The opening years of
the nineteenth century brought with them a large increase in the number
of immigrants to Nova Scotia, particularly from Scotland where, at that
time, many of the landlords were turning their estates into sheep
ranches and, in so doing, did not hesitate to eject their tenants who
were then from necessity forced to emigrate to the New World. Many came
to settle at Pictou and other places in eastern Nova Scotia and of these
Tatamagouche received its share.
In 1804, DesBarres leased the Blockhouse farm to one Patrick Carrol.
This lease is interesting as it states, “Only reserving what was
formerly reserved for His Majesty’s use as a fort”. Nothing further of
this Carrol is known, and his stay at Tatamagouche must have been short,
as this property was soon occupied by others. Several of the old people
can recall his name, but know nothing of him.
One of the earliest arrivals of the nineteenth century was Robert
Chambers who, in 1806, received from DesBarres a deed of that point of
land which has ever since borne his name. It may be noted that Chambers
was the first person at Tatamagouche to receive a freehold title from
DesBarres, the others only having leases of their property. He was a
Scotchman and an old soldier, which is all that is known of him before
he came to this country. He had two sons: Samuel and James. The former
was a farmer and lived for a while on the Blockhouse farm, but receiving
his father’s farm as an inheritance, removed there. He had six sons:
James, John, Robert, Samuel, Edward and Thomas. James, the other son of
Robert, removed to New Brunswick, where he died unmarried.
Another early settler of this period was William Lombard. He was a
native of the North of Ireland, but as early as 1806 was settled at
Tatamagouche. Two other brothers also came with him to this country, but
on landing at Halifax they left him and nothing further was ever heard
of them. William Lombard settled on the farm now owned by William
Bonyman, near Cooper’s. He died in 1854. In his family were three sons:
George, John, and Danford. The first settled on the farm now owned by
his son, George. John was a clerk for Hon. Alex. Campbell and lived near
the main road, a little west from Mrs. Crowe’s. For a time he was
village postmaster Danford lived with his brother, George.
The third Scotch settler was John Bell. He was a native of Annan, or
Annandale, Dumfries. In 1806 he emigrated and came to Tatamagouche where
he lived with Waugh at the Willow Church farm. Lonely as the life at
Tatamagouche was, he preferred to retire still further into the
wilderness and, in 1815, removed seven miles inland to form a settlement
which, after his old home in Scotland, he called New Annan. His farm was
the one (still owned by his descendants) on the brook just above Byers’
store. There for six years he dwelt alone. The reason why Bell removed
so far, six miles from his nearest neighbour, is evident. His new farm
was off of the DesBarres grant, and he was thus freed from the burden of
paying rent. He opened a road from Waugh’s to his new home. Traces of it
may still be seen as it joins the old Truro road near the top of the
Willow Church Hill. His sons—Irvine, William, Gavin, James and
Robert—all settled in the district known as West New Annan.
In 1822, James McGeorge, Wm. Scott, Thomas Swan and Mr. Byers, all from
the same district in Scotland, and James Munroe, took up farms adjacent
to Bell’s. The history of New Annan is most interesting and only lack of
time and space have prevented the writer from including it in this
present work, and forced him to make his remarks on it so brief.
Earltown has not been included within the scope of this small history,
but a few notes taken from the “History of Pictou County”, concerning
its early settlement may not be out of place.
“It was first surveyed in 1817, by Alexander Miller, who gave it its
name, in compliment to the Earl of Dalhousie, then Governor of the
Province The first settlers were Donald McIntosh and Angus Sutherland,
who took up their residence in the unbroken forests in the year 1813.
The next to join them was Alexander McKay (tailor). Others soon followed
alter, among; whom mav be mentioned George Ross, Robert Murray, John
Sutherland (father of Rev. Alex. Sutherland) who afterwards removed to
Roger’s Hill, Paul McDonald John McKay, Peter Murray, John McKay
(miller, father of Rev. Neil McKay) William Murray (father of Rev. Wm.
and Robert Murray), R. Murray (tailor), William McKay, etc.”
Nearly all these settlers came from Sutherlandshire, chiefly from the
Parishes of Rogart, Lairg and Clyne.
