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The Early Settlers of the East River

The East River is well known for the variety and the beauty of its scenery. On its banks are Springville, Bridgeville, and Sunny Brae, villages of abundant peace and plenty. It is well known for its rich deposits of iron and lime; its vales and hills, its towering elms and winding river, but it is still more famous for the men and women it has produced; for the district from Churchville to Kerrowgare, a distance of about fifteen miles, has given thirty-five clergymen to the Presbyterian Church, a Governor, a Chief Justice and a Premier to the Province.

What a community produces along educational and religious lines depends not a little upon its antecedents. The early settlers of the East River were a sturdy stock, a sober, stalwart worshipping set of men and women, with iron in their blood, and a burning love in their hearts for the Church and the School. They yoked education and religion together, and the combination produced a fine type of men and moralities. The writer, thirty years ago, taught the Shorter Catechism in the public school at Sunny Brae.

As far as can be ascertained. the first settler in Churchville was John Robertson. He emigrated from the Highlands of Scotland and arrived in 1784, in Pictou. He was a brother-in-law of Roderick McKay, who was one of the first settlers on the East River. The first clearing Robertson made in Churchville was where John Robertson, miller, once resided.

John Fraser was among the first settlers of Springville. To distinguish him from others of the same clan he was called Iain Ruaidh, or Red John. He settled about 140 years ago on the place now known as the Holmes Farm, where he built the first frame house in Springville. It is still standing. Later, the property was bought by Senator Holmes and here he always lived and ended his days. The house is low, but comfortable, reminding one of "the low roofed house of Socrates." Here the Hon. Simon H. Holmes, once Premier of the Province, was born and bred.

John Fraser, Red, had three sons James, Donald and William who settled in the community. One of his daughters married Simon Fraser, Basin: she was the mother of Thomas Fraser, Foreman, and consequently, grandmother of Graham Fraser, the Iron King of New Glasgow. Another daughter, married Mr. Fraser of McLennans Mountain and was the mother of William Fraser, Postmaster, New Glasgow.

James, his eldest son, always called Seumas Iain Ruaidh, was a devout man and well known for his honesty. He raised a large family, who were all of an intellectual turn. It was James Fraser who gave the name Springville to the place from the many sparkling streams in the vicinity.

John Fraser, eldest son of James Fraser, who went always by the name of "Catach" was quite a celebrity in his day. His second son, Donald was the geologist of the East River. His second daughter was mother of James A. Fraser, Editor of the Eastern Chronicle.

James Iain Ruaidh and David McLean were near neighbors and each had an inexhaustible lime quarry on his farm. In 1836, three thousand bushels of lime were manufactured and sold at the Albion Mines. In the same year twenty-five hundred tons of square timber were rafted down the river by the athletic sons of Sunny Brae the Chisholms, Kennedys, Thomsons, McDonalds and McIntoshes. David McLean was the father of the Rev. James Maclean D. D., and Dr. Duncan Maclean, both settled for a long time in Shubenacadie, N. S.

James Grant, one of the passengers on the Hector settled first in King's Co., N. S. He came from Glen Urquhart, Scotland. He was married and some of his children were born in the old country. He moved from King's Co. to Cariboo, Pictou Co., and lived there for some years. Before coming to this country he gained some knowledge of milling. By this time the Upper Settlement people began to raise considerable quantities of grain, especially wheat, but they had no mill to convert it into flour. So they persuaded James Grant to leave Cariboo and move to the East River. This he did, and settled at Mill stream in 1790. He erected a mill on a stream issuing from Grant's Lake, on a site some twenty rods further down than the one now occupied by Grant's Mill. This was the first regular gristmill on the East River.

James Grant died in February, 1822, age ninety-seven. He is described as a quiet, peaceful man. He lived for some years before his death on a farm subsequently owned by Duncan McPhie. When James Grant died, there were twelve families in Millstream and Lime Brook: Duncan Grant, James Grant, dyer, Alexander Grant, miller, Robert Grant, elder, John Fraser, James Fraser, David. McLean, Donald Fraser, Duncan McPhie, Donald Mor Fraser, David McIntosh, and Donald Cameron.

