History Corner – The Early Days (1828-1850)

The following article is an excerpt from the book “Our Home and Native Land, Community in Puslinch Township, Wellington County, Ontario”, Published in 2005. This content was graciously provided by Marjorie Clark, the author of the book.

The Early Days 1828-1850

In the years of settlement in Puslinch Township, roads were almost nonexistent. Life was centred within each community. A strong interdependence developed between the settlers within each community, as there was no other support network.

New arrivals often lived with more established families until some sort of shelter could be erected on their own lot. The Morlock and Callfas families arrived together in 1830 and those eighteen people lived together in a sixteen-foot square shanty for several months, until a second dwelling was built. John and Christina McAllister stayed with the Alex Lamont family for three or four weeks before occupying their land. The Schlegel house in Morriston was already home to three families in 1854, when the nearly arrived Kistenmacher and Fischer families moved in, too.

The settlers tackled large or heavy tasks as a group. To accomplish these, the “bee” evolved. There were bees for many jobs: logging bees, wood bees, quilting bees. The name probably came directly from the noun naming the insect, bee, as the concept is the same – many individuals, working together to complete the same big job.

The bee served not only to lighten the workload but as a social function. According to Alex Fraser’s account in The McPhatter Letters, log homes and barns were raised at bees:

“…go out to a house or barn log raising on a Monday morning and keep on going to house or barn raisings every day till Saturday of that week and keep it up for a month at a time in the month of March every year and a dance every night. No violin music but the Irish or Scotch pipes. Whiskey Kilrae and good, too”

James McCaig, his wife, Catherine Taylor and children, Donald (8), Catherine (about 6) and Mary (4) arrived at McMeekin’s Tavern in Puslinch on May 14, 1840. From there, the family walked three miles on a blazed trail through the McLennan, Stewart and Sheehan farms to arrive at James’ brother, Donald’s property. Donald McCaig and his family had settled in the township about two years previous. Their possessions consisted of a cow and a calf, an axe, some old country chests, a few pots and dishes and some cutlery. Of their arrival, James’ son, Donald later wrote:

“We had come into a Highland settlement and received a Highland welcome. Our farm of 200 acres had not a tree cut on it but in three days we were in our own house. Everybody turned out from the little clearings all about, fathers and sons, oxen and axes and in one day the logs were drawn in and the walls up and on the third day we took our breakfast at home, with one side of the roof on, not a chair or table in the one room, which was bedroom, kitchen, pantry and parlour. On the floor, last autumn’s leaves for a carpet, three stumps within the enclosure, a broad flat stone against the wall to protect from fire and a chain from the ceiling on which our cooking utensils were hung, completed our home, culinary arrangements and all.”

Peter Stewart recounted that:

“Early days in the bush I have started out with my oxen on Monday morning and did not return till Saturday night, being at a logging bee down on the 1st concession and the Gore every day in the week.”

Alex Fraser also described logging bees, which were held to clear the completely forested land for cultivation:

“Then, logging bees began about the first of June and would continue on till the frost would come in the fall of the year. Sometimes ten or twelve yoke of oxen in one field with four men and a driver with every yoke of oxen and could log ten acres and even more in a day. Then, a dance at night. Lots of whisky on the field with a grog boss and a man carrying water to the men at work at the bee.”

James Laird told of “One logging bee, I was at Richard Hewitt’s farm, where D. Sorby lives now and there were about thirty yoke of oxen there at this bee and we had it all staked out and we logged about thirty acres that day and when night came we had a dance on the green grass.”

Simon Morlock, in his paper about the Callfas family, wrote that six Morriston area pioneer families would gather to make their season’s maple syrup supply – Marshalls, Winers, Morlocks, Callfas, Jacobs and Masts. It is worth noting that Marshalls were of Scottish stock, Winers, Morlocks, Callfas and Masts were German immigrants and the Jacobs family was Protestant Irish. They were brought together by their geographic proximity and their common situation as pioneers in a strange and primeaval land, with only one another to be counted upon.

As would be natural under the circumstances, since they had emigrated from countries where their exposure to foreigners was limited, the settlers preferred the company of their own ethnic group. However, when there was interaction between communities, there is little evidence of hostility between the differing nationalities. The only account of such is a brawl that occurred between Scottish and Irish men at Flyn’s Tavern, touched off by a perceived insult and most likely fuelled by an over indulgence in spirits. Much more frequent are reports of respect and co-operation as illustrated by the following account, submitted by Anna Jackson for the May 1987 issue of the Puslinch Pioneer:

A Multi-Lingual Story

A German veteran of the Franco-Prussian War (1866-70), Mr. Stout, lived with his family in a house on the south side of Puslinch concession 2, west of County Road 35, possibly on lot 14. One day in the late 1800’s the small Stout children were noticed to be missing.
Mrs. Stout, who spoke only German, went searching and enlisted the assistance of Charlie Schaumberg, a neighbour, who spoke both German and English. The two searchers called at Big John McDonald’s at the corner of Sideroad 10. There they found his wife, Peggy, who spoke only Gaelic, entertaining her neighbour, Mrs. Peter Gilchrist, who spoke both Gaelic and English.
Charlie Schaumberg explained the problem of the lost children to Mrs. Gilchrist in English. She translated it to Gaelic for Peggy, who replied that she had seen the children going into Ross’s in a buggy. Mrs. Gilchrist translated this back to English for Charlie, who then told Mrs. Stout in German, where her children could be found.

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