West River 100 years Ago

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Transcribed by Doug MacMillan - dougiemac@comcast.net

West River 100 years Ago

Prince Edward Island Magazine - May 1899

I am giving a few incidents of early life in this locality. I wish to coninue my remarks chiefly to the peninsula of land situated in Lot 65 and bounded on one side by the West River and the other by Hillsboro Bay. About 1800 it is said the whole of the Lot was sold for quit rents for the munificent sum of 39 pounds. But my informant is not sure whether it was British sterling or Island currency. It has also been said that the sale took place at Charlottetown before the advertised time. So that some of the would be purchases would be too late, however it was bought by General Fanning and a Mr. Cambridge one-one-half each.

This Lot had more than ordinary interest attached to it from being the landing place of the British at the time of the capitulation of the Island then called St. Johns by the French.

They landed from a man-of-war at Canoe Cove on the farm now occupied by F. McRae and cut a road through the woods about the centre of the peninsula until they reached Ft. Amherst on the Warren farm. One of the company camps on the trip is a place on John Smith's farm close to the South Shore Road in a hollow just below Mr. Newson's gate and the writer remembers seeing old bottles, croca-ryware, and other relics of their stay at that place. This was before the surrounding land was cleared of the forest and the small clearance for the camping ground clearly defined the spot in addition to the above reminders. Their delay here no doubt was to recuperate after their tedious work of clearing the roads and hauling their arms, ammunition, and stores; the better to enable them to face the formidable foe they expected soon to encounter. It ap-pears that in this expectation they were agreeable disappointed for the invading forces were allowed to take peaceable possession of the Fort without even firing a shot.

This road which the troops used can still be located in places especially at the crossing of Fergueson's Creek where the remains of the old bridge built by the soldiers may still be seen. It was the only road in that locality for many years. And Fergueson, the grandfather of the present generation of that name informed my father that he preformed statute labor on it.

Another not of early note is Holland's Cove which is part of the farm of that name near the Blockhouse now owned by a Capt Holland who was sent here by the British Government Mr.T.A. McLean of Charlottetown. It was formally owned by a Capt. Holland who was sent here by the British Government in 1760, shortly after the Island was taken over from the French to servey and subdivide it into counties and townships.

In time gone by, Holland's Cove was said to be the resort of pirates and part of Captain Kidd's treasure at least was said to be buried there; however this may be, many stories of gold hunting, kidnapping, and other fairytales have been repeated by the older inhabitants of this locality. General Fanning came to the Island after the American Revolution in 1786 and settled on the Warren farm. With him also came Sergeant Mutch who lived with him several years afterwards. He was the forefather of the several families who bare his name most of who live in East River, Lot 48. Another man named Ladner also came to the Island with him and settled at Nine Mile Creek who afterwards built mills known by his name but they have long since gone to decay. Many of the decendants are still living there and are living elsewhere.

Another of the early pioneers was Serveyer Fox, who was as far as I can learn the only land serveyer on the Island at that time after Serveyer General Holland. His name has gone down to posterity oweing partly to the many line fence suits which happily occupied the attention of our Courts of Justice. He settled on the farm now occupied by John Holmes about a mile from Rocky Point and many of his decendants are still living. He was said to be rather whitty and on one occasion after a meal thanked God that the spotted ox had fed ten and one Fox. Fergueson married Fox's daughter and lived on an adjoining farm now occupied by James MacMIllan. Many of his decendants reside in the vicinity and elsewhere.

In order to give an idea what the early settlers had to contend with, his wife, then an old lady informed the father of the writer some 60 years ago that she had seen six bears at one time playing on a sand bar at Fergueson's Creek.

Many of the pioneers who settled in this locality were American Loyalists who rather than sacrifice their British Allegiance left the states after the American Revolution to seek homes on British soil and face the dangers of hardships consequent to settlements in the forest among the Indians and wild beasts who at that time, held undisputed possession of nearly all the province.

Another class came from the Heather Clad Hills of Scotland. In this far off land, then wilderness for the noble purpose of being their own landlord and to provide their families with better opportunities than they could hope for in the old land.

Among the latter that arrived in 1806 was the McNeil family of three brothers, Alexander, Dougald, and Charles, the latter, father of our late, respected townsman, A McNeil, Esq., just deceased.

