History is a mirror in
which we see, not our own faces, but the faces of others who have passed
along before our time; it is also, a reservoir of dissolved experiences,
and a working lexicon of general education. The architect of history must
be a genius. He must know men better than the men themselves do, and must
have Argus' hundred eyes for human affairs. In reality, there are but few
men in the world who are fully qualified to write history, and these few
are strapping on a heavy contract when they try it.
The writers of the
following pages are neither historians nor literary artists. They are but
plain, simple, home-made men with some red blood in their veins, who
cherish a wish to perpetuate the virtues and memory of their departed
fathers. Their modest aim is to give, from the crude and scant data now
available, a fairly accurate portrayal of men and things in the county of
Inverness since it first assumed the white man's burden. Ordinarily, there
would not be much matter for history in the lives of men who lived in the
wilderness; but Moses does not say so. Our pioneer settlers came hither to
reclaim this land from its wilderness state, secure the title to their
holdings in fee simple, and build up happy homes for free and honest men
and women who would know God and fear Him. They succeeded; and it is not
unreasonable to suppose that, even to-day, the lessons of their lives and
labors might do much to
"Help a worn and weary
Pulling hard against the stream."
The early immigrants to the
territory now comprised within the County of Inverness were drawn,
principally from three races,-Scottish, French and Irish. Of these three
races the Scots were easily first in point of numbers, the French a very
respectable second. Numerically, the Irish were much weaker than. either
of the other two, but "what they lacked in quantity was supplied in
quality." In addition to these three races there came a band of United
Empire Loyalists, the majority of whom were Smiths. According to some
modern notions, no community of men is normal or complete without the
inevitable John Smith. In the County of Inverness this John has been an
eminently useful citizen.
The Scots who came to our
shores were emigrants from the Highlands and Islands of Scotland, some of
them landing first at St. John's Island (now Prince Edward's) some more at
Pictou, Nova Scotia, and working their way later on to the Northwestern
side of Cape Breton Island. One contingent of these Highlanders containing
two hundred and ten souls came to St. John's Island, in the ship
Alexander, on or about the first of July 1772. These were located on an
estate bought the previous year by Captain John MacDonald, the Laird of
Glenaladale and Glenfinnan. Other emigrant ships followed, landing at
Pictou and other points, thus giving the Counties of Pictou, Antigonish,
and Inverness their original Scottish colonists.
Our early French residents
took up their abode north of Margaree Harbor. After the sceptre had
definitely passed from France to England, those early French residents
came, in different groups, from St. John's Island, Louisburg, and Nova
Scotia, and their descendants now occupy that rich and beautiful piece of
country lying between Margaree Harbor and the northern limits of Cheticamp.
Our Irish pioneers took hold chiefly at and around Port Hood, in different
parts of Mabou, at and around Margaree Forks, and at North East Margaree.
All these pristine colonizers of different races and languages can be more
conveniently described in detail, when we come to deal with the various
districts in which they made their homes.
In the beginning all the
immigrants were compelled to hug the shore, the whole region being a dense
and dreary forest without any roads or guides for travelling. The first
requisite was to select a pleasant spot for a little log cabin. The next
step was to clear and prepare sufficient ground for the first year's
potato crop. Usually the squatter brought with him in a boat, either from
St. John's Island, Pictou or Antigonish, the necessary supplies for three
months, and returned for more when needed. The second year wheat was sown
in the plot which grew the potatoes of the previous year, and a new piece
of burnt ground was made ready for the second season's potato yield. In
the virgin richness of that soil the average wheat yield was twenty-five
bushels after the bushel, and the yield of potatoes and other cereals was
proportional. Food fish of many kinds abounded around the rocks and cliffs
of the coast. The grain crop was reaped by means of a hand instrument
called a "sickle" or reaping-hook, and bound into sheaves in bands of
straw. The threshing was done by a flail consisting of two light sticks of
hardwood fastened together with an eel-skin thong. The grain was ground by
a primitive hand-mill called "the quern," which is thus described by Dr.
Johnson, as he saw it in the Highlands:- "The housewives grind their oats
with a quern or hand mill, which consists of two stones a foot and a half
in diameter. The lower is a little convex, to which the concavity of the
upper must be fitted. In the middle of the upper stone is a round hole,
and on one side is a long handle. The grinder sheds the corn gradually
into the hole with one hand, and works the handle round with the other.
The corn slides down the convexity of the lower stone, and by the motion
of the other is ground in its passage." The flour or meal thus ground was
coarse food, but wholesome. There were giants in those days; and they were
needed to remove the tyranny of the tall timbers.
When several acres were
cleared and cropped, the owner could keep two or more cows which furnished
a sufficiency of milk, butter and cheese for the family. These cows had to
take to the woods for pasture, and there was trouble, sometimes, about
their homecoming at eventide. One way of enticing them back was to tether
the calves to trees near the house, in the presence of the parent cows,
and then drive off the herd into the trackless wilds. About sunset the
cows would remember the plight of their offspring, and hike back home.
Sometimes a delinquent cow would forget her duty and fail to come back. In
such cases, it was pitiful to sit in the gloaming and listen to the
anguished voice of that calf, calling the mother that did not return.
