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COUNTY OF PICTOU
From the Peace Till the Financial Crisis of 1825-6
1815 - 1826
Up to this period the history of the county had been one of continued and for some time rapid progress. Population and wealth had increased at a rate, which, compared with what has since been seen in the Western States, might even be considered slow, but which at that time was regarded as quite remarkable. From this time forward however for some years, its progress was very slow, and indeed in some respects it seemed for a time to have been stationary, or even to have retrograded. In the town of Pictou or its neighbourhood, property sold as high in 1815, as it did forty years later, and some farms brought larger sums at the former period, than they would now, and from that time there has been more or less emigration from Pictou, many especially of the young going abroad.
The first interruption to its continued prosperity was by the peace of 1815. The change largely affected the whole Province. The author of Agricolas letters thus describes it:-
During the war, money here arising from the expenditure of the British Government, and from the sale of the rich cargoes and ships, which were daily brought in by our cruisers, was not only in brisk circulation, but in great abundance. The ships of war, which lay in the harbours, the various establishments of dockyard, ordnance and barracks, the strangers who resorted hither on the commercial speculation, contributed to create an uncommon demand for all sorts of produce; and as these were before inadequate to the ordinary wants of the community, they fell now infinitely short of the extraordinary consumption, to which the exigency of the times gave rise. During the whole of this period, the prices obtained by the occupier of the lands for whatever he could bring to market, were prodigiously high and far outran the cost of production. Hay sold at from ten to twelve pounds per ton, and was frequently at fifteen; beef and mutton varied from 8d to 10d. per pound; potatoes, turnips, and beets were oftener above than below 5s. per bushel, and all vegetables were exorbitant in like proportion. During this unprecedented prosperity, no exertion was needed by the farming body to earn a subsistence. The rewards of the most moderate labour were so ample, that they begat habits of indolence and luxury; but excited not to new energy or a more spirited cultivation. Our landholders, satisfied with the enormous prices they obtained for beef and hay, and trusting that the springs of wealth, which flowed so copiously, would be perennial, discerned not the dark cloud at a distance, which was gathering round to overcast their horizon. Peace came and at once dried all the sources of this artificial prosperity. Real estate fell almost in an instant, trade declined, land produce was lowered by the effects of this general depression, and in about a two years after the ratification of the treaty of Paris, an universal gloom had settled over the Province.
As the County of Pictou was less dependant on the war expenditure, than some other parts of the Province, and as the inhabitants had relied more on trade than on agriculture, the effects of the peace were not so disastrous or so immediate, as have been described, but still the effects were felt to a considerable extent. The rural population however were especially discouraged by two calamities which came upon the county at this period in successive years (1815-16), which we shall now notice.
The former year was long distinguished in this, as well as in the neighbouring counties of Colchester and Antigonish, as the year of the mice. This was a most destructive visitation, from which this portion of the county suffered from these seemingly insignificant animals. During the previous season they did not appear in any unusual numbers. But at the end of Winter, they were so numerous as to trouble the sugar makers, by fouling their troughs for gathering sap, and before planting was over, the woods and fields alike swarmed with them. They were of the large species of field mouse, still sometimes seen in the country, but which has never since been very numerous.
They were very destructive and actually fierce. If pursued, when hard pressed, they would stand at bay rising upon their hind legs, setting their teeth and squealing fiercely. A farmer on whom I could rely told me, that having after planting, spread out some barley to dry in the sun before his door, in a little while he saw it covered with them. He let the cat out among them, but they actually turned upon her and fought her.
The late sown grain and the seed potatoes suffered from them; * but it was when the grain began to ripen, that their destructiveness became especially manifest. They then attacked it in such numbers, that all means were unavailing to arrest their ravages. They have been known to cut down an acre in three days, so that whole fields were destroyed in a short time. One would nip a stalk off a little above the ground, and instead of falling over, the end sank to the ground, leaving it still upright, he would bite it off farther up, until it either fell over, or the ear came within his reach, when he would devour all the grain.
Over acres on acres, they left not a stalk standing, not a grain of wheat , to reward the labours of the farmer. They burrowed in the ground and consumed the potatoes. Cat, dogs, and martens gorged themselves to repletion upon them, but with little seeming diminution of their numbers. Trenches were dug and filled with water, but they formed but a slight barrier to their progress.
* A man in Merigomish had made a clearing out at Piedmont in the woods. He carried out four bushels of oats to sow. On commencing, they came in swarms eating the grain as he sowed it. After continuing a while, he threw the whole to them in disgust, and returned home.
They passed away as rapidly as they came. In the Autumn, as the weather became colder, they became lanquid, scarcely able to crawl. One could trample them under his feet and finally they died in hundreds, so that they could be gathered in heaps, and their putrefying carcases might be found in some places in such numbers as to taint the air. At Cape George they went to the water, and there died, forming a ridge like seaweed along the edge of the sea, and codfish were caught off the coast with carcases in their maws.
Notwithstanding the unprecedented prosperity, which the country had enjoyed for about twenty years, such were the spendthrift habits engendered during that period, that the people were not prepared to meet such a calamity, and it was therefore felt very severely. But it was followed by what was long known as the year of the frost, which left a large portion of the inhabitants in a suffering condition. The year 1816 was known throughout the northern parts of this Continent, and also in Europe, as the year without a Summer. In the Northern States, frost, ice, and snow were common in June. Snow fell to a depth of ten inches in Vermont, seven in Maine, and three in Central New York. On the 5th July, ice was formed of a thickness of common window glass throughout New England, New York, and some parts of Pennsylvania. In August ice was formed half an inch thick. Indian corn was so frozen that the greater part was cut down for fodder. Indeed almost every green thing was destroyed. A similar state of things existed in England. During the whole season, the suns rays seemed to be destitute of heat. All nature seemed to be clad in a sable hue. The average whole-sale price of flour during that year in Philadelphia was $13 per barrel. The average price of wheat in England was 97s, per quarter.
