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The depression of business in Britain at the close of the war brought a large immigration to this Province; and in the years immediately following a large number arrived at Pictou, of whom a large proportion removed to other places, but a good number settled in various parts of the county, filling up the settlements already formed and forming a few new ones. The latter we shall here notice.
At this period Dalhousie Mountain was settled. A large grant had been taken up there some years previous by persons in different parts of the country, under the idea that the soil was of very superior quality. Two of them gave each fifty acres gratis to Peter Arthur, a native of the Orkneys, on condition of his settling there. He accepted the offer, and located himself in the woods five or six miles from any settler, the nearest being at what was recently occupied by Mr. Charles Rogers. There, for months, he would not see the face of a human being, He built a log barn without the assistance of a single individual.
At the conclusion of the French war, the prices of farm stock in Britain fell to one-half their former rates, which led to a large emigration from the Lowlands of Scotland. A number of these (among whom may be mentioned five brothers Rae-John, George, William , James, and Robert-and John Adamson), all from Dumfriesshire, settled on Dalhousie Mountain about this time (1815-17). The land was covered with heavy hardwood timber, and they entertained high hopes, which were strengthened by the first few crops, which were good owing to the burning of the hardwood upon it. But the land proved rocky, the soil shallow and soon exhausted. The snow, too, in winter was deeper than in other parts of the county, and lay longer in spring. Their crops, too, suffered injury from frost. So that while, from their thorough Scotch industry, some of them did well, and all earned a subsistence, yet a number found it prudent to abandon their farms, so that places on which considerable labour had been expended, and comfortable buildings erected, are now unoccupied.
About the same time, a number of persons came from the Lowlands, particularly Dumfriesshire, and settled in various places. They were distinguished by steady industry and rigid economy, and they generally not only made a living but saved money. As an example of their sturdy energy, the following may be given. Three brothers Halliday settled between the Middle River and the West Branch East River. For five or six years all their cultivation was by the hoe. But at length one of them having a piece of land sufficiently cleared, was desirous of getting it ploughed. For this purpose, he brought a pair of oxen, plough and necessary gear, from Kerrs, on the Middle River, through the woods, over three miles, in the following fashion: He fastened the yoke to the horns of one ox and the chain on those of the other, and getting a boy to drive them, he put the plough on his own shoulders and carried it all that distance. Of their success we may give an example. The late Thomas Kerr, of Middle River, and James Roddick, having served their time together as millwrights, came out in the same vessel. Mr. Kerr described their position when they landed as follows : I had just half a sovereign and Roddick had just aughteen pence, and he bought half a puno tobacco wi it. Yet they died worth some thousands of pounds in property and money.
It is proper here to give a short notice of the early settlement of Earltown, which commenced about the same time, for although it is beyond the bounds of the County, it is both as to its origin and population closely connected with this County. We may mention that the settlement embraces that portion of the County of Colchester lying between the east line of the township of Onslow and the Pictou County line. It was first surveyed in the year 1817, by Alex. Miller, who gave it its name, in compliment to the Earl of Dalhousie, then Governor of the Province.
The first settlers were Donald McIntosh and Angus Sutherland, who took up their residence in the unbroken forest in the year 1813. The next to join them was Alex. McKay (tailor). Others followed soon after, among whom may be mentioned George Ross, Robert Murray, John Sutherland (father of the Rev. Alex. Sutherland), who afterwards moved to Rogers Hill, Paul McDonald, John McKay, Peter Murray, John McKay (miller, father of Rev. Neil McKay), William Murray (father of Revs.William and Robert Murray), R. Murray (tailor), William McKay, &c.
Of the early settlers, nearly all came from Sutherlandshire, chiefly from the parishes of Rogart, Lairg and Clyne. There were families from Inverness, two or three from Ross, and three or four from Caithness. All the original settlers spoke the Gaelic language, and it is still generally used by their descendants. Indeed, it is more generally spoken in Earltown than in any part of Nova Scotia proper. Still it received some admixture of others, for while it had old soldiers who, in the Highland regiments, had gone through the Peninsular War, and at least one who fought at Waterloo, it at the same time had a foreigner, who had been in the same battle under Napoleon, and the two, instead of being ready to embrace as brothers, were rather disposed to fight their battles over again.
