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HINTS TO EMIGRANTS: LETTER XIX

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


LETTER  XIX


YOU WILL PERCEIVE by what I have already said, that when I first settled here, the majority of the population consisted of discharged soldiers. This however, is not the case now. The number of emigrants has increased while that of soldiers has decreased. Few discharged soldiers make good cultivators; they have not in general acquired the habits of industry and application necessary for farmers. They were allowed rations by government for one year and while these lasted they seldom deserted their land, except to earn wages; but when their rations were eaten up, a great part of them left the settlement. Those that remain are hard working industrious people, and seem to make good settlers.
           A few of the half-pay officers reside upon their lands in the country, but most of them remain in the villages -- the majority in Perth. The whole number amounts to between thirty and forty, and most of them are justices of the peace. This gives them a greater influence in the settlement than is perhaps agreeable to the civilians, few of whom hold commissions of the peace, or any other office under government. It is but justice, however, to these gentlemen, to observe that though instances of arbitrary and oppressive conduct may have occurred, yet, in general, they have conducted themselves with a degree of moderation and politeness that does them credit.
           I have already hinted that the morals of a considerable portion of our population would bear amendment. The vice most common in this settlement is Sabbath profanation, though it is much less practised now than formerly. When I came to the settlement there was little difference made between that day and other days, excepting that there was more drinking, quarrelling, fighting, and less work done; but, since that time the worst part of our population has been sent away, and among those that remain, much reformation has taken place, though with some there is still room for improvement.
           You may easily conceive how I felt on coming hither, when I compared the morals of this country with those of that which I had just left. But I was determined to attempt a reformation, at least as far as my own influence extended, for I soon found that I must expect little cooperation. It appears to be a prevailing sentiment in this country, that every man may do just what he pleases, provided he does not injure his neighbour so as to bring him under the lash of the law. So feebly are the restraints of the law of God felt, that many, if reproved for swearing or Sabbath breaking, will boldly inquire, What harm is there in it? I began the endeavour to reform Sabbath breakers by preaching a sermon on the duty of remembering the Sabbath day, to keep it holy; and showed that the neglect of it tended not only to incur the displeasure of God, in whose favour all happiness consisted, but to sap the foundation of public morals, on which the happiness of society must always depend. If a man have no regard for the authority and law of God, he will not be influenced by the laws of men any further than his safety or his interest is concerned. I requested my congregation not only to pay a sacred regard to the Sabbath themselves, but to use their influence with their neighbours, by persuasion alone, to prevent their failing into this sin. I was sensible, however, that some more extensive endeavour must be made. The most culpable part never entered a place of worship, and therefore did not hear my admonition; but I determined that they should hear it, and, therefore, in company with one of my elders,visited them at their own houses, pointed out the duty of observing the Sabbath, told them that a reformation was to be attempted, and requested their assistance. In the discharge of this duty, I met with more encouragement and civility than I expected. Though we visited every house, hut, and tent, both in the,village and the neighbourhood, we met with nothing but attention, and even thanks for our visit, excepting from one family, to whom our message was evidently disagreeable, for what reason you may easily guess. Since that time, reformation has been gradually advancing, some of the more respectable inhabitants setting the example to their inferiors. Were all who have influence to concur, the thing would be easy but unfortunately this is not the case, and fishing, hunting, forming parties, &c. are still persisted in by some of whom better things might be expected. But speaking generally, the Sabbath is now as well observed here as in any other place in the province.
           When the settlement was formed, money was plentiful, and with some of our youths who were not kept to hard labour, frolic was the order of the day, and sometimes even of the night. Take the following as an instance. On the morning of the 26th of March, 1818, it was found that all the signs in the village had changed their places, and most houses had caricatures of some sort or another fixed against their front. A tavern sign was fixed over a shop, and the shop sign over the tavern. The sign from the stage house was fixed on the Superintendent's office, and a merchant's sign attached to the residence of the Catholic priest, &c. &c. A reward was offered for the discovery of the actors of this comedy, but no direct proof was ever adduced, though few had any doubts about who they were.
