Life in the early nineteenth century was hard, dangerous, and often without the little luxuries taken for granted by later generations. The population was slow to grow, and everyone depended on the help and support of their neighbours in everyday struggles, from building a home, to gathering supplies from far-off Prescott.
For the first decades of the century, the four townships of Wolford, Oxford, Montague and Marlborough were administered as a unit, with a single council meeting in Merrickville, which, though small in size, was yet the central urban hub of the four townships. In 1804, the total population of the four townships was just 209. One of these, Thomas McCrae of Montague, has left an account of life at that time, and it shows both the dependence each resident had on their neighbours, and the state of the countryside through which they travelled.
“The whole of the inhabitants, for miles around, had gathered to raise a log house; at that time it took three or four days to complete the undertaking, men being very scarce. On the third day, after the last log to be placed in position, a council was held, and, after due deliberation in much discussion, it was decided that the settlement had so far advanced in civilization that some of the luxuries of life should be procured. Our grist mill consisted of the primitive stump and pestle, the meal when ground being eaten from wooden bowls with wooden spoons. It was decided by the council that I should take one and a half bushels of wheat, carried from the site of Merrickville to Brockville, exchange it for one dozen bowls, one dozen iron spoons, the balance to be expended in groceries.
With the bag in my back I started for Brockville, before the sun was up, the road consisting of a winding path through the woods, with marks on the trees to show the direction. During my journey I was buoyed with the thought of the great surprise which was in store for our good wives, as the matter had been kept a profound secret from them. Never did the Minister go out to preach the gospel feeling a greater responsibility than I felt resting upon myself I arrived at Brockville on the evening of the second day, pretty tired, and the next day I exchanged my wheat for a dozen white bowls with a blue edge and one dozen iron spoons bright as silver, half a pound of cheap tea and the balance in fine combs and little things for the children.
Early next morning, with a light heart, and carefully guarded my precious load, I started for home. I arrived at North Augusta in the evening, and when crossing the stream at that place, on a log, the bark gave away and down I fell, some ten feet on the stones below, and horror of horrors, broke every one of my bowls. Never, never in all my life, did I experience such a feeling of utter desolation. How to go home and meet the expected people, without the bowls, was an ordeal my soul shrank from, but there was no help for it.
I spent a sleepless night on my bed of hemlock boughs, and in the morning proceeded on my way with a sad heart. I found a few of the neighbours at my shanty waiting for me, and was greatly relieved when I saw that the loss was endured with Christian fortitude.”
Joshua Rose wrote of those early years, himself one of the pioneer settlers around 1802:
“For many years, clothing was very scarce, and hemp was raised in considerable quantities, to supply the place of cotton and woollen goods. Men and women were frequently dressed entirely in deer skin. Wolves were so plentiful that they would enter farmyards, and destroy sheep and calves in the daytime.
Several fatal accidents occurred in Wolford at a very early date, which cast a gloom over the entire settlement. In 1801, John Hutton was drowned Rideau River, near Grass Island; and Nicholas Haskins was killed, while assisting in raising Merrick’s Mills. A child, the son of Jacob and Mary Vandusen, wandered into the woods, on the farm occupied by J. Louckes, and was never seen after, the only trace being the discovery of his little sunbonnet. The child, three years of age, the daughter of a soldier, strayed into the woods one Saturday night. The little wanderer was found by Asa and Blanchard, who returned her safe and sound to the arms of her mother.”
No roads, two days to walk to Prescott, and two days back, just to trade wheat for the luxury of white bowls with a blue edge. Primitive conditions, primitive technology, but these men and women were the founders of our communities.