Like all who took up their abode in the woods, the first settlers had many difficulties to encounter. They were for years without a grist mill. During that time they got their grain ground partly by the handmill, and partly at a grist mill at the West Branch River John. As there were no roads to the West Branch, and they had no horses, they were compelled to carry their grain on their backs to and from the mill, over a rough track. John McKay, known as the miller, put up the first grist mill, at a fall fifty feet high, resembling the Fall of Foyers in Scotland. The mill-stones that were used in it were taken from the West Branch, a distance of fourteen miles, on a drag hauled by 36 sturdy Highlanders. Mr. McKay, we may here observe, was proverbial for his kindness to the new settlers, and his hospitality, which was shared by many a stranger.
The early settlers were strong, industrious and economical. They were poor at first, but with great perseverance, they made themselves comfortable homes. There are men in Earltown to-day, who settled forty years ago in the woods without a guinea in their pockets, who have fine houses, large barns, excellent farms and considerable sums at interest. The inhabitants at that time were all connected to the Church of Scotland, but for several years they were without a minister. In consequence of this, persons sometimes carried their children to Pictou, a distance of twenty five miles, to be baptized. They were occasionally visited by a Minister of the Church of Scotland, and on such occasions it was not uncommon to see him baptize twenty or thirty children at once. Rev. W. Sutherland was the first minister who settled at Earltown. He was never called or inducted into the congregation, but remained ministering to a few who adhered to him till his death. The Rev. Alexander Sutherland, of the Free Church of Scotland, was the first minister who was called by the people, and ordained in the place. He was settled in the year 1845. Though the people were for years without a minister, they did not forsake the assembling of themselves together. There were among them men eminent as Christians, intimately acquainted with the truths of religion, and able to express themselves in a manner fitted to edify others. The Men, as they were called, held meetings regularly each Sabbath in the several parts of the settlement, and were the means of maintaining vital godliness among the people.
About the same time, the settlement of New Annan began. It lies about seven miles to the south of Tatamagouche, in the county of Colchester, and forms an oblong square about ten miles long by seven wide. The first settler was Mr. John Bell, a native of Annandale, in Dumfriesshire, Scotland. He emigrated to Nova Scotia in 1806, but did not settle in New Annan till the year 1815. For some years previous to this, he had worked in Tatamagouche, but attracted by the seemingly fertile, and withal somewhat romantic district, with its well wooded hills, he selected as his future home a place on the banks of the French River, and about the center of the present settlement-quite a pleasant, pretty spot, and occupied by his descendants to this day. Here he cut the first tree, and erected the first house , of course a log one, in New Annan, to which he removed his family. For six long and dreary years he dwelt alone in the wilderness. During all that time his nearest neighbor was six miles distant, but others followed. Speedily William Scott, James McGregor, Thomas Swan, and Mr. Byers, all from the same district in Scotland, and Mr. James Munro, took up positions near him.
Mr. Bell was a pious man, and so were the others, and they therefore soon felt the want of public worship. The nearest place of preaching was Tatamagouche, to which the Rev. Mr. Mitchell, of River John, gave part of his services. Many a day the more vigorous of them trod their seven miles on a Sabbath morning, over hills, through marshes, covered with fallen trees, and across the French River to hear the Gospel. But all could not travel such a distance, or surmount such difficulties. Mr. Bell therefore and a few others formed themselves into a prayer meeting, and held worship in a school house near Mr. Bells, for such as were unable to travel to Tatamagouche.
After a time Mr. Mitchell extended his labors to New Annan, giving them occasional supply. But his visits were valued all the more for their rarity. At that time there was not the semblance of a road about New Annan, or even Tatamagouche. He had to travel by the seashore or blazed paths through the woods. Several of the young men were in the habit of going to meet him on his journeys, and now grey-haired sires, tell of their exploits, as skating down French River and along Tatamagouche Bay, to attend on sacramental occasions at River John.
From their sturdy Scotch industry and frugality, theses settlers soon attained to comparative comfort, and many of their descendants are in good circumstances. But though the district has a considerable amount of good soil, yet portions of the hills, which appeared to be rich, and which, when first cleared, gave good crops, were found in a few years to lose their fertility. The population is estimated at between twelve and fifteen hundred. As in many other places, the majority of the young of both sexes go abroad when they reach the age of eighteen or twenty.
