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HINTS TO EMIGRANTS: LETTER X

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


LETTER  X


IN THE YEAR 1814, the attention of His Majesty's government having been called to the tide of emigration, at that time flowing from Great Britain to the United States, the following plan was adopted to direct it to Canada. A free passage was offered to those who were disposed to emigrate to that colony; a hundred acres of land to each family upon their arrival, together with implements and rations, for a limited period, from the government store. The heads of families were to deposit, in the hands of the government agent, as a security for performing the conditions, £16 for the husband, and two guineas for the wife; but this money was to be repaid them two years after they settled upon their lands. All children under sixteen years of age were to be carried out free; and on their attaining the age of twenty-one, to have each 100 acres of land. In Scotland, about seven hundred persons, men, women, arid children, accepted these liberal offers, and in June, 1815, they embarked at Greenock, and sailed in four transports for Canada.
           On their arrival at Quebec, they were ordered to proceed up the St. Lawrence. It was the wish of the governor to settle them near Drummondville, in the lower province; but, as they were allowed to choose for themselves, they preferred the upper province, where the climate is milder, and the soil better. A few days stay at Montreal gave some, who began to be tired of the expedition, an opportunity of deserting it, and settling in that city; others went over to the United States. Both of these classes, of course, forfeited their deposit money; but that was now of no consequence, as they had obtained a free passage for themselves and families. The remainder of the expedition, having proceeded up the river eighty-four miles farther, landed at Cornwall, where part of them were settled on some vacant crown lands on the west side of Glengary. The remainder, to the number of sixty families, proceeded sixty miles higher up the St. Lawrence and landed at Brockville.
           Summer being already far spent, and some difficulty having occurred, respecting the place of settlement, it was determined that they should remain in the barracks at Brockville till the following spring. To those who had large families this delay was a serious loss, for though they received rations all the time they remained, yet they stood in need of clothing and other necessaries, which they could ill afford to provide. To those who had no families, and were willing to labour, it was an advantage; for they had time to lay by a little for future use, money being then plentiful, and workmen in demand.
           It was while the settlers remained at Brockville they prepared and forwarded a petition for a minister to be sent out to them. The plan they pursued, though good in itself, was connected with some unpleasant circumstances. Government had promised them a small salary for a minister and a schoolmaster, previously to their leaving home. The latter they had brought along with them, and now they proposed to send for the former; but, being connected with all the four branches of the Presbyterian church in Scotland, they could not, for some time, agree to which of them they should apply for a minister. This to them was in reality a matter of no importance, as none of those causes of difference exist here which divide Presbyterians at home. A faithful minister, of Presbyterian principles, was what they wanted, and the points on which they differed ought never once to have been mentioned. Unhappily, however, this was not the case. Disputes and contentions took place, the bad effects of which are felt to this day. After some angry discussion, a great majority of them at last agreed to apply to the Associate Presbytery of Edinburgh, and leave it to them to select a suitable person for their minister. A petition was prepared, signed, and forwarded accordingly.
           Early in the spring of 1816, they were directed to proceed to the place of settlement on the banks of the Tay. The townships of Bathurst, Drummond, and Beckwith had been surveyed, and were now open for their reception. In the adjoining townships of Elmsley and Burgess, which had been surveyed before the war, there was also a good deal of vacant land. A place for the government depôt and a town had been cut out on the banks of the Tay, forty-two miles north from the St. Lawrence. About the beginning of March the settlers set out for their new residence; but before they could reach it with their baggage, they had to open a road twenty miles of the way through a forest. Having reached the spot where the village of Perth now stands, they began to clear the ground and prepare for building. Some huts covered with boughs or bark were the first buildings they erected. The King's store, Superintendent's office, and a bridge across the Tay, soon followed. Those who wished to become farmers were settled upon their lands at once; but those who wished to settle in the village obtained town lots of an acre each, on condition of clearing them off and building houses. Every possible advantage was afforded them; every one, as he came forward, having a choice of all the lots that were vacant. Some, however, selected bad lots, either from want of skill or an unwillingness to take the trouble to go and examine the land. Colonel Macdonnell was then the superintendent, and the settlers often speak to this day of his kindness and attention to their interest, and the loss the settlement sustained when he left it.
