Scene in the Lords — The Irish Race Despaired of — The Settlement of Johnville, New Brunswick — We Enter the Settlement — The First Man and Woman — The Second Man and Woman — Jimmy M’Allister — Mr. Reilly from Baillvourney — Celtic Energy — How the man of no Capital gets along — One Cause of Success — Mass in the Forest — Neither rent nor’ Gale — Other Settlements
On a certain evening of March 1866, there was a more than usual attendance of peers in the House of Lords; and, attracted by the subject for discussion, many members of the Commons occupied the bar, or that portion of the gallery reserved for their accommodation. Among the strangers who were present, was the Roman Catholic Bishop of St. John, New Brunswick, an Irishman, but for nearly forty years a resident in that colony. Earl Grey had given notice of his intention to submit a series of resolutions in reference to the state of Ireland; and the largeness of the attendance was owing more to the gravity of the subject than even to the fame of the statesman by whom it was to be introduced. With that grave and impressive statement, which belongs to the Parliamentary records of the country, this work has no concern; a little incident which occurred during its delivery being the only justification for its mention in these pages.
Standing immediately near the stranger, was a gentleman who displayed marked courtesy to the ‘American’ – as the Bishop simply represented himself to be – pointing out to him the leading peers on either side, and explaining such of the forms and modes of procedure as were likely to be useful to one who was for the first time witness of a debate in the Lords. In the course of his statement Earl Grey necessarily referred to the Emigration movement, which he deplored as a great calamity – a regret, I may remark, shared in by the wisest statesmen and truest patriots of the day; though this annual wasting away of the strength and very life of a nation is regarded, not merely with indifference, but with positive satisfaction, by shallow thinkers, and false judges of the character and capability of the Irish race.
‘My dear sir,’ said the courteous neighbour of the Catholic Bishop, ‘I do not at all agree with his lordship; ‘on the contrary, my deliberate conviction is, unless the ‘Irish go away on their own accord, or are got rid of in ‘some manner or other, and are replaced by our people – I ‘mean the English or the Scotch – nothing good can ever ‘be done with that unhappy country.’
The conviction thus deliberately expressed was honestly entertained. There was no hostility, no anger, no passion, but a deep-seated belief in the truth of the terrible sentence thus tranquilly pronounced on a whole nation. A similar opinion has been too frequently expressed or insinuated in the public press of England, not perhaps so frequently of late as in former years; and, shocking as the fact may appear to be, there have not been wanting those who call themselves Irishmen, to indorse this insolent slander by their unnatural verdict.
Now, if any man in that assembly could most practically and completely refute the scandalous proposition, it was the Catholic Bishop to whom, in the dusk of the evening, and while the gorgeous chamber was yet in the shadows of twilight, his courteous informant thus vouchsafed this candid opinion. That same day, a few hours before he listened to this sweeping condemnation of the Irish race, Dr. Sweeney had described to me the extraordinary success which had attended his efforts to settle the Irish on the soil of New Brunswick; and how, in the midst of the most trying difficulties, which scarcely any one in the old country could imagine, much less appreciate, the same Irish, of whom the gentleman in the House of the Lords so utterly despaired, had, in an almost incredibly short space of time, won their way to rude comfort and absolute independence. In that interview I acquainted the Bishop of my intention to make a tour through the British Provinces and the States; and before we separated it was arranged that I should specially visit his latest settlement of our unjustly depreciated countrymen. The appointment made in London in the month of March was faithfully kept in New Brunswick in the month of October; and on the morning of Thursday, the 25th of that month, the Bishop and I were en route for the settlement, a distance of nearly 200 miles from the city of St. John.
After having passed the first evening at Frederickton, the capital of New Brunswick, where many Irish are comfortably circumstanced, and steadily increasing in wealth, and the second at Woodstock, where there is also a fair proportion of the race equally thriving, we set out at an early hour on the following morning for the settlement of Johnville, a distance of thirty-five miles, not of rail or water, but of rough road; and about noon on Saturday we were entering the forest avenue which led to the uttermost boundary on the western side. The road over which we travelled had to me all the charm of novelty, and would have appeared picturesque and striking to any one from the old country, for it resembled rather a cutting through a vast and ancient wood than an ordinary highway. The Bishop was, as I thought, unnecessarily enthusiastic in his praise of the new road, which, I must confess, I thought altogether fatal to personal comfort, and in the last degree trying to the safety of the springs of our vehicle, though the carriage had been specially adapted to meet such trifling contingencies as deep ruts, profound hollows, occasional chasms, with an abundant variety of watercourses roughly covered over with logs, not always matched with the nicest care. I appreciated the road from a European point of view, and as it affected my individual comfort; but the Bishop retained a vivid remembrance of the mere lumberman’s track of three or four years previous, and could estimate at its right value the facility which this new highway afforded to his settlers for the transit of their produce and provisions. As we proceeded through our couple of miles of dense forest – in which the dark green of the pine and the brighter verdure of the spruce contrasted with the prevailing sombre hue of the hard wood, occasionally relieved by the bright yellow leaves of the beech, and the gleaming crimson of the frost-tinted maple – we were met by two or three of the country waggons, laden with grain, and driven by strapping young fellows, roughly but comfortably clad, their stout horses trotting briskly along the Bishop’s model highway. These young men were delighted to see their good Pastor, whom they saluted with a mixture of respect and affection, and with whom they chatted with the most perfect freedom. They promised to spread far and wide the grateful intelligence that Mass would be celebrated at eight o’clock the following morning in the little chapel of the settlement.
