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Memoir of the Rev James MacGregor D.D.
Chapter V. - Journey to Pictou and first Preaching there 1786


“What manner of entering in we had unto you.”—1 Thesa. i. 9.

“On Thursday, 18th (July,) a farmer from Truro, one of Mr. Cock’s hearers, offered, if I would start next day, to accompany me through the woods to Truro, which would be sixty miles of the hundred to Pictou. I hired a horse, and we set off on Friday afternoon on a good road, but a miserably rocky soil. About eleven miles from Halifax the road grew worse, but the woods became gradually better, till their beauty, strength, and loftiness far surpassed any thing of the kind I had ever seen in the Highlands. I imagined myself riding through the policies of a Scottish duke; but the policies of no Scottish duke can compare in grandeur with the forests of Nova Scotia. After riding two or three miles through this beautiful scene, I began to look for a house, but no house, great or small, appeared; till after we had ridden eight miles more, there appeared a small clearing in rocky land, where, after supping upon good bread, fish, and bohea tea, we lodged for the night. Thenceforth we had no road. A narrow avenue had been cut down indeed, and some of the trunks, cut across, and rolled a little out of the way, but many of them lay as they fell, and none of the stumps or roots were removed.

“In proportion as the land became less rocky, and in every place where it was wet, the horses had to wade nearly to the knees, and often far above them, in mud or water, and the one horse behoved to put his foot in the very spots where the other before him put his. Next morning we rode eight miles before we breakfasted, which we did on fish, bread, and tea : then with great exertion and fatigue (to me) eighteen miles to dinner, which again was composed of bread, fish, and tea. I was very thankful for our safety, as the greatest part of the road was both difficult and dangerous, on account of the many swamps full of roots and logs, which we had to pass. I was attentive to direct the horse as dexterously as possible, and keep a good bridle hand, and often ascribed the safety of both to my cautious management. But at last we came to a place so apparently dangerous, that it seemed quite impossible to escape without broken bones. There was no way to get to a side, or to go back, and the horse was in such haste to get on, that he did not allow time to think. I threw the bridle upon his neck in perfect despair. How amazed was I to find myself completely delivered from the great danger in a few seconds by the sagacity of a mere beast! This incident was of great use to me afterwards, by inspiring me with perfect confidence in the horses reared in the forest here. Toward evening we came to the river Stewiacke, where there was a considerable clearing on the side of the river, and the soil very fertile. It is called intervale in Nova Scotia, and haugh or dale in Scotland.

“The river was small, though still and deep; and seeing neither boat nor bridge, I thought only of swimming across it, but my companion showed me a trough on the edge of the river on the other side, told me that it was one of the canoes of Nova Scotia, and that it would carry us over in safety. Perceiving a man mowing hay at some distance, on the same side of the river with the canoe, my fellow-traveller called aloud to him. He understood that we wanted a passage, at once threw aside his scythe, and on reaching the river turned the canoe upon its side, to empty it of some water which it had leaked, launched it, and quickly paddled it over to us. He directed us to take the saddles off our horses, and helped us to drive them into the river, to swim across. Putting my saddle in the bottom of the canoe, he desired me to sit down upon it; I did so, and he ferried me across quickly and safely, and afterwards my companion in the same manner. These operations being new to me, I observed them with no small degree of curiosity. The man was dressed iu a home made check or woollen shirt, and striped trousers, without hat, handkerchief, or stocking. I admired his dress, as the best I had seen for labourers in hot weather, which was now the case in a high degree. He accompanied us to his house, put our horses to pasture, and lodged us hospitably. Here again we supped on bread, fish, and tea, so that I began to conclude that there were no other eatables in Nova Scotia. Upon inquiry, I was told that the country people could not afford meat, as it kept fresh for only a very short time in such hot weather; but that fish could be had at any time, as almost every house stood beside a stream, and the fish were plentiful in proportion to the scarcity of the inhabitants. We had passed three houses only during the whole day, and each was by a stream. I was also told that they caught fish in winter, when the ice was a foot thick, as well as in summer, merely by cutting a hole through the ice, and letting down a baited hook. The fish, seeing the light by the hole, come to it immediately, and bite readily. It was said, moreover, to be common for country people to keep beef, moose meat, and caribou meat (I suppose the same as the elk and reindeer) fresh, in the snow, for three months.