Here, the frost was hard in the woods in the month of June, provisions were high and from the destruction of crops the previous year by the mice, many were suffering, and nearly all the farmers were put to some inconvenience, for want of food for their families. Alexander Grant (miller), of the East River, went to Halifax to obtain a supply. He there bought 70 barrels flour, for which he had to pay £3 per barrel. On his way back on the 5th June, he stayed all night at a tavern between Halifax and Truro, and in the morning the ground was frozen so hard, that it carried his horse. The flour came round by water, and he went down to town to bring it up the East River, which he did on a coal lighter. On his way up on the 16th, he saw a man trying to harrow his ground, where he had sowed some grain, and wearing a great coat in consequence of the cold. That night being Saturday, he put the flour into a barn owned by the late James Carmichael, Esq., who had shortly before begun to do business, where New Glasgow now stands. On Monday morning, before he reached the spot, there were as many assembled, as there were barrels of flour, and no sooner was the door opened, than a rush was made, and each man seized a barrel, asking no questions as to the price, and it was with some difficulty that he saved one for his own family.
In the same year, Mr. Grant and his brother Robert, erected the first oatmill in Nova Scotia, probably the first in B.N. America, on the site still occupied in the same way, and known as Grants Mills. Very little oatmeal had been used previously. Small quantities were sometimes brought out in vessels, and sometimes the country people manufactured a little in a coarse way, by roasting the grains in a large pot and afterwards separating and grinding the groats. But now Mr. Grant constructed a regular oatmill driven by water, of which the gear was made by a millwright, named Duff. It was still, however, somewhat rude in structure. Instead of iron over the kiln, the grain was supported on wooden slats, the edges of which were bevelled on the lower side, and there were no fanners. Indeed fanners were not then commonly used even by the farmers. Hence after the grain had been dried, they were obliged to carry it to the top of a hill near, and piously wait till Providence sent a wind sufficient to separate the shells from the kernels. But the next year, he constructed fanners driven by the mill.
At this time agriculture seems to have engaged attention, and accordingly, the first agricultural society in rural districts of the Province, was formed on the 1st January, 1817, at West River. This was before the publication of the letters of John Young, under the signature of Agricola. A meeting was held some time before, at which the resolution was adopted, to form a society for the improvement of agriculture, to be called The West River Farming Society. Accordingly the Society was regularly organized at that date, 26 persons joining, and the following being elected office bearers:- Rev. Duncan Ross, President; Robert Stewart, Vice- President; Donald Fraser, Treasurer; John Bonnyman, Secretary; David McCoull, John Oliver, Anthony Smith, George McDonald, John McLean, Jonathan Blanchard, Committee. They seem to have had a poet among them also, for in the front of their minute book, the following appears as their motto:
Let this be held the farmers creed,
For stock seek out the choicest breed,
In peace and plenty let them feed,
Your lands sow with the best of seed,
Let it not dung nor dressing want,
And then provisions wont be scant.
By the rules then adopted, each member was to pay 5s. entry money and 1s. 3d. quarterly; no persons were to be admitted but farmers and freeholders of good moral character. And to insure continued good behaviour, it was enacted, that, if any member shall curse or swear or use any indecent language, or introduce any subject inconsistent with the business of the Society, he shall be fined by the President and a majority of the members present, in a sum not exceeding 5s.
The Society was to meet quarterly, and at each meeting a topic or topics, connected with rural economy, was to be discussed, each member to come prepared either with a written essay, or to speak on the subject, the question selected for the first quarterly meeting in April, being, What is the best method of preparing and increasing manure? It served to elicit differences of opinion, for one man rose and said, that instead of finding ways of making more, he wished they would find some way of getting quit oit , for it was just a bother about his barn.
The Society continued to hold quarterly meetings, and to discuss agricultural topics. In the year 1818, they held a ploughing match in Mr. Mortimers field, said to have been the first ever held in the Province. They imported seed grain, agricultural implements, and Ayrshire cattle. They also held some cattle shows, at which prizes were given for the best stock. They also gave prizes for the best acre of wheat and other crops, the greatest amount under summer fallow, and to the person who should stump and plough fit for crop the greatest quantity of land never ploughed before, not more than three stumps per acre left on the land, and all stones that materially obstruct the operation of ploughing and harrowing to be removed, the quantity to be not less than two acres. In April, 1824, they offered £7 10s., in addition to the Legislative grant, for a flax mill. Anthony Smith, Esq., undertook to erect one. It was commenced that year, and in the following he received a prize for it, being the first of the kind erected in the Province. It did not however work long, as it did not receive sufficient employment to maintain it.
In the year 1819 the name was changed to the Pictou Agricultural Society, and Ed. Mortimer elected President, and some time after we find them presenting the Rev. Duncan Ross with a new plough, to be one of Wilkies best, as an expression of their sense of his services to the cause of agriculture.
In the year 1820, we find a notice of a similar society on the East River, of which Dr. McGregor was Secretary. Others were formed in other parts of the country, and continued for some time, aided by grants from the Central Board, and had considerable effect in improving the habits of our farmers.
