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Recollections of a Long Life 1829 - 1915
Chapter I


The fortunes of my forbears, like the family chronicles of many of the Scotch-Irish whose names appear frequently in American annals, follow in general outline, but with divergent detail, the history of the Scotch emigration to Ulster and the subsequent exodus from that province to America.

Family tradition throws little light on the estate of the Stephensons prior to the time of my great-grandfather, Andrew Stephenson. What his career was can only be dimly surmised from the general drift of large affairs in Ulster during the period following the revolution. On the subject of his personal activities no records survive and tradition is almost blank. Like so many others who have sought their fortunes in far places, he carne from the lowlands of Scotland, where the name Stephenson flourished. Here also, it is probable, originated the family to which George Stephenson, the distinguished engineer and inventor, and his son Robert, also an engineer, belonged. The story has been told from one generation to another, at least in my own branch of this seemingly numerous clan, that Andrew Stephenson, my great- grandfather, and George Stephenson, the engineer, came of the same stock. [George Stephenson, who built the first passenger railroad from Liverpool to Manchester, and the first locomotive, the locket, used on the line, was born in the village of Wylain, eight. miles west of Newcastle-on-Tyne. "A tradition is, indeed, preserved in the family that old Robert Stephenson's father (George Stephenson's great-grandfather) and mother came across the border from Scotland on the loss of considerable property there." Smiles' Life of George Stephenson; John Murray: London, 1857.]

Andrew Stephenson went to Ireland some time during the first half of the eighteenth century. In this venture, probably, he merely followed the example of many of his hardier neighbors who were ready to abandon the land of their birth, where increasing numbers made time scramble for a competency difficult, for the less restricted territory wrested from the native Irish. Others of the name had gone before him. It appears in Pynnar's survey of the province of Ulster and in various other records of the affairs of that settlement. But there is nothing to indicate that my great-grandfather did not go entirely upon his own initiative. The tradition of the family is that he was given Iands in Donegal, possibly some of the territory forfeited by an absentee landlord of the earlier settlement or an unfortunate proprietor attainted of treason.

In any event he settled in Raplioe, not far from the city of Strabane, and became the owner of a farm and a flax-mill. The farm, called Culladerry, evidently a property of some proportions, lay in the heart of the flax region which, as a later traveler has observed, may be perceived at some distance in the late summer when the fields are in blossom "from the abominable odor of that fibrous plant." The deed to the property, corresponding to our present-day warranty deed, confirmed title to the possession "as long as the grass grows and the water runs." At. Culladerry also was the flax-mill, probably what was known as a scutching-mill, one of the small units that went to make up the flourishing linen industry of the period. The product of this establishment was disposed of at Strabane, to which my elders referred oftentimes, when I was a child in New Brunswick, as "oor market toon."

In this environment Andrew Stephenson seems to have prospered and was considered, as fortunes were measured at the time, a well-to-do, if not wealthy, man. He survived at least, the vicissitudes to which the linen and other industries were subjected by adverse legislation, export taxes and the setbacks of an occasional bad year, which impelled thousands of weavers and other linen- workers to emigrate to the colonies in America. He (lid not suffer much, if at all, from religious disturbances or business reverses during a rather difficult period and, whatever his lot, remained at Culladerry, reared a family, and in the fullness of his time died and was buried where he had lived and labored.

My grandfather, Robert Stephenson, succeeded to possession of the property. Although he was born more than a century and a half ago, in 1753, and was in the flower of early manhood at the time of the American Revolution, he appears to me in a much more personal light than his predecessors. He came to New Brunswick after my father had pointed the way, and died, when more than eighty years of age, in the stone house where lie had lived, a few miles from the city of Fredericton, on the St. John River, when I was a small boy. Here also my grand-mother died at about the age of ninety.

Robert Stephenson was It soft-spoken, mild-mannered man, possessing, however, the typical Ulster characteristic of an indomitable, will, which, transmitted to succeeding generations, accounts in large measure, I have no doubt, for the perseverance that has brought success to many of Scotch-Irish descent in the United States. His decision of character is exemplified in two incidents of his career which stand out rather prominently from the body of domestic tradition centering upon him.