“The house in which we lodged consisted of a kitchen and two or three bed-closets, with a garret for lumber, and a sleeping-place for some of the children. We all sat in the kitchen, and here I had an opportunity of seeing how the country women prepared their bread. After kneading the dough, the landlady formed it into a beautiful large cake of an oval form, nearly an inch thick, swept a hot part of the hearth clean, and there laid it flat. She then spread over it a thin layer of fine cold ashes, and over that a thick layer of hot ashes, mixed with burning coals. By the time the tea-kettle boiled, the bread was baked. The landlady with a fire-shovel removed the ashes, and took it off the hearth; and then, after a little agitation to shake off the ashes, she wiped it with a cloth, much cleaner than I could have expected when it was laid down. It made very good and agreeable bread. It seems this was the way of baking bread in the days of Abraham, (Gen. xviii. 6.) It is a speedy way; and, though not clean, still not so foul as a stranger would imagine. Some cover the cake with paper when it is laid upon the hearth, which keeps it perfectly clean, but this is not a common mode. Our host, I suppose, kept up family worship, for the Bible was at hand, and laid it on the table after supper, which I had seen done before.

“My companion roused rue pretty early next morning, which was Sabbath, intending to be at Truro to attend public worship. I did not relish the idea of travelling on the Lord’s day, but could not persuade him to stay; and, having found him extremely useful, I thought it a work of necessity to accompany him. When we went to the pasture to saddle our horses, his was not to be found. We sought for it a long time, but in vain. I then proposed to stay where we were till next day. Truro was but fourteen miles off, and we might still be in time for sermon, had the road been tolerable; but it was no better than what we had travelled already. He replied that we could be at Truro in time for the afternoon service; that doubtless his horse was moving slowly homeward, eating as he went, and that probably we would overtake him after travelling a mile or two. So saying, he took his saddle and bridle on his own back, and invited me to come along with him. I obeyed, as I could not think either of travelling alone, or waiting till chance would bring forward another traveller, which might not be for a number of days. We overtook the horse, as he expected, and reached Truro by the time the afternoon’s service was to begin; but I was so fatigued as to be fit for nothing but rest.

"On Monday, I went to pay my respects to the Rev. Daniel Cock, the minister of Truro; a man of warm piety, kind manners. and primitive simplicity. He received me with great kindness; but when we came to speak of uniting, as members of the same presbytery, he was disappointed, and a little chagrined at my refusal, lie was the more disappointed, as he was the writer of the petition which the Pictou people sent home, and never had doubted but that the person it would bring out would sit in presbytery with him; besides, he had given most supply of sermon and other ordinances to the Pictou people previous to my arrival. He accompanied me next day to Londonderry, fifteen miles down the Bay of Fundy, to visit the Rev. David Smith, then minister of that place. lie was a man of more learning and penetration, but less amiable, than Mr. Cock. His untoward disposition had alienated a great part of the congregation from him. He proposed several judicious considerations to induce me to join the presbytery; but at that time they had no influence upon me. I believe that every honest Scottish emigrant that goes abroad, carries with him a conscientious attachment to the peculiarities of his profession, which nothing but time and a particular acquaintance with the country he goes to will enable him to lay aside. It may be so with more than Scotchmen: it was so with me. They both informed me that their presbytery was to meet that day two weeks, and proposed to me to come to the presbytery, to preach to it, and to converse with the members about the point in question. To all these things I agreed. Mr. Cock and I lodged with Mr. Smith that night, and next day we returned to Truro.

