Courtice Family History
Sketch of the History and Times of the Late Christopher Courtice of Darlington, Ontario.
Written by the late Thos. Courtice, June 1900, and printed with slight modification for the Courtice Picnic, 1921.
Christopher Courtice, whose name we “meet to honour, was born in Devonshire England in 1796, the son of John and Mary Courtice of Anglo Saxon blood loyal to their King and country. I have often heard my father speak of his uncles being soldiers in the time of Nelson and Wellington. He married Grace Mason, whom he found a true helpmate in life’s labours and joys. The family consisted of eight children, three girls and five boys. The eldest was Anne Mason, afterwards Mrs. George Pound; second, John, who died in 1849, aged 25 years; third, William, who resides in Bowmanville and is now is his 95th year; fourth, Thomas who lived at Port Perry until his death in 1901; fifth, Christopher, jr., who lived in Darlington until his death in 1866; sixth Margaret, who was an invalid for many years and lived with her brother Lawrence until her death; seventh, Lawrence Mason, who lived on the old homestead in Darlington until his death, and eighth, Emily, afterwards wife of Rev. Samuel Tucker, who died in Toronto.
Mr. C. Courtice, sr., was a blacksmith by trade, and was very successful in his business at Putford Bridge, Devonshire, England, till he emigrated to Canada in the year 1833. At that time though, his business was prosperous, he saw no room for his boys in the old country. This made him look around for a suitable field for emigration. He decided on Canada for his future home. This was very much opposed by his parents and friends, who held up before him the many difficulties and hardships that he would meet with. These were not sufficient reasons to prevent our honoured parent from carrying out his purposes. When his mind was made up that the thing was right, he would say, “Patience and perseverance will overcome many difficulties”.
This incident will be a proof of his character in this respect. When his parents were trying to persuade him not to go to Canada there was a person in the neighbourhood who had just returned and brought back unfavourable reports of the country. He was persuaded to have a conversation with this person that he might be prevented from going, so our father, when he met him, was thus addressed, “Young man, you are thinking of going to Canada”? “Yes, sir”. “Well, there is one thing I wish to say to you:
Don’ think that when you get there you can go out and shake these large trees and the sovereigns will come falling down”. Father said, “no, sir. I do not expect that, but I do go with the intention of cutting them down, and cultivating the soil, and the products will bring me the sovereigns”. The answer was, “Well, young man, if you go with that intention you will succeed. Go on.”
With this intention to overcome difficulties, our father and mother with five children started from America. As they were going on board the ship one of his sisters standing by said to him, “Christopher, you little know the trouble you have ahead of you”. Turning to one of the children (who was not so strong as the others) she said, “There is one you will throw overboard before you reach Canada.” However, that was not so to be, as the child Thomas referred, lived to be 71 years of age.
The family landed in Darlington in the month of August, from a schooner, which had brought them to Toronto, then called Little York, for the steamer that took them from Kingston to Little York would not land at Bowmanville or Oshawa, there being no wharves at either place.
Finding a schooner going down the lake on some lumber or wood business, our father and family went on board. The captain said, “I do not know much about this part of the country, but I do know when I get to the Township of Darlington”. When they reached there, father said, “put us off here”. So they were left on the shore of Lake Ontario, under the shade of a large elm tree, one fine afternoon in the month of August 1833.
Leaving the family, our father and his brother James, started into the woods with guns on their shoulders to find their brother Thomas, who had emigrated two years before.
All the directions they had to help them in finding him was, he lived in the Township of Darlington, four miles west of Bowmanville, and two and a half miles north of Lake Ontario, by the side of a small creek.
They succeeded in finding him, with about three acres cleared in the woods, and a small log house built. This is the farm where Mr. William Eugene Courtice now lives in his comfortable brick house and pleasant surroundings. We need scarcely say, at this time there were no horses, and no roads for them to travel on, so my uncle’s ox-team was soon yoked together, and away they went to get the family that was left by the lake shore. They returned safely and joyously to settle down and work out for themselves homes in a new country. The important duty of selecting a place for a home in this strange and new land is now before them.
The excitement of the journey and the enchantment of distant shores is no longer before them to give them inspiration. Guided by the same principles that were characteristic of the family, “Love and unity, and a desire to be together”. The adjoining lot to his brother Thomas was selected, then nothing but a forest of trees, and the home of the bears and wolves. To work they went with a will and with the aid of axe and ox-team he soon succeeded in clearing a spot to build a house for a home for the family, and a place to worship God. “It was said of Abraham that where he had a tent, God had an altar”, so it has been said of the Courtice family for many generations, “Where they had a home, God had an altar”. We refer to this with gratitude in our hearts. In the log house then built, we lived contented and happy. The best place to learn the secret of happiness is where none of your neighbours have a better house, or a better coat than your own, and where your neighbour's wife and daughter do not wear a bigger hat than your own.
