Pioneer Life in New Brunswick

by Mary (McBean) Colter in 1921
transcription by Dave Carney

After the Revolutionary War in 1776 a number of soldiers who had served seven years in the War were granted land in the wilderness of New Brunswick. On the Nashwaak River, the officers were given the land for seventeen miles up from the mouth of the river, and from that for seven more miles up, the land was granted to the 42nd Highlanders. One of the officers was a land surveyor and to him was entrusted the laying out of the Soldiers Lots. He saw, that although it was wilderness then, that there was a very beautiful spot at the mouth of the Tay River, so instead of taking his land farther down the river with the other officers, he surveyed and laid out for himself what is now nine farms there. This curtailed the soldier’s lots and made them very small. This officer’s property did not do him much good as he did not live long, and the property passed out of the hands of the second generation. Many of the soldiers sold their lots and went elsewhere. My paternal grandfather sold his land and bought the farm next below the 42nd block that is now occupied by his descendants of the fifth and sixth generation. There is a barn still in use that had been built in 1811.

My maternal grandfather, Peter MacLagan, lived on the upper end of the 42nd block, and in time bought out six of the soldiers. His descendants still hold it all. One from whom he bought was Lauchlin MacIntosh, his wife’s brother, who moved with his family to Ontario (then called Upper Canada) in 1806. At the time they took possession of the land there was only one house at Fredericton (then called St. Ann’s). The government gave them provisions for one year and, I think, a few implements. These brave men and women then went to work. They built log houses and barns and byres, as they called their cow houses, and cultivated the land as best they could with their few implements. They dug out saw pits to saw lumber and had hand mills to grind their grain. They dug out log canoes to travel on the river, as the roads were almost impassable. They made maple sugar and honey as they did not have any West India molasses, as they called it, until thirty years later. The land was fertile and produced plentifully, and they had plenty of meat and fish. The river was full of salmon and trout. I heard my father tell of one night that he and his father and a neighbour caught twenty-seven salmon. They lay on a big rock just below the Mouth of the Dunbar (Hanson’s Mill Stream) and watched their nets. There were plenty of moose and caribou and there were no restrictions on moose or salmon killing then.

My maternal grandfather had thirteen children who all married and had families and lived to a good old age. Both grandfather and grandmother died in their ninetieth year. None of their descendants have lived longer except Margaret Hovey who died in 1920 at the age of ninety-two. My mother was the sixth child and she has often told me of her early days. When she was thirteen years old she went to keep house and care for her old blind grandfather, Alex MacIntosh. He lived a mile from her home, or any other house. She stayed with him for two years and then grandfather brought him to his house and he died there. His descendants of the fifth and sixth generation still occupy the farm. There are two parish roads through the farm now and a station, great changes in a little more than one hundred years. My mother and her sisters used to shear the sheep and wash and card and spin the wool. One man (an Alex Cameron) used to weave for all the neighbours and when he got too old to do it the women learned and did it all. They raised flax and manufactured all the linen they used. They had no cotton except for a Sunday dress, for these sturdy old Scotch men and women always kept Sunday. My grandmother used to try to have the work done early so they need not work Saturday evenings but prepare for the Sabbath. They used to walk to church a distance of four or five miles and walk back without their dinner. The old church they used to attend was built more than a hundred years ago. It stood on the hill at first but was moved down to Taymouth. About fifty years ago they built a new church and took the old one for a schoolhouse, and it was used until 1918.

They used to ride on horseback a good deal as they did not have carriages and the roads were not fit for them. It was not until 1834 that a dissenting minister could perform the marriage ceremony, so the young people went to the magistrate to be married. A number of young friends would accompany them and they would ride double. They had not many sidesaddles then, but they stuck on some way! When they went on a journey, as they sometimes did, over the portage to Miramichi, they would “ride and tie”. Some three or four young people would want to go together and they would not have enough horses for all. One half of the party would start on horseback and ride three or four miles then they would tie their horses by the roadside and walk on. When the rest of the party came up they took the horses and rode on past the others and “tied”.

Some of the Nashwaak people used to lumber in Miramichi, and some settled there. One of my father’s brothers, Alexander MacBean, was burned to death in the great Miramichi fire of 1825. Just here I would like to correct a mistake. I have seen in print that there were hundreds burned to death in that fire. I have heard my father and mother say that there were not more than thirty and I heard from people who were living in Doakton at the time and they said the same thing. Uncle John MacBean was there through it all. He was in Newcastle at the time, and it was terrible. I cannot claim to be a pioneer, but I am eighty-three years old and can remember when things were different from what they are now. My earliest recollection is eighty years ago when a Lucifer got into our goose house and killed all our geese. The hired man (Charles Pond) killed it and got $1.50 for the skin. I remember a little while later of going to school in a little log schoolhouse, to an old drunken Irish schoolmaster and how he used to frighten me.

