RETURN TO OTONABEE. -- BENEVOLENCE OF MY NEIGHBOUR. -- SERIOUS ACCIDENT TO A SETTLER. -- HIS SINGULAR MISFORTUNES. -- PARTICULARS OF HIS LIFE.
I RETURNED in sadness to my lonely and desolate home, feeling like a shipwrecked mariner, cast upon a desert shore. In fact, I had to begin life again, without the stimulus of domestic love to quicken my exertions. I had left my land unsown, and therefore the prospect of a crop of wheat for the next year's harvest was, I felt assured, entirely gone. Upon reaching my clearing, I was surprised to find my fallow not only sown but showing the green blade, for some friendly hands had been at work for me in my absence, that pecuniary losses might not be added to my heavy domestic bereavement.
On inquiry, I found I was indebted to the considerate kindness of my excellent neighbour Mr. Reid and his sons, for this act of Christian benevolence. I hurried to his house to thank him for the important service he had rendered one, to whom he was almost a stranger. He considered, however, that he had done nothing more than a neighbourly duty, and insisted that I should take up my abode with him, instead of returning to my unfinished and melancholy home.
My residence under his hospitable roof increased my esteem for his character, which my long experience of six-and-twenty years has never diminished. Mrs. Reid treated me with maternal kindness; and in their amiable family-circle my bruised heart recovered its peace, and my spirits their healthy tone. The kindly disposition of my host in all his domestic relations, his cheerful activity, pure morality, and unaffected piety, presented an admirable example to a young man left without guidance in a distant colony. But I did not at that time think about becoming his son-in-law, though I had been several months domesticated in his family, till the alacrity displayed by his eldest daughter in hastening to the assistance of a wounded neighbour, through the unknown intricacies of a Canadian forest, led me to consider her character in a new and endearing point of view.
A Mr. G. and his family had just commenced a settlement, about four miles east of Mr. Reid's clearing, when, early one morning, his eldest son, a lad of twelve or thirteen, with a face full of trouble ran to tell us "that his father had nearly cut his foot off with an axe while chopping logs to build his house, that his mother could not stop the bleeding, and that they were afraid he would bleed to death."
Mr. Reid's eldest daughter immediately volunteered to return with the boy, to render what assistance she could. Without any thought of fatigue, or danger, or trial to her feelings, she set out instantly with the proper bandages. Mr. Reid, his sons, and myself were all chopping in the woods when the lad came, so that Mary followed the spontaneous impulse of her own heart; but as soon as we heard what had happened, her father sent over the river for our nearest neighbour, a stout canny Scotchman, to assist us in carrying the wounded man through the woods to his (Mr. Reid's) house.
John Morison readily obeyed the summons; and had we required any additional help we should have had no difficulty, in a case like this, of finding plenty of volunteers. The only road leading to Mr. G.'s was from the town, a mere bush-road, and full three miles farther than if we could go straight back through the woods.
As the number of his lot was the same as the one* we resided on, we knew that a direct east course would bring us within call of his clearing. It was, therefore, agreed that Mr. Reid's eldest son should endeavour, with a pocket compass, to run a line in the direction which we wanted to go, and that I should blaze+ out the line with the axe, while the rest chopped out the under-brush and levelled the path sufficiently wide to allow the passage of a litter.
[* Each concession is divided into two hundred acre lots, numbering from the boundary line from number one upwards. According to the new survey, the lots run nearly east and west; therefore, number one in the first concession will have a corresponding number west across every concession in the township.
+ Blazing is a term used by the backwoodsman for chopping off a portion of the bark from each side of a tree to mark a surveyor's line through the woods. All concession roads, or lot lines are marked in this manner; wherever a lot line strikes a concession, a short post with the number of the lot and concession is marked on each side of the post. If a tree comes directly on the line where the post should be planted, the tree is substituted. A blaze is made on each side, about three feet from the ground, and the numbers marked. I have frequently in the matter of disputed lines seen the surveyor cut the old blaze off, perhaps, of twenty years' growth, and discover the numbers perfect, although the wood had made such a growth over the original blaze.]
We had some difficulty in avoiding one or two small swamps and a high hill, but finally succeeded in finding a good line of road; and so accurate was our surveyor and engineer in this, his first attempt, that his line actually struck the little chopping* of not more than a quarter of an acre where poor G. lay. [* This gentleman, John Reid, Esq. is now a deputy provincial surveyor and county engineer. As a land surveyor there are few better in the province.]
It was past three o'clock in the afternoon before the road was completed and the litter made, the last being effected by cutting two iron-wood poles eight feet long, and fastening them together by broad straps of bass-wood bark three feet apart. A blanket, doubled, was then laid over these straps, upon which we placed the poor man, whose bleeding wound had been stopped with some difficulty.
