This account is taken from the book "Cavendish - Its
History, Its People, Its Founding Families - Simpsons McNeills Clarks and
their Kin" by Harold H. Simpson. I have taken the liberty of taking
Chapters 5 and 6 from this book to enable me to show something of
settlement life on Prince Edward Island. We have now added the complete
book in pdf format to the foot of this page.
THE FOUNDING OF CAVENDISH, 1790
Before we proceed with the facts we think the reader
will enjoy a bit of semi-fiction.
To appreciate the quotation which follows, turn back to
the last paragraph of the preceding chapter and let your mind go back to
the carefully documented story of William and Janet Winchester Simpson and
their family over more than half a century.
Now for the fictional founding of Cavendish
- an instance of unresearched folklore
accepted as fact:
"In writing a record of the Clark family in America, as
I have been asked to do by members of the family, I admit that what is
here recorded was secured from older members of the family, now deceased,
and from people living in the neighborhood, of how the family lived for
close to one hundred and fifty years. Therefore I record the story here as
legend but will, nevertheless, try to put in writing what has been handed
down from father to son through 8everal generations.
"As the story goes, and as it has been told to the
writer, a certain tall, blue-eyed, Scotch youth left Glasgow, Scotland
between 1770 and 1774 and landed in England, where he met, fell in love
with and married a beautiful young woman, named Helen of Winchester who
was the only daughter of the Earl of Winchester. The young couple sailed
to America, landing in Boston sometime during the middle seventies and
there established a home and were living there at the time the Battle of
Bunker Hill was fought.
"This phase of the story seems to be quite authentic,
since two letters written by the young wife from Boston to friends in
England, stated that she did not like Boston because the hogs were
wallowing in the streets. In one of those letters she signified their
intention of leaving Boston for the colonies farther north.
"However as the story goes, the young couple watched
the battle in Charlestown through a spy-glass from their home on the south
bank of the Charles River and when they noted the progress of the battle
and the probable outcome, they "decided to leave Boston. (We may assume
from this that they were Loyalists.) They sailed for Prince Edward Island
arid landed in or near Charlottetown. At that time there were only three
houses in Charlottetown.
"A Mrs. Graham, who died in Alma, Prince Edward Island
about the year 1885, reported just prior to her death at one hundred arid
eleven years of age, that when she was a small girl living with her
parents in a log cabin some little distance outside of Charlottetown, she
saw this tall, good-looking, blond blue-eyed man and his beautiful young
wife as they travelled from the boat landing past her mother’s cabin. With
their dog-team they headed through the portage in the general direction of
New London Bay. (A portage on P.E.I. is a narrow road or path through a
thick wood and was used by the Indians to portage their canoe from one
body of water to another. The portage here referred to may have been only
an Indian trail.) At any rate Mrs. Graham said she knew the family in
after years, and that his name was Simpson, his first name she could not
be sure of and that his wife’s name was Helen Winchester.
"One thing we know for a certainty--that young couple
headed into the wilderness on that memorable day from the boat landing,
over the snow and ice from Charlottetown to New London Bay, through the
portage, and over ice to the head of the Bay with nothing but a dog-team
to carry the young wife. With only a few provisions, some bedding, an axe
and a musket they hewed out a home in the wilderness inhabited only by
Indians and in the dead of winter.
"We picture this beautiful young woman, who was brought
up in the home of aristocracy, probably highly educated in all the arts of
the time. We think that she had to sit on a stump in the winter and broil
deer-steak over an open fire In the snow for her man, who was busy from
dawn to dark hewing and fitting together logs for their first home. She
had courage. Methinks it was a small cabin and thrown together in a great
hurry; but still Simpson, with his Scotch thoroughness and his knowledge
of the use of tools, no doubt made a cozy place out of it, even with only
an axe. But how they survived the first ten days in the bitter cold with
not even a tent over their heads and their only food supply, the deer and
partridge that Simpson shot in the surrounding woods, is vague. We cannot
help but admire this rugged young giant for building a home In the
wilderness and securing food for the mate he dearly loved--but we regard
with reverence his young and beautiful wife who knew not how to knit a
stocking or weave a blanket and probably not even knew how to boil water.
But, nevertheless, with courage undaunted and a fierce love for her mate,
she struggled by his side and helped him to found a home and propagate a
race who have spread over the face of North America.