In the year 1819, the whole community was shocked by the most dreadful murder probably ever committed in the Province,- viz., that by Donald Campbell of his father and stepmother. He was a simple ignorant man, but not previously regarded as violent or cruel. He was an only son, but his father had taken a second wife, and he was afraid, that in consequence he would lose his share of the paternal estate. This led him to form the design of destroying them both. Up till the time of committing the deed, ha had given no such indications of hostility to them, as to excite any alarm. He lived at Earltown, but on the day before the commission of the deed, he was in town, and on his way back, called at his fathers house, which stood on what is now Dinwoodies farm, and there obtained refreshments. He then started on his way homeward, calling at houses on his way as far as West Branch River John, with the design doubtless of producing the impression, that he had gone home. But when night came, he retraced his steps towards his fathers house, which was a small one constructed of logs. Arriving there, he fastened the door by means of withes attached to the handle of the latch, and then set it on fire, while his father, and stepmother were asleep. They were awakened by the fire, and succeeded in forcing the door open. They then commenced removing their things from the house, uttering at the same time loud cries for assistance. Donald was on the watch, and as his father was coming out with a large iron pot, he struck him with a heavy stick, and pushed him back into the house, where his bones were found next day.
His step mother succeeded in getting out. She was a stout strong woman and it was thought, that if she had had fair play, she would have mastered him, but he struck her on the head with his dreadful bludgeon, and then drew her to the fire to cast her in. She was a heavy woman and either from her weight, or being alarmed before he accomplished his purpose, he only succeeded in putting her partially into the flames; and in doing so, was somewhat scorched himself, a fact which afterward told against him on the trial.
In the meantime, their cries had brought to the scene a neighbour named McIntosh, who blew his horn to give notice of his coming. As he approached, Donald ran away. McIntosh saw his retreating figure, but did not suspect who it was, indeed supposed he had seen a ghost. He found Mrs. Campbell dead, and her body partly burned. He dragged it out of the fire, but was too late to save anything out of the house. He also found a little dog of Donalds at the spot, a circumstance which afterward excited suspicion.
Mrs. Campbell was buried without an inquest, although her brother, the late Angus Campbell, elder, Scotch Hill, at her funeral declared his belief that she had been murdered. A number of circumstances excited suspicion, and Donald was arrested. His stepmothers body was exhumed, and, on examination by the late Dr. Johnston, the marks upon it, left no doubt, that her death had been caused by violence. The stick was found with his fathers blood and grey hairs upon it, and was afterwards produced in Court. A button was picked up, and on examination it was found to correspond with those on his coat, from which there was one missing. A gun flint was picked up on the spot, and a brother-in-law recognized it by a private mark, as one he had lent him just before the murder, and Campbells gun was found without a flint. It was supposed that he had intended to shoot his parents, but that the flint had dropped out, and in the dark he could not find it, the great avenger having left it to cry from the ground against him. Parties testified to seeing him at various points on the road or taking to the woods before and after the fire. S.G. W. Archibald, who conducted the prosecution, took a large sheet of foolscap paper, and marking one point as the site of the house, and others at proper distances, to indicate the different points at which he had been seen, held it up before the jury, and showed how exactly the times of his being seen, coincided with the view of his going to and from his fathers house, though he denied having been near it that night. The whole circumstances left no doubt of his guilt, and accordingly at the September term of the Supreme Court, he was found guilty and sentenced to be executed.
The sentence was carried out at the scene of his crime, the gallows being erected on the site of his fathers house. He was taken from the jail in Pictou in a cart, to Rogers Hill Church, which was as far as a wheeled carriage could go, guarded by a body of militia drafted from several companies, and attended by several clergymen. There the fetters being removed from his legs, he walked the rest of the way under the same escort. Before his execution, he confessed to his crime, but showed little appearance of contrition, although Dr. McGregor and the other ministers used all the means in their power, to bring him to a sense of his conduct and repentance for it. A large concourse assembled at the execution, and just before it took place, Dr. McGregor offered a prayer, which, from its earnestness and tenderness, lingered in the minds of most who heard it, while memory remained. But he was obliged to turn away in sadness, with the words O Donald. I believe nothing will ever melt your heart.
The execution was superintended by the High Sheriff of Halifax, but was clumsily effected. When he gave the signal, the executioner attempted to draw the bolt, but it only slowly yielded to his efforts, and when the trap door fell with the unfortunate man, the knot slipped round to the back of his neck, which remained unbroken, so that he slowly choked to death. As the rope untwisted, he swung round with his face to the spectators on one side, and then as it recoiled, to those on the other, while his heavy breathing could be heard over the crowd, and , it was said, the pulsations of his heart, but perhaps rather, the heaving of his chest, could be seen by those near, presenting a spectacle, which led many present, never to see another execution.
We may here mention, that there have since been two executions in the county. The first was Neil McFadyan for the murder of James Kerr. In the fall of 1847, they had traveled together from Bay Chaleur to Pictou. Kerrs friends, not hearing from him, became anxious, and in spring enquiries were set on foot, when he was traced in company with McFadyan till near the house of the latter at Blue Mountain. The attention of parties in the neighbourhood was attracted by a stench from the neighboring wood, and on a search, part of a human body and clothes were found, which were identified as those of Kerr. Farther examination brought out a mass of circumstantial evidence, which left no doubt of McFadyans guilt. And on trial before Judge Bliss, at the October term of the Supreme Court, he was condemned and sentenced to be executed. He was a bold, hardened villain, with no want of intelligence. The execution took place near the Beaches on the lot owned by the public, and used on occasions as a lazaretto. It was ordered to take place between ten and two oclock. He was taken to the ground earlier than the hour intended. While they were waiting, it being a raw, cold day, late in the fall of the year, he said to the Sheriff, shrugging his shoulders, Its cold here; you may as well put me through at once.
