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Reminiscences of Cromar and Canada
Chapter XXI - Friends New and Old


ON our arrival in Tilbury East, we discovered not only a new land but also new friends. Uncle John Fletcher, himself was in his way a remarkable man. When a boy about ten, he had either through accident or disease, lost the use of one of his legs and was thus unfitted for the manual labour of the farm. He was therefore kept at school and educated for the teaching profession. For a time he taught in the parish school of Glengairn which was near the place of his birth. While there, and some time in the third decade of the last century, he married and determined to emigrate to Canada. That course had probably been suggested to him by his friends John Coutts and his family who had settled there some years earlier. His passage across the Atlantic was very stormy and so prolonged that his friends had become alarmed. He reached Quebec however, in safety, and thence passed on by river, lake and tardy canal boat to St. Thomas in Canada West. There he taught school for a year and then resumed his journey westward. This latter journey he pursued with his wonted energy and dauntless courage. Taking with him his wife and baby by means of an ill-trained yoke of oxen and a lumber wagon, which, on account of the scarcity of coin of the realm, he had accepted, either in whole or in part, for his year's services, he eventually reached the village of Chatham in the county of Kent, then beginning to emerge from the primeval forest and already boasting of one, if not two stores and a post office. This brought him again in touch with his friends the Couttses, for whom, through his life, he continued to cherish the highest regard. His first employment here as teacher was in the township of Dover two or three miles down the river Thames. Before long he was able to purchase a farm on No. One Creek in the Township of Tilbury East which was being vacated by a family of the name of Smith who left to take up land in the vicinity of Chatham, where some of their descendents are still to be found. I do not know the exact order of events nor how long my uncle remained in his various fields, as teacher, but the same difficulty of obtaining cash for his services continued. This however did not trouble him. or even retard his interests. The pupils' fees were settled for in labour done for him in clearing or working his farm, and meantime, he was not only holding his own, but was, from time to time, adding to his estate as opportunity offered, an additional farm. It is a strange coincidence that for a time, he taught in a shack on the lot which my father purchased many years later. He also taught in the township of Romney where he made many friends. About the year 1856 he became clerk of the township of Tilbury East which office he held until the time of his death. His official salary was small, but it was in cash which had however for some years before his death, been taking the place of barter in business generally. The passing of the Reciprocity Treaty, with the United States and more particularly the terrible American Civil War 1861-1865, raised the price of all kinds of Canadian produce to such an extent that those years brought great prosperity to this country. As my uncle had gone very extensively into the raising of horses, he was able to take full advantage of the rising tide. By the time that we arrived in Canada, he was the owner of not less than five hundred acres of land, and at the time of his death, he and his family together, owned close upon 1,000 acres, much of which was cleared of forest and fit for the plough.

The last time I saw him was a day or two after my return from my wedding trip in 1873. I had occasion to go to Chatham, and on the way called to see him as he had always been kind and interested in me. He greeted me in the kindliest possible manner, and after entrusting me with some little message for the town, bade me "Good bye" saying that he would not longer detain me but took my promise to make him an early visit. Little did either of us think that that was to be the last time that I was to hear him speak. A day or two later my wife and I called together and found him in bed, extremely ill and quite speechless. He evidently recognized me and looked at both as if he fain would speak some word of kindness and good-will, but that was now beyond his power. On the evening of the same day, he passed away to his rest.

His life had been one of brave struggle, mixed with a full share of disappointment and sadness, yet leading on to wonderful achievement as a pioneer and farmer. He had been clerk of the township for seventeen years, was an elder in the local Presbyterian church, and had wielded a strong and beneficient influence in the community.

