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Among the Forrest Trees
Chapter VII - Some Oral History


A FEW nights after the talk about the wolves, John said to his father, "In that new country to which I am going, and where I expect to spend my days, I shall meet with people from different countries. Some of them will, to a great extent, be ignorant of the character and doings of the first settlers on the Canadian frontier, and many who come from the Old Country will have prejudices against the U. E. Loyalists and their descendants. You know, according to history, there were a large number in Britain who, if they did not go so far as to justify the revolting Americans, did, at least, strongly sympathize with them. Now, I would like to be as well prepared as possible to meet those objections, whether they originate in ignorance or prejudice. Can you relate some facts and incidents in connection with the early settlement of the Niagara District?"

"Yes," replied the father; "I am glad to have an opportunity to enlighten your mind on this subject, and I trust that your loyalty will be strengthened by a knowledge of what your immediate ancestors and their suffering fellow-subjects did and suffered to win the title of United Empire Loyalists."

"But, father," said the young Canadian, "where and how did those people get the name of U. E. Loyalists? Did they take it to themselves, or did the Americans give it to them?"

Answer, "Neither. The name was given, as a title, by the British Government, to those who stood by the royal cause in the War of Independence. In the Treaty of Paris it was stipulated that the American Congress should use its influence, and exert its authority with the State Governments, to have the Loyalists dealt with as conquered people, who had been faithful in their allegiance to the Government that is -overthrown, are always treated in civilized countries.

"But, if the Congress ever attempted to fulfil this engagement, their efforts were not successful. So far as mitigating the punishment of the Loyalists was concerned, if the Congress spoke, its voice was not heard. Perhaps it was the clamor of Tom Paine, who just then was screaming his anti-British and anti-Christian bombast into the willing ears of the new Republic, that made the words of the people's representatives fall uselessly upon ears that were dull to hear the right.

Whatever may have been the cause of it, one thing is certain, that is this: The Loyalists could not have been more cruelly treated, unless they had been massacred without regard to age or sex. And there were many cases in which death itself would have been less cruel than the treatment to which the sufferers were subjected.

"They were driven from their homes—and many of them were the owners of good homes. They had their property taken from them, and some had large estates."

"But, father," inquired John, "why could they not have stayed where they were, instead of starting on such long and tedious journeys, as some of them did? You said once that they travelled hundreds of miles through dense forests, having no roads but Indian trails to foIlow."

"Your question, John," said the father, "is a natural one; but there were two very potent reasons why the Loyalists did not remain in the States. They could not stay if they would, and they would not stay if they could. Every State passed laws against them—some more severe than others, it is true; but not one of them proposed to deal either kindly or justly with them.

"And there were two reasons why these people would not stay in the States. They were British in all their sympathies and in all their aspirations. The system of government, secured by the British Constitution was, to them, the best in the world, and they would not voluntarily change it for any other. And, besides this, these people would not consent to stay and become mere serf,, among those who had robbed them of their property and driven them from their homes."

"How many of those people left the States to no to British territory?"

"About forty thousand came to the British provinces in 1784, and more went to Florida, the Bahama Islands, and British West Indies.

"Ten thousand of the number cause to this Province, and settled along the frontier in different localities. Some went as far west as Long Point, on Lake Erie, others settled in the Niagara Peninsula, while others went north of Lake Ontario, about where York County and the town of York now is."

"When did the first settlers come into the County of Lincoln? " asked John.

"In or about 1780," replied the father.

"Where did the first settlers come from?"

"Mostly from Maryland and Pennsylvania; though a number of families came from New York and some from Virginia," was the answer.

"Well," said John, "there is one thin(, that I cannot understand, Why were the Quakers interfered with, seeing they are non-combatants?"

"They refused to pledge themselves to the new order of things. And they would not promise to hold no intercourse with the Loyalists, hence some of them suffered about as much persecution as the Loyalists themselves."

"Why did not the British Government reward these people for their sacrifices and sufferings, in a more honorable way than to leave them to the merciless treatment of their bitter enemies?" asked the young man.

"As soon as the British Government became aware of the facts of the case, they acted very honorably by the Loyalists. You must know that Englishmen are very much set in their ways, but once they are convinced that they are wrong, or that they have made a mistake, there are no people in the world that will acknowledge the wrong, more gracefully or correct a mistake more promptly or cheerfully. So it was in this case.

"When the people of England came fully to realize the exposed condition in which the Treaty of Paris left the Loyalists, all parties agreed that the mistake must at once be corrected as far as it was possible to do so. The feeling on this subject may be gathered from extracts from speeches of British statesmen and others. Lord North, who was Premier during the war, said: ' Now let me, sir, pause on a part of the treaty which awakens human sensibility in a very irresistible and lamentable degree. I cannot but lament the fate of those unhappy men who, I conceive, were in general objects of our gratitude and protection. They have exposed their lives, endured an age of hardships, deserted their interests, forfeited their possessions, lost their connections and ruined their families in our cause.

