Pioneers and "The Island"
Founding of Uigg and Murray
Argosy never sailed with
more precious cargo than that discharged at Charlottetown on June 1st,
1829, from the good ship "Mary Kennedy." There were eighty-four heads of
families in the party. They settled along the Murray Harbor Road, and in
the Back Settlement, later called Lyndale. Each family bought from fifty
to one hundred acres of land. They named the Uigg district after their
birthplace, Uig, in Skye, famed for romantic beauty, and deriving its name
from the Norwegians who held the Western Islands of Scotland for
The road from Vernon River
to Murray Harbor had been opened shortly before the Uigg settlers arrived.
In that whole stretch of territory there were then only three residents.
One of them was Murdoch Mackenzie, a native of Inverness, who arrived in
Belfast in 1821, accompanied by his wife Mary Mackinnon, and his father
John Mackenzie. In 1822 he took up the farm on which now stands the Orwell
Head church. He died in 1885, aged 100, leaving several children
The 1829 settlers found him
dwelling in a log cabin, in the heart of the forest, with only a small
patch of clearing about him. If life was simple and the world's luxuries
few Murdoch Mackenzie had a fine mind. He opened a school in his little
log cabin, and there devoted himself to the improvement of the minds of
the sons and daughters of his near neighbors, who sent their children to
the kindly Scottish schoolmaster to receive at his hands the solid
groundwork of a liberal education.
After the morning lessons
were heard this excellent teacher allotted his pupils their daily tasks.
It was then his habit, on occasions, to seek repose on a bench beside the
wall. Here he lay until gnawing hunger announced to the children the near
approach of noon. All work was then laid aside; a great tumult was created
until finally the master's form was seen to move. Rubbing his weary eyes
he arose, and walked outside. There he gave one fleeting glance at the
declining sun and returned to announce recess.
Later, when the country was
settled farther south, Mr. Mackenzie opened a school in the Grandview
district. Here he taught for many years.
Among the pupils inspired
by Mr. Mackenzie with a love for education was Donald MacLeod, son of
Donald Ban Oig MacLeod, who lived next door to the master. At an early age
he moved to Parkhill, Ontario. His daughter, Katelena, recently told of
her father's practice, continued till old age, of taking a Greek or Latin
Bible to church, and following the reading of the Book in those languages,
both of which he had mastered.
Rev. Donald Macdonald said
of this noble man, that he was the only person in the whole countryside
who possessed a knowledge of Greek. One of his daughters married Alexander
(Garf) Macpherson, of Lyndale, and their descendants still reside in the
Perhaps in the history of
the migration of the race no more highminded and worthy people ever
entered a new land than those who came out on the "Mary Kennedy." Their
heritage of piety persisted undiminished for several generations in their
new home. Like their forebears they were rigid Calvinists. The atmosphere
of the district, like that of all Scottish districts of that age, was
rather sombre. A small group, the Macdonalds, MacLeods, Gordons, Munros
and a few others, were Baptists, who, for conscience sake, had withdrawn
from the Presbyterian Church. Among them was a man of outstanding
personality. Rev. Samuel MacLeod was born at Uig, in the Isle of Skye in
1796, and died at Uigg, P.E.I., in 1881, where he was buried in the
Baptist churchyard. Over the destinies of this church for many years he
presided, with inspiration not only beneficial to those who heard his
earnest message, but also with benefit to that much greater multitude,
who, through the continuing power of precept, and example, are unconscious
heirs of the atmosphere of truth and rectitude that has continued long
years after its inspirer has left the scene of these, his earthly
So far-reaching was the
influence of this small Baptist group in Uigg, that neighbors of other
denominations testify that throughout their lives they have held the
Baptist Church in especial veneration and reverence owing to the
irreproachable lives and blameless character of this small group in Uigg
assembled about their kinsmen and beloved pastor, the Rev. Samuel MacLeod.
If a reason is sought for
the great success and high position attained by so many poor Highlanders,
not only in their own country, but also in lands across the seas,
particularly in India and in Canada, it may be found in their sound
education, and in that poverty, which inured them, from youth, to self
denial. Early in life individual effort was demanded, and the valuable
lesson was soon learned that it matters little what is earned if all is
spent. The man who practises self denial and sets apart a portion of his
earnings to accumulate and work for him in fair weather and foul, is the
man who, in the end, attains wealth with its attendant power, and better
The forming of definite
habits of self discipline and control is the guiding star that moulds the
character and directs it into definite channels of self respect,
independence, and integrity. Rarely is a person, who follows this line of
conduct, found committing an unworthy action. The Uigg settlers, in
striking degree, exemplify the fundamental soundness of this theory of
Rev. Donald Gordon
Macdonald, of Vancouver, recently spoke as follows: "I was born beside
Rev. Samuel MacLeod. To say that he was a man of outstanding natural
'ability is no exaggeration. His learning and wisdom were profound; his
character irreproachable; his influence widespread; his example wholesome
and contagious. In all my experience of eighty-six years of life, I look
back upon the character of Rev. Samuel MacLeod as one of the most potent
and signficant things I have met. In speaking of him less than justice
would be done were I to refrain from paying, in my own declining years, a
final tribute to the memory of a group-the small Uigg group-of MacLeods,
Gordons and Macdonalds, who constituted in themselves perhaps the highest
expressions of the human family that it has been my privilege to know.
