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The Unrecorded Heroines

History records the deeds of very few of the genuine heroines who lived during the formative period of our country. Those who have been singled out owe the distinction to their having been associated with some event attracting public attention at the time, and their brave and noble acts became a matter of record, and were thus preserved.

But what about the countless hundreds who braved the dangers of the frontier, who lived noble lives and died heroic deaths? Concerning this vast multitude history is silent, save as they have been commemorated in the general narrative of the struggle that our fore-fathers endured in paving the way for the generations that were to follow. It was no trifling matter to battle with the impediments that nature placed in the way of the early settlers. The rigors of a severe winter brought sore trials that we, with the comforts and luxuries of the twentieth century, can scarcely appreciate.

In the earlier days of the French colony, before the settlers became acclimatized, the dreaded scurvy decimated their ranks, and many a widow and orphan was left without the aid of the strong arm of husband or father to battle for life in the wilderness of the New World.

We have no conception of the terrible experiences of the pioneers with the bloodthirsty savages, who lost no opportunity to wreak their terrible cruelties upon the unprotected females in the white settlements. The lonely wife never knew what it was to feel that sense of security which we daily enjoy as a matter of course. Time and again her husband would be summoned away to take part in an expedition to punish a marauding band for some horrible massacre that had been perpetrated by the red demons. What anxious hours, days and weeks she spent awaiting his return! Every sound would startle her, as she never knew when the stealthy enemy would be lurking near. Too often, alas, when he did return, she would not be there to greet him. The smoldering ruins of his cabin home, containing the charred remains of the faithful wife, would alone tell to the settler the story of the struggle that had ended in a cruel death.

Many a brave woman has fallen victim to the merciless tomahawk of the Indian, or been borne away a captive, to be subjected to ingenious tortures or more horrible indignities. Hundreds of loving mothers, faithful wives and tender sisters have thus laid down their lives. Their names do not appear in history's roll of honor, but their heroic sacrifice makes them none the less worthy of that distinction. What country can boast of a nobler record? Gaunt famine more than once stalked over this happy land, where now we have plenty and to spare, and left misery and desolation in its track. As recently as 1787 known as the "Hungry Year," or year of famine provisions were scarce and the Government was unable to meet the wants of the settlers. Many a mother labored in the forests digging the roots of the wild plants or eagerly gathering the buds from the trees in order to secure some scanty nourishment for her starving children, who were in time to become the stalwart founders of the civilization and prosperity which they left as a rich heritage to the generations which now fill their places.

Of all the honorary titles which it has pleased the sovereign of Great Britain to confer upon our fellow-Canadians there has been none more worthily bestowed than that represented by the words United Empire Loyalist, for whatever may be said of other dignities, all will concede that this title "was purchased by the merit of the wearer." If Canadians are ever to boast of an aristocracy, no better starting point for such a class will be found than the Royal Commission which authorized these loyal settlers to write the letters U. E. L. after their names.

The sufferings and sacrifices of the U. E. Loyalists should appeal to us with an especial force. Their only offence was that of loyalty to their rightful sovereign.' For this they underwent the most extreme persecutions, and that, too, at the hands of a people whose professed watchword was Freedom. In those very States where freedom of speech and action were so strongly advocated, acts were placed upon the statute books providing for the seizure and confiscation of the property of any one acknowledging his allegiance to the British Crown. To this sufficiently harsh penalty was added the liability to imprisonment, and in some states the offence was treated as high treason, and capital punishment was not deemed too severe. These coercive measures were impotent to affect the loyalty of thousands, who steadfastly declined to trample upon that flag which had for ages been to them the emblem of freedom. As a result the most heartless persecution followed.

The late Dr. Ryerson, whose parents were victims of this policy of oppression, truly wrote "The persecutions to which the emigration of the Puritans from England is attributed were trifling indeed in comparison with the persecutions, imprisonments, confiscations, and often death, inflicted on the loyal adherents to the Crown of England in the United States, and which drove the survivors among them to the wilderness of Canada. The privations and hardships experienced by many of these Loyalist patriots for years after the first settlement in Canada were much more severe than anything experienced by the Pilgrim Fathers during the first years of their settlement in Massachusetts."