"All of this race are moved to honor a first of their
ancestry in America, who instilled within them a clean blood stream. For
this we are grateful, a rugged honesty for which we can never stop
thanking them, an unselfish pride in the family circle, a home life which
is the basis of present—day civilization, an undivided loyalty to the flag
of the country of their adoption wherever they may live, and last, but
most important of all, a firm and abiding faith in their Creator. These
are some of the many blessings we have inherited from that first ancestry.
"Let us keep faith . . . May
we maintain the standard as it was handed to us by the magnificent young
couple who founded our line on this continent. They gave to the world such
men as Jacob Gould Schurinan, ex—ambassador from the United States of
America to Germany. He is a man well-known for his energy, business acumen
and strong unyielding diplomacy, who in a lifetime expanded Cornell from a
small school of three hundred students to the magnificent university of
today. There are many others I could call to mind. We respect those folks
for their great achievements but we revere the memory of that famous pair
of young lovers, who on that bitter cold winter day faced the wilderness
with the supreme confidence that the wilderness would not break them down
to the level of the common herd but rather with the confidence that they
would break and tear asunder this same cold and ruthless wilderness and
from it create a thing of beauty and of lasting value to man-kind".
We do not propose to identify the writer of the above.
Suffice it to say that he was a descendant of William and Janet, a
professional man fully competent in his field.
Nor do we think it necessary to comment on the fanciful
story with its many obvious inaccuracies.
In the first paragraph of our introduction we referred
to the regrets of the older speakers at the 1890 centenary of the founding
of Cavendish that so little was known of the earliest settlers.
We have pointed out that this record is incomplete even
after years of research.
We have also pointed out that in our research we have
found many inaccuracies which we have been able to check out and correct.
We realize that there are many gaps, particularly in
the genealogies which follow. We hope that some of them will be filled by
others from records which have not been available to us.
But as the research has proceeded, we have been
surprised and pleased with the large amount of verifiable information that
has come to light from many sources. We have written many dozens of
letters and have had almost one hundred percent response.
We have referred to inaccuracies. An error once
included in a widely circulated article tends to be accepted and repeated.
An instance of this occurs in Walter Simpson’s
"Cavendish. in the Olden Time", an otherwise accurate record published as
a series in 1900 in the Prince Edward Island Magazine.
In the first instalment, page 341he says:
"Christina married a man named Taylor, and lived in Miramichi" and on page
342 "Janet married William Hyde of West River, and the large Hyde
connection are her descendants".
A check of records shows that Janet, not Christine,
married Donald Taylor and lived in Little Shemogue, N.B. not Miramichi. It
was Christine who married William Hyde.
But, from many parts of the continent, copies of the
Simpson Family Tree came to us perpetuating this error.
In Chapter 1 we have indicated where and, to some
extent what, Cavendish has been and is.
Walter Simpson begins his 1900 series of articles on
"Cavendish in the Olden Time" with this statements
"On the extreme north end of Lot 23, fronting on the
Gulf of St. Lawrence, where the coast alternates between bold cliffs and
long reaches of sand dunes, lies the beautiful settlement of Cavendish.
Just inside the coast line we have the peaceful lakes, teeming with
‘speckled beauties’ that make them the paradise of the true disciple of
‘Izaak Walton’. Surrounding these lakes are low-lying, fertile fields, and
groves of evergreen, making one of the prettiest pastoral scenes to be
found in this ‘Gem of the northern seas’.
"Right on the borders of these lakes the first settlers
commenced, one hundred and ten years ago, to fell the trees and build
their unpretentious log houses, and to lay the foundation of this now
"They were brave, intelligent, energetic, God-fearing
men, who left their little all in the land of their birth, and crossed the
stormy sea to hew out homes for themselves in what was then a wilderness.
Little do we, who to-day in comfort enjoy the heritage that was secured to
us as a result of their unremitting toil, realize the great privations
they endured, in the early days, when they laid broad and deep the
foundations of the mental and material prosperity which is ours to enjoy.
"The history of the settlement of Cavendish dates from
the year 1790. In that year William Simpson, the ancestor of the Simpson
family, settled here. He was followed shortly afterward I believe, in the
same year, by John McNeill and William Clark, who married his daughters
and were the founders of the McNeill and Clark families".
We have learned from the Provincial Land Registry
records that on 31 August, 1789 William Simpson leased from William
Winter, the proprietor of Lot 23, five hundred acres of land.