“I understood that two gentlemen of Truro intended to go to Pictou on Friday; therefore I waited willingly for their company. Till this time there had been no road from Truro to Pictou but a blaze; that is, a chip taken off every tree, in the direction which the road should have, to help the traveller to keep straight on: but a number of Pictou Highlanders were now cutting down the trees where the road was intended to be; for the Government had voted money to open it. My companions had taken with them a small flask full of rum and a ham of lamb, to refresh us by the way, as it was too far to travel fasting, and there was no public house. Just as we thought it time to take our snack; wc came to a place where there was a patch of good grass, and a boiling pot hung on sticks, laid on two forked sticks stuck in the ground. Here we took our snack. The ham rather more than sufficing us, we agreed to put the bones and the remaining meat into the pot, that the roadmen might get the good of them. We then took each a mouthful out of the flask, and mounted our horses. By-and-by we met two men on foot going toward Truro, and coming to the roadmen, I told them in Gaelic that I was the minister expected to Pictou. They all came and shook hands with me, and welcomed me cordially.

“It was well for my companions and me that the two men went along, otherwise we stood fair for a good threshing. The Highlanders went by-and-by to their dinner, and finding the meat and bones in the pot, were exasperated to the highest degree against those who did it, and vowed revenge, imagining that it was done purely to insult them. As it could not, in their opinion, be done by any of the decent gentlemen who went to Pictou, it must have been done by the two footmen who went to Truro. They were so persuaded of this, that the two most fiery of them set off after them to give them a drubbing; but having pursued them three or four miles without overtaking them, they returned—not forgetting, however, to publish that, if ever they came to Pictou, they might expect broken bones. I took occasion, when they returned home, after finishing their job on the road, to inform them who put the meat and bones into the pot, and from what motive it was done. They were satisfied; but I saw it needful to caution them against such rashness hereafter.

“Before night, we arrived at George MacConnell’s, the nearest house to Truro." This road was better than the road between Pictou and Halifax; for as few horses had ever passed on it, the surface was not broken nor cut into holes, like the other. I had a hearty welcome from George; but as there was only one apartment in his house, he took me over, for lodging, to his next neighbour’s, William Smith, in whose house there was a sort of two. I had now arrived within the bounds of my congregation, and had a sample of it; but the sample was better than the stock. William Smith was an active, public spirited man; but he did not live long, and his death was to me the death of half the congregation. Having asked Smith where it would be most proper to have sermon on Sabbath, he answered at Squire Patterson’s, which was ten miles off, one half of which must be travelled by land and the other by water. I requested him to give notice of it as widely as possible. He said he would; and did it so effectually, that they came to the sermon from every corner in Pictou, except the upper settlement of the East River.

“Next morning, I moved down the West River toward the harbour and Squire Patterson’s. William Smith accompanied me past two or three of the houses, at which we called, and delivered me to Hugh Fraser, afterward an elder, who engaged to see me safe at Squire Patterson’s. We called at the remaining houses down the West River, then travelled three miles without a house, when the harbour appeared—a beautiful sheet of water, very much like one of the Highland lakes in Scotland, about nine miles long and one broad. It is an excellent harbour, but its entrance is rather narrow. Three rivers run into it. The West River falls into the west end or head of it; and the Middle and East River into the south side of it. The rivers are small, none of them having a run of thirty miles; but the East River is as large as the other two, and is often called by the Highlanders the Great River. The greatest detriment it sustains is by its freezing for three or four months in winter, so that uo vessel can come in or go out. When I looked round the shores of the harbour, I was greatly disappointed and cast down, for there was scarcely any thing to be seen but woods "rowing down to the water’s edge. Here and there a mean timber hut was visible in a small clearing, which appeared no bigger than a garden compared to the woods. Nowhere could I see two houses without some wood between them. I asked Hugh Fraser, ‘Where is the town?’ He replied,  "There is no town but what you see." The petition sent home had the word township in it, whence I had foolishly inferred that there was a town in Pictou. The reader may have some conception of my disappointments, when he is informed that I had inferred also the existence of many comforts in the town, and among them a barber, for I had never been partial to the operation of shaving. My disappointments were immensely discouraging to me; for I looked on myself as an exile from the Church and society. I saw that Nova Scotia, and especially Pictou, was very far behind the idea which I had formed of them. I renounced at once all idea of ever seeing a town in Pictou. Nothing but necessity kept me there; for I durst not think of encountering the dangerous road to Halifax again, and there was no vessel in Pictou to take me away, and even had there been one, I had not money to pay my passage home.

