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Recollections of a Long Life 1829 - 1915
Chapter II


Life along the St. John River during my early boy-hood was full of activity; and in the forest or on the farm every moment of the day, from dawn until twilight, was given up to labor. The period was one of abounding prosperity. The demand for timber from abroad, especially for masts and spars, was apparently unlimited and as the forests were cleared away the fertile soil, especially in the intervales, yielded rich harvests. These opportunities were the goal for an unending stream of immigrants principally from Ireland and Scotland.

The St. John River, the broad thoroughfare to the sea, was a constantly shifting panorama of the industries which prevailed along its banks, from the wilderness above to the city at its mouth where the tide rolls in with resistless energy from the Bay of Fundy. At Hartland and Spring Hill I saw, as a child, the products of the forest go by in an endless stream of rafts, the towboats laden with supplies for the farms, the canoes of the Indians and white men, the pirogues of the Acadians carrying to market the woolen garments made from their own flocks of sheep and maple sugar obtained in the woods. Even at night it was not still. Through the darkness flared the flambeaux of the fishermen, the lure of the salmon of which its waters yielded rich harvest.

The lands bordering upon the river from the mouth to Grand Falls, over which I have seen huge logs plunge like chips in a torrent, were considered from the point of view of the time a well settled area. Villages and small settlements were numerous and at intervals between them were small water-mills, taverns and stores at which the farmers obtained their supplies. In addition to the common occupations, farming and lumbering, vessel-building had become a well established industry. It was carried on at Hartland, Squire Nevers' place, and at Taylortown and Sheffield - the one above, the other below, Mangerville. It is recorded that Benedict Arnold, who took refuge in the province and lived for a time at St. John, came into possession by not altogether honorable means of the Lord Sheffield, the first ship built on the river. As far back as 1800, sixty-seven ships were launched on St. John; and at one time during that period two hundred square rigged vessels lay in St. John harbor awaiting cargoes.

I have, of course, no direct recollection of Maugerville, where I was born. It has since shrunk to a quiet hamlet, and the house of Colonel Miles, where I first saw the light of day, undermined by the river, has been obliterated. The same melancholy fate has overtaken the Allen and Murray estates at Spring Hill. Only a few of the buildings which were standing in my time, including the two little Episcopal churches at which the people of the neighborhood worshiped, remain.

My earliest experiences were at Hartland, Squire Nevers' place, and on the farm at Greenfield. The landmarks most distinctly fixed in my memory in this vicinity were Charles McMullen's "castle," a short distance below Hartland, Robert Carr's store and hotel on the main river near Greenfield, Tupper's store and the gristmill and blacksmith shop on Buttermilk Creek. However unimportant they might appear from the latter-day point of view, in the social and industrial scheme of things that prevailed in New Brunswick during the early part of the last century these supply stores, mills, taverns, and blacksmith shops were institutions of much consequence from which the activity of the neighborhood radiated.

For those who were old enough life meant, at this time, little more than hard work. My father gave his attention to the farm, hiring in the summer-time. In the winter and spring he was away in the woods, lumbering or logging. This routine was followed by most of the men on the upper St. John; and not a few of them, when the long day was over, came home to thresh grain and attend to the needs of their live stock. Many times while driving homeward after a belated excursion in the neighborhood I heard the sound of the beating flails coming through the darkness from the barns along the roadside.

Our manner of living was simple. There was little leisure and the luxuries were few, but our activity in the woods and on the river kept us in bounding health and good spirits and we did not regard our lot as at all difficult. Stoves were, in this region at least, unknown. The big open hearth, with its blazing logs, its pots and kettles, was the center of domestic activity. Beside it stood the dyeing pot, the large old-fashioned spinning wheel, and the other crude implements of the day with which the wool from the sheep of which every farm maintained a flock, large or small - was carded, colored, and spun to be woven into cloth.

Public schools had not yet been established. The education of us children was committed to the charge of two Irish schoolmasters who taught with the aid of a birch rod and, as part compensation, were received as boarders and lodgers in the households of their pupils, going from one to another in succession. Even this rudimentary schooling was limited. As soon as a boy was old enough to share the pressing burden of labor his attention was absorbed by the farm or the forest, and the girls were called upon to perform some of the manifold household duties including carding, spinning, and weaving. Under the rigid rule of necessity they even made their hats out of braided wheat straw, in which art they became adept, and a modest ribbon for adornment was counted a valuable treasure. I remember distinctly the gravity of the investigation that followed the disappearance of one when I was a small boy.