While we have known the approximate location of this
land "right on the borders of these lakes" we have not until recently been
able to establish exact lines.
The description in the lease gives the starting point
as a stake driven in the sand, long since gone.
Now, thanks to painstaking searches of old documents by
Harry Holman of the Provincial Archives staff, we are able to reproduce a
copy of a survey made by Robert Fox in 1809 which locates exactly the
boundaries of William and Janets five hundred acres plus.
It also shows how the property was divided, among
himself, two of his sons, William Junior and James, and one son-in-law
Also located to the east of the Simpson property is
five hundred acres in the name of John McNeill, another son-in-law.
To help the reader visualize Cavendish as it was soon
after its founding and again some seventy years later, we reproduce a copy
of the 1809 survey, and from Meacham’s Atlas of 1880, the maps of the
north end of Lots 22, 23 and 24 -the districts
of Bay View, Cavendish and North Ruatico.
The survey and the map show the inner lake connected by
an outlet to the outer one, which in turn has a larger outlet to the Gulf.
This latter was known as "The Sea Run" and one of our
boyhood interests was to net gaspereaux, a fish much like a herring, as
they were entering the lakes to spawn. They came in great numbers, so much
so that a number of farmers netted them by the cartload to use as a
fertilizer on the land.
William built his log cabin on a alight elevation
between the two lakes and just inside the connecting stream. There was no
basement and the logs of the cabin have long since gone.
But Jeremiah Simpson, who owned a part of the original
property and who died in September 1961 and his son Reginald now living in
the old home, have stated that on a number of occasions they have plowed
up artifacts on the site of the original cabin.
The present day visitor to Cavendish who wishes to
locate the spot may do so by proceeding from Cavendish Corner down the
Cawnpore Road till it meets the Park Road along the shore. Turn left and
drive west a little over three quarters of a mile.
Here, just to the right of the road, a hundred feet
west of the parking lot and between the two lakes stood the first home in
Cavendish, the log cabin of the founding Simpson's.
While the family did not move to Cavendish until the
spring of 1790, we think it probable that the cabin was built during the
fall of 1789.
William and Janet had ten children.
Margaret the eldest had married John McNeill in 1780
and now had a small family which they brought to their own cabin in
Cavendish, we believe in the spring of 1791.
In 1787 Christine married William Hyde of West River
(Meadow Bank). The deed to the land on which they lived was signed by
Governor Patterson on April, 1786.
On March, 1789 Helen married William Clark. They
came to Cavendish in 1790.
William Jr. the second son had married Mary Millar of
Cove Head, February 13, 1790 and they came to Cavendish as bride and
It is probable that Thomas, the eldest son, was living
in Prince Town at this time. It will be remembered that in 1780 William
Sr. had taken land there in the names of his four Sons. Oral records tell
us that Thomas spent his adult years in Prince Town where he married
Margaret MacLean December 13, 1793,and from whence he moved with
his family in 1799 to Cadman’s Corner, Parish of Botsford, N.B.
This accounts for the five eldest children of the
Simpson family. The five younger were still a part of the household,
ranging in age from twenty-two to eleven years.
The decision having been taken to establish a new home
in virgin country at Cavendish, we can imagine the preparations of the
Involved were William and Janet and the five children
who would make up their family unit. Also involved was William Jr., and
his young wife and probably Helen and her husband William Clark.
Since it was necessary to get to their new home as
early as possible in the spring in order to plant some crop, we think the
oral tradition that the original log cabin was built the previous fall is
probably correct. In late April or early May some shelter would be
necessary for the family.
Including William Jr. and Mary there would be at least
nine persons in this first group of settlers. And it is probable that
Helen and her husband William Clark, also arrived from Charlottetown some
time during the spring.
Until the two younger Williams built their own cabins
there would be eleven to shelter.
The 1809 survey shows that William Senior leased five
hundred acres (which when surveyed proved to be 565) with a view to
providing not only for himself but for two sons and a son-in-law.
He retained one hundred acres for himself. To William
Jr. went two sections of one hundred acres each; to his son-in-law William
Clark, one hundred and sixty five acres and to his third son James, one
The other son-in-law, John McNeill, who became a
founder of Cavendish, took one hundred acres east of William Sr. on 1
April, 1791 and an additional four hundred 22 September, 1803 to make up
the five hundred acres shown on the 1809 survey.