           Before I proceed farther, let me tell something about the division of the land. A township or parish is generally about ten miles square, it is divided by lines into twelve parts or concessions, and each of these parts into twenty-seven lots; each lot containing 200 acres, except the last, which contains only 100. Ordinary settlers formerly received each 200 acres; but since the last war they usually receive 100. Every seventh lot is set apart for the support of the church, and is called a clergy reserve. The clergy connected with the church of England form a corporation for the management of these lots, and lease them for twenty-one years whenever they can find tenants: but as most of them lie waste, they are a great hindrance to the improvement of the country.
           Perth settlement being formed soon after the termination of the war with the United states, and at a time when a great reduction in the army took place, a great many discharged soldiers were induced to settle there. Indeed when I came to the place, not less than two-thirds of the population were of this description. The privates settled upon their land, but most of the officers built houses in the village, and tended not a little, by the politeness of their manners, to render a residence here desirable.
           It was expected that, in 1816, government would grant the same assistance to emigrants as in the proceeding year; and, under this idea, many had prepared to leave home. No assistance, however, was afforded them on the passage, but they obtained land, implements, and rations for one year, the same as those who had arrived before them. Accordingly, in the course of the summer the settlement received a great accession to its population both of emigrants and discharged soldiers. But provisions being enormously dear, and many being dissatisfied with the treatment they received from the new superintendent, left the settlement in the course of the following winter, and went over to the United States.
           When I arrived, June 24, 1817, the population of the settlement was as follows:
                    Men  Women Children  Total
Emigrants           239   111   366
Discharged Soldiers 708   179   287
                    947   290   653       1890
           The implements granted to each settler were as follows: a spade, an adze, a felling axe, a brush-hook, a bill-hook, a scythe, a reaping-hook, a pitchfork, a pick-axe, nine harrow teeth, two hoes, a hammer, a plane, a chisel, an auger, a band saw, two gimlets, two files, one pair of hinges, one door, lock and key, nine panes of glass, one pound of putty, fourteen pounds of nails, a camp-kettle, a frying-pan, a blanket for each man or woman, and one for every two children. Besides these there were concession tools, which a number of settlers in the same neighbourhood had in common; such as a pit-saw, a cross-cut saw, a grindstone, a crow-bar, a sledge hammer, &c. An officer's allowance was just the above list doubled. But, indeed, the supply that any one received depended on how he stood with the secretary. Those who enjoyed his good graces obtained more, and those who had incurred his displeasure less. Complaints were often made, but they were generally unavailing. They were too numerous to be examined. Many of them were made without just cause, and those that were otherwise, seldom reached the governor; but, when they did, he never failed to cause the grievances to be redressed. Indeed, it is but justice to say, that government, both at home and here, have scrupulously fulfilled their engagements to the settlers, and even done more for them than was promised. It is true that the settlers have not obtained their deeds so soon as they expected, but it is hoped they will not be much longer delayed. The abuses committed in the settlement, I have reason to believe, were not only contrary to the intentions of government, but without their knowledge.
           The settlement was formed under the direction of the commander of the forces; and the expenses, which were considerable, were defrayed out of the military chest. The settlement was indeed entirely military, and the officers in charge of it have mostly been connected with that department. But while it was under the direction of a civilian, if I may be allowed to use such a term, the greatest abuses were committed. This man was as haughty and insolent to those below him as be was fawning and cringing to those above him. His conduct indeed was such that many good settlers, unable to endure his tyranny, relinquished their lands, and left the settlement in disgust. Hundreds, on their way to Perth, hearing how their predecessors had been treated, turned back, and went over to the United States. Instead of studying to advance the prosperity of the settlement, all his plans seemed to be formed to procure its ruin. Never was the insolence of office displayed in a more forbidding point of view. Rendered bold by impunity, he laid no restraint upon his malevolent disposition. He oppressed the settlers, insulted religion, and plundered the property of government.