The other was the case of John McPhail for the murder of his wife. He was a poor, simple creature, who kept a low groggery back of the Alboin Mines, on the road to the Middle River. His wife and he drank, and while both were under the influence of liquor, he beat her over the head and other parts of the body with a pick handle, even breaking her arm, so that she died. He was convicted principally on the evidence of his own child.
A criminal, who gave more trouble than either, and excited more alarm in the county, was a man named Jack Hines. He was an Englishman, who had come here and married in this county. He was a strong man and a great bully, so that he became a terror to the neighbourhood. He was at length arrested, tried and found guilty of burglary. The penalty at that time was death, but the jury recommended him to mercy. The judge however was bound to pronounce the sentence. The recommendation to mercy had to be forwarded to London, for the consideration of the Home Government, and such was the irregularity of communication, that though forwarded in February, an answer was not received till October, during which time he was kept in prison, his elbows kept close by his side, by means of a chain across the back attached to each. A pardon having arrived, there was considerable alarm at the prospect of his release, particularly among some of the magistrates, residing out of town. They therefore told him, that the condition of his pardon was, that he should leave the district. He was accordingly escorted to Mount Thom across the line, and left to pursue his way further as he pleased. Three nights after he robbed a store near Truro. He was arrested and on trial was sentenced to the workhouse in Halifax, but not long after made his escape.
We must now notice the trade of Pictou during the period we are reviewing. After the conclusion of the war, the timber trade still continued, though on a diminished scale, and we may here notice some of those engaged in it. Next to Mortimer, must be mentioned George Smith. He was a native of Scotland, we believe of Banff, and was taken into partnership by Mr. Mortimer, their business being conducted under the name of Edward Mortimer & Co. After the death of the latter the business was conducted by Mr. Smith and William Mortimer, a nephew of Edwards, under the name of Smith, Mortimer & Co. Afterward, however, they dissolved partnership and each of them did business separately. For some years they were the most influential business men in Pictou. Mr. Smith represented the County of Halifax, from Mr. Mortimers death in 1819 till the year 1836, when the County was divided, after which he represented the County of Pictou till the year 1838, when he was appointed to the Legislative Council. Mr. Smith was a man of fine presence and a gentleman of the old school. He was an able business man, and succeeded, as far as it was possible for one man in the advanced state of the country to do, to the place and influence of Mortimer. The misfortunes of his later years obscured all his former glory, and almost blotted from memory the services of his early career. It is therefore due to him to say, that at this period he was an active merchant, and did much for the business of the port - that he filled several public offices, judge of Probate, judge of the Superior Court, and Custos of the County in a most creditable manner, and that as a member of the Legislature, he commanded the highest respect, and was largely influential in promoting the interests of Pictou.
We may also notice John and Abraham Patterson, sons of old John Patterson. They began business in Pictou about the year 1815. Mortimer said when he heard of their commencing, that he was more afraid of those two young men, than of any persons that had ever begun business in Pictou. Though during the preceding years of prosperity, others had engaged in merchandizing, he still regarded any person attempting general trade, as an intruder upon his legitimate domain, and he employed his power to defeat their enterprise
But in a short time, by their energy, and the confidence which they had inspired by their honorable dealings, they were doing a business, in its extent perhaps not surpassed by any in the eastern part of the Province. Their trade consisted principally in shipping timber to Britain , the fisheries, and the West India trade. In timber the article most in demand was squared pine, which was still obtained in considerable quantities in Pictou and the outports. They were not engaged largely in shipbuilding, their operations being confined principally to the building of small vessels for the fisheries or the West India trade. In fishing, the mode of doing business was to send to the various places to which the finny tribes chiefly resorted, small vessels, loaded with barrels, salt, and supplies of goods, such as fishermen required in charge either of one of the firm or an agent, who exchanged these articles for fish. In this way the prosecuted the fishery the whole season, commencing with the Gaspereaux in Spring, then following successively the spring mackerel and the spring herring, the codfish and salmon, the fall herring and fall mackerel. In this way their business extended as far as Richibucto on the North, Rustico on the North coast of Prince Edward Island, Margarie and Cheticamp on the North coast of Cape Breton, and Canso on the South shore of Nova Scotia . At that time fish were taken in quantities which now seem almost incredible, five hundred barrels of mackerel at a single haul being considered a good but not an extraordinary catch. Oftentimes they could not be cured, and heaps containing hundreds of barrels were left to rot upon the shore. The fishermen were generally a reckless set, depending on taking by a single haul enough to keep them for six months, and were dependant upon traders, for the supply of most of the necessaries of life. The fish brought back in these expeditions, was shipped, along with various kinds of lumber to the West Indies, and the vessels brought back return cargoes of West India produce. In this trade the brothers continued for a number of years. Doubtless there are many enterprising men in Pictou at the present day, but where is all this business now? For the decline of the timber trade, there is a good reason in the exhaustion of the supply, but why should not the fisheries be carried on from Pictou, as well as from ports, more distant from the places frequented by these finny tribes.
In their business dealings the two brothers were much esteemed. We have met in distant places in Cape Breton , and along the south shore of the Province, persons who looked back with the kindliest recollections to the days when they traded to these quarters, and spoke with the warmest feelings of respect for themselves personally.