“There were families from Inverness, two or three from Ross and three or
four from Caithness. All the original settlers spoke the Gaelic
“Like all who take up their abode in the woods, the first settlers had
many difficulties to encounter. They were for years without a grist
mill. During that time, they got their grain ground partly by hand mill
and partly at a grist mill at the West Branch, River John. As there were
no roads to the West Branch, and they had no horses, they were compelled
to carry their grain on their hacks to and from the mill over a rough
track. John McKay, known as the miller, put up the first grist mill, at
a fall fifty feet high, resembling the Falls of Boyers in Scotland. The
mill-stones that were used in it were taken from the West Branch, a
distance of fourteen miles, on a dray hauled by thirty-six sturdy
Highlanders. McKay, we may here observe, was proverbial for his kindness
to the new settlers, and his hospitality was shared bv many a stranger.”
Waugh and Bell were soon followed to the New World by many of their
Dumfries countrymen, who came out in 1809-20 and the subsequent years.
It is probable that the Currie family of Annandale was the first to
follow Bell, William Currie, the second son, being out as early as 1809.
Shortly after his arrival he married the widow of Alex. Waugh. They
continued to live on the old farm at Murdock’s where, in addition to
farming, they kept an inn. One of the first meetings of the Presbytery
was at their home. After the various ministers and elders had assembled,
Mrs. Currie to her great consternation discovered that there was no tea
in the house. Tea, in those days, was used only on special occasions,
and none was for sale or to be had nearer than Pictou. Old Jimmie
Johnson, who was then a young man, saved the situation for the dismayed
housewife. lie started in the afternoon and, walking along the shore, f
reached Pictou, and, purchasing the tea, returned in time for it to be
served for the morning meal. William Currie died in 1869, aged
eighty-four. His wife died four years previous, aged ninety-five. He had
one son, Alexander, whose son, William, though of good Covenanter stock,
became an Espiscopal minister.
The fourth brother, Gavin, did not come out to this country for some
years after William. It was probably in the early “twenties” that he
settled at Tatamagouche. Previous to his leaving Scotland, he had served
as a mate on a vessel sailing out of Liverpool. When he was coming out
as a passenger, the ship encountered heavy storms off the coast of
Newfoundland. It being the captain’s maiden voyage across the Atlantic,
he was greatly perplexed and asked Currie, who had made several voyages
to America and was familiar with the navigation in this part of the
Atlantic, to take charge of the ship. This he did and brought her safely
into port at Pictou. All the passengers, were deeply grateful to him for
his timely assistance. As they were leaving the ship, two ladies who had
been passengers were discussing the perils of the past voyage, and one
made the remark that she never hoped to go through such an experience
again, to which the other replied, “I wouldn’t mind, provided Gavin was
on board.” Currie at first settled at Balfron where the mills were
afterwards built. Here he erected his first house, part of which still
exists but as the waggon shed of Wm. McKay. Subsequently he bought and
moved down to what is now the McCullough farm. He died in 1869 at the
age of sixty-nine. His wife, Hannah Wilson, died in 1902, at the
advanced age of ninety-two. She lived the last years of her life with
her son James, who passed away a few years ago. Their other children
were Mrs. .James Campbell, Mrs. John Douglas, Airs. James Waugh, John
and Thomas of the village.
The stay of the eldest son, James, was brief. He was a gardener, and was
absent for a number of years in the United States. Two of his sons still
survive him in the old land.
The third brother was John, who came out about the same time as Gavin,
if anything a little earlier. He had received a good education in the
old land and at once took up his profession of teaching. He lived first
on the farm now owned by his son, Wellwood. There, on that picturesque
spot where the tall trees bend over the winding river, he built his
first log cabin which remained until recent years. Afterwards, in order
to be nearer the scene of his labour, he moved down to where Abe Currie
now lives. It is indeed difficult to over estimate the value of this man
to the community. There were at that time, including the whole
countryside, probably from two to three hundred people. The education of
the young was sadly neglected. John Currie filled the ever increasing
need. Year after year, in his little log schoolhouse, near McCully’s
Hill, he laboured on. Sternly, yet kindly, he led the young and rising
generation along “the flowery path of knowledge.’’ The troubles of a
school teacher even today are many. What must they have been in those
days before the blessed era of free schools? John Currie surmounted
every difficulty, and successfully developed in a growing community the
intellectual side of life. His influence was not confined to the
schoolroom; working zealously for the welfare of the community, he was
ever a patriotic citizen. In the church too, he took an active and
leading part, being for many years an elder and the clerk of the
Session. He died in 1869 at the age of seventy-three. “No man liveth to
himself,” so says Scripture. John Currie, in his life and service,
highly exemplified this simple truth. How many men and women through him
were saved from illiteracy and spared the humiliation of confessing
before the world that they could neither read nor write!
