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COUNTY OF PICTOU
Beginning Of The Century To The Close
Of The French Revolutionary War
1801 - 1815.
The period which we are now to consider is noted, as that in which the timber trade from Pictou was at its height, though it had begun some years previously, and continued on a diminished scale for some years later.
When the first settlers arrived, the whole of the county was covered with timber of the finest quality. Of this the white pine was particularly prominent, but oak and the various kinds of hardwood, were found of large size and in great abundance, alike down to the very margin of the sea, and up to the very summits of the highest hills. From the first settlement, this had proved one of the most valuable resources of the inhabitants. From the year 1774, when the first cargo of squared timber was shipped to Britain, the trade in that article had continued to increase, and after the closing of the Baltic against British commerce, the price rose to an unprecedented height, and the trade from Pictou increased proportionally. In the year 1803, about fifty vessels were loaded here with timber for Britain, and in the period from 1800 to 1820, it was calculated that the exports from Pictou, of which timber was the principal, amounted on the average to £100,000 sterling per annum. It is to be observed, however, that this included trade from the outports as well, Pictou being the only port of entry for the North Shore of this Province. Still it was the center of the whole trade, and the larger portion was from the harbour itself.
And now the cutting, hewing, hauling, rafting, and shipping of ton timber, became for some years almost the one business of the people of Pictou. The farmer not only spent his time in winter in cutting and preparing it, but also much of the spring and summer in rafting and shipping it. As to his fields he thought only of hastily committing his seed to the ground in spring, and gathering at harvest time what crop had chosen to grow, and paid no attention to manuring, rotation or other improvements in agriculture, in some instances the dung being allowed to accumulate round the stables, till the sills rotted, and it became a question whether it were easier to remove the mass or the barn, unless where an individual with more foresight, had erected his building by a running stream, which served to carry away the filth.
While however lumbering was the business of Pictou at this time, yet even the partial attention, which people gave to their farms, brought plentiful returns. The soil was so rich, that in many places people took crop after crop of wheat, it might be to the number of a dozen, and in one case of which I have been told, of seventeen, in succession. The abundant crops of potatoes enabled the farmers to feed large numbers of swine, and the high prices of all kinds of produce, especially of cattle, in consequence of the war, rendered it a time of unbounded prosperity to the agricultural population.
The lumbering business proved most injurious to the social habits and moral condition of the community. It brought a large influx of population of a very loose character, and it had its usual demoralizing effects upon the residents. Most of the farmers had wood on their farms, so near their dwellings that they could make timber without removing from their homes, but many adopted the system of living in the woods in winter, as still practiced in the great lumbering districts of Canada. In the autumn a number of men uniting would go to the woods with a supply of provisions, erect a rude camp in which they spent the winter, with the exception of visits to the settlements for the supply of necessaries, of which rum was deemed the most important, and was commonly the first exhausted. They then proceeded to cut down timber, to square and haul it to the neighbouring streams. In the spring, when the melting of the snow caused a large rising of the rivers, the lumber was floated down to the tide, where it was formed into rafts, and transported to the place of shipment. This mode of living, separated for a time from the humanizing influence of civilized society, tends to brutalize men; while the exposure to cold and wet, particularly in river driving, forms a strong temptation to hard drinking, and tends to break down the strongest constitution.
Another evil soon appeared. The first settlers hah had a hard struggle to obtain the necessaries of life, but now in the life time of those, who made the first inroads upon the forests, and endured such hardships as we have formerly described, money became so plenty, that people lost all moderation or economy in the use of it, and an era of extravagance trod closely upon the heels of an era of privation. The farmer. Says Dr. McGregor, neglected his farm and went to square timber. The consequence was, that he had to go to the merchant to buy provisions, and the merchant persuaded him that he needed many other things besides provisions. If the farmer scrupled to buy more superfluities, he would ask him, Why do you hesitate? You know that a stick of timber will pay it. Thus a taste for vanity and expensive living was introduced among us. We have suffered from emigrants settling among us from different parts of the Highlands, but more from merchants and traders from England and the North of Scotland. The ignorance and superstition of the former have not done us so much evil, as the avarice, the luxury, the show, and the glittering toys of the latter.
But the great evil, we might almost say the great characteristic of the times, was the great extent to which rum was consumed. The first settlers used very little, in fact had not the means of getting it in any quantities. But the extent to which it was now used seems absolutely incredible.
The habit of drinking was most prevalent among the lumberers. We have heard for example, of a man being employed through the winter at five shillings a day, with an allowance of two glasses of liquor, but yet being in debt in spring, although the money had gone for little else but rum. When a lumbering party went to the woods, it was customary to initiate their proceedings with a carouse, which might make such an inroad upon their supply of liquor, as to render an early visit to the settlement necessary to have it replenished. When they did get to work, they daily consumed quantities, which, if they had been using some modern liquors, would have quickly prepared them for the undertaker, while at intervals their labours were arrested for the enjoyment of a carouse, which might last two or three days. Thus in spring they still found themselves in debt to the merchants from whom they had received their supplies in autumn, and the only course that seemed open, was to go through the same process the next season, with a fresh supply of articles from the merchant, which he was very ready to afford, with the view of obtaining their timber. In this way many farms were mortgaged and never redeemed.
But though drinking was specially prevalant among the lumberers, yet all classes were affected by it. In the most moral settlements, every third of fourth family would have a puncheon of rum, for the supply of themselves and neighbours. In some instances, where there were a number of sons in a family approaching manhood, the whole might be consumed with very little assistance from others. In one large settlement, it was calculated on one occasion, that there had been introduced in the fall at the rate of half a puncheon for each family, and before spring the supply of some was exhausted. I have heard of a tradesman at his bench taking his glass regularly every hour. A person who worked in a shipyard told me, that the allowance to each workman from the employer was three glasses a day, while he was confident that on an average each man drank as many more. A member of my congregation told me, of himself and others working at a job for ten days or a fortnight in the heat of summer drinking each their quart of rum a day, and not at the time feeling the worse of it, though at the close of that period, they felt unfit for work of any kind for the next week or two. Men, not content with a glass, would sometimes drink a half pint at a time, or even a pint, and I knew a man who at one time undertook to drink a whole quart at once, and did so, but it nearly cost him his life. He was in such a state that his friends were summoned to him as dying, but he recovered and lived for years, drinking to the end, though he never attempted such a feat as that again.