The general diversion of the period was the "frolic," a neighborhood affair combining industry with pleasure corresponding to the ''bee" in New England. There were "frolics" for mowing and reaping, for carding wool, quilting, clearing the forest, and hauling and raising barns,— almost every kind of work that could be carried on collectively with one's neighbors. The host, as beneficiary of the concerted effort, provided refreshments as elaborate as the modest scale of living afforded, among which, for the men, was a generous supply of rum, the favorite beverage of the time.

About this time, 1837, during the hay-making season, I set out one morning with one of our neighbors named Campbell, a vigorous old Irishman whose sympathies were with the Unionist cause, to cut out from his flock grazing on the commons three or four sheep which were to be slaughtered to provide mutton for the men working in the fields. It was a warm day and the work of rounding up the animals strenuous, and we sat down on on the grass by the roadside to rest. Campbell, then an old man, propped against a tree, took from his pocket an Irish newspaper,— the only medium through which we received news of what was going on in the old world,— which must have been several weeks old at least, as it was brought by sailing vessel, adjusted his heavily rimmed spectacles and proceeded to read aloud to himself. Lying beside him, with one eye on the sheep, I listened attentively. In his slow and deliberate fashion entirely oblivious of my presence he read of the death of William IV and the accession of Queen Victoria, then eighteen years of age, to the throne of Great Britain and Ireland.

After my mother's death I was left to a large extent to follow my own inclinations, as my father was away much of the time in the woods and the only parental authority we recognized reposed in my elder sister. Perhaps in my vagaries I covered a larger field than other small boys because of my comparative freedom, and wandered more or less at will over the neighborhood. But I was in no wise different. I frequented the swimming hole by a cedar tree which I visited in 1855, 1856, 1880, 1894, and 1903, and fished in a small lake back of the farm at Greenfield with one of our neighbors, Andy McMonigle, who occasionally gave me an Irish fish book,—all fish hooks seemed to be of Irish origin. If that were lost I fell back on a bent pin, which served very well, as the abundance of the fish made up for what I might have lacked in the way of tackle.

The most important historical event of which I have a clear recollection was the controversy in 1839 over the boundary between Maine and New Brunswick, sometimes called the Aroostook War. In the diminishing perspective of three quarters of a century this incident appears to have been of little consequence, but in the environment in which I lived it loomed large in its proportions and to the people of the province it was a matter of grave portent.

The region involved in the controversy was that in which my father lumbered and was generally known as Madawaska, the territory originally occupied by the Acadians when they were transferred from their earlier settlements along the St. John. Along the border there had always been more or less smuggling. In my boyhood I had known of such devices as trap doors in the bottom of sleighs which could be sprung permitting the loads to fall in the snow by the wayside when a revenue officer hove in sight. Disputes also arose over the ownership of timber and the crisis was finally precipitated by clashes between the civil authorities of the State of Maine and the Province of New Brunswick.

Under the shadow of war in 1839 lumbering operations in Aroostook County and along the upper St. John generally ceased. On March 1st eight hundred fusiliers arrived in St. John from Cork and five hundred British regulars were sent to Madawaska. The farmers and lumbermen of the vicinity under British jurisdiction were pressed into service to haul soldiers to Quebec where the garrison was being strengthened; and on sides of the boundary the militia was held in readiness for war, trains of sleighs laden with soldiers and munitions stretching along the roads through the forests.

The Yankees erected a blockhouse on the Aroostook River called Fort Fairfield, and at the mouth of the Fish River, where I afterward lumbered with my father, was Fort Kent, named for the Governor of Maine, whose fame has survived in the slogan:

"Maine went
Hell bent
For Governor Kent."

When hostilities threatened and the militia of New Brunswick was called out, my father, as orderly sergeant, went into service. These forces were quartered in an unfinished church at Tobique where he, by reason of his rank, occupied the pulpit. In the vicinity was also a force of grenadiers, regular troops. Between the two there was always more or less friction and ill feeling which was manifested in frequent brawls and fights, and on one occasion the grenadiers invaded the church in which the militia was housed and were on the point of charging them under arms when Colonel Nugent, their commanding officer, arrived just in time to prevent what might have been a serious encounter.

