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On Emigration and the State of the Highlands
Chapter XII


Measures adopted in pursuance of these views by the author; Settlement formed in Prince Edward's Island; its difficulties, progress and final success.

WHEN these general principles are understood, the part which I have myself taken, in regard to the settlers whom I conveyed, iii 1803, to Prince Edward’s Island, will need little explanation. Of these settlers the greatest proportion were from the Isle of Sky; a district which had so decided a connexion with North Carolina, that no emigrants had ever gone from it to any other quarter. There were a few others from Ross-shire, from the North part of Argyleshire, and from some interior districts of Inverness—shire, all of whose connexions lay in some part of the United States. There were some also from a part of the Island of Uist, where the emigration had not taken a decided direction.

If my views had. extended no further than the mere improvement of a property in the colony I have rnentioned, I might, without any loss, and with much less trouble, have found settlers enough in the districts where the custom of emigrating to the same quarter was already established. But this was not my purpose. I had undertaken to settle these lands with emigrants, whose views were directed towards the United States; and, without any wish to increase the general spirit of emigration, I could not avoid giving more than ordinary advantages to those who should join me. The prejudices entertained against the situation I proposed, were industriously fomented by some persons who had conceived a jealousy against my undertaking  and, in consequence of this obstruction, I found it necessary to extend nt offers of encouragement as far as I could, without a total disregard of my own interest.

To induce people to embark in the undertaking, was, however, the least part of my task. The difficulties which a new settler has to struggle with, are so great and various, that, in the oldest and best established colonies, they are not to be avoided altogether; and it is rare that any one does not, at some time in the course of the first two or three years, feel disheartened and repent of his conduct. Of these discouragements the emigrants are seldom fully aware. It was to be expected, that men who had been induced to deviate from their own intentions, would ascribe all these unforeseen difficulties to the peculiar disadvantages of the place they were settled in; and if, under this impression, they had become disgusted, as might naturally have happened, the experiment, instead of tending to divert the current of emigration, would have had an opposite effect.

There cannot be a more extreme contrast. to any old cultivated country, or a scene more totally new to a native of these kingdoms, than the boundless forests of America. An emigrant set down in such a scene feels the helplessness, almost of a child. He has a new set of ideas to acquire: the knowledge which all his previous experience has accumulated, can seldom be applied; his ignorance as to the circumstances of his new situation meets him on every occasion. The disadvantages to which he is thereby subjected are such, that emigrants who are taken at once from Europe to such a situation, and abandoned to their own exertions without aid or guidance, can scarcely fail to involve themselves in inextricable difficulties. To settlers of this description, success can be insured only by well calculated arrangements, and an unremitted attention in directing their efforts.

A detached and unsupported settler is Iiable, in the first place, to lose a great deal of time before he fixes on a situation. Unskilled in those indications by which the nature of the soil in the forests is to be judged of, he wanders about with all the jealousy which conscious ignorance inspires. His vague researches terminate probably in a choice made at random; in the mean while, he has not only lost his time, but his ideas have become unsettled. He will again, perhaps, take a dislike to the place he has. chosen, and, by repeated changes, sustain more loss than if he had begun at hazard on the most barren and unfavourable spot he met with.

Those whose interests, have been intrusted to the care of their superiors, have not always fared much better in this respect. A gentleman, who had accompanied a party of emigrants to Cape Breton in 1802, informed me, that, on their arrival, a situation was pointed out to them where they might have grants. Comparing the land with that they had left, they were delighted with it, and were inclined to settle immediateiy. Another place, however, was shown to them, and they were allowed to choose. This situation was still more agreeable to them; but before they could make their determination they heard of another that was yet finer, and proceeded to view it. Here, again, they found. that they were at no great distance from some relations who had formerly settled in Nova Scotia. Having found every new situation better than the former and concluding that their friends must have chosen the best of all, they determined to join them. They proceeded therefore, with all their families and their baggage, to that settlement, where they found that all the best situations were taken up. They would willingly have returned, but had incurred so much expense, as well as loss of time, that they were under the necessity of remaining upon inferior land, with diminished resources.

Those who receive gratuitous grants of land are often subjected to delays, which more than counterbalance all the advantage. The Loyalists who were brought, at the end of the American war, to Nova Scotia, had to wait above a year, some of thern nearly two, before the surveyors had completed their work, and their allotments were pointed out to them. In Upper Canada, I met with some emigrants who had left Scotland about two years before. On their arrival in that province they had received a promise of grants of Crown lands, for which (though every disposition to accommodate them had been shown by the officers of Government’) they had till then been waiting, and not till then had they received possession. In the interval, most of the money they had brought with them was expended, and, in this exhausted condition, they were beginning the cultivation, of their own property.

