[Notes from Editor: As page numbers in electronic editions do not correspond to those in original printed versions, they are omitted from any Tables of Contents or Illustration Lists in works that we transcribe. Spellings are left as they were in the original work. Sentence & punctuation anomalies are also (mostly) left intact. Footnotes follow the paragraph in which they are referenced, enclosed by square brackets. Pound sterling is written as "pound", as the symbol does not translate on all computers. Richard MacNeil]
is released to the public for not-for-profit use only, and for such use it may
be freely distributed. For all other use, especially commercial, copyright applies
and permission must be sought from The Pictou
County GenWeb Coordinator. The Pictou County GenWeb is not legally liable
for any errors or omissions that may have crept in; this electronic text is
provided on an "as is" basis.
A special thank you is extended to Sylvia Warner of Stellarton, NS
for preparing this transcription, May 2004.
THE FRENCH IN PICTOU
The period of Micmac ascendancy
in Nova Scotia, was followed by the time of its colonization by the French,
and of contention between them and the English for its possession. But at this
time Pictou is scarcely ever mentioned. When we consider the resources of the
county, and the skill of the French in availing themselves of all the advantages
of the country, it seems quite surprising that they have done so little here.
But the coal and other mineral resources were in the interior and unknown. Cape
Breton was more convenient for the fisheries, and, for agriculture, they had
been led by their experience of the richness of the marshes of the Bay of Fundy,
to seek that kind of land, of which there is little in Pictou, and that of inferior
quality. Besides they had made considerable settlement in Tatamagouche, which,
being nearer than Pictou to Truro, was the point of communication by water,
between their settlements on the Basin of Minas, and those in Prince Edward
Island and Cape Breton. At all events there is not a county of the Province,
in which they have left fewer traces of their presence than in Pictou.
Halyburton says, " The French had made a few inconsiderable settlements here previous to the peace of 1763, but upon the reduction of Canada, they deserted them, and in a few years they were again covered with woods." All we know of their presence here is by what the first English settlers found on their arrival. We thus learn that their largest settlement was on the big island of Merigomish. A small channel which makes off from the main one there, is still known as the French Channel. It has good water and is well sheltered, and is said to have been used by them for running into with their small shallops, in which they prosecuted the fisheries or traded with the other French settlements. At the head of this were found the remains of several dwellings. Within the memory of persons still living, the foundations of seven or eight could still be traced. There was but little land cleared; but there were gardens or orchards, the bushes in which continued to bear for many years. A variety of articles were picked up here, shovels, knives, spoons, crockery and a few coins. Towards the west of the island the remains were seen of a similar settlement, and among other articles found was the debris of a forge, with axes unfinished and one in the tongs.
They had also a small settlement at the mouth of the French River, from which it derives its name. Here also various articles have been picked up.
A few also had settled at the upper part of Little Harbour, where they also seem to have been employed in fishing. The first English settlers found there the remains of their old dwelling houses. An old man, in 1873, informed me that in his boyhood he had picked up beads and other articles among the ruins, and that some of the first settlers had told him that they had found a brass kettle under almost ever chimney. A well was found on what was afterward Lauder's farm, which was long afterward known as the French well. Some traces of them were also found at the harbour of Pictou. A log shanty stood at the mouth of the Middle River, and another at the East River. Some pine had been cut down at the Town Gut and along the stream upwards, and the spot where Barrie's (late Dickson's) mill now stands, selected as the site of a mill. The remains of a cellar, which had been well constructed with logs was, for a length of time, to be seen about half way between the Town Gut Bridge and Browns Point.
At what has long been known as the Burying Ground Point, inside the entrance of the harbour, on the north side, now known as Seaview Cemetery, was found a sawpit fallen in, with a log upon it in which the whip saw, much rusted, still remained. It is believed by many, on the assertion of some Micmacs, that this was used as a burying ground by the French, and in the faith of this several Roman Catholics have been buried there, and with their Protestant neighbors sleep their last sleep in peace. The remains of two or three huts were also found near this point toward the entrance of the harbour.
Evidence of their presence was also found at Carriboo. The remains of three houses were found on the island, and of three or four on the mainland; one at Rod. McLeod's and another at Three Brooks, now Weir's place. Here they had fenced the marsh and used it for pasturing and feeding a few cattle, but they had very little land cleared. They are generally spoken of as having been principally engaged in fishing, but the tradition is that the shores of this harbour then abounded with large oak, which they cut and shipped to Louisburg, where it was largely used in the construction of the city, and probably also in shipbuilding.