His son Wellwood still resides on the old farm and is now one of the
patriarchs of Waugh’s River. Another son was John Currie, Professor of
Hebrew at the Presbyterian College at Halifax. John Currie had also two
other sons, Murray, and Tom, who lived where his (Tom’s) son, Abram now
We have already noticed that James Currie was absent from home many
years. When he did return, he found that his parents had given him up
for dead, and that a brother born since his departure now bore his name.
Thus it came to pass that there were two James Curries of the same
family. James, the younger, was the last of the Currie family to come to
America. He died at the early age of thirty.
In the Currie family there were also three daughters: Henrietta (Mrs.
Wellwood Waugh), Margaret (Mrs. Samuel Waugh), and Mary (Mrs. John
In June, 1816, came William Cole, who was a native of Poole, England.
Like many other of the young men of that day he had been pressed into
service and for some years had served on board a man-of-war. Having lost
the sight of an eye by being struck by a knotted rope, he received his
discharge and came to Nova Scotia. He at first worked for MacNab at
Malagash, but in a year or so settled on the farm now owned by Thomas
Roberts. Cole was known throughout the whole countryside as the owner of
a cow which on one occasion gave birth to six calves. These he had
stuffed and travelled through the country, exhibiting them. On his
return he found that his farm had been occupied by others, and he then
obtained a lease of the Blockhouse property. He had three sons. William,
Absalom, and James, and several daughters, one of whom, Mrs. Isaac
Matatall is still alive at the advanced age of ninety-four. Though an
invalid for many years, her faculties are wonderfully preserved and it
was from her that the writer obtained the above information. She also
relates that, when difficulties arose over the Blockhouse lease, first
her father and after his death, her mother, journeyed to Halifax to
interview Augustus DesBarres, who had succeeded to his father’s estate.
In the year following his arrival, Cole was joined by a number of
families from Argyle, Yarmouth County, who took up farms along the
fertile slope at the head of the bay. These families were all of
Royalist stock, and had come from Rhode Island to Nova Scotia at the
close of the Revolution. Jacob Spinney settled on the farm now owned by'
the grandson, James Spinney; and Joseph, his brother, on the one next
below Joseph Roberts. Jacob had a family of three sons: Morris, who
lived on the old place; Aaron, who moved away to the States; and James;
and five daughters.
Joseph had two sons: Joseph, who arrived in the village, where he died
in the winter of 1912, and Stillman, who settled on his father’s place;
and four daughters, one of whom, Joan, is still living in Pugwash.
Daniel Goodwin settled on what is now the farm of David Roberts. He had
Henry Roberts settled on part of the same farm. He had several children:
William, Eunice, Samuel (who was killed in California), Lizzie (Mrs.
David Langille), Deborah (Mrs. Holmes), Jane (Mrs. Kennedy), Patience
(Mrs. Wm. Matatall), Capt. Jacob, and Thomas.
One of the Spinney brothers was the first to visit Tatamagouche and he
returned to tell the others of a place so peculiarly suited for fishing
and shipbuilding. Roberts and his sons, in the subsequent years, built a
few vessels along the beach below their farm. One of them, the
“Elizabeth”, was burned on the stocks the day before she was to be
launched. The loss, representing as it did the savings of years, was a
disastrous one to the owners.
Before the arrivals of these families, there were four other settlers in
this district: Richards, Johnson, and Cole, whom we have already noted,
and John(?) Henderson, who settled on the Upham farm. He met his death
by being drowned in the creek which ran through his farm. He had one
son, John, who continued to live upon his father’s farm. A daughter was
the wife of John Richards. John Henderson, Jr., was married to Johnson
of River Philip, and had four sons: Thomas, Matthew, George, and
In 1820, William Dumphy settled on the farm now owned by his grandson
Harvey. He was a native of Clearkenny County, Ireland. He was married to
another daughter of John Richards. Among his children are William, Mrs.J
Wm. Hall, Mrs. James Patriquin, all of the village.