When the new settler is fixed on his land, his difficulties are not at an end: he is still exposed to much waste of time, and can seldom proceed in his work without interruption. He must first procure provisions; and though no pecuniary difficulty should occur, he generally, from his ignorance of the country, loses more time than necessary in this business. In bringing them home, he often finds himself much at a loss, from the wild and almost impassable state of the roads through woods; the same difficulty occurs whenever, any article, however inconsiderable, is wanted from the mill, the forge, or the. store, from the want of a general attention to keep the settlements compact, and within reach of mutual assistance, most of the people who begin on new and untouched land, are reduced to a situation of more than savage solitude. The new settler from Europe is unacquainted with the methods by which a practised woodsman can find his way through the trackless forest. Every time he leaves his hut, he is exposed to the danger of being bewildered and lost; if he has been sufficiently warned of this danger, to teach him the requisite degree of attention, still he can feel no confidence that little children will have the same caution; and must still shudder when he thinks of the howling wilderness that surrounds him. The horror of these impressions has, in many instances, completely unnerved the mind of the settler, and rendered him incapable of every vigorous exertion.

But, though his mental energy should remain unimpaired, the practical difficulties that await him are sufficient to discourage the most hardy. In every work he has to perform he is unpractised, and has all the awkwardness of a novice. The settler who begins on new lands has little access to the assistance of’ professed artificers. He must hold his own house, construct his own cart,

make almost all his own implements. Amidst the variety of these operations, to which a European is unaccustomed, it is well if he be not often totally at a loss, and unable to proceed. Winter may overtake him with his house unfinished, or, when completed; he may find it insufficient to resist the rigours of the season, and to preserve him from the loss of health, if illness attack him in his solitary residence, remote from medical assistance, his deplorable situation may easily be imagined. If, however, he escape this disaster, and proceed with industry, to clear his land, this work, on which all his hopes must be founded, is so new to him, that it must be expected to advance with a discouraging degree of slowness. His awkwardness too, exposes him to frequent accidents: the falling of the trees, which an experienced axe-man regulates with almost mathematical precision, often takes a novice by surprise; and it is no rare occurrence that he is severely wounded in the course of his work. If he escape unhurt, he will probably, as the reward of a great deal of severe labour, have but a small spot of land cleared in the course. of many months, perhaps not the fourth part of what a man accustomed to the business might have accomplished with less exertion. To cut down the trees is but half the work; in destroying them, and preparing the land for the seed, a number of minutia must be attended to if from want of experience, these, are omitted, the consequence may be fatal to the crop. The seasons of sowing, and many details in the management of unknown kinds of grain, are all to be learnt. Thus, over and above the danger of losing his seed-time altogether, by not having his land ready, independently of the accidents of seasons to which all are subject, the new settler has to add many chances that, from his own ignorance and mismanagement, his crop may totally fail.

All these disasters are within the bounds of probability, though the settler should be in no degree deficient in exertion; but, in the management of a number of people, it is a matter of much delicacy to keep alive their industry, and seldom in any great undertaking has this been fully accomplished. In such instances as New South Wales, where the progress of the colony depended on men who had no interest in their own work, it is easy to anticipate the consequence. But even where the settlers are to reap the entire benefit of their own industry, circumstances, apparently inconsiderable, may tend to diminish their energy. When, to obviate the disadvantages of a new situation, assistance has been granted with a liberal hand, particularly when gratuitous rations of provisions have been allowed, the effect has almost invariably been, by taking away the pressure of necessity, to render the settlers inactive, and to damp their exertions for overcoming the difficulties of their situation. A great proportion of the Loyalists and disbanded Provincials in Canada and Nova Scotia performed scarcely any work as long as they received Government rations; and, when these were discontinued, found themselves almost as destitute as if no aid had ever been given. The Maroon settlement near Halifax was totally ruined by mismanagement of the same kind.

The industry of new settlers has likewise been often damped by injudicious regulations as to the disposal of land.  Some grantees of large tracts in America, have attempted to settle these with people holding their farms on lease, like the tenantry of Europe. Experience has proved, that this is impracticable within the reach of other places where land may, for a low price, be had in absolute property. At any rate, the people who begin a new settlement, ought to have every stimulus to exertion which the most permanent tenure can afford. But the opposite extreme has also its dangers; the profusion with which gratuitous grants of Crown lands have been given in some situations, has been scarcely less pernicious. It has taught the settlers to despise what they procured with so little difficulty; and, by diminishing their estimation of the spot on which they were fixed, and their attachment to it, has tended to enfeeble their exertions for its improvement.