“Hugh Fraser, having borrowed a canoe, paddled me along, with a good deal of labour, to Squire Patterson’s, but it was much nearer than going by land. I was received by the squire and his lady with every mark of the most sincere kindness. They were of the very first settlers of Pictou, and had all along maintained a Christian character; and now rejoiced in the prospect of enjoying public ordinances, of which they had been long deprived. The afternoon I spent partly in preparation for the morrow, and partly in getting accounts of the state and people of Pictou. The first settlers of Pictou were about a dozen families from Maryland, in the year 1765. In 1773, came the ship Hector, loaded with Highlanders from Lochbroom, sent out by the Philadelphia Company, to settle a large grant of theirs in Pictou. But many of them left Pictou for Truro, Onslow, and Londonderry, townships in Colchester; for the families who had been in Pictou before could not afford winter provision for a third part of them ; but they almost all returned after some years. Many of these settlers suffered incredible hardships in bringing provisions from Colchester, without roads, horses, or money, but earning them by hard labour. One or two years afterwards there arrived about fifteen families, emigrants from Dumfriesshire to St. John, now Prince Edward Island, who had been almost starved to death there, and gladly exchanged total want for the scanty allowance of Pictou. In the fall of 1783, and spring of 1784, came about twenty families of soldiers, mostly Highlanders, who had been disbanded after the peace with the United States in 1783, and some of their officers having half-pay. The same summer brought eight families of Highlanders by the way of Halifax. There were a few of the families Roman Catholics, Episcopalians, &c.; but they were mostly Scotchmen and Presbyterians. They were settled round the shores of the harbour, and on the sides of the rivers, except two families on the East River, and one on the West, who chose to go two miles for the sake of better land, Such was the account I had from Squire Patterson of the first settlement of Pictou. His own house was rather the best in Pictou, and the only framed one. There were only seven or eight log houses in the whole settlement that had two fireplaces.

“The squire gave orders to lay slabs and planks in his barn for seats to the congregation; and before eleven o’clock nest morning I saw the people gathering to hear the gospel from the lips of a stranger, and a stranger who felt few of its consolations in his own soul, and had but little hope of communicating them to his hearers. None came by land, except certain families who lived a few miles to the right and left of Squire Patterson’s. Those who came from the south side of the harbour, and from the rivers, had to come in boats or canoes; and I doubt not but all the craft in Pictou available at the time was in requisition. It was truly a novel sight to me, to see so many boats and canoes carrying people to sermon. There were only five or six boats, but many canoes, containing from one to seven or eight persons. The congregation, however, was not large; for numbers could not get ready their craft, the notice was so short. I observed that the conduct of some of them, coming from the shore to the barn, was as if they had never heard of a Sabbath. I heard loud talking and laughing, and singing and whistling, even before they reached the shore. They behaved, however, with decency so long as I continued to speak, and some of them were evidently much affected. I endeavoured to explain to them in the forenoon, in English, ‘This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners;’ and in the afternoon, in Gaelic, ‘ The Son of Man is come to seek and to save that which was lost.’ I had been afraid of the want of proper precentors, especially for the Gaelic, as I knew in Scotland that readers were scarce in the North Highlands; but I was happily disappointed, for William Smith did very well in English, and Thomas Eraser in Gaelic. The first words which I heard after pronouncing the blessing, were from a gentleman of the army calling to his companions, Come, come, let us go to the grogshop; but instead of going with him, they came toward me, to bid me welcome to the settlement; and he came himself at last. I could not be displeased with their politeness; still there was no savour of piety in their talk. There were a number of pious persons there, who would gladly have spoken to me; but, as they told me afterwards, they had not the courage to show themselves iu such company; by which means I had a worse opinion of the place than it deserved. The gentlemen stayed some time; and while they did, we had little else among us but profanation of the Sabbath. Perhaps I was too timid myself; for all that I did to repress this profanation was some faint attempts to turn the talk into a more profitable channel. It soon turned back. When they were gone, Squire Patterson’s family offered no hindrance to religious conversation.”

