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HINTS TO EMIGRANTS: LETTER XVII

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


LETTER  XVII


MOST OF THE marriages solemnised in this colony at an early period were performed by magistrates or commanders of military posts. Ministers were few in number and often far distant. Now, none but clergymen are permitted to marry unless here be no one nearer than eighteen miles; but, in that case, a magistrate is still permitted to solemnise marriages according to the form of the church of England, provided he advertise his intention, and the name of the parties on some public-house in the township three weeks before the marriage takes place. Ministers of Presbyterian, Calvinistic, and Lutheran congregations, have the same privilege of celebrating marriages within the bounds of their own communities as ministers of the church of England have. This privilege is also enjoyed by priests of the Romish church. The methods of getting married are two; by being published the three preceding Sabbaths in the church, the same as in England, or by special license from the Governor, in which case the marriage may be dispatched at once, before the public can be aware of what is going on. A confidential agent, in every considerable town, has some of these licenses ready sealed and signed by the Governor, and having blanks to be filled up with the names of the parties to be married. In this settlement a license costs six dollars; but in other parts of the province it costs eight. Since money became scarce they are not so much in demand; but those who can afford the expenses generally give them the preference.
           It is customary among people from the United States, when a death takes place, to request some minister to preach a funeral sermon at the house of the deceased to those who attend the interment. Sometimes an address is delivered to the attendants at the grave. I have not declined to do either of these when requested but neither is very common in this settlement.
           I had not been a week in Perth, when a person called upon me to request that I would attend at the burying-ground, and read the funeral service at the interment of one of his neighbours. This I however declined, and assigned my reasons for so doing. I had another call of the same kind a few days after, and since that time I have had several more. My refusal drew down the displeasure of the parties concerned; for I could not convince them that I was prevented by conscientious scruples. They imputed my conduct to an unaccommodating disposition.
           In the autumn of 1817, a farmer from the Rideau settlement called upon me, and said he had heard me preach at Brockville, and had taken the liberty to request that I would come and preach a sermon to him and his neighbours when I could make it convenient. I agreed to his proposal, and we fixed the time. When it arrived I set off on foot; for there were then no horses in the settlement, nor any thing to feed them with, nor road on which they could travel. At ten o'clock, on Saturday the 3rd of October, I set out. My journey was about twenty miles, and most of it in the woods, where there was scarcely any track. I took a guide with me, and it was well I did so, for without one I never could have found the way. We passed two considerable rivers, which we had to wade, carrying our clothes on our shoulders to keep them dry. Two very bad ash swamps also lay in our way, in which, where we could not find fallen trees to walk upon, we sunk to the knees in mud. After a fatiguing march of eight hours, we reached our lodging about sunset. Our landlord was very kind and attentive; but the landlady, who appeared to have a great talent for silence, did not speak to us for some hours after our arrival, nor more than a dozen words all the time we remained in the house. All the family slept in one apartment, which was large. The door was not fastened at night, and I observed that it had neither bolt nor bar - a proof that the farmers have no apprehension of nocturnal depredations. The house was pleasantly situated on the bank of the river Rideau, near the place first proposed for the settlements of the Scotch emigrants.