“Secure from winter’s frost and snow
From bears and wolves then prowling round,
A home that wealth could not bestow
Content and happiness we found”.
I have often heard our father say he has been encouraged by the text, Psalms 74:5. “A man was famous according as he lifted up axes upon the thick trees”. As the result of continued energy and perseverance, the forest soon yielded, and the fruitful fields were enclosed, from five to ten acres were added each year. Roads and bridges had to be made, and buildings to be erected. The first schoolhouse in the neighbourhood was built of logs on the southeast corner of the same lot. This place was used for every public meeting, educational, political, municipal and religious.
Here was the gathering place for every popular enterprise. The writer well remembers the first schoolmaster, Solomon Smith was his name, he was to teach in the winter months only, in the summer every youngster had to work to help father and mother clear the land. The graduates in Arts and Science at that time were not many; in fact, they were not needed, as there was no call for specialists. There were many of us that graduated at the school of “Hard Knocks” that produced men of straw. If you want a rake go and make it and use it. If you want a harrow or a sleigh, go and make them and use them. Necessity was the mother of invention.
Among the early settlers we may mention the names of James Rundle, William Rundle, Samuel Mason, William Annis, William Oke, Thomas Worden, Richard Osborne, Robert Courtice, Capt. Trull, and father’s two brothers Thomas and James Courtice.
The new settlers soon had an opportunity to show their loyalty to “King and Country”. In 1837 the Mackenzie rebellion broke out. Many of the Darlington settlers, led by Capt. Trull turned out and marched to Toronto to show their loyalty and when ten or twelve miles from Toronto they went into the woods and cut sticks and placed them on their shoulders, having no guns. Sir Francis Bondhead was then governor-General of Canada, and when they marched up King St., the Governor came out and addressed the crowds, and made special mention of his Darlington friends who came to help without arms.
It is well to note that the present members of the family are possessed of the same spirit of loyalty as their forefathers. In the Great War all the eligible young men of the family were the colours overseas and this connection we are proud and grateful to record the names of Gordon Roach, Wilbert Gilroy, Alfred Gilroy, Roy White, Albert Trull, Elmer Rundle, Harold Courtice, Howard Courtice and Roy Courtice.
In the early settlement of the country it was not easy to keep a correct account of the days of the week, and the dates of the month, for newspapers and almanacs were seldom seen. Just before our father came into the neighbourhood Uncle Thomas said on one occasion he was keeping the Sabbath day sacred by laying aside all work, when to his surprise, a neighbour came in and wanted to do some business. Uncle Thomas told him it was the Sabbath day and he was not in the habit of doing business on that day. The neighbour said it was Saturday, and he intended to keep it to-morrow. After some debating they could not decide, so they went to another neighbour to help them out of their difficulty. When they came they found him chopping; they asked him what day it was. “It is Monday”, said he, “I kept yesterday for Sunday.” So the question was not easily settled.
Some time after this one bright morning in midsummer, my brother John and his cousin John Mason, went into the woods to hunt for a span of horses which had strayed from home taking with them a large white dog which soon started a black bear. The dog seized the bear by the throat ad never let go till the bear was killed. The boys found the horses and returned to the house each riding a horse and the black bear on the back of one of them. That was enough to give the family amusement for that day.
In the old log schoolhouse mentioned before, the foundation work was done both for education and religion, and part of the result is the present Ebenezer Church in South Darlington which is now one of the best conducted and most influential country churches in the Bay of Quinte Conference. Also in this place and by the same persons, the Sabbath School was organized, which now has a history over seventy years of successful work. Truly the altering of this school was like planting a tree by the rivers of water, that bringeth forth fruit in season. This school has been extending its influence, and gathering from East, West, North and South, till hundreds - yes, thousands, have felt its Christina influences and attend one of Ebenezer Sabbath School Anniversaries would be an inspiration to anyone.