All the work on the farm was done by hand with a team of oxen or horses. They planted with a hoe and cultivated and dug with the same implement. They made their own harrows. Sometimes they bought iron teeth and sometimes they made wooden ones. They sowed the grain by hand and reaped it with a sickle or cradle. They mowed the grass and raked it and loaded and unloaded by hand. I think it was in 1872 that we got the first mowing machine and horse rake. We manufactured our wool, spun and wove it into cloth, and wore it. We used to be proud of our homespun dresses. We used to colour the yarn with butternut bark or golden rod or sumac or some such thing. We did not raise flax in my time. We could buy good factory cotton or print or gingham for ten cents a yard.

I can remember when there were very few light wagons. On Sunday they would harness a span of horses to a big farm wagon, lay boards across for seats, and the whole family went to kirk with perhaps one left home to look after the house and get dinner. There would be a half dozen of these loads; for if they had not a full load at starting they would pick up some one on the road who had no team. People were kind to the poor in those days. Now the children and grandchildren of those people are rolling about in their automobiles, living in fine houses with every convenience and having every kind of machinery to work with.

I was the first female teacher born on the Nashwaak. I went to Normal School in St. John in 1866. Cooking stoves were unknown to us before 1850. We all had big open fire places with a crane or trammel to hang the kettle and pots on. We did all our cooking that way. Some had brick evens built in by the fireplace, but most of the baking was done in Dutch Ovens on the hearth, or in tin reflectors in front of the fire. The big open fire was very pleasant and we used to gather around it in the evening and roast corn or potatoes and crack butternuts of which we had an abundance, while the men would make axe handles or splint brooms, the only kind we had then. We were careful not to let the fire go out as we had no matches and if the fire went out we had to strike fire with a flint and steel. We made our own vinegar and soap and tallow candles. There were no kerosene lamps until 1860.

We did not have many ‘bought’ shoes. They used to take their calfskins to a tanner in Fredericton and have them tanned. Then they would buy some sole leather and send for the shoemaker and he would bring his kit and make and mend shoes for every one in the house. When the people first came to Nashwaak, the Methodist Ministers soon followed. My mother was born in 1798 and was baptized by a Methodist Minister, as were many of her brothers and sisters. They had a Church of England Minister too. Dr. Price was a clergyman as well as a Doctor. I think there were others and some Baptists but no Presbyterians until 1830. Grandfather MacBean was one of the first Methodists on the Nashwaak.

Alex MacIntosh was born in Badenock, Invernesshire, Scotland. He was in the Battle of Culloden in 1745 and fought for the Stuart line. He was also in the Revolutionary War in the 71st Regiment. He settled on the Nashwaak at the mouth of Cross Creek. His wife was Grace MacLean. They had four children; two died young, Margaret married Peter MacLaggan, and Lauchlin went to Ontario in 1806. Peter MacLaggan was born in Loggerate near Dunkald, in Perthshire, Scotland. He was in the Revolutionary War in the 42nd Regiment. Angus MacBean was born in Invernesshire and also was in the Revolutionary War in the 42nd Regiment. He married Mary Murphy.

Peter MacLaggan had thirteen children. First was Grace who married Alex MacMillan and had one son. They went to Upper Canada in 1806 and returned fourteen years later and settled in Miramichi. Second was Helen who married Aaron Hovey. They had seven children, all of whom were married except one. Third was Alexander who married first Catherine McNabb and second Christiana Duff. There were ten children of who seven were married. Fourth was John who married Catherine Eve Cameron and they had nine children, seven of whom were married. Fifth was Margaret who married John MacBean. They had ten children, of who seven were married. Sixth was Isabel who married Martin MacBean and they had three children of whom two were married. Seventh was Margarey who married Peter Hayes. They had nine children of whom five were married. Eighth was Peter who married Christiana Cameron. They had four children, all married. Ninth was Christiana who married Alex Cameron. They had five children of who three were married. Tenth was Elizabeth who married James Craig. They had seven children of whom six were married. Eleventh was Mary who married Thomas Sutherland. They had seven children, all married. Twelfth was James who married Catherine Frazer. They had ten children of who eight were married. And finally, thirteenth was Ann who married first Andrew Craig, and second Campbell Fowler. They had two children of whom one was married.

Angus MacBean had eight children. The first married Margaret MacLaggan and they had ten children. The second was Richard who died unmarried. Third was Catherine who married David Porter and went to live in Maine. They had seven children. Fourth was Martin who married Isabel MacLaggan and they had three children. Fifth was Mary who married Thomas Boies. They had seven children of who four were married. Sixth was Alexander who died unmarried. Seventh was Daniel who married Nancy Boies. They had eight children of whom six were married. Finally, the eighth was Leah who married Eliphat Smith. They had four children and went to Maine to live.

Please see links below to access scans of the original documents.

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Updated:Thursday, 22-Jan-2004 22:06:37 MST