We think it probable that the Simpson family lived in
Cove Head for a time prior to moving to Cavendish. We know that William
Jr. was living there at the time of his marriage in February 1790.
To remove family and household goods, meager as they
were, from Charlottetownl to Cavendish in one operation would be an
extremely difficult undertaking.
There was no direct road but there was a road to Cove
Head. From there the only way to move their goods and chattels to
Cavendish was by boat.
Whether they may have lived for a time at Cove Head or
merely used it as a staging point is not definitely known. Certainly Cove
Head Bay was their point of embarkation by boat to Cavendish.
Probably it was possible for them to charter a boat
large enough to take them and their goods at one trip. The time would be
dependent on the absence of drift ice on the coast, but would probably not
be later than early May.
Since there was no harbour it was necessary to ferry
ashore the people and their household effects and provisions.
MacGregor’s British America outlines the essentials
required by a settler in getting established on a new farm as follows:
"A new settler, to be enabled to settle at once on his
farm, and not to be afterwards obliged to work for others, in order to get
provisions for his family, should have from 50 -
80 pounds in cash; this sum would include the probable purchase-money of
the land, and the cost of necessary supplies. He should carry with him to
his new farm, if his family consists of 5 persons:
50bu. potatoes, 2 bbls. flour, 1 bbl rye, Indian or oatmeal; 1
bbl. mackerel, 1 bbl. herrings, 1
— 2 bbl. beef, 5 gals. molasses, 3 gals.
rum, 3 lbs. tea, 12 lbs. sugar, 1 milk cow, 2 axes, 4 hoes, 1 saw, 1 or 2
planes, 1 adze, 20 - 30 lbs. nails, 2 pots, 1
kettle, some tea-mugs, gridiron, frying-pan and some earthenware. He
should besides this, have as much money as will purchase seed. The
majority of settlers, however, have nothing but their industry to begin
with; and, although they certainly suffer greater hardship, generally
succeed as well as those who have a little means.
"A day-labourer among towns may earn 3
- 4s per day, finding his own lodgings and
provisions. A labourer among the farmers in the country may always get £18
-£24 a year, and his board and lodgings found
"Prices of items to be purchased at this time included
sugar at 6d to 8d per pound while fine lobsters brought ½ to 1d
How adequately the Simpson’s supplies would measure up
to this inventory we do not know. We do know that there was no source of
supply within miles, except the fish which could be taken at their door;
that in the event of illness there was no doctor within reach
- they were completely dependent on home
remedies; that the only social contacts were very infrequent
- they had no neighbors within miles and that,
with only crude shelters and scarce food and clothing, they were faced
with clearing the forest before they could produce any crops, and of
course there was no school for many years and no church.
Writing in the Montreal Gazette of December 26, 1972
Cecily E. Lein, an elementary History and Geography teacher says in part:
"History teaches us that, in the beginning, it was the
land that conditioned the people who stayed here. It was only the tough,
brave, gutsy people, who could learn to live in harmony with the land, who
could survive here; people who learned to love Canada not only for what it
could give them but for what it was".
The spirit of these pioneers is shown by the comments
of a Scotch wife who, having left her cosy croft in Scotland, saw for the
first time the log cabin that was to be her home for some years:
"Ah me! When I saw the wee hoose just made of logs my
heart went to my mouth, and then I just thought ‘if I cannot make my hoose
to my mind, I can make my mind to my hoose. Anyway I could live in a
hollow log with William’".
It was May 1790. Presumably a log shelter had been
built, probably with a stone fireplace at one end for heat and for
cooking, similar to the croft fireplaces of Scotland. The cooking crane
had been hung with the iron cooking cauldron suspended. The meager
furnishings had been put in place and the food stored away.
Outside, except for the little clearing around the
cabin, was unbroken forest where ground must be cleared for planting crops
to provide a living.
Ahead were days of unbroken toil from daylight till
dark, felling and trimming the trees and breaking the land among the
stumps to plant potatoes and to sow grain.
While both men and women toiled with axe and hoe it is
probable that the two younger children, Charlotte 14 and John 11, were charged with the responsibility of providing from the lakes the
speckled beauties and other fish which would be one of the main sources of
The family would of course have a boat and would avail
themselves of the bounty of the sea, cod, mackerel, and various other
kinds of fish and lobsters, all of which were very plentiful.
With winter ahead cod would be salted and dried in the
sun and mackerel and herring pickled against the long weeks when ice would
close the fishery.
