More on the Edinburgh Settlers

Posted by on December 20, 2021 in Blog Posts, Community & Family History, Featured Flag | 0 comments

In his letters to Scotland Rev. William Bell provides additional details about the 1815 settlers who arrived in Perth in the spring of 1816 as the village was emerging from the forest.

First Road through the forest
To reach Perth in March 1816 the settlers had to cut a path for the wagons carrying their luggage

The Sponsored Settlers of 1815

” In the year 1814, the attention of His Majesty’s government having been called to the tide of emigration, at the time flowing from Great Britain to the United States, the following plan was adopted to direct it to Canada. A free passage was offered was offered to those who were disposed to emigrate to the colony; one hundred acres of land to each family upon their arrival, together with implements and rations, for a limited period, from the Government store. The heads of families were to deposit in the hands of a government agent, as a guarantee for performing the conditions, f.16; for the husband, and 2 guineas for the wife; but this money was to be repaid them two years, after they settled upon their lands. All children under 16 years of age were to be carried free; and on their attaining the age of 21, to have each 100 acres of land. In Scotland about 700 persons, men, women and children, accepted these liberal offers, and in June 1815, they embarked at Greenock, and sailed in four transports for Canada.

“On their arrival at Quebec, they were ordered to proceed up the St. Lawrence. It was the wish of the Governor to settle them near Drummondville, in the Lower Province; but, as they were allowed to choose for themselves, they preferred the Upper Province, where the climate was milder, and the soil better. A few days stay at Montreal gave some, who began to be tired of the expedition, an opportunity of deserting it, and settle in that city, others went over to the United States. Both of these classes, of course, forfeited their deposit money; but that was now of no consequence, as they had obtained a free passage for themselves, and their families. The remainder of the expedition, having proceeded up the river 84 miles further, landed at Cornwall, where part of them were settled on some vacant crown lands on the west side of Glengarry. The remainder, to the number of 60 families, proceeded 60 miles higher up the St. Lawrence, and landed at Brockville.

“Summer being already far spent, and some difficulty having occurred respecting the place of settlement, it was determined that they should remain in the barracks at Brockville (and Cornwall) till the following spring.

“To those who had large families, this delay was a serious loss, for though they had received rations all the time they remained, yet they stood in need of clothing and other necessaries, which they could ill afford to provide. To those who had no families, and were willing to labour, it was an advantage; for they had time to lay by a little for future use, money being then plentiful, and workmen in demand.

The Barracks

Official reports contain information that suggests the winter quarters were far from adequate. References to immigrant complains contain phrases such as “At Cornwall I found about three hundred settlers . . . For these there was no adequate accommodation. The barracks . . . were in a bad condition. I was obliged to direct . . . a few stoves to be placed in them, the windows repaired, and some of the berths to be replaced.” The settlers prepared a petition, circulated by “three principal leaders in the business”, William Old, John Holliday, and Francis Allan, that was sent to London requesting that full rations be provided. The authorities began to refer to these men as “men of this description (who are) endeavouring to contaminate the minds of the well-disposed” suggesting that they were subversive. John continued to be a dissident, Francis went on to assume various positions in the new community and little is known of William Old. By Christmas time a number of families moved from Cornwall to Brockville where many procured employment. The families were accommodated in barracks, adjoining huts and in the neighbouring farmhouses where employment had been secured.

“It was while the settlers remained in Brockville, they prepared to forward a petition for a minister to be sent to them. The plan they pursued, though good in itself, was connected with some unpleasant circumstances. Government had promised them a small salary for a minister and a schoolmaster, previously to their leaving home. The latter they had brought along with them, and now they promised to send the former, but, being connected with all four branches of the Presbyterian church in Scotland, they could not, for some time, agree to which of them they should apply for a minister. This to them was in reality a matter of no importance, as none of these causes of difference exist here which divide Presbyterians at home. A faithful minister, of Presbyterian principles, was what they wanted, and the point on which they differed ought never once to have been mentioned. Unhappily, however, this was not the case. Disputes and contentions took place, the bad effects of which are felt to this day. After some angry discussion, a great majority of them agreed to apply to the Associate Presbytery of Edinburgh, and left it to them to select a suitable person for their minister. A petition was prepared, signed and forwarded accordingly.