The combined effect of these accumulated difficulties is seen in the long infancy of most new settled countries. Till the colonists, from their own lands, and the produce of their own labour, reap a harvest adequate to their maintenance, they cannot be considered as fairly established. in most instances of the kind, there has been a long and critical period of dependence of extraneous and precarious supplies. I do not refer to the first establishments which were made on the continent of America, at a period when little experience had been obtained on the subject of colonization, and the principles on which a new establishment ought to be conducted, were perhaps unknown. But so lately as the year 1783, when the Loyalists were settled in Nova Scotia and Canada, it was not supposed that they could provide for themselves in less than three years: a great proportion did not accomplish it even in this period; and when the bountiful support of Government was discontinued, many of the settlements were abandoned. The colony in New South Wales was for six or seven years dependant on imported provisions; and, during all that time,-was in hazard of famine, whenever a store-ship was unexpectedly retarded. The very island where I have fixed the emigrants I have mentioned above affords an instance in point on its settlement, about the year 1770, many farmers were brought from Europe, who, after being supported for two years by extraneous supplies, went away in disgust, spreading the idea that the country was incapable of: cultivation.

I will not assert that the people I took there have totally escaped all difficulties and discouragement; but the arrangements for their accommodation have had so much success, that few perhaps, in their situation, have suffered less, or have seen their difficulties so soon at an end.

This island of Prince Edward is situated in lat. 46° and 47° in the Gulph of St. Laurence, near the coast of Nova Scotia,—it is about 120 miles long, and much intersected by arms of the sea, along which is a thinly scattered population, estimated at about 7 or 8000. The lands of this island were granted in the year 1767, in several large lots, of which a great proportion fell into the hands of persons who have entirely neglected their improvement, and in consequence of this many very extensive tracts are totally uninhabited. The settlement I had in view was to be fixed in one of these, where, for upwards of 30 miles along the coast, there was not a single habitation. The spot selected for the principal establishment was separated by an arm of the sea, and an interval of several miles, from any older Settlement. Those that were in the vicinity were of inconsiderable amount, and little benefit was derived from any intercourse with them; so that the emigrants who arrived on this occasion were placed in circumstances scarcely more favourable than if the island had been, completely desert.

These people, amounting to about 800 persons of all ages, reached the island in three ships, on the 7th, 9th, and 27th of August 1803. It had been my intention to come to the island some time before any of the settIers, in order that every requisite preparation might be made. In this, however, a number of untoward circumstances concurred to disappoint me; and on my arrival at the capital of the island, I learned that the ship of most importance had just arrived, and the passengers were landing at a place previously, appointed for the purpose.

I lost no time in proceeding to the spot, where I found that the people had already lodged themselves in temporary wigwams, constructed after the fashion of the Indians, by setting up a number of poles in a conical form, tied together at top, and covered with boughs of trees. Those of the spruce fir were preferred, and, when disposed in regular layers of sufficient thickness, formed a very substantial thatch, giving a shelter not inferior to that of a tent.

The settlers had spread themselves along the shore for the distance of about half a mile, upon the site of an old French village, which had been destroyed and abandoned after the capture of the island by the British forces in 1758. The land, which had formerly been cleared of wood, was overgrown again with thickets of young trees, interspersed with grassy glades. These open spots, though of inconsiderable extent with a view to cultivation, afforded a convenient situation for the encampment: indeed the only convenient place that could have been found, for all the rest of the coast was covered with thick wood, to the very edge of the water.

I arrived at the place late in the evening, and it had then a very striking appearance. Each family had kindled a large fire near their wigwam, and round these were assembled groups of figures, whose peculiar national dress added to the singularity of the surounding scene. Confused heaps of baggage were every where piled together beside their wild habitations; and by the number of fires the whole woods were illuminated. At the end of this iine of encampment I pitched my own tent, and was surrounded in the morning by a numerous assemblage of people, whose behaviour indicated that they looked to nothing less than a restoration of the happy days of Clanship.

After our first meeting, I had to occupy myself in examining the lands, and laying them out in small lots for the settlers. In this business I soon began to feel the inconvenience of not having arrived at the time I had intended. The plans which had formerly been made of the land, were too inaccurate to be of much use: a new survey could not be completed sufficiently soon; but some measurements were indispensable; and even this little took up time that could ill he spared. From this cause, combined, with some of those errors from which a first experiment is rarely exempt, it happened that three or four weeks elapsed before the settlers could have their individual allotments pointed out to them; and during all this time they were under the necessity of remaining in their first encampment.