Some years before our arrival, the Rev. William King had founded his famous settlement in the neighbouring township of Raleigh for the aiding of the coloured people who had escaped from slavery in the United States to find refuge in Canada. To these unfortunates a ready welcome was not always given, but uncle was, from the first, sympathetic, and would readily give employment to all who would apply therefor. Meals were at first served to them at a separate board, but, after a time uncle, noticing that his eldest sort James, who was then a little boy, had been showing an interest in, and was making companions of, the dark-skinned brothers, concluded that if the coloured men were good enough as companions and friends for his boy, they were good enough to sit at the same table with himself. So it came about that, while James had grown to man's estate and had gone to British Columbia to try his hand at the gold-diggings there, we were accorded the privilege of taking our places at our uncle's hospitable table side by side with the flotsam or the jewels, as the case might be, swept into America by the drag-net of slavery and, by love's emancipation, cast upon the tender mercies of freedom-loving Canada. It cannot be said that these dark-skinned visitors were always received in Canada with the graciousness and pity that their condition should have evoked, nor can it be said that those who made them welcome discovered invariably, that they had entertained angels unawares. Yet it cannot be doubted that kindness even to the unworthy, meets with the approbation of Him who is, Himself kind to the unthankful and the evil.

With very little delay, the group of immigrant families already referred to, found their settled places. Uncle David and his family purchased and were settled on uncle William's farm, north half lot No. 3, Con. S. The McCombies had taken up temporary quarters near by, and soon left for a farm of their own in the township of Raleigh.

The two Edmonston boys got temporary employment as farm hands, intending, soon to join their brother Charles in the State of Texas. That plan was frustrated, however by the sad and untimely death of their brother who (as well as Allan Coutts, a brother of the Tilbury East families of that name) had fallen a victim to yellow fever, in one of its desolating waves, so common and so fatal in those days, unenlightened as they were as to means of prevention since discovered. Their attention had subsequently turned to California as a desirable place, for settlement, and thither they migrated in a year or two, Margaret McCombie following them soon after to become Donald's wife.

In those early days, there was much pleasant association with all our neighbours on "The Creek." The Kerr family was on our right and the Martin household on our left, with the three, Stevenson families near by, the Laing family in our rear and the Smith Mills and settlement less than a mile distant. These and others within a narrow radius made an ideal community.

NEW ARRIVALS

Happy as we were in the midst of our new friends, there was no diminution of our affection for those whom we had left behind in Scotland. The warmth of this affection was evidenced by the heartiness of the welcome given from time to time to those who came successively from the old land to join our circle. The first to be thus welcomed was Harry Forbes whose mother was, as already stated, a full cousin of my father. He came in 1868 to visit his brother George, in the Township of Plympton and contemplated making his home in Canada. Soon, he purchased a farm in Tilbury East, on which he came to live, bringing with him a niece as house-keeper. In about a year he married a Miss Kiever who was much respected by us all. Little did we think at the time that a sister of this niece of Harry's thus casually introduced, was to become the wife of cousin John Fletcher (son of uncle John) and that Harry, himself, was to become still closer linked with me by his subsequent marriage into the Stewart family.

In 1871, Frank B. Stewart from Newkirk joined our colony, and on his marriage with my sister Betty, which was celebrated in the summer of the same year, took up his residence at Fletcher in the adjoining township of Raleigh.

Shortly afterwards, old Uncle James Stewart of Tomulachie with his wife and daughter Lizzie, arrived, and before long, John G. the eldest son of David Stewart of Newkirk, and his family were welcomed in the new land.

In the summer of 1872, we were gladdened by the arrival of my cousin John Fletcher (son of uncle James) and his young wife. John and I had been, from earliest childhood, closest friends and companions, and his coming was therefore to me, as also to all the connection, a matter for rejoicing. Since the death of his father in the spring of 1863, John had managed the farm of Knocksoul for his mother, and at the end of the lease, had seen her comfortably settled on the farm of Pittentaggart, and was now able to leave her safely committed to the care of his two brothers and to set out for Canada in quest of a home for himself. Along with them came also from Aberdeenshire, Robert Adams with his wife and little boy Charles, who also came with the intention of settling in the neighborhood where his brother had established a blacksmith's shop.