James Grant had four sons and two or three daughters. One of his sons, Duncan, died in 1847 and was buried at Springville Bridge, and was either the first or one of the first buried there. He once owned the farm on which the Rev. Angus McGillivray lived and died.

His sons, Alexander and Robert were men of influence and note and had much to do with the making of the life and the growth of the community. They succeeded their father in the milling business and were leaders in the Church and the State. Alexander Grant was married to Nellie McKay. The Rev. Robert Grant, the historian of the East River was their son. James, eldest son of Alexander Grant and Nellie McKay, was known as the Dyer. He owned woolen mills near Springville. His sons Alexander, John Walter, Hugh and Robert succeeded him.

Robert Grant was married to Mary, daughter of James Robertson. He had three sons; James, who owned a saw mill at the head of Grant's Lake and was for many years an elder under the Rev. Mr. McGillivray; Alexander Robert, who owned a gristmill on Millstream; and Dr. William R. Grant, a distinguished professor in Pennsylvania Medical College. One of his daughters, married John Fraser, Basin. Another was the wife of Colin Robertson, Churchville.

In 1784, a settlement of disbanded soldiers was made further up the river. They came to Pictou at the close of the American War. They were, originally, from the Highlands of Scotland.

The first who came was James Fraser, Big James, who in company with Donald McKay, elder, settled on the interval a little below where St. Paul's Church now stands. He and fifteen others took up a tract of over three thousand acres, extending up to Samuel Cameron's on the east side of the river, and to James Fraser's, Culloden, on the west side. They were a sober and industrious class of people and endured great hardship. But they endured it with characteristic Scottish tenacity and in the belief that the future had much in store for them. A few years rolled by and they had made homes for their families and laid the foundations for a God fearing and prosperous community. To ponder over the hazards and hardships they faced with such optimistic heroism, is but to admire and pay them a justly earned tribute.

The names of these first settlers were: Donald Cameron, his brothers Samuel and Finlay, Alexander Cameron, Robert Clark, Peter Grant, first elder in the settlement, James McDonald, Hugh McDonald on the east side of the river. James Fraser, Duncan McDonald, John McDonald, brother of James, John Chisholm, drowned at the Narrows with Finlay Cameron, John McDonald, 2d, John Chisholm, Jr.

John McDonald was born at Glen Urquhart and belonged to the Glencoe McDonalds. At the time of the Glencoe Massacre, 1692, one of the McDonalds fled to Glen Urquhart and settled there. John McDonald was a grandson or great grandson of that man. He was about eight years in the Royal Highland Emigrant Regiment, and three of his sons fought with him in the Revolutionary War on the Loyalists' side. He was married twice. By his first wife he had Duncan, Alexander, Mary and Christy. By his second wife, Margaret Grant, he had James, Ewen, Ann and Ellen. Ann was married to Thomas Fraser, Basin. Ellen was married to James Robertson. The well known Deacon Robertson, Church vine, was their son. Duncan, eldest son of John McDonald, was married to Catherine Fraser. James, their third son, was born about 1759. He was a Corporal in the 84th regiment. He married about 1782, Mary Forbes, by whom he had Alexander, Edward and other sons.

He left East River about 1834, and settled in Upper Canada where he died in 1857. He was an elder under Dr. McGregor and a very prominent man on the East River in his day. Alexander McDonald, his fifth son, settled near Bridgeville and was the father of Hon. James McDonald, Chief Justice of Nova Scotia.

Edward, second son of James McDonald, had a son John A. McDonald, who left the East River and settled in Ontario. John A. was the father of James A. Macdonald, LL.D., editor of the Toronto Globe and one of the ablest political writers in Canada. He is a Presbyterian minister and still preaches occasionally. Ontario claims the honor of being his birthplace, but the East River is entitled to some recognition in any reference to his parentage for both his parents were born there.