Various remains have been found at different places in the county, which tell the tale of the presence of visitors at this period, but which afford us scarcely any further information regarding them. The hilt of a sword, with only a small portion of the blade remaining, and supposed from its appearance, to have been French, was picked up on Carriboo Island, and some soldiers' buttons on the mainland, near the entrance to Carriboo Harbour. Two muskets, with bayonets attached, were dug up at Frasers Point, and the remains of some guns, so decayed that both wood and iron fell to pieces when handled, were turned up by the plough near the Beaches.
The late Mr. Hugh Fraser, some time after he had settled in Middle River Point, turned up with the plough parts of a human skeleton, alongside of which he found a sword, still of such excellent temper that the point could be bent to touch the hilt. Alas for military glory ! It was taken to a blacksmith's shop and there made into knives for splitting mackerel. When digging the bank at the eastside of the West River for the erection of the bridge at Durham, the workmen came upon the bones of a very large man, covered with a flat stone. In digging a well at Dunbar's, near South Pictou, a skeleton was found about eighteen inches below the surface; the bones were of small size, and were suppose to have belonged to a young person or a female. Other remains of the same kind have been found at other places, all telling of visitor previous to the English settlement. " Only this and nothing more."
Such are all the facts we have been able, after diligent enquiry, to collect regarding the French settlement of Pictou. We had despaired of over being able to know anything of those of whom these remains speak. Unexpectedly, however, we have been able to give the name of at least one settler. A number of years ago Charles McGee, of Merigomish, coming from the Strait of Canso, as he passed Big Tracadie, lodged at the house of a Mr. Petitpas; during the evening, finding he was from Merigomish, the conversation turned on the original French settlement, when he learned that Mr. P's father had been one of the settlers there, and his mother, who was then very old and infirm, said, that if able to go to the place, she could yet show them where she buried a large brass kettle, containing a number of household articles.
Of this era, tradition has preserved some faint reminiscences of a fight between an English and a French man-o-war in the harbor. But the details are given in such different and even contradictory ways, that while I have little doubt of some such affair having taken place, I am unable to give the particulars. The first settlers found in one tree back of the town a piece of chain-shot, and in another a cannon-ball lodged, which they considered as evidence of such an encounter. According to tradition, the French had some guns landed and mounted on the battery hill.
There is also a tradition of the capture, off Pictou island, of a valuable French vessel on the way down from Quebec. Word had been received of the sailing of such a vessel, and accordingly one or two vessels laid in wait under the island till she made her appearance, when they put out and captured her, but the whole is involved in obscurity.
At what time they left Pictou, cannot be determined exactly. At the time of the expulsion of the Acadians from the district around Truro, then known as Cobequid, Colonel Monckton was ordered to send a detachment to Tatamagouche, to demolish all the houses they found there, together with all the shallops, boats, canoes, or vessels of any kind, etc.; and to give" particular orders for entirely destroying and demolishing the villages of Jediacke (Shediac), Ramsack (now Wallace), etc." How far these injunctions were carried out, we have no information. It is not likely that those employed came as far east as Pictou, but certain that all the French settlements along the North Shore of Nova Scotia were abandoned shortly after, and the circumstances in which articles were found leave little doubt that their departure was hurried. It is said that those driven out moved eastward, and formed the settlement of Tracadie and Harbour Bushie, in the County of Antigonish.
As there were no English inhabitants in Pictou during the period refereed to, this county was the scene of none of the atrocities inflicted by the Indians on the early English settlements, though there is little doubt that the Micmacs in this quarter had their share with their brethren in the war carried on under the instigation of the French against the English in other parts of the Province. But in the year 1761, on the 15th of October, as stated by Mr. Murdoch, a treaty of peace was signed in council with Janneoville Pectougawack (meaning Pictou-man), chief of the Indians of Pictouck and Malagoniche (Merigomish), and the way was thus opened for the peaceable occupation of the place by English settlers.
We have not been able to find the record of this treaty, and Mr. Murdoch could not direct us to the source of his information. The name is not Micmac, and we believe it is either a misprint or that the Micmacs have corrupted the French name. At all events, we believe that the party was the same person afterward known as Capt. Toney. He is said to have been a Frenchman, who had adopted the mode of life of the Aborigines, and had acquired such influence over them that he was regarded as a high chief,- that he spoke French well and English tolerably, besides Micmac,-that he had dined at the Governor's table and was able to conduct himself with the politeness of a Parisian. He was the ancestor of the present Toney family among the Micmacs, and they assert that the treaty was made by him in the name of the tribe-that on the part of the English, gun and bayonet, and on the-part of the Micmacs, tomahawk, bow and arrow, were solemnly buried in one grave on the Citadel Hill, at Halifax, the latter weapons underneath. Perhaps the name as given by Mr. Murdoch may have been a mis-reading of Toneyville. We may add, from him Toney River derives its name, but how it came to be connected with him we have not been able to ascertain.
