William Spence Cumming (1857 Old Machar, Aberdeen, Scotland-1940 Easton, Maine) immigrated to the Scotch Colony via the Sidonian on May 14, 1874. At age sixteen, he was the oldest of the surviving nine children of Mary (Jack) and Thomas Cumming. Thomas’ first wife, Maria (Jack) died in 1855 in Scotland, soon after her the birth of the third of her children (Jean, John, Maggie).
Well, Lizzie, you asked me if I could write a few lines and tell you how and when we came out from Scotland to Canada so I have plenty of time and remembrances so I’ll try to give you a sketch and some incidents that happened as we passed along.
I suppose I might start from the time we left Buckie (a dairy farm near Aberdeen.) I left school on my 13th birthday, 19th May 1870 and we went to a farm about 15 miles from Aberdeen, Upper Mains of Echt. The farms were all named there and commonly the farmer was named after them such as my father was called Mains in an offhand friendly way. Father spent a lot of money on that farm, improving it in one way or another. He put a new thrashing mill in the barn and built a new dam and fixed over the cattle barn so that it held a lot more cattle. He wintered forty or over and lots went to the London market and he built a new turnip shed, he piped water from a spring in the dooryard and built a new porch to the front of the house.
When I think of it now the farm had been rundown quite a lot.
The man that had it before father drank too much and lost it but the biggest job, as far as it concerned me, was the digging and blasting of a thirty acre field of sunken rocks, no dynamite those days, we had to dig the earth from around them and bore holes in them, put powder and a fuse and primed it with brick then fired it off but my big job was to turn the drill to bore the holes. I used to get so tired. I did that job all my six weeks vacation from school and all so fruitless in the end. The only thing that comforted me was I liked the man that I worked with. A married man, James Burr was his name. The family came out to Ohio some years after we came.
Well, I might run along to the night father came home and says “well, who’s all coming to America with me?” I remember their silence and astonishment for a minute then he told us of the Scotch Colony that Captain Brown was getting up to take to New Brunswick. Mother didn’t want to go, at least at first, and I doubt afterward but what could we do, his word was law so preparations went on afterwards and our sale took place a few days before leaving. I got about $10.00 for my rabbits and took a pair with me. The lady rabbit had young ones on the sea but they all died.
There wasn’t much happened on the way over to Halifax, N.S. only some of us were awful sick. I was awful sick for about five days then I got so hungry I thought I could eat a donkey.
One morning I couldn’t wait for breakfast and got some ship bisquits and plastered some butter on them and sat on deck by the funnel where it was warm and ate them. I happened to see a white speck away off just as the sun was coming up. I asked the captain, who was walking the bridge above me, what it was. He answered me by bawling to the lookout on the forecastle why didn’t he report that ice. It was awful pretty as the sun came up a little higher. It took thirteen days to paddle along to Halifax. I felt glad when we got there. I didn’t like the old tub. Everytime she rode over a wave she would buckle. It was in my mind that she might break in two. She only went two trips after that and went to the bottom. Sadonian was her name.
We docked sometime the night of May 13. In the morning of the 14th after breakfast I went on deck and was astonished to see what looked like a snowball battle among the boys. What happened was the cook had taken too much toddy or something stronger (celebrating I guess) and didn’t fire the bread good. The result was his buns were raw in the middle. They made good balls so I went and got some of our own and joined in. After a while some of us didn’t look quite respectable so we cleaned off some and went ashore to see the sights. After a while one of the boys says “When does the ship leave?” Nobody knew so there was a scramble back. She didn’t go till after dinner but then there was a man missing. The ships whistle had blown quite a while and his wife crying and youngsters with her on the deck before Jimmie Patterson came running down the street (to the amusement of us boys who had the bun battle in the morning) with a loaf under his arm. We had a good laugh over it when we got acquainted in the Colony as he was one of our neighbors.
