HISTORY OF BOWMANVILLE

Part 2.

By Mr. Jas. B. Fairbairn, Post Master

Somewhere about 1840 the place had grown to quite an extent, the settlement of Darlington had proceeded at a rapid rate, the town keeping pace with it. The principal business places at that time were on the western hill, there were three or four stores, a large tavern and cooper shop. The Methodist church was then also on the hill. To go back a little, Mr. Coleman states and I think, correctly, that the first store was opened by Lewis Lewis, who remained in business for four years. He then sold to Charles Bowman. This he says was in 1824. From the time the first hut was erected till then, the increase was very slow, as a census taken by Mr. Simpson, probably in 1825, shows 118 persons all told, there being only one house on the north side of the road. As for the Indians, I do not think they were very numerous along the shore of Lake Ontario, between Toronto and the Bay of Quinte. There is no evidence to show that such was the case. In the shape of relics such as arrowheads, etc. as comparatively very few have been found. I suppose this is accounted for as their favorite hunting grounds lay farther north among the smaller lakes and rivers. I have been told that an Indian burying ground was found on Liberty St., at least some remains were discovered, indicating that the sand knoll has been used for burial purposes, at some remote period. This was not far from Mr. John Medland's present residence. I do not know that any other has every been discovered in Darlington. I have never heard from any source of them known to the early settlers nearer than Scugog lake. A few scattered bands of the Rice Lake Indians perhaps did some hunting in the summer time up and down our creeks but they never interfered with the white people appearing quite harmless and kindly disposed. About 1838 I remember quite a number were camped in wigwams on the brow of the hill near Mr. Mark D. Williams' residence. They came from the west, the Humber region and although the older inhabitants used to tell romantic tales about them, such existed only in the vivid imaginations of the rehearsers.

I now refer to the Burkes one of the first families who came into the wilderness, hewed out a home for themselves on the shore of Ontario, and were closely identified with and had a good deal to do in the succeeding expansion and growth of the business both of town and townships. One of the sons of John Burke the pioneer, remained on the homestead, owning the 400 acres of land, they having built a fine large frame house there at a very early period. The Burke family were noted through all this section for their kindness and hospitality. From the very earliest period after they were surrounded with the ordinary comforts of a farm house, the result of their own skill and toll, the door was ever open and help bestowed upon every poor struggling settler who came to them for assistance and though through lapse of time and changing conditions it is seldom thought of, still there are some even yet of the descendants of those who were helped, who speak o them with gratitude. Mr. David Burke was a highly religious man and did much active work in the church with which he was connected. He had appointments in different parts of the country and before there were any settled clergymen he did a good deal to try and elevate the moral condition of the people. He could have had but few early advantages in the way of education, but notwithstanding this drawback, he was quite a noted figure among his compeers. A true story and a good one is told of an occurrence in connection with the rebellion of 1837. After Ben Lett left the country and a reward of 500 stirling was offered for his capture, dead or alive, the whole community was on the qui vive and the extreme party were so anxious for his arrest that any tidings of his whereabouts were eagerly sought after. It was while this public tension was at its height that the following took place. Mr. Simpson then in management of the Bowman business, had gotten a number of Roman Catholic Irishmen from Ops to work on the mill dam which had been carried away by the spring freshets. Mr. Burke being short of hands in the hay harvest, got one of the men to go to the farm to assist. He was put to work in a field by himself. In the meantime a brilliant idea struck young David who was at home and he determined to have a little fun at the expense of the raw Irishman, dressed appropriately for the occasion and armed with an old blunderbuss, he suddenly dropped down on the man from Ops who was evidently taken aback by the apparition of an apparently armed desperado. Mr. Dave told him that he was Ben Lett and that the heard they were very anxious to make him a prisoner and invited him to undertake the job, finally making him promise on his sacred honor that he would never reveal the fact, but when he got uptown among his friends he told as a great secret what he had encountered. It became whispered around from one to another until it reached the ears of the authorities. They fully believed that the notorious rebel was being harbored by Burke's. Dr. Low who at that time lived in Whitby and was in command of a troop of Militia was instructed to take steps for his capture. So one night while Mr. Burke and family were enjoying their usual repose, totally unconscious of any impending danger, were suddenly aroused some time in the early morning by violent knocking and urgent demands for admittance. After hurriedly dressing and reaching the door he was surprised to find the premises completely surrounded by a military guard and the officer in charge told him that hey were creditably informed that Lett was about the place. To this Mr. Burke at once gave denial, he knew nothing about him or his whereabouts. They made a most rigorous search, going through barns, stables and cellars and at last gave up the chase. It had rained during the night and the troopers made a pretty sorry show. Mr. Burke gave them a hearty breakfast and bid them good-bye. The true inwardness of the performance did not come out till some years afterwards.

Another incident in this same connection happened on the western farm then occupied by a whole souled burly Yorkshireman, Mr. John Frank, who came to Bowmanville in 1831. He occupied it a greater portion of his lifetime. He will be remembered by many now living, familiarly called "Big John". His son Charles is still on deck I am glad to say. I was told this as a fact. He went out one morning to his cornfield where he discried a man sound asleep evidently so worn out and so soundly in the arms of Morpheus as not to be easily aroused. His gun lay at his side and he was also otherwise armed to the teeth. Mr. Frank quietly slipped up, grasped the gun and awoke the sleeping owner, claiming him as his prisoner. Knowing that he was the man so badly wanted, but with the true nobility of an Englishman, he gave him something to eat and told him to leave as soon as possible. The large moneyed reward could not tempt him to take advantage of the helpless outlaw.

While writing about Lett, I stated in a former letter that I intended giving an outline of his Darlington career. I was then under the impression that his connection with the rebellion was truly that of a misguided patriot, one among hundreds of others who sacrificed life and means in the honest belief that they were doing it in the best interests of the country. I was more than surprised to find from a conversation with Mr. James Heatie of Solina, whose father knew the whole circumstances that he was the individual who so brutally, in cool blood assassinated Captain Usher at Niagara Falls shortly after the burning of "The Caroline", and that he also was the man who committed the dastardly act of blowing up Brock's Monument. I found it impossible to find out from any information I could glean, how he first became identified with this movement.

It would seem that after the battle of Montgomery's Tavern, Toronto, a refugee came down through Darlington. He looked and acted like a gentleman, one who had occupied a good position in life but presenting the appearance of a hunted deer, without boots and only partly clothed. Ben took him under his protection. They went east and caught the Kingston stage and finally landed in the United States. Ben turned up at Navy Island. I find his brothers, at least one of them tried to excuse the foul act of killing Captain Usher by saying that it was done out of revenge for the cutting out and sending "The Caroline" over the Falls, but nothing on earth could justify the act. Usher was entertaining a party of friends at his house, when the assassin called him out under a pretext of wanting to speak to him and hot him dead.

The late Mr. Robert Amour, so long a resident of Bowmanville, was one of the parties who boarded that ill-fated steamer and helped to break up the Nay Island enterprise. I hope to speak of Mr. Armour at great length later on.


Next - Bowmanville and Darlington History Part 3

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