When one reflects on the disregard for the rights of others so common in
many ranks of society, the record of the Uigg district does much to
restore confidence in human nature. Perhaps in no other place has there
been a more willingly admitted regard for the rights of others. They
seemed to recognize the great truth at the basis of the whole social
structure, that the law is a great man-made institution, not only giving
to each certain rights and privileges, but also placing on each heavy
duties and exacting from each serious obligations. The instinctive grasp
of this truth by the British people gives them their respect for law and
makes them as a nation, in this regard, unique in the annals of history."
UIGG GRAMMAR SCHOOL
"Again I revisit the hills
where we sported,
The streams where we swam, and the fields where we fought;
The school where, loud warn'd by the bell, we resorted,
To pore o'er the precepts by pedagogues taught."
The first settlers in Uigg
were as zealous for learning as for righteousness. Their descendants of
the next generation were notable for the same qualities. Their school
became a marked one, and in all Canada none of similar grade, has a finer
record for an equal period of time. Since 1878 this school has had two
classrooms, and until 1909 all teachers came from families residing in the
district. During all that time numbers of scholars graduated from it, took
special training and taught in various other schools throughout the
These teachers were
conscientious young men and women. Eager in their pursuit of knowledge,
they inspired those under them with their infectious enthusiasm for
learning. They generally taught for two or three years and then pursued a
course of higher study in universities in the other provinces, in the
U.S.A., and sometimes in Europe.
Dissension in the school
was unheard of. Each family regarded the little academy as in its own
especial care, and whatever service was required, if tending to add to its
honor and success, was given freely with eager enthusiasm and
cheerfulness. The success of the neighbor's child was a personal success
reflecting honor, not only on the school, but on each and every family
belonging to it.
The sympathetic attitude of
the ratepayer stimulated the teachers to do their best. They knew their
efforts were appreciated, and there was thus a bond between teacher and
pupil rarely found in any other public school.
The pupils were tidy, clean
and intelligent. The district being entirely Highland all could speak
Gaelic, but at first all could not speak English. A distinct Gaelic accent
was inevitable, and men from Uigg, who have never spoken Gaelic, carry the
accent through life.
There were two classes in
the Principal's room. The lower of these studied text books on English
history, arithmetic, reading and writing. After passing into the highest
grade Latin, algebra, geometry, French and geography were added. There was
a blackboard for each class, also an atlas. The pupils were given problems
to do at home, especially sketches in geography and short essays on
subjects read or expounded in class.
In the eighties Malcolm
MacLeod, K.C., presented an organ to the school. For many years, until
destroyed by irreverent mice that nested in it, the scholars received
great profit from the half-hour weekly song service. Being exceedingly shy
this service helped to develop a self assurance and confidence which was
often lacking in the country bred child.
The Principal taught the
more advanced pupils for half an hour after the usual time for closing.
They studied Greek, trigonometry, advanced geometry, and other subjects.
Every morning when school opened each pupil in the Principal's room read a
verse from the New Testament. After roll-call the day's work began.
The first building was
erected of logs about 1840, near the present Uigg railway station, but on
"the west side of the Murray Harbor Road, and on the north side of the
The following reference is
from an old newspaper in the possession of Hon. D. A. Mackinnon, K.C.,
A SHORT ACCOUNT OF A LOG
SCHOOLHOUSE AT ORWELL OR UIGG
"The first school houses
were little log huts without any floors except the native earth. For a
chimney two logs standing upright in the middle of the room, about three
feet apart, served as jambs between which the fire was built to warm the
children all around. On the top of these perpendicular logs of about four
feet in height, was constructed the cob and clay work, namely: a mixture
of mud and ferns between sticks, with the ends of each crossing those of
the other like the walls of a log house. This formed the funnel aperture
to throw off the smoke. Around this primitive and odd fireplace marched
the monarch of the birchen rod and sceptre, with as much dignity over his
mud floor as ever did Commodore of a large fleet over his quarter deck."
This building was replaced
about 1849 by a frame structure, which was larger than the average one
room country school of the present day. It stood a few hundred feet south
of the present Uigg railway station, but on the west side of the road.
William M. Macphail, of
Portland, Oregon, has a clear recollection of the building. A retentive
memory under any circumstances, there was imprinted on his mind an image
of the building, doubly clear from the fact that, as a child, his first
day in school was spent in it. This was the last day it was used as a
schoolhouse. There, with awe, he was shown the aperture in the ceiling
through which offending Youth was forced to climb, and, in the Stygian
darkness of the low-roofed garret, atone in glommy silence and alone for
misdemeanors done below. The menacing forms of ravenous rats and hungry
mice, eagerly gnawing the surplus scraps from pupil's ample meal, assumed
vast proportions and dreadful form in the innocent mind of the terrified
child. The prescribed period of atonement over Guilt descended to the room
below, there to meet and suffer an even more unendurable fate, the
scornful merriment of inconsiderate Youth.