Before we enter the Irish settlement of Johnville, it will be necessary to explain briefly its origin and the conditions under which it was established.
Deploring the tendency – the ruinous tendency – of his countrymen to congregate in masses in cities, or to ‘hang about town,’ as it is generally described, and being thoroughly conversant with the many evils resulting from this prevailing habit of the Irish immigrant, the Bishop of St. John determined to employ his influence to induce numbers of his people to settle on the soil, and thus, amid the simplicity and safety of a rural existence, create for themselves a happy home and an honourable independence. Availing himself of the facilities afforded by the Labour Act, he applied to the Government for tracts of unoccupied land on certain conditions, one being that he should find settlers for this land within a limited time. His first application was for 10,000 acres, which were to be occupied in twelve months. For this quantity of land settlers were found within the prescribed period. A second 10,000 acres were then applied for, and similarly occupied; and an additional 16,000 acres, also obtained by the Bishop, were yet to be occupied by those who possessed the requisite courage to face the difficulties and temporary hardships of a new existence. There were then in actual occupation 170 lots, of 100 acres each; and allowing for the settlers with families, and the young men who had not yet entered into the bonds of wedlock, the number of souls in the settlement of Johnville might be fairly estimated at 600 at the very lowest – a terrible responsibility to the Bishop, if his influence had been unwisely used, but a triumph and a consolation to him if it had been exercised in a spirit of wisdom and humanity. Of this the reader can form a judgment from what follows.
Each settler was required by the State, as the principal condition of obtaining 100 acres of land, to give work, to the value of sixty dollars, on the public road that was to pass by his own door; and was intended for his own advantage; but while, if so inclined, he could perform this amount of work in one year, he was allowed four years for its completion. Before he could obtain the registry of his grant, somewhat analogous to a Parliamentary title in Ireland, he should be returned by the Commissioner as having executed this required amount of work, cleared five acres, built a house at least sixteen feet square, and actually settled as a resident on the land assigned to him. These conditions had been complied with, in all cases, within the four years allowed, but in most they had been satisfied in two years, and by a considerable number of the settlers in a still shorter time. When the return is made by the Commissioner, who visits the settlement once a year, the grant is then formally registered and issued, and the settler becomes the fee-simple proprietor of 100 acres of land, the property of himself and his family, and of which no power on earth can deprive him or them. Should a poor man be fortunate enough to be the father of one, or two, or more sons, of the age of eighteen or upwards, he can procure 100 acres for each of them on the same conditions; and though a large family; is regarded with horror by your Malthusians of the old country; it is a blessing of inestimable value in a new country, in which human labour – that grandest of fertilisers and mightiest of civilisers – finds its true appreciation.
The first tenement which the settler in the forest contrives for himself is a camp, or shanty. It is constructed of logs rudely put together, the interstices filled up with moss, leaves, or clay, whatever can best keep out the wind and the cold; the roof consisting of the same materials, further protected, by a covering of bark, eked out, it may be, with branches of the pine, the spruce, or the cedar. Warmed by a stove, or carefully prepared fire-place, the camp or shanty is considered to be a dwelling of surpassing comfort by the settler who commences his first winter in the forest. In a year or two, perhaps a longer time, the rude camp is abandoned for the more spacious and elaborately constructed log cabin, or log house; and when the settler arrives at the ‘frame house’ and the frame barn, he looks upon himself as having reached the climax of earthly comfort, and even the highest point of luxurious accommodation; though possibly in a few years after the frame house gives way to the substantial brick dwelling, porticoed, and pillared – the glory and delight of its hospitable owner.
We enter the Settlement
Jolting and jumping over many an agreeable variety in the surface of the road, which the Bishop and I regarded with quite opposite feelings, we came to the end of our verdant avenue, and reached a little eminence crowned by a chapel of modest dimensions and unpretending architecture. From this vantage ground the first portion of the Irish settlement of Johnville opened out before us; and though, on that sharp October day, the sun but occasionally lit up the landscape with its cheerful beams, one could easily imagine how beautiful it must appear in summer, when the wide valley is filled with waving corn, varied with bright patches of potatoe, and the surrounding woods are clad in all the varied verdure of the living forest. Bounded on all sides by a wall of trees, which in one direction cover a range of mountains as beautiful in their outline as those that are mirrored in the sweet waters of Killarney, an undulating plain of cleared land extends about two miles in length by a mile in breadth, dotted over with the most striking evidences of man’s presence and the progress of civilisation, – comfortable dwellings, substantial and even spacious barns – horses, cattle, sheep, hogs, and poultry of all kinds, from the loud-crowing ‘rooster’ to the puddle-loving duck and the solemn goose. Even to the eye of an Irish farmer, the vast plain before us would have presented a rough and rather unpromising aspect, for not two acres of the many hundred already ‘cleared’ were yet free from the stumps of the great trees whose lofty branches had waved and moaned in the storms of ages. The road, bounded by rude log fences, and the limits of each holding marked out in the same primitive manner, and stumps a couple of feet high plentifully scattered over every field, – this at the first glance would not favourably impress the Irish farmer, to say nothing of the English Yeoman or the Scotch Lowlander; but were he to overcome his first impressions of the strangeness of all he saw, and enquire into its details, he would soon discover much to astonish and much to gratify him. The stumps, that impart so strange and rough an appearance to any early settlement, cannot be destroyed or eradicated for some years to come; yet, from the first year that the trees had been laid low by the settler’s axe, abundant crops of grain and potatoes had been raised with comparatively little trouble; and large quantities of hay, priceless as winter food, had likewise borne witness to the fertility of the soil on which a constant succession of leaves had fallen and rotted through countless ages.