These hardy people thought little of the inconvenience they felt from the slightness of the shelter they had put up for themselves; but in other respects the delay was of very pernicious tendency. There are few parts of America where there are not people ready to practise on the ignorance of new-corners, and, by representations, true or false, to entice them to fix on some place where the officious adviser has an interest to promote. Some attempts of this kind were made, and, though not ultimately successful, gave much trouble. The confidence of the settlers seemed to be shaken; and from their absolute ignorance of the country, argument had no effect in removing any unreasonable fancy. The terms upon which lands were offered to them were scarcely equivalent to one-half of the current rate of the island; yet they acceded to them with much hesitation, and a long time elapsed before they became sensible of the uncommon degree of favour they had experienced.

At one period, indeed, there seemed to be a probability of the settlement breaking up entirely. As long as the people remained together in their encampment, they partook in some degree, of the versatility of a mob. It was not, till they had dispersed to their separate lots, till by working upon them they had begun to form a local attachment, and to view their property with a sort of paternal fondness, that I could reckon the settlement as fairly begun.

In this interval an alarming contagious fever broke out, and gave me no small degree of anxiety; by its progress among the settlers. My apprehensions, however, were relieved by the presence and assistance of a medical gentleman whom I was fortunate enough to have as my companion, and whose professional skill was equalled only by his amiable and humane attention to every class of patients. Through his assistance and unmerited exertions, the disease was son alleviated; and few fatal cases occurred. There were not many of the settlers, however, that escaped. the contagion altogether: it was difficult to intercept it among people living in such close vicinity, and in a continual intercourse, which no means could be found for preventing. This fever had been occasioned by some accidental importation, and certainly not by the climate, which is remarkably healthy. The disease was nearly eradicated, when the people began to disperse to their separate lots, upon which they had all begun to work before the middle of September.

I could not but regret the time which had been lost; but I had satisfaction in reflecting, that the settlers had begun the cultivation of their farms, with their little capitals unimpaired. The principal expense they had to incur was for provisions to support them during the winter and ensuing season; besides which, all the more opulent purchased milch cows, and some other cattle.

Provisions, adequate to the whole demand, were purchased by an agent; he procured some cattle for beef in distant parts of the island, and also a large quantity of potatoes, which were brought by water carriage into the centre of the settlement; and each family received their share within a short distance of their own residence. Some difficulties occurred, indeed,. in procuring a full supply; for, though the crops of the island afforded a great superabundance, most of the farmers who could spare any considerable quantity, had taken up the idea, that, from so large an additional number of consumers, they could get what prices they pleased, and raised their demands to such an extravagant degree, that It would have been better if the whole provisions for the settlement had been imported from a distant market. In fact, it was found necessary to send to Nova Scotia for a quantity of flour. Throughout this business some trouble was unavoidable; but of this the settlers in general had no share. From the moment they were fixed in their respective allotments of land, they were enabled to proceed without interruption in their work.

A gentleman of medical knowledge, who had accompanied the emigrants, and assisted in the management of the undertaking, settled among them in a central situation, from whence his professional aid could soon be afforded to any part. Not very far from the same place, a forge was erected; a blacksmith was the only artificer who was judged to be indispensably requisite; for, in consequence of the small progress of the division of labour among the Highlanders, .every man is in the habit of doing for himself most of the other branches of work, for which the aid of a professed tradesman would be required by people more accustomed to the habits of commercial Society.

To obviate the terrors which the woods were calculated to inspire; the settlement was not dispersed, as those of the Americans usually are, over a large tract of country, but concentrated within a moderate space. The lots were laid out in such a manner, that there were generally four or five families, and sometimes more, who built their houses in a little knot together; the distance between the adjacent hamlets seldom exceeded a mile. Each of them was inhabited by persons nearly related; who sometimes carried on their work in common, or, at least, were always at hand to come to each other’s assistance. This enabled them to proceed with the more vigour, as there are many occasions, in the work of cleaning away the woods, where the joint efforts of a number of men are requisite, and where, a single individual can scarcely make any progress. There is a great advantage, in clearing a considerable field, rather than the same extent of land in detached slots, as it does not suffer so much from the shadow of the surrounding woods. Besides this, the work of several men being collected in one place, made so much the greater show. The progress of each, insulated by itself, might have appeared poor and insignificant; but when united, when the forests were seen receding on every side, all were animated by the encouraging prospect of advancement. Experience too, was rapidly communicated among people thus concentrated; emulation was kept alive and when any one was inclined to despondency, the example and society of his friends kept up his spirits. To their families, this social style of settlement was a comfort of the utmost importance for cheering their minds, and preventing them from sinking under the gloomy impressions of the wilderness.

This plan was the more readily acquiesced in, from its similarity to the former situation of the small tenants in their native country; and, in many instances, a party of relations were willing even to take all their land in one large lot in partnership. This, as a sociable arrangement, I was disposed to encourage. It was found, however, to lead to much trouble in the subsequent stages of the business, as the partners soon began to wish for a subdivision, and this was seldon accomplished without a good deal of wrangling. The advantage of concentrating the settlements might have been attained without incurring this inconvenience, and is of such essential consequence to people who are unaccustomed to the woods, that it ought not to be given up for any motive of inconsiderable moment.