It appeared that a small twig had caught the axe, which caused it to glance in its descent, and struck the instep of his right foot, making a gash about five inches long, the edge of the axe coming out at the sole of the foot. It was a dreadful cut,--one of the worst I ever saw--and I have seen and dressed a great many axe wounds since my residence in Canada.
Mr. G. was a very heavy man, and as only four persons could conveniently carry him at once, we found it very hard work. I was completely done up when we reached the house.
Mr. Reid and his family did everything in their power to make him and his wife comfortable. Mr. Stewart, his brother-in-law, kindly sent for two of the children: the other two remained with their father and mother.
It was ten months before the poor invalid was able to leave his hospitable host, and resume his settlement in the bush. I mention this little circumstance to show what kindly feelings exist between the settlers, especially in cases of this kind. I shall also relate some remarkable passages in this poor man's life which present an almost unparalleled train of misfortune. I shall tell his dismal story, as nearly as possible, in his own words.
The experience of life proves to a certainty, that some persons are compelled to drink deeper of the cup of adversity than others, nay even to drain it to the dregs.
We know that the Jews of old and the heathen world still suppose that such are visited for their sins by the judgment of Heaven; but the Divine Teacher has taught us better things, and warned us against such rash conclusions, instructing us indeed that
"There surely is some guardian power
That rightly suffers wrong;
Gives vice to bloom its little hour,
But virtue late and long."
Poor G. was one of these unfortunate persons, whose melancholy history I will now relate, in his own words.--He was, it seems, a native of Ireland, from which country he emigrated soon after the last American war, with his wife and two children, leaving three other children at home with his father and mother, who were the proprietors of a small estate in the county of Cork. He arrived safely with his family at the Big Bay in Whitby (Windsor,) and purchased a lot of land close to the lake-shore.
In those days, the emigrant's trials were indeed hard, compared with what they are now. The country was quite unsettled, excepting that here and there the nucleus of a small village appeared to vary its loneliness, for the clearings were mostly confined to the vicinity of the Great Lake. There were no plank, gravel, or macadamized roads then; saw and grist-mills were few-and-far-between. It was no uncommon thing then for a farmer to go thirty or forty miles to mill, which cause indeed sometimes detained him a whole week from his family; and, even more, if any accident had happened to the machinery. Besides this inconvenience, he had to encounter risks for himself and his cattle,--from bad bridges, deep mud-holes, and many other annoyances--I might say, with truth, "too numerous to mention." The few farms in that neighbourhood were then chiefly occupied by Americans, some of whom had found it highly desirable to expatriate themselves; and might have exclaimed with the celebrated pick-pocket, Barrington, in a prologue spoken to a convict-audience in New South Wales,--
"Friends, be it understood,
We left our country for our country's good."
I have no intention of reflecting here on the national honour of the American nation; but it is a well-known fact, that many of the early frontier settlers were persons who had evaded the payment of their just debts or, perhaps, legal penalties for worse offences, by crossing the lines, and forming settlements in Canada. Such persons are not a fair specimen of American character. Individually, I have nothing to say against the Americans, but rather the contrary, for I have found them good and obliging neighbours.
I have heard it generally asserted, that the Yankees are the greatest rogues under the sun. If smartness in trading, or barter, be roguery, they richly deserve the epithet; but I deny that their intentions are one whit more dishonest than those of the persons with whom they trade. That their natural shrewdness and general knowledge give them an advantage, I am quite ready to admit; and perhaps they are not over-scrupulous in exercising it to the discomfiture of their less-gifted neighbours.
Unfortunately, Mr. G. purchased his land of a squatter, who had no title himself, and consequently could give none to the purchaser, who, after three or four years of hard labour upon it--when he had fondly hoped he had surmounted the greatest difficulties--found that the Government had issued a deed for the benefit of another person before he came into possession, who could not be induced to give up his legal rights to the unfortunate cultivator. He was so disheartened by this occurrence, that he determined to sell all he had and leave the country, which resolution he put into immediate execution.
He took a passage for himself and family in a ship, timber-laden, from Quebec, bound for Liverpool. It was late in the fall: the vessel was one of the last that sailed; consequently, they experienced very rough weather, accompanied with snow and sleet. Mid-way across the Atlantic, they encountered a dreadful storm, which left the ship a mere wreck on the ocean. To add to their misfortunes, a plank had started, owing, it was supposed, to the shifting of some part of the cargo during the gale; and so quickly did the vessel fill that they only saved two eight-pound pieces of salt pork and a few biscuits.
"I had," he said, "also in my pocket, a paper containing two or three ounces of cream of tartar. Luckily, a cask of water, lashed on deck, was providentially preserved, amidst the general destruction.