Captain Neil Murchison of
San Rafael, California, who was for a short period an attendant at this
school, recently related the following incident:
One of the most noted
masters of this old academy had decided on a visit to Charlottetown. He
arranged that the school should be conducted by one of the older pupils in
attendance during his absence. Circumstances, however, rendered the
contemplated trip unnecessary, but so great was his interest in, and love
for those under his care, that he could not refrain from attendance at his
post of duty.
Arriving at the old school
before even the most ardent football enthusiast appeared, he secreted
himself in the dark forbidding garret, undismayed by hungry host of
cunning rats and timorous mice. There he remained in secret silence, his
mind noting with matchless grasp the actions of the various pupils in
whose welfare he had such profound paternal interest. Not until the noon
hour came and all had disappeared did he withdraw from his retreat,
undiscovered by those whose actions he had so critically appraised.
This, the second Uigg
schoolhouse, was used for the purpose for which it was erected until 1878,
when it was vacated. Shortly thereafter it was moved to Kinross corner,
and there used as a store by the owner, John J. MacLeod. The upstairs was
converted into a hall, and within its walls the youth of the neighborhood
received instruction in the value of sobriety and the folly of
intemperance. It was also used by Thomas Richards, the music master of
Alberry Plains. Here, on winter evenings, he taught his classes the
rudiments of the science of music. It was in a very real sense a modern
community centre, and for many years the various lectures, concerts,
socials, magic-lantern shows, and other forms of amusement held in it,
brought much happiness to the youth of the district. It was later moved to
the farm of Mr. MacLeod in Uigg, where it now stands.
In 1878 the school trustees
of the district, with the wisdom characteristic of those who have held the
office for generations, erected a new frame schoolhouse, twenty-four feet
wide by forty-five feet long, divided into two classrooms below, and
public hall above, which they built that summer. This well proportioned,
comfortable building, between 1878 and the present day has been the home
of an educational institution, of its kind unsurpassed in the annals of
This building was erected
by Peter Martin of Newtown, on the front of James Campbell's farm, about
three hundred yards north of the site of the old schoolhouse. Probably the
most imposing country school in the province when erected this structure
is today, after the lapse of over fifty years, a modern building, suitable
in every respect for the purpose for which it is used. Enshrined about it
are memories dear to the hearts of those who received instruction within
its walls; memories of the kind that hold its former pupils, wherever they
may be, with bonds of the deepest affection.
In the hall above the
school classrooms, were held a debating society and occasional social
gatherings in the winter evenings. The political meetings held there from
time to time were attended by the men within a radius of many miles. The
simple honest audience was greatly impressed by the learning displayed by
the various candidates, generally inconspicuous country lawyers. Their
ready flow of vigorous language, punctuated by occasional sallies of wit,
amused, even if it did not instruct the hearers.
Of the descendants of the
Uigg colonists now living no one is so well equipped to connect the
present with the past as Rev. Donald Gordon Macdonald, who was born in
Uigg, February 1843. At eighty-six years of age Mr. Macdonald's memory is
unimpaired. He preaches' almost every Sunday in various Baptist churches
in and around Vancouver, where he now resides with his wife, Minnie Jane
Schurman, a member of a notable Canadian family, the Schurmans of Bedeque,
Prince Edward Island. Her brother is Jacob Gould Schurman, at present
American Ambassador to Germany.
In recent conversation Mr.
Macdonald recalled some of the well known characters in the settlement
during the time of his youth.
"While quite a young boy,"
he said, "I lived with my brother, Malcolm, a merchant of Belfast Cross,
now Eldon. Here I was known as `Little Donald at the Cross.' While living
there I was well acquainted with the Belfast minister, Rev. Alexander
MacLean. He was an able preacher and well-liked minister.
"While living in the
community I attended the small Baptist meeting house near `the Cross,'
which was attended by the few Baptists in the district. There was `Big
Rory' McLeod and family, a few Frasers, Martins, and Macdonalds. The
latter family lived at Pinette, and were marked in that there were four
Johns in the family-the father and three sons all bearing the same name.
To distinguish them they were known as John the Baptist (the father), John
Small, John Ban, and John. John Ban became a Doctor of more than average
skill, and a preacher of more than average ability. At an early age he
moved to the U.S.A.