"Mr. Wilberforce said, in the House of Commons, that 'when he considered the case of the Loyalists, he confessed he felt himself conquered.'

"Lord Mulgrave said: `The article respecting the Loyalists he never could regard but as a lasting monument of national disgrace.'

Mr. Burke said: `At any rate it must be agreed on all hands, that a vast number of Loyalists had been deluded by this country, and had risked everything in our cause; to such men the nation owed protection, and its honor was pledged for their protection at all hazard.'

"The Lord Advocate said: ` With regard to the Loyalists, they merited every possible effort on the part of this country.'

"Mr. Sheridan, said: 'He execrated the treatment of those unfortunate men, who without the least notice taken of their civil and religious rights, were handed over to a power that would not fail to take vengeance on their for their zeal and attachment to the religion and government of this country.'

"Sir Peter Burrill said: 'The fate of the Loyalists claimed the compassion of every Duman breast.'

"Sir William Booth said: `There was one part of the treaty at which his heart bled, the article in relation to the Loyalists. Being himself a man, he could not but feel for men so cruelly abandoned to the malice of their enemies. It was scandalous. It was disgraceful. Such an article as that ought scarcely on any condition to have been admitted on our part. They had fought for us, and run every hazard to assist our cause, and when it most behoved us to afford them protection we deserted them.'

"In the House of Lords, Lord Walsingham said: `He could neither think nor speak of the dishonor of leaving these deserving people to their fate with patience.'

"Lord Townsend said that, `To desert men who had constantly adhered to loyalty and attachment, was a circumstance of such cruelty as had never before been heard of.'

"Lord Stormont said that, `Britain was bound in justice and honor, gratitude and affection, and by every tie, to provide for and protect them.'

"Lord Sackville regarded the abandonment of the Loyalists as a thin; of so atrocious a kind, that the sacrifice of these unhappy subjects must be answered for in the sight of God and man.

"Lord Lough borough said: `The fifth article of the treaty had excited a general and just indignation, and that neither in ancient nor modern history had there been so shameful a desertion of men, who had sacrificed all to their duty, and to their reliance on British faith.'

"At the close of this discussion, the Commons passed a direct vote of censure against the Government for neglecting to protect the Loyalists in the Treaty of Paris."

"Father," said John, "I am very much pleased that you have told us so many things about the Loyalists, and also about the way in which the home Government took up their cause at the last. I never knew that they had endured so much."

"The time will come," said the father, "when people in this country will be as proud to be able to trace their ancestry back to the United Empire Loyalists as ever people in England were to be able to trace theirs hack to the heroes of the Norman Conquest. These people formed the nucleus of a distinct nationality, and one that will yet make itself heard among the nations—a nationality that is different from the American or the English type, but one that shall exhibit the best traits of both these nation."

"The first settlers in this country must have experienced many hardships here, after all the ill-treatment they endured before they carne here," said John.

"Yes," answered his father, "that is so. Now, it seems like a big undertaking for you and others to go to the New Purchase or toy Talbot District to settle. But light will be your trials as compared with those of the first settlers of this district.

If you (,et into any kind of trouble, there are those who are able and willing to help you. They had to help themselves or go without, no matter what came in their way. If you need supplies, you can get them. They had to supply themselves or go without. If they were sick, they had to be their own doctor. If they needed medicine, they went to nature's great laboratory of herbs and roots and flowers to get it."

"Well," said John, "it must have been very difficult to keep house at all in those clays, where there were no mills, no stores, no blacksmiths, no shoemakers, no tanners, no weavers, no tailors, no tinsmiths, nor coopers. How could they manage to live?"

"Your questions are very natural ones, John," said his father. "In a country where none of these are found people have to do the best they can. They must use what ingenuity they have to provide for themseIves. For instance, I can remember when I was a young man, I often helped my mother to grind both wheat and Indian corn on the top of a large oak stump.''

On the top of a stump! Of all things, who would ever think of doing that? Why, how did you manage it," broke in Betsy, who had come into the room in time to hear a part of the conversation.

"I don't know who first thought of it, but I know that it was a very common practice at one time. We would scoop out a sort of butter tray in the top of the stump with a hollow adze; then we took a stone or a piece of hardwood and, after fitting it to the dish, we pounded the grain until we made it as fine as we could, then we run the meal through a sieve. The finest was made into johnny cake or bread, and the coarsest into porridge or mush."

"I can remember, .John," said his mother, "when your wife's grandmother used to grind corn and wheat in a large pepper mill, to make bread and mush for a family of eight."

"Where did they get salt to put into their mush and other things, mother?" asked John.

