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The Hope People

The beginnings of history making in Pictou were modest; but they were highly promising if there is aught of force in the adage which says that well begun is half done. There was good augury in the very name of the brig "Hope," the first immigrant vessel which dropped anchor in the Harbor. Yet the future importance of Pictou was probably not even dreamed of by those connected with the little brig. At that time the enterprise doubtless looked hopeful mainly from a land speculator's point of view.

The "Hope," bearing officers of the Philadelphia Company, so called, and the families of half a dozen intending settlers, arrived at Pictou from Philadelphia, on June 10, 1767. The Company had obtained a Royal grant of 180,000 acres of land in the district. To this grant were attached the usual stringent settlement conditions. It was in compliance with those conditions that the expedition had been sent out. The families who came by the "Hope," according to Dr. Patterson, were: Dr. John Harris, agent of the Company and his wife; Robert Patterson, the Company's surveyor, his wife and five children; James McCabe, his wife and six children; John Rogers, his wife and four children; Henry Cumminger, his wife and four or five children; and a sixth family of unknown name it may have been Hand. There is on record in the Pictou Registry, a deed to Recompense Hand of land adjoining that originally taken up by John Rogers.

Of these pioneers the only name which has remained continuously prominent in the County, is that of Harris. J. Sim. Harris, the High Sheriff, is a lineal descendant, in the fourth generation, of Dr. John Harris. He is the fourth Sheriff in succession in that family. None but a Harris has ever been Sheriff of Pictou County.

No descendant of Robert Patterson, bearing his name, is now resident within the County, although his blood runs in the veins of a number of well known Pictou families. A few of McCabe's descendants bearing his name are to be found in the County. John Rogers gave his name to the district since known as Rogers Hill. His descendants are few, the most distinguished of them being Rev. Anderson Rogers of Halifax, late Moderator of the Presbyterian Synod of the Maritime Provinces. The Cumminger name early disappeared from the County.

The courageous little band which came in the "Hope" had to encounter the usual trials and difficulties of pioneer settlers in a densely wooded country, remote from human neighborhood. But they had plentiful supplies; were busy making improvements, and were cheered from time to time by the arrival of other families and individuals to join their settlement. Of the early followers of the "Hope" from Philadelphia the most important were Rev. James Lyon, a large shareholder of the Company, and Matthew Harris, an elder brother of Dr. John, who settled on the Davidson farm at West River, above the Saw Mill bridge.

Additional settlers came from Truro. Of these the most noteworthy was William Kennedy, who located at the mouth of what has since been known as Saw Mill Brook, where he erected, in 1769, the mill from which the stream took its name. This mill was the first frame building erected in the County.

Up to the 1st of January 1770, there had been 67 arrivals and four births at Pictou. But 36 had removed or died, and the total population was 84. The first census, then taken, sets forth that the settlement possessed 6 horses, 16 oxen, 16 cows, 16 young cattle, 37 sheep and 10 swine. Dr. Harris is credited with the ownership of a fishing boat and a small vessel, the pioneer of Pictou's subsequent extensive mercantile fleet. The settlers had that year harvested 64 bushels of wheat and 60 of oats.

The heads of families were: John Harris, Robert Patterson, Robert McFadden, Henry Cumminger, James McCabe, Nathan Smith, Rev. James Lyon, Barnabas McGee, William Kennedy, Moses Blaisdell, William Aiken, George Oughterson, Thomas Skead, Matthew Harris, Barnett McNutt, James Archibald, Charles McKay and Robert Dickey.

The "town" or centre of the settlement, was located opposite Brown's Point, at the mouth of Haliburton Creek, since generally known as the "Town Gut." This most unsuitable site had to be accepted because when the Philadelphia settlers arrived, Colonel McNutt, that notorious Nova Scotia land grabber, had secured a grant of all the shore lands from Brown's Point to the mouth of Pictou Harbor, and thence around the coast to Cariboo Harbor. It was not until the escheating of McNutt's grant that the Harbor front was made available for settlement. After that, a village sprang up at Norway House Point. But it was only at a considerably later date that the present Town site began to be occupied.