We left Halifax about two o’clock P.M. on the 14th for St. John. A nice day and the sea was calm. About sundown a little group of men were on deck, Willie Christie and John Connon and an oldish Captain, and I was among them. The old Captain was leaning over the rail and looking ahead. Suddenly he turned round and said “boys if we go much farther in this direction we will probably strike the rock”. The Great Eastern struck and went down with three or four hundred souls. Before anybody had time to speak a loud boom of a shot was fired from the shore to warn us and then there was something doing. The Captain had left the ship in charge of an officer and went to his cabin and the officer had went down below to spark his girl. It wasn’t long before the deck was crowded. Many asking what had happened. The air was thick with oaths from the Captain. I never heard the like of it. When we woke up next morning (the 15th) we were docked at St. John and boarded the train for Woodstock but before I go farther I would like to mention that Captain Brown held meetings all over Scotland before we left. John, My brother, and I drove 7 miles from Echt to Kintore to attend one of them. After Brown had done talking he invited any of us to ask questions. One man, a mason, Morrison, asked if it would pay him to take his tools with him or sell them and buy again when he got here. The answer was “why man, there are no rocks in America”. Why someone didn’t tell him he was a liar I don’t know. As we sped along in the train I noticed a dark shadow and looked out of the window and “there” was a great wall of rocks. Its funny it never struck me what Brown said until that minute. I jumped up and bawled out “there is no rocks in America”. I suppose some of the folks thought I was crazy.
We boarded the boat at Woodstock, N.B. and sailed next morning (the 16th) to Andover, N.B. or rather Perth, N.B. It was that side we landed sometime in the afternoon. There was quite a little crowd there to see us land. Among them was an old lady named Topman who came and sat beside me and fancied my rabbits until we left.
Three years later Charlie Bull and I were trashing at her place. In the evening the talk came round about the Colonists landing there. She says “I was there and saw them land and I sat beside a nice boy who had a pair of rabbits he brought from Scotland with him”. I say “thank you” I am that boy” “Mercy” she says and looked her astonishment.
A four horse team took us to what was to be our home for awhile. We landed quite awhile before dark. John, a neighbor, Willie Marr met us on the way in. I was very sorry for my mother. Five miles over rocks, roots and holes and the teamster bawling “hang on”. The road wasn’t made only brushed out. I walked. I noticed my father didn’t say much. That was the first glimpse of the woods and hard telling what he thought of it then.
If a shark had got me it would have had a valuable bite for the upper half of my undershirt was covered with sovereigns (a sovereign is a little over $5.00) sewed with a cloth over them solid to my undershirt and I think the only time I felt relieved to get rid of money was when we landed in the Colony and got off my shirt for it was heavy. Goodness knows how father brought the rest of the money for he told me he had between 25 and 30 thousand dollars. Maybe it was sent the way they send money today but why load me up. The ship (the Sadonian) only.
Well, Lizzie, I don’t know as I ought to write any more. I don’t like to write anything that’s not pleasant but it might interest you to write a few more of my remembrances even if some of us felt like being in pen . . . or worse. That was the way I felt for sometime. We worked at John’s chopping first. He had it from the Government instead of the contractors doing it. It was done better and easier to clear. It came a wet spell and we had to leave a lot of piles not burned and sow the grass around them. Sometime after that came a dry hot and at that time came our first hard blow. They thought it would be a good time to burn fathers chopping on the other side of the road. It was a most stupid thing to do. John and I set fire to it on the further side from the road. We found the wind (though light) was blowing right across the road and onto John’s house and clearing where we all lived. My fathers house was near the road and a few yards from the corner of his chopping so that brought it at the edge and at one corner of the line of fire. So quick did the fire spread that by the time John and I got to the opposite corner from fathers house the whole place was ablaze. We could hear them screaming at the house so John and I ran but I was sick that day and couldn’t get along very fast. It turned out to be a blessing for by the time I got up to fathers house everybody had fled to the woods (I found out later that Mother and George and Robert and Ellen and Lizzie were at the house and the other boys were at Mr. Farquars and safe).