It was in or about the year 1817, that Francis Wilson came from Halifax
and settled on what is now the David Hayman farm. He was a native of
Scotland, being born in or near Edinburgh. While at Halifax he ran a
small inn and when he left for Tatamagouche was said to have had
“barrels of money”. This was literally true for, having sold all his
earthly possessions, he had the proceeds changed into large copper coins
which filled a barrel or more. After coming to Tatamagouche he conducted
a small school. At one end of his school room was a large open fire
place before which, in later years, he often fell fast asleep. On one
occasion, while thus asleep, one of his shoes fell from his foot, but
not unnoticed by a youthful pupil, who at once seized the opportunity
and quietly stealing to the Hearth, took a live coal from the embers and
put it in the heel of the shoe. A moment later a premeditated
disturbance awoke the master, who immediately slipped his foot into the
shoe, with a result which is most easily imagined. In his later years he
moved down and ran a small shop, a little this side of George Waugh’s.
In his family were Hannah (Mrs. Gavin Currie), James, who removed to
Pugwash; John and William, who settled on "Waugh’s River, and Alexander.
It was sometime about the close of this period that a number of families
settled on Sand Point. John and James Hingley came from Salmon River,
Colchester County. They settled on the farm now owned by John T.
Matatall. James Hingley was an elder in the Tatamagouche Presbyterian
congregation In his family were six sons: Hugh, Neil, Alex., John,
Robert, and Samuel. There also were two daughters. All are now dead save
the last, and one sister who lives in the States. John Hingley had only
one son, who removed to the States.
Samuel Weatherbie was another pioneer settler of this district. He
settled on that point of land which is now known by his name. The
Weatherbies were of Royalist stock, and came from the States to Truro or
somewhere in that vicinity. Samuel Weatherbie had six sons: David,
William, Duncan, Nathan, James, who remained on his father’s farm, and
Peter, who took up a lot near the Block house.
Robert McBurnie was another Scotch settler of this period. He took up
the farm now occupied by Robert Bell at Waldegrave. On coming to this
country, he at first settled at Truro, but, having had his property
destroyed by a flood, he came to Tatamagouche. In the old land he had
received a good education and for a number of years after settling here
he conducted a small school at what is now known as Waidegrave. Robert
and Daniel McBurnie of the village are grandsons.
About 1820, William Buckler settled near what is now the farm of Robert
Bell at Waidegrave. He was the son of a boot manufacturer in Devonshire,
but at an early age went to sea. He came to Tatamagouche in an English
vessel and here forsook the sea for the land. Two of his sons, Samuel
and William, settled on their father’s farm. Subsequently, William came
to the village to live.
At this time, or perhaps a little later, all the lots along the east
side of the river from Lockerbie’s to Wetherbie’s were taken up. David
Hayman, the son of old William Hayman, was on lot 61, the Lockerbie
farm; lot 62 was vacant; lot 63, across from Campbell’s Point was
settled by George Millard; the one next below, 64, by Simon Matatall. On
65 was John Steele, who came here from Green Hill. He had three sons:
Frank, Alexander, and James. The first lived on the old place, where he
died a few years ago, the other two moved away. On the lot next below
Steele was Mark Matatall.
The year 1815 was a hard one for the people of Tatamagouche, for it was
in that year that this community, in company with the other rural
districts of Pictou, Colchester and Antigonish, was overrun by hoards of
field mice. We take the following description of this interesting but
unwelcome visitation from the “History of Pictou County” by Dr.
“This was a most destructive visitation, from which this portion of the
country suffered from these seemingly insignificant animals. During the
previous season they did not appear in any unusual numbers. But at the
end of-Winter, they were so numerous as to trouble the sugar makers by
fouling their troughs for gathering sap, and before planting was over,
the woods and fields alike swarmed with them. They were of the large
species of field mouse, still sometimes seen in the country, but which
has never since been very numerous.