"At this time my old
neighbor in Uigg, Rev. Samuel McLeod, frequently preached in the Baptist
church near by. He traversed the six miles from Uigg on horseback seated
on a saddle of plaited straw, made by himself . Passing a group of young
boys one day they laughed in derision at his humble saddle. His only
comment was `you need not laugh at my saddle, boys; every cent of it is
"Samuel McLeod, like the
other immigrants who landed in Charlottetown on the 'Mary Kennedy,' May
31, 1829, had adhered to the Presbyterian Church in Scotland. While
engaged as a schoolmaster in Skye, for conscientious reasons, he had
allied himself with the Baptists, and made a public confession of his
faith by immersion. For this he was waited upon by the school trustees and
asked to resign. Owning the chair on which he sat, he replied 'I am more
independent than His Majesty, our King. If he is dethroned he must leave
his throne behind, but I take mine with me.' With his chair upon his
shoulder he joined the departing settlers, and in the new land exerted an
influence for good over a whole countryside.
"The following incidents
may help show the moral authority exercised by Mr. McLeod over those who
came within his influence.
"Two Roman Catholics, one
of them a neighbor of Mr. McLeod, were engaged in heated controversy.
Finally the neighbor said to his opponent `It is folly for you to deny it,
for with my own ears I heard Samuel McLeod say so.' The Irish disputant
said 'Begorra, if Samuel McLeod said so, I believe it.'
"On another occasion two
serious minded young boys were discussing the Day of Judgment. One said to
the other, 'Where would you like to be on the Day of Judgment?' 'Inside
Samuel McLeod,' was the prompt reply.
"Like his neighbors this
noble man worked with his hands, six days in the week, to clear the
primeval forest and create a home for himself and his family. On the
seventh day he preached to them the Gospel, and by counsel and advice
strove to lighten their load and improve their lot in the land of their
"Another man whom I recall
vividly was the talented Daniel McKinley from a district near
Charlottetown, who, about 1853, taught for a few months in the Uigg school
and preached in the Baptist church. He posessed much more than average
ability. Overstudy broke his health, and thereafter his life was devoted
to a study of the Bible almost to the exclusion of every other interest.
He could read it in seven different languages. The question of believer's
immersion for baptism, instead of infant sprinkling, became for him a
subject of supreme importance. He preached it everywhere, but his favorite
method was to attend the church services of other denominations and sit
near the door in order to be first out. He took his stand outside and
preached to the retiring congregation. To any question asked he was ready
with a reply, frequently to the amusement of the assembled crowd.
"On one occasion he
attended the Murray Harbor Road church on Sacramental Sunday. Rev. Donald
Macdonald, the minister, was conducting the service. McKinley began
preaching by the roadside, and drew away some of the congregation from the
service. Two of the elders advised him to desist. When he continued they
carried him away bodily. In his clear stentorian voice, heard above the
voice of the minister, conducting the service, he cried aloud, `I am more
highly honored than my Blessed Master. He was carried on one ass; I am
carried on two.'
"At the close of a meeting
in Pownal, the pastor (I think his name was Berry) whose limb had been
amputated in England, to break the force of McKinley's argument for
complete immersion, said: `You could not carry out your theory in my case,
for my limb is in England, and I am here.' `It is better,' said McKinley,
`for you to enter into life maimed than having two limbs to be cast into
hell fire.' To this the pastor replied, `The only immersion I find in the
Bible is the immersion of swine. They ran down into the sea and were
choked in the water.' McKinley replied, `The swine themselves had more
sense than you Methodists. They went into the water to get clear of the
devil, but you won't.'
"On another occasion
McKinley went to St. Peter's Anglican church, Charlottetown, then, as now,
noted for its High Church practices. What he heard and saw so grated on
his sensitive mind that he could not endure it to the close of the
service. Taking hat in hand he started for the door. On reaching it he
turned, and' facing the officiating clergyman said in a loud voice,
'That's what I call the fag end of Popery.'
"On another occasion I had
a serious talk with McKinley over this question of baptism. I suggested to
him that he was putting too much emphasis upon it. I pointed out that
baptism is not a condition of our salvation, but rather an evidence of it.
We are baptized because we are saved, not in order to be saved. 'Yes,'
said McKinley, 'but you must ask them to go farther than is necessary in
order to get them to go far enough.' "
For generations the
acknowledged leaders at the bar, and in medicine on P.E.I. came from Uigg.
Thence also came Sir Andrew Macphail, great in scholarship, distinguished
in letters. His grandsire, William Macphail (1802-1852) of Nairn, Scot.,
together with his wife, Mary Macpherson (1804-1888) of Kingussie, and
family, emigrated to Prince Edward Island in 1833. Their gifted son
William (1830-1905), and his wife, Catherine Smith (1834-1920), parents of
Sir Andrew, had the unique distinction of having a family of ten children
of whom five sons and two daughters were university graduates of unusually
distinquished records. At an early age he possessed a mind stored with the
richest treasures of Scottish history, and a character moulded in the
definite and fixed standards of a nation in which character building was
one of the chief preoccupations of the people. From the first he was a
conspicuous man. His acute mind, terse and vigorous speech, marked him for
preferment, and soon, as school inspector, by his zeal, eager enthusiasm,
and unselfish devotion to the cause of education, he laid, not only the
district in which he lived, but the whole province, under heavy obligation
to him for the impetus given to that sacred cause. His success in
inspiring those who came under his influence with a love of the higher and
nobler things of life was great, and many men and women in later life have
testified to the great debt they owe that remarkable man.
