Sunday, March 6, 2011

1837 in the E.T.

John McLeod, born Uig Carnish, Lewis, 1821- died Kingsbury Quebec 1874. This is a crayon drawing of a picture taken, probably in his forties.
John married Maggie Mclean of Coll, who was born in 1825 and died in 1912 and is written about in the letters.

Well, you know the stories that are a play within a play, like Hamlet, or a movie within a movie, like the Stuntman.

But how about a history (based on letters) within a history based on letters.
In Flo in the City, my novel in progress, I have Flora Nicholson studying for an exam in composition, and her assignment is a piece on "life in the 30's." I thought that would be cool, as I hope modern girls would be reading about life in the 1910's and that they will identify with Flo..

Well, the piece I use about life in the 1830's is a genuine piece from a composition book of the era.

Yesterday, as I looked on for that Presbyterian Cookbook I once downloaded, I found a book, originally in the CIHM collection, called Excerpts in letters during a first year's residence in the Eastern Townships, published in 1837.

It's about 80 pages long and is written anonymously. A young man homesteading on his own, is telling his family back home about his sea voyage and first year on a farm in the townships, 1836-37.

Considering that the McLeods (parents of Margaret of Flo in the City) came to Canada in 1838, I thought it would be interesting to read. And it was.

The man is English and well-educated. He seems to feel he is much more educated than everyone around him.

On his voyage over, he mentions that his ship happened upon another much less fortunate vessel holding emigrants (from England, I guess.)

"We had yesterday a very remarkable instance of the interposition of Providence making us the means of rescuing seventy individuals from lingering death. It had been calm all morning till noon, when a breeze sprung up from the westward, which threw us off our course. At about 2 pm we fell in with a brig, who sent a boat on board of us; she proved to be the Henry of Cork, bound to St. John's, with sixty four passengers, emigrants. She had been out 53 days and was in great distress for provisions, having been reduced for the last six days to half a biscuit a day, many of the passengers not having that. We supplied her with two casks of beef and pork, five hundred weight of bread, tea, spirits, and besides many of our passengers giving what they could spare from their stock.

The vessel herself was a wretched brig of 180 tonnes, ill found in everything and leaky. And the competency of his master to his charge may be judged when I tell you he was 800 miles off course. The agents were ___ and as such culpable neglect and barbarity on their part should not be concealed, I think you would be conferring a favour on society by sending an account of this to the Morning Herald.

He goes on to describe the lack of medicine available to these people and claims it is a 'traffic in human flesh.'

So it is no wonder that the McLeods had to be thrown onto the boats to come to Canada. They were dirt poor, so probably did not get the best kinds of transportation.

Rumour has it they ate mostly oatmeal on the trip.. but then they ate mostly oatmeal anyway.

Didn't much hurt the women of the clan: John's Mother, Margaret McLennan, lived to 98. His Dad, Murdoch Mcleod died in 1864.

Anyway, the rest of this man's account is interesting. He says most of the other farmers near Lennoxville, where he settled on a farmstead already up and ready to go, were Yankees, United Empire Loyalists. He describes them as on the make and slovenly farmers.

He describes the land as excellent for grazing, but not much else. He says he plans to raise cattle as the ET already provides beef to Boston, Portland and Montreal.

He works very hard cutting down trees, but he says he would not recommend starting a farm from scratch and it would entail too much effort. The trees are too big.

Well, that's what the McLeods and other Lewisman had to do. And the hailed from a near treeless place.

He says it is easy to get to Montreal. It takes only 3 days. You take a stage from Sherbrooke to Port St. Francis and then take a steamer to Montreal.

In 1911, Edith takes an auto trip to Montreal and it takes 6 and 1/2 hours. Today it takes 1 hour and a half by car by autoroute.

These Lewisman landed at Port St. Francis, which means they came from Montreal.

Anyway, he goes to to say this wave of immigration is quite controversial in the area among the farmers, and that it is the cause of inflation in prices. So even back then, when Canada was empty, they were suspicious of newcomers.

He says game of every kind is plentiful and then describes a three day moose hunt where they tracked down three moose with dogs and then shot the creatures as they fought off the dogs. Young bull moose. The author says he is no longer interested in moose hunting, although the site of a moose at the mercy of dogs and men is most exciting, he doesn't like all the snowshoeing involved.