Historical Survey completed by William Sencabaugh, 1876, Public Archives of Prince Edward Island, AC. No. 2702.

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Pioneer Life on Prince Edward Island: Part I

CHARLOTTETOWN, 8th June ,1876


These questions are sent you, with the respectful request that you will answer as many of them as you can, and return the questions and answers to the undersigned. Stamps to pay postage are enclosed. It is not expected that any one will be able to give information on all subjects covered by these questions. The object is to collect everything of historical value relating to the early settlers of the Colony, to be preserved and utilized hereafter. The gentlemen engaged in this enquiry have no personal or pecuniary interest in the matter, further than the procuring of facts that my be useful for historical reference.

This brief set of instructions accompanied a questionnaire mailed in 1876 to certain elderly residents of Prince Edward Island. The precise number of questionnaires distributed is unknown, as is the precise number that were returned. Twenty-four of these questionnaires, however, survive today in the Provincial Archives of Prince Edward Island; and one of those surviving returns was completed by William Sencabaugh, son of William Sencabaugh the Loyalist.

The length and quality of the responses varies as widely as their place of origin. William Sencabaugh’s answers fall somewhere in the middle. While nowhere near as detailed as the responses of his neighbor, John Brooks, a former schoolteacher, who covered both the front and the back of the pages, William’s answers are much more informative than those of the laconic Wellington Compton, who tended to answer questions with an unadorned "Yes" or "No". William’s questionnaire provides important biographical information, as well as images of pioneer life on Prince Edward Island.

Until his questionnaire came to light, those of us researching the Sencabaugh family had assumed that William Sencabaugh, Sr., had settled at Murray Harbour almost immediately after his marriage in 1788.

As his response to the first question indicates, William Sencabaugh, Jr., third son of the Loyalist William Sencabaugh and his wife, Ruhamah Hugh or Hughes, was born on January 31, 1796, not at Murray Harbour, but at Three Rivers, the name given to the area where the Montague, Brudenell, and Cardigan Rivers flow in close proximity to one another. In 1732 the Frenchman Jean Pierre Roma had established a farming and fishing operation in the area, which he named Trois Rivieres. In 1745 the British destroyed Roma’s settlement, but the excellent location attracted new settlers toward the end of the eighteenth century. The Loyalist William Sencabaugh, as we now know, was one of these settlers, living at Three Rivers for a number of years before moving to Murray Harbour with his wife and three children in 1796.

In December of 1818, William Sencabaugh, Jr., married Elizabeth Street. They farmed at Guernsey Cove, where they raised a family of seven or eight children. William also served three times as constable for Murray Harbour, in 1818, 1821, and 1825. The date of his death is uncertain, and his burial place is unmarked. With this questionnaire, however, we can now narrow the date of his death to sometime between 1876, when he completed the survey; and 1881, when he fails to appear in the census.

My most sincere thanks go to Bea Irving of Prince Edward Island, who discovered William’s survey among the hidden treasures of the Provincial Archives and alerted me to its existence. A transcription of William Sencabaugh’s survey follows. The questions that William answered have been included in their entirety, together with the answers that William supplied. In the interests of clarity and ease of reading, punctuation and capitalization have been added, as well as the text in brackets.

  1. Are you a native of P.E. Island?
  2. Where and when were you born?

Yes, I am a native of the Island. I was born in Three Rivers in January 1796. In the spring following my parents moved to Murray Harbour. At that time there was only one family in the Harbour. Nicholas Hugh was his name. My parents and Hughs were refugees from the States, the time of [the] American war.

  1. Who owned the first Mill in your settlement? Was it a saw, grist, carding or fulling Mill?

John Cambridge owned the first saw mill and grist mill both under one roof.

  1. Where was the first Church built? Who built it, and what clergyman used to preach in your settlement? Before you had churches, where were religious services held? Did different denominations use the same building at different hours? Did they worship in barns? Were different denominations buried together?

They worshipped [in] their houses or barn. The Wesleyans and Presbyterians were the only preachers. There was only two families at that time.

  1. What sort of roads had the early settlers, and when and who opened the first one in your neighborhood?

The early settlers had no road at all, no more than a blaze from one to another from Murray Harbour to Vernon River till 1806. Mr. Cambridge put up a saw mill at the head [of] Murray River, then they began to open the road and [in a] year or two they got a bridle road.

  1. Were there any shops or fishing stations near you, and where?

Yes, there was one at Beach where Mr. Davis has his stand.

  1. What sort of schools had the people?

They had night schools 1807 and Sea Captain Lemasurier [LeMessurier] used to keep night school two hours every evening for [the] quarter while nights were long.

  1. Who had the first wagon, gig, jaunting sleigh, cariole, cart or plough in your settlement? What was the horse tackling made of? Who had saddles, and what were the cart wheels like?

Mr. Sullivan had [the] first wagon in our settlement. Mr. Lemuel Cambridge had the cariole in our settlement. The horse tackling were made of leather [of ] some kind. There were no saddles at that time.

