One of the few letters which remain from those written by Ramsay settlers in the township’s first year gives the optimistic impressions of a Glasgow society emigrant, John Toshack. He already had built his log cabin on land where later the village of Bennie’s Corners waxed and waned, and was back at Lanark preparing to bring his family from the district centre to the new home. His letter tells of his hopes for his chosen lot and mentions two of the boats which served in the settlers’ use of the “water conveyance.” Writing to a friend in Glasgow, Alexander Sinclair, on September 11, 1821, he said in part:
“I gladly embrace this opportunity of writing you by Mrs. Graham who has lost her husband and is returning to Scotland. Our family is all well now, by the mercies of God, they are all recovered. We had four of them in the fever since we came here, Margaret, Andrew, Helen and Eneas. Many have died since arriving in Canada, some of the fever, others of the flux and others from the effects of fatigue.
We have got land in the township of Ramsay near the Mississippi River, which runs into the Ottawa about fifteen miles from our land. We are only half a mile from it. There are always plenty of good fish to be got in it, but especially in the spring, when I am informed they are caught in very great abundance.
William, John and James Bennie and I have each got 100 acres together, in a square. It is most beautiful land, and resembles the Dalmarnock haughs (low rich land beside a river). According to what I have seen of other land, it will produce abundantly of all which is necessary for the support of a family. The land is by no means generally good, there is much rock and swamp on many lots. Indeed I would not exchange the land that we have got for any other I see. But it is a great distance from this (ie., from Lanark), about twenty miles by land and near forty by water. Had it not been for the water conveyance we would not have attempted to go so far. We have built two flat boats, of fir boards at one inch thick, which we got from the saw mill at 3s.6d. per 100 feet.
I have got up a house, 22 feet by 16, which will do to begin with. Our land abounds with beautiful wood, of elm, maple, birch, beech, pine, and bass ; the latter is somewhat like your saugh (sallow or broad-leafed willow). I often think if you had a few score of the trees that we cut down to burn you would turn them to better account.
“I hope to have all my luggage and family on the land in about ten days,….Government has been very honorable. Besides conveyance from Quebec to Lanark and rations – the rations consist of one pound of bread and one of pork for a man, one half each for a wife, one third for a child above seven and one quarter for those under. – I have got a blanket for myself, one for my wife, one for every two children and one for the odd one ; also an axe, a hand saw, a bill hook, an iron wedge, two pair hinges, a thumb-neck (door latch), two files, a stock-lock, two gimlets, a pick axe, a hammer, a scythe and stone and among us four we have got a pit and cross-cut saw and we will get a grindstone when we want it. There are also nails and other things still to be got. (Note: Among other supplies issued were spades, hoes, harrow teeth, sickles, pitchforks, adzes, augers, kettles and frying pans.)
The gentlemen here and all the way from Quebec, who had the charge of forwarding us, seemed to vie with each other in discretion and kindness. This is the most merciful act that I ever knew the British Government perform. It affords many poor industrious families the means of obtaining the necessaries of life who had no such prospect before. You will observe that I am writing only from information and observation, it will require another twelve months to come to enable me to write from experience. I think the emigration is likely to be carried on at least another year. There are three townships to be surveyed beyond Dalhousie, Lanark and Ramsay, near the grand river. I will if spared write you more particularly afterwards and hope to give you more information.”
John Toshack, who came to Ramsay with his wife, seven sons and two daughters, was a man of strong religious tendencies. He had been a deacon in the Congregational Church under the Rev. Mr. Ewing in Glasgow, and preached in the first shanties of settlers in Ramsay before there was an ordained clergyman in the township. His younger daughter, eleven years old at the time of the 1821 migration, became the wife of the first Peter Cram of Carleton Place. Surviving her husband on the Cram farm homestead on High Street which later was acquired in the eighteen eighties by her nephew Peter Cram (1831-1920) of Carleton Place, she died in 1890 at the home of her daughter, Mrs. James Thom in Ramsay.
A final installment of this series of Ramsay settlement stories will tell of the emigration adventures of one family of Ramsay pioneers.