REV. DONALD MACDONALD
The majority of the
Presbyterians who settled in Murray Harbor Road and in Uigg in 1829 became
followers of Rev. Donald Macdonald. This extraordinary man was the son of
Donald Macdonald and his wife, Christine Stewart. The father's Jacobite
sympathies were strong enough to lead him to face the King's troops at
Culloden. Later he settled in Perthshire.
In addition to Donald,
there were among other issue, Robert, of Perth; Duncan, and Findlay, of
Donald was graduated from
Saint Andrews University in 1816, and was ordained the same year. He
emigrated to Nova Scotia in 1824 and settled in Cape Breton Island. He
came to Prince Edward Island in 1826.
His brother, Findlay, had
emigrated to Prince Edward Island about 1825, and settled near Georgetown.
In 1829, or early in 1830, Rev. Donald was invited to Murray Harbor Road
to preach to the newly arrived settlers, and liking the locality induced
his brother, Findlay, to move to the two hundred acre farm half a mile
east of Orwell Bridge, on the road to Kinross. Rev. Donald died February
21st, 1867. Findlay was then eighty-six years of age.
Mr. Macdonald was preaching
at Birch Hill, Lot 48, when John Martin, Donald MacIan Oig McLeod, Murdoch
Mackenzie, and other settlers, heard of his ministry. They conferred
together and decided to send Donald MacIan Oig and Murdoch Mackenzie to
hear him preach. If they reported favorably a "call" was to be extended to
him to organize a church in their district. These emissaries were
captivated by the magnetism, fiery enthusiasm, and obvious sincerity of
the man. A feature of his service with which they were unacquainted was
the "works" or trancelike ecstasy, accompanied by gesticulation and
shouts, which overcame many of the audience. Donald took it upon himself
to give the neighbors who gathered in his house to hear the report of the
delegates, a physical demonstration of what he had seen. Donald MacIan Oig
was a tall man. The ceilings were low. The beams were knotty. His first
leap brought him in violent contact with the timbers overhead. His wife
rushed for bandages, but he had caught already the infection of a religion
he never forsook, and forbade her, saying "This guilty head, let it
The new minister came and
preached in the barn on Angus Martin's farm, later Peter Musick's. His
magnetism was infectious. Soon a body of loyal followers gathered about
him and the Murray Harbor Road church became the nerve centre--of a parish
which extended from end to end of the Island. Some, like the Lamonts, came
and settled in the district to be near their beloved leader. Rarely has
any pastor ever had a more loyal and faithful congregation than that
gathered around Rev. Donald Macdonald, and rarely has a congregation been
ministered to by a more tireless, enthusiastic, and effective leader.
While he lived, and for years after his death, it was the practice in this
church for the men to sit on one side of the church, while the women sat
by themselves on the other side. In the long journeys between his various
preaching stations he endured discomfort and great hardship. He never
failed a waiting congregation, although frequently beset by the violent
buffetings of the tempestuous island winter. Bitter cold, driving snow, or
lashing rain were only a challenge to his unquenchable zeal.
Mr. Macdonald believed in
celibacy, and in this and other respects was able to, and did, practice
what he preached. The advantage of this condition, to a man ministering to
so widespread a congregation, was incalculable. No man subject to the
various distractions of married life could possibly have accomplished what
he undertook and did. Cut off, as he was, from the refining and mellowing
influences of wife and family, he developed a reserved dignity of exterior
while yet retaining a warm and tender heart within. When a member of his
congregation started out with her crying child, he called after her "sit
down woman, and teach your child obedience." The kindly gentle mother sank
into the nearest pew overcome, but so well understood was the greatness of
the man that no resentment was harbored by the one whom he had rebuked.
When Angus Joiner (McLeod),
while yet a young man, became a convert of Mr. Macdonald, he was
admonished by him to put aside the violin he loved to play "as belonging
to the flesh." Angus took it out and destroyed it with an axe.
Every man was influenced by
his environment and so was Mr. Macdonald. His place was with the afflicted
and distressed, with the sick and the dying. He was not called where there
was gaiety and merriment. He took on the atmosphere in which he lived, as
do all men. But if he was not their intimate in joy, he was in that
emotion that is even more universal-sorrow. Through this common bond he
entered their inmost hearts and became the constant friend and confidant
Whenever grief entered the
home the form of the beloved pastor followed close behind to chase away
their sorrows, with the sunshine of an understanding sympathy, and a
desire to serve that knew not labor.
Hence it was that when the
body, broken in the service of others, was carried to Orwell, to the home
of his brother, Findlay, there to die, tears coursed down the furrowed
cheeks of stern men, as they looked for the last time upon the austere
face, guardian of the tender heart, that never failed them in the hour of
their adversity and of their sorrow.