If these be regarded as extreme cases, yet the habitual use of liquor was common among all classes. The minister took his dram as regularly as parishioners. The elder sold liquor. No respectable person thought of sitting down to dinner without the decanter on one corner of the table. The poorest would have felt hurt, if a friend called and he had no liquor to give him. No workman was employed without his daily allowance, and that commonly not less than two glasses. As likely it was three, and even that quantity was often supplemented by an additional allowance on private account. No bargain was consummated without a dram. On all occasions of public concourse, liquor flowed freely, and scenes of family interest, births, burials and bridals were consecrated in a similar manner, * while the visits to the shore of the sailors from the shipping in port made the streets frequently scenes of drunkenness and riot. But how the same habits prevailed among the genteel, may appear from the fact of a lady boasting, that the liquor bill for her house amounted to £400 per annum.
*[A well -to-do farmer having died, his nephew was seen going home from his funeral under the influence of liquor. On being remonstrated with, he replied; Ah, its not every day I have an Uncle John buried. It having been the regular practice even among the most sober, that at a funeral every man should take two glasses, one on his arrival and one on the procession starting, Dr. McGregor, on one occasion, addressing those assembled, urged that henceforth they should be content with only one. Scarcely had he finished, when an old elder, whose conservative notions had been hurt by the proposal, stepped up to the table, filled a glass, and as he raised it to his lips said, Heres to the man that will take his two glasses, and then drank it off.]
It must be said that the pure West India rum then drunk, did not produce such injurious consequences as the liquor now in use. It had not the same maddening effect at the moment, nor did it produce such evil results afterward. Hence men lived to old age, after the consumption of liquors to an amount that now seems incredible. Still, this drinking was a tremendous evil, and the period we are describing was such, that those who can remember it regard it as the worst morally that Pictou has seen before or since. Well might Dr. McGregor say, Once in a day I could not have believed that all the vices in the world would have done so much damage in Pictou, as I have seen drunkenness alone do within these few years." It may be observed that a similar state of things widely prevailed at the time throughout America.
It might have been expected, that the prosperity of this period, would at least have had an important influence upon the improvement of the country. But it would be difficult to find in any land, an example of such prosperity, leaving so few permanent results for good even upon its material progress. The land was depreciated in value, by having the valuable timber removed from it, without its being cleared or rendered fit for the plough, while a ruinous system of farming impoverished the land already under cultivation. Farms, in which the soil was originally excellent, became thoroughly exhausted, and the evils of this state of things have to some extent continued to the present day. Merchants fared no better. Partly owing to the credit system, and partly to the changes in the price of timber, most of them were unsuccessful in the end.
Of the trade carried on in this county at this period, by far the largest portion was in the hands of Edward Mortimer, and this is the proper place for a more extended notice of him. He was a native of Keith, Banffshire, Scotland. He arrived in this country, as many a Scottish youth has gone abroad, with only his own energy and steady habits for his fortune. I have heard of his once speaking in depreciating terms of this country, in presence of old John Patterson, who immediately replied, Ye needna talk when ye came to it, I dinna ken whether ye had twa shirts, but I ken ye hadna two jackets. It is of course all the more creditable, that by his energy and skill, he in a short time became the foremost man in Pictou, or in the eastern part of the Province. He first visited this place about the year 1778, employed by the firm of Liddells, in Halifax, in a schooner trading round the coast. Soon after he commenced business here, at first in partnership with them, but soon after on his own account. He first located himself a little above the point, which has so long gone by his name, on the front of Squire Pattersons lot, whose daughter he married. Here he put up a small building, intended for both house and store, of which the cellar can still be traced, and also built a wharf, of which portions of the foundation are still visible. Afterward he removed to the point, near the stone house, where he had his dwelling house and stores close by the shore, and where he built two long wharves out to deep water, the remains of which can still be seen.*
*[After his removal his old house was regarded as haunted, it was said persons who attempted to stay in it being frightened out of it by a noise as of the rolling of barrels, and persons who approached from the water seeing it lighted up, but when they landed finding all in darkness. The stone house was erected only a short time before his death.]
He is said to have been a man of commanding presence, tall, broad-shouldered and portly - as one from Britain described him , with the appearance of a great man, and the address of a great man. Indeed, he was manifestly a born leader of men, and one that would have exercised a commanding influence, in any society into which he might enter. But he must have been a man of first rate business capacity, for he now had nearly the whole trade of the place in his hands, and by his influence the trade of the Gulf was concentrated at Pictou. Persons still living can recollect, when the point above the town, where he did business, presented every season a forest of masts. He is said to have loaded 80 vessels in one year, not, however, all in Pictou Harbour, but many in surrounding ports, his business extending to Bay Verte and Prince Edward Island. His book-keeper stated, that in one season, in seven successive weeks, he shipped timber to the value of £35,000,or at the rate of £5,000 per week.
Though the timber trade was his principal business, yet he did also a large business in the fisheries. The Arichat and other fishermen came here for their supplies, and traded their fish. At that time seals were still taken in considerable numbers in the Gulf, and the oil was manufactured in James Pattersons Cove, so that at the proper season, when the wind blew upon the town, the inhabitants were regaled with what fishermen would regard as a savory odour.
To so large an extent was the business of the place in his hands, that he regarded any person commencing a general trade, as an intruder upon his legitimate domain, and he did not hesitate to use measures to crush him, which now would not be considered fair between man and man. For example, after men agreed to give their timber or produce to other parties, he would have no hesitation in persuading them, or concussing them into giving it to him.
By the system of credit which prevailed, he had almost every inhabitant of the county in his books, and thus, in a measure, under his control, and business was then conducted, so as if possible to keep them in that position. Not only were goods pressed upon them, but they were kept in ignorance of the state of their accounts, as a means of securing a continuance of their custom. For a debtor to demand a settlement, seemed to indicate an intention of dealing with some other party, and to prevent this, the policy - not of Mortimer alone, however - was to keep his name in the ledger.