The First Man and Woman
In the fall of 1861 the first settlers, a man and his wife – Mr. and Mrs. Hugh M’Cann – entered the forest, bringing with them provisions for the winter, and a very moderate stock of furniture and other valuables, which the prudent pair had accumulated by their industry in the city of St. John. Through a mere track, the oxen, lent by a kindly Irish family, slowly dragged after them the entire worldly wealth of this stout-hearted couple, the pioneers of the civilisation so soon to follow in their footsteps. Right in the midst of the forest – never before trodden save by the Indian, the lumberman, or the wild animal – the M’Canns settled down, resolved to brave the severity of the approaching season. The first thing to be done was to erect a log cabin, and for the rougher portion of this indispensable work the thrifty pair were able to pay; but they had to cover their dwelling by their own labour, which they did with great pieces of bark and branches torn from the trees under whose shadow they took up their abode. Here then they were, in the heart of what to them was a wilderness, more than two miles from a human habitation, and even uncertain of the way by which they could reach the outer world; their only guide being either a faint track, or an occasional mark, or scar, made on the bark of a tree. Still they were not in the least degree discouraged. Mrs. M’Cann had pluck and cheerfulness sufficient for a more hazardous enterprise. With a good stove, and an occasional quilt or blanket, suspended on the walls as tapestry, the cold was effectually kept out, and the lonely hours made comfortable during the bitter winter. Armed with his keen axe, Hugh cut and chopped through the months while the snow covered the ground; and so resolutely did he work, that when the white mantle vanished from the earth before the warmth of the spring, the M’Canns had cleared several acres of their land; and in the Autumn of 1862 they gathered in their first produce – an abundant harvest of potatoes, oats, and buckwheat. A proud woman was Mrs. Hugh M’Cann, as she did the honours of her forest home to the settlers of 1862; and prouder still as she afforded hospitality and the shelter of her warm roof to many who had yet to raise a dwelling over their heads. I could well appreciate the brave and cheery nature of this humble Irishwoman, as the Bishop and I – after a lengthened and somewhat laborious tour through the settlement – sat before the well-replenished stove which had so often warmed the limbs of the wayfarer, and smiled its ruddy welcome to the heart of the exile; and I listened to Mrs. M’Cann while she chatted gaily to her guests, making light of trials and difficulties that would have daunted many a lord of creation. She laughed, as she told of her furniture being flung by a surly captain on the shore of the river; how she lost her temper with the fellow,’ and did not recover it for ever so long; how tartly she replied in a spirit not of the mildest theology, to the kindly-intentioned queries of a Free-will Baptist; how ‘it was as good as any theaytre’ to see Hugh and herself tramping after the lumbering oxen, and all their cherished property nodding and shaking on the jolting waggon; how Hugh spent a portion of his first Sunday – ‘after saying hour prayers, Bishop, by all means’ – in making the frame of the door, while she constructed the door ‘with her own two hands;’ how happy they felt as, the cold being effectually barred out, they sat down before their bright stove, and drank a rousing cup of tea; how, as time rolled on, and the forest receded before the resolute axe, and the fields grew in dimensions, and cattle lowed round their house, and hogs grunted in the piggery, and roosters and their wives strutted and clucked, she had a tremendous battle with a skunk that assailed her chickens, and how, single-handed, and appealing in vain to unheroic or sleepy Hugh, she slew the invader of infamous odour, and then nearly fainted through fatigue, excitement, and the overpowering stench it emitted; how as many as sixteen used to lie at night on every available spot of the floor, and the priest was curtained off by a quilt in a corner to himself; and how, with the help of God, the more she gave the more she had to give. A pleasant hour’s chat was that with Mrs. M’Cann, who did the honours of her log cabin with the ease of a duchess.
The Second Man and Woman
The second woman settler merits special notice, were it only to prove, to would-be sceptics, that the relations between the landlord and the tenant in the old country have really something to do with the Irish peasant’s migration to the New World.