One of the prominent residents of the neighborhood of Culladerry was a Judge Lindsley, a man of quite as much determination as my grandfather. The Lindsley family was also of Scotch origin and occupied a conspicuous position socially and commercially in the affairs of the county. In the role of suitor to his daughter Margaret,— who was almost a giantess in strength and physique,— my grandfather did not appear in a favorable light in the sight of Judge Lindsley, and to gain his end was obliged to resort to the old method of elopement. From the time of her marriage my grandmother never saw her father; and he, dogged to the end, did not once mention her name, it was said, after she had deserted the parental roof. The fact of her existence was called to his attention when he was on his death bed, but her name did not appear among the beneficiaries under his will.

Members of the Lindsley family also sought their fortunes in America. My grandmother's brother owned a farm within the the present limits of the city of Philadelphia, where he and two men whom he employed were killed by Indians. More than sixty years ago we contemplated engaging Daniel Webster as counsel and having a search made of the records which might disclose our interest in the property as heirs through my grandmother, but because of the serious obstacles in the way of establishing the claim and the time that had elapsed since the death of my great-uncle we abandoned the project.

In later years my grandfather was afflicted with rheumatism and was compelled to use crutches, but this physical disability apparently did not result in any diminution of his indomitable spirit. It flared forth on one occasion when the dam by which the water power for the flax-mill was generated was in need of repairs. The task was undertaken by some of his sons and employees while he stood by on his crutches watching the progress of the work. The weather was cold. There was snow on the ground and the men were reluctant to go into the icy water. Their attempts to evade time ordeal stirred his Ulster blood and at length, throwing aside all precaution and his crutches as well, he plunged into the chilly stream himself. Instead of paying for his rashness with more acute rheumatic pains he recovered entirely from his ailment, as a result of his bath, so the story is told, and was able to dispense with the crutches for the remainder of his days.

My father, Isaac Stephenson, was the fifth of seventeen children, fifteen of whom eventually came to America in accordance with the plans he had in large measure made for them. At the time of his birth in 1790 conditions in Ireland were none too good. He grew up in an environment of stress and struggle to make ends meet. Although the Stephensons were in much better position financially than most of their neighbors in the flax region, a family of such proportions undoubtedly presented economic problems which even the resources of a large farm and flax mill could not obviate altogether. In Raphoe and Donegal increasing restrictions upon the linen trade had put a blight upon the flax industry. The country was impoverished and held no promise for the young man who looked to the future for opportunities for advancement.

The exodus from the north of Ireland, which had drained the country of many thousands of its best men and women during the latter part of the eighteenth century, was still iii progress when my father was a boy, and he was but one of many who followed in its wake in the first years of the nineteenth century. From the earlier colonists came reports of prosperity and success in the New World. The big timber-ships from Maine and New Brunswick ports which put put into Londonderry, not far from Raphoe, laden with masts and spars and hewn logs of a size unknown in the sparse forests of Ireland, bore tangible evidence of the wealth overseas and not only excited the imagination of the people but afforded the means of flight from the trying conditions surrounding them.

To add to the difficulties of the Stephenson family, reverses overtook my grandfather through the escapades Of one of his sons who had set out for Scotland to buy horses. In this dilemma my father found inspiration in the stories of opportunity in America, which were doubtless borne from Londonderry (low!! the valley of the Foyle, and lie decided to join the stream of travelers who went there to seek their fortunes.

He set sail in 1809, when he was nineteen years old, from Londonderry where, doubtless, many of the progenitors of the Scotch-Irish and Irish families now in the United States and Canada also embarked. how momentous these voyages must have seemed to them as they watched the shores of the land they knew recede, may be left to imagination. Conditions OH board the timber ships, although they were more commodious than most sailing vessels, were none too luxurious. Their destination was from six to ten weeks away, with the threat of storm and rough weather constantly hovering over them. These rigors, however, did not check the flow of emigration.