           At four next morning a violent storm of thunder and rain came on, which lasted till nine. This rather alarmed me, as we were four miles from the place where I was to preach; but at ten, the storm being over, we proceeded down the river in a canoe. At a farmhouse which we passed, we stopped and took in three young women, relations of our pilot. They could paddle very dexterously, but, like our landlady, they remained silent. I made several endeavours to draw them into conversation, but without success. My guide afterwards told me that the young women in that quarter are so shy that if a stranger call, they often run and hide themselves; and if they remain, they scarcely speak a word. Their education must be very defective, or injudiciously managed. After a voyage of three miles between woody banks, we landed, and walked one mile to the school-house. A crowd had already collected near it, their horses stood near them tied to stumps, saddled and bridled; for most of them came on horseback. My attendant had forewarned me that my audience would make a somewhat rustic appearance; and indeed I found that he was not mistaken. Being a little thirsty, I walked into a house to get a glass of water, when about half a dozen young men followed me, and stood round me with their hands in their pockets, staring me in the face, without speaking a word. Many of them had never seen a Presbyterian minister before, and on hearing that one was coming, their curiosity was excited in no ordinary degree. On mounting the desk, the congregation seemed large for so retired a place, but many of them had a very homely appearance. The men sat on one side of the house, and the women on the other, as is customary at Quaker's meetings. Most of the latter wore no bead dress, though some of them had children on their knees. Bare-headed women, with long hair hanging over their shoulders, suckling children, had certainly a very odd appearance; and I could scarcely persuade myself that I was not in an assembly of Indians. After sermon, the leader of the class, for they are nearly all Methodists in that quarter, invited me to his house to take some refreshment, but having to return in the canoe with the rest, I was obliged to decline his kind offer. I afterwards learned that my audience were very well pleased with my sermon, till near the conclusion, when I observed that true believers are kept by the power of God, through means of faith, unto eternal salvation. This gave them great offence, and they concluded that, since I did not think a believer could fall from grace, I ought not to be countenanced. In the evening I had much interesting conversation with my landlord, who was a sensible, well-informed man. Next day I returned home, better pleased with the people of my own charge than I had been before my journey.
           About a fortnight after this, I resolved to visit Kingston, where I was told there were many Presbyterians destitute of a minister. The distance, by the nearest road, is about seventy miles, but by Brockville and the St. Lawrence it is near a hundred. As my object was usefulness, I resolved to take the latter, that being better inhabited than the other. On my way I preached in Brockville, Yonge, Gananoque, and other places, where I found kind friends and encouraging congregations. On leaving Gananoque, as I was tired of walking, and being still twenty-five miles from Kingston, I engaged a passage in a country boat which was proceeding to market with a cargo of apples. The wind was contrary, but being light, the men expected to reach Kingston before evening by the assistance of their oars. But before we had proceeded far, the wind increased, and it began to rain so fast that we were forced to land upon Howe's Island, and take shelter at the house of the forester. This part of the St. Lawrence, on account of its numerous islands and still water, is called the Lake of a Thousand Islands. Wolfe's Island, which is the largest, is about fifteen miles long, and contains much good land. The rain having abated, we proceeded on our voyage, but as the wind blew hard, we made very little progress. As I was anxious to reach Kingston that night, and being told that I might find a road through the woods, I went ashore though the night was very stormy, and the woods drenched with rain. The sun sunk below the horizon soon after I landed, and I had still nine miles to travel on a road which turned out to be much worse than I expected. Indeed it scarcely deserved the name of a road, differing little from the rest of the forest, except that the mud was deeper in consequence of the passage of cattle. The rain continued all the time, and the mud in swampy places was so deep that I got through with difficulty. There was moonlight, but the sky being charged with clouds, it was very faint. At one place I came to an opening, in which I observed, at a short distance, two huts; but on going to them, in the hope of finding shelter for the night, I was mortified to find that they were not inhabited. Finding that there was no alternative, but either to grope my way through mud and bushes, or remain in the woods all night, I persevered, when on a sudden I heard a drum beat, and never before did the sound of that instrument afford me so much pleasure. From the sound, which I had no doubt proceeded from the garrison, I concluded that I must be within two miles of Kingston. In little more than half an hour I reached that place, and though I was a stranger, I soon met with kind friends, as I have uniformly done in every place where Providence has sent me. A good fire to warm me, and dry my clothes, a comfortable supper, and agreeable company, soon made me forget my toils. In such circumstances the comforts of life and the blessings of society are doubly sweet.