One incident, however, we shall give as being connected to this period, which we believe to be well established. Among the first English settlers it was received as a well known fact, that a French war vessel had escaped from Louisburg during the siege, containing treasure, and that she had been chased into Carriboo Harbour. The entrance being narrow, and the English probably not being acquainted with the navigation, did not venture to pursue. As she did not come out, and could not be seen, it was supposed that she had gone ashore in some creek. Accordingly soon after the arrival of the first English settlers, Dr. Harris and his brother Matthew resolved on a search for her. They set out in a long canoe, and paddled down the harbor and around the coast to Carriboo Harbor, thence along the south shore of the harbor till they reached Carriboo River, then up the stream to where it forks. Here they resolved to separate, each following a branch of the river, agreeing that if either should succeed, he should sound a horn to call his brother. Matthew took the Little River, which joined the main stream at a course nearly at right angles with it. On going around the point formed by their juncture, he had proceeded but a short distance when, in a little cove, at what is now George Morrison's place, he suddenly came upon the object of their search, snugly beached. The channel of the river is deep, but somewhat crooked, and those on board must have been thoroughly acquainted with it to have brought her here, and to have selected this spot to run her ashore. So completely concealed was she by the bend in the shore and intervening woods, that Harris was within ten yards of her before she was seen.
He immediately blow his horn, when his brother came, and they gave a cursory examination of their prize. She was a sloop, a neat and trim vessel. She had been armed, but the cannon were out of her, it was supposed, having been thrown overboard. All her rigging still remain on her.
From the position in which she lay, they supposed that there would be no difficulty in getting her off, and they left intending to return speedily with the proper appliances for the purpose. On arrival home, they freely made known their discovery, but before they could return, the Indians had set fire to her. When spoken to about their conduct, they explained that she had been left in their charge by the French owners, with instructions not to touch her unless the English discover her, but if they did, to burn her at once, which they did.*
[* About fifty years ago James A. Harris, of Carriboo Island, a son of Matthew, and who frequently told this story as he received it from his father, pointed out to his son James the keel and some of the timbers still standing. One who was present tried them with his axe, and pronounced them to be of American white oak. Probably some remains of her might yet be found in the mud.]
It is certain that vessels
escaped from Louisburg with treasures during the siege, and there is strong
reasons to believe that this had contained valuables, which those on board,
when they abandoned her, could not carry away and concealed. About the year
1802 a vessel one evening came to anchor off the mouth of the harbour, and a
boat with a strong crew put off from her, and was seen going up the river. It
was not seen to returned, but early the next morning the vessel got under weigh
and departed. Shortly after, some of the people going up the river found, at
the head of the tide, a place bearing all the marks of having been at work.
There was a hole from four to six feet square, and not very deep, perhaps four
feet , with hand-spokes, whose position showed that they had been used in prying
something like a chest out of the bottom of the hole.
It is said that on examination the trees around were found to have upon them marks pointing in the direction of where the hole was. This place is at some distance from the place where the vessel was ashore, and on the other branch of the river, but we can easily understand the wisdom of seeking such a place of concealment.
A settler who lived near, is reputed to have found a large sum of money. There have been various stories of the French burying money, which have led parties foolishly to dig in various places. That in the hurry of leaving and in the expectation of returning, they sometimes bury their possessions, we have reason to believe, but it was little money they had to bury, and what they had they carried away. We are generally incredulous regarding all stories of money found, but the information we have received, leads us to give some credit to this case. A son of the settler referred to, told a gentlemen who reported the case to me, that it was true-that he and his sister, both then children, first found the money under a stump, that it consisted entirely of old coins, strange to him, but whether French or not he did not know; that they told their father of it, who gathered them, but gave them none of it. The story commonly received is that he took it to his merchant who shipped it to England, both agreeing to say nothing about the matter lest the government should claim the amount. The merchant in the meantime supplied the settler abundantly with articles for his family, but afterward failed, so that they received little more for their find. Other facts that we have, give probability to the story.