotia in 1760.
- About 1756, "After the members of the Payzant family, whose lives had been spared, were carried off, a man named Covey lived on the island. He was followed in succession by Adam Heckman, Paul Langille, Peter Herman, and Casper Meisner."9 That "Covey" was likely James Covey (1737-after 1792), born in London, England, who immigrated to Halifax on the Canning in April 1749 with his father and brother, both named Charles.10 His 9 children were baptized at Lunenburg's St. John's church from 1764 to 1788.11 Covey was listed in Lunenburg Township on the censuses of 176712 and 1770.13 In 1782 he was captain of the schooner Susannah which took a cargo of boards and shingles to Halifax from Lunenburg,14 and in 1792 he paid 1 shilling poll tax for "Islands, Lunenburg."15
- In August 1761, "A grant [was made]...confirming unto Mary Paysant [widow of Louis]...an Island in Mahone Bay called Paysants Island containing one hundred acres..." 16 etc. The area totaled 170 acres: Payzant Island, 100 acres + Backmans, 40 acres + Oakland #8 woodlot, 30 acres.17
- On 18 August 1761, "Mary Peaysant [sic] hath... applied...for licence to dispose of two Island[s] and a thirty Acre Lot granted to her in the Township of Lunenburg thereby to raise a Sum of Money to enable her to improve and Stock certain Lands granted to her in the Township of Falmouth and to assist in maintaining a numerous Family."18
- About 1761 Peter Zwicker bought the island.19 This was likely Johann Peter Zwicker (1736-1813), born in the Palatinate,20 southwest Germany, who immigrated to Halifax in 1752.
- By 1774 the name of the island was changed to "William Henry Isle" (no doubt after the son of King George III). Swiss-born Huguenot surveyor Joseph F.W. DesBarres (1729-1824), employed by the British Admiralty in 1763, prepared charts of the coastline and offshore waters of Nova Scotia. The islands appear to have been renamed in honour of King George III (1738-1820) and his family. Mahone Harbour became "Prince Harbour"; Backmans Island was "Princess Royal Island" (for Charlotte, Princess Royal, 1766-1828); Loye Island was "Louisa Island", and Rous Island was "Osnaburg Isle."21 The new names did not last.
- In February 1804 Rev. John Payzant (Louis's son in Liverpool, Nova Scotia) sold half of "my right title claim or interest unto [sic] my father Lewis Payzant one half of the Island in Mahone Bay that part on which the Builden [buildings] are in the County of Lunenburg" to Adam Heckman22 (likely Johann Adam Heckman, 1775-1818, whose father emigrated from the Palatinate23 or Baden-Württemberg,24 Germany). This was probably Coveys Island.
- In February 1812 Eliza Langille (1812-1872) was born on Coveys Island, the first child for Paulus Leopold Langille (1785-1858) and Anna Judith Hannah Dauphinée (1789-1884). Eliza's grandfathers immigrated to Halifax from Montbelaird, France, in 1752.25 Eliza's 12 younger siblings were all born in New Cornwall, Nova Scotia.26
- In March 1840 Capt. Peter Herman (1798-after 1881), a farmer on nearby Herman's Island, leased "Coveys Island" for eight months to Paulus Leopold Langille (1785-1858), also all the land lying southwest of a "small pond lying to the SW of the dwelling house" for one year and eight months. Herman (whose grandfather emigrated from the Palatinate in 1752)27 was responsible for cutting the "grass of the swamp lying to the North east of the dwelling House and all the grass to the North east of the said swamp for the ensuing year." Paulus's son Caleb Langille (1817-1887) lived with his father. In 1841 they moved to New Germany, Nova Scotia.28
- By the mid-nineteenth century the story of the "Bloody Handprint" rock was known, though there were various theories. "In 1850 father [George Payzant, 1813-1885, a prominent Liverpool merchant and owner of many brigantines29] visited the Payzant Island and the stone was pointed out to him (or rock) as the one where the little child's brains were dashed out. It was mottled red and white all the way through ... . It was believed that it was the child's blood that made the rock that color."30
- In the 1860s the owner was Casper Meisner31 (1809-1864), whose grandfather emigrated in 1752 from Königstein32 or Hesse33 in Germany. Casper died on Backmans Island 34
- The 1871 census indicated that Casper Meisner's sons Edward, 33, and David, 29, (and their wives & children) lived "on an island; work[ed the] farm together & divide[d] the crops."35 This was probably Coveys Island.