“They were very destructive and actually fierce. If pursued, when hard
pressed, they would stand at bay, rising upon their hind legs, setting
their teeth and squealing fiercely. A farmer on whom I could rely told
me, that having, after planting, spread out some barley to dry in the
sun before the door, in a little while he saw it covered with them. He
let the cat out among them, but they actually turned upon her and fought
The late sown grain and the seed potatoes suffered from them; but it was
when the grain began to ripen, that their destructiveness became
especially manifest. They then attacked it in such numbers, that all
means were unavailing to arrest their acres. They have been known to cut
down an acre in three days, so that whole fields were destroyed in a
short tine. One would nip a stalk off a little above the ground and,
instead of falling over, the end sank to the ground, leaving it still
upright, he would bite it off farther up until it either fell, or the
ear came within his reach, when he would devour all the grain. Over
acres and acres, they left not a stalk standing, nor a grain of wheat,
to reward the labours of the farmer. They burrowed in the ground and
consumed the potatoes. Cats, dogs, and martens gorged themselves to
repletion upon them, but with little seeming diminution of their
numbers. Trenches were dug and filled with water, but they formed but a
slight barrier to their progress.
“They passed away as rapidly as they came. In the Autumn, as the weather
became colder, they became languid, scarcely able to crawl. One could
trample them under his feet and finally they died in hundreds, so that
they could be gathered in heaps, and their putrefying carcasses might be
found in some places in such numbers as to taint the air. At Cape George
they went to the water, and there died, forming a ridge like seaweed
along the edge of the sea, and codfish were caught off the coast with
carcasses in their maws.”
The conditions as stated in the above quotation were doubtless identical
with conditions as existing during that year at Tatamagouche. Though
“the year of the mice” is now beyond living memory, it still lives in
tradition and frequently we hear some of the people tell of incidents
that they have heard their parents relate. It is said that in this
community it was the potato crop in particular which suffered. The
farmers on the intervales found an effective method to exterminate the
mice. They would drive them along the furrows till they came to the edge
of the river and then with sticks drive them into the water.
Severe and disastrous as were the results of the “year of the mice”, the
next year was to prove equally as discouraging. It was what is still
known as the “year of the frost”.
“The year 1816 was known throughout the northern parts of this
Continent, and also in Europe, as “the year without a Summer". In the
northern States, frost, ice, and snow were commen in June. Snow fell to
the depth of ten inches in Vermont, seven in Maine, and three in Central
New York. On the 5th July, ice was formed of the thickness of common
window glass throughout New England, New York and some parts of
Pennsylvania. In August ice was formed half an inch thick. Indian Corn
was so frozen that the greater part was cut down for fodder. Indeed,
almost every green thing was destroyed. A similar state of things ousted
in England. During the whole season the sun's rays seemed to be
destitute of heat. All nature seemed to be clad in sable hue. The
average wholesale price of flour during that year in Philadelphia, was
$13 per barrel. The average price of wheat in England was 97s. per
“Here the frost was hard in the woods in the month of June, provisions
were high and from the destruction of crops the previous year by mice,
many were suffering and nearly all the farmers were put to some
inconvenience for want of food of their families.”
No history of these years is complete without some reference to the old
Nova Scotia Militia to which every Nova Scotian of military age by law
belonged. From almost the beginning of British rule in Nova Scotia,
military drill was compulsory, and we have no doubt but that the young
men of Tatamagouche from the earliest years were thus obliged to perform
what they considered an onerous duty. In addition to drill as a further
measure of protection, army muskets were distributed among the settlers
who would thus become acquainted with their use. In return a bond was
given, guaranteeing their safe return to the crown. The settlers at
Tatamagouche appeared to avail themselves of the opportunity of thus
obtaining a free use of the King's muskets and we have no doubt but that
the woods frequently rang with the echo of these old flint-locks. We
produce here a copy of one of the bonds, which is of local interest.
“Know a men by these present that we Samuel McBurnie and Jas. Chambers
are held and firmly bound to our Sovereign Lord, the King, in the penal
sum of five pounds to be paid to our Sovereign Lord, the King, his
Heirs, or successors, for which payment well and truly to be made we
bind ourselves and either of us for himself or each of our heirs,
executors and administrators, firmly with these presents.
“Sealed with our seals and dated at Tatamagouche this 11th day of July,
in the year of our Lord, One thousand eight hundred and nine.
