THE REBEL, VON-EGMOND, THE FIRST AGRICULTURAL SETTLER ON THE HURON. -- CUTTING THE FIRST SHEAF.
THE celebrated Anthony J.W.G. Von Egmond, who commanded the rebels at Gallows Hill during Mackenzie's rebellion, was the first agricultural settler on the Huron tract. He had formerly been a Colonel in the old Imperial Army; and after Buonaparte's abdication and retirement to Elba, he joined the Allies, and held the rank of an officer in one of the Belgian regiments at Waterloo.
He was a pushing, clever sort of man; and had he but been contented, and stuck to his last, instead of troubling his head about politics, he would, in all probability, have become one of the richest and most independent farmers in the Huron tract.
Within the short period of twenty months, Von Egmond had chopped and cleared, fit for a crop, nearly a hundred acres of land, fifty of which were sown wheat. As this was the first field ripe in the tract, the old man determined to celebrate the event by asking some of the gentlemen connected with the Canada Company to dinner, and to witness the cutting of the first sheaf.
Thomas Mercer Jones, Esq., one of the Company's Commissioners, Dr. Dunlop, Mr. Prior, the Professor, and myself, composed the party on this important occasion. As the distance was little short of eighteen miles through the Bush, and we had no way of getting there--except by walking--it was arranged that we should start the day previous, and sleep all night at Von Egmond's.
Accordingly, we left Goderich about eleven o'clock, A.M., by the newly cut-out road, through the forest. I wonder what our English friends would think of walking in their shirt-sleeves, with their coats and neckcloths thrown over their arms, eighteen miles to a dinner-party, with the thermometer ranging something like 90 degrees in the shade.
The day was hot, though not unpleasantly so; for the leafy screen above our heads effectually protected us from the scorching rays of a July sun, which would otherwise have been very oppressive.
The musquitoes were particularly civil--indeed the reign of these gentlemen was nearly over for the season. They begin to be troublesome in the middle of May. From the 1st of June to the middle of July, they are in the very height of their impertinence; and, although they have not sufficient strength in their proboscis to penetrate a top-boot, yet they easily pierce through a summer coat and shirt, and a wee bit into the skin beneath. From the middle of July to the middle of August, they become much less venomous; and are then only annoying for an hour or so in the evening, in the woods or marshes. By the 1st of September, they finally disappear for the season.
Our long road was considerably shortened by the amusing stories and anecdotes of the Doctor, who kept us in good humour during the whole journey. Nearly mid-way between Goderich and Von Egmond's, a small rill crosses the road: here we stopped for an hour, and refreshed ourselves with beef-sandwiches and brandy and water--no bad things in the Bush.
Close by the side of this little stream was a small log-shanty, which had been erected by the people who had been employed by the men cutting out the new road, which, from this to the southern boundary of the Huron tract, was already cleared out, the full width of sixty-six feet, preparatory to its being turnpiked.*
[* This is merely an American term for a road which has been ploughed on each side, and the earth, so raised, thrown up in the centre by the means of a road-scraper, or turnpike shovel, worked either with horses or oxen. A road engineer or surveyor would call this grading, preparatory to gravelling or planking.]
We reached our destination about five o'clock, where we were received with every mark of respect and hospitality. We were shown upstairs into a newly-finished room--the only apartment as yet completed in the tavern old Von Egmond was building. Here we found an excellent supper ready for us, to which, after a walk of eighteen miles, you may be sure we did ample justice.
In the morning, we walked over the farm with the old Colonel, and were much gratified by seeing the prosperous condition of the crops, which argued well for the goodness of the land. I think I never saw a finer crop of oats, or better promise for turnips, in my life. The wheat also looked extremely well. It was certainly an interesting sight, after walking for miles through a dense forest, suddenly to emerge from the wooded solitude upon a sea of waving grain, white for the harvest.
"The Harvest! the Harvest! how fair on each plain
It waves in its golden luxuriance of grain!
The wealth of a nation is spread on the ground,
And the year with its joyful abundance is crowned.
The barley is whitening on upland and lea,
And the oat-locks are drooping, all graceful to see;
Like the long yellow hair of a beautiful maid,
When it flows on the breezes, unloosed from the braid.
"The Harvest! the Harvest! how brightly the sun
Looks down on the prospect! its toils are begun;
And the wheat-sheaves so thick on the valleys are piled,
That the land in its glorious profusion has smiled.
The reaper has shouted the furrows among;
In the midst of his labour he breaks into song;
And the light-hearted gleaners, forgetful of care,
Laugh loud, and exult as they gather their share.
About noonday, we all proceeded to the harvest-field, headed by our host and his lady, and her fair daughters. As soon as we arrived at the scene of action, a sickle was placed in the hands of Madame Von Egmond; and she was requested to cut and bind the first sheaf of wheat ever harvested in the Huron tract--an honour of which any person might be justly proud.
"Lord! thou hast blessed the people,
And made the plant of bread
To spring, where'er beneath thine eye
Fair Nature's carpet spread.
Earth's thirst drank in thy freshening rain,
Earth's bosom wooed thy sun,
Beautiful grew the golden grain,
Like prize of labour won!"
What were the red battle-fields of Napoleon, in comparison to this bloodless victory, won over the forests of the Huron! The sight of that first sheaf, cut by the gentle hand of woman, was one that angels rejoiced to see; while the fruits of his conquests were such as might well make "the seraphs weep."
Madame Von Egmond handled her sickle something better than a mere amateur, which make us conjecture it was not the first sheaf she had ever cut and bound. As soon as this interesting ceremony was over, we gave three hearty cheers for the Canada Company. A horn of whiskey was served round, in which we pledged our host and hostess, and drank success to the settlement.
On our return to the house, we found a capital dinner awaiting us. Indeed, the old soldier had spared neither pains nor expense in providing handsomely on the occasion. After the cloth was removed, a nice dessert was laid out, consisting of almonds and raisins, oranges, and red and black raspberries. The two latter dishes are easily procured, for they grow more plentifully in the angles of the snake-fences in Canada than blackberries do in England. They are a delicious fruit, and particularly grateful in a hot day to the weary traveller.
I need hardly describe our evening's entertainment, save that "we ate, drank, and were merry." Indeed, it would have been difficult to be otherwise with Doctor Dunlop as one of our companions.
END OF THE FIRST VOLUME.
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Bangor House, Shoe Lane.
Last revised 2005-03-04