           On the 10th of July 1820, the first election for a member to represent the county in the provincial parliament took place. Several candidates had offered themselves; and every morning for some days before the election, caricatures and placards were exhibited to the no small amusement of the inhabitants, for many of whom an election was quite a new thing. When the day arrived, all were in motion at an early hour, hurrying to the village on the tiptoe of expectation. At ten o'clock a number of gentlemen proceeded to the house of the returning officer, and accompanied him to the hustings. Business was just about to commence, when the floor of the hustings, being overloaded, gave way and precipitated the whole company to the ground. Little damage, however, was sustained, beyond a few slight scratches, the discomposing of dresses, and the splashing of ink. The only fracture I observed was in the board of a volume of Burn's Justice, which a magistrate was gravely consulting at the moment the accident happened. Carpenters in abundance being at hand, the hustings were speedily repaired, and business commenced. The writ was read by the returning officer, and candidates were proposed. Speeches were made, some of them amusing enough, from the manner in which they were delivered. All having declined the contest excepting William Morris and Benjamin Delisle, Esquires, they were declared the only candidates; and the freeholders were requested to divide, those for the former to the right hand, and those for the latter to the left. A great majority having taken the right hand, loud huzzas followed, and Mr. Morris was declared the successful candidate. But Mr. Delisle demanded a poll, it was immediately commenced, and continued until four o'clock, when the numbers were, for Mr. Morris 156 - for Mr. Delisle 36. During the day liquors and other refreshments had been served out in abundance, and those who had partaken most liberally began to discover their various dispositions. Some were frolicsome and others mischievous; some danced and sung, others swore and threatened; and before evening several bloody battles had been fought, but not between the opposite parties. At five o'clock, eighteen gentlemen, the principal of Mr. Morris's friends sat down to an excellent dinner at the head inn, and spent the evening very agreeably together. Next morning business on the hustings having commenced at the usual hour, Mr. Delisle came forward, and said that he would now decline any further contest. The returning officer then declared Mr. Morris duly elected, and his friends proceeded to chair him, which was done in a home manner. The procession paraded the streets during several hours, the crowd huzzaing and singing loyal and patriotic songs. At various places they were regaled with wine and other liquors, which soon made them forget all their hardships, and the difficulties of a new settlement. After the procession was over, the evening was spent by all classes in festivity and rejoicing.
           Considering the mixture of worthless persons which our population formerly contained, it is astonishing how few crimes have been committed. There has been only one murder in the settlement; and though there have been several instances of stealing, I have not heard of a single robbery being committed. This shows how beneficial constant employment is in suppressing vice and encouraging virtuous dispositions. Idleness is the parent of every vice; but, in a new settlement, he must be a lazy fellow indeed, whose own accommodation does not stimulate him to exertion. I had once an out-house broken open and pork stolen, and several of my neighbours have had similar deprivations committed on their property. But as food in all these cases was the object, it is but charitable to conclude that hunger operated no less powerfully than a thievish disposition.
           For some time after the settlement was formed, the brute creation suffered even more from hunger than the human. In the summer they could pick up a scanty subsistence from the leaves and bushes, but in the winter many of them perished for want of food. The rage for acquiring stock was so prevalent, that many purchased cattle and pigs, for which they had no food, and turned them adrift to shift for themselves, though there was not then a blade of grass in the settlement. When enraged by hunger, scarcely any fence could keep them out, and those having crops had them destroyed by the cattle and pigs of those who had none. In this way I had three acres of fine wheat half ruined by a flock of pigs belonging to one of my neighbours. It was against the law for them to run at liberty; but at that time none minded what was law but what was most convenient for themselves. I remonstrated with my neighbour, but being one of the clerks in the Government Office, he thought he might do what he pleased, and I could obtain no redress. His eldest son was even heard to threaten to shoot some of my cattle if he fell in with them in the woods. Of this I took no notice, thinking it not at all likely that he would dare to carry his threat into execution; but I was mistaken. On the following Sunday, April 16, 1820, he shot the best cow I had, not above a quarter of a mile from the house. On hearing what had happened, I went directly to his father's house, but as neither of them was to be found, I left word what was the object of my call. Next morning, both the father and the son came to my house, and expressed both indignation and astonishment that I should suppose either of them capable of doing me any injury. I told them the threat which had been held out was sufficient ground upon which to prosecute the young man, which I was determined to do. After solemnly protesting that he had not a gun in his hand during the preceding day, they left me; but after consulting some of their friends, they returned, confessed the fact, and promised to make good the damage. But this they afterwards declined to do till compelled by the fear of a prosecution.