- The 1881 census listed three families living on Coveys: farmer David Daniel Meisner (1840-1891), with wife and five children; farmer James Edward Meisner (1837-1911 died on the island), with wife and 2 children; and farmer John Daniel Herman (1828-1878), with wife & 7 children.36
- In the 1920s the island owner built a shed over the "Bloody Handprint" rock and charged visitors a nickel to see it.37
- In June 1925 Mrs. Blanche E. Meisner, president of the Mahone Bay Womens Institute, invited the members to a summer picnic on her island, however the event did not materialize.38 She was Blanche Eliza Winters (1885-1961) wife of Frederick Alexander Meisner (1882-1959).39 His father was a cousin of brothers David Daniel and James Edward Meisner.
- About 1935 George Albert Chase (1877-1963), a Kings County businessman, purchased Coveys Island from the Meisners but sold it back in 1955.40 His purpose was to grow potatoes imported from Scotland or Northern Ireland for two years under quarantine before being taken to the mainland. In the winter the potatoes were sent to Jamaica to grow on a large plantation. In the summer of 1936 Chase prepared the land and built a house on the high hill on the SW side, a small warehouse for potatoes, a wharf and a log cabin. That winter the potatoes from Britain were stored in the warehouse. The log cabin was built to the south of the cove on the western side where there was a sandy beach.41
- By July 1936 the name "Covey Island" was officially approved.42
- In 1937 George A. Chase had Bryant MacDonald & his family from Halls Harbour, Kings County, move into the house on Coveys Island to drive a team of horses for the summer. That year there were two barns used to store the machinery and the two pairs of horses. Thirty-five acres of potatoes were planted, but in 1938 there were only four acres with the remainder of the land "seeded down with hay seed." Chase had a cairn built (ca. 1938) for the "Bloody Handprint" rock that tourists came to see. Also in the fall of that year the potatoes were dug, then trucked to the Annapolis Valley, stored, and planted on the North Mountain in 1939. That year Robert Chase (a cousin of George) moved beef cattle by scow over to the island for the summer and for many years afterward. "Covey Island is really made up of three hills and two low lands between the hills."43
- About 1948 Max Zwicker, 31, took cattle to the island for grazing at 25 cents a head. He used two dories lashed together to hold two head of cattle (which faced backwards) per boat. On the island the oxen would dig rows, presumably for planting potatoes.44 Zwicker had worked on the potato farm for three years in the late 1930s.45
- In the early 1950s, "The barns and the house for the potato farm were still standing. There were still barrels in the barns and the fields were like hay meadows. My father often told of the potato farm there, and he mentioned that the first crop couldn't be brought ashore due to quarantine regulations. They were subsequently dumped into the water and many local people had free potatoes that year."46
- In 1950 Nova Scotia folklorist Helen Creighton described the "Bloody Handprint" rock on Coveys Island just after Louis was shot in 1756: "He put his hand on the wound, which was bleeding freely, and then pressed it on a rock where the imprint still remains. At times it is seen clearly, a perfect impression of a man's hand with four fingers and thumb, and tinged with the red of blood. At other times the imprint seems to fade away. It has been the subject of much speculation ever since. . . . Mr. Payzant was left with his hand upon the rock and it is thought that the heat from the fire burned the imprint in indelibly."47
- In July 1956 "Covey Island, now known as Meisner's Island is approximately 30 [sic] acres." It was uninhabited and in the summer 30 head of cattle pastured there. The owner then was H.G. Meisner (Harold Gordon Meisner, 1914-2005, grandson of David Daniel Meisner) who worked for Royal Securities in Montreal, at least in the 1960s. George A. Chase's potato experiment proved unsuccessful and in 1955 he sold it back to the Meisners.48
- In 1974 the Nova Scotia Department of Internal Services referred to "Coveys Island (Formerly Covey Island)."49
- By June 1986 the island was owned by Ernst Leubner of West Germany.50
- In February 1988 J.A. Tupper, General Manager of the Fisheries Museum of the Atlantic in Lunenburg, referred to the island as "Meisners Island." "Many local residents and visitors stop on the island during the summer months and perpetuate the myth of the rock."51
- In 2002 "Coveys Island" was for sale at $950,000 CAD plus tax: "This private and breathtaking beautiful Mahone Bay Island is within easy reach of the charming towns of Lunenburg, Mahone Bay, and Chester, Nova Scotia. In an outstanding bay for sailing, the temperate climate, the meadows, woodlands and more than a mile of pristine shoreline provide a perfect setting for a family compound now and investment for future generations. Excellent airline connections to the Eastern US seaboard and Bermuda."52
- As of 2005 the owner was Trans-Canada Oceanfront Properties Co., with the owner living in Palm Beach, Florida, as well as in Chester, Nova Scotia. In 2003 approved plans for Coveys included 30 building lots, with a large wharf area in Second Peninsula for mainland parking.53
- In June 2006 the sale price for Coveys Island increased to $1,100,000.54
- In 2007 the Ministry of Natural Resources, Province of Nova Scotia, purchased both Backmans Island (from "TBF Islands LDC" in the Cayman Islands) and Coveys Island through a partnership agreement with the Mahone Islands Conservation Association (MICA, founded in 2004). By fundraising, MICA committed $175,000 toward the acquisition of these favourite islands. Through the stewardship agreement with the province the islands fall under the Crown Lands Regulations which will ensure that their beauty and natural environment will be protected.55 MICA's mission is "To protect and conserve the natural environment of the islands and shoreline of Mahone Bay, and the traditional, social and recreational opportunities valued by its various communities." As Crown land, Coveys Island is left in its natural state for the enjoyment of everyone.