They all took farms at New Dominion which are still occupied by some of their relatives.

Another pioneer was McDougall who over 100 years ago settled on the farm three miles from Rocky Point now occupied by his grandson, Malchias McIsaac, now an old man.

There was also about this period one McKee who lived on the farm now occupied by Andrew Dickenson at New Dominion. He had two sons who lived at Rocky Point but died many years ago, one of whom Montague was the father of William McKee (carriage builder of Charlottetown.) McKee, the elder lived in the days when we could boast of coast defencers and it is said while coming from town in a boat with artilleryman who was one of the company stationed at the Blockhouse, the boat upset and both were drowned.

There also came to the Island about this time, Neil Campbell, who was an old man-of-war sailer and fought under Admiral Nelson at the Battle of the Nile. He settled at Nine Mile Creek on the farm leased from Mrs. Fanning and was said to be rather dull of hearing especially when the rent was due. On one occasion his landlady asked Neil for the rent and perhaps not prepared for that particular question, he replied, "This was a very hot day in Egypt, Ma'am." She repeated the question and received a somewhat similar reply; however the landlady thought she would change the subject as it was getting rather monotonous and she said in a low tone, "Will you have a glass of brandy, Neil?" Then the response immediately came, "If it is handy, Ma'am".

In about the year, 1818, William White came from England and shortly afterwards settled on a farm formerly owned by Serveyer Fox. He was a draftsman and shipbuilder and was said to be the only draftsman on the Island at that time. He built several vessels for Ewen Cameron at Clyde River and later on, for himself on his own farm and afterwards many more at North Point in Charlottetown. His sons also followed the same business and built a number of vessels at Charlottetown and elsewhere. There are only two living now, William, formerly of Charlottetown but now of Montague, and Thomas who now lives in New York.

An early pioneer was a man named Seeley. He lived on a farm presently occupied by R. Webster. He began to build a vessel for Rhaito Webster but before it was completed a forest fire started and she was destroyed by it.

On the opposite side of Webster's Creek the last vessel of that river was also built. (the Brig Atlantia) by Ewen MacMillan in 1868, who being now one of the oldest inhabitants in that vicinity, settled there 62 years ago before there was any ferry at Rocky Point.

It was only at this time that roads were made passable for vehicles. The first ferry from Rocky Point to town was run by Captain Hibbard about 60 yrs. ago when there was no wharf at that place nor for many years afterwards. He lived about a mile from there for many years and afterwards moved to Alberton with his family.

After the Indians were ferrymen for some year as and several others in succession down to the present time when the S. S. Elfin plys regularly to that point.

South Shore was settled about 80 years ago. One of the first to locate there was Lawrence Murphy the grandfather of the present generation who by their thrift and industry have some of the finest homesteads to be seen on the island.

Both this and the West River Settlements have advanced with the age in which we live and in some instances are far ahead of their neighbors which is conclusive evidence that the settlers had proper training and were decendants of good stock.

Few of the present generation know anything except by hearsay of what the early settlers had to contend with.

Among other discouragements, they has to face the forest, fell the mighty beech, birch and other trees that are bounded so plentifully, burn them up and plant their scanty crop with their hoe between stumps. Their fare was simple, they had no roads to travel on but they had to follow around the shores and creeks or if they wanted to cross the river to town or elsewhere it was in a log canoe. If they wanted to take any cattle over they had to swim them, the bears and wildcats were also very numerous and dangerous and many people lost their lives by them.

(signed) R. MacMillan

Editor's notes:

This article was likely written by Ronald MacMillan (1843-1943), A mariner from West River (New Dominion), Prince Edward Island.

Ronald's father was Ewen MacMillan (1815-1900) mentioned in the article. The wife of Ewen mentioned was Isabelle Mathieson (1816-1905) both are buried in the cemetery at the United Church in New Dominion.

Isabelle Mathieson was a native of Campbelltown, Argyleshire, Scotland.

Ewen was the son of Donald MacMillan and Margaret Mutch, and the grandson of the immigrant Lauchlin MacMillan and Sarah Macpherson. Donald, Margaret, and Sarah are all buried in the MacMillan Cemetery in West Covehead, Prince Edward Island. The burial site of Lauchlin is not known.

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