James Fraser, Culloden, married Ann Robertson, Churchville, and had John, Catherine, Margaret, Alexander and James. Alexander married Catherine Rankine, of Merigomish. The late Rev. James W. Fraser, of Scotsburn, was their son.

Alexander Cameron settled on the first lot above Culloden. Donald Cameron with his brother Samuel were natives of Glen Urquhart. Donald served eight years in the army. He was settled on the saddle lot. It is said that the price given for it was a saddle. Thomas Fraser, who lived in Springville, purchased it from Donald Cameron and settled on it about 1815. He married Janet Fraser, widow of Hector Thompson. He left the lot to Simon and Donald Thompson, sons of his wife by her first husband. Duncan, son of Donald Cameron, was an elder in Dr. McGregor's time.

John Campbell, son of James and Elizabeth Campbell was born at Garabeg, Glen Urquhart, July 24, 1790. He entered the army in 1812. He married Janet, daughter of Archibald Fraser, in 1812. He came to Pictou in October 1818. Peter G. was his eldest son. He married Elizabeth Kennedy, a sister of Donald Kennedy, Sunny Brae. His son, Donald K., is a minister in Illinois. One of his sons is a physician in Illinois.

Donald, son of Charles McIntosh, settled on the lot above Donald McDonald, Roy. He lived there for a few years and then sold to William Ciuin McDonald and removed to Fox Brook. William Ciuin was a teacher but gave it up for other pursuits. In the course of time he started a store in New Glasgow. He put up a frame house on his lot, boarded it, but never shingled it. Donald McDonald, Roy, bought a piece of land near New Glasgow from Dr. Skinner. He exchanged it with William Ciuin for the lot in the Upper Settlement and gave it to his son, John McDonald, Roy. John finished the frame house which William Ciuin had begun and lived in it. It is a question who had the honor of living in the first frame house above Springville. It may have been an honor, but what of it? Were not the men who were born in log houses as strong, as wise and good as the men born in frame houses?

David McIntosh, son of Charles McIntosh, settled a short distance above his brother, Donald McIntosh. David was born in Inverness, Scotland, and married Christie Chisholm. James McIntosh, his son, Island, East River, married Catherine Grant. Two of their sons David C. and Finlay G., entered the ministry. Hugh, another son of David McIntosh, married Isabel Polson and gave that man of weight and wisdom, Rev. Charles D. McIntosh to the ministry. Two other sons entered the medical profession.

Alexander McDonald, Roy, was a native of Glen Urquhart, came to Pictou in 1803, and settled at Sunny Brae. He married Christy Fraser and had four sons and four daughters. Squire McDonald of Springville was his second son. Alexander, his third son, was well known in Sunny Brae for many years. The Rev. Finlay R. McDonald, a minister in Scotland, was the youngest son of Squire McDonald.

John Thompson and his son Alexander settled at Sunny Brae in 1801. Alexander married Bella McIntosh by whom he had John, Andrew, Alexander, William, James, Finlay, Christy, Janet and Mary. John Thompson had a brother Donald who settled at Nine Mile River. Rev. James Thomson of the West River was his grandson.

Angus McPhie, in Glen Urquhart married Christy, daughter of John Thompson and had Duncan, Christy, John, Ewen, Alexander, Mary and James. He came to Pictou in the ship Aurora in 1803. Duncan, his eldest son, settled at Springville and was an elder in Rev. Angus McGillivray's day. His son, John McPhie, was one of the old Pictou magistrates. He died in May 1912 in the ninety-sixth year of his age.

The first settlers in Sunny Brae were: Robert McIntosh, Donald Kennedy, James Chisholm, John Grant, Duncan McDonald, John Thompson, John McDonald, Peter Cruikshank and John McGregor. They came to Pictou in 1801 and settled in Sunny Brae in 1802.

Peter Cruikshank was a native of Strathspey, and came to Pictou in 1789. In 1792 he had two hundred acres of land and a cow. He was married and had Elizabeth, William, John, Alexander, Marjorie and Peter.

