Every week, I share an excerpt from the book my Great Aunt helped write, As the Story is Told: A History of Morpeth and Community, which was printed in 1986. This week we launch into the Farming section.
Sheep were very necessary. They not only supplied meat but wool and tallow which were required by every family. The wool was spun and woven for clothing, bedding and carpets. Fulled cloth which was used for clothing required a lot of work to make. The flannel was spread on an even, smooth surface and made very wet. A smooth piece of wood, 2 by 4, was drawn over it until it was firm and well “fulled”. It wore well but was hard to sew.
They had to make their own soap. There was a leach (a wooden box up on legs) in which the wood ashes were put. The liquid that formed when they were wet was caught. This was the lye. The fat from butchering was saved and when there was enough soap would be made by cooking the mixture in a big iron kettle in the back yard. Sometimes they made soft soap and sometimes hard.
There was usually a smoke house too where meat and fish were smoked. Meat was also preserved by soaking it in a strong brine in a barrel.
In the very early days they had no light except what the fire place provided. Then they would burn a piece of rag in a saucer of grease. This was called a cruse. Then came the candle which they made with tallow and candlewick. They had candle molds to form them. With the arrival of coal-oil lamps they really had light.
The early beds had ropes fastened across them in place of springs. They used corn husks or straw to fill their bed ticks. Every year these were emptied and filled with fresh husks or straw. Feathers were used when they collected enough.
Deer and wild turkeys were plentiful but bears, wolves and foxes were too. They had to build high pens and put their animals in every night. Even so sometimes a bear or wolf would get in and create havoc.
One night in the 1830s Mrs. Robert McKinlay was alone with one or two small children when a wolf looked in the window of the log house. She made the children as safe as she could and then made a torch. Wild animals were afraid of fire. Fortunately the wolf did not break in.
During what was known as the famine year in the 1830s food was scarce. Robert McKinlay carried a chest on his back to Talbotville where he traded it for a bag of flour which he carried home on his back.
A report of how things were progressing is further recorded in a letter written by James McLaren to his father back in Scotland on July 4, 1848. Mr. McClaren gave as his home address “Township of Howard, Western District, Upper Canada.” He was living at that time on the north half of lot six on the Twelfth Concession of Howard.
Copied from the original:
“We are here in the middle of the American woods where she can see nothing but trees. Although our neighbours are within half a mile of us on both sides we can see nothing of them or their land from our house, the woods being so high and the land so level.
I have not seen a rock in Canada, yet I have been several times on the banks of Lake Erie and it is all land with banks 30 to 40 feet high and no rock or stone of any kind to be seen. You cannot see the other side of it from here – it is like looking at the ocean.
This country is a strange sight to a Scotch Highlander – both the appearance of it and the thought of making arable land of such thick and tall woods. I have cut down 1 1/2 acres in the last month. We were so long before we came here that we have no crop in the ground this season except a few potatoes about the door. We have a patch of oats on our uncle’s land. We have two cows and they feed in the woods with a bell hanging to one of them to let us know where they are, otherwise they could not be found.
Every family makes their own bread. They make it rise without anything but flour, and water and salt, and fire it in a white iron oven before the fire – some have brick ovens but we cannot get anything else. Oats and barley we cannot get ground nearer than 50 miles. Barley grows pretty well here but the oats are very small in general, there is not much meat in them. We can get Indian cornmeal which I like as well as oats for porridge. We make our own butter and cheese. They make their own sugar from the maple tree which much resembles the plane tree in timber and leaf. This is also a great place for fruit. Their apples grow by setting the trees in the same field which they use and they produce plentifully without any more care.”