A Grandmothers Story

Lives of the women at home and following the army during the war years.
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Official historian
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Location: Upper Canada

A Grandmothers Story

Post by pud » Sat Dec 30, 2006 10:34 pm

Source: The First History of New Brunswick. Grandmother [and Grandson Peter] Fisher. (Originally published in 1825) Jointly reprinted by the government of New Brunswick and William Shives Fisher under the auspices of the New Brunswick Historical Society, St. John, 1921.

"We sailed from New York in the ship "Esther" with the fleet for Nova Scotia. Some of our ships were bound for Halifax, some for Shelburne and some for St. John's River. Our ship going the wrong track was nearly lost. When we got to St. John we found the place all in confusion; some were living in log houses, some building huts, and many of the soldiers living in their tents at the Lower Cove. Soon after we landed we joined a party bound up the river in a schooner to St. Ann's. It was eight days before we got to Oromocto. There the Captain put us ashore being unwilling on account of the lateness of the season, or for some other reason, to go further. He charged us each four dollars for the passage. We spent the night on shore and the next day the women and children proceeded in Indian canoes to St. Ann's with some of the party; the rest came on foot.

We reached our destination on the eighth day of October, tired out with our long journey, and pitched our tents at the place now called Salamanca, near the shore. The next day we explored for a place to encamp, for the winter was near and we had no time to lose.

The season was wet and cold, and we were much discouraged at the gloomy prospect before us. Those who had arrived a little earlier had made better preparations for the winter; some had built small log cuts. This we could not do because of the lateness of our arrival. Snow fell on the second day of November to the depth of 6 inches. We pitched our tents in the shelter of the woods and tried to cover them with spruce boughs. We used stones for fireplaces. Our tent had no floor but the ground. The winter was very cold, with deep snow, which we tried to keep from drifting in by putting a large rug at the door. The snow, which lay 6 feet around us, helped greatly in keeping out the cold. How we lived through that awful winter I hardly know. There were mothers, that had been reared in a pleasant country enjoying all the comforts of life, with helpless children in their arms. They clasped their infants to their bosoms and tried by the warmth of their own bodies to protect them from the bitter cold. Sometimes a part of the family had to remain up during the night to keep the fires burning, so as to keep the rest from freezing. Some destitute people made use of boards, which the older ones Heating before the fire and applied by turns to the smaller children to keep the more.

Many women and children, and some of the men, died from cold and exposure. Graves were dug with axes and shovels near the spot where our party had landed, and there in stormy winter weather our loved ones were buried. We had no minister, so we had to bury them without any religious service, besides our own prayers. The first burial ground continued to be used for some years until was nearly filled. We called it "The Loyalist Provincials Burial Ground."

Among those who came with us to St. Ann’s, or who were there when we arrived, were Mr.'s Swim, Burkstaff, McComesky, three named Ridner, Wooley, Bass, Paine, Ryerse, Acker, Lownsberry, Ingraham, Buchanan, Ackerman, Donley, Vanderbeck, Smith, Essington and some few others.

When the Loyalist arrived there were only three houses standing on the old St. Ann's plain. Two of them were old frame houses, the other a log house (which stood near the old Fisher place). There were said to have been two bodies of people murdered here. It could not have been long before the arrival of the Loyalists that this happened.

Many of the Loyalists who came in the spring had gone further up the river, but they were little better off for provisions and we were at Saint Ann's. Supplies expected before the close of navigation did not come, and at one time starvation stared us in the face. It was a dreary contrast to our former conditions. Some of our men had to go down the river with hand-sleds or toboggans to get food for their famishing families. A full supply of provisions was looked for in the Spring, but the people were betrayed by those they depended upon to supply them. All the settlers were reduced to great straits and had to live after the Indian fashion. A party of Loyalists who came before us late in the spring, had gone up the river further, but they were no better off than those at Same Ann's. The men caught fish and hunted moose when they could. In the spring we made maple sugar. We ate fiddleheads, grapes and even the leaves of trees to allay the pangs of hunger. On one occasion some poisonous weeds were eaten along with the fiddleheads; one or two died, and Dr. Earle had all he could do to save my life.

