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HINTS TO EMIGRANTS: LETTER VIII

LETTERS FROM PERTH,
UPPER CANADA.
BY THE
REV. WILLIAM BELL


LETTER  VIII


GLENGARY IS AN extensive tract, inhabited chiefly by Scotch Highlanders, who, though they have been many years in Canada, not only speak the Gaelic language, but retain much of their original character and customs. About one-half of them are Roman Catholics, and the rest are Presbyterians. The former have two priests to instruct them in their duty, and the latter have three ministers, each of whom preaches at more than one place, their parishes being very extensive.
           June 15 - This being Sabbath, and a vacant church being at hand, I wished to preach to the people in the neighbourhood, but, the wind being fair, our Canadian boatmen would not stay. At Lancaster we stopped at a farmhouse to breakfast. The owner could speak very little English, but he complained, as well as he was able, of the poverty of the country. I told him no country could be rich under such management. Though his farm seemed to contain good land, all he could furnish us was a few quarts of milk, for which, however, he did not forget to charge us an exorbitant price. His agriculture was miserable, and every thing about the farm bore the marks of indolence and carelessness. The fences were in ruins, the garden was neglected, and weeds were growing up to the very door of the house. It did not appear, from the conversation of the people, that the cultivation of their minds had engaged more of their attention than that of their farm. I recommended to their attention the improvement of both, and especially that they should attend to the duties of religion, which I found were very much neglected among them.
           Our boatmen having procured a new supply of rum, took after dinner a little too much, and got nearly drunk. They then refused to take us into the batteau, telling us to walk on, as there were rapids in the way. We had already walked many miles, and were much fatigued with the journey and the heat of the weather; and as there was no rapid in sight, I insisted they should take us on board immediately. For the first time they began to be insolent, but I told them, if they did not behave better, I should report them to the Commissary on my arrival at Prescott, when their pay would be stopped. This had the desired effect, for they were very civil and obliging all the rest of the way.
           About three o'clock we reached Cornwall, a considerable village on the bank of the river, in which are two churches; the one belonging to the Episcopalians, and the other to the Presbyterians. The river for several miles contains rapids, but none of them very difficult to pass; yet, to relieve the men as much as possible, the male part of our company walked all the afternoon. At sunset we landed in a small bay, where the remains of the American army under General Wilkinson were embarked in 1814, after the battle of Crystler's Farm. Most of the children, as usual, slept in the boat; but the rest, with Mrs. Bell and myself, walked to the village of Moulin de Roche, about a mile distant, where we found good accommodation for the night. On our way thither, we saw, for the first time, fire-flies moving about in great abundance. They appeared like sparks of fire flying through the air: and, as we did not immediately recollect what they were, they surprised us a good deal. The appearance they presented in the dark was quite a novelty, particularly to the children. The sun during the day had been very hot, and, in the evening, one of the children complained very much of her arms being sore. Upon examining them at the light, I found the upper side of them was entirely covered with blisters. Not knowing the danger, she had gone with them all day exposed to the burning rays of the sun. After rubbing them with cream they were wrapped up, but the skin peeled off, and they were very painful for several days. On the islands in the river, as we passed along, we saw numbers of Indians sometimes in the woods, and sometimes fishing in the river.
           June 16 - Before six o clock the boat came up to the village, where it had some difficulties to encounter in passing a very bad rapid, opposite to the mill. Higher up, at another mill called Moulinette, there is another rapid still worse. There is a lock through which the batteaux usually pass; but at this time it was repairing so that we were forced to ascend the rapid. This we found no easy task, even with the assistance of a yoke of oxen, which we hired from a neighbouring farmer. This is one of the most dangerous rapids in the river, on account of the rocks and trunks of trees with which, in various places, it is interrupted. Every year both boats and lives are lost in it. Not a week before, a batteau going up with the King's stores, was wrecked, and, indeed the remains of the boat and part of the cargo, which still lay upon a rock, tended not a little to excite alarm.
           The oxen being yoked to a long rope, we proceeded but scarcely had we got into the current, when the boat swung round by the force of the stream, and grounded upon a rock. At this moment the dexterity of the Canadian boatmen was evinced. Two of them jumped into the water up to the middle, and by the assistance of their poles, got the boat afloat, and at the same time the oxen moving forward, it was brought up without any farther accident. If the oxen are trusty, and the rope strong enough, there is not much danger; but, if any thing fails, the boat is hurried down with great rapidity, till meeting with a projecting rock, or the trunk of a tree, it is dashed to pieces.
           This rapid being passed, we went to a farm-house on the American side, to breakfast. The owner was an American, and discovered a very gloomy and knavish disposition., He indeed made us pay twice the value of every article he furnished us. This gave another shock to my prejudice in favour of the Americans. The line which separates Canada from the United States, joins the river near the place; and all the rest of the way we had the State of New York on our left hand. Having passed some more rapids of less consequence, and several islands, we came to the foot of the great rapid, called the Longue Sault. Here we found it necessary to hire a team of horses, which a neighbouring farmer furnished for a dollar, to assist in drawing up the boat. At this place the water shoots down a shelving rock, with great agitation and noise, I suppose at least thirty feet in less than a mile; and from the vast body of water continually descending it presents a very formidable appearance. Had I not seen the batteau go up, I could not have supposed it possible.