Taking in the situation at a glance I tried to stop the fire, which was creeping in under the house, with fresh cow dung. I was working at this when to my astonishment I heard (as it turned out to be Ellen and Lizzie) screaming over at the house. How it happened was when John left me and ran up to the house he found it already on fire. He ran in and grabbed his father’s purse and gold watch and one of the boys and my mother took the other and ran to the woods and Ellen and Lizzie was expected to follow. They did follow until they came to the piles that couldn’t be burned before and which was all ablaze now. They got scared and ran back to the house and there I found them half choked and dancing up and down with the surface fire flying up their legs. I took a hand of each and ran down the path to the spring. We got our water by the side of the road. I told them to get into the mud and take a drink of water at the spring. I got down too for I was nearly choked then we made for dear life out of it. I intended to take them down to Marrs but we met a hot fire coming up both sides of the road and the flames meeting in the middle so we came back to the end of the Trout Brook road and told them to stay there and I would go and see if I could save the house yet. As soon as I got here I saw I couldn’t save it so I thought I might save something and lug it to the woods but I had another surprise. When I opened the door and jumped in there were two big old fashioned tubs full of blankets, etc. steeping in water. Stuff that we had been using on the ship. I grabbed some of the blankets and went splashing around the house. About three trips and I had it under control. By good luck it hadn’t reached the shingles. About that time John came running up and asked if I had seen the girls. When I told him they were at the end of the Trout Brook road he turned and ran and never said a word. He told me afterward he left Mother and Bob and George on top of a big flat rock and a spring of water at the foot of it. When he told her Ellen and Lizzie was safe she got up on the rock and danced and sang. You see she had thought they had been overcome and had been burned up among the burning piles. John tried to get back after they had reached the woods and found the girls had not got through. Father must have run to the woods a different way. Even the hens took to the woods but they all came back at night after the fire had dulled down. Near night some of us went to see the damage. The pig was lying roasted. John’s pig and a good one. My rabbits (that I took such good card of) sitting as natural as could be when I touched them crumbled like burned paper. John had nothing left but what was on his back and that wasn’t much. Everything gone that we had been using since we came. What we didn’t need in the meantime was in the other house and we were lucky to have what was left.
The piano was there too, thanks to Bill, but I got no thanks only from Mother and the two girls. That evening Ellen took hold of me and says “Oh, Bill, you save our lives. We would have been burned to death sure”, and sure they would. They could not have stood it much longer when I got them. Poor John, besides all his good clothes, etc. he didn’t take time to save his own watch and purse. My watch was there too and something over the $10.00 which I got from my rabbits in my purse. I forget how we put in that night, probably on the floor too tired to care.
Father sent Maggie to St. John for a whole year of provisions. It was in John’s cellar and went with everything else. Barrels of sugar and molasses, flour and cornstarch, etc. The sugar run into a solid lump and I remember Jim and Tom used to go down with an axe and chip off some to eat, maybe myself too. I don’t know where Maggie had been at the time of the fire. Probably away getting ready to be married. She was married a little after that to Captain Miller at Woodstock. Father, mother and I was at her wedding. We stayed over one day. I remember how ashamed I was of my clothes, just a pickup. On the way home on the boat we had another little adventure. There was an awful thick mist on the river in the morning an of course they had to run the boats nose square into the bank 5 or 6 feet. I ran to see what was up and came back to tell my mother. I can hear her yet say “Oh, Billie, what a country.” I guess she would have like to been back at Upper Mains just then. Poor mother.
Well, we didn’t have any more adventures for a while further than running from under a tree when we knocked it down. It’s a wonder there were no accidents among us while chopping further than cutting a foot. We never had seen a tree chopped down until we came here. Awful greenies we were. We had lots of company too. Both day and night mosquitos, black flied and sand flies were awful. Brother Alex was almost blind for a few days and I’ll carry the marks they left on my to my resting place. We seldom could have smoke to help keep them away for the danger of having another fire around our ears and then in the evening when we had a smudge the cure was often worse than the disease and they took a good fresh bite.
Talking about the flies minds me of something John told me about Troup and Captain Brown’s father (Troup was an agent along with Brown when they took out the Colony) (did the writing I suppose) Brown’s father had been making a visit to the Colony in the summer to look things over. The flies had been awful hard on him and he kept swearing at them until the air turned blue. Troup (a good man) says “why do you swear so Mr. Brown?” “Have the patience of Job, Mr. Brown”. Brown says “to hell with Job if Job was here he wouldn’t stay two minutes”.
Well, winter came on to give us our first taste of 40 below zero. Grandmother died, mother’s mother.
We kept chopping and chopping. No rain all winter then put in a new crop to be burned up. Our crops were burned up the first three years but we had a good time in the evenings. Quite a few of us got together in one house as they often had with dancing and singing. Some played checkers. There was music of some kind in every house. I wondered why our piano didn’t sound so good as it used to but thought it might be the small room and the low ceiling but one day I looked in and it was full of stockings. They had been packed in there before leaving but it was a godsend to us that winter and a pair of moccasins. It took quite a few to go over us.
