Lanark Society Settlers Letter

Lanark Society Settlers Letter #3

Perth Courier, Feb. 24, 1893

Signed by “Pioneer”

By this time those who were away working began to come home to gather in their little crops and to prepare for the winter.  The crop was generally good and along with the little earnings was almost sufficient to supply our wants for another year.  In the meantime, the carpenters began to erect sawpits and with the government pit saw which was given to us we were supplied with sawn lumber which enabled us to improve our floors and make beds which was quite an improvement on the brush and leaves that we had to lie on the first winter.  We likewise had a little frame erected on each side of our fire place which was curved with rough lath and extended a little above the roof.  It was all plastered over with clay mortar to keep it from burning.  This relieved us of the smoke to a great extent which was a great comfort.  Nothing particular took place during the winter.  The men busied themselves cutting down the forest and carrying to the mill the corn to get ground and preparing  for sugar making in the spring.  The season was good and there was a quantity made but it would scarcely pay to carry it to market as it could not get more than 3 or 4 pence for a pound of it.  Still we were glad to take whatever we could get as we were hard up for the little necessities we could not do without.  As soon as the snow went off all hands went to work with the hoe and spade planting on the land we had cleared the year before and hoeing up and preparing our new fallow for corn and potatoes.  As soon as this was accomplished all hands that could be spared started off to look for work in the old settlements coming back in the early fall to cut wild hay for the cow and gather in the little harvest, which was eagerly looked for as provisions were getting scarce.  As soon as the grain was ripe it was cut and a sheet was spread on the ground and a few boards laid on top of it and the flail applied, the wind blowing away the chaff and as soon as we got a bushel it was gladly carried to the mill and just as gladly received at home.  Scones were baked and I can assure you I thought it the sweetest bread I had ever tasted. 

The crops were generally good and I may just say that the settlement had enough to supply the real necessities of life and in some cases a little to sell and although the settlers were very cheerful still we were far from being in a position to live comfortably.

The want of anything like fresh meat unless that of any wild animals we could kill caused the people (like the Israelites of old) to long for the flesh pots of auld Scotland .  However, we were not very particular in that line.  Squirrels and muskrats which we got from the Indians and even mud turtles were all quite acceptable.  I recollect a neighbor of ours who lived at the side of a mud lake making a present to us of one.  It was very large and required our largest pot to contain it.  After being well boiled it was served up for dinner and we all partook of it and thought it splendid except for my good mother who could not take it on account of its uncouth appearance.

By this time fowls and pigs were introduced and as the means of making a living were apparent the people began to think of starting schools for the children.

At this time the government of Upper Canada gave a grant of $20 to $25 to any section that could get twenty children on the roll and keep a school open 9 months of the year.  Appointing a board of trustees, engaging a teacher (who had to go to Perth to pass the board which sat at Perth where he got a certificate to teach) and upon the report of the trustees to the board that the law had been complied with the grant was paid.  As there were no properly qualified teachers amongst us at the time, a resident was selected and any individual who could read or write and teach them common rules of arithmetic was all that was required.  As wages were very low at the time, the teachers in our settlement got from 60 to 80 dollars a year and a part of the government grant was paid in grain and sometimes in work so in this humble way schools were started all through the settlement in little log shanties in the summer of 1824.  I may just remark that although the means of obtaining an education were very small still quite a number of those who started in this humble way who happened to possess a spark of nature’s fire came to be good natural scholars and to fill offices of trust in a judicious and satisfactory manner.

The food and educational problems being now somewhat settled, the next difficulty that presented itself was that of clothing.  Although the settlers when they came out were well supplied with clothes they were now beginning to get more than threadbare.  Shoes had already disappeared and everyone was barefoot.  When winter came we managed to get beef skin moccasins but the women and children had nothing but shoes made of old rags.  About this time I recollect being at a sociable meeting when each one was reciting their tale of woe in a lively manner.  One of our local poets had composed a few verses which have come to my recollection:

Scotia’s sons what brought you here

So muchle cauld and best to bear

Where winter reigns two thirds the year

And scorching heat the lave it

I have seen the sons of Caledone

Under a heavy burden groan

With neigher shoe nor stocking on

And tattered deeds the love it.

In order to improve this state of things some of our weavers went to the state of New York where they got employment weaving bed ticking.  As money was scarce there they took part of their wages in cloth which they brought back to Dalhousie and sold at reasonable terms to the settlers so that bed ticking shirts and pants were plentiful.  Others went out to Kingston to work and after being armed with a little money went over to the military authorities at Ft. Henry and got good bargains in old military clothing which they brought home.  So a few of His Majesty’s coat of arms were compelled to do duty all over again.  However, as the supply was not equal to the demand some of our people knew how lint used to be manufactured in Scotland before flax mills were started and they resolved to try the experiment and flax was sown.  It grew well and was put through all the different processes by hand to bring it to a workable fiber.  As women could generally spin on the little wheel, the rack and wee picket tow was started and yarn provided which our weavers wove into good substantial linen and I can assure you your correspondent thought he was all right when he had a shirt and pants manufactured in our own township.  Still, I must confess they were a little cool on a winter’s morning especially when you had no drawers.  But as the linen trade was a very slow and laborious business as soon as land could be set apart for pasture sheep were introduced.  Their wool was likewise all manufactured by hand labor, and drugget became the general dress for both men and women at both kirk and market.