But the two first priorities were clearing the land and
building a log barn.
Oral records tell us they had a horse and at least one
cow which would require shelter and a place for storing winter feed.
Clearing the land was essential to their continuing
existence, and was their major concern. Felling and trimming the trees was
the easier part of the procedure, stumping the land was the difficulty.
In old barns the writer has seen hemlock boards
eighteen inches and more in diameter. Every tree had a stump to be removed
and there were many stumps to an acre.
In this day of bulldozers to clear a piece of land is a
minor undertaking. But the pioneer families had no bulldozers.
The procedure was to dig around the roots with a
grubbing hoe, chop off the roots with an axe and if a horse or ox was not
available dig out the stump by sheer manpower.
Where there was an animal to be brought into service, a
windlass was constructed. The roots having been cut as described above, a
chain from the windlass was attached to the stump and it was pulled clear.
But this did not complete the operation. When a certain
area had been cleared the stumps had to be hauled to the side of the
clearing and piled. Eventually after they had dried out they were burned.
And the holes from which they had been taken had to be levelled with pick
Then and only then could the beginning farmer graduate
from his few potato plants and his little patches of grain among the
stumps to a small level clearing.
Harvesting in either case was by means of a hoe or
shovel for potatoes and a reaping hook for grain which was threshed by a
flail on the floor.
With clear land came the wooden plow, a crude harrow,
the scythe and gradually metal implements.
But the blacksmith with his forge and anvil was still
some years in the future and the pioneer farmer was almost completely
dependent on his own resources.
The land was fertile and fortunately very free from
stone so that, once cleared, cultivation was comparatively easy.
And so long hours of hard labor soon began to show
results. They toiled unremittingly. Soon here a furrow, there a furrow,
then a field of waving grain; here a trail, then a path and ere long a
road which linked the homes of a growing community; here a cabin, and a
crude barn, then a house and the various outbuildings to meet the
requirements of a productive prosperous farm; here a founding home, then
their sons and grandsons and other families founding new homes, then a
rural area of comfortable homes, prosperous farms, schools, churches, and
Such is the record of the founding and the foundation
The Co-Founding Families - The Early Years
Progress is always relative.
In the fanciful quotation with which We began the
preceding chapter William Simpson, "a tall, good-looking, blond, blue-eyed
man" and Janet Winchester "his beautiful young wife", travelled from the
boat landing by dog team over snow and ice In the dead of winter, to build
themselves a log cabin, their future home at New London. Such would have
(How this supposed bride and groom got to a boat
landing in Prince Edward Island during the dead of winter is not
But there is nothing fictional about the reality of the
progress made by this pioneer family and their descendants during the
years following their venture of faith into the new life they had chosen.
We can only surmise at their reasons for making the
Far from the being bride and groom we have learned that
William and Janet were in their mid-fifties with ten children ranging in
age from thirty-one to eleven years when they went to Cavendish.
Why would a couple, well past the prime of life, who
had settled themselves in the growing capital of the colony, leave the
established order with its security, and go into the forest In a
completely unsettled area to begin anew?
Perhaps it was the Scottish love of the land and the
feeling of well-being it gives. We know that this was a factor in
William’s character. Had he not acquired land in Prince Town for each of
his four sons, ten years earlier?
Perhaps it was concern for the economic well-being of
his children and the belief that in the land more than anywhere else was
economic stability and the assurance of prosperity.
And there may have been an even more compelling reason.
We know that William and Janet and their family,
including their sons-in-law, were people of firm religious convictions.
From the beginning there has been a strong tradition of high moral
standards which has come down through the generations.
Rev. Theophilus DesBrisay, rector of the Parish of
Charlotte who founded St. Paul’s Church in Charlottetown, was so concerned
about the low moral standards prevailing in Charlottetowri that, while he
carried out most of his church duties there, he established his home in
the rural community of Cove Head.
It may well be that the Simpsons, with McNeill and
Clark shared this sentiment.
Some may suggest that if this was a concern it was not
logical to move to an area which had none of the institutions of religion,
- no church, no clergyman.
But it must be remembered that the whole tradition of
the Presbyterian Scot was that the parent assumed responsibility for the
spiritual nurture of his children, while at the same time giving his
devoted service to his church as a partner and aid. But the home with its
teaching and influences was paramount.