It was the Spring of 1875 that mother took sick. The doctor was there with her for quite a few days. Stayed with her in the house and would take a walk up and down the road now and then but it was no use. She died July 111th. I see on the gravestone she died the 15th but what makes me think it was the 11th is that John was to take his girl (Lettie Annon) and some of us on a visit to Glassville on Monday the day after mother died and that was Orangeman Day the 12th. The day mother died was the most unhappy day I ever had. It came so sudden. You see it was childbirth and when the doctor tried to reliever her she shook hands with father and died.
It was either that year or the next 1876 that the saw mill was built. It got burned a few years after and built again. No wonder fathers money went like smoke. He had about 25 acres cleared by folks from Canaan and Johnsville and two barn frames hewed and put up that fall and John’s house frame hewed and put up that fall and he was married on Hogmanay night. New Years Eve 1875.
We kept chopping and junking and limbing all for nothing. John left after ten years of it and went to West Sullivan, Maine. He died there August 24, 1891. He asked me to buy him out for $200.00. When I told him I had nothing that everything I made went for the good of the house he said “I’ll give it to you for a good horse”. Just imagine, a good new house and barn and 40 acres or more land cleared for just a fraction of what it cost.
I hired $200.00 from Ben Kilburn and put in a crop in the Spring. I got the boys to take off the crop on halves and left with a shirt and a pair of socks under my arm and 8 cents. I didn’t have the slightest idea where I was going. I met a fellow that I knew slightly and told him I was looking for work and asked what he was doing. “Peeling bark” he said and it’s a hell of a job and nearly eaten up with flies”. Well, I thought I wouldn’t like that and kept on. I got my fig of tobacco and was walking down the river road and I saw a Catsmaran out on the river abandoned by somebody. An idea struck me. If I could get out to that thing I could sail down to Woodstock. I was acquainted along there and got a boy to take me out to it in a canoe than I was “Lord Gaul” but I was to be lucky that afternoon. I didn’t have any dinner but that didn’t matter. I was paddling away trying to get into the swiftest water when I looked up the river and saw what turned out to be a heavy birch raft and two men on it. I steered in front of them and asked if they would take me on. “Yes they said “if I would sing a song” so I sang Water Cresses. They clapped their hands and says “good”. “Now have you had any dinner?” they asked. I said “no”. They told me to “fall in” and I had a good dinner.
We had a swift sail to winin 3 or 4 miles of Woodstock where they snubbed for the night. I thanked them and made for the road. Just as I got to the road a fellow came along in a light wagon. I jumped in and as we talked I found he was one of the family that lived beside my sister Maggie in Grafton where I thought of going when I left the raft. I knew the young fellow’s father, McDonald of Scotch descent. Wasn’t I lucky that day? Then Maggie wanted me to stay and hoe her potatoes. I was two days at that then I met a brother of Will Millers, Maggie’s husband. I told him I was looking for work. He asked me if I could mix mortar. “Yes” I said. “Well they want a mortar man bad at the building of the new Post Office”. He said he was hauling rocks for the foundation and the boss asked if he knew of a man that could mix mortar so he drove me over and I hired. It happened that he, Miller, had a nephew in Woodstock that kept boarders and we went there and got board there. I thanked Miller and went to bed. I worked there till August.
It came a lot of broken weather then the masons couldn’t work when it was wet and I had a lot of broken time. That did not suit me so I went through to Hallowell, Maine and got work at Milliken sawmill and worked into November when the mill shut down for the winter then worked for him in the woods beyond Moosehead Lake for the winter.
It was in the winter that I had a letter from Brother Jim offering to go in company with me and pay the $150.00 to finish paying the $200.00 on the farm (I had paid $50.00 in the fall before going to the woods) and then I could go home in the Spring and put in a crop and get married in the fall so I came down out of the woods in April, helped a few days at mason work before the mill started and went through to Boston, Mass. To see my girl (Annie Rae Duncan) then struck home to put in the crop.
It was about this time that Jim and Barbara came to stay. They stayed nearly a year and then went to Washburn, Maine where Jim worked in the mill. We stayed and worked hard for ten years then came over to Pine Tree, Maine in 1894. I am thankful we did. We would have had a hard time in the Colony.
By William Spence Cumming