Mr. and Mrs. Crehan, of Galway, had been tenants on a certain property in that country; and this property having, in some way respecting which Mrs. Crehan was a little bewildering in her explanation, come into the possession of a gentleman with a fine old Galwegian name, the tribulation of the Crehans commenced. The first thing done by the new landlord was to raise the rent on his tenants, the second to deprive them of their mountain pasture, the third to cut off the shore and its seaweed from their free use, and the fourth to persecute a cherished pig with degrading pound, and its indignant owners with harassing fines. It is the last drop that causes the glass to overflow; and possibly the wrongs inflicted on the friend of the family and traditional rent-payer filled to overflowing the brimming measure of their woes; for the Crehans made up their minds to go somewhere – anywhere – ‘to the end of the world’ – rather than remain in a state of abject vassalage, dependent on the caprice or avarice of the gentleman with the fine old Galwegian name, ‘and a holy Roman, too, if you plaze,’ as Mrs. Crehan scoffingly assured me. The Parish Priest was consulted by the afflicted pair; and he, having seen the letters of the Bishop of St. John, which had been published in the Irish papers, advised them to proceed at once to New Brunswick, and take land for themselves and their children in the Johnville settlement, ‘where no man or no law can take it from you or them,’ added their counsellor. The advice was instantly adopted by the Crehans, to whom the now wiser landlord would have been glad to let a much larger farm than that whose rent he had so arbitrarily raised. But it was too late; and so, after paying, ‘to the last farthing, everything they owed in the world,’ they took ship for St. John with their large family of children, their hard-earned savings, and, what they prized scarcely less, a letter from their Parish Priest to the Bishop.
On their arrival in St. John they lost no time in seeking the Bishop, to whom they presented their only credential, the letter that was ‘to make a landlord Dinny.’ The wife at that time spoke English perfectly, while the husband understood no other language than that which is the sweetest to hear and the softest to the tongue of the Connaught peasant; and clustering round this seeminly helpless couple, was a swarm of young children, some little more than toddling infants.
As the Bishop heard their story, and glanced at the group of young creatures, he looked upon the case as almost desperate: the husband, who had to rely on his wife’s somewhat questionable powers as an interpreter, might not be able to make himself understood, and probably the struggle would be too severe for the children. Therefore he sought to dissuade them from the attempt which they were so anxious to make. But to go into the forest they were determined, and go into it they did – with a result which is pleasant to narrate.
Their entire worldly means consisted of 20£, with which they had to provide every necessary for a large family until the first crop could be reaped and gathered in. There was, however, the right stuff in the poor Galway emigrants, although they were of the purest type of that Celtic race of whose capacity your self-complacent Anglo-Saxon stupidly affects to despair. In an incredibly short space of time the Crehans had a sufficient quantity of land cleared, fenced, and cropped, a spacious log house and ample barn constructed; a horse, and cows, and hogs, and sheep, were purchased, or raised on this farm in the wilderness; and when the Bishop and I walked through their property, and inspected their wealth in barn and field, these despised and persecuted peasants were in possession of 200 acres of land, and such independence as they never dreamed of in Galway.
Volubly did Mrs. Crehan – a dark-haired, sharp-eyed, comely matron – tell of her treatment in Ireland, and her trials in her new home, as she welcomed the Bishop and ‘the gentleman from the ould country’ into her log cabin, which, in a few days, she was to abandon for a grand frame house, constructed on the most approved principles of American domestic architecture. This mansion was evidently an object of the most intense pride to Mrs. Crehan, who was much complimented by the expression of our desire to see it. As we proceeded towards the new building, which was then receiving its protecting coat of ‘shingle,’ I remarked that she must have felt somewhat lonely on her first entrance into the forest.
‘Thrue for you, sir, it was lonely for us, and not a living sowl near us, but the childer. Indeed, sir, ‘twas only by an ould stump that I knew whether I was near home or not; and other times we couldn’t find our way at all, only for a cut on a tree. And ‘twas the owls – the divils! – that would make a body’s heart jump into their mouth. Oh, sir, they screeched and screeched, I declare, like any Christian, till they frightened the childer out of their sivin sinses. The little boy – he’s a fine fellow now – would catch hould of mo by the gownd, and cry out, “Oh, mammy, mammy! what a place daddy brought us to! – we’ll be all ate up to-night – mammy, mammy, we’ll be all ate up to-night.” You know, sir, it’s easy to frighten childer, the craychers,’ apologised the mother.
‘But, Mrs. Crehan, I suppose you don’t regret having come here?’
‘Deed, then no, sir, not a bit of it. No, thanks be to the Lord, and blessed be His holy name! We have plenty to ate and drink, and a good bed to lie on, and a warm roof over our heads, and, what’s more than that, all we have is our own, and no one to take it from us, or to say “boo” to us. The grief I have is that there’s only the 200 acres – for I’d dearly like another hundred for the second boy. And, sir, if you ever happen to go to Galway and see Mr. Blank (the gentleman with the fine old Galwegian name), you may tell him from me, that I’m better off than himself, and more indipindent in my mind; and tell him, sir all the harm I wish him is for him to know that much. ‘Twas the lucky day he took our turf and the sayweed – and a bad weed he was, the Lord knows.’
‘Mrs. Crehan, where’s the ould man?’ asked a crabbed little fellow, who seemed anxious to do the honours of the settlement to the strange gentleman, and who would keep us company, for a bit of the road.’
‘Where is he gone, is it? Why then, Jimmy, he’s gone to sell a cow,’ was the good woman’s reply.