  1. Were the houses shingled or thatched? When was the first frame house put up in your locality?

The houses were covered with [beams?] of spruce or birch in general. The first frame house put up about 1807(?). At the time that I am writing there were markets. Many had to go to the clam bank to sustain nature.

  1. Who was the first blacksmith, tailor, shoemaker, saddler, cooper or carpenter in your settlement?

The first shoemaker was in the year 1806 and the first cooper and carpenter. There was eight families landed in Murray Harbour then in June 1806. John Todvine [Taudvin] was shoemaker. Daniel Machon [and] John LeLasheur [LeLacheur] Coopers. James Brahard [Brehaut] carpenter.

  1. How was grain taken to the Mill in old times, and was oatmeal manufactured as it is now?

Grain was taken to mill on hand sleigh, then taken in bushels on my back upon a [pair?] snowshoes two miles.

  1. How many people lived in your settlement when you first knew it?

Two families, Hugh and Sencabaugh.

  1. Are any of the old people living yet, and who?

No, the old are all gone years ago.

  1. Were dances and frolics more kept up than they are to-day?

Yes, dances, frolics, drinking was twice as much as now.

  1. Who was the first settler in your part of the country?

The first Mr. Nicholas Hugh and William Sencabaugh.

  1. Was there more snow, and were the winters colder than now?

There was twice as much snow in former years as now. In the woods you could not travel without snow shoes. The winter used to set in the beginning of November. I have seen Murray Harbour blocked up till 15 June.

  1. What wild animals were in the Island in your young days?

There was the bear and wild cat, the martain [martin] and auter [otter].

  1. Which was the first Island Newspaper? Who printed it , and where was his office. When was the next one started? Name all the Island papers you remember?

The first newspaper was Mr. James Haszard who printed The Gazette. His office [was] in town near where the old barracks used to be.

  1. Who were the chief business men in your young days?

41. When did you get a post office, and who kept it?

Mr. John Cambridge was our business [man]. He owned all the land in Murray Harbour .

The first [post] office was [18]68. Charles Brehaut is post master. N.B. Before Charles Brehaut, Thomas Bell had [the] post office for about thirty years.

  1. Who built the first vessel in your neighborhood, and how long was ship building carried on?

Mr. John Cambridge built the vessel and carried on the business eight [or] ten years.

  1. How did the people of Crapaud…Murray Harbour…get to town before they had their present roads? State at length any information you may about the mode of travelling in the early history of the Island?

The inhabitants [of] Murray Harbour in the winter had to tramp snowshoes and carry their plow irons in their plow irons in their [knapsack?] back on their back and walk on showshoes. Now they go most have horse wagon.

  1. How did you get the mails?

We did not get any mails till government appointed them.

  1. Who were the first and oldest brewers you remember?

I don’t [know] any thing about the brewers; there never [were any] in Murray Harbour.

  1. Were there any salmon, gaspereaux or shad, in our rivers when you were a boy, and what rivers had most of them? Are there any in your locality now?

When I was a boy there [were] no nets. No one tried for them but I believe there was then now young [crease] in Murray Harbour.

  1. On their way to and from Charlottetown, how did people living at a long distance away, get along when night overtook them on the journey? How far could they go in a day, and did they often meet with any dangers? How did they find their way?

Vernon River is 17 miles. Well they would start off first morning to Vernon River that night, next day or the following to town.

  1. How were the first houses lighted in the day time? Were they carpeted? When did people begin to use kerosene? How long since cooking stoves came into use?

The first houses they cut a hole in the side to let in the [light] by day. People did not think about carpet. It’s 25 or 30 years since kerosene was used about 45 since cooking [stoves] came into use.

  1. Were oxen used for ploughing and farm work, and are they so used now in your settlement?

When I was a boy work was all done by oxen. There [were] no horses in Murray Harbour till 1812-13 when Jim Irving [brought the] first horse from Three Rivers.

  1. Who were the first Doctors you remember, and where did they live?

The Doctor I remember was Doctor S[illegible, possibly St. Croix]; he lived in Charlottetown.

  1. When was your first ferry started? What kind of bridges had the people 80 years ago?

80 years ago they cut off 2 tallest trees and lay them across the brook and covered them with fence poles.

  1. Do you remember early frosts destroying the crops, and in what year? Any and what steps taken to meet the case?

I remember one year there was frost later part August about 30 years ago that hurt the potato crop. People had what did them in our settlement.

  1. What is the earliest time of the season the rivers have been frozen, what the latest time of breaking up in spring; when did navigation begin earliest and close latest?

The rivers have been frozen over [in] November. I have crossed the ice first May 50 years ago.

  1. Were there many bears 50 years ago, and were they dangerous?

The bears was very plenty. They destroyed good pigs and sheep. They [would] not hurt you unless you meddled with their cubs.

  1. Do you know of the old settlers cutting through the ice and taking shell-fish in winter? Did you ever hear what distance they had to travel for food? Give all you know on this point.

Them that cut the ice must have been [in the] time French inhabited the land.

