MANY RAMSAY FAMILIES TOOK MISSISSIPPI ROUTE, By Howard Morton Brown, Carleton Place Canadian, 04 May, 1961

A pioneer navigation of the Ottawa Valley’s Mississippi River was an expedition by a group of Scottish emigrants one hundred and forty years ago. In the traditions of some district families the Mississippi adventure of long ago seems to have been elevated to first place over the transatlantic sailing from Greenock as being the Mayflower voyage of the settlement of the township of Ramsay. That there were capable and daring river navigators among the settlers of Ramsay township in its first year is suggested by an October 1822 report of Colonel William Marshall, the North Lanark settlement superintendent, on a trip of exploration of the Mississippi River made then by him from the Clyde to the Ottawa. Listing the main falls and rapids encountered in Drummond, Beckwith and Ramsay townships and in the new surveys from there to the Ottawa River, he wrote, at a time when the building of the Rideau Canal was proposed and its route unsettled: “Notwithstanding these difficulties, a boat twenty-four feet long built by the settlers at Shepherds falls in Ramsay went from that place to Lachine in five days and returned in seven. The people in that quarter are in high spirits at the idea of the navigation passing that way to Montreal.”

Mississippi River Route

The first bold venture of Scottish settlers of Ramsay upon little-known local waterways was made in 1821 down the Clyde and Mississippi rivers from Lanark village to the falls at the site of Almonte. The boats, made of boards sawn at Lanark, proved fit to survive the rocks of the numerous rapids and the difficult portages of the excursion. The water borne explorers appear to have included Walter Black, James and Thomas Craig, John Downie, James Hart, Arthur Lang, John Lockhart, William Moir, John Neilson, William Paul, John Smith, John Steele, John Toshack and others. It seems that those undertaking boat building at Lanark probably also brought their families to Ramsay in the expedition by lake and river. As recalled by Arthur Lang’s eldest son, William Lang (1811-1902), their craft were “rough boats build by the men. A good many portages had to be made and it took some days to complete the trip. When coming down Mississippi Lake they stopped at an island, and while preparing a meal a big Indian hove into sight. Fear filled every heart. The late John Steele was equal to the occasion. He seized a huge loaf of bread and presented it to the Indian as an evidence of their friendly intentions. The peace offering was not accepted and the Indian passed by on his way to his camp on another part of the island, paying no attention to them. A night was spent on the north shore of the river above the falls at Carleton Place, beds being spread on the ground.” At the present location of the Almonte town hall shelters were made in wigwam style for use as a headquarters until all had completed the building of cabins on their lands.

Indians of the Mississippi

Five years earlier the native Indians had been in undisputed possession of the whole region of the unknown Mississippi. In the beginning of the surveys of the district, the first superintendent of locations in the Rideau Military Settlements had written in May, 1816, to the Lieutenant Governor’s secretary at York : “Having been informed by Indians and others that in the rear of the River Tay there was a much larger River which emptied into the Ottawa, I directed Mr. Groves about ten days since to follow the line between Townships No. 1 and 2 (Bathurst and Drummond) until he struck this river, which he did in front of the 11th concession. He reports it to be a fine river, and the land between this and it of an excellent quality.” The Indians of the Mississippi area are seen in a description of them by the Rev. William Bell, recorded within two months of his 1817 arrival at Perth : “In the afternoon two families of Indians in three canoes came down the river and pitched their tent upon the island in the middle of the village. They were the first I had seen since I came to the place. They had deer, muskrats and various kinds of fowls which they exposed for sale. The deer was small but they sold it at a dollar a quarter – the head with the horns at the same price. Their canoes were all of birch bark about eighteen feet long and three feet wide at the middle. They had in each canoe a capital fowling-piece and several spring traps for taking game and all the men were armed with the tomahawk. They had all black hair, brown complexions and active well-formed bodies. All of them even the children had silver ornaments in their ears.” (Five days later:) “While we were at breakfast the whole band of Indians with their baggage passed our house on their way to the Mississippi River ten miles distant. Each of the men carried a canoe on his head. The squaws were loaded with blankets, skins, kettles, tents etc., like as many asses.” Over the five year period before the pioneers of Ramsay had arrived settlers had located at points along the Mississippi from Morphys Falls and Mississippi Lake up to Dalhousie Lake. Sections still occupied by Indians included those at Mississippi Lake where as then noted by the Rev. William Bell, “some of the islands in the lake are still inhabited by Indians, whose hunting grounds are on the north side and who are far being pleased with the encroachments our settlers are making on their territories.”

