The Trinity Anglican Church Cemetery in Digby contains over two hundred graves associated with the first settlers to the area and their descendants. The oldest gravestone is for Mary Getcheus who died on November 17, 1785, at the age of 37, merely two years after the town was settled. While little information remains about Mary Getcheus, plenty was recorded about her husband Captain Jacob Getcheus (sometimes spelled Getsheus) and his activities during the American Revolution. How he came to be in Digby is a dramatic tale.
Jacob Getcheus was residing in Philadelphia when the American Revolution began. In March 1776, he was captain of the commercial ship Aurora, which was contracted by Willing, Morris, & Company to sail to Barcelona, Spain, with a load of wheat and flour. The Aurora was one of seven ships used by the American Patriots to export goods for sale, the proceeds from which were invested in arms and ammunition. In May of 1776, the British Man of War Enterprise, a frigate of 28 guns, captured the Aurora off the coast of Spain and brought it to Gibraltar.
Getcheus was confined in the British prison ship Whitby, a large transport anchored in Wallabout Bay along the northwest shore of Brooklyn, New York. It was said to be plagued with sickness due to poor provisions and unclean water. The British were known to use this kind of mistreatment to turn prisoners if not recruit them. Getcheus seems to have been among them, as a year after his release in 1777, he was given command of the Loyalist Privateer Impertinent, which sailed out of New York. In June 1778, the Impertinent was captured off the Capes of Delaware by the American ship General Green.
Getcheus returned to New York, and in 1783, was contracted to captain the Sloop Lydia. The Lydia was one of four ships mentioned in the Book of Negroes that brought Black Loyalists from New York to Annapolis Royal. The book lists the fourteen Black Loyalists aboard – seven men, three women, and four children. One of them was James Johnson, who is identified as hired to Jacob Getcheus and the Lydia. The entry reads: "James Johnson, 15, stout lad, (Jacob Getcheus). Formerly slave to Tyna Hudson of Homnwryka, James River, Virginia, from whence he was brought by Lt. Rogers, Royal Artillery, about 2 years ago who hired him to Mr. Prior of the Engineers department who has since hired him to this sloop."
It is not known how Jacob Getcheus came to be in Digby, but perhaps it offered more opportunities than an established settlement and in less than a day’s sail from Annapolis. Getcheus is listed in the Muster Roll for the Town of Digby taken on May 29, 1784. He also was assigned a Town Lot presumably for him and wife Mary, who died soon thereafter. Yet there is no mention of Jacob Getcheus in the Land Registry for Digby or Annapolis Counties from 1783 onward. It seems the Town of Digby had a difficult time retaining settlers, perhaps indicating harsh conditions. In 1783, the town had 396 landowners, but by 1795, there were only 128 of which 117 were Loyalists or their sons. By 1787, Getcheus was residing in Halifax and had remarried to Elizabeth Ferguson. In 1793, he is listed in the Poll Tax records as still living in Halifax and working as a Ship Master. Elizabeth is then listed as a widow when she remarries on November 4, 1799, in Halifax, meaning Jacob Getcheus died sometime before then.
The gravestone of Mary Getcheus remains the only visible evidence of Jacob Getcheus’ journey to Nova Scotia. His story had several parts: Master of a commercial ship in support of the American Patriots, imprisonment, service on a Loyalist Privateer, and departure to Nova Scotia with Black Loyalists. It is a reflection of the challenges that many faced during and following the American Revolution and the changes that occurred during the period.