It may be remarked here, as we shall have occasion to notice more particularly hereafter, that he had a remarkable talent for directing conversation into religious channels. In company, whatever subject was started, he almost instantly gave a religious turn to it, and that so naturally, as not only to give no offence to any, but to attract the attention of the thoughtless to the subject. This seldom failed to render his social intercourse the means of spiritual profit. To this source many owe their first impressions of divine things.

At this point in the original MS., the following words occur inserted at a later period: “Mrs. MacMillan converted,” as if he intended to mention some incident connected with her being brought to the knowledge of the truth. We may therefore give such information concerning her as we have been able to collect. Her mother had been a Roman Catholic, and if she had any religious opinion she was the same. She was not, however, very bigoted, for before Dr. MacGregor’s arrival she attended Robert Marshall’s “readings.” What was the reason of the introduction of her name at this stage of the narrative, we know not, but think it probable that an impression was made upon her mind by his first sermon. A visit which he paid to her shortly after is traditionally mentioned as a chief cause of her conversion. She lived at the Narrows of the East river, and on his way up he called at her house. As he went in, the cat having misbehaved, he heard her giving utterance to some reprehensible language. He said nothing about it at first, but in a little turned the conversation to the subject, and mildly reproved her, saying that he would not have spoken in that way. Other conversations followed in which he completely won her affection, so that she never after had any thing to do with the Priests. She early became a member of the church, and was remarkable for her attachment to him, and for following his preaching to great distances. She could neither read nor write, but learned many of the Psalms in the Metrical version, as well as many chapters of the Bible, and the Shorter Catechism. Her descendants are numerous and respectable; a great-grandson being at present a member of the Provincial Assembly for the County of Pictou. Appended to one of his Gaelic MS. we have found the following curious documents:

“I request all my children, and my children’s children to join together and aid one another in paying the expenses of printing Poems, if Providcnee provides an opportunity for so doing.”

James MacGregor,

"M M. Mary MacMillan
Her mark.
 

Witness.

 

When she died, she left all her little property to the British and Foreign Bible Society.

As we have given his impressions of Pictou when he first arrived, we may give the impressions formed in Pictou regarding him. Probably from being down east at the dreary appearance of the place and the prospects before him, he did not at first impress them very favourably. They at first thought him dull, if not stupid. William Smith, already referred to, said to one of his neighbours, “I fear we have been disappointed in our minister; I don’t think that he will do much good/' The first sermon he preached materially altered his opinion, and his first remark on coming out to the same individual was, “Ah, he is better than I thought; I think he will do jet.” On this first Sabbath’s preaching some of the disbanded who attended, stood at some distance, and did not even take off their hats till towards the close of the sermon, when they drew near, and uncovered their heads.

“By Squire Patterson’s direction I gave out sermon next Sabbath on the East River, at the head of the tide, and the second Sabbath on the harbour, a few miles up from Squire Patterson’s; and the sermon continued alternately at these places for about two months, when the people agreed to have two meeting-houses—one on the west side of the East River, half a mile below the head of the tide, to accommodate boats; and the other on the east side of the West River, two miles below the head of the tide—alternate preaching to be at these places till winter, when a winter regulation should be made. These two places were ten or eleven miles apart, and there was no road to either.