The parent did not say "do as I say, not as I do". He
realized that consistent example was the best teacher. Today’s society
could benefit from more of this philosophy.
Mary McNeill Lawson, Lucy Maud Montgomery’s beloved
Aunt Mary, in old age wrote a long letter to one of her nephews in which
she outlined the history of the early McNeill families.
Referring to her grandfather John McNeill she says:
"He married Margaret Simpson, daughter of William
Simpson, who had emigrated from Morayshire, Scotland, a man of rare
ability and Christian character, whose descendants filled a large space in
the moral, intellectual, and religious development of the country".
We can picture the family conferences with regard to
the proposed move, lasting over a considerable period of time.
And we can be very sure that the choice of site was not
made lightly. These were intelligent, knowledgeable people who would
carefully explore the potential locations with a view to finding arable,
fertile, stone-free, reasonably level land, preferably with access to the
sea. Fish were an essential part of the early economy.
We think there is no doubt that they carefully examined
a number of possible sites. The years have proven the wisdom of their
The l790s in Cavendish were years of beginnings. It is
fashionable today to refer to the "horse-and-buggy" days some with
nostalgia, others in a derogatory sense.
But the 1790s were pre-horse-and--buggy. There were no
buggies because there were no roads. On foot, by boat, at best on
horseback were the means of transportation.
The telegraph was still over forty years in the future
and it would be eighty-six years before Alexander Graham Bell was to say
on March 10, 1876 "Mr. Watson, come here, I want you" and initiate the
It was an age of slow movement but it was an on-going
Progress was slow in keeping with the pace of the day,
but there was progress. It was predicated on initiative, hard work, and
intelligent use of the ingredients at hand.
There were no supermarkets, no department stores, no
trades people, not even a little country store, practically no money.
Except for the few things they had brought with them, they were strictly
limited to what the land and the sea could provide and their ability to
adapt such provision to their uses.
The summer of 1790, in addition to the founding of a
community, saw the more personal beginning of at least two, probably three
farm units. William Junior and son-in-law William Clark certainly built
their cabins soon after arrival, and in the spring of 1791 son-in-law John
McNeill with his small family joined the group.
Shelter had been provided by means of log cabins, crude
and cramped, but still shelter and still "home0.
Fuel was abundant for the stone fireplace and water was
procured from a nearby brook.
To ensure a winter supply of water it is probable that
a well was dug during the summer. The digging of a well was always a high
The digging of a round hole five to six feet in
diameter proceeded downward until an underground stream was reached which
would provide a sufficient flow of water to meet the requirements of the
home and the farm.
Having "struck water" at whatever depth, the next step
was to build a circular stone lining leaving a core some three to four
feet in diameter, from the bottom to the surface.
Next they would build the working mechanism for raising
the water, a windlass, a round log about five or six inches in diameter
with a handle at one end, mounted on two upright posts.
To the windlass was attached a rope with a bucket which
was lowered by the windlass, filled with water and raised to the surface.
The final step in construction was the safety factor, a
wall built around the well from hewn logs to a height of two and a half to
three feet, often with a hinged cover. Children must be prevented from
Hand pumps, windmills for pumping water, and plumbing
of all kinds were a much later development.
Water had to be carried from pump to house, heated in
pots over the open fire until such time as stoves became available. The
kitchen range of the mid-eighteen hundreds had a copper tank which held
perhaps four to five gallons and gave a fair supply of warm water as long
as there was fire in the stove.
Every home had a large wash tub and the drawing and
heating of water for the Saturday night bath was a major operation, where
there were several children. Since there was no bathroom, a corner of the
kitchen was curtained off. While number one was having his bath the water
was being heated for number two and so on until each had had a turn.
The toilet was a two holer out back. A hole was dug in
the ground and the little building hauled over it. When it became filled a
new hole was dug, the building moved, and the original hole leveled with
clay. Toilet tissue was unknown, not even an
When sufficient land was cleared to provide pasture for
livestock, every effort was made to lay out fields so that there would be
access to a brook for summer watering. In winter the animals went to a
trough near the well.
Fields for pasture meant fences to keep the livestock
out of the crops. Here again the pioneers turned to the forest and the
"snake" fence came into being.
Logs four to six inches in diameter were cut to a
length of ten to twelve feet and split with an axe and wedge. The split
logs were then laid, with the ends criss-crossed at a sufficient angle to
hold, until a zig-zag fence three and a half to four feet high was laid.