His influence, however, especially with the country people, was largely owing to his frank manner and real kindness of heart. He celebrated many of their marriages, as the dissenting ministers were not allowed to marry by license, and on such occasions he and Mrs. M. danced with the common people, and mingled freely with all ranks, in a manner that gained their good will. Besides, he was a man ever ready to do a favor. The poor and the friendless were freely helped, and ever after retained a grateful recollection of such services. We have conversed frequently with country people, who recollected that period, and their general testimony was, that in any difficulty, they had only to apply to Mortimer to receive ready help. Though he wished to have people in his books, and loved the power that this gave him, yet he was never disposed to deal harshly with them. On the contrary, his inclination was rather to act the Lord Bountiful. And it was only after his death, when his estate came to be settled up, that people felt the evils of the credit system, under which they had become so deeply involved.
From the time of his election in 1799 till his death in 1819, he continued to represent the County of Halifax. His natural gifts gave him great weight in the Legislature, at a time when personal influence was more potent than it is now. This power he used earnestly for the interests of Pictou, and the liberal grants which he obtained for local improvements, caused him to be regarded as a public benefactor, people looking to him almost as if the money came from his own pocket. In other districts, parties used to apply to him, when wanting Legislative assistance, and were accustomed to say, that he was better for them than their own members.
Though opposed by Wallace, he also gained such influence over successive Governors, that generally all local patronage was entirely at his disposal. The Earl of Dalhousie, after his death, said, I found in the late Mr. Mortimer a country gentleman, whose liberal mind and patriotic principles were an honor and a blessing to his neighbourhood. To him I gave my confidence, with authority to use the power vested in me to the fullest extent, except as being subject to my confirmation. With his zealous assistance and influence, I know that astonishing progress has been made in opening the forest land. It is not surprising, under the circumstances, that he should be entitled King Of Pictou.* It must be said of him, that he was a sincere and earnest worker for the good of the county and of the Province. He was liberal in giving and hearty in promoting measures for the public weal. His fault was his love of power, but if ambition be the last weakness of noble minds, we may excuse the manifestation of it in one naturally so fitted to rule over men, and who was by circumstances placed in such a commanding position. And we may be thankful that such power was in the hands of one who, on the whole, used it so well.
* [A wag once wrote a humourous production, entitled, Chronicles of Pictou, which began somewhat in the following terms, There was a King in the East and his name was Edwardus, and he was the chief of the tribe of the Pattersonians, and he ruleth the Pictonians with a rod of iron.]
The result of his business was that he rapidly accumulated a large fortune. In a few years, he counted himself worth £100,000, we doubt not the largest fortune acquired in the same time in Nova Scotia. But, alas! scarcely could a case occur more strikingly indicating the instability of earthly greatness. He was cut down in the prime of his days in the year 1819, after two or three days illness, when about 50 years of age, and his estate actually proved insolvent. Legacies for religious and charitable purposes were never paid, and a portion reserved of his real estate as dower, afforded a moderate competence to his widow. We have never fully ascertained the causes of this, but know that one was the disastrous failure of the firm of Liddells, and perhaps another was the want of his master mind in settling his affairs. He never had any children. He died 10th October, 1819, and his tombstone has the following inscription:
Sacred To The Memory
Edward Mortimer, Esq.,
Who departed this life, 10th October, MDCCCXIX,
In the fifty-second year of his age.
A native of Keith, in the shire of Banff
In early life he removed to this Province,
Occupying himself in mercantile pursuits,
He acquired a reputation honourable to himself,
Concentrated in the Port of Pictou,
The greater part of the trade of the adjacent coasts.
He represented the County of Halifax
In the General Assembly of the Province,
And during this long period,
His public conduct
Founded upon enlightened and liberal principles,
Gained him the confidence
Of his constituents but of the Province at large.
He was also
A Judge of the Court of Common Pleas,
And for many years
Chief Magistrate of Pictou,
In the discharge of the duties of these offices,
As well as in his private capacity,
A strenuous promoter of the good order and peace
To his public exertions,
The Pictou Academy is deeply indebted.
These and his private munificence
Have rendered him its principal founder.
He is remembered as the poor mans friend,
The inhabitants of the Province at large,
Retain a grateful recollection
of his valuable services.
Of those in the same line of business with Mortimer at this time, the principal were John Dawson and Thomas Davison. The former was a native of the parish of Irongray, in the County of Dumfries. He was a man of education and mind, and filled several public situations creditably. He bought the lot on Water street, to the east of the road leading to Yorstons Wharf. There he erected a large two-storey house, nearly on the site of the Taylor House, with two wings to the north. In front of this property he built a wharf, which has disappeared. John Patterson built an extension from the end of his wharf at right angles to the eastward, leaving a narrow passage between it and Dawsons wharf. Inside of this, there was thus formed what was called the dock, in which boats and even schooners were safely moored. At this time all the trade along shore was by boats, the settlers bringing their produce and carrying away goods from the merchants in the same way. In this way for some years a larger portion of the country trade was concentrated at this point. Dawsons health having failed, he sold out his business to his son- in- law William Kidston, afterward of Halifax, and removed to a farm two miles out of town on the West River road, where he died on the 2nd January , 1815, aged 54.
Thomas Davison was originally from Londonderry, N.S. He erected the house on the north-west corner of George and Water street. He was for a time an active man in church and state.
At this time William Matheson began business. He at first started peddling, we have been told, on a loan of £20. He afterwards sold his farm at Rogers Hill and removed to West River, where he did a country trade, exchanging goods for timber and country produce, but taking care to risk nothing in ships, ship-building or shipping timber, so that he could say that all he had ever lost by sea was one hat. Cautiously proceeding thus, he accumulated money, and was the only man of that period who came out of it with anything like a fortune. In his later years, he was distinguished by his gifts for religious purposes, and at his death he devoted the larger portion of his property to the British and Foreign Bible Society, and to the Seminary of the Presbyterian Church.
At this period a number of others were attracted to Pictou, and did business for a time. Among these may be mentioned Hector McLean, who had married a daughter of Captain Fraser of the 82nd. He was heir to the estate of Kingarloch, in Scotland , which he sold, and, investing the proceeds in goods, he commenced on the Deacons Wharf, in company with his brother-in-law, Simon Fraser. He failed, however, some time after. He built the house in which John R. Noonan now resides.