They retired from business in the year 1832. The older, so long known as the deacon, many in Pictou will still remember. A man of but few words, he was ready for every good work. In the congregation he was the deacon and the manager, never putting himself forward, but always having work laid upon him, and doing it as naturally as if taking his meals,- a man of such entire negation of self, that he never seemed to feel that he was doing anything, yet the man to whom everybody looked when anything was to be done. Such was he in every society with which he was connected. He filled also public situations with honor to himself and advantage to others. He was a trustee of the Pictou Academy from its foundation, and for many years its treasurer. He was also treasurer to the Synod of the Presbyterian Church of Nova Scotia, when, however, the keeping of its accounts, and the disbursement of its funds, was not a matter of great labor. Guileless in character, lovable in nature and unassuming in all that he did, he passed away not only without an enemy, but amid universal expressions of profound respect. He died April, 1847.
Abraham, though in his later years living in a great measure retired from public life, was at this time for years one of the most prominent men in Pictou. In the year 1815 or 16, he was appointed a justice of the peace, which at that time involved something, having been recommended to the position by the unanimous voice of a public meeting of the inhabitants of the town of Pictou, and filled the office for more than fifty years. He was also judge of the Inferior Court, at the time of the abolition of that tribunal. In the public movements of his time, he for many a day bore an honorable part. He died June, 1867.
The meeting for the election of magistrates referred to, took place at Taylors Tavern, on the east side of the street leading to Yorstons Wharf, his biggest room being prepared for the purpose, when besides Mr. P., his brother, Walter, Robert Patterson, and, we believe, Robert McKay, were chosen, and in due course were appointed by Government. The meeting was harmonious and not less so, when the nominations being over, one gentleman arose and said, Mr. Chairman, I have another motion to propose. Attention being directed to him, he added, I move that we now call for liquors all round. There is no record of the result, but we venture to say that the motion was carried, nem: con., and, unlike many a better resolution, was immediately carried into execution.
Robert Patterson here mentioned, was usually known as Black Bob, to distinguish him from two cousins of the same name, his title being derived from the colour of his hair, all being grandsons of Squire Patterson. He lived above Dr. McCullochs place on the old road, was now in business, and afterward an active magistrate.
Walter Patterson was the third son of John Patterson. Few now remember him, but these few are always touched with tenderness, as they speak of him. By those who knew him, he is described as the ablest and finest of the first generation, that grew up in the town. He was a notary public, and filled such important offices as Clerk of the Peace, Prothonotary, and Clerk of the Commissioners' Court, besides more private ones, as Secretary of the Friendly Society. As has been said, wherever accuracy and good business habits were wanted, Walter Patterson was the man. He was specially loved for his social habits. Though distinguished by a sobriety unusual for the times, yet a genial humor that never wounded, rendered him the joy of any circle he entered. He died in 1821, at Plymouth, England.
Among the other merchants of this period we may mention James Dawson. He was a native of Banff, and at first did business as a saddler, but afterward commenced trading, following the course we have already described in ship building, shipping timber, the fisheries and the West India trade. Finding trade prospering, he sent for his brother Robert, in partnership with whom he carried on business for some time, both saddling and merchandizing. But after a time they separated and each did business on his own account. The commercial changes of 1825-26, which we shall more particularly describe presently, involved him in pecuniary embarrassment. Being connected by marriage with Mr. Boyd, of the firm of Oliver & Boyd, Edinburgh, he was through them led to engage in the bookselling business, the first in the Province out of Halifax who did so. Encumbered with the debts of his previous business, which he had undertaken to pay with interest, he continued to prosecute it though without any very large profit to himself, maintaining a bookstore, which for many years surpassed those in Halifax, dealers there giving their attention mainly to stationery. In this way he was the means of circulating much healthful literature, and thus of promoting the progress of knowledge in the county and beyond. He was actively engaged in the religious societies of the day, and, though not having the knack of gaining popularity, he in these and other ways served his generation. He died at the residence of his son Dr. J.W. Dawson of Montreal. His brother also was for many years a prominent man, especially in the religious movements of the day. We might also mention Robert McKay, Esqr., who, after the death of Mortimer, with whom he had been clerk, commenced business at River John, where he was successful for a time, but succumbed to the commercial storm just referred to. He was afterward shipping agent at South Pictou for the General Mining Association, and succeeded Mr. Smith as Custos of the county.
At this time commenced Henry Hatton. His father, Robert Hatten, was a lawyer, who emigrated from Ireland and settled in Pictou about the year 1813. His son first commenced business in one of the wings of John Dawsons building, but afterward had a large set of buildings, at what is now South Market St., but which was then not built up, and was known as Hattons wharf. He was afterward one of the largest shipbuilders in the county, and for several years represented the township of Pictou in the Assembly.
We may here mention a system of trade not uncommon at this time. Captains of vessels brought out supplies of goods, or sometimes solid specie, which they exchanged for timber. Of these the most deserving of notice is Stephen Lowrey, of Newcastle, Eng., who, afterward becoming a shipowner, traded with his vessels to Pictou to a considerably later period, and who, entering into partnership with the late James Purves, under the name of Stephen Lowrey & Co. did a large business in ship building at the head of Purves wharf.