Before the settlers had dispersed to their several lots, while they were still in the encampment which they had formed on landing, some of the inhabitants of the island were employed to build a house, so that all had access to learn the methods used: some land was afterwards cleared in a situation they had frequent opportunities of seeing. From these examples they appeared to receive no small instruction; for, though their first trials of the axe were awkward, they improved rapidly.

Their houses were, indeed, extremely rude and such as, perhaps, few other European settlers would have been satisfied with. The first buildings of the American woodsmen, from which our people took their model, are constructed without any other materials than what the forests afford. The walls are formed of straight logs, about eight inches in diameter, rough and undressed, laid horizontally and crossing each other at the corners of the building, where they are coarsely grooved or notched about half through; to allow each log to touch that immediately below it: the chinks between them are stuffed with moss, clay, and small wedges of wood. The roof is formed of birch bark, or that of the spruce fir, peeled off the trees in large unbroken pieces, and secured by poles tied down on them with wythes or pliable twigs. This covering; if well laid, is sufficient to keep out any rain, but must be protected from the sun by a covering of thatch; for which purpose aquatic grasses, or the small twigs of the spruce and other sorts of fir trees, may be used. Houses of this kind, of fifteen or eighteen feet, by ten or fourteen, were the dwellings of many of the settlers for the first season.

The hardy habits of these Highlanders gave them, in this respect, a great advantage over people who are accustomed to better accommodation, and who would have employed a great proportion of their time in building comfortable houses. They, on the contrary, had soon secured themselves a shelter, poor indeed in appearance, and of narrow dimensions, but such as they could put up with for a temporary resource; and immediately applied themselves with vigour to the essential object of clearing their lands. Notwithstanding this work was of a nature so totally new to them, they applied to it with such assiduity, that before the winter set in, they had not only lodged themselves, but made some progress in cutting down the trees. This was continued during winter, whenever the weather was not too severe; and, upon the opening of the spring, the land was finally prepared for the seed.

The zeal with which they proceeded in their work, was exemplified by a man of above sixty years of age, who with his three sons inhabited one of the little hamlets that have been described. The young men had agreed among themselves, that as this new species of labour would be too severe for their father, he should do nothing, till, from the progress of the clearing, he could employ himself in some sort of work he had formerly been accustomed to: the veteran would not, however, be dissuaded from taking up the axe, till his sons found they had no resource but to secrete it from him. In another instance, this zeal appeared rather in a whimsical manner. In walking among the settlements, I came unexpectedly to house newly erected by an elderly widow and her two sons. The young men had gone from home upon some business; the mother, having no immediate occupation within the house, had taken up one of the axes they had left behind, and with amazonian vigour had begun to attack a tree. She had made some progress, when my coming up interrupted the work—rather fortunately, I believe; for the good old lady had proceeded with more ardour than skill, and there appeared to be some danger that, in the progress of her work, the tree would have fallen on the roof of her new habitation.

The settlers had every incitement to vigorous exertion from the nature of their tenures. They were allowed to purchase in fee simple, and to a certain extent, on credit: from 50 to 100 acres were allotted to each family at a very moderate price, but none, was given gratuitously. To accommodate those who had no superfluity of capital, they were not required to pay the price in full till the third or fourth year of their possession; and, in that time industrious man may have it in his power to discharge his debt out of the produce of the land itself.

The same principle was adhered to in the distribution of provisions; for though several of the poorer settlers could not go on without support, every assistance they received was as a loan, after due scrutiny into the necessity of the case, and under strict obligations of repayment with interest. Thus, while a remedy was provided for cases of such extreme necessity as might otherwise have put a stop to the progress of the settlers, they were not encouraged to reliance on any resource but their own industry; and their minds were not degraded by the humiliating idea of receiving any thing like charity. The proud spirit that characterized the ancient Highlander, was carefully cherished among them: the near prospect of independence was kept constantly within their view, to stimulate their exertions, and support them in every difficulty.

Having calculated the arrangements necessary for the progress of the settlement, and having left the charge of their execution in the hands of an agent, whose fidelity and zeal I was well assured of by long previous acquaintance, I left the island in September, 1803; and, after an extensive tour on the continent, returned in the end of the same month the following year. It was with the utmost satisfaction I then found that my plans had been followed up with attention and judgment. Though circumstances had intervened to disturb, in some degree, the harmony of the settlement, they had produced no essentially bad effect; and the progress that had been made was so satisfactory to all concerned, that little difficulty occurred in healing every sore.