As to many others who attempted business, then and afterward, we cannot do better than give the picture, drawn by the author of the letters of Mephibosheth Stepsure, of the career of Solomon Gosling.*
* [These letters were from the pen of Dr. Thomas McCulloch, and were originally published in the Acadian Recorder for 1821 and 22. As may be judged from the above specimen , they are light satiric sketches of rural life at the time, and in regard to its follies, so held the mirror up to nature, that we know no work from which we can obtain a better idea of the state of society in Nova Scotia at that period.]
About thirty years ago, his father David left him very well to do; and Solomon, who at that time was a brisk young man, had the prospect, by using little industry, of living as comfortably as any in the town. Soon after the death of old David, he was married and a likelier couple were not often to be seen. But unluckily for them both, when Solomon went to Halifax in the winter, Polly went along with him to sell her turkeys and see the fashions; and from that day the Goslings had never a day to do well. Solomon was never very fond of hard work. At the same time he could not be accused of idleness. He was always a very good neighbour; and at every burial or barn raising, Solomon was sot down as one who would be sure to be there. By these means he gradually contracted the habit of running about; which left his own premises in an unpromising plight. Polly, too, by seeing the fashions, had learnt to be genteel; and for the sake of a little show, both lessened the thrift of the family, and added to the outlay; so that, between one thing and another, Solomon began to be hampered, and had more calls than comforters.
Though Goose Hill farm, from want of industry, had not been productive, it was still a property of considerable value: and it occurred to Solomon, that, converted into goods, it would yield more prompt and lucrative returns, than by any mode of agriculture. Full of the idea, accordingly, my neighbour went to town; and, by mortgaging his property to Calibogus, the West India merchant, he returned with a general assortment, suited to the wants of the town.
When a merchant lays in his goods, he naturally consults the taste of his customers. Solomons, accordingly, consisted chiefly of West India produce, gin, brandy, tobacco, and a few chests of tea. For the youngsters, he had provided an assortment of superfine broadcloths, and fancy muslins, ready made boots, whips, spurs, and a great variety of gum flowers and other articles which come under the general denomination of notions.
When all these things were arranged, they had a very pretty appearance. For a number of weeks, little was talked of, but Mr. Goslings store; for such he had now become by being a merchant ; little was seen, but my neighbours riding thither to buy, and returning with bargains; and during the course of the day, long lines of horses, fastened to every accessible post of the fences, rendered an entrance to his house almost impracticable. By these means, the general appearance of the town soon underwent a complete revolution. Homespun and homely fare were to be found only with a few hard-fisted old folks, whose ideas could never rise above labor and saving. The rest appeared so neat and genteel upon Sundays, that even the Rev. Mr. Drone, though I did not see that his flock had enabled him to exchange his own habiliments for Mr. Gosling's superfine, expressed his satisfaction by his complacent looks.
Mr Gosling, too, had in reality, considerably improved his circumstances. The greater part of my neighbours being already in debt to old Ledger and other traders about; and considering that if they took their money to these, it would only go to their credit, carried it to Mr. Goslings store; so that by these means he was soon able to clear off a number of his old encumbrances, and to carry to market as much cash as established his credit.
Among traders punctuality of payment begets confidence in the seller; and the credit which this affords to the purchaser, is generally followed by an enlargement of orders. My neighbour returned with a much greater supply; and here his reverses commenced. Credit could not be refused to good customers who had brought their money to the store. Those, also, who formerly showed their good will by bringing their cash, proved their present cordiality by taking large credits. But when the time for returning to the market for supplies arrived, Mr. Gosling had nothing to take thither but his books. These, it is true, had an imposing appearance. They contained debts to a large amount; and my neighbour assured his creditors, that, when they were collected, he would be able to pay them all honourably, and have a large reversion to himself. But, when his accounts were made out, many young men who owed him large sums, had gone to Passamaquoddy; and of those who remained, the greater part had mortgaged their farms to Mr. Ledger and the other old traders; and now carried their ready money to Jerry Gawpus, who had just commenced trader by selling his farm. In short, nothing remained for Mr. Gosling but the bodies or labours of his debtors; and these last they all declared themselves very willing to give.
About this time it happened that vessels were giving a great price; and it naturally occurred to my neighbour, that, by the labour which he could command, he might build a couple. These, accordingly , were put upon the stocks. But labour in payment of debt, goes on heavily; and besides, when vessels were giving two prices, nobody would work without double wages; so that the vessels, like the ark, saw many summers and winters. In the meantime peace came, and those who owned vessels were glad to get rid of them at any price. By dint of perseverance, however, Mr. Goslings were finished; but they had scarcely touched the water, when they were attached by Mr. Hemp, who at the same time declared, that, when they were sold, he would lose fifty per cent upon his account for the rigging. Such was my neighbours case; when, happening, as I already mentioned, to step into Parson Drones, I found that Mr. Gosling had been telling his ailments, and was receiving the reverend old gentlemans ordinary, clerical consolation. 'What cant be cured, must be endured; let us have patience.'
'Ill tell you what it is, parson, replied my neighbour, patience may do well enough for those who have plenty; but it wont do for me, Callibogus has foreclosed the mortgage; my vessels are attached; and my books are of no more value than a rotten pumpkin. After struggling hard to supply the country with goods, and to bring up a family so as to be a credit to the town, the country has brought us to ruin. I wont submit to it. I wont see my son Rehoboam, poor fellow, working like a slave upon the roads, with his coat turned into a jacket, and the elbows clouted with the tails. My girls were not sent to Mrs. MCackles boarding school to learn to scrub floors. The truth is, parson, the country does not deserve to be lived in. There is neither trade nor money in it, and produce gives nothing. __ it is only fit for Indians and emigrants from Scotland, who are starving at home. It is time for me to go elsewhere, and carry my family to a place that presents better prospects to young folks.
In reply, the parson was beginning to exhort Mr. Gosling to beware of the murmurings of the wicked; when Jack Catchpole, the constable, stepped in to say that the sheriff would be glad to speak with Mr. Gosling at the door. Our sheriff is a very hospitable gentleman; and when any of his neighbours are in hardship, he will call upon them, and even insist upon their making his house their home. Nor did I ever know any shy folks getting off with an excuse. As it occurred to me therefore, that Mr. Gosling might not come back for the parsons admonition, I returned home; and soon learned that my neighbour had really gone elsewhere, and made a settlement in the very place where Sampson turned miller.