The coming of the next member of the colony was a matter of such personal interest that I may be pardoned for giving a somewhat detailed account of how it came about. In December 1872 I started for Scotland for the purpose of bringing out a new settler. I celebrated Christmas on the ocean and landed in Glasgow on the first day of January 1873, reached 28 Ferryhill Place, Aberdeen, the residence of grandfather Stewart the same night and on the 20th of February married Eliza, the second daughter of my host and thus secured my immigrant. The marriage was Solemnized by our former minister, the Rev. Donald

Stewart. Next morning we went north, in company with my cousin Wm. Gordon to end a week with his sister Maggie who was married to James Gordon, a distant relative of her own. Their home was on a large farm called Udale which was situated about a mile south of the Cromarty Firth, just opposite Invergordon and within a few miles of the town of Cromarty, famous as the birthplace of Hugh Miller the celebrated geologist. On the Sunday we worshipped in the Free Church there, of which Mr. Miller had been a member prior to his removal to Edinburgh to become the editor of The Witness, the great organ of the then infant Free Church. On a subsequent visit to the town, we had the pleasure of entering the heather-thatched cottage in which the great geologist first saw the light and, from its meagre window viewing the surroundings which had formed no inconsiderable part of his inimitable sketch "My Schools and Schoolmasters."

On Sunday afternoon, our host had his Sunday school, as was his wont, in his own spacious home, and there our first week of married life was most pleasantly spent.

From there we reached Glasgow by the Highland Railway noting on our way to Perth some of the places famous in the stiring story of the Highlands. We stayed all night at Motherwell, enjoying there the kind hospitality of our cousins Mr. and Mrs. John Watson, and on the first of March, went on board the S. S. Australia of the Anchor Line, bound for New York.

The passage, though stormy, was rendered pleasant and interesting, not only by the presence with us of our friends Mr. and Mrs. Chas. Edmonston who had previously arranged to accompany us, but also by the sociability of our other fellow passengers of whom had had no previous acquaintance. On Saturday the 15th we entered New York harbour and on Sunday morning landed in the great city, even then boasting of a population (including all the territory comprised in what is now known as "Greater New York") of one million souls. The great Brooklyn Bridge, though talked of, had not yet come into existence, and the street cars, wonderful as they seethed to me, were still being drawn by horses. There was, however, at least one line of elevated railway which, if I remember rightly, was operated by means of a cable, the motive power being a stationary engine. At that time the electric trolley car had not seen the light, though I believe smile attempt, in a primitive way, had err then been made to run a car by chemically produced electricity.

On Sunday evening we heard, in his own tabernacle (though from the seat assigned, we could not see) the famous Henry Ward Beecher, then at the zenith of his power and popularity.

Next night, after dark, we left the city, though on account of the hurry anal excitement of St. Patrick's day we had much difficulty in procuring the services of a porter willing to take our belongings to the railway station. The following night, after dark, we landed at Chatham where we found waiting for us with his team, our faithful brother Frank who had come through mud almost impassable, on the bare chance of our arrival that night. Our letter announcing our arrival in New York, though properly addressed to Tilbury East P.O. had been mailed at New York (bunched, though not fastened) along with others of ours addressed to friends in Scotland and the whole lot would appear to have been, through carelessness, sent over seas. Whatever the reason, our letter came back to us from Aberdeen in due course.

On our arrival at Fletcher after midnight, we had a most enthusiastic welcome from my sister Betty and cousin Lizzie who had both remained up to greet us and also from Mr. Geo. Ainslie, the head sawyer who got up to see us and from my late brother James who was sick and unable to rise. It is to me a striking thought that our brother Frank who so kindly met us and the other four above named who so kindly welcomed us that night have all gone from us and never more will greet us in this world. May we two who still remain be found worthy to be greeted by them in the better land to which we fondly trust they all have gone before us.

Next morning we were no less heartily welcomed at my father's place where all were well and exceedingly glad to see us.

The last of the happy arrivals to be noted is that of my wife's sister Maria, familiarly known in our house as "Auntie Maria." In the spring of 1883, she came on a visit to Canada and although she liked the country from the first, she possibly would not have made it her home but for an attraction that held her fast. In the spring of 1885 she married Harry Forbes whose first wife had died some years previously, and settled in her new home about two miles from ours. There, her two children, Harry Stewart and Lizzie, were born.


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