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The Scottish Catholics in Prince Edward Island 1772 - 1922
Chapter VI


As already stated, Captain John MacDonald did not come to Prince Edward Island with the immigrants. His business connections in Scotland were considerable at the time, and in consequence, it took him a long time to complete the necessary arrangements before quitting his native land forever. He accordingly entrusted the management of his affairs in Prince Edward Island to a younger brother, Lieutenant Donald MacDonald, to whom lie gave all the legal powers necessary to settle definitely all difficulties, that might happen to arise between the immigrants and their absentee proprietor.

But though absent in body he was always present in spirit, and never forgot the immigrants, and the Autumn after their departure he chartered a vessel in Scotland, which he sent out to Prince Edward Island laden with food stuffs and other necessaries for their use. This vessel however, never reached her destination. She was either lost at sea or taken by a privateer, and her failure to turn up was a serious blow to the immigrants whose stock of provisions was fast running out, and who in existing circumstances could not easily procure another supply. On his way to Prince Edward Island in the following year Captain John touched at Boston and it was there he learned the fate of the vessel he had sent out in the previous autumn, and realizing that the needs of the Colonists must be very great, he at once secured another vessel, loaded her with provisions and despatched her to their relief with the shortest possible delay. He himself soon followed, and reached Charlottetown a short time after the vessel.

On his arrival at Scotchfort he found affairs not to his liking. The hardships of the previous winter, accentuated by the scarcity of provisions had created much discontent amongst his tenants, and in consequence loud murmurs were heard on every side. Moreover, they were not at all satisfied with the relations existing between them and the proprietor. The very thought of having to pay rent was exceedingly distasteful to all without exception; while the uncertainty of the land tenure was a source of grievous disappointment . particularly to those who had been led to expect better things in America.

This question of rents had reached an acute stage, so that it was practically impossible to find a solution satisfactory to all. Captain John offered to give leases for nine hundred and ninety years upon what he considered very reasonable terms; but as matters stood no concession made in these circumstances would satisfy all persons concerned.

Before passing judgment on the case, it is well to remember, that the immigrants, when leaving Scotland, looked forward to the possession of free lands in America. They hoped to be done forever with a system, which to them was a synonym of tyranny and trouble. They were looking forward to a day when a greedy proprietor with an odious rent roll would never again molest them, or claim tribute under pain of seizure or eviction. In fact, the idea of Landlordism was so hateful to them, it called up so many galling memories, that they could not harbor the thought that an exotic so pestilential should be allowed to taint the pure air of the New World. Hence very early in their experience of Prince Edward Island, some of the immigrants decided not to remain, but made up their minds to cross over to Cape Breton Island, where they hoped to deal directly with the Government, and others left the Estate of Captain John and moved further East particularly to Lot 38, hoping to be able thus to better their conditions. Prominent amongst these latter was Hugh Ban MacEachern and a brother Donald MacEachern, who took up land at Savage Harbour, which in due time they were able to purchase and hold as their own. Others moved further away, keeping generally along the North Shore, and thus was set up a movement that served as the beginning of the Scottish Parishes now to be found in the Northern part of Kings County. This spreading out of the population, though yet only on a small scale, gave additional labor to Father James, who had to spend much of his time in travelling from place to place so as to keep in touch with his scattered flock.

In a letter written at this time to the Bishop of Quebec, he mentions the fact, that a number of Acadians from New Brunswick, who had not seen a Priest for eleven years, had come all the way to Malpeque that they might approach the Sacraments. They tried by every lawful means to induce Father James to come with them to New Brunswick and be their Pastor; but he would not consent to leave his little flock in Prince Edward Island. He promised however, that he would pay them visits from time to time, so that they would not be entirely deprived of the ministrations of Mother Church. His sphere of activity was thus considerably enlarged and the sum of his labors greatly increased; but it was all for the greater glory of God, and Father James' life story abundantly shows, that for this grand and holy motive he was ever ready to endure hardships and make sacrifices. Accordingly for the rest of his lifetime he added the Spiritual care of the people living on the Gulf Shore of New Brunswick and Nova Scotia to his already too onerous labors amongst the people of Prince Edward Island.

Father James did not live to be old. Burdened down by countless cares and responsibilities, face to face at almost every turn with well nigh superhuman difficulties, he wore out long before the alloted span of life. He had spent thirteen years in America, and in that interval of time he came in contact with every Catholic inhabitant of Prince Edward Island, and furthermore paid many visits to the Mainland, where the same round of arduous labors awaited him. It is not surprising therefore, that his strength declined in early life, and that he broke down at an age when the ordinary man is in the prime of manhood, and able to give his most efficient service.