The large number of vessels loading every summer at this port during this period, rendered it a favorite hunting ground for the press gang. For several years, scarce a summer passed without a visit of this kind, and many exciting scenes were the result. No sooner did a man-of-war cutter appear in sight, than it proved a signal for the boats to put off from the ships, carrying their crews to the land, who hastily betook themselves to the bushes, which were then close upon the town. I have witnessed, says one, the desperate race between the pursuer and pursued, and observed both parties land, the former somewhat behind; and it was a thrilling moment, when the press gang, with their cutlasses flashing in the sun, and firearms discharging, followed close upon the flying sailors. The firearms did little harm, and were, perhaps, not intended to be deadly. The sailors generally escaped to the woods. On one occasion a large force of seamen came from their retreat, each armed with a cudgel, and drove the man-of-war boat from the wharf. The commander threatened to bring the armed cutter up to the town and take revenge. He did not, however, execute his threat, perhaps considering that discretion was the better part of valor.
On another occasion, some sailors taking refuge in a store of Mortimers, their pursuers fired two shots through the door after them. Mortimer complained to the Admiral, and such was his influence, that the officer in command was reprimanded and ordered to apologize to him. He however only replied, that he could accept no apology for the act, as it was not an affront to him, but human life that had been endangered.
Among the visitors, was a Capt. Elm, a regular old sea dog, who more than once beat off a press gang, and it is said on one occasion, knocked a hole in the bottom of a man-of-wars boat, coming along side his ship.
On one occasion an embargo had been declared, and a convoy promised to protect the fleet to their destination. About fifty vessels were assembled, and were delayed a good part of the summer. One of the Captains died, and the funeral was a very pretty sight. The boats of all the ships were formed in a line and with colours at half mast, followed in regular procession the remains to the shore. They were landed at the Deacons wharf, and the sailors, all dressed in their best, followed them to the grave yard, where till recently a painted board marked the last resting-place of Capt. Sturm of the ship Symmetry.
The event however, connected with the press gang, which made most noise, was the pressing of two landsmen, Edward Crae and Matthew Allan, in the year 1808. They were two stout men, Allan being notorious as a bruiser. They had made themselves obnoxious to persons at Carriboo, who occupied the Cochrane grant as squatters, by cutting timber on it; and hence their capture was not objected to by some, and it was even believed, that it had been instigated by these parties. It took place on the day of a general muster, when the whole adult population were in town, and produced great excitement. They were taken on board ship and carried to the West Indies. When the House of Assembly met, they voted the proceedings oppressive and illegal, and requested the Governor to interfere in their behalf, which he promised to do; but before the order arrived in the West Indies for their relief, they had effected their escape by swimming ashore at Antigua.
Except, however, in its effect on trade, little was seen or directly felt in Pictou of the war. Annually the militia were called out, first for company drill in the different sections of the county, then for general muster and battalion drill, usually at or near town, and commonly in Mr. Mortimers field. Many thus attained considerable knowledge of military exercises, and they were even exercised in target firing with muskets. These occasions were to the youth scenes of amusement, and, alas, too often of drunkenness. In the year 1807, a portion of them were drafted to Halifax, and for some time were employed there, doing garrison duty, cutting fascines and erecting a palisade around the town. One who served with them at this time told me of another purpose, which their presence in Halifax served. A regiment was stationed there, composed of men who had been compromised in the Irish Rebellion, and who had enlisted to save their lives. Such was the desperate character of many of them, that until the militia arrived, their own officers were afraid to trust them in town.
Besides the ordinary militia, however, there was formed at this time, in Pictou town, a company of volunteer artillery, which was put through a regular system of drill, and attained to a respectable measure of efficiency. This company continued for years after to turn out and fire salutes on public occasions, even to a period within our own recollection.
During the later period of the war, particularly after the Americans had joined the foes of England, vessels loading were obliged to wait for a man-of-war, as a convoy, until sometimes there would be as many as fifty of them in the harbour at one time. So long were they obliged to wait that in some instances an adventurous captain stole out of the harbour, went to England, discharged cargo and returned before the rest sailed. We have only heard of one Pictou vessel captured. It was a schooner of brigantine commanded by Captain David Fraser, whom we have already mentioned as the first child born to the Hector passengers, and as an illustration of war times, we may here give an account of his adventures.
When about twenty years of age he went to Halifax, and thence to sea. Afterward we find him sailing out of the United States, and having risen to be mate of an ocean- going vessel. While in this position, he was taken by the Algerines, and the whole crew kept in close confinement. Fever or plague broke out among them, of which one after another died. The survivors were obliged to bury their companions, only a sort of wooden shovel being allowed them for the purpose, with which they scooped out a shallow pit in the sand. At last he was the only survivor. He was then given or sold as a slave to an old woman, to whom he was compelled to do all her drudgery. His old clothes became worn to tatters, and his skin blistered by the sun, but she allowed him no new supply. In this condition he obtained from a vessel a piece of old sail, with which he made a sort of garment, more expressive of the ingenuity of the maker than of fashionable elegance. Suspicions being allayed, so that he was not watched very closely, he one night swam out to a British vessel off the coast. He was taken on board, supplied with clothing and taken away in her. Falling in with an American vessel, in which the mate had died, the captain engaged him to supply his place. Thus he arrived back in Virginia, when the captain refused to pay him in wages. Fraser, however, having been previously in the American service, succeeded in compelling him to do so.
He next engaged in the secret trade carried on by the Americans with Europe, and for a time was successful, but finally his vessel was captured by one of Bonapartes cruisers, when she had on board three barrels of dollars, one of which belonged to himself. He was deprived of all and made an appeal to the Emperor, pleading that the Americans and French were not at war, but received the reply, When I pay the other bills of the Americans, I will pay that too!
