Old Days on the Nashwaak Recalled

For hundreds or thousands of years, indigenous peoples lived and had settlements in the Nashwaak River valley – at the time Europeans arrived, these First Nations were members of the Wabanaki Confederacy, the People of the Dawnlands. The arrival of Europeans brought cataclysmic changes to indigenous peoples, yet this impact was largely ignored by the settlers themselves. You’ll note the absence of any mention of indigenous inhabitants in most recollections of early settlers; the one that follows is no exception.

Mary Colter was the daughter of Martin MacBean (or McBean) and grand-daughter of Angus MacBean, a soldier in the 42nd Highland Regiment (the Black Watch). Although often incorrectly referred to as a ‘United Empire Loyalist Regiment’, the Black Watch was raised in Scotland as a regular infantry unit of the British Army and sent to fight in the American Revolutionary War – they were not Loyalists, and as Gaelic-speaking Highlanders probably had little love for the English King. After the war, many in the Regiment were discharged and given land grants in New Brunswick. A number of them settled in the Taymouth area of the Nashwaak Valley, where they were among the first European settlers.

Colter was the first (European) woman teacher born on the Nashwaak and attended the Normal School in Saint John, New Brunswick (NB), in 1866. The following article was published in the Daily Gleaner in 1921, when she was 83. Mary MacBean Colter died in 1924, three years after this article was written, at the age of 86.

Old Days on the Nashwaak Recalled

Mrs. Alex. Colter, who makes her home with her son-in-law, Coun. Alex Brewer, recently won a prize of ten dollars awarded by the Western Home Monthly for the best story on Pioneer Life. Mrs. Colter is eighty-three years of age and was formerly a school teacher. She is remarkably bright for one of her years and writes with a clear hand. Her story, in an interesting manner, deals with pioneer life in York County and is as follows –

After the Revolutionary War, a number of soldiers who had served for seven years in the war were granted land in the wilderness of New Brunswick on the Nashwaak, which empties into the St. John River opposite Fredericton. The officers were given land from the mouth of the river up for seventeen miles and from that up for about seven miles was granted to the 42nd Highlanders. One of the officers*** was a land surveyor and to him was entrusted the laying out of the soldier lots. He saw that though it was wilderness then that there was a beautiful spot at the mouth of the Tay Creek which empties into the Nashwaak. So he had surveyed the land and laid out for himself what is now the nine farms instead of taking his land with the rest of the officers farther down the river. This curtailed the soldiers lots and made them very small. The officer’s property did not do him much good. He did not live long and the property passed out of the hands of the second generation. Many of the soldiers sold their lots and went elsewhere. My paternal grand-father, Angus MacBean, sold his and bought the farm next below the 42nd block. His descendants of the fourth, fifth, and sixth generations are occupying it now.

My maternal grandfather lived at the upper end of the block and in time bought out six other soldiers. His descendants still hold all of it. At the time they took possession of the land, there was only one house at Fredericton, then called St. Anne’s. The government gave them provisions for one year and I think a few implements. These brave men and women went to work, built houses and barns, and cultivated the land as best they could, dug pits to saw lumber, had hand mills to grind their own grain, dug out log canoes to travel as the roads were almost impassable, made maple sugar and honey. They did not have any store molasses until thirty years after. But the land was good and produced plentifully. They had plenty of meat and fish. The river was full of salmon and trout. I heard my father tell one night he and his neighbour caught twenty-seven salmon in one night. They lay on a big rock and watched their nets. There was plenty of moose and caribou and there were not restrictions on moose or salmon killing then. My maternal grandfather, Peter MacLagan, had thirteen children, who all married and had families and lived to a good old age. My mother (Isabel) was the sixth child and she has often told me of her early days. When she was thirteen years old she went to keep house for her old blind grandfather, Alex MacIntosh. He lived a mile from her house or any other houses. She stayed with him for two years. His descendants own the farm yet. The railway runs through it now and there is a station at the place. Great changes have occurred in something over a hundred years. My mother and her sisters used to shear the sheep, wash, card and spin the wool. One man, Alex. Cameron, used to weave for all the neighbours but when he got too old to do it the women learned and did it all. The raised flax and manufactured all the linen they used. They had no cotton except print for a Sunday dress. For these sturdy old Scotsmen and women always kept Sunday. My grandmother used to try to have the work done so they need not work Saturday evening. They used to walk four or five miles to attend Sabbath service and walk back home without their dinner. The old church they used to attend was built about a hundred years ago and was fixed up for a school house and used as such until two or three years ago.

They used to ride on horseback as they did not have carriages and the roads were not fit for them. When a couple were going to be married they, accompanied by their friends, went to the squires as no dissenting minister was allowed to marry until about 1834, that is to perform the ceremony. I think they used to ride double when it was a wedding, but when they went on a journey, they would sometimes go over the portage to Miramichi, they would ride and tie. A party of three or four would go together and they would not have horses enough for all, so two would mount the horse and ride for three or four miles and then tie the horses by the roadside and walk on. When those who were walking behind came up they took the horses and rode past and tied. Some of the Nashwaak people lumbered in Miramichi and some settled there. One of my father’s brothers (Alexander) was burned to death in the Miramichi fire of 1825. Just here I would like to correct a mistake I have seen about the number who were burned to death in that fire. Some say hundreds but I have heard my father and mother say there were not more than thirty. I have talked with people who lived there at the time and they say the same thing.

I can hardly claim to be a pioneer, but I am eighty-three years old and eighty years ago when a lucifer got into our goose house and killed all the geese the hired man killed him and got $1.50 for the skin. I remember a little later of going to school in a little log house to an old drunken Irish schoolmaster and how he used to frighten me.

All of the work on the farm was done by hand. They planted with a hoe and dug with the same implement. They made their own harrows. Sometimes they bought iron teeth and sometimes they made wooden ones. They sowed the grain by hand and reaped it by a sickle or cradle. They mowed the grass and raked and pitched it by hand. I think it was in 1872 we got the first mowing machine and horse rake. We manufactured our own wool, spun, and wove it and wore it. We would be very proud of our homespun dresses. We used to colour them with butternut bark and also with the golden rod and samas. We did not raise flax in my time.

I can remember when there were very few light wagons and on Sunday they would harness a span of horses to a big farm wagon, lay boards across for seats and the whole family could be invited to ride. People were kind to the poor in those days. Now the children and grandchildren of these people are rolling about in their automobiles, living in fine houses with every convenience and having every kind of machinery to work with. I am afraid I have written too much but I could write a great deal more but I do not want to make this article too long.

*** The officer in charge of surveying was Lieutenant Dugald Campbell. Campbell later received a commission in the King’s New Bruswick Regiment and prepared the first map of the city of Fredericton. As Mary states, he did not live long, dying in his 53rd year. His family did not stay on the land.