To the same period belongs the settlement of Pictou Island. It is about five miles long and on an average about a mile and three quarters wide, and contains an area of 3263 acres. It lies off Pictou Harbour, a little to the northward, the east end being distant about ten miles from its entrance, and the west end five and three quarters miles from Big Cariboo Island light house. It has no harbour even for a boat. Toward the east end, the land rises to the height of about 150 feet, but in other parts it is occupied by swamps. The soil is fertile, being generally a sandy loam, and yields good crops of hay, grain and the vegetables of temperate climates, but there is no fruit raised upon it, partly we have no doubt, because the exposure to sea air is unfavourable to its culture, but partly, we believe, from want of attention on the part of the inhabitants. The only wild animals are the fox, the rabbit and the musk rat. There are no squirrels, rats , toads, and the frogs are but little larger than grasshoppers. As to serpents it is as free from them as old Ireland itself.
One or two incidents connected with the island previous to its settlement may here be given. On one occasion an Indian and his squaw in proceeding from Prince Edward Island to Pictou landed at Rogers Beach, and remained for the night. In the morning the unfaithful husband sent her into the woods for something to repair his canoe. But after she left, he started with it, and landed at Cariboo, where he asserted that his wife had died on P.E.Island, and that he had buried her on the beach. This was in the beginning of winter. But the unfortunate woman erected herself a rude hut in the woods, where she subsisted all winter on shellfish and rabbits, clothing herself and covering her hut with skins of the latter. In the following spring, she was rescued by some Indians, who had disbelieved the deserters story. It is said that he was burned by the other Indians.
The island containing originally some good wood, the late John Brown of Browns Point and another man, spent a winter on the island making staves. Their supply of provisions became exhausted before the ice broke up. And they resolved on making the perilous attempt of crossing on the rotten ice and open water to Carriboo. The inhabitants of that place seeing their situation came to their assistance, and they were rescued.
For two successive springs, two men named Campbell, and Patterson of Pictou were burning lime on the island, for which they brought coal from a small seam on Carriboo Island. On one of their trips to Pictou, they were nearly suffocated , by the sea breaking over their boat and slaking the lime.
The island was originally granted to Admiral Sir Alexander Cochrane. In the year 1814, he sent William Cumming as his agent to settle the island. He was accompanied or soon followed by three families, named Boyd, Hogan and Morris, all four being from Ireland.
In 1819 John McDonald, Donald McDonald and Charles Capmpbell arrived. In the following year Kenneth McKenzie who had served in the 78th Highlanders, purchased the property of Cumming, and acted as agent. These were all Highlanders, and there soon arose a strife between them and the Irish, which became so bitter as to sometimes leaves marks of violence on the persons of the contending parties. Probably in consequence of this, the Irish soon after left the Island. Just before they did so, a fire broke out, which consumed the greater part of the forest, the origin of which was attributed to the wife of one of them.
Shortly after, John McDonald (2nd) and Hugh McCallum arrived, and they were soon followed by several of their relatives, The population is now 129, 57 males and 72 females.
We now turn to notice the progress of the settlement on the other side of the county. William McKenzie, a native of Sutherlandshire, who had emigrated in the year 1803, and had first settled at Lower Barneys River, removed to the Upper Settlement in the year 1807, where he was the first settler. He was the father of the surveyors and located himself at Kenzieville, where his son s still live. Donald Robertson, who had emigrated from Perthshire in the year 1801, and at first settled at the foot of the river, removed in 1819 to the Upper Settlement, and took up his abode near McKenzies about a mile farther down the river. About this time (1819-21)] Angus McKay, the elder, a native of the parish of Clyne, Sutherlandshire, and with him Simon Bannerman, Gordon Bannerman, old John Sutherland, of the kilt, a man who never wore trousers in his life, with his family, who were numerous, and several others, all from Sutherlandshire, settled in the upper woods of Barneys River, There were also a few Lowlanders, among whom may be mentioned William Irving, from Dumfriesshire, who settled at Barneys River in the year 1820, who has left a large number of descendants there.