One prominent feature in father’s character was that he was not suspicious of anyone. True to the British Law, which regards every man innocent till he is proven guilty. The following incident is a proof of this:
One day soon after settling in the new home, a stranger came in, who said he lived in Reach Township, and that he wanted to borrow eighty dollars. All the security he could give was the deed to his farm. Father considered the case, and although an entire stranger and knowing no other of the Township of Reach, he thought the man talked like an honest man and let him have the money. When it became due, father started early in the morning to walk to Reach, when he got as far as Skae's Corners (now Oshawa). Mr. Skae, the store-keeper, said to him "where are you going so early, Mr.Courtice?" Father said "I am going to Reach to collect eighty dollars which I lent a man out there". Mr. Skae said "If you take my advice you will turn and go home, for to save your soul there are not eighty dollars in the township of Reach." That was not very encouraging, still he went on till he found Reach and the man who got the money. He said Mr. Skae was right about the money, but he found an honest man, and though he had no money, farm stock was taken in satisfactory payment.
Father never pushed himself into public office, still he was expected to take the lead in most public meetings, espicially in church work. Being an acceptable local preacher, and a good singer, he was qualified for that position. He was highly respected in the neighbourhood, a philanthropist, and was ever ready to help the needy and encourage his fellow-citizens in good works, and God blessed him in his labours.
In worldly affairs his highest ambition was to secure a home for each of his children. In this he succeeded and by a kind of Providence, field was added to field, and farm to farm, till four of the most comfortable homes in Darlington were secured.
It is a great satisfaction to be able to say today, all these farms thus secured are owned and enjoyed by his children or grandchildrew. Be this said to their credit.
When the first farm was partly cleared and commenced to yield its produce, we would naturally think taht hardships were at an end, but it was not so, for then there was no market for the grain. I have heard my father say he took a load of wheat to Bowmanville, and he could not sell it at any price, he tried to get trade for it but was refused. He said " What can I do ? I want to get an axe". The merchant said, "We will trust you for an axe or anything you want, but the wheat we cannot take. You had better take it home and feed it to your cattle and pigs. This state of things compelled hom to try some other means to supply necessaries, so he turned his attention to teaming. Having a good span of horses, he started to draw the better qualities of lumber to Toronto.
On one of those journeys his life was mercifully preserved. When going down the Rouge Hill, some of the harness got out of place, and the wagon, horses and lumber went over the bank, and fell into the ravine below. With some help and a little delay, he went on his way to Toronto, and returned home, thankful for his deliverance, happy and cheerful, with the reward of his labours in his pocket.
The people who live in Ontario today can hardly estimate how much they are indebted to those who preceded them. The pioneers of Ontario endured great hardships and privations in bringing the wild lands and forests into the cultivated and fruitful fields, which we now see and enjoy.
Each day brought work, work and more work, but they still found time for a little amusement. The boys by being extra good, might get a half holiday which they often spent by taking their guns, and going into the woods to hunt, or in fishing for speckled trout which abounded in all the creeks, in this there was real sport. The men of the neighbourhood would often meet at raisings and logging bees. If one had a barn or a house to raise, all would turn out and help his neighbour cheerfully and willingly and at the logging bees, there was as much enthusiasm manifested. In the fall of the year the young people often gathering together at apple-paring bees where they thoroughly enjoyed themselves. At all these gatherings after the work was done a beautiful supper was enjoyed, and the evening spent in suitable amusements. In some homes where liquor was used, car playing and drinking were carried on to excess, but in our father’s home these were strictly excluded. Temperance principles were always taught by precept and example. In the spring of the year sugar making was the employment of nearly everyone, and was considered as much amusement as labour, each trying to excel his neighbour in the quantity and quality of his productions.
And so as time went on, and the first years of probation were over, after smiling plenty had blessed the toil of the pioneer, the wayfarer might readily find a worse halting place. There was always an abundant table, and hospitable welcome was everywhere the rule in the good old times.
Long and honourably may the name be perpetuated and we think it will, for it has a Government Register, we have heard the secretary of this institution say that a large number of the invitations issued for the picnic this year were addressed to Courtice, P. O. Darlington.
In closing this brief sketch of our parents’ history, we ought to learn a lesson that will help us to live worthy of our ancestry.
First - We should learn to be satisfied with our own gifts and talents.
Second - Learn to make the best of the spot we stand on, it will soon blossom and bear fruit.
Mother died in peace at the old home, March 7, 1872, aged 71 years, preceding father to the Better Land 3 years, 9 months. Father died at the home of his daughter, Mrs. Pound, on the 25th December (Christmas Day), lacking one day of being eighty years old. Their remains were interred in Ebenezer Church burying ground, Darlington, awaiting the resurrection of the just. The text at father’s funeral was Rev. 14:13. “And I heard a voice from Heaven saying unto me Write, Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord from henceforth: Yea saith the Spirit, that they may rest from their labours and their words do follow them”.
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