From France he made his way to Stockholm, and thence to England, where he married. Soon after he returned to Pictou, with his wife and one child, after he had been just twenty years absent. Here he received a command of the vessel referred to, which was owned by Mr. Mortimer. But his ill luck seemed to follow him, for she was captured by Commodore Rogers, of the American navy. After a few things were taken out of her, she was by his orders set on fire. The crew were taken prisoners to Salem, but he made his escape and travelling by land, reached British territory, and the crew obtained their liberty the next spring by the return of peace. The vessel had originally been an American prize, and fitted up more handsomely than was usual in the colonial vessels at that time. When she was about to sail, one of his friends expressing sympathy for those who had lost her, he replied. Oh, its just the fortune of war. After his return home, he was describing, in the presence of the same friend, her capture by Commodore Rogers, and expressing his indignation at seeing her burning, Oh , said his friend, its just the fortune of war. ______ the fortune of war, was his irreverent reply.
This war brought to the county a number of coloured people, who had been originally slaves in Virginia, but who had escaped to the British fleet in Chesapeake Bay. John Currie, who only died in 1876, used to tell of swimming out to a man-of-war in a shower of bullets. Several families settled in the neighbourhood of the Town Gut stream, but nearly all have since moved to other places.
At this period commenced the making of roads fit for carriages, the first being that towards Halifax over Mount Thom. The troubles of travelers previously are thus amusingly sketched by a writer in the Acadian Recorder, in the year 1826:
Many a story have I heard from my father, of the disasters which befell travelers in his time, when there was only one road in the Province deserving the name, viz.: that from Halifax to Windsor and Annapolis. And with wonder I have heard him tell, that it cost as much as would pave it all over with dollars. The people of the best settlements found their way to this road or to another by a blaze; that is a mark made on a trunk of a tree here and there, in the proper course, for the purpose of directing travelers; but, in the younger settlements, travelers had to provide pocket compasses, and guessing their course, find their way through the forest, much in the same way as sailors do along the sea.
In going by the compass, the traveller sometimes, widely mistaking his course, missed entirely the intended settlement, and came in upon another, or missed all settlements, and traveled on, till he lost all hope of seeing a house, in which case he often believed the compass itself went wrong, and discrediting it, he wandered he knew not whither. Sometimes the traveller would be confounded desperately, for the compass needle would obstinately refuse to traverse, and he could not know east from west, north from south.
Travelling by a blaze was little better. He told us strange things of losing the blaze, and the impossibility of finding it again, of striking out a straightforward course, independent of the blaze, and yet, by and by, coming upon their own track again, -- of the snow being so driven against the trees as to hide the blaze, and causing frequent stops to rub it off, -- of its being so deep as to cover the blaze, and causing frequent stops to dig away the snow in order to discover it, -- of travellers being benighted by such stops, and lodging in the forest, where they had to kindle large fires on the top of the snow five or six feet deep, and there (dismal to be told !) one side next the fire was roasted and the other frozen. I have heard him tell of experienced travelers, who in such a case would kindle two fires, at a proper distance from one another, and lie down between them , and thus enjoy themselves luxuriously between two fires. In those days swamps were avoided as intolerable. The steep mountain sides were preferable, hence there are still many hills on our roads, which might now be easily avoided.
I have heard him tell of the great dangers and hair-breadth escapes from drowning, in crossing brooks and rivers swollen with unexpected rains; for in those days no journey would be undertaken immediately after a heavy rain. He had himself went different times for two or three days nearly fasting, until the subsiding of the water rendered the road passable. He told of horses swagging in swamps almost to the ears, and of the great difficulty of their riders. There were few taverns, but every man who had a hut was hospitable.
Any roads hitherto made were merely bridle paths. But now through Mr. Mortimers influence in the Legislature, liberal grants were obtained, and by means of these, and sums voted from the county funds, the road over Mount Thom was cleared of roots, and somewhat cast up. It was still rough and soft enough, but carriages could pass over it. Similar operations had been going on from the Truro side, and the two parties met at Salmon River, and celebrated the completion of the work in the manner usual in those times. This we suppose would be about the year 1810. In the year previous, Sir George Prevost, the Governor, visited Pictou accompanied by Michael Wallace and L.H. Hood, Esqs., and his A. D. C. Capt. Prevost. Miller , in his Record of the first settlers of Colchester , speaks of this as the first occasion of a four wheeled carriage, passing through Truro. But it did not come to Pictou, for the Governor and his party all arrived there on horseback. The first wheeled carriage that ever came to Pictou, is said to have been brought through, a year or two later, by Judge Monk, when attending the Supreme Court. Soon after, Mr. Mortimer imported a two wheeled carriage, which was the first owned in Pictou.
The late Mr. Matheson, however, used to boast, that he had taken the first loaded team over the road. It was on this wise: Mortimers supply of tobacco had become exhausted, and the other merchants were supposed to be in a similar situation. It being winter, no supply could be got by water. He therefore started by land with a rude sled, and returned by land with a puncheon of leaf tobacco, which was the only kind used then. The runners were not shod with iron, and so rough was the road, that he wore out three wooden shoeings.
In making roads at first, the circumstances above described rendered it absolutely necessary that they should be made on the high grounds. The lower lands in the driest seasons were troublesome, and in wet seasons, impracticable. Hence the first settlers, in choosing a line of road, simply selected the highest hills they could find, and made their way from one to another, where they could find the least low ground to traverse. When improvements began to be made, it was natural to make them upon the lines in use, especially as settlers had located themselves beside them. But now when large sums were being expended in making roads, it was certainly short-sighted policy, not to have sought something like level lines. By not doing so, much money was spent upon roads, which, as far as general travel was concerned, had to be abandoned, and from the interests of so many persons involved, it was difficult afterward to change for a better. Every miller, every blacksmith and every tavern keeper would fight hard against its removal. Hence for many years the road to Halifax went over the summit of Mount Thom in this county, and beyond it others as steep, such as Half-Moon Hill, Black Rock, &c., while the other roads were constructed on the same principle. Thus the road to the east climbed Green Hill at its steepest part, and went over the whole length of Frasers Mountain, besides a number of hills not so lofty.
Turning now to the ecclesiastical affairs of the period under review, we notice that in the year 1803, Pictou received an accession of one who had afterward a more than Provincial reputation, and one to whom, in some respects, Pictou is more indebted than to any other individual. We allude to the Rev. [afterward Dr.] Thomas McCulloch. He was a native of the parish of Neilston, Renfrewshire , Scotland. He received his philosophical education at the University of Glasgow, studied theology at Whitburn, under Professor Bruce, and was ordained as minister of a congregation in Stewarton, Ayrshire, but, did not long remain there. He arrived in Pictou in the month of November, 1803, with his wife and family, on his way to Prince Edward Island. Owing to the lateness of the season, he was unable to obtain passage thither that fall, and was engaged for the winter to supply the congregation of the Harbour, as it was called. In the following spring, he was called to be their pastor, and inducted on the 6th June, the very day that parties came from Prince Edward Island to take him over.