“The condition of the above obligation is that the said Samuel McBurnie
shall at all times hereafter safely keep in good and serviceable order
and have ready to return when called for one King’s musket, bayonet,
scabbard and belt, one pouch and belt, and one gun sling which have been
issued to him under an act entitled, ‘An act to provide for the better
security of this province by a better regulation of the militia and to
repeal the militia law now in force’ and shall in ail things well and
truly perform the provisions of the said act touching the same; then
this obligation to be void, otherwise to be in and remain in full force
(Sgnd) SAMUEL McBURNIE,JAMES CHAMBERS.
Signed, sealed and delivered in the presence of
In this year, 1809, there were given a number of other bonds of a
similar nature. On these we have noticed the following names: George
Jollimore Sr., Geo. Jollimore, Wm. Currie, George Malliard, David
Matatall, Samuel Chambers, John Peter Matatall. John Pierce, James
Chambers, Michael Otis (or Oares) and John Dunn.
Some time about 1808 there was formed throughout what is now Colchester
County, the 7th Battalion Nova Scotia Militia. The only officer from the
northern part of the County was William Waugh, (son of old Wellwood
Waugh,) who, in September of that year, was granted a Commission as
Captain. In 1817, Wm. Waugh was made first Lieutenant and E. Matatall
At the time of the war of 1812-14, a number of the young men of
Tatamagouche walked to Halifax, where they drilled for some time. Among
those who went was the late Samuel Waugh, Esq., who was then a young man
of eighteen or nineteen. During the “seventies”, the government granted
a bounty to all those who had offered their services.
Before concluding this chapter we may add a few remarks upon the general
customs, habits and mode of living of the settlers of these early days.
The hardships that they suffered and the privations that were endured,
were the same as those suffered and endured in the settlement of
practically every community of Nova Scotia. To understand the conditions
as they existed in Tatamagouche a century ago, it is only necessary to
read the “History of Pictou County,” or any of the County Histories of
The habitation was of course the log cabin. Up until this date (1825) it
is most improbable that there was a single frame house in the community.
Certainly there were not more than three or four. The log cabin was not,
however, so despised a home as we in these days may imagine. It was
small, of one story with an attic above and in some cases a “dug out”
resembling a cellar beneath. The ceiling was low and as a rule the
windows were small and placed almost as high as the eaves. The beds or
bunks were generally placed in the corners in tiers of three or four.
The first cabins as a rule consisted of one room only, but later on some
had two or three rooms with attics and a “lean to”. But they were warm.
The spaces between the logs were carefully packed with moss which was
obtained from the swamps and woods. The open fire place was in itself a
splendid system of ventilation In some respects the log cabins might be
said to be superior to the first frame houses which succeeded them.
The open fire place with all its inconveniences was the great charm of
every log cabin and the first frame houses. The bottom of the fire place
was built of large flat stones and the sides of boulders and field
stones and in later years of bricks. The chimney was large and square.
Swinging from the sides were the iron cranes from which hung tea kettle,
porridge and other pots. The bake kettle was a round and shallow dish
about six inches in depth and had a close fitting cover. When baking,
the kettle was placed in the fire place and covered over with coals and
ashes. Before these fires from night to night the people of the home
would meet and converse with their neighbors. Few and simple were the
joys that they experienced, but together before the blazing hearth to
hear tales of the forest and stream, of the Indians, and especially, the
tales of the Old Country and of cities and towns, which were yet to be
disclosed to the growing youth —this was the greatest joy of all.
The people of those days made all their own clothes. Even as late as
fifty years ago large quantities of flax were grown from which they made
their linen. Every housewife could spin and card—arts soon to be
forgotten. The majority of men never wore clothes except those which
were made for them by the women of the family. Sheep’s wool was deftly
turned into the homespun clothes. These, if they were lacking in style,
were nevertheless most durable. Many a man, after a good, long married
life, has been buried in the same suit which he wore on his wedding day.
During the summer months, all went bare foot and children as old as
eight years never had a pair of boots on their feet. Through the cold
days of winter they remained indoors. The first foot gear was, in all
probability, the rough cow or moose hide, but as small tanneries were
built over the country, local shoemakers made their debut. Boots and
shoes were made entirely by order. It was a great event when the
shoemaker visited the house to take measurements and to fit members of
the family with boots.