Trade being now thriving, a number of the merchants combined to build a vessel, to be a regular trader between Pictou and the old country. She was a brig called the Enterprise, and was built by Thomas Lowden, who had a good reputation as a shipbuilder. She was launched in August, 1820, and the occasion was celebrated by a ball on board. She was a square box of a thing, carrying a large cargo for her tonnage, and always proving a safe and successful vessel, though a dull sailer. She continued to make her regular trips twice a year, bringing out British goods and taking back timber, till the crash of 1825-6, when she was sold. Thereafter she was employed in carrying coals from Newcastle to London, and was so engaged twenty years later, and may be yet.
The timber trade had declined both from the peace, and the diminution of the supply, but it was still of importance; and with the shipbuilding and other business still carried on, and the improvement in agriculture, still brought a fair measure of prosperity to the county, when there came the terrible financial crisis of 1825 and 26 in the mother country, which resulted in severe losses to all engaged in timber and shipping, whether there or here, and the utter bankruptcy of many. To show its operation, we may mention, that vessels which in the early part of 1825 brought £13 10s. per ton, in the following year would not bring £6, and men, who shipped cargoes of timber to England, were brought in debt for the freight. In St. John, N.B. the day the intelligence of these changes arrived, was long known as Black Monday. Strong men wept, as in one day they found the work of a life-time swept away. A firm, that in the previous year, had shipped a hundred cargoes, now became bankrupt. In Pictou all the merchants suffered severely. Some had large stocks of timber on hand, which they bought at high rates, but which were now unsaleable at any price. It lay in the rivers and outports for some time, till the outer portion was decayed or worm eaten, when it had to be hewn over again. Yet even after this expense, and with the quantity thus diminished, it sold for half the price per ton that it originally cost. Some became bankrupt, others never recovered from the blow, and for a time the trade of the port was laid prostrate.
This period is marked by the formation of societies of a religious or benevolent character. The most interesting of these is the Pictou Sabbath School Society. The first Sabbath School in the county, on the modern system, was commenced in town by the late James and Robert Dawson, according to the statement of the former, in the year 1814. They were joined soon after by John Geddie , Sr. But it was now determined to form a society, for the promotion of Sabbath Schools generally. Accordingly a meeting was held for the purpose, on the 25th March, 1822, in the old Court House, and a resolution was adopted, to form such a society having for its object the encouragement, union and increases of Sabbath Schools. The rules were also agreed to, by which a payment of 2s and 6d annually, was to constitute membership for a year, and 20s for life. Meetings of the Society were to be held on the second Tuesdays of May, August, November and February, the last being the annual meeting. In town the teachers were to meet monthly, and in the country they were recommended to meet as often as possible. In all cases they were to bestow their labor gratis. In the year following, it was reported that there were 29 schools, with 1,000 pupils, in connection with the Society. The institution was for some years in vigorous operation, collecting funds to import books, sending agents through the country districts to establish new schools and to stimulate old ones, and in circulating religious literature, suited to the young. In the year 1827 we find reported as in connection with the Society, 77 schools, with 2,335 pupils and 198 teachers; also, that there had been imported books to the value of £104 6s 10d sterling, and that the number circulated was 6,950, besides the libraries attached to many of the schools. Its last report that we have seen noticed, was in the year 1833, being the eleventh.
In the year 1823, the Bible Society was re-organized. From its first formation in 1813, it had scarcely ever met. The plan upon which it had been formed, of one Society for the county, with so many directors from each congregation, had not been found convenient in practice. Still these directors had collected money in their several quarters, which was yearly remitted to the parent institution, by Dr. McGregor, who also ordered and circulated Bibles, and generally did the business of the Society. But interest having fallen off, after some solicitation from him, the Society was now re-organized on its present basis, as the Pictou Auxiliary of the British & Foreign Bible Society, with Mr. James Dawson as secretary and depositary.
About the same time, the first subscription library in the county was formed in town. A public meeting was held for the purpose, presided over by Dr. McCulloch, who urged the importance of the proposal. The first importation of books was made in the spring of 1822. The institution continued for some thirty years, and during that time its books increased, until they formed a very respectable collection, the circulation of which did much for the promotion of intelligence and literary taste; but unfortunately interest in it declined, and it was finally dissolved and the books scattered.
Another institution of this period, which however we cannot commend, must be noticed. We allude to the Ballast Pier. From the number of vessels arriving in ballast, the discharge of which in lighters involved much labor and expense, a number of persons formed the idea, that would be a profitable speculation to build a wharf on the edge of the channel, at which vessels might directly discharge. They also expected to fill in from it to the Deacons Wharf, and to make money by the lots to be reclaimed from the water. At the same time, the magistrates fearing injury to the harbour, by the manner in which ballast was being discharged, obtained in the year 1819 an Act of the Legislature, authorizing the Court of Sessions to make regulations for the good of commerce and the preservation of the harbour. In this act they were empowered to fix such places in the harbour as shall be most convenient and proper for ships and vessels to discharge their ballast, and to make such agreement as may be needful and necessary with persons, for erecting and building wharves nd other conveniences, for such ships and vessels to discharge their ballast upon ,&c. Accordingly they contracted with this company to build such a wharf as mentioned, giving them the exclusive right to receive a ballast on it for the next ten years, and empowering them to levy a renumeration of 3d. per ton register on every vessel so discharging. The wharf was accordingly constructed, and till the year 1824 vessels discharged there. But by this time the folly of the scheme began to appear. The wharf, from the wood of which it was built decaying, began to spread, and its contents to be discharged into the channel. The company, who had lost money by their speculation, wished to have their power extended to twenty years, but the magistrates refused, although they for a time permitted a practice not really any wiser, of vessels drawing up opposite the Battery Point and discharging their ballast there. The result is, that what was to fill the pockets of the projectors, not only proved a bad business for them, but remains an unsightly ruin, and an injury to the harbour. Sir James Kempt on visiting Pictou, when he came in sight of the harbour, seeing the ballast pier, asked what that was. On being told, he said, You have spoiled your harbour, and to some extent this has been the case.