The late Canniff Haight, whose grand-parents were among the number who preferred exile to disloyalty, in a public address at Picton, in 1859, said: "We can form no correct idea of the difficulties which beset these early inhabitants, nor of the hardships and privations they endured. They were not infrequently reduced to the very verge of starvation, yet they struggled on."

The experience of the wife of Jacob Bowman, a prosperous landowner on the Susquehanna River, is not an isolated case. Owing to the illness of his wife, Bowman did not join the British army, but remained at home, a non-combatant, with his family when the Revolutionary War broke out. One night in November, 1775, his house was surrounded by a small Revolutionary force and he and his eldest son, a lad of sixteen years, were carried away as prisoners to Philadelphia, where they were kept in close confinement for eighteen months. Their inhuman captors stripped the house of nearly all the bedding, clothing and provisions, leaving but one blanket to cover the prostrate wife, who gave birth to a son within half an hour of their departure. The helpless mother, with her six young children and the newborn babe, was thus left destitute at a time when she was most in need of tender care. But for the timely assistance of some friendly Indians the entire family would have perished, as the eldest son left at home was only eleven years old. The unfeeling wretches who had carried away his father and brother were so eager to deprive the family of every necessary of life that they had taken away even the coat and boots of this young boy. In his bare feet he cut fuel for his mother's stove and drew it half a mile on his handsleigh to their home.

The family struggled through the long winter, managing to exist upon the scanty supply of provisions furnished by the Indians. Still this brave woman did not despair, nor was her loyalty shaken in the least. She determined to emigrate with her family to the north, where she believed she would find protection and assistance. In the early spring, pale and haggard, and clothed with such remnants of her pillaged wardrobe as she could collect, with her tender babe clinging to her neck, she trudged along the muddy roads, leaving far behind her the scene of her recent troubles. Who can conceive the trials of that weary journey? The little ones were ragged and hungry. Ignorant of the fate of her husband, tired and footsore, she cheered them on the way and told them of that country to the far north where they would find shelter and food. No murmur escaped her lips. After taxing her slender frame to its utmost limit, she finally reached the Mohawk River.

Believing herself to be, for the time at least, beyond the reach of her persecutors, Mrs. Bowman decided to remain in this locality for the summer, in the hope that some intelligence of her husband and son might reach her. She at once began to provide for the famished family by planting corn and potatoes. With the greatest difficulty she managed to obtain sufficient food to barely keep them alive. In the following November they were conducted to Fort George, at Niagara, by a band of Indians who had been sent by the British commander to bring in this and four other destitute families whose pitiable condition had be-come known to him. The party consisted of five women and thirty-one children, all of whom related similar experiences of sorrow and suffering. Some idea of their miserable plight may be had when it is stated that there was only one pair of shoes among them all, and this, too, in the month of November.

It is worthy of note that one of these ragged and bootless families bore the name of Secord, a name which in after years was further immortalized by the loyalty of James Secord and his wife Laura, to whom reference has already been made.

Mrs. Bowman and her family were sent to Quebec, where they were, in a manner, cared for by the Government. But the barracks and soldiers' rations were a poor substitute for the comforts of a home. Although she had already suffered severely from the effects of the war, and was still in doubt as to the fate of her husband and eldest son, Mrs. Bowman did not hesitate to encourage her next son, then thirteen years old, to enlist under Colonel Butler in the spring of 1777. With him she sent as a fifer another son, only nine years old. Her husband and son were released from the Philadelphia prison through an exchange of prisoners and were sent to New York. Having received no news of his family, and believing them to be at the home where they had left them, Bowman, with his son, started for the farm on the Susquehanna. Three days after their departure they were fired upon by some American scouts. The father was unhurt, but six shots took effect upon the son. They were both recaptured and taken to the nearest station, where as a special act of consideration the father was permitted to nurse his wounded boy. As soon as he began to recover they were again requested to renounce their allegiance to their King, which they again refused to do, whereupon they were lodged in Lancaster gaol and treated as felons of the lowest type. Father and son were riveted together by a band of iron about their arms. Around their ankles were placed fetters and chains weighing nearly a hundred pounds, fastened by a ring and a staple to the floor. Thus confined like savage beasts, they suffered cruel torture for years, until the heavy fetters wore away the festering flesh and the bones were laid bare. As the result of this cruel imprisonment the father was but a wreck of his former self. He spent nearly a year in hospital before he was able to walk.

