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The Pioneers of Old Ontario
From Southern Homes


It was no mere accident that the first place chosen for settlement. is what is now Ontario, was the country in the vicinity of Kingston. Over a hundred years before, in 1673, Frontenac, the most illustrious of the governors of New France, visited the spot in state, and established a fort on the site of Kingston. But no attempt at settlement was made. The fort was intended merely as a link in the great fur-trading enterprise and as a barrier against the incursion of the Iroquois, the uncompromising enemies of the French.

A short time before Colonel Bradstreet captured Fort Frontenac in 1758, one Michael Grass had been a prisoner in the fort. After his release he returned to the colony of New York and settled on a farm about thirty miles from New York City. When the Revolution was in full swing, Grass was offered a commission in the Revolutionary army, but he was a staunch upholder of British authority and rejected the offer. As a result of his action his life was in danger and he sought shelter in New York City. Sir Guy Carleton (afterwards Lord Dorchester) was in command of the British forces. When in 1783 the Revolutionists emerged successful from the struggle, there was wholesale confiscation of Loyalist property and it was necessary to find homes on British territory for many of those who had remained faithful to the Crown. Carleton viewed with favour the Great Lakes regions as a place for settlement, and knowing that Michael Grass was familiar with the country about old Fort Frontenac, consulted with him regarding the character of the climate and soil. Grass gave a favourable report, and Carleton decided to send a considerable body of Loyalists to the region lying at the eastern end of Lake Ontario. Grass was given a captain's commission and placed in charge of a large party that sailed from New York for the St. Lawrence in seven ships escorted by a man-of-war. The voyage was a tedious and dangerous one, and the emigrants did not reach Sorel, at the mouth of the Richelieu, until it was too late in the year to proceed westward.

Here they spent the winter; but their story is best told in the language of men who came into contact with their descendants, and who had access to their records.

In the first week of August, 1899, I sat chatting with T. W. Casey, a faithful custodian of early records in Lennox county; Rev. R. S. Forneri, one of those instrumental in the erection of memorials to the creators of first things in Ontario; and Parker Allen, a grandson of one of the first settlers in Adolphustown, and at the time one of the two survivors of Sir John A. Macdonald's first schoolmates. The hot rays of the afternoon sun were beating down upon the fields of yellow grain, before us glistened the rippling waters of the Bay of Quinte, While beyond theirs rose the bush-studded shores of Prince Edward. Behind the trees under which we were seated stood a commodious farm home with extensive outbuildings, while across the road the eye fell upon the beautiful farmstead of the nearest neighbour. Everything breathed of prosperity and comfort.

"One can scarcely believe," said Mr. Casey, "that a century ago the land for miles in all directions from where we now sit was nothing but unbroken bush. Yet it is little more than a century since the forest in this neighbourhood was first attacked by the axe of the pioneer. The earliest settlers along the front of Frontenac and Lennox came from New York State, leaving there in the fall of 1783. The British Government furnished vessels to carry them to Sorel, on the Richelieu, where the winter of 1783 was spent. There they made their first acquaintance with the discomforts of a new country. Their winter habitations were huts of log cut from the surrounding forest. As the long winter months dragged on the men busied themselves in felling trees from which to construct boats to take them further inland. With the coming of spring, an advance party journeyed westward in these rude craft, and reached Little Cataraqui Creek, three miles west of Fort Frontenac, in June.

"Surveyor-General Holland had sent Deputy Surveyor Collins with the settlers, and under his direction townships were laid out. This was no easy task, and it was not completed until late in the summer. The advance guard then returned to Sorel, where another trying winter was spent. In the spring of 1785, the whole party moved forward and were soon carving out. homes for themselves in the wilderness.

"Cut off from civilization by the rapids of the St. Lawrence they were very much isolated. Nor was their condition improved by their arrival in the middle of summer, too late to sow grain for that year or to make clearances for sowing fall wheat. Without money, for the Government refused to issue specie, without crops, and away from sources of supply their condition became desperate. To add to their troubles the year 1788 was one of complete crop failure. Of the following season when famine stalked in the land I have heard some pitiful tales. Many actually died of starvation while others were saved only by the game and wild pigeons which they were able to capture.

