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Description Early Settlers at Middle River and Millbrook


A Sketch of Former Days by One Familiar Therewith

Having visted my old house at Millbrook on hot day in July, and sitting down in the shade within a few rods of where I first saw the light of day, over three score and then years ago, my mind drifted back to the days of my boyhood, when I could be seen and not heard, as the boys then did not know as much as their fathers, and sitting on a three legged stool listening to the old men telling of their hardships and trials which they had to endure when they came to this county.  It is all fresh in my memory yet, which goes to show that youth is the time to store the mind for good or evil.  It occured to me that from memory and from what I could learn from other sources that I could give a sketch of the first settlers on Middle River and my native place, Millbrook.  I am at a loss for dates, but my grandfather, Kenneth Fraser, with a number of others came to this country on the Ship Hector in 1773.   He came from Lairg, Sutherlandshire, Scotland.  On arrival in Pictou Harbour they saw nothing but a forest of timber right to the edge of the water.  They were very much disappointed.  They went from there to Nowell in Hants County and got some land that what was cleared by the French.  They stayed there for a few years till they heard that a Gaelic minister, by the name of Dr. McGregor, had come to Pictou.  Kenneth Fraser and James McLeod started on the way from Nowell to Pictou on foot through a dense forest with a chance settler here and there.  They got astray in the woods.  Not knowing what course to take and standing in bewilderment, they heard a faint sound of a cow bell a long way off.  They started for the sound of the bell.  As soon as the cow saw them she ran for home and they followed, finally reaching the house, where they were treated kindly and got rested and instruction for the rest of the journey.

When they arrived at Pictou they found the report about the Minister's arrival to be true.  They made up their minds to take up land and settle in Pictou, where they could hear the gospel preached in the Gaelic language, their native tongue. 

The land around the front of the harbour and foot of the Middle River was all taken up and settled.  They went up the river about three miles and took out a grant of Crown land fronting on the river, and running a mile back, about two hundred acres each.  The land was at that time a beautiful forest of all kinds of wood.  As soon as they got their titles of the land they strated to work to chop and clear it, and prepare to put in a crop.  The line between Fraser on the upper and McLeod on the lower side is the main roadway to Westville.  The only way of travelling then was on the river in a canoe in summer, and on the ice and by snowshoes in winter.  The river in those days was a roaring stream, but it dwindled away as the land was cleared.

Fraser and McLeod made a canoe out of a large pine tree of which there were many at that time in the woods.  It must have been quite an undertaking with the few tools at their disposal.  The canoe must have been of a good size for they could lay a barrel of fish in the centre of it and a quantity of provisions, besides the two men to paddle it.  One of the paddles is still to the fore with McLeod's initials cut on it.  James McLeod took two cows with hi when he moved to the Middle River.  In the spring each of them had a bull calf.  They were the first yoke of oxen on the farm. 

My grandfather must have lived in Nowell thirteen or fourteen years.  It was in the year 1786 that Dr. McGregor came to Pictou.  My grandfather was afterwards on of Dr. McGregor's elders.  He mentioned of never meeting the Dr. without a smile on his face.  My grandfather had eight of a family -six boys and two girls.  My father (Donald) was born at Middle River.  He was the youngest of the family.  When the family grew up and had to do for themselves Alexander settled on the top of Green Hill, where his grandson now resides.  James stayed on the old homestead; Thomas, William, John and Donald went about three miles southwest to a place now adjoining each other, one solid block of woods, and started to make themselves homes.  

The most of the time they would work together.  They would leave their old home on Monday morning with a week's supply of provisions, and return home Saturday night.  A blaze on the trees was made for a quide so that they would not go astray.  When they started to make a clearing they choose a piece of high land on which to build; the trees were so close together that they would have to chop a number of them before they could get one to the ground.  When they made small clearings and put up log housese and barns they took to themselves wives.  They all raised large families with the exception of John, who died at middle age from the effects of a fall.  I remember of seeing his log building, or the remains of it.  They were all one style in those days - a log building and stuffed in between the logs with moss; the roof covered with bark; a rough chimney in one end of the house; two small windows and a door with wooden hinges and latch...The chimneys were built of rough stone up to the mantel piece, which was made of wood, and above the mantel was made of wood and clay; sticks about two feet long across each other, forming a square, bedded in --- and plastered inside with clay.

The method of making a fire was with the flint and spunk, a spongy substance that grew in old logs.  It was taken home and dried.  You took the flint and placed a piece of spunk under it in your left hand, and with a downward stroke of the jack-knife, or steel, in your right hand on the flint causes sparks of fire, which ignited the spunk.  By blowing on it with the breath it became a live coal, thus starting the fire.  The last thing before retiring  for the night was to cover a brand of fire in ashes and see that there was no fire in the wooden mantel piece.  I have seen them with holes burnt through them.

The chief farming implements were the axe, the hoe and the sickle.  All that was raised was carried in on their backs.  They had a basket called a "creel" with which they carried in their root crop.  They would fill it full and set it on a stump.  There were twisted withes* fastened --- on each end of the creel so that you could put your arms thro' to hold it on your back.  It held a bushel of potatoes.  When farmers got more indepen-- and sawmills were built frame buildings were erected with wood enough in one of them to make three frames of the same size of the present day buildings.  It made no difference what the size of the fame it was all laid out and pinned together on the foundation and the side was raised altogether.  All the neighbors would come to the raising.  All they wanted was the word to come.  The farmer stationed the men in their places along side according to their strength.  The old men were put at the foot of the post with a handspike in the mortise to keep the foot of the post from slipping out.  The farmer would go back a few rods with his plumb-line in his hand and give the words, "Are you already?" and with bent backs the men took hold.  Then the word was given from the framer, "Up with it".  The other side was done in like manner.  Ribs were checked in the rafters for long shingles; and the last piece that went up was the reach pole on the peak of the rafters.  When all was finished three rousing cheers were given and they would try to see who would be the first to the ground.  Rum was as common as dishwater at gatherings of any kind, and you would never see a man the worse for liquor.  A man who could frame a building in those days was no ordinary person.  There were only two for miles around who could frame, and were my father and a man by name of John Gordon.  The first settlers were a stout able class of men, living up to the Golden Rule.  We hear a good deal these days about people getting more intelligent and getting better, but I have my doubts about it.  In my young days a man's word was a good as a note today with no securities; which I know by experience.

If this does not find its way to the waste basket I may at some future time, if spared, give a sketch of my boyhood and school days of three score years ago, to see how they will compare with the school of the present day.

David Fraser, Stellarton, October 10, 1907

Note:  David Fraser, writer of this sketch died 1918 aged 89 years.  He is buried in Millbrook Cemetery with his father Donald Fraser 1785-1878 aged 93 years and his mother Isabella MacKenzie 1796-1877

File Location

vault, original material, box #11

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