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The History of the Highland Clearances
Notable Dicta - Hardships Endured by First Emigrants


The reader is already acquainted with the misery endured by those evicted from Barra and South Uist by  Colonel Gordon, after their arrival in Canada. This was no isolated case. We shall here give a few instances of the unspeakable suffering of those pioneers who left so early as 1773, in the ship Hector, for Pictou, Nova Scotia, gathered from trustworthy sources during the writer's late visit to that country. The Hector was owned by two men, Pagan and Witherspoon, who bought three shares of land in Pictou, and they engaged a Mr. John Ross as their agent, to accompany the vessel to Scotland, to bring out as many colonists as could be induced, by misrepresentation and falsehoods, to leave their homes. They offered a free passage, a farm, and a year's free provisions to their dupes. On his arrival in Scotland, Ross drew a glowing picture of the land and other manifold advantages of the country to which he was enticing the people.

The Highlanders knew nothing of the difficulties awaiting them in a land covered over with a dense unbroken forest; and, tempted by the prospect of owning splendid farms of their own, they were imposed upon by his promise, and many of them agreed to accompany him across the Atlantic and embraced his proposals. Calling first at Greenock, three families and five single young men joined the vessel at that port. She then sailed to Lochbroom, in Ross-shire, where she received 33 families and 25 single men, the whole of her passengers numbering about 200 souls. This band, in the beginning of July, 1773, bade a final farewell to their native land, not a soul on board having ever crossed the Atlantic except a single sailor and John Ross, the agent. As they were leaving, a piper came on board who had not paid his passage ; the captain ordered him ashore, but the strains of the rational instrument affected those on board so much that they pleaded to have him allowed to accompany them, and offered to share their own rations with him in exchange for his music during the passage. Their request was granted, and his performances aided in no small degree to cheer the noble bandof pioneers in their long voyage of eleven weeks, in a miserable hulk, across the Atlantic.

The pilgrim band kept up their spirits as best they could by song, pipe-music, dancing, wrestling, and other amusements, through the long and painful voyage. The ship was so rotten that the passengers could pick the wood cut of her sides with their fingers. They met with a severe gale off the Newfoundland coast, and were driven back by it so far that it took them about fourteen days to get back to the point at which the storm met them. The accommodation was wretched, smallpox and dysentry broke out among the passengers. Eighteen of the children died, and were committed to the deep amidst such anguish and heart-rending agony as only a Highlander can understand. Their stock of provisions became almost exhausted, the water became scarce and bad; the remnant of provisions left consist€d mainly of salt meat, which, from the scarcity of water, added greatly to their sufferings. The oatcake carried by them became mouldy, so that much of it had been thrown away before they dreamt of having such a long passage. Fortunately for them, one of the passengers, Hugh Macleod, more prudent than the others, gathered up the despised scraps into a bag, and during the last few days of the voyage his fellows were too glad to join him in devouring this refuse to keep souls and bodies together.

At last the Hector dropped anchor in the harbour, opposite where the town of Pictou now stands. Though the Highland dress was then proscribed at home, this emigrant band carried theirs along with them, and, in celebration of their arrival, many of the younger men donned their national dress—to which a few of them were able to add the sgian dubh and the claymore—while the piper blew up his pipes with might and main, its thrilling tones, for the first time, startling the denizens of the endless forest, and its echoes resounding through the wild solitude. Scottish E migrants are admitted upon all hands to have given its backbone of moral and religious strength to the Province, and to those brought over from the Highlands in this vessel is due the honour of being in the forefront—the pioneers and vanguard.

But how different was the reality to the expectations of these poor creatures, led by the plausibility of the emigration agent, to expect free estates on their arrival.

The whole scene, as far as the eye could see, was a dense forest. They crowded on the deck to take stock of their future home, and their hearts sank within them. They were landed without the provisions promised, without shelter of any kind, and were only able by the aid of those few before them, to erect camps of the rudest and most primitive description, to shelter their wives and their children from the elements. Their feelings of disappointment were most bitter, when they compared the actual facts with the free farms and the comfort promised them by the lying emigration agent. Many of them sat down in the forest and wept bitterly; hardly any provisions were possessed by the few who were before them, and what there was among them was soon devoured; making all—old and new comers—almost destitute. It was now too late to raise any crops that year. To make matters worse they were sent- some three miles into the forest, so that they could not even take advantage with the same ease of any fish that might be caught in the harbour. The whole thing appeared an utter mockery. To unskilled men the work of clearing seemed hopeless; they were naturally afraid of the Red Indian and of the wild beasts of the forest ; without roads or paths, they were frightened to move for fear of getting lost.