"At first," she replied, "we found a great deal of hardship in doing without salt; but, after a while, some friendly Indians showed our people where there was a salt spring. We used to boil our own salt out of this water until the home Government sent out salt from Liverpool."

"Father," said John, "how did these people keep themselves in clothes and shoes?"

"The most of them brought a pretty good supply with them when they came. But for sonic years there was a great deal of suffering, especially in the winter time. But they soon got into the way of raising flax and wool. The women became very expert in carding and spinning, and weaving, and making up garments for their families," was his answer.

"Did the women do the carding?" asked Betsy, who was very much interested in the conversation.

"Yes; they used hand cards. It was a slow arid, tedious work, but it had to be done. I tell you, Bet, that with the vast range of work that these old women had to do, and the heavy burdens they had to carry, it is no wonder that they became stoop-shouldered and hard-handed. The wonder is, that there was one bit of feminine sweetness or womanly tenderness left in them. They had to be housekeeper, cook, servant, mistress, carder, spinner, weaver, tailor, dressmaker, nurse, doctor, gardener, butter and cheese maker, and whitewasher, all in one."

"How did the men do their part of the work?" asked John.

"'Their jobs were just as various, and no less numerous, than the women's were. They had to raise the flax, and rot it, and crackle it, and swingle it, and hatchel it for the women. They must raise the wool, and shear the sheep; they must chop and clear the land ; they looked after the cattle; they must attend to the sugar-bush in the spring; they must be their own tanner, and currier, and shoemaker, and carpenter, and sleighmaker, and blacksmith. In a word, they must be both boss and hired man, Jack and his master, landlord and tenant, all in one, or, if they did not do this, they would come in behind in the race."

"Father," said John, "you have not told me since I came home how that Scotchman came off in his trial, that was to come on in August, I think. Were you at the trial?"

"You refer to the agitator, Robert Gourley, I suppose? Yes, I heard the trial," was the answer.

"You see, I went to town on business, and when I learned that the ` troublesome Scotchman ' was to be tried that day, I went to hear the trial and see the man who had made such a noise in the country. And I am sure that I never pitied a roan more than I did poor Gourley that day.

"It did seem to inc that the whole thing was a burlesque on the sacred name of justice. There was the prisoner, in a box, looking like a ;host more than like a man. There was the Chief-Justice, looking and acting more like some despotic ruler than like a new country judge. There sat the twelve men in the jury-box, looking as though they wanted to do right, if some one would only tell them what was right in this case. They had the fate of the prisoner in their hands, but they did not know what to do with it.

"There were the lawyers, hopping about like red squirrels in the top of a chestnut tree, and trying to look wise, as lawyers always try to do, but sometimes they make sad failures.

"There sat the witnesses, looping as if they would like to retain the good opinion of the two convicting magistrates, who sat there, enjoying the torture of their victim with as little tenderness of feeling as a cat enjoys the fruitless struggles of the poor little squeaking prisoner that is held fast in its merciless claws.

"When the jury brought in a verdict of guilty, the judge asked the prisoner if he had anything to say. He said something about British law and British generosity. But he soon learned, to his sorrow, that the court had no ear for logical argument or pathetic appeal. The judge ordered him to leave the country in the short space of twenty-four hours, and to suffer death as a felon if he ever dared to come back to Upper Canada."

"How could these U. E. Loyalists so soon forget the cruelty to which they had been exposed, and the unfeeling treatment the Americans had subjected them, to only one generation back? It seems to one, that in their treatment of Gourley they were exhibiting the same spirit and performing the same acts against which they and their fathers had so loudly protested during, and after, the Devolutionary War." This was said by the young man with considerable warmth.

The father answered, "The Loyalists were not wholly responsible for what was done. Two at least of Gourley's persecutors were his own countrymen, namely, Dickson, of Niagara, and the afterwards notorious Dr. Strachan, of York. And I do not think the Chief-Justice is a U. E. Loyalist, though I am not certain as to that.

"And you know it sometimes happens that servants become the hardest masters, and it often occurs that persons who are elevated from the lower to the higher positions in society become the most overbearing and tyrannical. This is one of the ways in which the rebound or strike-back that there is in human nature manifests itself. You know it is easy for a coward to be brave when there is no danger. And a weak man may act like a strong one when he has a weak or helpless victim to deal with. Bearing these facts in mind, we can account for a great many things that would otherwise be very difficult to understand.

"It seems that Gourley's enemies dare not face hire in court until they had tried, for seven months, what the foul air of a prison cell, and the scanty sustenance of prison fare could do towards taming the wild, restless spirit of the clear-headed, vigorous Scotchman. When they had the lion chained they could extract his teeth at their leisure. It was a strange scene that presented itself in our Iittle town on the 20th day of August, in the year 1819, for Robert Gourley had cornmitted no crime either against the state or any individual in the state."


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