“Early in the spring of 1816, they were directed to proceed to the place of settlement on the banks of the Tay. The townships of Bathurst, Drummond and Beckwith had been surveyed, and were now open for their reception. In the adjoining townships of Elmsley and Burgess, which had been surveyed before the war, there was also a good deal of vacant land. A place for a Government depot and a town had been laid out on the banks of the Tay, 42 miles north from the St. Lawrence. About the beginning of March, the settlers set out for their new residence but before they could reach it with their baggage, they had to open a road 20 miles of the way through a forest. Having reached the spot where the village of Perth now stands, they began to clear the ground and prepare for building. Some huts covered with boughs or bark were the first buildings they erected. The King’s store, superintendent’s office, and a bridge across the Tay soon followed. Those who wished to become farmers were settled upon their land at once, but those who wished to settle in the village obtained town lots of an acre each, on condition of clearing them off and building houses. Every possible advantage was afforded to them; everyone as he came forward having a chance of all the lots that were vacant. Some however, selected bad lots either through want of skill or an unwillingness to take the trouble to go and examine the land. Col. Macdonnell was then superintendent, and the settlers often speak to this day of his kindness and attention to their interests; and the loss the settlement sustained when he left it. Requests for a different destination were denied.

Rumors of Their New Home

Rumors circulated about the location where the settlers were to be placed, some fact, some of to be questioned. The land in the neighbourhood of the Rideau Lakes was not yet fully surveyed and did not yet have a road leading to it. The land was said to be not the most desirable nature. It was distant from existing settlements where settlers could obtain supplies and market their products. Social ties were being formed in the community where they wintered. How could these ties be maintained? Better land with good water access for transportation was available further west. Again, a petition was prepared. John was a signatory, but it was not written in his hand. No doubt he had participated in its preparation.

Travelling to Their New Home

The settlers travelled with ‘an abundance of goods’ and were faced with difficult travel conditions. The first section of the trip known as the Turnpike Trail ran north-west from Brockville for twenty-six miles to Stone’s Mills on Upper Beverley Lake. From there the route was twelve miles nor t to ‘the Bay’, now the site of the village of Portland, on a point jutting into Rideau Lake. They had to cut a road for the last three miles to reach the lake. Here they loaded their supplies into a ‘scow’, a flat-bottomed barge fitted with a sail, which took them down the lake. They landed near the mouth of the Tay River where their goods were unloaded and transferred by ox-sleds across land to bypass falls and rapids in the Tay. At the Tay everything was once again transferred to scows that conveyed the settlers to Perth.

Archibald Morrison reported that the (first) settlers “began to clear the road to the settlement on March 22nd and a month later they were placed on their land”. They travelled in small groups so this would be the first group of settlers to arrive. They arrived at their destination on March 25. and 1816 and their first task was to erect a shanty on their property. No accommodation was provided in Perth for the settlers. 1816 proved to be a difficult year. In addition to settlers discovering that their tools were faulty, the weather was cold and wet, with virtually no summer heat. It later became known as the “summerless year” and resulted in little growth of crops. Mount Tambora near Bali erupted in 1815 blanketing the atmosphere with ash, blocking sunlight and causing the average temperature around the world to drop by .4 to .7 degrees Celsius. The government extended the ration distribution for another year and the settlers continued to clear their land in preparation for the ‘next year’.

The first shelter for the settlers was a ‘shanty’ – a rudely constructed building using local trees that could be handled by men without assistance from oxen or horses, and usually had a roof of bark or boughs. As circumstances allowed, this building was replaced by a more substantial ‘log’ cabin. The Canadian census indicates that many of the homes in the Perth area were classified as ‘shanties’ as late as the 1860s – many occupied by Irish and other famine survivors.

The Settlers in 1818

“During the year 1818 many of the settlers suffered great hardships. The crops of the two former years had not only been scanty, but the extent of the land in cultivation was small. Their clothing, which is subject to much tear and wear in the woods, was greatly reduced, and the prospect altogether was by no means cheering. Numerous petitions were prepared and dispatched to the governor, praying for further assistance in rations. After some delay, half rations were granted to those who were in the greatest distress, and who had large families. This supply afforded a great relief to the settlement, but, as it was only to be continued to the harvest, that season was waited for with the most anxious expectations and fervent prayers. When it arrived, by the blessing of God, it brought plenty along with it. The potato crop in particular was not only abundant, but of an excellent quality, and formed the principal support of many poor families for the next twelve months.

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