The nearest settlement to Pictou was at the head of Cobequid Bay, near what is now, the town of Truro. It was imperative that a safe means of access to this settlement, then known as Cobequid, should be immediately opened up. Accordingly, one of the first cares of the "Hope" settlers was to have a trail laid out between the two places. This path, known as the "Cobequid Road," was in no true sense of the word a road; but it served most useful purposes. It was free from dangerous obstructions; was clear cut and direct, and could be easily traversed on foot or horseback.

It seems rather singular that exact knowledge of the location of this most important land route should so soon have perished. Even Dr. Patterson appears to have been able to secure only vague information as to the location of parts of it. But it can be clearly traced through the land Registry office. The Cobequid Road followed the line of the present West River Road from the Town Gut to "Belmont," the Evans farm. Thence it ran along the West River "old road" to a point near Leithead's stone house. Thence it struck across the face of the hill back of Durham, following exactly the south west line of James D. Maclellan's lands, and came out near the late Robert Patterson's house. Thence, following the same direction, it crossed Auchincairn to the Four Mile Brook Road, a short distance from the house of the late Thomas Rogers, Postmaster. Thence it followed the present Brook Roads to Mount Thom, over the top of which it passed, and thence down the Salmon River to Cobequid, now Lower Truro. The complete oblivion into which the very existence of this road had fallen, even among the grand children of the settlers to whom it had been so important, was curiously illustrated some forty years ago when a rusted cannon ball was picked up in the woods at Auchincairn. There was much speculation in the district at the time, as to how this old round shot could possibly have come there. It was not until long afterwards that recovered knowledge of the actual course of the Cobequid Road suggested a partial, but only a partial, explanation of the mystery. By whom or for what purpose such a piece of property as a cannon ball was being transported through the woods between Truro and Pictou, over the Cobequid Road, and how it came to be dropped in such a spot, cannot even be guessed. The Cobequid Road is said to have been laid out by Thomas Archibald and John Otterson of Truro assisted by John Rogers.

The "Hope" pioneers with the exception of Rogers' family, and possibly one other family, were all located along the north side of the West River estuary, from the Town Gut to the "Harbor Head," when the ship "Hector" with her contingent arrived.

The Truro settlers had been advised of the coming of the "Hope," and had sent a delegation to meet and welcome those on board. The delegation consisted of Samuel Archibald, father of the afterwards famous S. G. W. Archibald, John Otterson, Thomas Troop and Ephraim Howard. Tradition says that the two last mentioned bestowed their names as they passed on the outstanding hills still known as Mount Thom and Mount Ephraim.

The whole County was densely wooded at that time. On the shores of the Harbor, extending up the river valleys and clothing the hills were magnificent growths of pine, almost every tree a gigantic model of its kind. The grove which covered the present site of the town is said to have been notably fine. To the north, more particularly around the shores of Cariboo, there were splendid stretches of Oakland. The coast waters and streams were overflowing with fish, the woods with game. With shelter, fuel and food thus at hand in richest abundance, the original pioneer band and the succeeding parties of settlers can scarcely have suffered the harrowing experiences which later imaginations have conjured up. No doubt they endured certain trials, and privations, like all pioneers. But they were young and vigorous; and their healthy joys must have far more than counterbalanced their troubles. The physical delights of pioneering are too often overlooked in listening to the reminiscences of old men and women regarding their youthful days in the wilds.

One thing is certain the children of the pioneers never ceased to regret the good old times, "the golden age" of their youth, when they and their neighbors' young folk gathered in the evenings, around blazing wood fires in wide, hospitable, log cabin chimney places, and when social intercourse had a peculiar freedom and charm, which was sadly missed in later and supposedly more happy years, of greater seeming comfort.

The "Hope" settlers had completed the political organization of the Pictou district, and their members had been materially increased from other sources before the next large band of immigrants joined them, six years later. These are facts which should be duly kept in mind, because they suggest a very different idea of the relative importance of the two first bands of pioneers than that generally entertained. They also shed valuable light on the real condition of the Pictou settlement when the ship "Hector" arrived in 1773.

Effective municipal government had, at that date, been established. The following is a list of its officials in February, 1775:

John Harris Clerk of District
Robert Meresom
John Harris, Overseers of Poor
James Fulton
Moses Blaisdale
William Kennedy, Surveyors of Lumber
William Aiken, Constable
James Fulton, Clerk of Market
Abraham Slater, Culler of Fish

Pictonians at Home and Abroad, 1914

 

Pictou County


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