On the monument erected to
his memory in the Orwell Head churchyard is the following inscription with
a Gaelic translation:
In Memory of
REV. DONALD MACDONALD
Minister of the Church of Scotland, who was born
January 1st, 1783, in the Parish of Logierack
Perthshire, North Britain. Educated in the University
of St. Andrews, and ordained by the Presbytery of
Abertaill in 1816.
He emigrated to America in
1824, and laboured
in his Master's cause on the Island for nearly forty
years, with many tokens of acceptance.
He died on the 22nd day of
in the eighty-fourth year of his age, and the fiftieth of
Rev. Mr. Macdonald was the
first person interred in the Murray Harbor Road churchyard. James Campbell
of Uigg was the first interred in the kirk cemetery on the front of Samuel
Martin's farm, near the junction of the Dundee road and the Murray Harbor
One of the oldest women
living today is Mary Munro, widow of Allan MacSwain of Lorne Valley. She
was born at Shawbost, Parish of Lochs, Lewis, in 1834, and emigrated with
her family to the Orwell district in 1842. Her twin sister Anne, died only
two years ago. For a person of her age she possesses remarkable hearing
and memory. Few people have had her variety of experience. Pioneering for
almost a century, few now living know more of early days on the Island
Quite recently several
friends visited this gentle old lady at the home of her nephew, Daniel
MacSwain, in Lorne Valley. Her interest in the things of every day life
was a surprise to those who met her. Although it is almost ninety years
since she left the land of her birth, with true Highland sentiment her
mind returned to those early days of happy childhood in the glens of far
off Lewis and Skye.
"Although born in Lewis,"
said she, "my father was a native of the Parish of Kilmuir, Skye. He was
one of that noble band of Scottish schoolmasters and catechists, who held
aloft the torch of learning and religion in their own and in foreign lands
to such purpose that the name Scotland became synonymous with intelligence
and honor the world over. For many years he taught and preached in Skye,
but when I was born he was teaching in Lewis. The schoolmaster's wage was
small, as is proved by various receipts signed by my father in a little
Day Book, once owned by a Skye shopkeeper, but now possessed by my nephew,
Dr. Alexander Allan Munro of New York.
"`Received from Alexander
Duncan, Esq., Treasurer to the Honorable Society in Scotland for
propagating Christian Knowledge, the sum of seven pounds ten shillings
sterling, being the amount of my salary from the first day of May to the
first day of November last, as schoolmaster at Fernlea, in this Parish,
which sum I hereby discharge the said Treasurer.
"'Witness my hand at
Fernlea, Parish of Bracadale, this 29th day of January, eighteen hundred
and twenty-two years.'
Sgd. ALEX MUNRO.
"For generations the Munros
were preachers and teachers and many of them follow these vocations
"The first recollection I
have, certainly the first that can be fixed definitely," continued Mrs.
MacSwain, "was the death of King William IV. My father came into the room
where we were sitting and spoke to mother. She raised her apron to her
face and burst into tears. This was the first time I ever saw my dear
mother cry, so I became alarmed and cried too. This started my twin
sister. Mother then took us both in her arms and petted us. `The king is
dead,' she said, `don't mind, everything is all right, we are going to
have a little girl Queen.'
"I recall that everyone was
talking America and how prosperous their friends there were. There seemed
to be dissatisfaction and unrest. Times were hard and getting harder.
Finally, after much anxious thought, my father decided to sever the
age-long tie that bound us to the Hebrides, like oaks to the very ground.
We packed up the few indispensable worldly goods and started for Prince
"I can yet see," she went
on, "the coast of that land of promise looming up ahead of us as we
approached its shores. After visiting relatives in Orwell and Alberry
Plains, we took up land with other Gaelic speaking settlers in Brown's
Creek. We were not long in our new homes before father, ever following the
lure of education, helped to organize a school. A Free Church congregation
was also soon established. The ardor of the people for it almost partook
of hostility to the neighboring Established Church at Murray Harbor Road.
The 'Disruption' had recently taken place in Scotland. The newly arrived
immigrants were keen partisans, and bitter foes of the Establishment."
"But," said Mrs. MacSwain,
"our Highland blood kept us moving and once again we broke up our home.
With several neighbors we moved to the Head of Cardigan, then one of the
most heavily wooded districts on the whole Island. No one can realize the
toil involved in clearing the maples. The stumps never seemed to die.
However, we stuck and this move proved our last. We liked to visit our old
Brown's Creek neighbors, and we frequently drove across country on
Saturday for the Sunday service, staying with friends over the weekend.
Among the adherents of this congregation was William Lamont, the only
member of that devoted church family not a follower of Reverend Donald
Macdonald. Although not a gifted singer William Lamont was an expert
`liner.' This was an important part of the precentor's duty, and it was
well performed by him. At a time when each person in the audience did not
possess a book, it was necessary, if all were to sing, for someone at the
beginning of each line or two to intone the words in a voice heard by the
whole audience. This was known as `lining.' Once done each person had the
words, and was thereby enabled to raise his voice in song. All sang, and
sang fervently, and if all did not pray, those who did appropriated the
time that would have been taken up by others had all prayed. The result
was hearty, refreshing singing, and long tedious prayers.