"These pioneers were grouped in five companies under the leadership of Captain Grass, Sir John Johnson, Colonel Rogers, Major Van Alstine, and Colonel Macdonell, and to each company was allotted a township. Four of these companies were composed mainly of soldiers and people who belonged to the mercantile classes in the Old Thirteen Colonies. Knowing nothing of bush life and little more of farming they were ill-prepared for the rugged life of agricultural pioneers.

"The Adolphustown settlers, under Major Van Alstine, on the other hand were mostly farmers and were able to turn their past training to good account. The first landing took place at a little cove about a stone's throw from where D. W. Allison, at one time member for the Commons, afterwards built a fine residence, and on the farm of which Nicholas Hagerman was the first owner. This Hagerman was the father of Chief Justice Hagerman and three members of parliament. A granddaughter married the Honourable John Beverley Robinson at one time the Lieutenant-Governor of Ontario.

"Scarcely had the pilgrims settled in their new home when a final resting-place had to be found for a child which had succumbed to the hardships sustained during the journey. The site selected for burial was on a slight eminence a little way back from the water's edge, and the grave prepared for the little one formed the beginning of the first cemetery laid out by those now peopling Ontario. Within the enclosure so formed the body of Nicholas Hagerman, one of the first practising lawyers in Canada, was laid later on; but the location of this grave is unknown to-day."

"You see," said the Rev. Mr. Forneri, who took up the story, "stones could not be procured at the time the first burials took place and the wooden slabs that were put up decayed in a few years. But before long tombstones could be procured, and if you visit a nearby graveyard you will find monuments marking the resting-places of Caseys, Ingersolls, Hoovers, Richmonds, Allisons, and Huffnails of that generation, while overshadowing all is a splendid granite shaft, bearing the inscription: `U. E. Loyalist Burying Ground, In Memory of the Loyalists who landed here June 16th, 1784.' "

"But the extreme hardships of the very early days," broke in Mr. Allen, "before many years became a thing of the past. Probably no households at any time were more self-contained than the homes of these pioneers. Both men and women worked hard, the land was fruitful, and, since there was little sale for any produce, food and the raw materials for clothing and shelter were in abundance. Good houses, all of wood, took the place of log cabins, and barns that of rude hovels. Orchards had early been planted, and these provided plenty of domestic fruit to supplement what was gathered from the bush. Every matron prided herself on putting away quantities of it for home use. A long narrow strip of territory bordering on the waterfront thus within a few years became a place of comfortable living, and to many it seemed as though the sum of all they could expect or even desire in this life had been attained."

From this our conversation drifted to the coming of later immigrants, and Mr. Forneri recalled an incident associated with a cemetery within the city of Kingston. Here lie the bodies of some four hundred Irish immigrants who perished of cholera in 1847. A monument erected on August 6th, 1894, marks the spot, and it was at the base of this monument that Archbishop Cleary and Principal Grant, doughty champions of opposing ideals in a conflict of the passing generation, forgot their antagonisms as their tears mingled in memory of those who perished almost as soon as they set foot in a land wherein they had hoped to find a happier home than the one left beyond the sea.

The stories surviving in Lennox at the time of my visit were chiefly of a sombre nature, but I also gathered some facts of quite another character. To Adolphusiown, the front township of Lennox, belongs the Honour of having formed the first municipal government in Ontario. '`The record of that government still exists," said Mr. Casey. "Although written by men engaged in the rough work inseparable from pioneer life, it is a model of neatness. Indeed, I question if there is in the province to-day a better kept record of the kind."

Some of the fiercest political battles Ontario has ever known were also staged in the historic county of Lennox. In one of these contests Sir Henry Smith and James Morton, a rich distiller, were the principals, with Sir John A. Macdonald backing Morton. The latter won and the whole county, at least the Morton part of it, assembled to celebrate the victory. "There were," in the picturesque language of one who heard the story from his father, "ten acres of teams; oxen were roasted whole, and feasting was kept up for two days and two nights."