‘Gone to sell a cow!’ exclaimed Jimmy, with an expression of affected horror. ‘Yea, Mrs. Crehan, ma’am, what do you want partin’ with your beautiful cow?’
‘What do I want partin’ with the cow, is it? Then, Jimmy, it’s to pay what I owe, and I don’t like to be in debt; that’s what it manes, Jimmy.’
‘Bravo, Mrs. Crehan!’ said the Bishop; ‘I admire your principle. Never be in debt, if you possibly can avoid it.’
Jimmy was silenced, thinking perhaps that Mrs. Crehan had the best of the argument, the more so as his lordship was on her side.
Jimmy M’Allister may not be the wisest or most sagacious adult male in the settlement; but, fortunately for him, he has a better half, who looks sharply after all things, Jimmy included. Mrs. M’Allister is of so thrifty a turn that she would pick a feather off the road; and indeed so successfully had she picked up and bartered this article of comfort and commerce, that she was then after selling four good beds for the respectable sum of 16£ – no small addition to the annual revenue of the M’Allisters. Jimmy was of a different turn of mind: he would rather pick up a grievance than a feather; and the want of a priest for the settlement was a topic on which he dilated with persistent eloquence, notwithstanding the Bishop’s repeated assurances that there would be a resident priest in the course of the following spring.
‘But, my lord,’ persisted Jimmy, ‘he’s wanted bad; and that’s no lie. Faith, my lord, a body may die three times over in this place before he could send for the priest; and as for that, a poor fellow mightn’t have the dollars convaynient to send for the doctor – two dollars goin’ and two dollars comin’ – Be dad, my lord -’
‘Well, Jimmy, please God, you shall have the priest next spring,’ said the Bishop.
‘That may all be thrue, sir – my lord!’ – but, after all, a body may die three times over before he could send for him, and then, my lord -’
‘Very well, Jimmy, you will be sure to have him,’ said the Bishop with additional emphasis, in the hope of satisfying the unappeasable grievance-monger.
‘And, my lord, sure this settlement is well able to support its own priest, and I tell you he’s much wanted – and, for the matter of that, a poor body may die three times over before he could be able to send for him -’
A rumour that Mrs. M’Allister was in sight had a marvellous influence on Jimmy, who asked for and obtained a ready leave of absence from the Bishop, on the plea of ‘urgent private business,’ which, in his zeal for the spiritual welfare of his fellow-sinners, he had altogether forgotten. Jimmy rapidly fell behind, and was not seen till the following morning.
Mr. Reilly from Baillvourney
Amongst other settlers whom we visited, was a Cork man, named Reilly, from beyond Macroom, and who, ‘every day he rose in the old country saw Ballyvourney before his two eyes.’ Reilly was a man of middle age, grave countenance, handsome features, including a marked aquiline nose, of deliberate utterance, the richest of Munster brogues, and a splendid faculty for rolling the ‘r’ like the rattle of a drum under the hands of Frenchman; and it would seem as if honest Reilly had a preference for words that enabled him to display this faculty to the greatest perfection. The manner in which he pronouned ‘your lordship,’ ‘your-r-r lor-r-rdship’ was grand.
Reilly had come out in the May of 1862; and all he had, besides an immense family – there were eleven children in the settlement in October 1866 – was a little money for provisions, and an axe. But the man, and the axe, and the will and power to use it, were ‘with God’s help,’ equal to the work to be done; and so resolutely did he set to his task, so vigorously did he and his eldest boy hew away at the forest, that he was enabled to gather in 100 bushels of potatoes that fall. These, and what remained in the flour-barrel, kept the wolf from the door of Reilly’s little sheepfold. And so the stout Cork man and his sturdy boy toiled on, season after season, and year after year, until, in October 1866, the settler of 1862 had cleared between forty and fifty acres of land, and was the owner of two yoke of oxen, six cows, several sheep and hogs, a good log house, to which he had just added a commodious loft, a fine barn, a piggery of suitable strength and dimensions.
‘Well, Reilly, I congratulate you,’ said the Bishop. ‘What you have done in the time is most creditable to you.’
‘Well, my lord, I am getting along purty well, I thank my Maker for it. We have raison to be grateful and contented, your lordship, with what we’ve done. There is a good prospect for us and the children, the Lord be praised! Sure enough, ‘twas a great change from the ould country to this. Glory, too, to the Lord for that same!’
It may be remarked, that my excellent countryman secured to himself in this short speech ample opportunity for the display of his r’s, which came magnificently; into play.
A glance into the comfortable and spacious house, where Mrs. Reilly was employed in dressing a plump representative of the Reillys, afforded material for pleasing speculation; for near the big table at the opposite side of the room, stood a pair, whose conscious manner – the same kind of thing one may see in a drawing-room – evidently portended speedy employment for the resident priest for whose advent Jimmy M’Allister so ardently sighed.