           Being once on my way home from Brockville, I fell in with a farmer on the road, who knew me, and invited me to his house. In our way thither, he said if I would stay with him all night and preach a sermon in the evening, he would send to let his neighbours know. To this I agreed, and preached accordingly, to about fifty people whom he had collected. When the sermon was over, a man came forward and told me, in presence of the congregation, that he had a few words to say respecting the doctrine I had preached. I told him to say on. "Well," said he, "you told us that there was no such thing as absolute perfection in this world." "And does not the Scripture say the same?" I replied. "I do not hold to your doctrine," said he, "for the Scripture says that Job was a perfect and upright man." I replied, "that Job might be relatively perfect, but not absolutely so; or he might be perfect in his own estimation, though not in the estimation of God. "0," said he, "I do not understand these distinctions; I take the Scripture just as it stands: it tells me that Job was perfect and upright." I replied, "in your sense of the word, there is not a just man upon earth that sinneth not, and that is the Scripture just as it stands. That you have formed an erroneous opinion of Job's character, is evident from his own words; 'I abhor myself and repent in dust and ashes.' Now, if he had no sin, as you suppose, of what did he repent, or why did God, who is just in all his ways, and holy in all his works, suffer Satan to afflict him?" To this question he could make no proper answer, and the conversation dropped. In that quarter Methodists are numerous, and this was one of their leaders. From the specimen I have given, you I will be able to form some idea of what a minister has to encounter, for this is no solitary instance of ignorant presumption. A place of worship after sermon among these people is often converted into an arena of dispute, and more attend for the purpose of criticising or calling in question the correctness of what they hear, than to receive instruction.
           I have already observed that the late war had no very favourable effect upon the morals of the country, and yet there are many who wish for nothing more than to see the contest renewed. The affluence which all descriptions of persons enjoyed through means of the government money put into circulation, compared with the poverty which at present prevails, has still so much influence over their minds that they would prefer war with all its horrors, to the tranquillity which they now enjoy. In 1818, when I was in Montreal collecting a little money to assist in building our church, among other persons, I waited upon a gentleman in one of the government offices, from whom I expected something handsome, on account of the interest which I had no doubt he would take in the prosperity of the military settlement. But what was my disappointment when he told me he could not give me a penny. On leaving him he called after me, that he would give something to the building of the church, if I would promise to pray for a new war, but I proceeded without making him any reply. The next I waited on was W. Clarke, Esq. Deputy-Commissary-General, lately deceased, from whom I experienced very different treatment. Indeed no one ever solicited the assistance of that good man for any benevolent purpose in vain.
           I cannot omit here bearing honourable testimony to the kindness and liberality of the good citizens of Montreal, while I was engaged in this business. Nor is that the only instance in which they deserve praise - many a church besides ours have they assisted to build. I had been disappointed of assistance from the person whom I expected to accompany me, but another as suitable offered of his own accord. In our progress we had a new and interesting view of human nature, and a great variety of tempers and dispositions were unfolded to our inspection. Most people to whom we applied gave us something. Some gave us more than we expected, and others gave us less; and the few who gave us nothing, were the very persons from whom we expected most. Some gave with seeming reluctance but the far greater part contributed with a frankness which did them honour. One gentleman to whom we applied, said he knew very little about Perth, but he would give us ten dollars to the building of a church there with pleasure, and that he would give a like sum to assist in the building of a church in every township between Montreal and Niagara.
END OF LETTER XIX.          BACK TO START OF LETTER

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