It may be mentioned that in the years just previous, (1810- 1816), James Haggart, from the parish of Kenmore, in Perthshire, with others from Blair Athol, settled in the valley of Piedmont. This name was given to it afterward by the Rev. Dugald McKeichan, the first minister of Barneys River, from its situation at the foot of a range of hills. James Mappel settled in Marshy Hope, a valley in the Antigonish Mountains, leading into Antogonish County, where Angus McDonald now lives. When his neighbours were in the habit of advising him to leave that marshy place, because the frost injured all his crops, his uniform reply was, I hope it will improve. Hence his neighbours made a remark, that his hope was a marshy hope, from which circumstance arose the name of the Valley. John McLean (the poet) settled at East Branch of Barneys River, and after a time removed to Antigonish County. He was a native of the Island of Coll.
Between the years 1830 and 1840, a number of other families came from the counties of Sutherland and Perth, and took up land in the same settlement, among whom were John McDonald, the weaver, and his brother Duncan, James Forbes, William Sutherland, Donald Bruce, James Leadbetter, John Bannerman, Donald McKay, Robert Ferguson, besides others.
William Urquhart, from Glen Urquhart in Scotland, settled at Blue Mountain soon after the year 1815, and was the first settler there. William Ross, the elder, came out from the same parish and joined him in the year 1818. He was the first who gave the name Blue Mountain to that district of country. Along with him came Roderick McDougald, Senr,. John Austen, and others; and in the year 1820, came Donald Campbell, John Munroe, and others, who settled at Moose River. About the same time also other families, McLarens from Argyleshire, Kennedys and McDougalls from the Island of Mull, settled on the old St. Marys Road.
The people of the Blue Mountain are chiefly from Glen Urquhart, and the neighbouhood of Beauly and Kirkhill, in Inverness, with a few from Ross-shire and a few from the Lowlands, among whom may be mentioned the Meikle family, descendants of James Meikle, Senr., who came from the South of Scotland near the English border.
Sometime after 1830, William McDonald from Caithness came to the Garden of Eden and took up his abode there. He was called the Adam of the garden, because he was the first settler and the oldest man there. Along with him came his sons, John, Alexander, and George, also his son-in-law William Miller, and he was followed by others from Caithness and Ross-shire.
At the beginning of this period, the district of St. Marys was attracting a good deal of attention, as a desirable place or settlement, and quite a number of persons moved thither from this county. It was specially noted for its magnificent timber, extensive intervales, rivers teeming with fish, and the abundance of game in the forest. The very first settlers were from Truro, who built the first house in Glenelg in 1801, but the great body of those who followed were from Pictou. In the year 1810, William Kirk, one of the old 82nd, removed from Green Hill and settled at Glenelg, and in the same year, John McLean and his son James came from West River and settled at Stillwater. In 1813, Alexander Hattie moved over and settled on the Easy River of St. Marys, about two miles beyond the county line, and in the year following, McKenzie from Green Hill settled at the head of Stillwater.
At the same period, Caledonia was settled, almost entirely by Pictonians. In the year 1810, Angus McDonald moved over and settled in Lower Caledonia. His posterity are now numerous along the river. About the same time, Simon Fraser, located himself near him, but he subsequently moved to Glenelg. In 1812, Donald Cameron came over from Green Hill and settled in Middle Caledonia, and in the same year, John McDonald from West Branch, East River, took up land in the same vicinity. In 1814, Angus, John and Neil McQuarrie, took up lands still farther up. They came from Scotland in 1810, but had been living in Churchville. Others from Pictou followed, but these may be given as the pioneers.
A part of the East River of St. Marys belongs to Pictou County, and we must now more particularly notice its early settlement, which began at this period. The land had been previously granted by Government to David Archibald, previously of Truro, then of Sherbrooke, and others, in blocks of 2000 acres each. The grantees however did not settle or make any improvements upon their lots, and the actual settlers had to buy from them.