My father landed at the port of St. John, New Brunswick, then one of the busiest cities on the western continent, with a population of approximately thirty-five hundred. Thence he went up the St. John River to Fredericton, where the land of opportunity lay. Having probably scant resources except his own energy, and following the example of those about him, he secured employment at once, lumbering on the Oromocto River several miles below the town.

Life along the St. John was still largely of the mold in which it was cast when the land bordering upon it was parceled out in large tracts to early colonists or Loyalist refugees from the states. These families carried with them the aristocratic traditions of the older countries, and those who considered themselves as belonging to this social category sought to reproduce the manner of living which prevailed in the British Isles. Even in my own day a. justice of the peace, or squire, was a dignitary of much consequence, and the Loyalist grantees - who were referred to colloquially as Bluenoses - maintained their elevated positions with unrelaxing vigilance. In ninny instances they erected large houses which were called at least by us children - castles, and left the management of their estates, some of them consisting of thousands of acres, to an overseer, if they were fortunate enough to find one capable of performing that function.

This condition, as it happened, had an important bearing upon my father's career in more ways than one. Being a man of great industry and obviously of more than ordinary capacity, he was sought out by the Loyalist grantees and men of large affairs to take charge of their properties until he achieved an independent position. While so engaged he met and married a member of one of the most distinguished families of the period, which, divided in its allegiance, rendered almost as conspicuous service in the cause of the American Revolution as it did in the cause of the Crown.

After lumbering for two or three years on the Oromocto, where masts were being cut for the Royal Navy, my father was engaged by Colonel Isaac Allen to manage his estate on the St. John River, six miles above Fredericton. This property covered the territory formerly occupied by the old Indian village of Aukpaque and included within its limits Savage Island and Sugar Island. It was also the site of an old French mission in the vicinity of which had been an Acadian settlement, some of the residents of which still lingered when my father assumed direction of affairs. Although little trouble was encountered with the Indians, some of whom also remained in the neighborhood, my father narrowly escaped death at the hands of one of them. While he was hoeing corn on Savage Island a member of the tribe which had once camped there, fired with rum, threw a tomahawk at him. Fortunately the weapon missed its mark and before the Indian could do greater harm my father laid his head open with the hoe, all but killing him. I had occasion to remember this incident because some years afterward my brother nearly severed two of my fingers with the same tomahawk, and I have borne the scar left by the wound ever since.

Adjoining the Allen estate and separated from it by a small stream was Spring Hill, the estate of the Murray family, one of the most important points in the lumbering industry on the St. John River. It lay at the head of tidewater, where the small rafts, in which form timber and logs were transported from the upper river below Grand Falls, were made up into larger rafts to be dropped down to the city of St. John with the tide. As a child I saw thousands of these rafts at Spring Hill, covering in unbroken mass acres of the surface of the river.

Of the four brothers of the Murray family, who resided in New York at the opening of the Revolutionary War, two, Christopher and Robert, cast their lot with the colonists, while the others, William and John, remained loyal to the Crown. As a penalty for their Toryism the latter, with the other Loyalists, forfeited their possessions in the United States upon the declaration of peace in 1783, but were compensated by the British government with the large grant on the St. John River, extending for several miles along the shore and as far back, which came to be called Spring Hill.

Robert and Christopher Murray, who remained in New York, were no more patriotic than Robert's wife. Perhaps the zealousness with which she embraced the cause of independence might have accounted for the rift in the family. Her reception of Generals Howe and Clinton and other British officers, whom she entertained at Murray Hill "with pleasant conversation and a profusion of cake and wine," while General Putnam and his division slipped out to the Heights of Harlem from the trap which they had been caught in New York city, has left its impress upon the history of 1776. Robert Murray afterwards achieved distinction as a lawyer and was pitted against Alexander Hamilton as counsel in the first newspaper libel suit tried in the United States. Murray Hill, his farm on the outskirts of the city and the lake upon it are no more. They have been engulfed by the advancing tide of buildings but the name is still applied to the section of the metropolis to which they gave place.