1800 PEOPLE AMONG FIRST SETTLERS IN RAMSAY, BY HOWARD MORTON BROWN, CARLETON PLACE CANADIAN, 27 APRIL, 1961

An account of the beginnings of settlement in Ramsay township is continued.  Extracts from a diary of a voyage from Greenock to Quebec on The Earl of Buckinghamshire, one of four sailing ships which carried eighteen hundred Glasgow district emigrant society passengers bound for North Lanark, have told part of the story of the Atlantic crossing of a number of the pioneer residents of Ramsay.  This diary of one hundred and forty years ago was written by Arthur Lang, who settled with his family near Almonte in the year of the first opening of agricultural land in the township.  He became a farmer and a school teacher there.

His story is resumed as the ship’s six hundred emigrants to northern townships of New Lanark are nearing the shores of the new world.

“1821, May 27, the Sabbath – At 12 o’clock we were in 43 deg. 45 min west longitude.  Another lecture was given by Mr. Thomson, but the levity of some and the seriousness of others formed a striking contrast.

Storm at Sea

May 28 – A very heavy sea was rolling and continued the whole night.  The first scene…was fourteen or fifteen of the passengers tumbling head-long on top of one another.

May 29 – Everyone is telling what a bad rest they got, for really such a tumbling of baskets, cans, bundles, basins and pots I never heard before.  About sixteen of us had a good glass of rum at night in the forecastle.

June 1 – Still but cold air continues.  We imagined ourselves off the banks of Newfoundland but Friday, June 1st convinced us we were upon them, for there were a great many fishermen around.  Two French brigs passed quite close.

June 2 – One of our side sail booms broke and vanished.  They got another soon.

Sight of Land

June 5 – This morning we saw land for the first time since we left Ireland.  We saw St. Pauls on the right and Cape Breton on the left.

June 6 – The island of St. Pauls within a quarter mile of us.  We sailed little the whole day, but were amused at a few land birds which flew about the rigging and an owl which sat upon the mast and sometimes flew around us.  It was the first I had ever seen on the wing.  Newfoundland was in view in the afternoon.

June 11 – We were in the mouth of the river at 5 o’clock this morning.  The hilltops are covered with snow, but the rising ground near the water is completely covered with trees.  A pilot came on board today.  He seems to be an able, craft-looking man.

June 13 – Not a house to be seen on the north side at all.  The hills on this side are just about as high as Paisley’s braes, and some of them higher.

June 14 – We have not gained a mile, but we came in view of a fine valley with a number of houses in it.  The hills beyond that valley were as high to appearance as those I have often seen out of the mill windows over the tops of Dumbarton.

June 15 – There is a new scene before us this evening – trees to the hill-tops, cultivated plains – with ranges of white houses, for they are all in rows.  The women appear to be enamoured with the prospects, and no wonder.  Two boats came along side of us with herring, bread and tobacco.

June 16 – We saw Quebec and it looked beautiful.  I got my feet on terra firma and really I was well pleased.

June 17 – This was the best working Sabbath I ever had. Nothing but bustle and confusion and everyone for himself. 

June 19 – A child died this morning, but it was ill before it came on board.  We arrived at Montreal this afternoon.