Their farm implements were of the simplest kind. A triangular wooden
harrow with wooden spikes was the first form of a harrow. Later on, with
the coming of the ship blacksmiths, iron harrows were introduced. The
plows were wooden with a steel coulter and shear. The hay was all cut by
scythes and racked by hand. The first mowing machines did not make their
appearance till some twenty-five years later. The grain was threshed on
the barn floor by the old fashioned flail which has not yet entirely
disappeared. The grain was cleaned and separated in a rather novel
method. The farmers waited till there was a moderate but steady breeze.
The grain and chaff were allowed to fall to the ground from a shovel
held to the height of a man’s shoulder. The wind would carry away all
the chaff, small seeds and dirt, leaving the grain to be caught on a
quilt or sail spread on the ground.
The first settlers ground their grain by hand mills but Wellwood Waugh,
who seems to have been the leader of the community in the ways of the
progress, built about or before 1790 a little grist mill. The water
power he obtained by damming a small brook which ran back of the Willow
Church and turning the course of the water across the road he had
another dam and the mill in what is now the orchard of Fleming Waugh.
Even today the course of the mill race can be distinctly seen.
The settlers depended for physical subsistence upon many sources.
Venison of the forest and farm was the main item. The newly cleared
farms yielded, for the first few years in particular before the
fertility of the decayed vegetation was exhausted, excellent returns.
Potatoes and all other vegetables were raised in abundance. Later on oat
meal became the one great article of food. Many of the settlers being of
Scotch descent took naturally to it. It was easily raised and prepared
and was both substantial. and cheap. Many a pioneer with a hundred
weight of oat meal has confidently faced the future. Fish, too, in those
days, were caught in greater numbers than today. The late Samuel Waugh,
Esq., who was a young man about this time used to relate that salmon
were so plentiful that they at times, almost covered the bottom of the
larger holes in the rivers. Wildfowl, too, were not only more numerous,
but more easily taken. Mr. Waugh had another story. One day in the
spring, after the geese had arrived, the country was visited by an
exceptionally heavy rain and sleet storm. Turning colder, the sleet
stuck to the wings of the geese which then became unable to fly and
large numbers, thus rendered helpless, the men killed with sticks and
Of social life, the community had but little. The “barn raising” and
other similar frolics were about the only social events which broke the
monotony of their simple life. All were proverbial tor their hospitality
nor was this hospitality without its reward. In those days of few
newspapers and of little intercourse with the outside world we can well
understand what it meant for a family to have as a guest some traveller
from other places or an old friend of former days.
The Scotch settlers brought with them the inseparable friends of the
Scot—the bagpipes and the violin. The Swiss portion of the population
seems to have had a particular adaptability for music so that wherever
there was a gathering, there was music also. Later on, music teachers
came to the community and singing schools flourished. But the majority
of the musicians of that day played entirely “by ear”. Every frolic
invariably ended with a dance, when to the tune of “Lord McDonald” and
“Soldier’s Joy” and others, the gay and flourishing youth sought “by
holding out to tire each other down.”
In those early days, many misfortunes were attributed to the power of
witches, indeed any evil occurrence which was beyond human explanation
was “allowed” to be the act of some such mysterious personages. In the
community from time to time there have been various old women who have
been accused of possessing and exercising the powers of witchcraft.
Though belief in witches has long since passed from our midst, there
still remain many amusing witch stories. It may be of interest to repeat
Once there lived only a few miles from the present village of
Tatamagouche, an old lady, Mrs. Mac., who was commonly believed to be a
witch. One day in spring she visited her neighbor Mrs. M. for the
purpose of purchasing two spring pigs, but as they had all been sold,
Mrs. M. was unable to promise her any. This highly displeased Mrs. Mac.
and was also a source of worry to Mrs. M. lest she would be the victim
of Mrs. Mac's witchcraft. That night, when Mrs. M. went to milk her cow,
she found that the creature had suddenly fallen away in its milk and
though several times during the next few days she endeavored to milk the
cow she did not succeed in obtaining more than half a cupful. Mrs. M. at
once knew that this was the result of Mrs. Mac’s witchcraft, who, to
show her displeasure, had wished this spell upon the cow. But,
fortunately, a spell which can be wished can also be broken. For, just
as nature itself produces remedies for the diseases which flourish in
its midst, so too does every community produce remedies to combat the
evil desires of all witches who live within its confines. Thus it is
that no community is ever left powerless in the grasp of an evil. Mrs.