At that time the town, as it was beginning to be called, consisted as we have seen of sixteen or eighteen buildings, including barns, a blacksmith shop and the jail, closely environed by the woods. There was no church, but a place was fitted up in a shed of Captain Lowdens , on Windmill Hill, where service was held in summer, but in winter time it was in private houses, most frequently in the big room of McGregors tavern, which stood on the west side of George street, on the site of the long building erected by the late John Proudfoot, and which, we may here remark, was long one of the institutions of the place. That fall (1804) the frame of the church was erected on part of the same lot on which Prince Street Church now stands, but fronting down Margaret Street. It had a small belfry and in it a small bell, which has had rather a curious history. It was originally a ships bell, but was stolen from Mortimers Point and carried to Miramichi, where it was recognized by a gentleman who had been in Mr. Mortimers employment, and restored. It was presented to the church, and continued to be used till about the year 1822, when it became cracked, and was sent to Scotland to be recast. It was at the same time enlarged, and afterward presented to the college, where it is still in use, while the congregation ordered a larger one, for which, in the year 1824, they put a spire upon their church.
The sphere of Dr. McCullochs labours, as far as his congregation was concerned, was but limited. His was a mind, however, which in any place must have made its influence felt beyond the single spot where he might be located. As early as the year 1805, he projected an institution for the higher branches of education, especially for the benefit of dissenters, and particularly with the view of training a native ministry; but the scheme was not carried out, though it was not lost sight of. But of this we shall speak fully in another chapter.
From as early a period as 1807-8, we find him contributing to the public press; but circumstances soon brought him before the public in a discussion, which established his reputation as having no superior, perhaps no equal, in the Province, in learning, literary skill and controversial power. A controversy had arisen between the Church of England Bishop and the Rev. Edmund Burke, afterward Roman Catholic Bishop, a man of great learning, as well as an able writer. We have not seen the writings of either party, but it was generally agreed that the former was not a match for his antagonist, when Dr. McCulloch took up the cudgels, and, after some preliminary skirmishing, joined battle in a large 12 mo. volume, published in Edinburgh in the year 1808, entitled Popery condemned by Scripture and the Fathers; being a refutation of the principal Popish doctrines and assertions, maintained in the remarks on the Rev. Mr.Stansers examination of the Rev. Mr. Burkes Letter of Instructions to the Catholic Missionaries of Nova Scotia, and in the reply to the Rev. Mr. Cochranes fifth and last letter to Mr. Burke.
This produced a rejoinder from Dr. Burke, who was in every way a foeman worthy of his steel, and to this Dr. McCulloch again replied in a volume even larger than the first, entitled Popery again Condemned by Scripture and the Fathers; being a reply to a part of the Popish doctrines and assertions contained in the remarks on the Refutation, and in the Review of Dr. Cochranes letter by Edmund Burke, V.G., Que. To this , Dr. Burke attempted no reply. These two volumes, for learning and ability, excel anything we know of produced in the colonies. A portion of them has only a temporary interest, as connected with the controversy with Bishop Burke. But much the larger part is of permanent value, as a discussion of the great questions at issue between Protestants and Romanists.
Of his labors in connection with education we must reserve an account for another chapter.
The year 1808 witnessed another accession to the ministry of this county, in the Rev. John Mitchell, who settled in River John, taking the oversight of the people in that and the neighboring settlement of Tatamagouche. Mr. M. was a native of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, born in the year 1765. He was in early life a rope-maker, and had not received a classical education, but animated by an earnest desire to preach the gospel, he entered Hoxton Academy, when about thirty years of age.
In the year 1808 he was sent out to Quebec by the London Missionary Society. In the autumn of that year he removed to New Carlisle, on the Bay Chaleur, where he had his home for several years. Here he married Miss Shearer, a member of a loyalist family, that had been obliged to escape from the United States during the war, with the loss of their property, reaching British territory, under the guidance of two Indians, each carrying a child.
In the summer of 1803, he undertook a long missionary tour through New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, in the course of which he visited Pictou and most of the settlements along the coast. In autumn he removed to Amherst, where he continued to labor for some years.
In the year 1808 , he removed to River John, where he labored for a year without connection with any ecclesiastical body in the Province. But in the following year, though originally a Congregationalist, he joined the Presbytery of Pictou.
At the time of Mr.Mitchells settlement in Pictou, there were fifty families in River John, only three English, named West, Hines, and Gammon. Here he continued to labor with all diligence and faithfulness among his flock, pursuing the usual routine of a Presbyterian ministers duties. But he also extended his labors to Tatamagouche, which became part of his regular charge. There was no road worthy of the name between the two places, and consequently the travelling between them involved severe labor. Some time after, when New Annan was settled, he extended his labors to that settlement. In the work of the ministry over this field, much of which was in a wild, uncultivated state, he underwent much bodily fatigue, but he did it with the greatest cheerfulness.
In the year 1826 Tatamagouche and New Annan were formed into a distinct congregation, when his labours became much less severe. He enjoyed excellent health till near his end. A violent attack of gravel terminated in his death on the 8th May, 1841, when he was in the 76th year of his age.
Mr. Mitchell was above the ordinary size, well formed and sinewy, of a fair complexion and cheerful countenance. Although he made no pretensions to extent of learning, he was acute and possessed of a respectable share of general information. He was a good man, and his memory is much and justly revered.