The story of Ontario begins with the pioneers of Lennox and Frontenac. It was along the front of these counties that the first settlement was formed by the advance refugees who came to this province after the American Revolution. Here the system of municipal government which we have in Ontario had its origin. In fact the first township government in Lennox, mentioned above, was formed in advance of provincial sanction and was taken as a model for the system afterwards created by provincial authority. Here, too, were first founded the Ontario branches of families whose deeds have since been written into the history of the province and of the Dominion. These families include the Cartwrights, Hagermans, Bethunes, Wall-bridges, Inglis', and Caseys. In Lennox, too, Sir John A. Macdonald spent his boyhood days, and in the beautiful cemetery of Cataraqui, in the neighbouring county of Frontenac, his body rests under a plain stone bearing the simple in-scription,

"John Alexander Macdonald 1815-1895 at rest."


While the pioneers on the shores of the Bay of Quinte were making homes for themselves, other settlers were coming in by way of Niagara and the head of Lake Ontario. Of these the Trulls, Burkes, and Conants penetrated farthest east and located in what is now Durham county. On the second day of October, 1794, these families began the first settlement in the township of Darlington.

"There were no roads on either side of the head of the lake at that time," said Jesse Trull, a quarter of a century ago the head of the Trull family, as he told the story of the migration at a family picnic held on the old homestead in 1898. "On a journey that can now be made in a few hours we spent a month and one day. Leaving the old home in New York State on the first of September, we skirted the south shore of Lake Ontario in open boats to Niagara. From Niagara we followed the shore line all the way to Barber's Creek, and, on the second of October, camped in front of where the settlement was formed.

"The journey was tedious, toilsome, and not devoid of danger. It was the month of storms on the lake, and when one of the frequent gales came tip we had to pull our boats ashore for shelter. When night fell we also went ashore and camped in the woods that then covered the whole country from the lake front to the farthest north. As matches were still an invention of the future we had to depend on a flint, or the rubbing together of two sticks, to start a fire, a difficult operation at best and almost impossible of accomplishment when rain was falling. Our cooking utensils were pots ]lung on stakes over an open fire, and our food consisted of fish caught in the lake, game obtained from the forest, and bread hastily cooked from the flour we carried with us. Sleep was frequently broken by the howling of wolves, and some of the party had to remain on guard all night."

Nor were hardships at an end when the final stopping place was reached. Rather had they but begun.

"It was not then a drive of ai few miles to town, over gravelled roads, when groceries were needed," said the patriarch. "Kingston and Toronto were our nearest markets and the journey, made in `dug-outs' (boats fashioned from hollow logs), was a matter of days. Even when schooners appeared on the lake, transportation was no easy matter. In the absence of wharves the vessels had to lie out in the lake while farm produce was transported to them in open boats. One of the tragedies of the early days of settlement happened when Jesse Trull, my uncle, was drowned while transferring grain from a rowboat to a schooner that was engaged in gathering farm produce along the shore."

One of the heirlooms in the Trull family is a small iron pot; and connected with the pot is a story that throws much light on the difficulties of the pioneer period in Darlington and the resource with which the difficulties were met.

"In that pot," Jesse said, "my grandmother mixed the herbs which served all the medicinal requirements of the first settlers. My grandmother had rare skill in the preparation of these herbs and she was further fortified by a book of directions in midwifery and the healing of the sick. Her services were frequently called on over a wide stretch of country, and, as there were at that time no bridges across the numerous streams flowing towards the lake, she many times had to swim her horse through them when on her missions of mercy. On one occasion the grandfather of S. Caldwell, of Hamilton township, near Cobourg, called upon her to visit a member of his family who was dangerously ill. The two set out together and arrived at the river at Port Hope just as night was falling. Mr. Caldwell had nearly lost his life in crossing the stream in daylight and he feared to make a fresh venture in the gathering darkness. Not so Mrs. Trull. She boldly drove her

horse headlong into the water, breasted the swelling flood, and on arriving at the other side lit a pine torch with the flint she carried. By the fitful flame of the pitch pine, she followed the blazed trail in the woods for the rest of the journey all alone and arrived in time to save the life of her patient."

Frequent reference is made in these sketches to "blazed trails." A "blaze" was made with an axe or draw-knife, and consisted in cutting a small piece of bark from a green tree. Marks so made on tree after tree served to show the way from place to place through the forests.