Both regulars and militiamen frequented Tibbetts's tavern, about a mile up the Tobique River. One afternoon my father went to this place to warn two of his men, John Laird and James McMonigle, to return to quarters before their leave expired. Two grenadiers, who were in the bar-room at the rear of the tavern drinking, went out shortly after he entered and secreted themselves in a hallway. When he passed a moment later they struck him down with a handspike, leaving him lying unconscious on the floor. Here he was discovered by McMonigle and Laird who, after summoning aid, armed themselves with pine clubs and set out in pursuit of the assailants.

They found them on the river bank a short distance from the tavern. Laird felled his man with a blow, but McMonigle's club broke. He thereupon grappled with the grenadier and in the struggle the two men rolled over and over, down the river bank to the ice below. Fortunately for McMonigle, he brought up on top and proceeded in a blind fury to beat the soldier with the remnant of his weapon until others intervened. As a penalty for the assault one of the grenadiers, after a trial, was transported to Botany Bay; the other died at St. John before he was sentenced. For six weeks my father was incapacitated and never fully recovered from the effects of the injury he sustained which, I have no doubt, shortened his life, although he was eighty-five years on when he died.

Some of the incidents of this period which I remember bore a less serious aspect. About this same time Stover Ryan, a Yankee,— whom I met a number of years afterward at Janesville, Wisconsin,— while hauling a small cannon on a sleigh, left his charge and went into a tavern to refresh himself. John Bradley, one of the men employed by my father, saw the unguarded piece and, stirred with patriotic fervor, set about to unlash it and dray it to a water hole in the ice on the river, where he purposed to consign it to watery oblivion. Before he succeeded Ryan appeared and he took to his heels. This was not the only one of Bradley's patriotic exploits. He also set fire to the Yankee blockhouse at Fort Fairfield, but the blaze was extinguished before much damage was done. The blackened logs remained, however, a monument to his prowess.

Fortunately, the war over the boundary was averted largely through the efforts of Sir John Harvey, Governor of New Brunswick, and General Winfield Scott. These men had become intimate friends through unusual circumstances. General Scott saved Sir John's life in the War of 1810 at the battle of Lundy's Lane, and not long afterward Sir John performed the same service for General Scott at Quebec where, while a prisoner of war, he was set upon by several Indian chiefs who were bent on killing him. They were selected to take up preliminary negotiations and signed a protocol at Augusta, Maine, on March 23, 1839. Subsequently, in accordance with the terms of the Webster-Ashburton treaty, the controversy was submitted to arbitration and the boundary was fixed by the King of the Netherlands.

The part played by Daniel Webster, then Secretary of State, in the negotiations made him the target indirectly for much bitter criticism. When President Harrison, by whom he was appointed, died and was succeeded by President Tyler, Webster did not resign with the other members of the cabinet. For this he was denounced by his party colleagues, the Whigs, whom Tyler had antagonized, and virulent attacks were made upon him. After the boundary controversy had been settled he explained publicly, in a speech at Faneuil Hill, that he had been performing a patriotic duty by remaining at his post against his will until the treaty negotiations had been completed and turned the guns of his oratory upon those who had been criticizing him for his action.

At this time the dominating industry along the St. John River which overshadowed every other activity was lumbering. It was to the forests that the province owed in greatest measure its prosperity and its rapid development. From the very outset of its history they attracted the attention of explorers. French and English navigators skirting the shores of the St. John River observed that the trees were of a size far greater than those yielded by the forests of the old world, and because of their straight trunks and great height were incomparable for masts and spars. Nowhere else, it was thought, could such timber be obtained, and the constantly increasing size of sailing vessels demanded loftier masts for their equipment.

When the English dominion was extended into Canada, after the battle of Quebec, the English government itself adopted a plan prohibiting the cutting of pine trees within three miles of the shores of the river St. John. Later surveyors of the Crown were sent into the woods to select trees suitable for masts which they marked with broad arrows. Afterward this plan was abandoned and a law was passed allowing a bounty for trees beyond a certain size. This, I believe, is still in effect, although it is no longer observed.

