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The Stories of the Counties of Ontario

Kingston from the Citadel

“We piled with care out nightly stack
Of wood against the chimney-back—
Heard the sharp crackle, caught the gleam
On whitewashed wall and sagging beam.
Until the old, rude-furnished room
Burst flower-like, into rosy bloom.”


THE names of the twin counties and their townships, with one or two exceptions, are memorials of English princes and noblemen who flourished—to use the quaint old phrase—a little over a century ago. The townships of Ernestown, Fredericksburg and Adolphustown were named after three of the many sons of George III. The counties themselves were called, respectively, after Charles Lennox, Duke of Richmond, and Henry Addington, Viscount Sidmouth. Many of these men were great in nothing bat rank and fortune, and their mode of life was singularly unlike that of the sturdy pioneers and industrious farmers who were to hew their farms from the green woods. Even to-day there are no large towns and very few villages within r'ie bounds of Lennox and Addington. Napanee, the county town, though a busy little place, with its flour mills, foundries, factories and elevator, has a population scarcely reaching three thousand souls.

The special interest of the story of these counties lies perhaps in what we can glean concerning the everyday life of the pioneers. Happily some records by their own hands remain to us. Such a typical story is that of Hon. Henry Ruttan, published by the United Empire Loyalists’ Association of Ontario. Mr. Ruttan, who lived to be Speaker of the Assembly, colonel of militia, and sheriff (for thirty years) of the Newcastle district, began life as the child of a Loyalist family in Adolphustown.

The Ruttans were descended from a Huguenot, who settled in America about 1734. When the Revolutionary War broke out, Henry's father and his “Uncle Peter” took up arms for the King, and became, the one, a lieutenant, the other, a captain in the 3rd Battalion of the Jersey Volunteers. At the close of this struggle the brothers joined Major van Alstine's party of Loyalists, and each obtained a grant of twelve hundred acres in Adolphustown. Some four years later the lieutenant married Margaret Steele, an Irish girl, who had come to Canada with her parents. She became the mother of seven children, some of whom had also large families.

The clearing of the forest for the first crops involved long and heavy labour, but when “industry was the order of the day" the newcomers slept so soundly through the nights that wolves prowling about their little cabins rarely disturbed them. They kept the savage brutes at bay, however, by building fires, and in summer-time the same means were used to gain some rest from the tormenting clouds of mosquitoes.

Peter Ruttan had two sturdy, hard-working black slaves, a man and a woman; they did good service in the early days. The Loyalists, for the most part, brought into the country little but a few clothes, and had to depend on their own ingenuity and diligence for everything they needed, except that the Government supplied them with some tools and with rations for a few years. The Ruttans, better off than many of their neighbours, had brought a cow, which, in the terrible time long known as “the Hungry Year,” saved their lives.

Very soon after the Government rations were stopped, the crops failed, and in the following year, 1783, the settlers, for months at a time, had to look starvation in the face. During the winter the snow was so deep that the deer fell an easy prey to the wolves; they grew fat, but the human beings were all wasted by want. Nothing was to be had in the woods, and at least five of the settlers were found dead, one being a woman, on whose breast lay a living baby, which was saved and cared for.

At the best of times, it was hard to get provisions in any little hamlet where they fell short, for then: were no roads save the rude cuttings through the bush made by the settlers themselves. For instance, if the people at Adolphustowri needed to get a barrel of pork or to have a sack of grain ground, they had to go all the way to Kingston. But in "the Hungry Year” the soldiers in the garrison were put on an allowance of a biscuit a day, so it was vain to look for help in that quarter. At last, in desperation, Peter Ruttan, who had saved some money from the sale of his captain's commission, sent two men all the way to Albany, in New York State, for four bushels of Indian corn. It was a perilous journey through the trackless woods deep in snow; but they returned in safety with the precious grain, and upon this, the milk of their cow, and the roots and berries they could gather in the woods, the family of eight persons lived till harvest. Before the corn could be made into cakes or bread, it had to be pounded in the hollowed-out stump of a tree. By the time Governor Simcoe arrived the forms of the earlier settlers were greatly improved, and additional settlers coming in made life altogether more cheerful.

The young folk were packed off early to bed in the little dimly-lighted log cabins; but the boy who wrote the story of those days remembered how, when awakened by a sudden clap of thunder or storm of wind, his busy mother was still sitting, far into the night, at her spinning-wheel or loom; and when the cloth was woven it was she who fashioned it into garments for all the family. Another scene used also to come bark to him. That same hard-worked mother gave him his first lessons, and told the children all the strange, exciting stories of the war, which were their tales of adventure.

Books were scarce in the settlements and so were teachers. Indeed, it was often those having some infirmity, which rendered manual labour impossible, who gave their time to teaching, and young Henry Ruttan went from school to school, finding in each Dilworth’s Spelling-book and the New Testament as the only textbooks. One teacher, who worked hard during the day, kept a night-school five miles away; and to this Henry’s brothers went on snowshoes, thinking it an enjoyable excursion on moonlight nights, especially when some girls were of the party.

The young people, as a rule, grew up strong and healthy; and, though life in the woods was somewhat monotonous, it had its own pleasures.

Adolphustown village was for years a rival to Kingston, and was “always the centre of Upper Canada.” At one early general election four of the representatives of the people were Adolphustown men. Courts were held in the village twice a year, alternately with Kingston. As it was summer-time, the first court was held in a barn, the next (in winter) was held in the Methodist Church, though some of the brethren made quaint objection to turning it into “a den of thieves.”

In the different townships life ran on in much the same groove, yet cach has its special claim to distinction. In Fredericksburg, for instance, in 1786, was opened the first common school in the Province. At Ernestown (now Bath) there lived at the close of the eighteenth century Rev. John Langhorn, an eccentric Welsh bachelor and clergyman of the Church of England, who was the first man authorised to celebrate marriages west of Kingston. He divided Lennox County into parishes and erected log churches at Ernestown and Fredericksburg, the former of which was in use at least as late as 1899. About a mile west of Ernestown, there was built in 1815 the first steamer that was ever launched on the waters of Upper Canada. She was named the Frontenac. Three years later the Charlotte steamboat was built in the same place, and at her launching hundreds of people gathered from all the country round, many coming long distances on foot to see the spectacle.

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