I found the settlers engaged in securing the harvest which their industry had produced. They had a small proportion of grain of various kinds; but potatoes were the principal crop; these were of excellent quality, and would have been alone sufficient for the entire support of the settlement. The prospect of abundance had diffused universal satisfaction, and every doubt as to the eligibility of the situation seemed to be removed. In the whole settlement I met but two men who showed the least appearance of despondency. There were three or four families who had not gathered a crop adequate to their own supply: but many others had a considerable superabundance. The extent of land in cultivation at the different hamiets, I found to be in general in a proportion of two acres or thereabouts to each able working hand: in many cases from three to four. Several boats had also been built, by means of which, a considerable supply of fish had been obtained, and formed no trifling addition to the stock of provisions. Thus, in little more than one year from the date of their landing on the island had these people made themselves independent of any supply that did not arise from their own labour.

To their industrious dispositions and persevering energy, the highest praise is justly due. Without these, indeed, every other advantage would have been of no avail; for, if the arrangements that have been detailed have any merit, it may all be comprised in this,—that by their means the industry of the individual settlers was preserved unimpaired, was allowed full scope to exert itself, and was so directed, as to produce all the effect, or nearly all, that it could produce.

These first difficulties being over, the further progress of the colonists may be left to their own guidance. They are now acquainted with the essential circumstances of the country, and understand how to improve their situation: their future condition must entirely depend on the perseverance with which their first exertions, are followed up.

Having secured the first great object, subsistence, most of them are now proceeding to improve their habitations, and some are already lodged in a manner superior to the utmost wishes they would have formed in their native country. These second houses are constructed in the same general methods as their fast huts, but in a more careful manner. The logs are partly squared, and well fitted together; they are supported on a foundation of stone; for the roof, boards or shingles take the place of bark and thatch; a wooden floor is introduced; ~ the doors and windows, the chimney and partitions, are all executed with more care; and some attention is bestowed on neatness and ornament. This last circumstance, though it may be deemed of inferior consequence, is a very pleasing indication of a progress in the ideas of the people as to comfort, and of the attachment they have taken to the spot that is to be the inheritance of their children.

The commencement of improvement to be seen in some of these habitations, is, I believe, the result, not so much of a personal wish for better accommodation, as of the pride of landed property; a feeling natural to the human breast, and particularly consonant to the ancient habits of the Highlanders; a feeling which, among the tenantry, has been repressed by recent circumstances, but not extinguished; and which is ready to resume its spring whenever their situation will permit. These sentiments are not confined to the superior classes of the settlers. One of very moderate property, who had held a small possession in the Isle of Sky, traces his lineage to a family which had once possesed an estate in Ross-shire but had lost it in the turbulence of the feudal times. He has given to his new property the name of the ancient seat of his family; has selected a situation with more taste than might have been expected from a mere peasant; and, to render the house of Auchtertyre worthy of its name, is doing more than would otherwise have been thought of by a man of his station.

The point, however, on which the opulence and comfort of a settler ultimately depend, is chiefly the assiduity with which he proceeds in clearing away the woods and extending his cultivated land. It is observed of some Highlanders who have come on former occasions to this island, that after the first two or three years their exertions have relaxed. They have by that time, found themselves able to maintain their families with ease, and to procure all the comforts they had been accustomed to and, having no further ambition, have preferred the indulgence of their old habits of indolence, to an accumulation of property by a continuance of active industry. There is reason, however, to doubt, whether this has not been more the effect of an insecure or discouraging tenure, than of any inherent disposition.

This effect has certainly been aggravated in no small degree, by the the systematic manner in which the inhabitant of the Iand have been allowed to scatter around it. They have settled, with few exceptions, on the sea-shores only, in spots abounding with coarse hay produced on marshes occasionally overflowed by the tide These are a great convenience to a new settler, by furnishing an immediate maintenance for cattle, but are observed, in many other situations, as well in this island, to be a great impediment to industry. They tempt the settler to keep a greater number of cattle than he can provide for in a proper manner, or turn to real advantage. These cattle must be allowed to range in the woods and the attention required in looking after them, is serious interruption to the progress of laborious work, as well as to the habits of steady application, which the circumstance of a new settler require. The most important part of the season too, is taken up in cutting, preparing, and bringing home the hay; while those improvements must be neglected, which would not only give the immediate return of a crop, but create a permanent acquisition of productive land.

Notwithstanding these pernicious effects of the too great abundance of marsh hay, a. small quantity is of great importance to a new settler during the first two or three years, till by the progress of his cultivation he can provide winter forage independently of this resource. With a view to preserve this advantage for future settlers: as well as to obviate the bad effects that have arisen in other cases, the marshes on this tract were not annexed entirely to the adjoining lands, as is usual in the island. Each lot of woodland had assigned to it only a small portion of marsh, not of sufficient extent to be a permanent dependence, or to supersede the necessity of going on with improvements.