In the year 1813, was formed the first Bible Society in Pictou. It was the second in the Province or in British America, that in Truro having being the first. But for several years previous, through the zeal of Dr. McGregor contributions had been forwarded to the Society. This had been done as early as the year 1808, so that it is admitted, that the first contributions to its funds from any British Colony, came from Pictou. We find the Secretary in a letter of 4th June, 1809, acknowledging a sterling bill for £80, and referring to one previously sent for £64. These sums were probably in part for Bibles sold, but in part also were a free contribution. For the better promotion of the objects of the Institution, it was deemed advisable to organize an auxiliary society. A meeting was accordingly held for the purpose in the old West River church, on the 16th day of April, of this year. The Rev. Dr. McGregor preached from I. Tim., iii.,1., and a society was formed, embracing the whole county, with Ed. Mortimer, President, and a committee of directors, consisting of so many from each congregation . In the first year, they remitted £75 to the parent society, of which £50 was a free contribution, and £25 for the purchase of Bibles and Testaments. In the second year, £50 was sent as a fee contribution, and in the third £75. In subsequent years the amounts diminished, but still something was done annually, and to this day the Institution has been supported more liberally in the County of Pictou, than in any other county in the Province.
In the year 1815, Pictou received its fifth minister, the Rev. William Patrick. He was a native of the parish of Kilsyth, County of Sterling, Scotland. In his younger years he was brought up in the Reformed Presbyterian Church, but connecting himself with the Secession Church, he studied theology under the Rev. Archibald Bruce, of Whitburn. He was for a number of years minister of a congregation in Lockerby, Scotland. On his arrival he was cordially called by the people of Merigomish, and inducted as their pastor on the fifth of November.
From the time he diligently performed all the duties of the pastoral office over the district, until increasing infirmity obliged him first to diminish his labours, and finally to relinquish them altogether. On the 7th May, 1844, the Rev. A. P. Miller was ordained as his colleague, after which he performed no public service. His weakness gradually increased, till suddenly , on being seized with a fit of sickness, which his exhausted constitution could not sustain, he calmly expired on the evening of 25th November, 1814, in the 73rd year of his age.
We may here give a few miscellaneous items connected with this period. The following weather notes from Dr. McGregors Memorabilia, may be of some interest:
In 1802 the winter was remarkably mild, all along till March 22nd, and then it grew severer in proportion as it was expected to depart, so that the beginning of May was more wintry than January. Little snow fell and it continued short, because of frequent thaws till March. March 22nd was more stormy than any preceding day. On April 6th, I crossed the river on very good ice. I could not cross the harbour in a boat April 18th. On April 27th and 28th, was the greatest storm of snow that had come through the whole winter. There was also a considerable storm on May 4th and 5th, and the wind almost constantly from the north till May 31st. There was much snow in the woods on May 9th. Ploughing was begun on May 6th, 7th and 8th. No wheat was sown till May 11th. Provender was so scarce that some could not plough for want of food for the oxen. It was the sickliest season that I remember. The principal complaint was a kind of pleurisy, owing, I suppose to the uncommonly changeable state of the weather.
In 1807, on the night of February 15th was a dreadful storm of wind and rain, which broke open the harbour, so that boats could pass and repass next morning, but on the next morning again, the harbour was frozen over. The bridge of the Middle River was carried off and the bridge of the East River injured by the storm. Boats were passing and repassing between Mortimers and Frasers Point the last week of February. On February 24th the river could not be crossed on the ice.
In the year 1807, the district was divided into three townships, Pictou, Egerton, and Maxwelton, the boundaries of which have been already given.
On the 12th November 1813, took place what was long remembered as the big storm. Many buildings were unroofed, in some instances, the roofs being carried bodily to some distance. Forests over a large extent of country were leveled as completely as they would be in a chopping frolic. Its severity lasted only a little over two hours, when there was a complete calm. Of its power in Halifax, Haliburton says, It commenced in Halifax at 5 0clock P.M., from the south east , and blew with extraordinary violence till seven. Upwards of 70 vessels were driven on shore, sunk or materially injured, and many lives lost.
About this time an attempt was made to manufacture salt from the saline springs, which rise from the Lower Carboniferous rocks, at the foot of Mount Thom, and which gave the name of Saltsprings to that settlement. The projectors were in England, and sent out an agent to superintend operations. He sank a shaft 200 feet deep, as if searching for the bed of salt. But from the position of the pit every body was satisfied, that it was in the wrong place. One man remonstrated with him, but he replied that he was getting £500 a year to find it, but he would receive so much, naming a larger sum, if he did not. A large quantity of iron was sent out to construct saltpans. It was hauled up at great expense, but the next spring it was all sold for old iron, the company having failed or ceased operations. About ten years later, parties commenced manufacturing salt from the brine of the spring. It proved of good quality, but they soon abandoned the work.
On the 26th of May, 1814, intelligence having arrived of the entry of the Allies into Paris and the abdication of Napoleon, a salute of 21 guns was fired from the Battery, and in the evening the town was illuminated and bonfires kindled on the surrounding heights.
The close of this period was signalized by the commencement of New Glasgow. A lot containing 500 acres, extended in from R. S. McCurdys store to below the new burying ground, had been originally granted to John McKenzie (the captains father), but was by him sold to Alex. McKay, the squires son, for £20. He employed Wm. Fraser (surveyor) to lay off the front in acre and half-acre lots. He gave a lot at the bank, to the south of where the bridge is now, to a man named Chisholm, usually known as Daddy Chisholm, who built upon it a small log-house on the bank of the brook. Here he and his wife (he had no children) lived and for a time were the only inhabitants of New Glasgow. About the year 1809 the late James Carmichael bought from McKay the lot adjoining, to the east, and erected a log building on the site at present occupied by his sons stone building, and commenced business in partnership with a Scotchman named Argo. This house was burned down in the year 1811, after which Mr.C. built another on the same site and resumed business, but by himself. He first traded with the people for ton timber, but afterward took butter, pork, and other farm produce. In the next period he was one of the most active merchants of the county, but here we may say of him that he was a man distinguished by his kindness of heart, his public spirit, and his readiness for every good work.
Soon after, Donald McKay
bought what is now Bells corner, and erected a blacksmith shop, where the shop
of James Fraser & Son now stands; and Hugh Fraser bought the lot between
it and the bridge, on the same side, and commenced business there. Kenneth McAskill,
a tailor, purchased the corner on the opposite side of Prevost street. The first
inn was kept by Angus Chisholm, in the corner house now occupied by Henderson,
where for long one of the old swinging signs invited the traveler to enter and
be refreshed. The first two-story building in New Glasgow was James McGregors,
now the Sheffield house, but it was not built till several years later.