  1. Do you know anything of a plague of mice, and when did it happen?

In the [year] 1802 or 3 as near as I can come to it there was an army of mice that cut down [a] great deal of wheat in the autumn. That same year they were seen off the block house going for Nova Scotia by thousands and ten thousands.

  1. Do you know anything of fires laying waste considerable sections of the country, and are their effects still perceptible?

There was in Murray Harbour about 1801 or 2 ; it will be seen to the end of time.

  1. Was game more abundant in old times than now? Were wild pigeons ever here?

In old times there were thousands to one of these pigeons, partridges, game of all kinds.

  1. To what extent did hogs exist on beachnuts 50 years ago? Was it difficult to catch them in the beginning of winter?

50 years ago hogs fattened on beachnuts where wild. They catch them with dogs when the snow was about [a] foot deep.

  1. Of what breed were the horses within your recollection? What kind of horned cattle, sheep and pigs, had farmers then?

The breed of horses was the old French breed. Cattle and sheep were a larger breed than at present. Pigs were very poor breed.

  1. When and by whom were artificial grasses first introduced?
  2. Do you remember how long since Swedish Turnips were first cultivated?

[To the] Best [of] my recollection, over 50 years.

  1. What variety of potatoes had people 30 years ago, and before then?

About 50 years ago there was the old blue and the monster large white potato and a potato called pink eye.

  1. When was two-rowed barley introduced?

It is 60 years [since] two-row barley was introduced.

  1. How were potatoes cultivated, dug, disposed of, or preserved for winter?

The inhabitants to preserve their potatoes dug cellars under their dwelling house and preserved through the winter.

  1. Was rye raised to any extent in this Island?

There was rye raised about Murray Harbour.

  1. Was flax grown generally? state the process of its cultivation and manufacture?

Flax was not much grown about this part of the Island.

  1. State the process of making wool into cloth, including "thickening"?

Wool at that time was by hand and spun on [a] big wheel and when woven they would gather girls and boys and have what they called a thickening frolick.

  1. How was barley pearled in old times? Have you ever seen a barley pounder?

Barley was pearled in old times in a mortar with a pestle.

  1. Who owned the first metal mounted plough in your settlement: where was it made, and what kind of plough had they before then?

I can’t tell who had the first metal plough.

  1. Who was the first to use lime as a manure in your neighborhood?

John W. LeLacheur was the first that used lime [in] our neighborhood.

  1. What sort of shoes did people wear 60 or 70 years ago?

People 60 or 70 years ago wore no shoes. They wore what they called moccasins. They were made of cow skin not tanned. They would [take] the hair off and make their moccasins.

  1. Who owned or manufactured the first horse rake in your settlement?

Mr. Henry Brehaut owned the first horse rake at White Sands.

  1. Who owned or manufactured the first threshing machine; what was the date, and describe its make?

Mr. LeLacheur had the first threshing [machine] about 40 years ago. It was of tread mills. The horses walked along [?]

  1. When was the first mower or reaper introduced; what was it like?

The first mower was introduced 20 years ago by Daniel Machon.

  1. What traces of the French occupation are you acquainted with? Give all the particulars you can on this head.

I am not acquainted with of French there is none nearer 30 miles of me.

  1. Do you know anything of the existence of moose on the Island?

I never saw of them. I have found their horns several times. They were all gone before my day.

  1. Have you ever seen any weapons of stone used by the Micmacs of this Island in their savage state?

I have seen a stone in the shape of an ax.

  1. Note down your own name and Post Office address, and the names of those giving you items of information.

My name [is] William Sencabaugh. Post Office: Charles Brehaut is post master Murray Harbour South. There [is] not a man in all Murray [Harbour] that can [give] me any information from 70 to 80 year ago. The immigration was 1806 and after.

  1. How were weddings celebrated in time of your earliest recollection, and have any changes taken place with respect to marriages and weddings?
  2. What amusements were prevalent in old times, and what changes have taken place in this respect?
  3. Were drinking habits more prevalent in your earliest recollection than now, and illustrate the change, if any?

Marriages and weddings old times they would gather a large concourse of people and then there would [be] drinking till [they] would be drunk, perhaps [a] fight [would] end it. Now they get married and go home and no more about it.

In old times there was drinking and dancing cursing and swearing going on.

Heaven to gain or hell to shun. Blessed be God instead of going to the drinking saloons they are found going wherever prayer want to be made.

98. Were the people formerly as comfortable as now? In either case were the formerly happier than now, as a rule? What is your opinion in this respect?

People formerly I believe were as happy with no world[ly] goods, were merry as now if they [had] a homespun suit of cloth they were [illegible] than . Now they must [be] in the fashion which will take down down you know where.

  1. Was Gaelic, or Irish, or French, more generally spoken than at present? What changes are taking place in this respect?

Gaelic, French, is all gone out [of] our settlement. Them that spoke Gaelic got married to them [that] had none and now never hears a word of it and French likewise

I have given you scribbling as far as memory will serve me.


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