The building of such a fence entailed a great deal of
labor but once built it would last for many years and would turn all
animals, including sheep.
There was little furniture, partly because there was
little available space, and most of what they had was home made on the
Pine was plentiful and easily worked. An experienced
man with a broad axe could hew a plank almost as smooth as if it were
sawn. it is even possible that they brought a saw and a plane with them.
Before water power was harnessed to drive a circular
saw, which came fairly early, an ingenious method was devised for using a
crosscut saw to make planks and rough boards.
A pit would be dug a little deeper than the height of a
man and a frame built above it to carry a log.
A crosscut saw was about five feet long with large
teeth and a round handle at each end.
One man would station himself above the log, the other
in the pit below, and they would draw the saw up and down through the
horizontal log to cut a board or plank.
It was slow, hard work but with large trees it did not
take many planks to cover a considerable surface, for instance a floor, or
to make necessary furniture.
In any case a table and benches were necessary, as were
bunks for sleeping. The bunks were of wood, boards with a lip around to
hold the mattress, and were usually double deckers and double bunks.
The mattress covers would have been brought with them,
empty. The material available, initially, for filling them was dry grass
which made a quite comfortable bed.
Later, when grain had been harvested, straw was used as
a filler and later still, after poultry became a part of the farm menage,
feather pillows and eventually that ultimate of luxury and warmth, the
feather bed, came into being.
These early mattresses were called ticks although the
name tick properly refers to the cover only. Funk and Wagnalla defines
tick as "the stout outer covering for a mattress",
With limited space shelving was important and boards
would be sawn for this purpose.
It was not long before benches were partially replaced
by chairs, with the rocking chair and the kitchen lounge becoming the last
word in comfort.
The Simpson home was past the need of a crib but this
piece of furniture would be an essential in the Clark and McNeill homes,
and soon in that of William Junior.
As time went on open shelving gave place to kitchen
cupboards and chests of drawers, all home made from local materials but
many of them showing a high standard of workmanship.
Without doubt one of the essential pieces of furniture
which our founding families would bring with them was a spinning wheel.
And very early sheep would become an essential part of
the livestock of the farm. The family was almost completely dependent on
sheep’s wool for clothing and blankets.
The process leading to a home spun suit or a pair of
socks or mitts began with the growth of an annual fleece of wool by the
This was shorn, usually in early June, when weather was
warm enough that the sheep would not catch cold.
Foreign substances had to be picked out by hand, a
slow, tedious task because the wool usually collected a mass of seeds,
burdocks, dried leaves, twigs, pebbles and whatever other small objects
with which it came in contact.
Following washing in several waters or, in an openwork
basket in a flowing brook, the wool being continuously agitated, the
fleece was dried outdoors. During this period there was a certain amount
of bleaching. During the process of washing, the wool became badly matted.
To prepare the fiber for spinning it had to be picked
over again and the fiber disentangled. This was done, up to a point, by
Then carding came into play, a process whereby two hand
cards were used, wooden rectangles about four by nine inches, with a
handle, each filled on one surface with small nails or steel pins. The
cards were dragged across each other forcing the fibers to lie parallel,
removing any remaining impurities and arranging the fibers in the form of
a small web.
The web was then drawn into a loose strand called a
roll, as part of the preparatory process for spinning.
This was a summer procedure. Spinning, the process
whereby the fibers were made into yarn or thread, was often left for the
long fall evenings. For the women, many winter evenings were spent
knitting socks, mitts, sweaters, stocking caps and o4her pieces
of wearing apparel.
There were few early settlers who failed to develop a
skill in weaving. There were few whose outer garb and often whose inner as
well, was not the product of their own farm, the wool carded, spun and
woven in the farm kitchen.
Our founding families could not go out to a shoe store
and buy footwear. They had to make their own. To make shoes they had to
have leather, and to get leather they had to tan the hides of the cattle
or other animals they raised. This meant that they had to convert an
easily decomposed substance into one that would resist putrefaction and
stand up to long wear.
It is not our purpose to go into the lengthy and
somewhat involved process of tanning. Incidentally the name tanning comes
from the tawny, yellowish brown color of the finished product.
Having prepared the hide the actual tanning was done
with an astringent acid procured from the bark of one of several kinds of
trees such as hemlock, oak, Willow or sumac, all of which were available.
The acid toughened the skin, condensed it and
coagulated all the albuminous matter to preserve it from rotting.