“Towards the beginning of the week I went up the East River, to get acquainted with the people, and be near the place of preaching next Sabbath. Except two families, the whole population of the East River was from the Highlands. But few of them, or of those in other parts of Pictou, could read a word. Several people applied to me for baptism next Sabbath. I was in great difficulty with some of them, and not 9* then only, but often afterwards; and doubtless often erred, not knowing what to do with them, especially for their ignorance. To those whom I thought quite unfit, I advised delay for some time till they got more knowledge, and to come again and converse on the subject; telling them that it was far safer for them to wait till they were fit for it, than to receive it without the blessing of God. One of these thought fit to stand up in the congregation next Sabbath, and say, in a loud and angry voice, that I was good for nothing, and did not deserve the name of a minister, and that he would never pay me a shilling, as I refused to baptize his child. Some of those near him endeavoured to still him, but in vain, till he got out his blast. I was sorry to hear him, but said nothing. Some of the neighbours, in the course of the week, made him believe that he was liable to a heavy fine, and frightened him greatly; so that, lest I should take the law to him, he came and acknowledged his great pride and folly, and begged me to pardon him. I told him I had no thought of taking the law, and advised him to consider how he could escape the anger of God for such behaviour; that God’s grace never produced such conduct as his, and that he needed to ask God’s pardon for offending him, and troubling his people, and exposing himself.”

In connection with this we may mention an occurrence that took place at this point, which was to him a severe trial. On the very first Sabbath after his arrival, two of the gentlemen of the army applied to him for baptism for their children. He demurred, not knowing the character of the men. They asserted their good character and appealed in corroboration of their testimony to John Fraser, who had been a captain in the Regiment, and who was now a magistrate. He corroborated their testimony. The Doctor yielded and baptized their children. During the week, however, lie discovered that both the men had left wives in the old country, and that their children were the result of adulterous connection formed with other women here. Though he was innocent in what he had done, yet his tender conscience upbraided him as having profaned a holy ordinance. This and the deceit practised upon him by one in the highest station, added to the dreary circumstances of his position, so impressed his mind that one of my informants says, that he has seen him actually in tears about the matter. lie spoke of it long after with deep sorrow. Among the applicants for the same privilege during the week following was Colin Douglass. The Doctor replied, “I do not know what to do, I have done a thing last Sabbath, that I will regret all my days.” Mr. D. referred him to the different character of the other settlers and afforded such satisfactory evidence of his character, that the Doctor gave him the privilege sought.

“Ever since I accepted the Synod’s appointment, I had been concerned lest I should find no elders in Pictou, and thus not have a regular session. It was, therefore, a great happiness to me, that I now heard of three on the East River, who had been ordained in Scotland, viz., Thomas Fraser, and Simon Fraser, who had officiated in the parish of Kirkhill with my late respected and dear friend, the Rev. Alexander Fraser; and Alexander Fraser, alias MacAndrew, from Kilmorack. It was an addition to this happiness, that, in obtaining acquaintance with them, I found them possessed of considerable knowledge, and pleasing appearances of piety. I was now relieved from my fears about a regular session ; as nothing else was necessary to the exercise of their office here but the call of the congregation; which I hoped would be obtained in due time, if God prospered my labours”

While we honour his scrupulous conscientiousness in regard to the order of Christ’s house, we do not think that there was reason for his difficulty. Whatever may be proper, where the church has been already established, we hold that as the apostles "ordained Elders in every city" where of course there could not have been already a constituted Eldership, and as Titus was commissioned in Crete, to “set in order the things that are wanting and ordain Elders in every city,” so one regularly commissioned as an Evangelist had all the authority requisite for the ordination of Elders. Of these elders, Alexander Fraser was an old man, and lived but a short time. Simon Fraser also did not long survive, but Thomas Fraser was one of his closest companions and firmest supports almost till his death.

“Next Sabbath I went by water from the East River to the place mentioned above, to preach. The boat was crowded with people, and notwithstanding all that I could do to restrain them, their tongues walked through the earth; at least the restraint continued but a short time, when some one would forget and break through. But when we drew near to the place of preaching, to which all the boats and canoes were pointing, the scene described before was completely renewed. Their singing and whistling, and laughing and bawling, filled my mind with amazement and perplexity. I took occasion to warn them of the sin and danger of such conduct, and exhorted them to consider by whose authority they were required to 1 remember the Sabbath-day to keep it holy.’ My warning and exhortation were not altogether thrown away; but there was not much reformation, till the gentlemen belonging to the army favoured us with their absence, which they did when sailing ceased to be a pleasure, by the coolness of the weather. As they were the main cause of the evil, when they retired, those who had been excited by them were easily restrained. On the return of summer there was a visible alteration for the better. In the meantime, however, I often thought that my sermons did more harm by occasioning profanation of the Sabbath, than good by communicating instruction.”