           After passing this rapid, we had smoother water, and many islands to pass. As I wished to see the state of the country, I pursued my journey on foot, the road being on the bank of the river for many miles. The soil, in many places, was bad, and the cultivation worse. The land had been covered with large pines, which were cut about two feet from the ground, and grain sown among the stumps. In some places I observed that the standing trees had been on fire, the branches and bark were consumed, and the blackened trunks standing, like the masts of a large fleet. About seven, we reached a tavern near the church in Williamsburgh, where we remained for the night. Our accommodation was indifferent, though we were charged 2s. 6d. for supper and bed.
           I may here inform you how the boatmen are lodged on these occasions. After selecting the at which they intend to spend the night, they make the boat fast to the bank. They collect wood to make a fire and cook their supper. When that is over, they drink their grog, and go to sleep upon the ground, with one tarpaulin under them for their bed, and another over them, fixed in a slanting direction to send off the water if it should rain. They carry their provisions along with them, consisting generally of pork and pease. The are savage looking race, and are capable of enduring a great deal of fatigue. When seated round their fire, on the bank of the river, after the fatigues of the day, one while swearing and another while singing, you would consider them more like a band of robbers than any thing else. Being of French extraction, they are generally Catholics, and are very punctual in saying their prayers on their knees, both morning and evening; but they are no sooner done praying, than they begin swearing. I have even seen one of them stop in the middle of his prayers to swear at one of his companions, and then proceed as before. Their prayers were merely a form, which they repeated without any apparent concern. I tried to persuade them to leave off swearing, but they are so habituated to this practice, that they are not sensible when they do it. They were, in general, very civil and accommodating; one of them, as often as we slept at a farm house, carried our beds to the place where they were wanted, without being asked. The conductor understood a little English, but the rest were almost totally ignorant of that language. Great numbers of these men are employed on the St. Lawrence during the summer, transporting merchandise and other stores to the upper province. They are paid by the voyage, and are from seven to fourteen days going up to Kingston, according to the state of the wind; but, if this is favourable, they sometimes return in less than two days, the stream carrying them down with great velocity.
           June 17th - We roused our boatmen at five o'clock, being anxious to reach Prescott in the evening. The morning was cold, and most of us proceeded a few miles on foot. The weather, in Canada, undergoes very sudden transitions from cold to hot, and from hot to cold. The north bank of the river is here well settled, and cultivated for many miles. The farm houses are about a quarter of a mile distant from each other, on both sides of the road. The inhabitants are mostly Dutch and German discharged soldiers, or their children, who were settled here at the end of the American revolutionary war. They are still firmly attached to the British government, and armed readily in defence of the country in the last contest with the United States. When they were settled here, forty years ago, they had to grind the first grain they raised in pepper-mills, there not being a grist-mill within a hundred miles of them. Many of them were so poor, that they could not procure a cow, or even a sheep, till several years after their first settlement. Now, however, they have all the necessaries of life in abundance; and both saw-mills and grist-mills in their own neighbourhood. The wind being against us, and there being many rapids to pass, we did not advance so fast as we expected. I was not a little surprised that, notwithstanding the number of boats that ascend this river, there is no towing path at the rapids. Those who pull at the rope have to struggle through the inequalities of the ground the best way they can, sometimes in mud, sometimes among stones and sometimes up to the knees in water. In the afternoon, being on shore, my road at one time lay through a wood, in which were some of the largest pine trees I had ever seen: the trunk of one, which had been blown down by the wind, was about a hundred feet long, and more than five feet diameter at the lower end. At sunset we took up our lodging at a paltry tavern, seven miles below Prescott. The prospect of the St. Lawrence is here delightful: both banks are cultivated, and a long chain of wooded islands lies in the middle, extending many miles in length.
           June 18 - We got up at five, and proceeded on our journey. We found the river wider, and the current not so strong as lower down. About seven, we went ashore to breakfast at a farm house: the farmer was the owner of three hundred acres of good land, and yet the house presented a picture of wretchedness I can scarcely describe. The little furniture it contained was mere rubbish, and the clothes and beds of the family consisted of little else than rags; and yet, amidst these symptoms of poverty, there were silver spoons on the table. An hour more brought us to Prescott, which is a thriving village, and a port of entry, about half a mile from Fort Wellington. I went immediately to seek the Commissary, but he was not at home, having just gone to the country to breakfast. Being anxious to proceed direct to Perth, I went to him, having obtained information where he was: having found him, I delivered my letter, and expressed a wish to be detained at Prescott as little as possible. In the mean time, the batteau was brought up to the government store and unloaded upon the wharf, but our goods lay till evening before the Commissary found it convenient to come down to open the door to receive them. Waggons being scarce, I found I should have to wait some time; I therefore hired two rooms where we should remain, at two shillings a-day.