Having prepared the leather, wooden lasts had to be
carved to the approximate size and shape of the foot to be fitted and the
making of the shoes would proceed.
When they were ready to wear, sheep tallow was rubbed
in, and later applied at intervals, to make them water resistant.
Home made harness was also necessary and was made from
the leather tanned at home.
Since William and Janets son-in-law William Clark was a
shoemaker our founders were probably better shod than the average pioneer
family, and their beasts of burden had more comfortable harness.
As years passed, itinerant Shoemakers began to go from
home to home, staying with the family until they made the shoes and
harness required. But the settler still had to provide his own leather.
Shoes had no laces and were usually at least ankle
high, often knee high, and quite tight fitting. Hence, inside every
kitchen door was a wooden boot-jack which fitted over the heel to assist
in removing the shoe.
Kerosene had yet to be discovered and electricity was
far in the future. For light, in addition to the glow of the fire, they
had to make candles. These were made in tin molds, round cylinders, closed
at the bottom, except for a small hole through which the wick was
anchored. They were usually a little under an inch in diameter and often
attached in a group, of four or eight, or more.
The ingredients were a fiber wick attached to the
bottom of the mold in the center and to a cross piece above to hold it in
place. Melted tallow was then poured in and left to harden thus forming
No home can operate without soap, but again these early
settlers had to depend on their own resources. They had brought with them
tested recipes using only materials readily at hand.
They knew nothing about the chemical balance necessary
between the fatty acids from beef tallow or lard and the alkalies provided
by the hardwood ashes they used. Scientists did not learn these secrets
till early in the nineteenth century. But they knew that their recipes
While the log cabin was made as draft proof as
possible, the heating system was not too efficient, and fire was not
ordinarily kept on overnight. Winter nights could be very cold. So for bed
warmers planks, or sometimes stones, were heated before the open fire and
put in the bed, sometimes also put at the children’s backs to retain heat.
In the preceding pages we have tried to picture
something of life as it was during the first decade in Cavendish.
There were four log cabins along with whatever out..
buildings had been erected. William and Janet Simpson with their younger
children were near the junction of the two lakes. Immediately to the west
was William Jr. and his wife Mary Millar. Next to him on the west were
William and Helen Simpson Clark. To the east, having arrived in 1791, were
John and Margaret Simpson McNeill.
By 1800 each of the three younger men had young
families of several children.
It is also probable that James, the third son, who
married Nancy Woodside in 1798, built a cabin on his hundred acres to the
west of William Clark. Fourteen years were to elapse before he moved to
Bay View, the next district to the west and established the homestead on
which the writer was born and grew up.
We began this chapter with the words "Progress is
A fast-moving young person of this age of speed would
probably see the first decade of the history of Cavendish as a period of
inertia and semi-stagnation.
But to the participants in that period of beginnings
there was little of idleness and much of challenge as, with only the
resources within themselves and in the land and sea, they met and mastered
one by one the problems as they arose.
It took men and women of great physical strength and
stamina and of strong character to face the unreinittin2 toil, the
problems often apparently insurmountable, the loneliness, and the lack of
very elementary physical comforts.
But, from the beginning in the unbroken forest of 1790,
the year 1800 saw much cleared land under cultivation, a rapidly growing
number of livestock, with the necessary barns
to house them, a steady improvement in the ordinary
creature comforts of living, the happy voices of grandchildren, in short
five happy homes where faith, understanding, mutual trust and cooperative
effort were moving toward an even better future for all.
Progress was indeed relative. To the participants it
may have seemed slow, but it was definitely progress.
In these first chapters it has been our purpose not
only to introduce the reader to the founders of Cavendish, but also to
cover in some detail the nature of the, country, the conditions under
which life was lived, the primitive facilities available to them,
developed by their own initiative and toil from the limited resources at
their disposal and the way in which they met and overcame almost
At this point Cavendish was a community. Homes had been
established. Young families were growing up. Land was being cleared. Roads
were being opened. Community industries were being established.
The next seven chapters will deal with people
- the families of the four children or William
and Janet Simpson who, with them, were co-founders of Cavendish; the other
children of William and Janet who established homes elsewhere; new
families with different names who moved into the community; and a brief
report on some of the early families - kin by
marriage, who were closely linked with the Simpsons, McNeills and Clarks.
Much of the detail of this information will be found in
the genealogical charts in the appendix.
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