"On one of these occasions
the Cardigan visitors were holding a service on Saturday evening at the
home of one of their Brown's Creek friends. William Lamont was lining, and
all present were entering with the greatest fervor into the song. It was
fall, and Boreas smote the log walls of the humble cottage with bitter
blasts. The household dog had been driven from his accustomed haunt beside
the open hearth, to make way for the press of visitors. Towards the end of
the first song, a dismal howling was set up by the faithful Achates
without, his spirit moved as much by the mournful and unusual harmony
within, as by the bitter blasts without. At length the song was ended. The
last note had scarcely died away before the precentor, in the same
wavering tone, and with the same fervid expression, carried on in Gaelic,
'Chaidh Satan a steach do'n choin' (Satan has entered into the dog).
Thinking him still `lining,' the congregation, swept along by the
enthusiasm of the occasion, took up the refrain, and from every throat
there arose, loud in unison, 'Chaidh Satan a steach do'n choin.' But if
His Satanic Majesty had entered into the dog, as alleged by the respected
precentor, his sojourn in the canine host was of short duration, for there
was ample evidence in the frequent fistic encounters between the more
quarrelsome members of the two rival religious factions, at casual
meetings over the flowing bowl, that he soon freed himself from the
restraints of his shaggy habitation, and invaded the more congenial soil
of the human heart."
"What do I think of our
young folk today?", said Mrs. MacSwain, repeating the question of one of
her visitors. "Well, although I do not read many periodicals or
newspapers, I do not agree with the criticism I sometimes hear and read of
the character of the modern girl. After almost a century of association
with my friends and neighbors I must say that human nature does not differ
appreciably today from what it was when I was a child, or during any
period since. The fact of the matter is, too much stress is laid today on
formal education. I have met women in rude surroundings possessed of as
much refinement of mind and gentility of manner as is found in those
reared today in luxury. Youth makes its mistakes, no matter what the
Mrs. MacSwain does not look
like a person who ever endured great physical hardship. When one of her
guests referred to the freshness of her complexion, her face lit up with
"My continued good health,"
she said, "is due to the simplicity of our lives. We never indulged
ourselves. Our surroundings were healthful and natural. We were taught to
face the future with a fortitude that is not looked for in women of the
present age. For women to give way to tears was considered unseemly. In my
early years it seems to me that women were almost as strong physically as
men. I have seen cases of harrowing misery caused by intemperance. The
curtailed use of intoxicants has already done more to lighten the burdens
of the poor than any single agency operating in the century of my
Mrs. Norman MacLeod, of
Vancouver, when discussing early Belfast shortly before her death about a
year ago, told of herself and two sisters having received collegiate
training. Her brother, Angus MacSwain, was graduated in arts and medicine
from McGill, and Harvard, and later took post graduate courses in European
universities. Other families had a similar record.
"Parents in those days,"
said Mrs. MacLeod, "were anxious to educate their daughters, but the times
were hard, and it was difficult to pay for the education of more than one
or two members of a family. At that early time the economic freedom of
women had not been realized; it had not even been attempted. The only
vocation in which she could hope to use a specialized training was school
teaching. The few who received high school training became teachers."
Mrs. MacLeod was of the
opinion that though the vast majority of the women of early Belfast went
to the common country schools only, they were thoroughly grounded in the
fundamentals of education. "The first lesson," said Mrs. MacLeod when
questioned on that point, "impressed upon the mind of the young girl was
never to strive to do or to think as men did or thought, but to do and to
think in a way befitting the physical and mental character of those of
their sex. It was considered quite enough if a girl was able to do well
those things that more fittingly fell within their province. Women of past
generations were not as cultivated as are modern women, but they were
endowed with equal refinement. Their influence in the home was as potent
as is that possessed by their modern sisters."
"In looking back,"
continued Mrs. MacLeod, "over the list of Belfast women, there comes to
mind the names of many of great charm and refinement. Among them none made
a more indelible impression on my mind than did Mrs. Donald A. MacLeod of
Eldon, formerly Miss Ann MacKenzie, sister of Findlay MacKenzie, [Father
of Dr. David `'V. MacKenzie, the eminent surgeon of Montreal. ] and
Captain Roderick MacKenzie of Flat River. Never in my life have I met a
woman of higher culture and greater charity than that wonderful woman.
About her there centered to the end, which came only a few years ago, when
she was over ninety-one years of age, the distinguished and charming
family of sons and daughters, who gathered each summer at the old home,
attracted by one of the most beautiful characters it has ever been my
privilege to know."
The Mackenzies of Belfast
as a clan were noted for nobility of looks and character. Even among them
Mrs. MacLeod was pre-eminent.
Another interesting old
lady, full of the lore of old Belfast, is Jessie, daughter of William
MacLeod, of the Glashvin, Pinette family of that name. Her father fought
in the Napoleonic Wars, and from his own lips she heard many romantic
tales of stirring scenes in foreign lands. Although eighty-nine years of
age her memory and hearing are unimpaired.
