Birth and death dates unknown.
In 1783 John Patterson sailed from New York City on the Generous Friends, a ship chartered to take Loyalist refugees to the mouth of the St. John River. The Book of Negroes described John as a 15-year-old of mixed parentage and "a fine boy."
Just before his ship set sail, Patterson indentured himself to Charles Looseley, a man once famous for arranging foxhunts for British officers stationed in New York. The practice of leasing one's labour to an employer for a set number of years in exchange for food, shelter, and the chance to learn a trade was a common practice for securing employment in the eighteenth century. The teenager's fate in New Brunswick would be completely unknown except for the fact that Patterson captured one of the province's most wanted criminals.
In the summer of 1814, an Englishman named Henry Smith was convicted of horse stealing and was put in Kingston’s prison to await hanging. Smith escaped and eventually discovered a hiding place just two miles outside of Fredericton in a small barn where John Patterson stored his hay. After a night of robbery in Fredericton, including an invasion of the home of the Attorney General Thomas Wetmore, Smith hid himself under the hay in Patterson’s barn.
When Patterson discovered a man in a white scarf sleeping in his barn, the trespasser apologized, concocting a plausible story to explain his presence. Patterson let Smith stay, but kept an eye on his uninvited “guest.” When Patterson later spied Smith sneaking out of the barn's window, he was convinced that his trespasser was an army deserter. He formed a posse, captured the fugitive, and delivered him to the sheriff in Fredericton.
Noting that Smith was not wearing his white scarf when he was arrested, Patterson returned to his barn to find it. Instead, Patterson discovered coats Smith had stolen from the Attorney General's home. A Fredericton judge then ordered Smith handed over to Walter Bates, the sheriff in Kingston. When Bates took Smith into custody, John Patterson traveled back to Kingston with him, reputedly holding Smith's chain throughout the entire 60-mile journey. Patterson's diligence in this matter was no doubt inspired by a reward (initially $40 and then doubled to $80) for Smith's capture.
The Black Loyalist's role in recapturing Henry Smith earned him a place in Walter Bates' book, The Mysterious Stranger, published in London in 1817, the first international best-seller to be written by a Loyalist. By 1814 John Patterson was clearly no longer an indentured servant but a landowner with a strong sense of civic duty. Henry Smith was no army deserter, only a common thief, but with war raging between Great Britain and the United States from 1812 to 1814, New Brunswick’s security depended on loyal and vigilant civilians such as John Patterson.