A most interesting document connected with the beginning of the Trull settlement is the record of the early marriage of Luke Burke to Nancy McBane in the "leafy month" of 1805. In April, 1807, John Carr was married to Betsy Woodruff "with the written consent of the bride's father." In December of the same year John Burke of Darlington was married to Jane Brisbin, of Whitby, "with the consent of the latter's sister and brother-in-law," these probably being the legal guardians owing to the death of the bride's parents. Another curious light, is thrown on the legal requirements connected with the marriage ceremony in the record of the solemnization of the marriage of Joseph Gerow to Pamela Trull by Alex. Fletcher, a magistrate of that day. The record sets forth that there was not an Anglican minister within eighteen miles, and this fact was the sanction for the performance of the ceremony by a Justice of the Peace.

Death as well as Cupid hovered near by. On a gentle slope on the Trull homestead, many of the first settlers in Darlington sleep their last sleep, while the winds sing a nightly requiem in the tops of the murmuring pines that stand like sleepless sentinels guarding the hallowed ground. Near the centre of the plot is a marble headstone bearing the inscription: "John Trull, died Feb. 19, 1830, aged 84 years." This marks the grave of the first of the Trulls of Darlington. Close at hand is the resting-place of "John Casey Trull, Captain in H. M. S., born Sept. 2, 1795, died May 13, 1880." That is the grave of the first Trull born in the township and the father of Jesse.

And Jesse himself, full of years and rich in the memory of a long life well spent, has since been gathered to his fathers. In fact, nearly all of those who supplied the material for this hook have since died. Although dead they still speak, not only in the record here given but also by the work of their hands.


We turn now to the movement westward from the Niagara frontier—a movement which occurred at the same time as the movement eastward along the north shore of Lake Ontario, led by the Trolls, Burkes, and Conants. This westward migration was composed largely of Pennsylvania Dutch, and the first settlements were formed in what is now the county of Haldimand. Among the Haldimand pioneers were the Culps, Hoovers, and Hipwells, and it was from their descendants that most of the facts given in the following story were obtained.

Tilman Culp, his wife, and two children arrived in the township of Rainham in 1794, and Mrs. Dedrick Hoover, a daughter of one of these children, told part of the story of the journey from Pennsylvania as she had learned it from her mother.

"I have heard my mother say," said Mrs. Hoover, "that all their belongings on arriving at the new home, in what was then an unbroken forest, consisted of a horse, a cow, and half a bag of flour. The flour, the milk produced by the cow from the herbage of the forest, and such game and fish as they were able to secure furnished their sole means of subsistence until the first crop was gathered a year later. During the summer the cow foraged for herself in the woods, in the winter the children broke sprouts from young trees, and these were fed to the cow as she stood tied to a stump. In early spring, when provisions were almost exhausted and the new crop was not yet ready for harvest, grandfather gathered beech leaves, and these were boiled to make a stew for the children. The memory of that dish—and it seemed sweeter than honey to the well-nigh famished children—lingered with my mother until the end of her life. Shortly before her death she murmured, `Oh, I wish things would but taste to me as they once did.'

"Even at this our people were better off than some. A couple of boys from a neighbour's house came over one morning and put on a fire for grandmother, begging her to cook food for them. But she had nothing to cook and the lads had to return as hungry as they came.

"On another occasion, when my mother had a few loaves of bread in the house, she saw a party of Indians approaching. She knew that there would be no food left for her children if the Indians once got sight of the loaves, so she hastily dropped them into a barrel, put a slab on top, and placed one of the babies on the slab. The Indians did not think of disturbing the child and so the bread was saved."

Mrs. Hoover's husband, eighty years of age when this story was told, was also a grandchild of one of the first settlers. "My grandfather

came in 1798 to spy out the land," said Mr. Hoover, "and settled here four years later. His party travelled in covered wagons from York, in Pennsylvania, and were six weeks on the way, camping at night in the woods while on the journey. Many of the rivers crossed on the pilgrimage were without bridges, and in such cases it was necessary to cut down trees and form rafts on which the belongings of the party could be floated across.

"When our people settled here the nearest mill was at Bridgewater, within sound of Niagara Falls, and to that mill grists had to be carried in open boats, the distance equalling about a third the length of Lake Erie. Land was the only cheap article in the new settlement. My grandfather traded a horse, saddle, and bridle for the lot on which he settled."

