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Abraham was undoubtedly born on the Gesner farm in what is now Rockleigh, New Jersey, near the village of Tappan. He was baptized by the minister of the Tappan Reformed Dutch Church on 12 December 1756.1 The following is taken from a history of Annapolis County, Nova Scotia, where Abraham eventually settled.

"The subject of this memoir was born in New Jersey, in 1755 [sic]. He was a twin brother of the late Henry Gesner, of Cornwallis, who was the father of Abraham Gesner, M.D., the well-known geologist and writer. The family are of Swiss origin, and emigrated from the Fatherland early in the eighteenth century to America, where they soon became the owners of valuable real estate in New Jersey, which was afterward confiscated on account of their adhesion to the Royal cause in the revolutionary contest.

In a memorial to Sir James Kempt, in 1828, asking for half-pay; Mr Gesner informed His Excellency that he had entered the military service of his country at the age of sixteen years, in the King's Orange Rangers, then commanded by Samuel V. Bayard; that he was with Sir Henry Clinton in his northern expedition, and present at the storming and taking of Fort Montgomery, and was in another engagement of less note; that he had bought his commission from a Captain Bethel; that he had sought refuge with the British army in 1776, and came to this place in 1779; and that he had served in the militia of this colony for the long period of forty years-that is to say, from 1788.

Toward the close of the past century, he became the proprietor of the Noble property, in Granville, then known as the Alexander Howe farm, which included lots Nos, 95, 96, and 97, in that township, including an area of 1,500 acres of marsh, pasture and woodland. This estate he took much pride in improving and beautifying. To him the people of the county are greatly indebted for the present flourishing condition of its fruit orchards. So fully was he persuaded of the value of this branch of industry that he imported, from time to time, scions of the most approved varieties of apples from Great Britain and the United States, at his own expense, for gratuitous distribution, with a view to create and encourage a love for pomological pursuits. He paid unusual attention to fruit culture on his own farm, and had the pleasure of possessing as the result of his skill and efforts, the finest and most productive fruit orchard in the county, perhaps in the Province.

In 1824, Thomas Ritchie having vacated his seat in the Assembly, by accepting the appointment of a seat on the bench of the Inferior Court of Common Pleas, Mr. Gesner, or as he was more generally called, Major Gesner, was brought out as a candidate to fill the vacancy, and was duly returned. His uprightness of character and sincerity of purpose commanded the respect of parliament and people, though he seldom spoke on any other than questions connected with local affairs.

In the general election of 1827, he declined a nomination, urging the increasing infirmities of age and his desire to finish his few remaining years in the pursuits to which he had devoted so large a part of his life, and in which he had enjoyed so much hapiness and success. His descendants are very numerous, and some of them still own and occupy portions of the extensive and valuable homestead."2

Abraham Gesner house, Belleisle, Nova Scotia

The picture below, taken in 2005, shows a panorama of what was the Gesner farm around the house. The modular home in the background is just behind the site of the old house, which reportedly was burned by descendants. The copse to the left surrounds the family cemetery.

Abraham went to Nova Scotia during the evacuation of New York City in 1779. They went first to Cornwallis Township, where his wife's family was living and where the birth of their first child is recorded.3 They probably moved soon after, about 1787/1788, and this may be when Abraham bought his homestead in Granville. The land stretched about 6 miles from the Annapolis River, with its meadow marshes, to the bluffs by the Bay of Fundy. Abraham, who died without a will at 95 and left the heirs fighting over administration of his estate, has an extensive probate file of petitions and accounts. One of the accounts of expenses to maintain the Gesner property lists "dyking marsh lands."4 When English-speaking settlers settled on the previously Acadian lands in the area, there were already established farms there. The Acadians had developed a method of draining marshes for use as farmland by building dykes and controlling tidal waters with ingenious contraptions involving sluices and gateways called "aboideaux" or "aboiteaux." There's no doubt that the Acadians practiced this kind of farming in Belleisle. Archeology has proven this at Belleisle Marsh, apparently just south of the Gesner property. In a division of marsh land among Delancy Gesner's heirs in 1889, one lot is described as "beginning on the south side of the main road (now Rt. 1) at the west side of the sluice in the aboideau of the Gesner Creek..." Whether or not this was an Acadian-built aboideau isn't known, but the settlers who took over their land are known to have either copied the technology or retained the aboideau that were already there. This marshland turned meadow provided much-needed hayfields in an area with a lot of untillable, somewhat mountainous land. The lots by the Bay of Fundy were undoubtedly not farmed. In the Gesner probate file they are called wood lots. Villages along the bay were set up for fishing on various coves.

Part of Belleisle Marsh near the Gesner farm, where meadowland such as this was created from an Acadian method of dykes for draining the water.

Children of Abraham Gesner and Elizabeth Steadman:

(Their first two and last two children apparently were twins. No primary source has been found for Hannah's birth date or the birth years for the others given in earlier publications, but the between dates were calculated from their gravestones)

i. Hannah b. 28 September 1787? (bet. 17 October 1786-17 October 1787)
ii. Famichie b. bet. 5 September 1787-5 September 1788
iii. Jacob b. 1791
iv. Elizabeth S(teadman?) b. bet. 22 August 1792-22 August 1793
v. Maria Bartlett b. bet. 11 March 1794-11 March 1795
vi. Henry b. bet. 7 January 1796-7 January 1797
vii. Horatia Nelson b. bet. 23 July 1799-23 July 1800
viii. Isaac bet. 28 August 1802-28 August 1803
ix. Caroline b. bet. 29 January 1804-29 January 1805
x. Abraham bet. 6 April 1805-6 April 1806
xi. Delancey Moody, bet. 11 May 1809-11 May 1810
xii. George Provost, bet. 21 May 1809-21 May 1810

vital records sources: Abraham's birth and baptism are recorded in the Tappan Dutch Reformed Church records. His death date comes from his gravestone in Belleisle. Abraham and Elizabeth's marriage is said to be recorded in the Cornwallis Township Book.

1. Tappan Dutch Reformed Church record.
2. William A. Calnek, History of the County of Annapolis,etc. (1897), 417-418.
3. Cornwallis Township Book.
4. Presented to Probate Court in 1851, the job itself took 3 days in March at a cost of 5 shillings a day.

all text and photographs © 1998-2021 by Doug Sinclair unless where otherwise noted