The prevailing soil of Prince Edward’s Island may be described as a sandy loam, such as in England would be reckoned of medium quality. In some spots on the coast, it seems a mere barren sand; yet the crops in these places are generally much better than a stranger would expect from the appearance of the soil. It is a remarkable fact, that the land immediately adjoining the coast and rivers, is almost without exception, worse than that which lies further back, even at a short distance. The country in its natural state is entirely covered with timber; with the exception only of the salt marshes, which form but a small portion. The most common species of timber are beech and maple, among which are frequently intermixed birch of different kinds, spruce firs, and other species of the pine tribe. In some places the pines entirely predominate: this is considered as indicating a soil of an inferior quality: but, on the other hand, the timber of the white pine is valuable for exportation. The black birch is also in great estimation. Some of the many varieties of maple are valuable and beautiful timber, but these are not in so great abundance.

The mode in which the woods are cleared away is a matter of surprise to the European, who has been accustomed to consider timber as an article of value. The extent of land which an industrious man may annually bring into cultivation, furnishes a quantity far beyond the consumption of any settler for fuel and other purposes. A small proportion only is fit for exportation; the rest must be destroyed by fire, and the ashes serve as manure.

The brush-wood, with which the forests generally abound, is first cut close to the surface, to allow the workman free access; he then begins at one side of a piece of land, and fells the trees in a regular progress. By making his cut on the two opposite sides of the tree only, he can regulate the direction in which it is to fall, and generally lays it towards the quarter where he began. The stumps are left about three feet high; the timber is left till the proper season arrives, when fire is applied, and runs over the whole field, burning not only the branches, but the vegetation on the ground, and leaving the whole surface, to appearance, charred. This first fire is not of sufficient intensity to consume the larger branches; these must be cut off, and the trees cut across into logs of 12 or 15 feet long, which are rolled together, piled up and again set on fire. When the timber is of great size, oxen are used for dragging the logs together; but their assistance is not in general necessary on this island.

An expert workman will be employed for six or eight days in cutting down and cross cutting the trees of an acre of land; to pile and burn them requires about as much more labour: the whole work may be executed for three guineas or three and a half per acre, at the usual rate of wages in the island, after the timber is burnt, little more remains to be done; the fire has destroyed the vegetation which might have been inconvenient, and the surface, having been preserved in a mellow. state by the shade of the trees, needs no tillage, further than to cover the seed with a hoe. In some parts of America, the harrow is used; but in all the northern parts, the surface is too rough, owing to trees that have been blown down by storms, and have torn up the earth along with their roots, forming little hillocks, which remain long after the timber is entirely gone to decay.

With this slight preparation of the soil any kind of grain may be produced; or, if potatoes are planted, the digging up of these roots is sufficient tillage for a crop of grain the second year. After this, all judicious farmers leave the land in grass till the roots of the trees decay. In the beech and maple lands, the stumps may be pulled out with little difficulty after five or six years; if left a year or two longer, they come out with perfect ease. Where the timber consists of pine, the decay is much more tedious.

When the stumps are removed, the plough may be used, though for the first or second time with some difficulty, from the roughness of the surface, and the remnants of decayed roots. After that however, a farmer may follow the same as agricultural process in England, and according to his management, may expect nearly the same produce as of a similar soil in this country.

The first crop or two upon newly cleared land, are of course much inferior to those of England. But without any other manure than the ashes of the burnt timber, an acre may easily be made to produce 150 or 160 bushels of potatoes, and 200 is not an extraordinary produce. In the same rough state of the land the usual produce of grain is about 15 or 16 bushels of wheat, and 20 or 25 of barley or oats. From 10 cwt. to a ton of timothy or cIover hay, may be expected, if grass seeds are sown, but this is not usually practised in the early stage of clearing. When the clearing is completed, the land may easily be brought by tolerable cultivation, to produce crops of double the amount that can be raised in the first instance. But it must be allowed, that the settlers who manage their land with sufficient judgment form a very small proportion.

The quantity of land which may be brought into cultivation annually from the forest, varies with the dexterity of the workman, as well as the size of the timber: that of the island is seldom so heavy as in the more southern parts of America, where one man has frequently cleared ten acres in the course of a year, besides the other work of his farm. This, however, is a great exertion. In this island six or seven acres may in general be accomplished by an industrious settler, though not more expert at the axe than many active man may become in the course of two or three years practice. A perfect novice could not do so much; but any one who does not accomplish two or three acres, must either be a very indifferent hand, or deficient in industry.