There was no one in the new settlement with the medical skill of Grandmother Trull, and, in answer to a question as to what happened when people took ill, Mr. Hoover made the grim answer: " We let them die and then buried them." Provisions, too, frequently grew scarce, and on one such occasion Mr. Hoover's uncle heard splashing in a nearby creek (there is no creek there now), and he knew that the noise indicated fish. Two or three of the settlers promptly went to where the splashing was heard, caught eleven mullet by hand and soon relieved the pangs of hunger. "When the first crop of potatoes and wheat was harvested the people thought that they were rich," Mr. Hoover concluded.

One of the first of these Pennsylvania emigrants was Mother Hipwell. According to Uriah Rittenhouse, another of the early settlers: "Her party was eleven weeks in making the journey by wagon from Pennsylvania to where they settled on `The Twenty' in Lincoln. A particularly sad incident took place during that journey. A baby was taken ill by the way, and one night while the party camped in the woods, miles from any human habitation, the little one died. Next morning, after a simple ceremony, the small body was buried at the foot of a mighty oak and the dreary journey was resumed. But every feature of the surroundings of the lonely grave was stamped on the mother's memory, and she declared, to the day of her death, that if she ever again came near the spot she would be able to remember the tree beneath the wide-spreading branches of which her child was sheltered in its last sleep."

But the great oak and its neighbours long since have fallen beneath the woodman's axe. Even the stumps have disappeared. Where the giants of the forest once stood there now may be orchards of cherry and plum from which other children gather fruit knowing nothing of the frail body which lies mingled with the dust beneath their feet.

There were dangers as well as privations in the new home amid the primeval forest. Bears and wolves were everywhere and Mrs. Hoover's grandmother once put a blanket over the open doorway to serve as protection against a pack of wolves. But the privations and dangers of the early days are now only a rapidly fading memory. The narrow clearings, which yielded a scanty subsistence, have been widened to broad acres of fruitful soil and the doorless cabins have given place to comfortable brick homes. One thing yet remains, however, a heritage of good neighbourhood, thrift, and honesty. In the Rainhain of to-day, as in the Rainham of the pioneers, the word is the bond, and the latch string of hospitality ever hangs outside the door.


While the Hipwells and their fellow-travellers journeyed to Haldimand, another section moved towards the townships of Markham, Scarboro, and Pickering. The leader in this movement. was Christian Reesor. In 1801, Christian, accompanied by his son Peter, travelled on horseback from Franklin county, Pennsylvania, to examine the country and to bring back information. Very soon they traded their horses for land on the tenth concession, Christian selecting lot four as the site of his future home. Since they had parted with their horses, the two had to return to Pennsylvania on foot. On reaching their old home they set about making arrangements for their final journey to the wilderness of the north. Owing to delays in selling their Pennsylvania holdings and packing up, it was not until 1804 that the journey to Canada was begun. Accompanying Christian on this occasion were four sons—Peter, John, Abraham, and Christian, Jr. From these the Canadian Reesor connection of to-day is descended. John, one of the four, had fifteen children and three of these children had in turn families of nine, ten, and fourteen respectively.

From Noah Reesor, a son of Peter, I obtained some particulars of the Reesor migrations from Pennsylvania to Markham. "I believe," this descendant of the pioneers stated, "that our people spent six weeks on the journey. The party travelled in wagons and camped w her-ever night. overtook them. They drove their cows with them, the animals feeding by the wayside and being milked night and morning. The butter was churned in the wagons, the vibration of the rude vehicles assisting in the work of churning. After the family had fairly settled down in Markham, and the first crop was harvested, the grain was carried on horseback over bush trails to Toronto to be ground into flour. In the 'summerless year,' the awful year of 1816, almost all the grain was frozen and what little was saved was gathered by men wearing overcoats as a protection against the cold."