Having visited many of the houses in the first great clearance, we drove through the forest, a distance of two miles, and came to a plain or valley of far greater extent, stretching five miles in one direction, but similar in its leading features to that which we had just left. It may be remarked, in order to be accurate, that the Crehan family were among the occupiers of this portion of the settlement; but as Mrs. Crehan was the second woman who had braved the difficulties of a life amidst the woods, I somewhat anticipated in her case. The vast tract stretching out before us was reclaimed, or cleared, on the low ground, and on the gentle elevation, and up the side of the mountain range that ran parallel to the plain. Here, as in the first clearance, were the same evidences of the presence of man and the power of that most effective capital of all – human labour well directed. Decent houses and ample barns were to be seen in every direction; and, what was the most hopeful indication of the thrift and energy of the settlers, was the fact that, in very many instances, while the family still remained in the primitive log house, the barn for the reception and storage of grain and other produce was large, substantial, and built in the best style common to the province. In numerous cases we found settlers to possess two frame barns, with spacious piggeries constructed of logs, from which the well-known melodious sounds unceasingly issued. In a very rare instance was the original camp or shanty tenanted; but where it was still the dwelling-place of the family, a fair proportion of the land was cleared, and a good barn was filled with the produce of a prosperous season. One of the settlers, named M’Mahon, had just completed a frame house which, for extent, outward appearance, and interior comfort and accommodation, was equal to almost any farmer’s dwelling I had seen in New Brunswick, from Shediac to St. John, or from St. John to Johnville – a distance of 300 miles. M’Mahon had brought some capital into the forest, the result of his industry as a blacksmith. His new trade appeared to thrive with him, as he was surrounded with the most convincing evidences of prosperity and comfort.
How the man of no Capital gets along
It must not, however, be supposed that all who came into the settlement brought more or less pecuniary capital with them. Many – indeed, the majority – commenced without any capital save that comprised in their health, their strength, and their willingness to work. ‘Nothing, sir, but my own four bones, a sharp axe, and the help of the Lord,’ was the pithy and pious response of more than one toiler in the forest, as he was asked of his struggles and success. This is how the settler with no capital save that indicated in the reply mentioned, managed to ‘get along.’ Having earned, by working for others, as much as enabled him to procure an axe and provisions for a month or two, he boldly faced the forest, perhaps with a wife and one or more children. Fortunate was the settler if he could obtain the friendly assistance of a neighbour to raise the first rude shelter for his young wife and her infants; but in the earlier period of the short history of the settlement such assistance was not always procurable, and the pioneer of future civilisation had to construct his shanty ‘any how he could.’ Satisfied that he had thus secured a home for his wife and little ones, he laid about him vigorously with his keen axe, smiting many a tree which would have formed the proudest ornament of an English park, and prostrating pine, beech, oak, and maple, with the same unsparing energy. T he rapid decrease of the scanty provisions would but too soon warn the bread-winner that he must linger no longer in the camp; and leaving his loved ones to the protection of Providence, he would again go out in search of work, which was always to be found. On the Saturday night the poor fellow might be seen – by the owls, were those grave birds on the lookout, or by a casual wayfarer like himself – trudging along the rough highway, or rude track, bearing on his shoulders the grateful burden of the next month’s provisions, won in the sweat of his brow by honest toil. Thus he would work occasionally for others, and then slash around him with his trusty axe, until he had cleared a few acres, and planted them with grain and potatoes, built a barn, and gathered in the first blessed fruits of his industry. And so on, from the shanty to the log cabin, from the log cabin to the frame house, and the couple of barns, and the yoke of oxen, and the milch cows, and the flock of sheep, and the great breeding sow and her clamorous offspring, – so on to independence, comfort, and content. This is literally the substance of many a simple tale, gratefully volunteered, or easily elicited by a few leading questions.
The settlers of Johnville are invariably kind to each other, freely lending to a neighbour the aid which they may have the next day to solicit for themselves. By this mutual and ungrudging assistance, the construction of a dwelling, or the rolling of logs and piling them in a heap for future burning, has been quickly and easily accomplished; and crops have been cut and gathered in safely, which without such neighbourly aid might have been irrecoverably lost. This necessary dependence on each other for mutual help in the hour of difficulty draws the scattered settlers together by ties of sympathy and friendship; and while none envy the progress of a neighbour, whose success is rather a subject for general congratulation, the affliction of one of these humble families brings a common sorrow to every home. I witnessed a touching illustration of this fraternal and Christian sympathy. Even in the heart of the primitive forest we have sickness, and death, and frenzied grief, just as in cities with histories that go back a thousand years. A few days previous to my visit a poor fellow had become mad, his insanity being attributed to the loss of his young wife, whose death left him a despairing widower with four infant children. He had just been conveyed to the lunatic asylum, and his orphans were already taken by the neighbours, and made part of their families. One of them peered curiously at my companion and myself from under the peak of a huge fur cap that almost rested on his little nose, as the Bishop was enquiring after the family of a fortunate settler, named Murphy, who had brought the eldest of the orphans to his comfortable home. How long these tender sympathies and beautiful charities may resist the influence of selfishness, or civilisation, I know not; but that they then existed in strength and holiness I was abundantly convinced.
