Every week, I share an excerpt from my Great Aunt’s book, As the Story is Told: A History of Morpeth and Community, which was printed in 1986. Note, this is a historical text and I don’t necessarily agree with all of the authours’ views or turns of phrase. This week’s chapter is about the settlement of Howard Township along the Talbot Trail.
The settlement that was to become the town of Morpeth, consists of parts of Lots 91 an 92 north and south of Talbot Road. Today records show how Robert Belfort had settled on Lot 91 South, but with the arrival of three Nova Scotians – James, John and Rupert Woods – Belfort traded his lot for a rifle, a new axe and twenty dollars.
Among the first settlers to settle in this Morpeth area were members of the Coll family who came from the Thames River Front. There were six in number – John, William Samuel, Jesse, James and Thomas. They soon erected log cabins and began life as pioneers. This whole section owes much to the industry and perseverance of these Coll (Cull) families. They have been referred to as men of hardy enterprise and indomitable spirit, who dared every danger and privation in order to do their part in developing this country. Their descendants are numerous here to this day.
Records show that Lot 91 Talbot Road South was granted to Joseph Wood on March 12, 1824; Lot 92 Talbot Road South to Robert Wood on February 20, 1829; and Lot 92 Talbot Road North to James Coll on Oct. 12, 1845; while Lemuel Coll apparently did not receive his patent to Lot 91 Talbot Road North until 1869. The dates of the early patents are, of course, not definite evidence as to when the settlers came since patents were usually issued, no when the land was bought, but when it was fully paid for.
Tradition has it that Morpeth owes its existence to the big hill immediately to the east of it. The brawling stream that ran through this deep valley meant water power; and the creek mouth, which formed a small natural harbour, would provide shipping facilities for small lake vessels. It is also to be remembered here that waggon-traffic for immigrants coming to settle the wilderness of Kent was mostly west-bound. Quite often, the rare vehicles venturing along the bumpy and rutting corduroy road needed repairs after climbing this steep hill. The western crest of Morpeth hill was a logical point for a blacksmith shop and a hostelry to be built to cater to the needs of both man and beast. It was an ideal spot for a pioneer community.
The first settlers, however, were primarily farmers, helping out their crops by engaging in those trades for which there was a demand. The pioneer industries were the blacksmith shops, the grist mill, the saw mill and the distillery. As the hamlet grew, other businesses were established.
At one time no less than four mills were located along the course of Big Creek, a stream which zig-zagged through this area to the port of Antrim on Lake Erie. One was about half a mile south of Morpeth, where the trail leading to Antrim crossed over the mill dam. Another location was east of Morpeth and a little north of Talbot Road. Campbell’s mill was further north where the Twelfth Concession crossed the creek. Still further north Green’s mill was located on Lot 13, Concession Twelve, the side road between lots 12 and 13 crossing over the dam. A smaller stream supplied power for Isaac Bell’s mill at Slabtown, a mile or so west of Morpeth.
The village of Morpeth was laid out by William Sheldon. The first store being opened by Edward Lee, who had established a similar business on the Howard Harwich town line about 1822, but decided to move it to Morpeth in 1826. The first post office for this area was established in 1831 with Captain Wheatley as the first postmaster. Businesses continued to increase in number for the next few decades.
By 1865 Morpeth had come to be known as “a large and flourishing village” in the Township of Howard. Its prosperity was due to various conditions. Travel in those early days was either by road or water and as before mentioned, Talbot Road by this time had become the best road in Canada West. Another asset was its proximity to Lake Erie where trade was carried on, first from the thriving port of Antrim and later from Hill’s Dock. The soil in the surrounding area made good farm land and the climate was not too severe.