M. was equal to the occasion. Next morning early she turned her cow out
and watching where the animal took the first bite of grass, she removed
the sod, took it into the house and boiled it in a pot with the little
milk which the cow had given on the previous day. While it was boiling
she continued to stir it with pins, several of which she stuck in the
sod. This proved an effective remedy and that evening the cow gave her
accustomed flow of milk. Mrs. M. saved the pins and for a time she kept
several in the cuff of her sleeve. With them about her person she felt
no fear and her one desire was to meet the witch face to face, but this
wish was not gratified. Several days afterwards other neighbors visited
Mrs. Mac. She stated that she had accidentally burned her feet, which
were all blistered. But such an improbable story found little credence
in the doubting minds of the honest neighbors. They had heard not only
of her spell on the cow, but as well of the triumph of Mrs. M., which
has been told and retold in every home in the community. They “allowed”
that her story of having burned her feet was a mere fabrication, and
that the blisters were caused by the evil wish which, when forced to
leave the cow and find another resting place, finally settled in the
feet of the witch herself. After this, Mrs. Mac’s reputation as a witch
suffered a great loss of prestige and soon the “wicked ceased from
troubling” to pass the last of her days in peace with all her neighbors.
Here is another story. About the same time there lived at Tatamagouche
an old sea captain who sailed his little shallop between here and “the
Island”. One day he was sailing there under a steady and favorable
breeze when suddenly in the Strait, far from land and in deep water, his
vessel, without any reason whatever suddenly stopped. An ordinary
mariner would have been at a loss to understand so strange a phenomenon
but this old salt was not only a master of the waters of Harbour and
Gulf, he was a master of witchcraft as well. He knew that this plight
had been wished upon him by his enemy, the witch. His fingers ran
through his long, white, grizzly beard, and across his weather beaten
features came a cunning, confident smile. He lashed the wheel and then
disappeared in the cabin. In a moment he re-appeared, carrying in one
hand an old musket which many times had broken the quietness of Gouzar
and brought death to the wildfowl that ever frequent there; in the other
a rough slab on which he sketched the likeness of his enemy the witch.
Placing the slab by the mast he shot at it “five fingers” out of his old
“muzzle-loader”. Scarcely had the report died away when the vessel began
to move and soon the spray was flying from beneath her clumsy bow and at
the stern a happy sea captain wore upon his face a smile that would not
wear off. That night the little shallop with its cargo of lumber lay at
the wharf at Charlottetown, and in the impregnable fortress of his
little cabin, the captain, safe from all witchery, slept and snored.
Morally and intellectually we believe that the settlers of Tatamagouche
compare favourably to the settlers of the various other communities of
Nova Scotia. We would not endeavour to canonize them. They had their
faults and in all probability even more than has the present generation.
Unity did not always rest in their midst and often might rather than
right ruled among them. Apart from the use of liquor, they could not be
said to be the subject of any vice. We should, however, remember that
then the sale of liquor was legitimate and its use, unless to excess,
was not disapproved of by the Church. Taking them all in all, they were
first class settlers. The great majority were farmers or artisans before
coming to this country. Although farming in the well cultivated field of
Scotland was a very different matter compared with the farming in the
New World and although many costly and amusing mistakes were made, still
a farmer’s a farmer where ever he is and those who followed agriculture
previous to coming to America were bound to make the best settlers. The
poorest class of the settlers who came to Nova Scotia were the old
soldiers. After years of wandering over the face of the earth they
naturally were loath to settle in a fixed abode. They were given free
grants of land and many came to Nova Scotia in order to hold the land
rather than for any desire either to make farmers of themselves or to
secure a home of their own. But the old soldiers who settled at
Tatamagouche were men who came here, not because of any free grant of
land, for here they either had to purchase or rent the land from Colonel
DesBarres, but, who came rather because of the desire to obtain in the
New World a home which they could really call their own. They bought
their lots and with inexpressible difficulties conquered the wilderness.
By the side of the lonely harbour and river, far from the rattle of
musketry and the blare of trumpets, they fought again another battle—a
battle not against the armed forces of the enemy, but rather against the
awful power of Nature which has always opposed with a silent but almost
irresistible effort every endeavour to claim new land to cultivation.
Who with truth can say that their contest in the wilderness on the New
World was one iota less heroic than their struggles in the battle fields
of the older Continent?