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PERTH LADS TRIUMPH IN THE CRADLE OF JAZZ

By Arlene Stafford

Published in the February and March, 1999 LCGS newsletter.

           "Stop running around!" boomed the voice behind Isaiah McKean as he returned from his seventh trip across the deck of the enormous ship. Nothing anyone could say would dampen the spirit of this eleven-year-old boy as he explored the massive vessel he had boarded minutes before. Isaiah barely noticed the women sobbing softly as they waved and yelled at the people below on the docks at Greenock. People they would never lay eyes on again. But Isaiah was oblivious to this. All he knew was that this was the most exciting thing that had ever happened in his young life; that, and the fact that there would be no chores for him today.
           As the ship pulled away from the dock and Isaiah could feel the movement of the vessel beneath his feet he felt as though his heart would burst with excitement. This would be his first trip anywhere. Born not far from there in Glasgow, Isaiah had never even been to neighboring Greenock before. The sight of the sea and the new faces on the ship made him almost delirious. Heading south along the rugged Scottish coastline Isaiah gazed with amazement as the flock of sheep he'd been watching became smaller and smaller until they finally disappeared.
           Everyone had looked so grand that first day on board, all dressed in their finest. It was a far cry from their increasingly scruffy appearance as the days turned into weeks. Many had taken sick and it seemed as though Isaiah could always hear someone's baby crying in the background. Like any eleven-year-old, Isaiah was getting bored. Bored with the other boys on the ship who had seemed like such fun at first. Some of them had fallen ill, and one new friend had even died. No one thought that Isaiah had seen them throw the small bundle overboard, but he had, and the image would haunt him for years. The food was horrible when he got any at all. Many of the older folks gave up their share to the children, but even then it was never enough to satisfy a hungry, active boy like Isaiah. Finally, after what seemed like forever Isaiah heard one of the men call out that he had seen land ahead.
           It was a bright, sunny day in 1819 that Isaiah's ship reached the Canadian port. He was relieved to step down onto dry land once again. The trip to Perth first by boat then by land from Prescott seemed to take almost as long as the trip from Greenock, but at least now there were new sights to see and a lot more food to fill up a young lad's stomach.
           Once in Perth, Isaiah went with his father to the colonial administrative office where his Dad was speaking to one of the clerks about his petition for a grant of land. All around him Isaiah saw strange faces and heard men speaking with accents and in languages he'd never heard back in Scotland. He really was in a new world.
           Many years after Isaiah had come to Lanark County he began to think about establishing his own farm. Like his young counterparts, his eyes began to wander in the direction of the local girls. Isaiah's family had many friends in the community. The Finners, Stuarts, Mooneys, Bolands, McGraths, Cardiffs, and French families were welcome guests at family gatherings. But it was a McCoy girl that Isaiah began to feel drawn to. Mary McCoy had arrived in Lanark County three years before Isaiah in 1816. She was a lovely Irish girl from County Antrim and she stole Isaiah McKean's heart right out from under him.
           Isaiah, who wouldn't take no for an answer, married Mary McCoy and they began their life together on a farm in Ramsey township. Their farm did well and the children grew up quickly and were ready to start their own lives. Isaiah's daughter Mary McKean married Francis French and two of her sons became well-respected priests in Renfrew. Another daughter of Isaiah's, Johan McKean also had a very interesting series of events in her life. Johan had been dating John Stafford. John seemed like a pretty good prospect. He was a shoemaker by trade; apprenticing first in Ferguson's Falls. John had established his own shoe store in Almonte -- the S & S Boot Company, had a staff of five and was doing well. He came from a good family. His father Tobias Stafford had a prosperous farm on the 11th concession of Drummond and his mother Elizabeth McGarry had brought her son up well.
           It must have been flattering for Johan McKean when the young Nicholas McDonald of Wayside began to turn his attentions her way. From the minute that Nick McDonald laid eyes on Johan he was completely overcome. He fell hopelessly in love with her and thoughts of Johan consumed him night and day. He was devastated when Johan told him of her plans to marry John Stafford. Outraged and heartbroken, McDonald could not bear to remain in Lanark County and watch his beloved with another man, so he packed up his belongings and headed south.
           Over twenty years had passed by and John and Johan (McKean) Stafford's family were growing up. Never forsaking his feelings for Johan, Nick McDonald wrote her and asked her if she would like to send her sons to New Orleans and he would help them to establish themselves in business. Nick had started a successful publishing enterprise and wanted to honor his beloved Johan by helping her sons as much as he could. Perhaps it was also McDonald's way of getting even with John Stafford. Would the boys want to stay in Perth and work in their father's shoe store or come and discover the night life on Bourbon Street? There was no contest. In 1895 Peter, Andrew, Isaiah, John Jr., Harry and even their sister Rose Stafford left Perth and headed for New Orleans.
           Far away from the cool breezes of Lanark County the lads from Perth made their way through the streets of New Orleans clutching Nick McDonald's address in their hands. Scorchingly hot, the boys could almost see the waves of heat along the sidewalks as they made their way downtown dripping with perspiration. They could hear a trombone in the distance wailing out a mournful tune and the smell of hot spicy Cajun food wafted through the streets. Just like their grandfather Isaiah McKean, almost 100 years before them, the boys were in a strange new world.
           True to his word, Nicholas McDonald made every effort to assist Johan's sons. The boys worked for McDonald for a few years, and then managed to establish their own businesses which were spectacularly successful. The boys opened the Stafford Publishing Company and it was well received. One of the brothers, Harry, did not take well to the humid weather in New Orleans and was stricken with malaria. On his recovery he decided to establish a branch of the company in Atlanta, Georgia in a more moderate climate. The Stafford Publishing Company in Atlanta prospered as well and remained open until the early 1970ís. One of the boys who had remained in New Orleans also established the firm of Stafford, Derbes and Roy, and the New Orleans Land Company, which dealt in real estate and was at one time considered the largest holding in the south. The boys married and started their own families and enjoyed success and comfortable life styles. Members of the New Orleans Golf Clubs and Country Clubs, the lads from Perth did well for themselves.
           Today, you can still find descendants of the Stafford boys living in Atlanta, Georgia and in New Orleans, Louisiana. Their achievements are surely a tribute to their forefather the young boy Isaiah McKean who stepped onto a ship at Greenock, Scotland 180 years ago.