Linda G. Layton
24 May 2019
The PDF version of this history is available at this link (file size is approximately 3MB).
2 Coveys Island, Natural Resources Canada, online.
3 Mi'kmaw Resource Guide, online.
4Notes of Survey in Halifax Allotment Book in Winthrop Bell's Register at Nova Scotia Archives, Halifax, MG1, Vol. 122, card index. Also, Lunenburg County Land Grants, Nova Scotia Archives, RG20, "C" Vol. 90A, doc. 22.
5 "A Chart of thee [sic] Coast of Nova Scotia from Port Maltois [sic] to Lawrence Town" (ca. 1755) in Joan Dawson, The Mapmaker's Eye: Nova Scotia Through Early Maps (Halifax, N.S: Nimbus and the Nova Scotia Museum, 1988), pp. 136-138.
6 D.C. Jessen's report on Lunenburg Indian attacks, 1756-1758, Nova Scotia Archives, MG100, Vol. 263, no. 1.
7 Linda G. Layton, A Passion for Survival: the True Story of Marie Anne and Louis Payzant in Eighteenth-century Nova Scotia (Halifax: Nimbus Publishing, 2003), p. 52.
8 Nova Scotia Council, minutes of meetings, 1753-1757, Nova Scotia Archives, RG1, Vol. 210.
9 Mather B. DesBrisay, History of the County of Lunenburg (Belleville, Ontario: Mika, 1972, reprint) written 1870, published 1895, p. 501.
10 Immigrant Ships Transcribers Guild, online. Also, U.S. and Canada, Passenger and Immigration Lists Index, 1500s-1900s, on Ancestry.com.
11 Lunenburg County, NSGenWeb - Church Records - Rootsweb, online.
12 Census Returns, Assessment and Poll Tax Records 1767-1838, Nova Scotia Archives, on Ancestry.com.
13 Nova Scotia, Canada, Census, Assessment and Poll Tax Records, 1770, on Ancestry.com. His household included 1 man, 3 boys, 1 woman and 1 girl (one was English, four were "American" i.e. born in North America, and one was "German and other foreigners"). He owned 2 cows, 2 swine and 1 vessel, schooner or sloop.
14 "The Privateers of Nova Scotia, 1756-1783, by George Mullane, of Halifax, Read before the N.S. Hist. Soc., 9 March, 1909," in Collections of the Nova Scotia Historical Society, Vol. XX (Halifax: McNab, 1921) pp. 29-30, online.
15 Nova Scotia, Canada, Census, Assessment and Poll Tax Records, 1792, on Ancestry.com.
16 Crown Land Grants, Nova Scotia Archives, MFM 13034, old book 4, page 114.
17 There is a discrepancy as to which woodlot, #4 or #8. In 1753 #4 was granted to 'Luis Paysant' (see footnote 4) but in 1761 it was #8 that belonged to his widow (see footnote 16).
18 Licence to dispose of lands, Nova Scotia Archives, RG1, Vol. 165, #175.
19 Elmer G. Harlow, Jr., Harlow Happenings (Raynham, Mass.: 1983), Robert G. Harlow, ed., p. 7.
20 Winthrop Pickard Bell, The "Foreign Protestants" and the Settlement of Nova Scotia (Sackville, N.B., Centre for Canadian Studies, 1990), originally published 1961, p. 287.