As soon as the snow was off the ground we began to build log houses, but were obliged to desist for want of food. Your grandfather went up the river to Captain McKay's for provisions, and found no one at home but an old colored slave woman, who said her master and his man had gone out to see if they could obtain some potatoes or meal, having in the house only half a box of biscuits. Some of the people at St. Ann's, who had planted a few potatoes, were obliged to dig them up and eat them.

In our distress we were gladdened by the discovery of some large patches of pure white beans, marked with a black cross. They had probably been originally planted by the French, but for now growing wild. In our joy at the discovery we called them at first the "Royal Provincials bread," but afterwards "The staff of life and hope of the starving." I planted some of these beans with my own hands, and the seed was preserved in our family for many years. There was great rejoicing when the first schooner arrived with cornmeal and rye. In those days the best passages up and down the river took from three to five days. Sometimes the schooners were a week or 10 days on the way. It was not during the first year alone that we suffered from want of food, other years were nearly as bad.

The first summer after our arrival all hands united in building their log houses. Dr. Earle's was the first that was finished. Our people had but few tools and those of the rudest sort. They had neither bricks or lime, and chimneys and fireplaces were built of stone laid in yellow clay. They covered the roofs of the houses with bark bound over with small poles. The windows had only four small panes of glass.

The first store was kept by a man named Cairnes, who lived in an old house on the bank of the river near the gate of the first Church built in Fredericton (in front of the present Cathedral). He used to sell fish at one penny each and butternuts at two for a penny. He also sold tea at two dollars per pound which was to us a great boon. We greatly missed our tea. Sometimes we used an article called Labrador, and sometimes steeped spruce or hemlock bark for drinking, but I despised it.

There were no domestic animals in our settlement at first except one black and white cat, which was a great pet. Some wicked fellows, who came from the States, killed, roasted and ate the cat, to our great indignation. A man named Conley owned the first cow. Poor Conley afterwards hanged himself, the reason for which was never known.

For years there were no teams, and our people had to work hard to get their provisions. Potatoes were planted among the black stumps and turned out well. Pigeons used to come in great numbers and were shot or caught by the score in nets. We found in their crops some small round beans, which we planted; they grew very well and made excellent green beans, which we ate during the summer. In the wintertime our people had sometimes to haul their provisions by hand fifty or one hundred miles over the ice or through the woods. In summer they came in slow sailing vessels. On one occasion Dr. Earle and others went up the river to Canada on snowshoes with hand sleds, returning with bags of flour and biscuits. It was a hard and dangerous journey, and they were gone a long time.

For several years we lived in dread of the Indians, who were sometimes very bold. I have heard that the Indians from Canada once tried to murder the people on the St. John River. Coming down the river they captured an Indian woman of the St. John tribe, and the chief said they would spare her if she would be their guide. They had eleven canoes in all, and they were tied together and the canoe of the guide attached to the hindermost. As they drew near the Grand Falls, most of the party were asleep; and the rest were deceived by the woman, who told them that the roaring they heard was caused by a fall at the mouth of the stream which here joined the main river. At the critical moment the Indian woman cut the cord which fasten her canoe to the others and escaped to the shore, while the Canada Indians went over the fall and were lost.

In the early days of the settlement at St. Ann's, some fellows that had come from the States used to disturb the other settlers. They procured liquor at Vanhorn's Tavern and drank heavily. They lived in a log cabin which soon became a resort for bad characters. They formed a plot to go up the river and plunder the settlers - provisions being their chief object. They agreed that if any other party were killed in the expedition they should prevent discovery of their identity by putting him into a hole cut in the ice. While they were endeavoring to effect an entrance into a settlers house, a shot, fired out of the window, wounded a young man in the leg. The others then desisted from their attempt, but cut a hole in the ice and thrust the poor fellow in, who had been shot, although he begged to be allowed to die in the woods, and promised, if found alive not to betray them, but they would not trust him."

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