All of Donald's cows stayed
away one night. The wife went in quest of them at five p. m. The afternoon
had waned, and the shades of night had fallen, but neither wife nor cattle
showed up. The neighbors gathered in to institute a search, and went off
with torches. They travelled long and far, and late in the night they
recovered all of Donald's strayed property in good condition. The curious
part of this incident was, that honest Donald, himself was not one bit
concerned about his absent spouse. "Oh," he said, "there is no fear of
her; this is only a small Island, she'll come out somewhere!" The
consoling philosophy of the pines!
At this stage, also, each
homesteader was able to keep a small flock of sheep, which provided the
wool for the requirements of the family. There were no T. Eatons at that
time. You would have to produce your own raiment, or borrow "a leaf" from
Adam after the fall. The sheep were stripped of their wool every Spring
with a powerful pair of shears, almost as long, large and heavy, as the
sword of William Wallace. Then, the women washed and dried that wool, and
had it carded into rolls. There was a spinning wheel and a hand-loom in
every house, and the guid wife converted these rolls into blankets and
clothing for the family.
When that cloth left the
loom, an invitation was sent to all the young folk of the settlement to
attend one of the most lively entertainments of the period, - a Fulling
Frolic. The response to the invitation was quick and cheerful. An
improvised table, long and low, was fixed upon the floor. A row of hearty
girls on each side, sat down on large bags filled with straw. The cloth,
which had been washed and soaked, was produced, dripping. Those Tuscan
young maidens took hold of that cloth, and the process of Fulling began.
And such a process!
To see those splendid young
girls manipulating that cloth, cloth, - twisting, turning, rubbing,
wringing, lifting, pounding-all to the accompaniment of lilting Gaelic
songs. When one set of maidens got tired, it was replaced by another,
eager for the job. This whirlwind operation continued for, at least, two
hours without intermission; and, when it was was all over, that cloth was
nearly an inch thick, and guaranteed to wear indefinitely.
After the Fulling Supper
was served, and then followed music, dancing, Gaelic songs, and thrilling
legendary stories from over the seas. One vied with the other as to which
could produce the greatest good cheer. Everybody was pleased with
everybody, and all hands were happy. It was good to see it all,- the
sincere spirit of fraternity, the willingness to serve, the joy of
helping, the depths of love and good fellowship, the kinship of sweet
charity of which the illustrations are not now too numerous. Oh, boy! That
was "Life" in the white temples of Nature.
These pioneer colonists of
Inverness did not all come here together. They came in batches, from time
to time, and usually pitched their tents where they first landed. They
were men of fine physical constitution, lacking the light of education.
Rack-rent, and heartless landlords left them no opportunities for mind
training. Many of them could neither read nor write, nor speak any
language but Gaelic. All of them, however, had elementary knowledge of
religion, of which they did not fail to make good use. Creeds were
clashing cruelly in Scotland when our ancestors left it. The sober
dictates of the New World's forest were not favorable to the continuance
of such a folly. The best of men went into the desert to pray. In the
woods of Inverness it became an unwritten law with Catholics and
Protestants "to live and let live."
In fact, there has been
nothing finer in the lives of our people than their sane and sympathetic
tolerance in respect of the things of faith. Where they could not agree,
they agreed to differ. So mote it ever be. The christian religion, in any
form, is too large a fact, too great a gift, to be subjected to the clubs
of passion and prejudice.
There was something
pleasantly peculiar about those early settlers of ours. In the fatherland
they had lived as tenants, under hard, exacting, landlords. The holdings
of many of those tenants fell upon scraggy hills and heights that would
have to be bribed to keep a goat alive. In other respects, also, this
tortured tenantry suffered nearly all "the shards and thorns of
existence." The climax of their misery came to many of them with the final
collapse of the Stuart claims at Culloden. Then, the fateful exodus.
Despite all these things, when our good pioneers returned in thought to
the land which they were forced to leave, they harbored neither anger nor
resentment. It was their native land: with all its faults they loved it
still. It was the home and hope of their innocent youth. It was there they
learned to say "Mother." It was there the blood of their heroes was shed,
and the bones of their fathers were buried. For them, the peaks and crags,
the mountain fastnesses, the glens, the rocks, the caves, all had a
meaning and a message. Hear this charming jingle of the brilliant Byron,
tuned to the mournful cadence of the exiled singer:
"Round Loch na Gar where the
stormy mist gathers,
Winter presides in its cold icy car;
Clouds there encircle the forms of my fathers,
They dwell midst the tempests of dark Loch na Gar."
After the original
immigrants became a fixture here, one would think they never had seen
anything but sunshine. They were the most cheerful of men among
themselves, loyal to their friends, affectionate to their families, kind
to all and sundry, and notably respectful to any constituted authorities
or superiors. They literally reverenced their clergy. Whence came those
fine, benevolent, qualities? Those people had no claim to any artificial
refinement. They had no training, education or culture, except such
spiritual instructions as they received in their younger years. This last
named aid was certainly not thrown away upon them; it soaked and sank down
deep into their very being. And when we are asked whence their good
qualities came, we reply that, as far as the human source of those
qualities was concerned, they came from hearts that were clean, and lives
that were humble.
No doubt those men had
other parts, habits and traits of character, which we could not commend
now; but for the present, we are concerned only with those qualities the
imitation of which would be profitable to our time and readers.