Relatives of the Murray family remained in London and one of them, a cousin, Elizabeth Watson by name, came to New Brunswick to visit the Loyalist brothers at Spring Hill. At this time my father was in charge of Colonel Allen's estate adjoining. Doubtless in the conic and go of life along the St. John the two were thrown together. Iii any event Elizabeth Watson tarried long at Spring Hill, they came to know each other, and in 1815, several years after her arrival, they were married.

Although the Murrays had been divided in their allegiance, their domestic friendships remained undisturbed. Christopher and Robert, long after the feeling over the rebellion of the colonies had subsided, came to Spring Hill from time to time to visit their brothers; and my mother, whose destinies had taken her to other places, frequently rejoined the family circle. it was on one of these occasions that I, as a small child playing about the house with a donkey, fell under the eye of Christopher, by avocation a broker in New York City. He had no children, and being, for one reason or another, attracted to me, he proposed to my mother that he adopt me with the understanding that I be made his heir. My mother, however, did not fall in with this plan. I was destined to come to the United States in another way.

Some time between 1820 and 1822, my father transferred his activities to an estate called Lincoln, nine miles from Fredericton, a. large tract of land granted to Colonel Leniuel Wilmot, also a refugee from the states. [Wilmot, Lemuel, of Long Island, New York; entered the the service of the Crown and at the peace was captain in the loyal American regiment. in 1783 he settled on the river St. John, New Brunswick, where he continued to reside. He died near Fredericton in 1814. He received half pay. Hannah, his wife, a daughter of the Hon. Daniel Bliss, died in 1810. (Sabin.)] In this undertaking lie assumed a larger measure of responsibility and had entire direction of the lumbering and farming operations carried on there, receiving as compensation a share of the proceeds. The Wilmot family played an important part in the affairs of New Brunswick. Allen Wilmot, the son of Colonel Wilmot, one of the most distinguished lawyers in Canada and for a time Governor of the province, spent his vacations at Lincoln while my father was in charge of the estate.

At this place my oldest sister, Margaret, my brother Andrew, and my sister Elizabeth Ann, were born.

After living at Lincoln for several years my father again moved still farther down the river to Maugerville, one of the older settlements, laid out in 1762,— where he took charge of the estate of Colonel Miles. [Miles, Elijah. In 1783 he settled in New Brunswick. lie was a judge of the Court of Common pleas, a colonel in the militia, and a member of the House of Assembly. He died at Maugerville, in the County of Sunbury, at the age of seventy-nine. (Sabin.)] This land was the most fertile in a region renowned for its fertility and produced from sixty to one hundred bushels of corn to the acre. Shortly after the arrival of the family there I was born on June 18, 1829.

It was not long after his removal to Maugerville that my father attracted the attention of Samuel Nevers, [The Nevers family was of original Puritan stock and first settled in Woburn, Massachusetts, in 1666. They were original grantees of the settlement at Maugerville.] Squire Nevers, one of the conspicuous figures in the early development of the lumbering industry along the St. John River, a man of large enterprise who had supplied masts to enable Francklin, Hazen and White, the Pioneer lumbering firm of the province, to fulfill their contract with the Royal Navy. He engaged my father to manage the varied and extensive operations he carried on at Hartland, about eight miles up the river from Maugerville, where he had built a huge house, known as Nevers Castle, and established a sawmill, gristmill and oatmeal-mill at the mouth of the Becaguimec River. In addition there was a greenhouse, a supply store and warehouse; and the activities of the place included farming, lumbering, and vessel-building.

Squire Nevers, who in more modern nomenclature would have been rated as all of great importance, according to the standard of the time, eventually suffered reverses and the fruits of his earlier success were dissipated. One of his descendants many years afterward sought employment of me in Wisconsin. My brother, S. M. Stephenson, of Menonminee, Michigan, was born at Hartland on Christmas Day, 1832 and was a namesake of Squire Nevers.

We lived at Hartland for four or five years, at the end of which time my father, desirous of taking up an independent career, purchased from Squire Nevers a farm at Greenfield, twenty-five miles farther up the river, near the mouth of the Shiktehawk. Here my brother Robert was born, and here my mother died on New Year's Day, 1838, when I was less than nine years old, leaving six children, four boys and two girls.


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