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The Stories of the Counties of Ontario

“Fiercely the Iroquois had sworn to sweep, like grains of sand,
The Sons of France from off the face of their adopted land,
When, like the steel that oft disarm! the lightning of its power,
A fearless few their country saved in danger’s darkest hour.”

George Murray.

PRESCOTT County, set apart in 1798 and named after the Governor of Canada, who succeeded Lord Dorchester, has special links with the French regime. There is a tradition that the rude little fort at the foot of the Long Sault Rapids on the Ottawa, where Daulac —or Dollard—des Ormeaux, with his sixteen heroic Frenchmen, made his stand against the Iroquois, was at Greece's Point in Hawkesbury Township. It is not wonderful, however, that the details of the story are involved in obscurity, for not one of the Frenchmen lived to tell the tale which, carried to Montreal by three Indians, reads like one of Macaulay’s "Lays of Ancient Rome.” On first entering the stockade of tree trunks, the French were joined by a few Indians. These soon deserted to the enemy, yet for eight terrible days the little band of heroes fought off their assailants, to be overwhelmed at last by sheer force of numbers. But they did not die. in vain, for the Iroquois lost so many of their braves, that they did not venture that year to attack the French at Montreal, as had been expected.

The township of Longueuil represents one of the very few grants made during the French regime, on the feudal system, within the limits of what is now Ontario. On a map of 1828 it was marked as the Seigniory of Pomte a l’Original. It was owned by’ descendants of Charles Le Moyne, elder brother of the famous D'lberville, but in 1796 was sold to an American named Treadwell, who opened it to immigrants. Not being a Loyalist, he declined on the outbreak of the war of 1812 to take the oath of allegiance. Upon this his property wan confiscated, and when he would have returned to his native land, lie was held a prisoner at St. John’s in Quebec. Afterwards he settled near Plattsburgh, in New York State, and prospered until his mills were ruined by a great freshet in 1830. After that misfortune he returned to spend the last ten years of his life at L’Original, where his son Charles, having recovered the confiscated property, had already been living for seven years. In 1834, the younger Treadwell was appointed High Sheriff of Prescott and Russell Counties. Both father and son are depicted in Mr. Thomas’s History of Prescott County as men of fine character, and Charles Treadwell was a pioneer in religious reforms, improved methods in agriculture, and projects for railways. In fact, it is said that he was the first Canadian to advocate a Pacific railway.

At Treadwell, in North Plantagenet, lived Thomas Kairns, who had been a midshipman on Nelson’s Agamemnon, and had been present in 1814 at the capture of Washington. He gained the title of “Captain” from running the steamer Shannon on the Ottawa; but in 1853 was called home to serve throughout the Crimean War as senior purser, on Nelson’s old Victory, which lay all the time at Portsmouth. Returning to Canada, he died in Montreal.

To go back to earlier times—another American, Eden Johnson, settled in Hawkesbury Township, under circumstances suggestive of a romance, for on his first visit to Canada, as a member of Montgomery’s invading force, he had come with arms in his hands, but by some chance had been led captive by the charms of a British captain’s daughter, and though in the first instance, he persuaded her to go with him to New Hampshire, she (we may suppose) ultimately brought him back to the land of the old flag. His youngest son, also named Eden, received a grant of Government laud, on account of having been the first white child born in Hawkesbury, and one of Johnson’s grandsons was captain of the first steamboat plying on the Ottawa, between Bytown and Grenville. Johnson himself, while chasing a deer along the frozen river, fell into a hole in the ice and was drowned.

Both U. E. Loyalists and Americans who sympathised with the other side in the struggle with Britain were numerous among the Prescott pioneers; but in the new environment the old differences were forgotten. Moreover, settlers of French race, cultivating the low-lying lands, which did not attract the English, also helped to build up the county, and of late years the French element in the population has been increasing.

During the War of 1812 (at which period the county was grouped with its southern neighbour for Parliamentary representation) Prescott men of both races fought for England, and probably joined the famous Glengarry Light Infantry. It is on record that one young fellow of sixteen, Francois Laroque, joined a French Canadian company which, going by forced marches to Kingston, was sent to the Niagara frontier, in time to take part in the grim conflict in the dark at Lundy’s Lane. Laroque was wounded in his first battle, and afterwards settled in Hawkesbury.

Half a century after the war, the militiamen of Prescott were called out of the churches on a June Sunday to go to Ottawa, and thence to the town of Prescott (in Grenville County) to be ready to drive back the Fenians gathering on the opposite side of the St. Lawrence. The Hawkesbury company of militia was called out again in 1870, to report for duty at Cornwall, when the whole

Dominion was seething with excitement over the murder of Scott on the Red River; but the services of the Prescott men were not then required.

In connection with the beginnings of Hawkesbury, which was incorporated as a village in 1859 and as a town in 1896, there is a tragical story that seems almost like a modern version of the Book of Job. In 180S a mill was erected at Hawkesbury, which wras bought three years afterwards by three brothers named Hamilton, one of whom, George, was left in charge. All went well for some years, then, “in one fatal summer,” misfortune followed misfortune. The two absent brothers died, and George received an intimation that he must pay off the mortgage on the mill for which one of them had arranged. Next a flood carried away the dam at a time when the mill-pond was full of logs. A few nights later, Hamilton’s dwelling-house was burned to the ground, and nothing was saved nor insured. Last and worst of all, when the unfortunate man was taking his family down the river to Montreal, his canoe capsised in the rapids. The boatmen managed to cling to the upturned boat, but George Hamilton, though a swimmer, tried in vain to save his three children. He supposed his wife had shared the same fate, but, strange to say, when the canoe was righted, she was found beneath it quite unconscious, but clinging with a desperate grip to the thwarts. The story ends, however—still like that of Job—with renewed happiness and prosperity for the much - tried pair. Hamilton managed in some measure to retrieve his broken fortunes, and after the loss of the three elder children seven others were born, of whom one became a senator and another was in succession Bishop of Niagara and of Ottawa. By the way, the parish of Hawkesbury originally included the whole of Prescott County, but in 1869 the two parishes of Vankleek Hill and Plantagenet were set off from it.

Prescott is a well-watered county, but it long suffered from want of roads. Gourlay, in 1818, said that the district had had no communication with other parts of the province (except by water) till 1816, when some Scottish settlers of Glengarry had helped to open roads. Much of the landed property was held by merchants in Montreal, and the farmers of Hawkesbury Township were so kept at arm's length by untaxed lots that they could do little for the public good or their own relief.

L’Original (the French word for “moose”), though the county seat, is still only a village of twelve or thirteen hundred souls. Formerly most of its inhabitants were English, now there are as many French. It is a picturesque little place, especially from a distance, but its progress has been slow. At first the court sat in a school-house, and a private house, generally- the sheriff’s, was used for a jail. But about 1824 small county buildings were erected on land given for the purpose. The punishments dealt to offenders in pioneer days now seem very severe. In 1817 a man convicted of stealing a little flour received thirty-nine lashes, and in 1828 a person convicted of larceny was sentenced to ten days in jail and an hour in the pillory. Twice within the last thirty years L’Original has been the scene of executions, in both cases for peculiarly revolting murders.

Another village, in Caledonia Township, was once quite noted as a “spa,” or watering-place. In 1806 a white man, hunting beaver, came upon a spring, which the Indians regarded as medicinal. They had marked the trees about it with their strange hieroglyphics, perhaps to guide sufferers to its healing waters; but in later years an enterprising settler built a hut at Caledonia Springs and charged a small fee to visitors.

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