To one cause may be attributed some of the success which has crowned the labours of these Irish settlers, and the wishes of their Bishop and his zealous co-operator, the Rev. Mr. Connolly, the good priest of Woodstock, – the absence of intoxicating drink, or the prevention of its sale in the settlement. What village in England or Ireland with a population of 600 souls – that of Johnville in the autumn of 1866 – is without its ‘publick?’ Scarcely one; while the probability is that many villages of an equal population in the old country possess two of such establishments. Against the sale of spirits in the settlement the Bishop has resolutely set his face, and in this salutary policy he has the hearty co-operation of the pastor of Woodstock, to whom much of the merit of the organisation and fortunate progress of the colony belongs. Rarely is spirituous liquor of any kind brought in the house of a settler, and, save in some special instance, after a hard day’s work, in which many persons are necessarily joined, it is as rarely tasted by this simple and sinless people. I must, however, admit that, on our return through the entrance avenue, we did meet with an elderly gentleman, who must have been enjoying himself while visiting a friend beyond the limits of the settlement; for not only were his powers as a charioteer considerably impaired, but his damaged articulation imparted a still more bewildering intricacy to ‘the explanation of his discreditable conduct,’ with which, on demand, he favoured the Bishop.
The material progress of this Irish settlement may be illustrated by a significant fact – that fat cattle to the value of 200£ were sold to buyers from the States the day of my visit. What were the feelings of Jimmy M’Allister, as he heard of this tremendous sacrifice of live stock, and which included the cow of Mrs. Crehan, that excited his special interest, it would be difficult to depict; but the fact of this remarkable sale of the surplus stock of a young colony was mentioned with price by one of the most intelligent and energetic of the settlers, Mr. Boyd.
Boyd was one of the few who brought a little capital with them into the settlement. But by far his best and most useful capital consisted of four well-grown, healthy, active sons, and an intelligent hard-working daughter, who adds the functions of post-mistress to the more laborious and profitable duties of housekeeper. Each of the young Boyds has 100 acres of land in his own right, though they all wisely keep together as one family, and probably will continue to do so until circumstances, over which young people generally have ‘no control’, compel them to prepare for events by no means unlikely in an Irish colony. One of the ‘boys’ was finishing a splendid barn, another barn being filled by bursting with grain of all kinds. The father admitted that the property then possessed by the family – himself and his four sons – was fairly worth 1,000£.
According to the census, taken at the instance of the Bishop, the estimated value of the land cleared, with the stock, the produce, and the buildings, up to the fall of 1865, was 14,500£. – an immense sum, when it is remembered that up to May 1862 there had been but one family (Hugh M’Cann and his wife) in the settlement, and it was not until 1863 that the greater number of the residents had ventured into the forest. It was supposed that the estimate for 1866 would have reached 20,000£. And if such be the result of a few years – three or four at the very utmost – of patient industry, stimulated by the certainty of reward and the security of its possession, what may not be looked for ten years hence, when science and matured experience are brought to the aid of human toil and manly energy?
Mass in the Forest
Early on the Sunday morning, the roads presented an unusually animated appearance, as groups of settlers moved towards the little chapel in which the Bishop was to celebrate Mass at eight o’clock. Keen was the wind and sharp the air as the faithful appeared in view, issuing from the forest in various directions, some with horse and waggon, but the greater number sturdily completing a smart walk of five, six, and even ten miles. Bright and cheerful and happy they all appeared on this auspicious occasion, when they were to hear the voice of their pastor, and join in the most solemn act of Christian worship. There was no tawdry finery among the women, no dressing beyond their condition with the men; both were decently and suitably clad, good strong homespun being rather common with the latter. That the ladies had not exhausted the wealth of their wardrobes, or brought out their best at so unfavourable an hour for legitimate display, I was impressively assured; and more than one of the sex – in each case a matron of mature years – volunteered an apology for alleged inelegance of costume, the result, as they urged in extenuation of their sins against Fashion, of the haste required in order ‘to overtake Mass.’ As a proof that there is no lack of sympathy between the occupant of the palace and the tenant of the wilderness, I may mention, as an interesting fact, that on the wall of the bed-room in which I enjoyed my first and last night’s repose in the midst of an American forest, I observed a specimen of that intricate arrangement which is said to have had a royal origin, and is known to the world, admired or execrated, by the name of crinoline. This is given as an instance, not alone of the omnipotent rule and universal sway of Fashion, but of the progress of Irish settlement in the path of modern civilisation.
Beneath the groined roof of lofty cathedral there never knelt a more devout congregation than that which bowed in lowly reverence before the rude altar of the little rustic chapel in Johnville. Here was no magnificence of architecture, no pomp of ceremonial, no pealing organ, no glorious work of the great masters of sacred song; here were no gorgeous pictures glowing from painted windows, no myriad lights on the altar and in the sanctuary, no priests in golden vestments, no robed attendants swinging silver thuribles filled with perfumed incense, – none of these; but a little structure of the simplest form, covered with shingle, and as free from ornament or decoration as the shanty of the settler – with an altar of boards clumsily put together, and covered with a clean but scanty linen cloth. But those who knelt there that morning felt no want, missed no accessory, sighed for no splendour; their piety required no aid to inflame or sustain it. Exiles from a Catholic land, they were once more under a sacred roof, once more listening to the voice of their Church – once more assisting at the celebration of Mass. And when the Bishop addressed them in simple and impressive language, such as a father might fittingly address to his children, and promised that he was about to gratify the wish of their hearts by sending a priest to live amongst them, a deep murmur of delight evinced the joy and gratitude of the devoted people. These, indeed, were tidings of gladness, the fulfilment of their fondest hopes, wanting which, material comfort and worldly prosperity would be in vain.