The end came to him in the year 1785, when he had reached the age of forty-nine years. Perceiving his strength to be failing he retired to the home of Colin MacKenzie of Scotchfort, and there made his solitary preparation for death. This was in very truth the saddest experience of the devoted Priest. In the very best circumstances death is a terrible reality, and few there are, who can contemplate its approach without fear and trembling. But God in his wonderful love for mankind, has robbed it of much of its terror; because by the ministrations of Holy Church the dying Christian is so buoyed up, that he looks with calm and hopeful composure upon the hour of his final dissolution. At the time of his greatest need Mother Church stands at his bedside in the person of the Priest. He raises his hand over him in absolution, he strengthens and comforts his soul with the bread of Angels, he anoints him with Holy Oil that like a valiant athlete he may fight the good fight, keep the Faith and win the imperishable crown, and thus strengthened, encouraged, and as it were raised up above himself he is able to exclaim with Holy exultation: "Oh death where is thy victory? Oh death where is thy sting?"

But Father James lying on his bed of death had none of these consolations. He had to face death unaided and alone. No Priest was near to do for him what he had so often done for others, amid many difficulties and sometimes at the peril of his life. For him there was no Confession, no Viaticum, no Extreme Unction, no Spiritual consolation whatsoever, except what he was able to draw from the wealth of Faith, Hope and Charity that dwelt in the depths of his own priestly heart ; and so he died without the administration of a brother Priest, and surrounded by only the few friends who would gain access to the narrow cottage of Colin MacKenzie.

Tradition long cherished by the people tells a wonderful story of his last hour. He was apparently dying, the sweat of death stood out in large beads on his forehead,, his breathing was slow and labored, his voice had completely failed and he lay unconscious slowly descending the dark valley. The few watchers kept close to his bed, and watched in prayerful pity his wan features rendered visible by the light of a candle that flickered near his head.

Suddenly his face seemed to brighten up with the look of other years; he opened his eyes and turned upon his friends a glance of recognition; for an instant there seemed to hover on his lips a suspicion of a smile; he raised himself up on his elbow and in a voice so clear and strong that it enkindled new hopes in the hearts of those who knelt near, he exclaimed: "Preserve ye the Faith," and as the echoes of his words dissolved into silence he sank back on his pillow dead.

It would be impossible to picture a sadder scene than the burial of Father James. The stalwart men of Scotchfort bore his body to the old French Cemetery, where it was laid to rest amid reverential silence, broken only by the sighs and sobs of the grief stricken people. But no Priest was there to chant the Requiem, no official representative of Mother Church to unfold the splendor of her ritual, and when the grave had been filled up, as dust had returned to its kindred dust, the people crushed down by a feeling of utter helplessness, fell on their knees around the grave that held forever the remains of him who so long had been "their guide, their counsellor and friend." When all was over and they arose to go away, a horrible sense of loneliness came upon them, as if life were shorn of all ambition; and nothing now remained that was worth while. An aching void was at every heart and a feeling of utter desolation, such as they had not experienced since that sorrowful day when afloat on the waters of the Ocean, they saw the blue lines of their native land fade from their gaze forever.

But alas for human affection and human gratitude! How weak and frail they are. How slender is the thread they weave into the tissue of our daily lives. Father James lying in the grave was soon forgotten. The generation that had known him passed away, another took its place, the cares and preoccupations that appeal to worldly minds usurped the place in their memories, that belonged by right to him. Even his lonely grave ceased to be a place of interest, and in course of time so passed out of memory that no one now can point out with certainty the spot where he lies at rest.

Had he sought only for the applause of men, in all probability they would not have so completely forgotten him, had he labored for the world, perhaps he would today fill a niche in its temple of fame. But he was moved by higher and holier motives, he sought to "lay up treasures in Heaven, where neither the rust nor moth doth consume, and thieves do not break through and steal," and being at rest with God, he may well forego the fickle praises of men.

But in these latter days a great change has taken place in this respect. The name of Father James has come forth from the oblivion of years, to take its rightful place in the history of the Country. The descendants of the people, amongst whom he lived, and for whose sake he sacrificed all earthly things, are determined that he shall not be forgotten, that his name shall not die, but that it shall survive in the minds of men despite the vicissitudes of time and change. For he was in very truth, a real Confessor of the Faith in the opening years of our history, and we would indeed be recreant to our duty did we not enshrine in grateful memory the story of his heroism. It would seem that God himself desires this recrudescence of sympathetic appreciation, for, with the approbation of Holy Church, a monument now stands at the central scene of his Priestly activities, to carry down to future generations the glorious memory of his life and labors. It stands, let us hope, for all time to proclaim to the world that Prince Edward Island, though peacefully won to the Faith, has had heroic men who would dare all things for Jesus Christ: men, whose one absorbing passion was to be of service to their fellowmen, and men, who making choice of a self-inflicted, martyrdom followed closely in the footsteps of Him, who choose the cross upon which to die for the salvation of the world.


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