           Little does John Bull know what rogues he sometimes has in his service in the distant parts of his dominions; and little did I expect that, under the British government, such abuses could so long escape detection. At last, however, the day of retribution arrived. Colonel Cockburn, under whose superintendence the settlement was then placed, came to Perth to see how the settlement was going on. On the following morning he ordered a court of inquiry to be assembled, pledging himself that, if the complaints against the secretary were well founded, he should be immediately dismissed. On examining witnesses, the principal of which were the clerks in the office, it was clearly proved that he had not only been guilty of abuse of power, but of embezzling king's stores, and of defrauding government of money to a large amount by false returns. But no immediate steps being taken to secure his person, be made his escape, and reached the United States in safety.
           During the year 1818, many of the settlers suffered great hardships. The crops of the two former years had not only been scanty, but the extent of land in cultivation was small. Their clothing, which is subject to much tear and wear in the woods, was greatly reduced, and the prospect altogether was by no means cheering. Numerous petitions were prepared and dispatched to the governor, praying for further assistance in rations. After some delay, half rations were granted to those who were in the greatest distress, and who had large families. This supply afforded a great relief to the settlement; but, as it was only to be continued till the harvest, that season was waited for with the most anxious expectations and fervent prayers. When it arrived, by the blessing of God, it brought plenty along with it. The potato crop in particular, was not only abundant but of an excellent quality, and formed the principal support of many poor families for the next twelve months. Some indeed had grain, but not being able to get it ground, some were forced to boil and eat it whole, others bruised it imperfectly between two flat stones; while a few, who could afford a coffee-mill, ground small quantities into meal by that contrivance. Since that time, provisions have been growing more abundant every year, and all who are industrious have more than they can consume. The first year after the settlement was formed, provisions of all kinds were enormous dear, and though they were nearly one-half cheaper in 1817, when I arrived, yet they were high in comparison of what they are now. The subjoined list will give you some idea of the rate of provisions, servants' wages, cattle, &c. in 1817 and 1823.
                         In 1817      In 1823
 A barrel of flour       14 dollars    4 dollars.
 A bushel of potatoes     2 do         I shilling
 A bushel of Indian corn  2 do         2 do
 A bushel of wheat        4 do         4 do
 Beef or mutton           9d           3d
 Pork                     10d          3d
 Butter                   1s. 8d       8d
 Cheese                   1s.          6d
 Loaf sugar               2s.          1s.
 Maple sugar              1s. 3d.      4d.
 A man servant            16 dollars   6 dollars
                             a month     a month
 A woman do.               6 do.       3 do.
 A good horse            100 do.      60 do.
 A good cow               30 do.      20 do.
 A sheep                   5 do.       2 do.
           Spanish dollars are the principal silver coins in circulation, though all kinds pass without difficulty. Halifax currency is the standard by which our accounts are regulated, and fixes dollars at 5 shillings; so that our currency is to British as 10 to 9, that is, eighteen shillings of your currency are equal to twenty of ours.
           From the low price of provisions, it is evident the farmer is but poorly rewarded for his trouble, even when he can obtain a market for his produce; but, as this is not always the case, when money is wanted to procure clothing or other necessaries for his family, he is often reduced to the greatest difficulties. Those, indeed, who are considerate and industrious, see the nature of the country, and manufacture their own clothing, thereby keeping themselves independent of the merchants, who, by the sale of imported goods at a high price, drain the country of cash.
           Could a few gentlemen, possessing spirit and capital, be persuaded to establish manufactories in this settlement, they would tend greatly to promote the prosperity of the colony. I have often wondered that nothing of this kind has been attempted. Labour, provisions, and building materials, are both cheap and abundant; and mechanics of all descriptions can be readily obtained. The first attempts at establishing manufactories in a new country must always be attended with difficulty and expense; but if conducted prudently and perseveringly they cannot fail to enrich their owners.
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