Josephus Reesor, a son of Peter, in telling of how the original settlers obtained their first food, said that they followed the cattle to the woods. Any plants the tops of which were eaten by the cows the settlers concluded were safe for human food and the roots were dug up to make a stew for the table. Thus, by trusting to the instinct of the dumb brutes, they avoided poisonous herbs. "There was," he said, "only one store in Toronto at that early period and my father rode there and back to purchase supplies. Obtaining a water supply was another problem. Wells were to be found on only a few farms and in some instances water was obtained from pools formed by falling rain. Of at least one kind of food there was an ample supply. Large salmon could then be caught in the River Rouge at Cedar Grove."

The father of William Armstrong, a connection of the Reesors by marriage, planted the first orchard in the settlement. The trees were seedlings and their fruit furnished a welcome addition to table supplies over a large part of Searboro and Markham.

The first stone house in the township of Markham was erected on lot four of the ninth in the 'thirties, and a bank barn was put up on the same place about the same time. The timbers for the barn were cut from pine that yielded logs fourteen inches in diameter and forty feet in length, and they were all hewed by one of the Reesors with a broad-axe.

One of the relics of the early days is a trunk covered with deer-skin. Connected with that trunk is a sad story, paralleling that of the child buried beneath the wide-spreading oak by the party of Haldimand pioneers. This trunk belonged to the third Christian, a grandson of the founder of the Reesor settlement in York. This third Christian accompanied his father to the old home in Pennsylvania in 1826. The young man was seized with fever on the return journey and died at Lewiston. The father could not leave his dead to rest among strangers and so made a rude coffin of boards, and, with his dead son as companion, made the rest of the journey to the now desolate home in the forest. There the body lies among his own kindred in the little cemetery on the hillside at Cedar Grove. In that cemetery beneath sweet-smelling locusts, twenty years ago I counted ten graves in a group, all Reesors with the exception of one Wheeler, a connection by marriage.

But the descendants of those who are gone are as the sands of the seashore. At Locust Hill Creamery, when the present century was young, a third of the patrons were Reesors; two-thirds of those who patronized the local smithy at the same time were also Reesors; within a day's travel were five hundred of the same name, and with their connections in the Hoovers, the James', the Armstrongs and others, they ran into the thousands in the county of York alone. There are still more in the old home in Pennsylvania; and men of the name are found almost all the way from the Gulf of Mexico to Hudson Bay, and from the Atlantic coast to the Pacific. Wherever in Canada the Reesor name is known it is held in honour and respect.

For some further particulars of the Mennonite settlements in Markham and adjoining townships I am indebted to what was told me in 1898 by John Koch, another descendant of those who made the great trek from Pennsylvania in the beginning of the last century.

"Delegates were first sent to select land for the new settlement," Mr. Koch said, "and after these preliminary arrangements had been completed, stock was gathered together, goods and chattels were piled in wagons, and then the pilgrimage to the northland began. In that part of the United States which our ancestors traversed, the roads were not bad, but once the frontier was passed real hardship commenced. Roads had to be cut through the bush; rivers forded by the plunging horses; and, in going down some of the steep hills, logs had to be hitched to the wagons to prevent them from running over the animals.

"Nor did hardships end when our people reached their new home. Rather were these increased. Toronto, twenty miles distant, was the nearest point at which groceries could be obtained and a trip there occupied three days, the nights being spent in such shelter as the forest afforded. In Toronto itself you could almost have drowned a horse in the mud holes on some of the streets."

Mr. Sherk, one of the early settlers, teamed cordwood to Toronto, which he sold at one dollar and a half per cord. He hauled a cord and a half at a time, starting long before daylight and not getting home until late at night. The women worked quite as hard as the men. They rose at four in the morning to spin flax before breakfast, and after supper, spinning was resumed and continued until nine or ten at night. From the flax was made all the clothing many of the first settlers had to wear both winter and summer. In order to save shoe leather people went barefooted while in the house in winter and barefooted everywhere in summer. The first shoes worn in summer by one of the pioneers were a pair loaned him by his grandmother.

Shortly after the settlement was formed, death came to a little child in the Sherk homestead. There did not seem to be, anywhere in the forest, an opening large enough to make room even for the body of a child. A small clearing on a hillside belonging to a neighbour on the fourth of Markham was at last discovered and the privilege was requested of using part of this as a resting-place for the dead. The request was granted, and this, the first burial, took place on the fourth of Markham in what is believed to be the oldest cemetery in the township.

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