After a separation of eight years, crowded with loneliness, torture and degradation, the stricken parents, broken down in health but not in spirits, were reunited at Quebec. With difficulty and further privations such as all Loyalists necessarily underwent, they made their way to Niagara, where, under the protection of the flag for which they had undergone so much, they began life anew and became the founders of a long line of descendants, who rightfully cherish the memory of their honored ancestors as entitled to first rank among the heroes of Canada.

Hundreds of the U. E. L. mothers suffered the same cruel separation from members of their families, and fragments of their experiences have come down to us, not as complete in each individual case as is the history of Mrs. Bowman, but all pointing to the same cruel treatment, the same loyal hearts, and the same patient endurance. One is tempted to single out a name here and there, owing to some sad story that has been handed down from one generation to another, but all agree in the general outline, differing only in minor details according to the varying circumstances of each particular case. For years following the Revolution there was a constant stream of weary pilgrims, remnants of broken families, seeking a refuge in Canada. In many cases the heads of these families had been imprisoned or done to death, and the burden of caring for those who remained fell upon the already overtaxed mothers. Those who from various causes were unable to mi-grate remained in their original settlements to suffer the taunts and insults of all who chose to vent their animosity upon them, and the State afforded them no protection. At the conclusion of hostilities, a too confiding Home Government trusted the new republic to make restitution to those who had remained loyal to the British cause, but all such were doomed to bitter disappointment. The same antagonism that was exhibited during the war remained unabated after the conclusion of hostilities. Seeing no possibility of being restored to their former rights and privileges, whole colonies of the Loyalists banded themselves together, collected such effects as had been spared them and could be readily transported, and set out for Canada.

Where now we see snug farms and neat villages the solitary forest then held sway.

Here the Loyalists chose to make their homes rather than submit any longer to the arrogance and ill-treatment of their new rulers. The woodman's axe was heard ringing along the banks of lake and river. There soon appeared small clearings. In the centre of each was the log cabin. The clearings kept expanding, roads were laid out, townships were organized, and before a generation had passed away the wilderness had been broken by many thrifty settlements. The same fortitude and zeal which had enabled these hardy pioneers to maintain their loyalty in the face of insult rapine, starvation and death, aided them in their patient struggle to overcome the difficulties of nature in their new home. The task was a long and trying one, but they were found equal to the undertaking.

Throughout our land there are neglected graveyards containing the remains of those silent sufferers, who bravely bore up under trials that would today be considered too great to be endured. The little mounds and moss-covered tombstones "have nothing to tell of the courageous, high-minded mothers, wives and daughters who bore themselves as bravely as the men, complaining never, toiling with the men in the fields, banishing all regrets for the life they might have led had they sacrificed their loyalty."

Is it any wonder that the sons of Canada have always gladly responded to the call to arms, and in the field of battle have acquitted themselves like veterans? Is it any wonder that our fair Dominion is regarded as the brightest gem in the Empire, and that the loyalty of Canadians can always be relied upon?

From the time the first settlers landed upon these shores to the present day, the Canadian women have shown an heroic zeal in upholding the honor and good name of Canada. While we point with pride to the noble records of our generals and statesmen, let us not forget the heroic women who have suffered and died for Canada. While we exalt the brave soldier in the ranks, let us not forget the braver wife at home. The son may carelessly shoulder the musket and march to the front, but who can weigh the love and sacrifice of that loyal mother who gave that son to her country? Canada owes much to the men who have fought her battles and borne the burdens of state but she owes as much, yea, more, to the noble women who instilled the principles of loyalty and devotion in the breasts of their sons, and were never found wanting when the call came to them to sacrifice their loved ones, and what was esteemed of less value by them, their own lives, for the country they loved so well.

The Loyalists
By Sarah Ann Curzon

O ye who with your blood and sweat
Watered the furrows of this land,
See where upon a nation's brow,
In honor's front, ye proudly stand!

Who for her pride abused your own,
And gladly on her altar laid
All bounty of the older world,
All memories that your glory made,

And to her service bowed your strength,
Took labor for your shield and crest,
See where upon a nation's brow
Her diadem you proudly rest!


Heroines of Canadian History, By W. S. Herrington, 1910

 

Canadian Heroines


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