 

The Upper St. Lawrence

June 20 – A very wet day, yet we disembarked and were hurried away in small carts and the kind of trains used for loading heavy articles with ease.  We arrived at Lachine in the evening and were huddled in a cold, damp reeky barracks.

June 21 – Early this morning the hustle began again.  Nothing but hurry, packing up our beds and dividing our provisions, for we got three days provisions of loaf bread and six days of biscuit with pork and beef, and away we started for the upper Lachine, as they call it, but we passed and rowed till dark night.  It was the longest pull I ever had.  We landed at the place in the dark ; here nothing but hurry again for a bed.  We slept in the open air and our heads were wet with dew in the morning.

June 23 – Another hurry began about sunrise.  We got a hurried breakfast while they were passing through the locks.  All the women and children that could walked, with a greater part of the heavy baggage which was taken to a place about three miles above by land carriage.  The reason of this was that the rapids were so strong.  We came to Cedars and loaded again and went about a mile farther up, and rested another night in the open air.

June 24 – Sabbath was a great day among the Romans and we did not leave the place till the church came out.  It was about midday and we started pulling away and went to a place six or seven miles, where there are locks.  There was a kind of fortress here.  We got into the barracks, but a great many slept in the fields.

June 25 – Early in the morning we left this place and sailed to the outlet of Lake St. Francis in the river St. Lawrence, and lay the whole day for the want of wind, or perhaps some other cause we know nothing about.

June 26 – We had a long voyage today and labored hard the whole day from 5 o’clock in the morning till dark.  The scenery is grand…..

June 27 – Hard labor prevents me making many remarks.  There are many pleasant sights in the river.  At night we came through the canal in the middle of a wood and at the head of it there is what they call the “Long Soo”, a terrible rapid about nine miles long, and some of the merchants boats will run it in twenty minutes.  We rested there for the night.

June 29 – Up early and out at the oars again as hard as ever.  I took very ill this day and was not able to work.  Excessively hot every day.  We rested about five miles from Prescott.

Prescott Landing

June 30 – After a short sleep under a heavy dew we arose as soon as we could see, and after sailing a short space we came to Prescott.  There is a lonely looking town on the opposite shore.  The societies that came in the ship Commerce came to Prescott in the evening.

July 1, the Sabbath – This is really a day of rest, and after getting breakfast I took a tour through the woods to see how they looked.  I saw nothing they produced but strawberries.

July 4 – This day is the anniversary of the States of Independence and there seemed to be some rejoicing on the part of the people on the other side of the water. “

From Prescott the eighteen hundred men, women and children gradually were conducted in wagons and on foot to Brockville and on the rougher roadways from Brockville to Perth and to Lanark village.

Lanark and Ramsay

At Lanark the women and young children remained, many in huts thatched with pine and balsam branches, while the men sought their lots, made little clearings on them and put up shanties built of the logs of the clearings.  Writing on July 19th, Arthur Lang said:

“I set out for Ramsay Settlement to pick out 100 acres, but after six days hard labor travelling through swamps and untrodden paths through woods I had to return without land, and now I have to do the same thing over again….The greater part of the forest, the underwood or bramble, is not so thick as at home but a great deal of it is worse to go through than the worst of Crucatone Wood….conceive Paisley Moors, for instance, all grown over with large trees, some fresh and green, others half rotten and a great many rotten from top to bottom, and almost as many lying in all directions as are standing with not a living creature to be seen or heard except a bird or two, and the owl screaming in your ears at night.”

As less than half the British government’s expenses in connection with the society emigrations to North Lanark of 1820 and 1821, its cash loans to these settlers exceeded 22,000 pounds.  Over 7,000 pounds in loans was advanced to those of 1820, who numbered 167 men and, including their families, over eight hundred persons.  At the same rate of 8 pounds sterling for each man, woman and child, over 15,000 pounds was advanced in cash loans to the society settlers coming to North Lanark in 1821.  After fifteen years during which transferable titles to these settlers’ lands were withheld against the loans, and therefore also their provincial voting rights, it was decided that repayment would not be required.  Speaking of the day his society was paid the second installment of these government advances at Lanark village on November 1, 1821, Arthur Lang wrote:

“I received the second installment of money which was paid in sterling.  If you had seen the foolishness of some who were willing to spend and be merry and the sad countenance of others who had lost the most of their families, I am sure you would have looked with contempt on the one and your hear strings would have ached for the other.”

