An 1848 letter from first settlers in Drayton area

The following is a re-print of a past column by former Advertiser columnist Stephen Thorning, who passed away on Feb. 23, 2015.
Some text has been updated to reflect changes since the original publication and any images used may not be the same as those that accompanied the original publication.

From time to time I have offered pieces of very old correspondence from the Drayton area in this column. The item this week is one of the oldest. 

It was written on Oct. 21, 1848, by Mary Jones, wife of Benjamin Jones, to her brother-in-law in Newcastle.

Mary’s grammar and handwriting reveal her to be a woman with a good formal education. In writing, she observed many of the conventions of the time. Punctuation is almost completely absent, and she refers to her husband as “Mr. Jones.” 

The couple were Methodists, and settled in 1847 on Lot 2, Con. 11 of Peel, near the future village of Drayton, about 18 months before this letter was written. 

They are credited as being the first settlers in the Drayton area. Much of what she says relates to church matters.

Most historical accounts dwell on the tremendous hardships of the pioneers. The impression we get from Mary Jones is that their experience was quite the opposite. They found renewed health and energy in their new location, and she expresses delight at missing the cholera epidemic of the previous year.

Her strongest opinion relates the primeval forest. She capitalizes and underlines the word, and seems delighted that most of it will soon be chopped down to make more farm land.

This is the letter, transcribed with punctuation added for clarity. 

Peel, Oct. 21, 1848

Dear Brother and Sister,

In the midst of many domestic cares I have determined to spend a few moments in writing you. Many months have passed since we have had the satisfaction of hearing from you. I do not for a moment think it is on account of coldness or hard feelings, but suppose that business and multiplicity of cares has hitherto prevented, and yet I think that Hester Ann might write sometimes. We are not too stingy to pay postage.

We are all in the enjoyment of good health. During the past two summers, when disease and death stalked through the land, uninterrupted health and prosperity reigned in this favoured section of country. I have never enjoyed better health than since we came here.

Shall I tell you something respecting our habitation, and how fast the forest is fast disappearing. The redoubled strokes of the woodman’s axe will soon lay this monster low.

Already the lofty corn and waving wheat (not forgetting the Murphys) have risen as by a stroke of magic in its place.

This place has improved rapidly. Every lot of land is occupied. And yet scores of men are passing through here weekly in search of land. A son of Father Healy’s was here a few weeks since and purchased a lot convenient to us. Father moved onto his farm here last June and has charge of this mission but is so worn out that he cannot, endure the fatigue of traveling. His health and mother’s have improved very much since they came here. She in particular has not been so smart for years till now. Father has 30 acres cleared and intends giving a job of as much more this winter. When they came here they had a large log building raised to live in this winter. They have 5 men now at work getting out timber for a frame house and barn which will be built next summer.

The distance between their house and ours is so short that we can stand at our doors and converse with them. With Danford we can do the same. Danford was married last June. Went all the way to Ohio for his wife. He had been attending school and formed an acquaintance at that time: His wife is the daughter of a very wealthy and respected man and we are all pleased with his choice.

We have preaching at our house every Sabbath. The house, though commodious, is filled to overflowing and a chapel is now commenced on our land and must be finished in time for our next quarterly meeting, which will take place in 5 weeks. There is a class of 13 members here besides many who belong to other churches and always meet with us but have not joined as yet. Mr. Jones is the class leader and recording steward for the present and has so many appointments that he is absent almost every Sabbath. Father keeps two horses and Mr. Jones always has the use of one to attend his appointments.

 We have a Sabbath school Thursday, prayer meetings and female prayer meetings.

The Township of Maryborough, which is the distance of one lot from us, was surveyed this last summer, and a town laid out about two miles from here. This is done by government, and all the mill seats are reserved, or the persons who own them are bound, under a severe penalty, to build mills next summer. 

Although that township was just surveyed it was all taken up and down the river. It is now almost impossible to get land there. Lewis Adams lives in that township and has 250 acres. We have to cross the river twice to get there, although less than a mile.

Mr. Simeon Fawcett was here last week and made arrangements for himself and Joseph Fawcett to live here.

What more shall I tell you. I can think of nothing of importance. Mr Jones is so busy engaged with the new church that he cannot now take time to write. He commenced writing Brother Miliken but has not finished it.

I might tell you a little about our rustic habitation. We have had an addition put to the main body which makes us very comfortable in regard to room which we needed much of, having to accommodate so many land hunters. It is divided into kitchen, dining room, hall, parlour and two bedrooms, closets, etc.

Mr. Jones has put up a building, sufficient to hold our grain, which is intended for a stable, and will raise a large barn in the spring. He also made preparations for building a shop immediately as all are anxious for him to do so.

I have never seen Mr. Jones better contented than since we came here. You can see how I have run on. If I could see you this would be nothing to what I could say.

Now write and tell us everything you can think of. Write oftener if you wish to please us. There is a regular communication kept up between this place and Elora. A boy is hired to go every week and bring the mail in so we get letters and papers immediately.

Write soon and give our most affectionate regards to Mother and all the friends, Father and Mother join with me in giving our regards and esteem for all.

Adieu. I remain yours, 

Mary C. Jones

*This column was originally published in the Drayton Community News on April 11, 2003.

Thorning Revisited