           On the following day, which was Saturday, I waited upon a few of the friends of religion, but was sorry to find that they were far from being united in their sentiments. In such a country as this, one would expect to find nothing like party spirit in religious matters; but the case is quite otherwise. The inhabitants are emigrants from all the religious denominations, and all zealous for their own sect or party. On the Sabbath I preached twice in the Lancasterian school-house, to a numerous and attentive congregation. On Monday, at the request of some of the friends of religion, I visited them at their own houses, and found some very agreeable company. At that time there were in Kingston an Episcopal church, a Roman Catholic chapel, and a Methodist meeting-house. The Presbyterian churches were not then built, though one of them had been proposed. On Tuesday I left Kingston, and walked to Gananoque, where I met with a kind reception from the family of Charles McDonell, Esq. where I had lodged on my way up. My kind host requested me to stay with him a day or two and rest myself, and as this afforded me another opportunity of preaching in the village, I consented. On Wednesday I went with Mr. McDonell to see his saw and grist-mills, on the Gananoque river. The logs are brought to the mills by water, drawn up, and cut by machinery. The boards are then rafted, and sent down the St. Lawrence to Montreal and other places for sale. The grist-mills are no less complete. Boats with grain can come close up to the building, when it is drawn up, ground into flour, packed into barrels, and again lowered into the boats; by which it is afterwards conveyed to market. Here we were joined by Colonel Stone, with whom I took a walk up to the bank of the river to see the rapids, while use he detailed to me his plans for rendering the river navigable to the lake from which it issues.
           In the evening I preached in the school-house to about a hundred people. After sermon I had some conversation with a few of them, who appeared to be serious good people. They were chiefly Baptists, and I learned that they had two small societies in that neighbourhood. Next day I breakfasted with Colonel and Mrs. Stone. Being both pious and well informed, they are a blessing to the neighbourhood. The Colonel not only furnished me a horse for my next journey, but accompanied me several miles himself. In the evening I reached the house of Mr. Purvis, one of Mr. Smart's elders, where I remained for the night. Next day I went on to Mr. Smart's, being engaged to assist him in the administration of the Lord's Supper on the following Sabbath. In the evening the members met for conference and prayer, when I delivered an address on the nature and design of the ordinance they had in view. None but those who have lived in a country like this know how delightful it is to meet with a company of those with whom we are connected in church fellowship. Suffice it to say, it was a time of refreshing to us all. The following day I spent in the happiest manner with Mr. Smart and his family. Many plans were proposed and discussed for advancing the Redeemer's kingdom in the province. The last thing we took under consideration was a plan for uniting the exertions of all the Presbyterian ministers in the country; and we concluded that Mr. Smart should write to them all and request their concurrence. This was the origin of that union which has since been formed. The greater part received the proposal with pleasure, but two or three chose rather to stand by themselves.
           About ten on Sabbath morning, we left Mr. Smart's house for Brockville, which was distant about five miles, to engage in the solemn and delightful services of the day. I preached to the congregation, and Mr. Smart administered the sacrament to the members of the church, whom he addressed in a very impressive manner. Next day I set out on my way home in rainy weather and deep roads. After two days disagreeable travelling I reached Perth in safety, though much fatigued. The roads in this country not being covered with stones or gravel, in rainy weather soon become almost impassable.
           The two journeys I have mentioned above were made soon after I settled here. Since that time I have made two or three journeys every year, to the distance of fifty or a hundred miles, preaching at the various places as I went along, baptising children, catechising, and visiting families in their own houses. The labours, fatigues, and privations to be endured in some of these excursions, can only be estimated by those who have travelled in a country like this. In some places tolerably good accommodation is to be had; in others little or none. This is particularly the case in new settlements. After making a long journey through deep snow, or perhaps mud, and fording the rivers in my way, I have had to sleep on a bear or buffalo skin spread on the ground, and a blanket over me. The winter is the best season for travelling, after the snow is well trod, but at first it is very difficult, especially if the ground was not frozen before the snow fell. I have seen it knee deep in the month of November, while the mud below was nearly as deep; but it is rare to see much snow so early: there is seldom much before the beginning of January. When the ground is hard-frozen before the snow falls, the roads are soon fit for sleighing, but when there is a fall of snow before the mud is sufficiently hard to carry a horse, it is long before travelling is good, the snow keeping out the frost.
END OF LETTER XVII.          BACK TO START OF LETTER

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