The place where the third Sabbath’s preaching took place was at the lower end of the Middle River at Mr. Alexander Fraser’s, near where Mr. Samuel Fraser’s house now stands. This was the site first chosen for a church, which it was supposed would accommodate all sections of the congregation. This idea was soon abandoned, and two churches were erected. It may be mentioned that in the partial intercourse he had had with the people during these two weeks, he had already won the hearts of many. Even children had become attached to him. The following, simple as it is, will show this, as well as illustrate the kindness of his manner. On his way back from Truro in company with Thomas Fraser, the elder, at the lower part of the Middle River he met four boys. lie asked Fraser, “What boys are these?” “Oh, they are some of your congregation, and bad boys they are,” was the reply. “ , that’s because they have had no minister to teach them, but they will do better after this.” He then spoke to them, asking each his name, and enquiring regarding their respective families, and telling them to come and hear him preach next Sabbath, and pay attention to what he said, and he was sure that they would hereafter be good boys. He talked in this kind way to them till he completely won their hearts, and they were all eagerness to hear him preach. The preaching took place under the shade of a large elm-tree, and they listened with intense interest, lie at that time gained a place in their affections which he never lost. One of these boys, who related the circumstance, was John Douglass, so well known through the church as Deacon Douglass.

“As I had not yet seen the Middle River, I took an opportunity of visiting it this week. It is the smallest of the rivers, and had only eleven families on it—four of them emigrants from Dumfries, the rest Highlanders. Here I became acquainted with Robert Marshall, a man worthy of being had in everlasting remembrance. He and his family suffered every thing but death in Prince Edward Island, by hunger and nakedness; for though they had plenty of clothes of all kinds when they came there, he had to part with every article of them that could possibly be spared for provision. Soon after he came to Pictou, he lost a most amiable consort, and for some time had a great struggle to bring up his family; but lie was filled with the joy and peace of believing, and abounded in hope, not only of everlasting happiness, but of hearing the joyful sound of the gospel in Pictou. He was afterwards an elder, and a great comfort to me; but for many a day he had to go to hear sermon in an old red coat which an old soldier had given him, and a weaver’s apron, to hide the holes and rags of his trousers. He had, I believe, the poorest hut in Pictou; but many a happy night did I enjoy in it. Robert Marshall was eminent for honesty and plainness, for charity, liberality of sentiments, and public spirit. He was very useful to the young generation, teaching, and warning, and directing them ; and he would reprove the greatest man in the province as readily a.s the least, for any plain violation of the law, as profane swearing, or travelling on the Sabbath. In time he got over his poverty; but he had his trials as well as his comforts all his days.

“It was not till the nest time I visited the Middle River that I became acquainted with Kenneth Fraser, an amiable Christian, whom I never met without a smile on his countenance. At home he had been under the ministry of the Rev. Thomas MacKay, in Lairg, Sutherlandshire. He remembered so many savoury notes of Mr. MacKay’s sermons, that I could not but have a high opinion of the character of both.

“It was no little discouragement to me that I scarcely saw any books among the people. Those who spoke English had, indeed, a few, which they had brought with them from their former abodes, but scarcely one of them had got any addition to his stock since. Almost all of them had a Bible; and it was to be seen with some of the Highlanders who could not read. There was no school in the place. Squire Patterson had built a small house, and hired a teacher for a few months, now and then, for his own children. In three or perhaps four other places, three or four of the nearest neighbours had united and hired a teacher for a few months at different times; and this was a great exertion. What was more discouraging, I could not see a situation in Pictou where a school could be maintained for a year, so thin and scattered was the population. Besides, many of the Highlanders were perfectly indifferent about education, for neither themselves nor any of their ancestors had ever tasted its pleasure or its profit. But afterwards

I found that children made quicker progress in the small and temporary schools with which the people were obliged to content themselves, than they did at home in their large and stationary schools : and I found it easier than I had thought to rouse the Highlanders to attend to the education of their children, so far as to read the Bible. I made it a rule to inculcate this duty upon parents when speaking to them about baptism. There are now sixty schools iu Pictou district; but in almost all of them the plan continues of hiring a man by the year or half-year.”