           June 19 - The Commissary having assured me that I should have the first waggons that could be got, I waited all day in the hopes of getting forward, but none came. I proposed sending for some, but to this he was averse: he said they never urged the farmers to go as this would make them extravagant in their demands, and they were so lazy that they never came of their own accord till the want of money compelled them.
           In the afternoon, I and a friend went across the river to Ogdensburg in the state of New York. There is a ferry-boat constantly employed at this place; the river is about a mile and a half across; at the landing place there is a large building for the storing of flour and other produce; and a little to the west are the ruins of a small fort which the British burnt when they took the town in the late war. A considerable river, on which there are several mills, falls into the St. Lawrence on the west side of the town. The houses are in general neat and well built; and the inhabitants seemed to enjoy comfort and abundance. The court house is a large building, three stories high: on the ground-floor is the jail, and apartments for the keeper; the second floor contains the court room, which is occasionally used as a church, there being then no building expressly set apart for that purpose. We met a man at the door, who, upon our asking admission, very civilly showed us the whole building. Upon learning that we were strangers, he conducted us to the upper story, in one end of which there is a free-mason's hall, and in the other several neat apartments furnished with beds. One of these he said we were welcome to occupy where we remained in the place: he at the same time offered to introduce us to some respectable people if we wished to remain in the town; we thanked him but declined his kind offer. We next took a walk through the town: it contains many shops or stores, well furnished with goods, but most kinds we considered dear, being twice as high as in Britain. In the evening we returned to the Canadian side of the river.
           June 20 - About midday two waggons came to carry loads to Perth, and we were in hopes of getting away but were disappointed; for they were permitted to choose their own loading, and they preferred government stores. After they were gone I learned that the reason they assigned for refusing to take my family and luggage to Perth was, that they heard that I was a minister, and expected that I would reprove them for swearing, a vice to which they were very much addicted. Indeed I found this to be the case with many, even of those from whom better things might be expected. While I was standing on the wharf in the afternoon, five batteaux came up, loaded with government stores. The storekeeper being present, gave orders respecting the unloading of them, which not being obeyed so readily as he wished, he got into a violent passion and swore shockingly. But recollecting himself, he turned round and said, "I beg pardon for being so unmannered as to swear in your presence." I replied, that it was certainly very unmannerly to swear in any one's presence, but he ought rather to ask pardon of God; for swearing in His presence, which was much worse than to swear in mine. "It is true," said he, "but these Canadians are such a set of brutes, that they would make a saint swear." Though he was sensible it was wrong, yet he had no sooner turned from me, than he began to swear at them as rudely as before. This is a specimen of the ridiculous conduct which a common swearer exhibits.
           The hatred existing between the English and Americans I found was not extinguished though the war was at an end. In the morning a desperate and bloody fight took place at the river side, between an American and an Englishman, who had agreed to give each other a sound beating for the honour of their respective countries. Such occurrences, I was told, are not rare though they proceed from no other motive than national animosity. The melancholy effects of the war are to be seen even in the morals of the people. Drunkenness and profane swearing are quite common, and even some of the females are addicted to these vices. Provisions are dear, and not easily obtained. This is the case all the way between Montreal and Kingston, a distance of 200 miles. Taverns are numerous, but most of them are of the lowest description in all respects except their charges, which are generally sufficiently high. The farmers, too, are generally rude in their manners, and many of them destitute of education.
           June 21 - Three more waggons came in the morning but they declined taking baggage, and loaded with stores. They said the road was bad, and a load of beef or flour was not so easy upset as lighter articles. The Commissary informed me that he had learned from a gentleman just come from Brockville, that my friend Mr. Smart had been waiting for me there two or three days. He therefore advised me to proceed and make arrangements for the accommodation of my family, and he would forward them by the first opportunity. Being tired of waiting, I agreed to this and set out immediately. Brockville is a thriving village on the bank of the St. Lawrence, twelve miles from Prescott. On my arrival I experienced the kindest reception from Messrs. Morris and Easton and their families. Mr. Stuart had left Brockville a little before, but Mr. Easton dispatched a messenger to inform him of my arrival, when he returned. Those alone who have been placed in similar circumstances can form an idea of the pleasure I felt on seeing my worthy friend after a separation of nearly ten years. Our first salutations were followed by many inquiries after each other's welfare. The afternoon escaped unperceived; but we did not part even at night, for I accompanied him to his own house which was five miles distant. How comfortable and refreshing is Christian society in a country where real Christians are not numerous! Never did I feel the observation more forcibly applied, "As iron sharpeneth iron, so a man sharpeneth the countenance of his friend." In the course of our conversation, I received much valuable information respecting Perth, and the people amongst whom I was going to settle. The prospect I found was by no means flattering; but if God is glorified, the kingdom of Christ enlarged, and sinners converted from the error of their ways, I shall not regret any personal sacrifices it may be necessary to make.
END OF LETTER VIII.          BACK TO START OF LETTER

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