Records of Chignecto
The Late John Palmer, Esq. (Continued)
“The First school I went to,” Mr. Palmer stated to the writer, “was taught by Ebenezer Cutler at Dorchester Island. I attended in the evenings, after teaming all day. Dillworth’s spelling book was about the only thing I remember I studied there. We did not have many books in those days. No, we were not bothered with newspapers or novels either. The people had too much hard work to do to give up time to reading. I went to school afterwards to Josiah Wood, grand-father of the M. P.; he kept near the Court House. Besides the school, he also ran a fulling mill, which my father built for him near the shipyard in the creek. He died before he was old, and afterwards my father carried on the business.”
For the first waggon road, we are indebted to French Engineers, who constructed one between Beau Sejour and the outpost of Gaspereau. The remains of this road can be readily traced to this day. The piles in which they carried their highway across Baie Verte marsh are in existence. Early in the century a road was made by way of Jolicure to Sackville. The first travelling vehicles used were three “grasshopper” shays imported in 1810 by Dr. Rufus Smith Wm. Knapp and Christopher Harper. In 1817 or 1818, Ira Hicks and Andrew Weldon purchased team waggons from a Yankee. They were the first seen here. There was no turnpike road in Dorchester until 1818.* Travelling was done nearly altogether by vessel. “The first vessel I recollect was the ‘Hope,’ a schooner of 70 or 80 tons built by Elijah Ayer. His son Mariner was master of her. She was built in Dorchester creek. The ‘Charlotte,’ 120 tons, built by Richard Gross in Hillsboro, and owned by Boultenhouse, brought lumber from Chapman’s at Dorchester in 1812 to build barracks at Fort Cumberland. Her crew were James Purdy, Master, Anthony Low, Joseph Brown and myself. This vessel traded between Sackville, Dorchester, St. John and Passamaquoddy. They used to carry plaster from Hard Ledge, grindstone, building stone and lumber, and bring back supplies. I recollect we were discharging wood at the South Wharf, St. John, when the funeral of Speaker Botsford passed up King Street. Mr. Botsford afterwards (Judge Botsford) and his wife, an Englishman named Blair, interested in mines in Nova Scotia, and Mr. Hazen came up the Bay with us. At this time there was only a path through the woods to St. John. At this time (1812) when the war broke out, the Calhouns of Shepody had a sloop, loaded with plaster at Hard Ledge for Passamaquoddy. They put into Dipper Harbor, where the master heard of the outbreak of hostilities. He returned at once and discharged the cargo on Botsford’s Wharf, Sackville. In the fall they started again and at St. John were joined by four other vessels, mustering 60 men all told, with half a dozen six pounders. Off Indian Island, three American privateers coasting down east in search of prey attacked them. They fought most of the flood and ebb and finally beat them off. The prospect of war in 1813 together with the unprotected state of Canada West, led to the ordering of 104th Regt., to Quebec. They were replaced at St. John with militia. On 22nd January 1813 the Dorchester Company mustered at the Martin Black farm. The officers in command were Capt. Henry Chapman, Lieut Duncan Shaw and Ensign Malcolm McEacheren. Col Botsford had command of the whole force. We marched the first day to the Bend. There was no road – only a pathway marked by blazed trees through the woods. There were no settlements – only an occasional house, where now there are towns and villages. We had a hard tramp through deep snow, made more difficult by the scarcety of provisions along the route. The next month, February, 30 volunteers were called for to do garrison duty at Fort Cumberland until the artillery arrived from Halifax, I was one of them. We came up to the Shepody in a (illegible) of which Thomas Brewster was master and owner.
John Calhoun set us over to Belliveau and we trudged home, without food or drink and nearly perished from cold.
Lieut. Bonnycastle, a lad under 20 years of age, was in command at the Fort. There was only a few of the artillery there, besides the militia. We received our discharge and went home and I was done with “sodgering.”
Mr. Palmer was married in 1814 to a daughter of Ebenezer Cole at Cole’s Point. Ministers were then not so abundant as they since have become, and anyway, Protestant ministers (except Episcipalians) were not qualified by law to perform the marriage service, so in Mr. Palmer’s case, it was performed by ‘Squire John Keidor, father of the late Thos. Keillor, Esq, after which an old time country frolic took place – the fiddler being the functionary next in requisition after the priest, and in accordance with old style ceremony, the contents of the old brown jug, guileless of either gauger or Scott act inspector, was sent around and around and “set ‘em up.”
No obstacle of work – no physical difficulty could daunt Mr. Palmer; he delighted in feats that other men would shrink from; and near the close of a most busy and useful life his energy and virility seemed as exhaustless as ever. Hired by a neighbor, Mr. Buck to mow a piece of marsh in Sackville, he rode there in the morning, mowed to acres and returned at night. He had attained the age of ninety, when he drove his team in the woods cut a load of wood, loaded it, and took it to his door-yard unassisted.
Mr. Palmer busied himself in many employments. He cut down the trees, cleared the land, raised cattle and crops, built mills, logged stream drove and lumbered, built at least one vessel, was farmer, lumberman, miller, fisherman, sailor, trader shipmaster and soldier. When asked by the writer if there had been any employment usual to the country in which he had not been engaged, he replied in a tone of regret that there was one – he “had never made grind stone.” If the records are to be trusted, he did not come scatheless through his work, he has “shook hands with a saw mill,” his legs have both been broken, his arms broken and some of his ribs dislocated on different occasions.
Such men are rare, they are fit to be the pioneers of a country and the fathers of a race; their memory deserves to keep green; their deeds of self reliance, of self-sacrifice and courage are worthy of commemoration, for they are eloquent of what is worthiest and best in a man.
W. C. M.
*Recollections of Dr. Charles Smith not yet in print.
*Recollections of Mr. John Palmer.