Immediately after the Revolution, when the supply from the colonies was cut off, the British government entered into contracts with New Brunswick lumbermen to provide masts for the Royal Navy, and two or three firms took up the work. The arrival of the first cargo at Halifax on the way to England in a navy transport was considered of such importance that it was announced to the British Secretary of State by the Lieutenant-Governor.

The rivalry to obtain suitable trees was keen among these early operators. The importance which the industry assumed may be gathered from the Francklin, Hazen and White correspondence, according to which success was measured in terms of the number and size of logs obtained. "I take this opportunity," Peabody, one of the agents, wrote to his firm in 1782, of acquainting you that I have the offer of about 20 sticks from Samuel Nevers and Mr. Tapley. The sticks is well sized, one mast of 30 inches & one 23 inch Yard, and others of lower sizes. I finished hauling masts at Roosagwanis last Thursday. Got out 37 sticks without any misfortune, & tomorrow morning shall move our Teams to Glazier's, where I expect to get out 40 or 45 sticks."

With Samuel Nevers and Sherman Tapley, then engaged in the masting industry, my father became associated later on; and in this environment I grew up as a boy. It was but natural under the circumstances that I should have been attracted to the forest and, whether I liked it or not, that my experiences should have taken me in the way of lumbering. As it was I submitted without reluctance and learned willingly many lessons which I was able to apply to great advantage in the West, where I hauled masts and spars for many of the vessels on the Great Lakes. Even offers of a university career did not divert me. For nearly four score years I have held constantly to this course into which my destiny guided me.

The greater proportion of merchantable timber at this time was ton timber or hewn timber, although some lumber was sawed in the small water-mills along the river and at St. John. A ton or load was twelve inches square and forty feet long. Sometimes as much as eight or ten tons were obtained from a single pine tree and timber from twenty to thirty inches square was exceedingly valuable. In this form it was transported, in ships built especially for that purpose, to England, Ireland, and Scotland, where it was in great demand, and whip-sawed by hand.

To digress for a moment: I doubt whether anyone has a keener realization than I of the extent to which the timber resources of the United States are being exhausted. When I was a boy the thousands of rafts floated down the St. John River gave evidence of the wealth of the forests that were falling before the axe of the colonist and the lumberman. Later, when I went to Maine with my father, the upper reaches of the Penobscot poured a constant stream of logs down to the busy mills between Oldtown and Bangor. What the great stretch of continent to the westward was to yield in the way of timber was as yet a closed book, some of the pages of which I myself turned from day to day in the way of work and experience. It fell to my lot in some measure to blaze a way through some of the most extensive forests that have added millions to the wealth of the country and contributed more than can be easily estimated to its upbuilding.

Within the limits of a single lifetime, a rather long lifetime, perhaps, what once seemed to be illimitable stretches of virgin forest in New Brunswick, in Maine, in Wisconsin and Michigan, have melted away before the westward tide of settlement. The scarcity of timber that seemed so remote then is now ominously close. I have seen the pine forests of Wisconsin and Michigan, untracked by white men, disappear, the hard woods going and the developed farms spreading over what was not many years ago the heart of the wilderness.

East of the Rocky Mountains timber has been cut so rapidly that there is now a scarcity of raw material for lumber, ties, pulpwood, and other products. The question of reforestation is upon us. Devastated areas must be replanted and the resources that still remain to us husbanded. This, of course, will be a slow process. From now until our efforts have yielded fruit we must look to Canada, where there is an immense wilderness of forest north of Lake Superior and west of Hudson Bay, for lumber, pulp and pulpwood. From this region the eastern portion of the United States can be supplied, and for this reason I believe there should be no tariff on lumber or any raw material coming from Canada. As a matter of fact, I am in favor of the free admission of all raw material.

Twenty-five years ago the Menominee River region was producing more logs than any other place in the world, between seven and eight hundred million feet a year, and many of the more experienced lumbermen were reaping the harvest that had been awaiting the axe from immemorial times. If the prediction had been made then that the pine timber would have been exhausted in a quarter of a century, it would have been received with derision. Yet this has come to pass.

There are still great forests in California, Oregon, and Washington, but I now venture to make the prophecy that in another twenty-five years this supply will be practically exhausted if restrictive measures are not imposed upon the activities of the lumbermen. What with the cutting and the waste, the devastating forest fires, and the persistent and resistless extension of the cultivated land areas, timber will be scarce and we shall be obliged to look to the British possessions for our supply.


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