The first man who crossed the water shed with his family, to settle on the East River of St. Marys, on the Pictou side of it was Mr. Alexander McKay. He came over from Fish Pools in July, 1815, taking with him his wife and seven children. From Webster Mills, McLennans Mountain, to St. Marys, a distance of 22 miles, was an unbroken forest, with a bridle path through it for half the distance, and only a blaze for the rest. The only possible modes of travel were on horseback or on foot. Four horses were secured for the journey. The larger children were lashed on the backs of the horses, with the luggage, while the smaller were carried in the arms of the parents or of the drivers, who trudged along on foot. One of the horses belonged to Mr. McKay, but soon after the poor brute, being tired of the lonely life in the forest, set out to return to the haunts of civilization, but lost sight of the blaze, or in confidence in its own superior wisdom , took a straighter course and perished in a swamp. It was five or six years after before Mr. McKay could obtain another, not altogether however from the objections of the animal to live in such a solitude.
Later in the same summer (1815), three others followed in McKays steps, and settled farther down the river, viz., John McBain, John Matherson and Hugh Fraser, and later still in the season , Angus Cameron arrived, adding the fifth family to the little community. McBain and Cameron settled on the west side of the river, and the others on the east. By the last running of the county line, McBains land on one side of the river, and Frasers on the other, are thrown into Guysborough County. We may add that at this time there were but three settlers about Glenelg Lake, and only one farther up the river.
The traveler passing through this section of country at the present day, admires its broad, fertile, and well cultivated intervales, hemmed in by ridges of forest clad hills, and dotted by feathery elms. But a grander sight met the gaze of the early pioneers, from the brow of the mountain they had to cross in reaching it. On the west of the river down to the margin of the valley, was a pine forest, which stretched away without a break to the Musquodoboit River, while to the north and east a sea of rolling hills extended in the direction of Barneys River and Lochaber. Much of this forest remains, the glory of the hills, to this day. The timber of the valley is said to have been very large. Elms three and four feet through ran up without knot or limb, for 50 or 60 feet, and maples, oaks, and birches of equal or greater size, with here and there a giant pine, covered its surface, and seemed to smile defiance upon the puny efforts of the feeble band, now attempting to dispossess these monarchs of the forest, that had occupied the ground undisturbed for centuries.
All these pioneers had visited the locality several times before taking up their abode there, and had done some chopping and burning, had erected rude huts, and that spring had planted a few potatoes. That year, however, as we shall see presently, was the year of the mice, and thus their only crop became the prey of these creatures. The larger tubers they scooped out, eating or carrying away the contents, and the smaller they dragged to their holes in stumps and logs. The following spring, the settlers carried their seed from McLennans Mountain, except a little that they brought from Lochaber, nearly as far. But this again was the year of the frost, so that they were doomed to reap no harvest, except a little fodder for their cattle. We may add that for many years, until the forests were well cleared away, the frost continued to be very destructive along the valley. In consequence, for the first five or six years, they had little bread of any kind. Even after their clearings enlarged, and the frost and mildew became less destructive, they still had many hardships to endure. For years they had to dry their oats in pots, and shell them with their feet in barrels and boxes, and then carry the groats on their backs, or in winter drag them on handsleds, to Archibalds mill at Glenelg to be ground.
But otherwise they did not want for food. The river swarmed with fish, especially trout , salmon and gaspereaux. Eels also were abundant, but they were regarded rather as an enemy, for unless the nets were watched, they would eat the salmon in them as soon as they were caught. They would do this in a way that was always a marvel to those who were witnesses of the feat. They would eat the whole fish except the skin and the backbone, turning the skin inside out without breaking a single joint of the latter. Moose and Caribou were numerous, and partridges and rabbits were snared or looped, and often proved an acceptable addition to their larder. Even the porcupine sometimes found its way to their table. Bears were very numerous, but having abundance of food in the forest, very considerately abstained from disturbing the settlers for a number of years.
In subsequent years, settlers continued to arrive. In 1817, another Angus Cameron came over from McLennans Mount, and settled on the East side of the river between McKay and Fraser. In 1821, he was followed by Alexander Sutherland, who located himself farther up the river. In 1826, James Cameron removed from McLennans Mount, and occupied the place vacated by John Matheson, who had left. The same year John Hattie settled on the West side of the river. In 1831, three families of Gunns arrived from Scotland and occupied lands, between McKay and Sutherland.