William Saighdear, as he
was commonly called by his Gaelic speaking neighbors in Uigg and Orwell,
was a sergeant in the 42nd Highlanders-the famous Black Watch. He enlisted
when sixteen years of age, and continued with the colors for twenty-one
years, when he was honorably discharged with several medals and a pension.
After returning from the wars he married Catherine Macpherson. In 1831 the
family emigrated to Uigg, P.E.I., and here in 1840 Jessie, the youngest
and sole survivor of their ten children, was born. Her husband, Angus R.
MacSwain, Lorne Valley, died a few years ago, and she now resides with her
daughter, Christine A. Gurney. She is perhaps the only woman now living
whose father fought at Corunna. She recently spoke of him as follows:
"He stood six feet three
inches, and was a magnificent specimen of manhood. Skye gave many such men
to the British Army. Their bravery did much to augment Britain's glory. He
had many harrowing experiences in the Peninsular War, through which he
fought under Sir John Moore and Wellington. On three occasions bullets
were extracted from his body, and on one occasion he received a sabre
wound in the shoulder. At Corunna he was left badly wounded on the field.
An English officer and orderly came upon him. The orderly examined the
wounded Highlander and told the officer that he was too far gone to do
anything for him. On hearing this, father, turning to the orderly, said,
`If I had a bullet you would lie with me.' The brave and compassionate
officer was so struck by the undaunted bearing of the man that he said,
`This is a brave man, we will take him.' So saying he dismounted and
together they placed the disabled soldier on the horse. Coming to a house
near which goats were feeding, they asked a woman for milk for the
suffering man, and a bandage for his wounds. She immediately tore a strip
from her chemise, and with this his wound was bound. After recovering he
fought in many more of the bloodiest battles of the War, receiving wounds
but finally returning to England.
"In Waterloo he was shot
through the abdomen, and thought his end had come. He recovered, however,
and returned to Skye. In Uigg and Head of Cardigan, he underwent the many
and varied hardships of pioneer life without complaint. Finally his
powerful frame and masterful spirit succumbed to the hardships he had
undergone. They carried him from Lorne Valley to the Belfast churchyard,
and there they left his remains among the clansmen he had followed to
their home in the new land. His devoted wife, my ever kind mother, rests
by his side."
UIGG OF TODAY
For three generations after
its settlement Uigg, like Belfast, remained a remote, isolated district.
Untouched by the surging mass of humanity that swarmed over the continent,
its frugal and industrious residents retained the customs and beliefs of
their forefathers to a degree rarely found elsewhere. Those who never left
its shores thought the little isle on which they lived the centre of all
things, and those living beyond its shores were looked upon and referred
to as foreigners. Their business was done with Boston, and that home of
culture was better known by many of them than hamlets a few miles distant
from their birthplace. It was in the U.S.A. that the surplus population
sought and found employment, and there were few Belfast homes but had sons
and daughters prosperous and loyal citizens of that great republic. The
bond of sympathy for America was strong, and for years many hoped for
political union with the States.
About twenty years ago,
when the first train steamed into Uigg, the district awoke from its long
sleep. It is no more a remote, out-of-the-way, isolated district. Trains,
automobiles, telephone and telegraph have brought it into close touch with
the outside world.
The entire population
devotes itself to farming. Each homestead generally consists of one
hundred acres. The dwelling houses are commodious and comfortable. Most of
them are built of native spruce and fir, which is sawn in local mills. A
few have hot-air furnaces, some of which burn hardwood from the little
groves wisely preserved on almost every farm. The early settlers grew oats
so persistently that the soil became greatly impoverished. In late years
it has been restored to its former fertility through rotation of crops,
fertilizers, and raising of stock. For the past few years large quantities
of certified seed potatoes have been grown. These are shipped to points as
far afield as Cuba, and the Carolinas. Co-operative marketing has
superseded individual effort, and now eggs, cattle, sheep, pigs, potatoes,
and all the products of the farm are handled through the various pools
organized for the purpose.
One of the most notable
changes in Uigg is that in the home. In the early days a family of ten
children was not uncommon. There were several of twelve and one of
fifteen. Today a family of half a dozen is rare. The effect on school and
church is depressing. The old enthusiasm is lacking and there is a
slackening in effort and attendance.
But nothing can rob Uigg of
the glory of its past, and there will cling to it always something far
above material things. The memory of its pious, law-abiding, God-fearing
men and women will long be cherished by such as love nobility of character
and upright conduct. The high tradition of the founders has been in large
measure maintained by succeeding generations, and now a century after the
first settlers set up their temple in the wilds of Uigg, their descendants
may proudly claim that, in the century of its existence, no resident of
that much loved spot has ever been charged before a court with the
commission of a crime.
"But if, through the course
of the years which await me,
Some new scene of pleasure should open to view,
I will say, while with rapture the thought shall elate me,
`Oh! such were the days which my infancy knew!' "
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