The Abel Sands Mystery: A Case of Bastardy (Part One)

On September 6th of 1816, Abel Sands appeared in the Saint John County Court House as the alleged father of a bastard child with Ann Mickens. About 200 years later, this record was transcribed by a student assistant in the Microforms Unit—marking our very first encounter with Mr. Abel Sands. As you can probably tell by the chicken scratch handwriting pictured below, this first encounter was definitely not straightforward.

Indictment against Sands
Indictment against Abel Sands for Bastardy. New Brunswick Court of General Quarter Sessions of the Peace (St. John County), Minutes: 1812-1839
“The Overseers of the Poor of the City of Saint John v. Abel Sands… The defendant being called on his recognizance…”

I don’t remember if I was the student who first transcribed this case against Abel Sands because, at the time, it probably didn’t seem significant. However, as I continued my work in these Court Records, I discovered that from 1816-1821, his case was the only bastardy case that appeared in the Saint John County Court Records. In a county full of assault and larceny, Abel Sands was a pretty big deal! Fatherless children would have likely cost the City a great deal of money. Women left with a child that was not rightfully acknowledged by the biological father depended on the City or their families for the financial support and maintenance of the child.

The Overseers of the Poor were fed up with Abel Sands, and desired that he take on responsibility for his own child. During this time, Overseers of the Poor were parish officers who reported the state and condition of the poor in their parish and submitted a statement of the sums needed to support them. Upon reading this interesting case, I wanted to discover who really should have been supporting this child.

So I started to ask questions:

  • Who was Abel Sands? Was he a prominent figure in Saint John? How old was he at this time? Why was he not supporting his alleged child? Was he really the father?
  • Who was Ann Mickens? Was she a single or a married woman? Did she have any other children?

I also checked my resources:

  • I checked the Saint John Court Records for all of mentions of Abel Sands and Ann Micken’s name in Courts.
  • I used the Provincial Archives of New Brunswick’s various databases to discover which other records Abel Sands and Ann Mickens appeared (i.e.: newspapers, land petitions, probate records, etc.).
  • Lastly, I checked various Sands family genealogical compilations to wrap my head around who was within the family.

Before delving into my extensive research, I compiled all mentions of Abel Sands and Ann Mickens’s case in the Court Records. Based on these documents, I was only able to come to two conclusions:

  • On June 8th, 1826, Abel Sands was indeed found the father of this bastard child and was ordered to pay various sums to support the child and Ann Mickens.
  • Ann Mickens was a married woman whose husband was away far too long in the Miramichi to possibly be the child’s father.

Though interesting, this information gave me little insight into the lives of the parents of the bastard child. If anything, it made me more intrigued to know that the relationship between Abel and Ann was likely an affair of some sort. Moreover, it showed me that some crimes in Saint John County could be very personal—more so than the routine cases of larceny, assault and disorderly conduct. So, I set off to discover more…

Stay tuned for part two of “The Abel Sands Mystery: A Case of Bastardy” to discover whether the mystery will be solved!


Bethany Langmaid is a student assistant for the Microforms Unit at the Harriet Irving Library. She is entering the fourth year of her Bachelor of Arts degree at UNBF in the English Honours Programme.


SUBJECTS: Saint John, New Brunswick, loyalist, law, crime, law enforcement, genealogy, bastardy, research skills

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