In an ecclesiastical point of view, the period we are now reviewing, requires special notice, as that of the commencement of those religious divisions, for which the county has been since somewhat noted. The first ministers of the county were from what was then known as the Antiburgher branch of the Secession, but in teaching their people, they never introduced the peculiarities which divided Presbyterians in Scotland. The large majority of their original hearers were from the Established Church of Scotland, but they were glad to get the gospel, and, served as they were by men of superior powers, who cheerfully endured toil and privation for their spiritual good, raising no question as to Establishment or Secession, they not only fell in with their ministry, but became devotedly attached to them. There was thus entire harmony throughout the county, except as here and there opposition might be raised to a minister, by an individual of a litigious disposition. Afterward when every settlement was disturbed by strife, those who could remember this period, often looked back upon it with fond regret.
At this time, there was no union among the Presbyterians throughout the Province. When Dr. McGregor arrived, like so many Scotchmen since, he thought that the difference which separated them in the old country, should be maintained here, and refused to unite with the Presbytery of Truro. Taught by experience, he says , that the peculiar rules of church communion observed in Scotland could not apply here, they offered to me the right hand of fellowship, which I, destitute of their teaching, did not accept. This want of union at first did little positive harm, as the congregations were separated, sometimes by wide tracts of wilderness, and there being little intercourse between them. In no case were two congregations maintained in the same place, or a congregation split in two, by any question which divided Presbyterians in the mother country. But as intercourse increased, the inconsistency of their position became apparent. The members of their congregation passed from one to the other, and were received without question and without scruple, and yet the ministers remained apart; and thus too although the ministers were personally friendly, there was lost the benefit of united action.
They had sometimes met to consult on matters of common interest, and to some extent co-operated in promoting the Redeemers Kingdom. But now the state of matters pressed itself upon their attention, so that after mutual intercourse and consultation, it was resolved to form a union, on the simple basis of the Westminster Confession of Faith, leaving all the questions, which divided Presbyterians in Scotland, as matters of forbearance. One measure, which at this time tended to bring this about was the Collegiate Institution, at this time projected in Pictou. The greatness of the undertaking in their circumstances, and yet the pressing call for such an institution, in consequence of the deficient supply of ministers from abroad, rendered combined action necessary, to its successful establishment and maintenance.
The union was accordingly consummated in July 1817, the name adopted for the united body being, the Presbyterian Church of Nova Scotia, and caused great joy. It embraced all the Presbyterian ministers in the Province, including two or three originally from the Church of Scotland, with the exception of Rev. A. Gray of Halifax, the constitution of whose congregation prevented his joining, but who remained on friendly terms with its ministers, and co-operated with them in their work as long as he lived.
This was the first of the Presbyterian unions, and was on a liberal basis. Its immediate results were happy. It was a leading cause of the union, which was accomplished in Scotland, between the two branches of the Secession in 1820, and at home the Synod addressed itself energetically to its work. But looking upon it with the light, which time throws upon events, we can now see that the good men who accomplished it, were simply at least sixty years before their age, for in this 1877, we cannot enjoy the general union at which they aimed, and which they fondly hoped they had achieved. Already a cloud, seemingly no bigger than a mans hand, appeared on the horizon, and soon the commencement of strife proved as the letting out of waters.
We have already mentioned the commencement of party divisions in Pictou after the election of 1799. But from an early period an ecclesiastical element mingled with the personal and political feeling then excited. Mortimer was most friendly with the Secession ministers, while Wallace and the official party regarded a dissenter as a rebel, or worse, if such could be. Any man therefore who took offence at his minister became the friend of Walllace, and any one opposed to Mortimer was apt to quarrel with the church. Thus the two elements became mixed, and a party gradually sprang up opposed to the leading men both in Church and State.
In the years that followed, as we have seen, there was a large influx of settlers, from the Highlands and Islands of Scotland, very ignorant, only a minority able to read, yet like most people coming from the old country then and long after, looking with great contempt on ministers and every thing else in America, and this in proportion to their ignorance. In the Highlands, the Secession church was known only by report and that unfavourable; and while, with few exceptions, the old settlers, who knew by experience the labours of their first ministers, and had a grateful recollection of the manner in which they had shared their privations, warmly adhered to them, the new comers began to decry them, as not preaching the gospel and to clamour for ministers of the Church of Scotland. The payment of stipend was to them a grievance previously unknown, and they regarded it as one of the glories of the Establishment to be free from it, and they expected by getting ministers of that body to enjoy the same immunities here. Those immigrants had now filled up the back settlements, so that the ministers here were unable properly to supply them with ministerial service. But knowing the natural prejudices of these people and being anxious to obtain for them ministers to their liking, and at the same time having learned to disregard the distinctions among the Presbyterians in Scotland, if they could obtain men of the right stamp, they applied to the leading ministers of the church of Scotland in the Highlands, such as Dr. Stewart, of Dingwall and McIntosh of Tain, to obtain ministers of that body to supply the wants of the settlers, still desiring and hoping to keep the Presbyterians here together as one body. These men fully approved of the union, and were anxious to meet the wishes of Dr. McGregor and his friends, but after a good deal of enquiry, they were obliged to write, that they could not get men to come, upon whom they could depend.
