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The Highlanders of Waipu
Chapter VII - Call to Ohio


Shortly after his family joined him, McLeod received a pressing invitation from a colony of Highland refugees who had settled near Hamilton in Ohio. He was elated at this warm sign of recognition, but very loath to leave his good friends at Pictou, and so declined the offer. So insistent, however, were the people in Ohio of having him amongst them that they sent a deputation to Pictou offering to find land for himself and all his people if they and he would come to Ohio. This new proposal was both flattering and tempting. Ohio was described to them as a very desirable country, with good and cheap land, fine climate, and very pleasant conditions of life. Some weeks were spent in prayerful consideration of the proposal. Most of the people were very unhappy, owing to deaths and hardships, so that they were indifferent to any new proposal. Norman called them together and explained to them their prospects at Pictou, and the hopes that Ohio held for them. He said that the only way they could go to Hamilton would be by sea, and for that purpose they would have to build a suitable ship to carry them. That, however, was not a hard task, for they had abundance of timber, labour, and skill amongst themselves. There were no railways and few roads in the country at this time, and the Prairie Schooner (waggon) was of little use in Pictou. Norman spurred them on with hopes of betterment and ultimate success. Meeting followed meeting, and at last it was decided that a list be made of all those willing to go to Ohio. The younger members of the community were eager for the change, and at length it was decided that most of those who had recently come from Scotland in the "Frances Ann" should move into Ohio. Then began a mighty felling of timber at Middle River in the summer of 1819. Norman laid the keel of the vessel at Middle River Point, and all that summer, autumn, and winter the work went on merrily. The people around, who were not Normanites, thought the project a mad one, and dubbed the ship "The Ark" and its designer " Noah." The greater the ridicule, the harder the people worked. Norman invoked the blessings of Heaven and his enthusiasm was contagious. As the winter snows of 1820 melted in the warmth of the April sun "The Ark" was launched. She was a vessel of some 200 tons, and was well planned and equipped for the voyage.

DEPARTURE OF THE ARK.

On May 1, 1820, she was ready to embark passengers. Hundreds of people from the neighbouring settlements hurried into Pictou to witness the strange adventure. Some thought the voyagers to be mentally afflicted, some that they were labouring under religious excitement, and still others that it was merely a cover for their return to Scotland. It was indeed a Sacrament Sunday of the olden times when hundreds of people gathered on the hillside to witness the celebration of the Lordís Supper. Norman acted as leader and organizer of the expedition, and the people placed their confidence in him.

Pictou is situated on the north-eastern coast of Nova Scotia inside the Gulf of St. Lawrence, and hence well sheltered from the Atlantic gales. "The Ark" lay at anchor in the bay. As the people gathered at the harbour, their neighbours followed in large numbers to bid them farewell. If parting at Lochbroom was painful this was equally so, for death had robbed them of many who were dear to them. They were, however, restless and unhappy, and it mattered little to most of them whither they would go. They were sorry at parting with their new friends, and the friends were loath to part with them. They, however, had implicit faith in the Providence of God, and so all would be well.

At this juncture Norman beckoned for silence, and thus addressed the crowd :ó" Friends, we are about to embark not to a new land but to a new home. Two years ago we left Lochbroom under very sad circumstances, and now we are about to leave our good friends of Pictou. I would recall to mind the words of the revered Rev. Lachlan McKenzie as we parted with him, viz., Ďto trust in the infinite mercies of God.í He saved us from shipwreck and He opened a door for us at Pictou. Now He calls us to Ohio, and that, too, amongst our own people. Once upon a time we were oppressed, but now we are free. Once we were outcasts, but now we are about to enter a land that welcomes us. Some of our people may be sad at the thought of changing our flag, but we are about to join one whose emblem is ĎHope and Glory.í Some of those who left Lochbroom with us have gone to their eternal rest. Sorrows, hardships, and disease have done their work. They were the victims of manís inhumanity to man. Their blood be upon the heads of the Cumberlands and Nabooths of the old country, for they were as truly murdered by these cruel tyrants as were the chosen of the Lord by Pharaoh of old. Did not the man after Godís own heart sing

God righteous judgment executes
For all oppressed ones,

and we can do no better than sing the first verses of the 103rd Psalm :ó

O M' anam beannaich thusa nis."
O thou my soul bless God the Lord
And all
that in me is.

The singing over, and with many blessings, prayers, and tears, Norman with his wife and family led the way to board "The Ark." The ship was their own property. She was manned by their own people. They were as one family, and the ship was their temporary home. The anchor was weighed, sails unfurled, and, amidst tears and cheers, "The Ark" moved away. All went well until they had passed through the Straits of Canso, which divide Nova Scotia from Cape Breton. On rounding Cape Canso and moving out into the great Atlantic they encountered a terrific gale from the south-west. This they could not face, nor did they think it wise to sail eastwards into unsheltered seas. Meantime they were being driven along the southern coast of Cape Breton, and passed the island of Scatari. Suddenly the wind changed and blew a gale from the northeast. This reversed her course and drove her to the Bird Islands off the mouth of the Big Bras DíOr. They were now in grave danger of being wrecked on the north shore of St. Annís. To avoid this they took shelter under Cape Dauphin, and thence into St. Annís Bay, where they dropped anchor in comparatively smooth water. For several days all the people were battened under hatches. They were in imminent danger of their lives, and a second time were rescued from threatened shipwreck. They knew Norman was at the helm, and if human skill and courage could avert danger they were confident in his powers. No sooner had the ship come to anchor than the hatches were unfastened, and the people crowded upon deck. There was no landing place and no inhabitants thereabouts in those days. The whole country was one dense mass of timber and very uninviting as a settlement. Immediately the people had recovered their composure, Norman engaged in family worship, and expressed gratitude to God for having saved them from a watery grave.

Next day a council of war was held to consider whether they should continue their journey to Ohio or land and take possession of the country around them. A party was sent ashore to see if it was occupied and, if so, by whom, and if they might land and form a settlement. After a dayís wandering the party returned and reported that all the land around the harbour was still held by the government, and that they could have allotments made to them at a nominal price on terms of permanent occupation and improvement of the land. The proposal seemed favourable, and as the summer was still young they would have plenty of time ere winter arrived to build themselves the necessary huts and secure winter fuel. Most of the people were anxious to land, as the spot seemed desirable, and there would be abundance of fish in the spacious harbour, with game in the woods. A few proposed to return to Pictou, but that would mean the making of a fresh start under less favourable circumstances than were presented to them here. After much prayerful consideration, it was decided all should land and take possession of the country offered. A decision having been arrived at, they disembarked with all their goods on May 20, 1820. It had been arranged in Pictou that "The Ark," having completed her voyage to Ohio, should return thence and embark such other people as chose to follow them. In due time "The Ark" left for Pictou, but was never heard of, so that none of these people formed a settlement at Ohio.


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