21 Joseph F.W. DesBarres, surveyor, The Atlantic Neptune, (England, 1777), a four-volume atlas. Also: Stephen J. Hornsby, Hope Sterge, Surveyors of Empire: Samuel Holland, J.F.W. DesBarres and the Making of the Atlantic Neptune (Montreal: McGill-Queen's University Press, 2011), p. 137, online.
22 Lunenburg County Deeds, Nova Scotia Archives, reel #18366, Vol. 10, p. 33.
23 Bell, "Foreign Protestants," p. 287.
24 Various family trees on Ancestry.com.
25 Bell, "Foreign Protestants," p. 291.
26 roots.foreignprotestants.com, online, and Ancestry.com.
27 Bell, "Foreign Protestants," p. 287.
28 Chris Langille, My Langille Family Genealogy Page, 2005, p. 11, online.
29 Marion Payzant, The Payzant and Allied Jess and Juhan Families in North America (Wollaston, Mass.: The author, 1970), p. 41.
30 Belle Payzant (Isabelle Charlotte Marston Payzant 1849-1916), Partial Record of the Payzant Family, an article written around 1910. A descendant of Rev. John Payzant (1749-1834), she was born in Liverpool, Nova Scotia, but in 1860 moved with her family to Wisconsin.
31 DesBrisay, History of the County of Lunenburg, p. 501.
32 Bell, "Foreign Protestants," p. 289.
33 Various family trees on Ancestry.com.
34 HANLEYQUEST2018, family tree on Ancestry.com.
35 1871 Census of Canada for Lunenburg, Sub-district F, Division 1, Poll District No. 1, p. 76, on Ancestry.com.
36 1881 Census of Canada for Lunenburg, Sub-district A, Lunenburg Division 2, Township of Lunenburg, pp. 32-33, on Ancestry.com.
37 Michael Ernst as recounted by his father, email to Linda Layton, 8 March 2004.
38 Nettie M. Zwicker, Secretary, Mahone Bay Womens Institute minutes, email from Michael Ernst to Linda Layton, April 2011.
39 1871 Census of Canada, and 1891 Census of Canada on Ancestry.com.
40 L.W. Geldert, Clerk-Treasurer, Town of Lunenburg, letter to Marion Payzant in Massachusetts, July 1956. Letter found in Marion Payzant, A Scrapbook with Notes on the Payzant and Allied Jess and Juhan Families in North America ([Wollaston, Mass.]: n.p., 1961-63) Volume III, p. 175, at the Toronto Reference Library, July 2002.
41 Howard Morley Jess (1913-1994) in Centreville, Kings County, Nova Scotia, letter to Linda Wood (now Layton), September 1986.
42 Dept. of Mines & Technical Surveys, 1964, found in Marion Payzant's scrapbook, Volume IV, at the Toronto Reference Library, July 2002.
43 Howard Morley Jess (1913-1994), letter to Linda Wood (now Layton), September 1986.
44 Interview 23 May 2009 with Max Delbert Zwicker (1917-2010) and Michael Ernst. Zwicker resided on his original 1754 family land grant at Indian Point, Lunenburg County.
45 Michael Ernst, email to Linda Layton, 30 August 2006.
46 Michael Ernst, letter to Linda Layton, 5 October 2003.
47 Helen Creighton, Folklore of Lunenburg County, Nova Scotia (Toronto: McGraw-Hill Ryerson, 1950) p. 146.
48 L.W. Geldert, Clerk-Treasurer, Town of Lunenburg, letter to Marion Payzant in Massachusetts, July 1956. Letter found in Marion Payzant's scrapbook, Volume III, p. 175, at the Toronto Reference Library, July 2002.
49 Coveys Island, Natural Resources Canada online.
50 James A. Wentzell, Town Clerk, Lunenburg, letter to Linda G. Wood (now Layton) June 1986.
51 J.A. Tupper, General Manager, Fisheries Museum of the Atlantic, Lunenburg, letter to Linda G. Wood (now Layton) February 1988.
52 Tradewinds Realty Inc., Lunenburg, online July 2002.
53 Michael Ernst, email to Linda Layton, September 2005.
54 Backman, Covey Islands Acquisition Project 2006, Mahone Islands Conservation Association website.
55 Mahone Islands Conservation Association website.