Just at this time others arrived, who adopted a different policy. The first minister of the Church of Scotland who remained in the county was the Rev. Donald A. Fraser, who arrived here in the year 1817. He was a native of the Island of Mull, of which his father was the parish minister. Being from the Church of Scotland, he was eagerly laid hold of by those who had bee dissatisfied with the ministers here. Soon after he settled at McLennans Mountain, where there were at that time about forty families. There the next year a frame church, capable of seating 500 persons, was erected, and alongside of it, a log house for himself and his wife. This was the first church in the county, built in connection with the Church of Scotland, and we may say in the Province, for although there have been some others older, they were not originally built in that connection. A year later, another was built on Frasers Mountain, about six miles distant from that on McLennans Mountain, and two from New Glasgow, which then could scarcely be said to exist, and Mr. Fraser preached at these places alternately, giving also some supply to Blue Mountain, and preaching occasionally in other places, where parties were forming in connection with the Church of Scotland. There were at first only twenty-five families at Frasers Mountain, but they became the nucleus of the congregation of St. Andrews, New Glasgow. In the year 1828, the church was hauled down there, and placed on the lot on which their present place of worship stands.
But a person who at this time made more disturbance and excitement was Norman McLeod, who arrived in Pictou about the year 1818. He was not only not connected with any religious body, but denounced them all, even going as far as to say there was not a minister of Christ in the whole establishment. Those who have heard him at this time, describe his preaching as consisting of torrents of abuse against all religious bodies, and even against individuals, the like of which they had never heard, and which were perfectly indescribable. He had never been licensed or ordained, but regarded himself as under higher influences than the ministers of any church. I am so full of the Holy Ghost, that my coat will not button on me, he said once in a sermon, as he made the attempt to bring the two sides together in front*.
*He did not seem to be always so favored. A gentleman told me that on one occasion he went to where he was preaching in a barn. As he passed the open barn door, McLeod stopped and said, as soon as I saw that man, the Spirit refused me utterance."
But though so wildly fanatical, he was a man of great power, and gained an influence over a large portion of the Highlanders, such as no man in the county possessed. As Dr. McGregor said, he will get three hearers to Mr. Frasers one, and the people will go much further to hear him, than any minister in Pictou. He took up his residence at Middle River, and the people of the upper part of the river, Lairg and neighborhood, who had hitherto been under the ministry of Mr. Ross, generally followed him, so that the latter relinquished to him his church at Middle River, which we may remark stood at McKerrs intervale. But his influence extended to many in almost every part of the county, and by his followers he was regarded with unbounded devotion.
After a time, however, a number became dissatisfied, when they found that he would not give them baptism for their children, Indeed during his lifetime, he found very few whom he considered qualified to receive the ordinance, and we are not certain if he found any to whom he would administer the Lords Supper. He then induced a number of those whom he retained his influence, to emigrate, and for this purpose to build a vessel at Middle River Point, which he called the Ark. In this they left, and afterwards formed the settlement of St. Anns, in Cape Breton.* Many in the county still remained his attached adherents, and were usually known as Normanites, and almost as long as he remained in the Province, when he visited Pictou they attended him wherever he went. It is but just to say, that these were regarded as among the most moral and religious of our Highland population.
* At St. Anns he labored for many years, maintaining an unbounded sway over his adherents, which was used in favor of temperance and sound morality, but also we must say in nurturing a fanatical Pharisaism. He published a volume of some size, styled Normanism, besides minor publications. When an old man, he induced a number of his people again to emigrate, and for this purpose to build a vessel. In this they proceed to Australia, and thence to New Zealand, where he died.
In the year 1824, the Rev. Kenneth John McKenzie arrived in Pictou, and commenced his ministry among the adherents of the Kirk in town. He was a native of Stornoway, and a man of superior talents. He at first preached in the court-house, but that summer, St. Andrews church was begun, and as soon as the outside was finished, service was held in it, the audience being seated on rude benches.
Up till this time, Mr. Fraser had been on friendly terms with Dr. McGregor, and though the spirit of contention had been rising, it was still hoped that permanent division would have been avoided. But from this time he broke off all association with him, refusing even the hospitalities of his house, at which he had been a frequent visitor. Thenceforward he and Mr. McKenzie devoted their energies to completing the work of division. As the people had been hitherto under the pastoral care of ministers of the Secession, this carried strife into every part of the county, and often into families. From the position of parties in the old country at that time, this division was probable unavoidable, but from the manner in which it originated here, and other circumstances, the feelings excited were very violent, and the results deplorable.
Other ministers of the body followed. The people of Gairloch and Saltsprings obtained the Rev. Hugh McLeod. Highlanders can stand a good deal in their minister, if he be of the true Church of Scotland, but he was more than they could stand, and after a few years they got rid of him, at the expense of a lawsuit. He went to Demerara, where he died, on the 10th May, 1832. In the year 1827, the Rev. John McRae, became minister of those who adhered to the Church of Scotland, at the Upper Settlement of the East River, where he continued till the disruption, when he returned to Scotland. The Rev. Dugald McKeichan, settled in Barneys River the same year, but only remained there three years. He returned in 1840, but also went to Scotland after the disruption. Rev. Mr. McCaulay was the first minister of Rogers Hill. He is said to have been a relation of the historian. He removed to Prince Edward Island, where he relinquished the ministry, and was for years one of the ablest members of the Legislature.