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Commemorative Biographical Record of the County of Kent, Ontario
Robert Alexander

ROBERT ALEXANDER has resided in the County of Kent from early boyhood, and now, at the age of eighty-five years, is one of the oldest residents in his section.  The account which follows, of the emigration of the family  and their settlement in the New World, is especially interesting as coming from the pen of one of the few remaining pioneers of this locality.

As Byron says in his tragedy of “Manfred”, “I ask no passage on high, but oblivion, self-oblivion.”  But then he says, “Will death bestow it on me?”  To compare small things with great, I feel like Burns.  He was anxious to know if he could find the names of any of his ancestors in the Book of Heraldry, but could not find any.  So I will just say like Alexander Pope, who, in company with some nobles who were boasting that their ancestors had come over with the Conqueror, said, “My plebian and ignoble blood has flowed through scoundrels ever since the flood.”

After Cromwell subdued Ireland there was quite an emigration to Ireland from Scotland into the Province of Ulster.  My paternal ancestors were in the crowd that settled in Tyrone, Armagh and Derry.  I can’t say that any of them distinguished themselves, any more than that my father served in the Rebellion of 1798, as a yeoman.  My grandfather Alexander having a large family on a small estate, some of the boys had to enlist in the army.  My father, hearing that things were booming in Glasgow, came to Scotland – I don’t or can’t say what year.  The Irish Yankee brags about Andrew Jackson.  He said that the President was born two years after he left Ireland.  At all events I was born January 30, 1819.  Glasgow was then, as now, a great manufacturing center.  Father being an expert hand loom weaver, the Glasgow factories furnished him with yarn.  He had several looms and kept several jouneymen.  By hand looms they wove the cloth.  Father carried the cloth to the factory and got another supply of yarn.  He carried on this business in the town of Rutherglen, a couple of miles out of Glasgow.  I needn’t give you the names of brainy men that discovered the art of making cloth by steam.  The hand loom weavers, not being able to complete, began to think of emigrating to America.  So the hand loom weavers of Rutherglen set out under the leadership of a gentleman of the name of Jones, a retired officer of the navy, who had obtained a grant of land on condition that he colonized with good Scotch.  My father joined the company in the year 1829.  I being then 10 years old.  We got on a small vessel at the Bromalaw and sailed to Greenlock, and got aboard the brig “George Cannan,” commanded by Capt. Calander.  In the year 1829, as I said, I was ten years old.  My wife and her people were on the same ship, she being then six weeks old.  All were bound for Quebec.  It took six or seven weeks to get across the “herring pond”, and then we got a small steamer to Montreal.  We were greatly amused to hear the captain and crew talking French.  Then we got on a boat they called a Duram boat, manned by Frenchmen.  They propelled the boat with long poles, a string of men on each side.  They placed the poles to their shoulders and shoved it along up the long sault, and there we sat with all our goods and chattels spread out on the deck.  When we got to Niagara Falls we had to make portage – got into wagons; came to Port Cerie, where there was a brig called the “Wellington”, which brought us to our destination, twelve miles north of Sarnia, and landed us on the beach – a lot of the most unsophisticated, simple, ignorant crowd of emigrants ever landed on a foreign soil.

My father and my wife’s father, disagreeing with our leader, Jones, left and came to Michigan.  Father rented a farm from the notorious Capt. Westbrook, close to what is now Marine City.  When father came to know the Captain’s history – that he was once a British subject and that he had in the war of 1812 left Canada and joined the Yankees, and with his guerrilla band made raids into Canada (in fact, I myself, talked with many who had suffered) – then, in the year 1830, having heard that Col. Talbot had to give free grants of land, he bade good-bye to Capt. Westbrook and on foot made tracks for Canada.  That grand, benevolent, patriotic lady, Mrs. Coyne, administered to his wants.  [Livingstone, in his travels through Africa, said that he always found the females the best, far superior to the males, in kindness and charity.]  Not only that, but she gave him good advice, how to manage the old Colonel.  She was an angel of mercy to many a footsore traveler asking for land.  She told him not to approach the Colonel until after he had broken his fast in the morning.  The Colonel received him kindly, gave him a grant, Lot No. 10, on the town line between Howard and Harwich, and there he squatted in the year 1830.  The story of the first settlers in the bush is an old one, told by abler writers than I, so I slip over all the hardships that we endured.  We got a shanty built, but father felled a tree on it and remarked that the beams being strong saved us youngsters.  There was another tree that could reach, so he dared not tackle that, but sent me for to get a Mr. Cram, who was an expert, to cut it down.  Having heard that we could make sugar out of maple trees, he tied strips of basswood around them.  Then we heard of other trees – bee trees, coon trees.  We wanted him to mark the coon and bee trees, but he only laughed.  I, being ten or twelve years old, in course of time became an expert axeman, in fact I never became distinguished for anything else.  And so we strugged along – father at his old trade, weaving, mother spinning, my brother Thomas and I cutting and slashing down the primeval forest.  And so we struggled along till the year 1846 when mother died, on the 10th of May.  In the month of November of that year I married Agnes McCauley, who with her family came over in the same ship, she being six weeks old.  Her brother James previously married my sister Mary Ann.  My time was spent in clearing off the heavy crop of timber, attending logging bees and raisings and raising a family of nine – there was no such thing as race suicide in those days – five boys and four girls.  Father died in 1862.  They were buried on the farm, but I had the remains moved to Ridgetown cemetery, where I will shortly join.

But a word on politics and religion.  I have listened to Sir Alan McNab, to George Brown, to John A. McDonald, to Col. Prince,to John Llyllard Cameron, to Malcolm, whom we called the old coon, sympathized with William Lyon Mackenzie, but left the Glove because for many years he cried out free trade.  In religion I have listened to the Rev. Mr. Ryerson, brother of the Rev. Egerton Ryerson.  That in Burns consoles me when he says:

                        What pleasure can it gie,
                        E’en to the de’il,
                        To scalp and scald
                        Poor chaps like me
                        And make us squall.

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