"Our ship's company consisted of the captain, mate, and six seamen, besides a medical man, myself, my poor wife, and two children, who were cabin passengers. We made several unsuccessful attempts to procure a supply of provisions; consequently, it became absolutely necessary to give out what we had in the smallest possible rations.
"The fourth night was ushered in by another storm, more terrific even than the last. A heavy sea struck the vessel, sweeping overboard the captain and three seamen; and the poor doctor's leg was broken at the same time, by a loose spar.
"We passed a fearful night; nor did the morning add to our comfort, for my daughter died from exposure and want, just as the day dawned.
"On the seventh morning, the doctor, who had suffered the greatest agony from his swollen leg, sank at last; the paper of cream of tartar I had in my pocket being the only relief for his dreadful fever, during his misery. My poor wife and remaining child soon followed. We now had fine dry weather, which was some relief to our intolerable misery.
"On the twentieth day, the last of our provisions was consumed. I had an old pair of deer-skin mocassins on my feet: these we carefully divided amongst us. We had now serious thoughts of drawing lots, to see which of us should die, for the preservation of the rest. I, however, begged they would defer such a dreadful alternative to the latest minute.
"On the twenty-first night of our disaster, I had a most remarkable dream: I thought I saw a fine ship bearing down to our assistance, and that she was called "The London of London." I related my dream to my companions, in hopes it might raise their spirits, which, however, it failed to do; for nothing was to be seen on that dreary waste of water, though we scanned the horizon in every direction. For upwards of two hours after, we scarcely spoke a word, when suddenly the sun, which had been obscured all the morning, shone out brightly and warm for the season of the year. I mechanically raised myself and looked over the bulwarks, when, to my astonishment and delight, I beheld a ship, the very counterpart of the one I had seen in my dream, bearing down directly for the wreck.
"It is not easy to describe our various feelings on this occasion: we could scarcely believe our senses when the boat came along side. We were so reduced by famine and exposure, that we had to be lifted into her. In this state of exhaustion every attention was paid us by the humane captain and crew.
"As soon as I was on board, I asked the name of the vessel, when I was surprised to find she was called the 'Portaferry of Portaferry.' Although the name was not that borne by the vessel of which I had dreamed, it must be considered at least a remarkable coincidence.
"Great care was taken to prevent us eating too ravenously at first: we received every kindness our weak condition required; but, notwithstanding these precautions, two of my companions in misery died before we reached Ireland.
"When we arrived at Strangford, in the north of Ireland, I was entirely destitute--I had lost everything I possessed. Fortunately for me, I belonged to the honourable fraternity of Free and Accepted Masons, who kindly furnished me with clothing, and money sufficient to take me home, which I reached in safety.
"Like almost every person who has resided a few years in Canada, I found it impossible to content myself at home; and, although I had no great reason to be fond of the country on account of the treatment I had experienced, still, there is that indescribable charm in the free life of a Canadian settler, which is wanting in a more civilized country: I, therefore, determined once more to try my fortune.
"I accordingly embarked with the young wife I had lately married, and the three children I had formerly left in Ireland with my parents. We sailed early in the spring of 1825. My ill luck still attended me; for owing to the dense fogs we experienced on the banks of Newfoundland, we got out of our course, and our ship struck the shore near Cape Ray: fortunately the sea was smooth and the weather fine: so that when daylight broke we were able, without much difficulty, to be landed on that most inhospitable shore,
"Where the bones of many a tall ship lie buried."
"We saved little or nothing from the wreck; for, as the day advanced, the wind freshened into a gale, which blowing on shore, soon settled the fate of our gallant bark. The shore was soon strewn with casks, bales, and packages, some of which we were able to secure. Our captain chartered a small fishing-vessel, which landed us at last safely at Quebec. And now, you see, after enduring almost unheard-of sufferings, I am again prostrated by this unfortunate accident."
Such was the account given me by Mr. G-----, who put into my hand, at the same time, an old Belfast newspaper, containing the account of his first wreck and sufferings. So I have no reason to doubt the entire truth of his statement.
After his foot healed he returned to his land, and, with the assistance of his family, cleared up a large farm. His location, however, was not well chosen; and, consequently, he was not a thriving settler. He, however, managed to bring up a large family, who are now sufficiently independent of him to maintain themselves and families comfortably.
On his father's death, about three years since, he returned with his wife to Ireland, where I believe he intends to pass the remainder of his days.
I wish to make one remark before closing this chapter: does it not speak well for Canada, when a person, who was neither an active nor a clever person, and who had suffered almost unheard-of misfortunes, was still able to gain a living and see his family settled in comparative comfort? Under such circumstances, what would have been the fate of these people in England or Ireland?--Abject pauperism.
Last revised 2005-03-04