The climate is not capable of ripening Indian corn with certainty; but every article that grows to maturity in England seems in Prince Edward’s Island to reach as great perfection as can be expected from the slight, and careless culture generally bestowed. The summer is rather warmer than that of England; the winter longer; but in severity not perhaps, very different from that of the Netherlands. The cattle are often left to support themselves in the woods during the early part of winter; but, on the whole, from 1 to 1½ ton of hay to each is considered as requisite for wintering. In summer, the cattle find abundance of food in the woods, sufficient at least for the  young stock; but the settlers are too much in the habit of allowing those of all descriptions to take their chance alike. The consequence is, that the produce of the dairy is inconsiderable, and that the full aged cattle are not well fattened. The few who pay more attention, find their advantage in providing better pasture for their cows and feeding cattle. The sheep are more generally kept in inclosed pastures, as they cannot, without danger, be allowed to go into the woods.

These particulars may be sufficient to enable the intelligent agriculturist to form an estimate of the circumstances and ultimate situation to which any emigrant may probably attain, according to the degree of his industry.

The advancement already gained by the settlers, whose progress I have more particularly described, has been spoken of above as uncommon. This, however, is not to be understood as in comparison with that which might have been made in the same circumstances by natives of America. It is by no means unusual among settlers of that description, that the first crop they reap, after beginning to clear a new farm, is more than sufficient for the support. of a family and for maintaining thern in a degree of luxury, which to the Scottish peasantry would appear absolute extravagance. But the Americans have a great advantage in their perfect acquaintance with the woods, and in the dexterity which continual practice has given them in the use of the axe. No comparison can be stated between their case, and that of men who from a country where they had scarcely ever seen a tree, were taken at once to a situation, where they could with difficulty find room even to place their huts till they had cleared away the wood.

These people could not, perhaps, have attained a state of independence so soon, but for a combination of advantages rarely enjoyed by European emigrants. Their industry, with all the arrangements for giving it effect, would not have been sufficient, if their habits had been less hardy, or their ideas of the necessaries of life less moderate. So many instances indeed are quoted of the ill success of Europeans when placed at once in the heart of the wild woods, that I have heard several gentlemen of the highest abilities and experience in the United States, pronounce an unqualified opinion, that a new settlement could not be formed without a basis of native Americans.

The decisive experimental proof to the contrary that has been stated in these pages, seems to be of some consequence in a public point of view. It shows the utility that may be derived from a class of people who have hitherto been lost to their native country, and abandoned to their fate in a foreign land. Though of little service as manufacturers, it proves that they may be made excellent colonists; and that our North American possessions may be peopled and brought into cultivation, without introducing into them men whose manners and principles are so repugnant to our own. constitution and government, as those which are prevalent among the natives of the United States.

Of the possibility of inducing the Highlanders to go to our own colonies, I presume that no further doubt can be entertained; and I cannot help flattering myself that no immaterial progress has already been made towards this object. In some considerable districts, the current appears already to be decidedly turned. How far the example of these may operate on other parts of the country, time only can show; but it can scarcely admit of a doubt, that some further exertion in the same line might secure to our own colonies, all those among our country-men who cannot be retained in the kingdom.

This, however, is an object which cannot be accomplished by the unsupported exertions of any individual. The experiment that has been detailed may perhaps be useful as a preparatory step, and serve to point out the principles on which effectual national measures might be grounded —measures which, if followed up on an extensive scale while the object is within our reach, might secure to the empire most important advantages. Whether these are to be sacrificed from a deference to the prejudices of individuals or to be attained by an adequate and timely effort, must rest with those to whom the interests of the nation are more particularly intrusted.


From the book "Past and Present of Prince Edward Island" by MacKinnon....

This year 1803 is a notable one in the history of Prince Edward island, for that was the year when the "Polly," the ship so famed in this province, cast anchor in these waters, having brought a large number of passengers from Scotland, to settle on Lord Selkirk's estate. About this time he brought in all some eight hundred people to Prince Edward Island. They were of the finest class of emigrants that ever left the shores of Great Britain. They settled in what is known by the general name of The Belfast District. The descendants still occupy the land and homes which their forefathers occupied and made. They were an enterprising and energetic people, and transmitted their vigorous dispositions to their children and their children's children. Descendants of the "Polly's" passengers have been distinguished in almost every walk of life. They are to be found in every part of Canada and the United States upholiding the good name they inherited, and making their island home known and respected where ever they may be. They have produced many men who have distinguished themselves in every profession, trade and walk of life. In the days when Prince Edward Island boasted of her fleet of sailing ships, the men of Point Prom and the other sections peopled by the descendants of these immigrants, were found commanding ships in every sea. There was scarcely a house that had not sent out one or more master mariners, and they were of the best. Lord Selkirk did well for this island when he brought these immigrants to her shores.


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