Among the hardships to which these people were exposed, particular mention must be made of the want of a road. When they first settled here, they had above twenty miles of forest to traverse to reach a neighboring settlement, and one incident may illustrate the inconvenience of such a situation. Twenty years after their settlement, a young man, whose head is now white with the snows of age, had exchanged his solitary life for the social, and had erected his humble log home, but, not many weeks after his marriage, discovered that housekeeping was inconvenient without dishes. So he set out on his snowshoes for New Glasgow, and there purchased a set of cooking utensils, consisting of an oven, two pots, a kettle, two teapots, a half dozen cups and saucers, a half dozen plates of large size, with as many smaller ones, and a half dozen knives and forks. He succeeded in getting these conveyed on a sled, as far as there was any thing of a road, or to within twelve miles of his home. He then donned his snowshoes, fastened all the above mentioned articles about his person, and though heavily laden, he never came home with lighter heart to meet the partner of his life.
Not until Captain McKenzie became member for Pictou in 1855, and in the year following obtained a grant for a road from Garden of Eden to St. Marys, was it possible to ride in a wheeled vehicle, between these two places. Even in winter it was long before a sleigh road was opened. The fathers still tell of the way in which they used to fasten two poles to a horse after the fashion of shafts, with the lower ends trailing behind, and kept together by a cross piece, and with long wooden pins driven into the upper side, on which they laid their pork, which they dragged in this manner to the Garden. Even down the river toward Glenelg, there was no possible road to market or mill, for fifteen years after they settled there. In the winter the hand-sleigh, and in the summer the canoe, when the river was sufficiently swollen, were the only means of conveying burdens, excepting on shoulder or horseback.
Of the first settlers, Alex. McKay, the pioneer, deserves special mention, as probably possessing the greatest amount of strength and activity combined, of any man that was ever in the County. He was a son of Alex. McKay, whose name appears among the immigrants of 1784, and was born near Beauly, Inverness. He came with his father to this Province, when a boy of about 12 years of age. On the passage, he performed a feat which showed his daring and dexterity. He and another boy having climbed up the mast , two sailors followed with ropes, intending to tie them. One of them caught the other boy, but McKay seizing the top-mast stay, swung himself from it by his hands, and then passed hand over hand to the other mast, by which he descended to the deck, while the bystanders looked on in terror.
When a young man, he chased and caught a caribou calf. The Indians have a saying regarding the young of the animal, one day old, Indians catch him, two days old, dog catch him, three days old Mundous himself no catch him. However McKay being in the woods with some others, they started a herd, and this calf became separated from the rest. He pursued it, endeavouring to drive it in the direction the opposite from that in which its companions had gone, at the same time watching lest the dam should turn upon him. After a short chase it tripped in crossing a tree, and fell, and in an instant he was upon it. He took the animal home where it became quite tame. He afterwards exchanged it for a heifer with Squire McKay, who sent it as a present to the Governor, Sir John Wentworth, receiving in return a present of 2000 acres of land in St. Marys. It was afterward sent to the Tower of London, where it continued for several years, being the first animal of the kind in that collection.
Many stories are told of his mingled physical power and dexterity in his mature years. We give a specimen. A bull had become wild, and was shut up in a barn, where none dared to approach him. McKay was sent for. On arrival he gave orders to open the door, while he stood beside it. As the animal rushed out, he seized him by the horns, threw him on his back and held him as long as necessary. He was much engaged in lumbering, but neither river-driving nor the other concomitants of that mode of life, ever seemed to affect his constitution. When between 80 and 90 years old, he could mow his swathe with younger men, and lived to be 97 years of age.
All the settlers were economical, industrious and religious. About the year 1826, they hired Hugh Cameron, subsequently of Wentworth Grant, as their first teacher, and about the same time, they started a Sabbath school; and with slight interruptions, both have been continued since with the happiest results.
The first minister who preached to them was the Rev. Dr. McGregor, who about the year 1817, in one of his missionary excursions to Glenelg and Sherbrooke passed up the bed of the river on horseback. But with the exception of McKay, all the settlers adhered to the Church of Scotland. At the Disruption, the majority joined the Free Church, and obtained a portion of the services of the Rex. Alex. Campbell of Lochaber. Two small churches were built, but now the people have all united with the Presbyterian church in Canada, and have erected a larger and more comfortable place of worship.