Robert McIntosh married Jessie, daughter of John Thompson, and had John, William, Jessie and others. Finlay, his son settled on Blanchard Road. He married Catherine Fraser. John Robert McIntosh, his son, married Margaret, daughter of Donald McDonald, blacksmith. Their son Finlay H., is pastor in Sydney, C. B.

John McGregor was a man of great strength. When they were making the Big Miller's dam, he stood before a log that was rolling down the bank to stop it, but the log went over him and killed him. The Big Miller's dam was built about the year 1807.

Donald McDonald, Breac, came from Kerrowgare, Scotland, in 1802. He was an intelligent man, and was an elder under Dr. McGregor. In 1811 he had four hundred acres of land, two cows and eight sheep. He had eight children. Finlay settled in Caledonia; Donald, his eldest son, settled in Sherbrooke, and was a tailor.

His son, James McDonald, was born in Scotland in 1801. He was a tailor but gave up the tailoring business for farming. He married Catherine, daughter of Alexander Fraser, Downie. He was ordained to the Eldership by the Rev. D. B. Blair and fully adorned his office. He was succeeded on his farm by his son, the late John A. McDonald, Kerrowgare. James A., his son, is a minister in the United States.

Donald Ross, was born in Eddrachillis, in Sutherlandshire. He came to Nova Scotia in 1816. He lived for one year on Irish Mountain, but removed to Iron Ore, and settled back of Alexander McDonald's place. He lived there twenty-two years. He then purchased the farm of James McIntosh and occupied it. He had eight children. Jessie was married to Kenneth McKenzie, elder, Churchvine.

Jane, who was born at Irish Mountain was married to James Cumming, elder, of Sunny Brae. William, his eldest son married Mary, daughter of William Cumming, and had by her, Donald, William, Peter, Hugh and John who settled in Ontario. Donald, his eldest son, has lived in New Glasgow for many years where he is greatly beloved. He has been an honored elder in St. Andrew's Church for nearly half a century.

Hugh Ross was an elder in the United Church, New Glasgow, and died some years ago. William Ross was an elder in Sunny Brae Church. He was married to Christy, daughter of Robert Grant, Finlay's brother. He had a large family, who were all actively identified with the church. Two of his sons, William and Robert D., entered the ministry.

John Grant was born in Glen Urquhart and came to Pictou in 1801 and settled at Sunny Brae. He married Margaret McIntosh, and had by her Peter, William, Robert, Catherine, and Finlay. Robert was three years old when he came to Pictou. He married Mary McDonald, and had five sons, John, Alexander, Peter, William and Duncan.

A son of Duncan Grant, William M., is a minister in Ontario. William, who settled in Providence, R. I., married Jessie McDougall, a sister of Roderick McDougall of Westville. One of his sons became a physician, another a lawyer, and two daughters are teachers in the Grammar schools, Providence. Marjorie, daughter, of Robert Grant, married Joseph McKay; two of their sons William R. and Robert G., are clergymen. Catherine, a sister of Finlay Grant, married Duncan McPhie, Springville. They had John, Christy, Alexander, Jessie, Margaret, Mary, Angus and Peter. Their youngest son, Peter McPhie, married Isabella Cruikshank. Their two sons, John P. and Duncan A., entered the ministry.

Finlay Grant was born in 1800 and was one year old when he came to Pictou. He married in 1827, Ann, daughter of Alexander Fraser, Downie, and had Alexander, a merchant in New Glasgow and elder in the United Church. John, an elder in Sunny Brae church who gave two sons Robert J. and William P., to the ministry; William, who entered the ministry, gave two of his sons to the church, Melville and Clarence. The latter died while a catechist. Finlay Grant was ordained to the eldership by the Rev. John Macrae in 1834. He was a clear headed, well read and useful man.

The descendants of John Grant who came to Sunny Brae in 1801 were numerous and took a leading part in the activities of the Church. Fifteen of them entered the Christian ministry and fourteen were regularly ordained elders in the church. This is perhaps as many or more than was given by any other family in the county.

Pictonians at Home and Abroad, 1914


Pictou County

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