We may add here some notes, which we have deciphered from his short-hand MS., of an address delivered by himself some years after, in which he describes the state of Pietou on his arrival, and its condition subsequently.

“1. In Pictou not a loaf could be afforded of our own wheat. There was no mill to grind, now we have plenty of mills, and plenty of loaves. We had an imitation flour by the hand-mill, but of oat-mills we had not a semblance, but now we have oat-mills and oatmeal so good, it should not be to come from Scotland.

“2. There was not a foot of road in the district, and for carriage, neither sleighs nor gigs. The chief of the travel was by canoes, or along the shore when the tide was out, and most disagreeable it often was, especially in crossing brooks and guts, where we had often to go afoot, but in very soft ground. There was a path from the West to the Middle River, and from the Middle River to the East, but no path from any of the rivers to the harbour. See the difference now. We have roads that princes might be proud of. We had not a dozen of horses.

“3. There was not a merchant in the district, nor any who commonly kept goods for sale, or made the third of his living by the sale of goods. Little schooners came round in the summer with some necessary articles, to which the people repaired in their canoes, and got a few things for which they exchanged a little produce. Sometimes John Patterson got a few pounds worth more than he needed, and afterward sold them. But see what stores we have now. None among us can tell their number, and some of them would make a decent appearance in any town whatsoever. We had scarcely any tradesmen of any kind. We had weavers, and tailors, but I would not see a chaise for a wonder.

“4. In this town there was not a single house for years after I came here. The town was some years without a single inhabitant, then there was a shed with one family, then another with it, and so on till it became what we see it now. Not a man in Pictou would believe that ever we should see a room like this in which we are now assembled. Now Pictou deserves the name of a town. It is fast increasing, and some of the houses deserve the name of palaces when compared with what we possessed then.

“5. There was no school, now we have scores of them. Now we have a Seminary of education, superior to some of the American colleges. There was no minister, now we have eleven of them. As for lawyers there was such good neighbourhood amongst us, that we never expected to need a lawyer or a court-house, but we have now gotten much use for both. We have also a printing press.

“6. As for our population, Pictou did not then contain five hundred souls. If Merigomish be included, I suppose they would amount to a few more souls than five hundred, now they amount to twenty-five times the number then.”

An individual who arrived in Pictou in the year following, and traversed the eastern part of Nova Scotia, thus describes the state of matters then: “In 17S7 there were only four or five horses from Salmon River to Antigonish. There was not one inhabitant on the Cape Breton side of the Gut of Canso, and but one on the Nova Scotia side. In 1788 there was one house at Ship Harbour. I may add that from Pictou to Coeaigne, there were but four or five families at River John, and Mr. Waugh and his family at Tatamagouche, some refugees at Wallace, and but one family at Bay Verte. At Miramiehi there were but five families.”

The overseer was James MacDonald, afterward an elder, and long one of his most intimate companions and steadfast supporters, who died in the year 1857 at the age of over 100 years. He used to tell that he was the first man to welcome Dr. MacGregor to Pictou. When fur in his dotage, describing the scene to us, when the Doctor came forward, and told them that he was the minister fur Pictou. he said, “Wasn’t we rejoiced?” The opening of the road at this time, however, was only cutting down the trees along a narrow avenue, just wide enough for the passage of a single traveller. The stumps were not removed, neither was the ground levelled.

This incident, trivial as it may appear, illustrates one feature of the character of the inhabitants of Nova Scotia, and probably of all new countries, compared with those of older ones. In the latter, a person would consider himself as doing a favour to a body of labourers, or any poor people, by giving them the remains of his feast; but where the necessaries of life arc so abundant as in Nova Scotia, there is no class of the community to whom the offering of such would not be apt to be considered somewhat in the light of an insult, in the same way as it was by these Highlanders.


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