Neither Rent Nor Gale
Through one door the women passed out, through the other the men. By the latter sex I was at once surrounded, and I was soon satisfied that every province and most of the counties in Ireland had a representative in that congregation. For a good hour they talked and chatted outside the little church, though the air was keen and the morning still raw. They eagerly enquired after places as well as persons, priests or politicians, and ‘how the old country was getting on’, and ‘whether anything was really to be done for it?’ Oen gave a case of oppression, another of hopeless struggle against rack rent or insecure tenure, as the reason of his flight from the land of his fathers. But of their new home not one had a desponding word to say. They spoke with pride of their hard work, and their steady progress, and the future which they confidently anticipated.
‘Well, thank God, ‘tis our own, any how, and nobody can take it from us,’ said one of the settlers; to which there was a general chorus of ‘amens,’ and ‘true for you.’
‘Take care, Mick, you havn’t the half-year’s rent ready; so don’t be crowing.’ This pleasant sally from a wag much tickled the audience, who, to do them justice, were willing to laugh at the smallest joke.
‘Tis true, Dan, boy; but there’s nobody lookin’ for it,’ replied Mick, who added, in a voice of affected commiseration that was ‘as good as a play,’ and was rewarded with an approving shout – ‘but, faith, I’m thinking the agint has the mazles, or the rhumatiz, poor man! or he’d be here before now for it.’
‘Jimmy’ – to my friend of the day before – ‘is your gale to the fore?’ asked a pleasant-looking Tipperary boy.
‘Little we trouble ourselves with gales, or storms aither, in these parts,’ replied Mr. M’Allister, whose innocent wit was rewarded with such vociferous applause that I dreaded the effect on his naturally abundant vanity.
‘True for you, Jimmy, the misthress attends to the rint, and that kind of business. I hope she’ll be sure and keep the resute, – ‘tis bad to lose the writin’ – as I know, to my cost.’
‘There’s a boy,’ said Mr. M’Allister, pointing to a vigorous young settler of some six feet in his vamps, ‘and I ask you, sir, this blessed morning, wasn’t it a mortial sin to turn his father, and three boys as likely as himself, out of the ould country. Sheep, they wanted, indeed! Christians wouldn’t do ‘em. Well, the Lord had a hand in it, after all, for here they are, all the boys, with their hundred acres apiece; and what do you think, sir – eh, Terrence, my buck! Faith, sir, he’s looking out already. Don’t mind the boys laughing, Terry; you’ll never do it younger. but, sir, there they are, them four fine lads, and every man of them the lord of his own estate. After all, there’s nothing like being a man’s own master.’
‘He doesn’t always be that same, Mr. M’Allister, when once he’s married,’ suggested one of the bystanders, with a sly twinkle in his eye.
Mr. M’Allister did not seem to have heard the observation; nevertheless he rapidly changed the conversation, and, plunging deep into the politics of Europe, appeared immensely interested in the intentions of the Emperor Napoleon towards the Court of Rome. Jimmy was in high spirits that sharp morning, influenced not a little by the knowledge that his excellent wife was then enjoying ‘a comfortable snooze in her best feather bed’ at the safe distance of half a dozen miles from where her husband stood, the centre of an admiring circle. It was not the right occasion for airing a grievance; and, indeed, his pet grievance – the want of the resident clergyman – had been so completely demolished by the assurance publicly given by the Bishop, that it was hopelessly past use. The temporary delay in establishing the second school in the settlement afforded him both a theme and a consolation; but even of this text for an occasional harangue he was soon to be deprived. Jimmy may now be in search of a grievance; and, when found, it is to be hoped it may not be a very serious one – barely sufficient to afford a gentle provocation to amicable discussion.
To my humble self, I must gratefully admit, Mr. M’Allister did the honours of the settlement in a manner at once affable and patronising. When we took our departure, which was not achieved without vigorous and repeated hand-shakings, and prayers and blessing unnumbered, we were accompanied a couple of miles of the road by the Resident Magistrate of the settlement, who also combined in his own person the additional dignities of Captain of Militia and Councillor of the Parish. Mr. Cummins was himself one of the settlers, and he recounted with modest pride the story of his early efforts and his daily increasing prosperity.
On our return to St. John we met the Post-Master-General – a Scotchman – who had recently paid an official visit to the settlement; and he was loud in the expression of his astonishment at the progress which the people had made in so short a time, and at the unmistakable evidences of comfort he beheld in every direction.
The settlement of Johnville is but one of four which Dr. Sweeny established within a recent time. He has thus succeeded in establishing, as settlers, between 700 and 800 families, or, at an average of five persons to each family, between 3,500 and 4,000 individuals. The description given of Johnville would generally apply to the other settlements; the difference, whatever it might be, arising more from the quality of the land than any other cause.