Four months after his family’s arrival at Lanark, November 12th briefly wad marked for the Langs as the day when, in Ramsay by the Mississippi, “my family came to my own house.”  The winter’s snow came five days later, and November 26 and 27 “were very frosty, the river in some places was frozen quite across.”  Finally after a winter of tree cutting the first spring in the new land came in mid-April, with a note of ‘wet days’.  The river has swollen very rapidly and the ducks are sporting plentifully on the water.  I noticed the pigeons came to the woods on the 4th for the first time.”

A well-known resident of the thriving township, Arthur Lang, farmer and local school teacher, became one of Ramsay’s first two representatives on the council of the Lanark and Renfrew district when, in 1842 and seven years before his death, the province’s first district councils were elected.

Other settlement stories will follow in a later installment of tales of the beginnings of Ramsay township.

HOWARD M. BROWN TELLS STORY OF RAMSAY TOWNSHIP, CARLETON PLACE CANADIAN, 20 APRIL, 1961

One of the first trails to be laid out as a road when the forests on the north side of Carleton Place were opened for settlement is still in use in Ramsay township.  Called later the old Perth Road, it was opened one hundred and forty years ago by Josias Richey, government deputy surveyor, to give access from Lanark township to “the Grand Falls in the Mississippi in Ramsay” for the original settlers there.  Across the middle of the township it follows the southern edge of the broad Precambrian ridge of Wolves Grove, on a course which possibly for many centuries was an ancient route in the travels of Indian hunters.

On completion of the survey of 60,000 acres which prepared Ramsay township in January of 1821 for settlement, and before the summer arrival in the township of over a hundred families of Glasgow emigrant society settlers and others, the first thirty farm locations in Ramsay were obtained by newcomers from Scotland, England and Ireland.

Choosing their hundred acre lots at places most readily reached by the main trail running easterly across the township, these first thirty men of Ramsay included, in the eighth and ninth concessions, William Foster, William Hawkins, Thomas Lowrie, Edward McManus, Robert and Thomas Mansell, James Metcalfe, Andrew Rae,  Archibald Wilkie and Catin Willis.  Those choosing farmsites at the same time nearer to Lanark township in the first, second and third concessions of Ramsay included William Chapman, Thomas Foster, John Gemmill, Patrick McDermott and James Smith.

In midsummer about four hundred men, numbering with their families over eighteen hundred persons, arrived at the one year old village of Lanark and began to select locations for farms in Ramsay, Lanark, Dalhousie and North Sherbrooke townships, under the supervision of Colonel William Marshall, North Lanark settlement superintendent.  They were emigrant society settlers from the Glasgow district who had reached the port of Quebec in June on four ships.

Most had been hand loom cotton weavers.  Others were tradesmen such as carpenters, blacksmiths, shoemakers, and cotton spinners.  With them came the versatile Rev. John Gemmill, Presbyterian minister of the first church of Lanark village and of the north half of Lanark county, who practiced also his skills as a medical doctor and a printer.  Many of those who located in Ramsay township on some of North Lanark’s best agricultural land were forbears of present well known residents of Ramsay, Almonte and Carleton Place.