Can we wonder that, in such circumstances, they refused to settle on the company's lands? though, in consequence, when provisions arrived, the agents refused to give them any. Ross and the company quarrelled, and he ultimately left the newcomers to their fate. The few of them who had a little money bought what provisions they could from the agents, while others, less fortunate, exchanged their clothes for food; but the greater number had neither money nor clothes to spend or exchange, and they were all soon left quite destitute. Thus driven to extremity, they determined to have the provisions retained by the agents, right or wrong, and two of them went to claim them. They were positively refused, but they determined to take what they could by force. They seized the agents, tied them, took their guns from them, which they hid at a distance ; told them that they must have the food for their families, but that they were quite willing and determined to pay for them if ever they were able to do so. They then carefully weighed or measured the various articles, took account of what each man received and left, except one, the latter, a powerful and determined fellow, who was left behind to release the two agents. This he did, after allowing sufficient time for his friends to get to a safe distance, when he informed the prisoners where they could find their guns. Intelligence was sent to Halifax that the Highlanders were in rebellion, from whence orders were sent to a Captain Archibald in Truro, to march his company of militia to suppress and pacify them; but to his honour be it said, he, point blank, refused, and sent word that he would do no such thing. "I know the Highlanders," he said, "and if they are fairly treated there will be no trouble with them." Finally, orders were given to supply them with provisions, and Air. Paterson, one of the agents, used afterwards to say that the Highlanders who arrived in poverty, and who had been so badly treated, had paid him every farthing with which he had trusted them.

It would be tedious to describe the sufferings which they afterwards endured. Many of them left. Others, fathers, mothers, and children, bound themselves away, as virtual slaves, in other settlements, for mere subsistence. Those who remained lived in small huts, covered only with the bark of branches of trees to shelter them from the bitter winter cold, of the severity of which they had no previous conception. They had to walk some eighty miles, through a trackless forest, in deep snow to Truro, to obtain a few bushels of potatoes, or a little flour in exchange for their labour, dragging these back all the way again on their backs, and endless cases of great suffering from actual want occurred. The remembrance of these terrible days sank deep into the minds of that generation, and long after, even to this day, the narration of the scenes and cruel hardships through which they had to pass beguiled, and now beguiles many a winter's night as they sit by their now comfortable firesides.

In the following spring they set to work. They cleared some of the forest, and planted a larger crop. They learned to hunt the moose, a kind of large deer. They began to cut timber, and sent a cargo of it from Pictouthe first of a trade very profitably and extensively carried on ever since. The population had, however, grown less than it was before their arrival ; for in this year it amounted only to 78 persons. One of the modes of laying up a supply of food for the winter was to dig up a large quantity of clams or large oysters, pile them in large heaps on the sea-shore, and then cover them over with sand, though they were often, in winter, obliged to cut through ice more than a foot thick to get at them. This will give a fair idea of the hardships experienced by the earlier emigrants to these Colonies.

In Prince Edward Island, however, a colony from Lockerbie, in Dumfriesshire, who came out in 1774, seemed to have fared even worse. They commenced operations on the Island with fair prospects of success, when a plague of locusts, or field mice, broke out, and consumed everything, even the potatoes in the ground; and for eighteen months the settlers experienced all the miseries of a famine, having for several months only what lobsters or shell-fish they could gather from the sea-shore. The winter brought them to such a state of weakness that they were unable to convey food a reasonable distance even when they had means to buy it.

In this pitiful position they heard that the Pictou people were making progress that year, and that they had even some provisions to spare. They sent one of their number to make enquiry. An American settler, when he came to Pictou, brought a few slaves with him, and at this time he had just been to Truro to sell one of them, and brought home some provisions with the proceeds of the sale of his negro. The messenger from Prince Edward Island was putting up at this man's house. He was a bit of a humorist, and continued cheerful in spite of all his troubles. On his return to the Island, the people congregated to hear the news. "What kind of place is Pictou?" enquired one. "Oh, an awful place. W Thy, I was staying with a man who was just eating the last of his niggers;" and the poor creatures were reduced to such a point themselves that they actually believed the people of Pictou to be in such a condition as to oblige them to live on the flesh of their coloured servants. They were told, however, that matters were not quite so bad as that, and fifteen families left for the earlier settlement, where, for a time, they fared but very little better, but afterwards became prosperous and happy. A few of their children and thousands of their grandchildren are now living in comfort and plenty.

But who can think of these early hardships and cruel existences without condemning--even hating—the memories of the harsh and heartless Highland and Scottish lairds, who made existence at home even almost as miserable for those noble fellows, and who then drove them in thousands out of their native land, not caring one iota whether they sank in the Atlantic, or were starved to death on a strange and uncongenial soil? Retributive justice demands that posterity should execrate the memories of the authors of such misery and horrid cruelty. It may seem uncharitable to write thus of the dead; but it is impossible to forget their inhuman conduct, though, no thanks to them—cruel tigers in human form—it has turned out for the better, for the descendants of those who were banished to what was then infinitely worse than transportation for the worst crimes. Such criminals were looked after and cared for; but those poor fellows, driven out of their homes by the Highland lairds, and sent across there, were left to starve, helpless, and uncared for. Their descendants are now a prosperous and thriving people, and retribution is at hand. The descendants of the evicted from Sutherland, Ross, Inverness-shires, and elsewhere, to Canada, are producing enormous quantities of food, and millions of cattle, to pour them into this country. What will be the consequence? The sheep farmer the primary and original cause of the evictions—will be the first to suffer. The price of stock in Scotland must inevitably fall. Rents must follow, and the joint authors of the original iniquity will, as a class, then suffer the natural and just penalty of their past misconduct.

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