Ramsay Emigration Diary

The journal of Arthur Lang is one of the few remaining accounts of this large migration to have been recorded by a Ramsay settler in the first year of the inhabitation of the township.  His concise personal chronicle tells with candor of his experiences as one of the six hundred Glasgow district passengers sailing from Greenock on the Earl of Buckinghamshire.  With his wife, two sons and four daughters, he settled on the east side of the Mississippi River (Conc. 10, lot 14) near Almonte, where he lived until his death in 1849.  He was one of the township’s earliest school teachers at Almonte.  His long-lived eldest son William Lang (1811-1902), a famer in Huntley and in Beckwith and born in Paisley, spent his last days at the home of his daughter Mrs. John Cavers in Carleton Place.

The Arthur Lang record of his seven weeks sailing from Greenock to Quebec and of the inland journey fails to join in the gloom of his fellow diarist John McDonald, who was not the John McDonald of Ramsay township.  McDonald’s Narrative of a Voyage, published in Glasgow in 1822, describes his passage on another of the four emigrant ships, the David of London, and gives a disconsolate view of a pilgrims’ progress to Lanark and of the new settlements there.  The extracts which follow are a selection from the entries in Arthur Lang’s authentic contribution to the story of the last four large organized group emigrations from Scotland to Lanark County in Upper Canada.

An Emigrant Ship of 1821

“April 28 – Having got everything ready we left the Old World and started for the New…..There was a little disturbance at one time about the payment for some butter but that passed over and the day ended peacefully.

The 29th began with the roaring of children and I believe ended in the same way.  I cannot but admire the moderation of the captain in his conduct toward the passengers.  They seemed to be in good spirits…..

May 1 – We lost sight of land today.  It was a beautiful day… (marred) by confusion and noise.  Bed-time came with its usual attendants, darkness and the roaring of children.

May 2 – There was plenty of rum going today, and great laughing at the odd ways of some of the men and women.  Some got drunk and were very troublesome to many of us.  One of them was put in irons for his stupidity.  At 12 o’clock last night we ran aground (off the Wicklow coast).  We kept too close to a large rock, the bowsprit almost touching it.  There was little fear or excitement because we did not know the danger.

Escapement From Shipwreck

May 3 – We got from that perilous situation with hard labor at 11 o’clock….A pilot came along side us – I believe that unless he had got a large sum of money he would have rested on his oars in his boat with little concern and watch the ship go to pieces.  (Natives were gathered in readiness to plunder the possible wreckage).

May 4 – We are just lagging as usual without wind, distributing and disputing about our provisions.

May 5 – Not until today have I been able to look up on deck, but was forced to endure intolerable stenches, and the bocking of poor souls wishing to be back again, though it were to live on water gruel at home.  Aye, and I’ll be off before I come back again if I were once there.

May 9 – I have been tolerably well and most of the passengers also, still the trifling disputes continue.  Such a gang to fight about a bucket of slat water, a matter in which five minutes would have set both parties right.

May 10 – Nothing but the usual bustle occurred today, except one incident where a man got a mark with his own pot, contending for the place where it hung.

May 12 – A fine looking ship from China, last at St. Helena, passed us, all well.

May 15 – A schooner from Baltimore, bound for Liverpool has hailed us, and our captain told them we were in 15 deg. 30 min. west longitude.

A Fair Wind

May 16 – There is……..the fairest wind we have had since we left Craig Isle.  From that Craig till this day we have been sailing against the wind.  We have been sailing so far south that sailing north west is very near our course to Quebec.

May 17 – A very good day and nothing occurred but the usual bustle for food from morning to night.  We had no time but to make ready our victuals.  Our room is so small both above and below that we appear to be in continual confusion.

May 18 – It is curious to me at least to see how our spirits freshened with the breeze.

Sabbath, 20th – We had a sermon about 12 o’clock today.  There was a decent little group of young and old with their faces clean and their expressions serious.

May 24 – The ship went at ten knots for a good part of the day and the sea rose higher than I have ever seen it.

May 25 – A fine day but not much wind.  It was considered on this day that the passengers were not as well used as they ought to be by some of the crew.  The mate had struck a man before this with a handspike, but the little man he kicked resented the blow.  It produced new regulations.”