Mr. Richard Dawson Was Born in Bailieboro Eighty-nine Years Age—Pioneer Days in South Monaghan.
Mr. Richard Dawson of Bailieboro was born March 27th, 1824 eighty-nine years ago—and is probably the oldest man living who fist saw the light of day in South Monaghan. His great age may be impressed by recalling the fact that he was one year old before the Hon. Peter Robinson brought his army of Irish Emigrants to the scene of their new home, now Peterborough. Even Mr. Dawson was the fifth child of the family and fourth one born in Canada so it is well nigh a century since his father, William Dawson, left Yorkshire, England, and first settled in South Monaghan.
The township had not yet been surveyed when he made application for some land at the Government Office in Little York, now Toronto. While pausing here to secure the necessary documents for his farm the cruel hand of death visited his little family and removed the second child, a little girl of tender years. It must have been with sad hearts that the young couple turned their backs on the little grave to seek a home in the wilderness. Long and weary had been their journey over, nine weeks from port to port, to say nothing of the arduous trip from Quebec to Little York.
I wonder if we ever stop long enough to think of the heartaches of our ancestors, of the anxious days, months and even years, as they sought to bring order out of chaos, and to create a home for themselves and the children; as they endeavoured, perhaps, to live in reality the dreams of their younger days, when they sat in comparative comfort in their homes in the Old Land picturing the fortunes to be made in the New.
Recall for a moment, if you will, the little family moving along the Kingston Road from Little York eastward, the father leading a cow and calf, followed by a yoke of oxen and cart in which rode Mrs. Dawson and her only son, Thomas. Painfully and slowly they worked their way over the rough highway, pausing wherever night overtook them, where by the aid of a large camp-fire, the husband kept guard over his dear ones as they slept, and protected his little flock from the wild animals that roamed about.
In recounting these we are so accustomed to speak of the men and their bravery that sometimes we forget the heroic part taken by the women. Irving has said, “I have often had occasion to remark the fortitude with which women sustain reverses of fortune. Those series of almost insurmountable difficulties which break down the spirit of a man and prostrate him in the dust seem to call forth all the energies of the gentler sex, and give such dauntless courage and elevation to their character that at times it approaches almost to sublimity.”
At length they reached Smith’s Creek (now Port Hope) shortly after the arrival of the survivors who had but recently left Little York to survey a new township north of Hamilton township, which was largely taken up in its best parts, extending as it did from Lake Ontario to Rice Lake.
More than one night did these hardly pioneers have to sleep in the open air, tired and footsore. Those were the days when the grand old forest, silent but for the wild beast and bird, re-echoed with the sound of the settler’s axe as it was swung from morning till night by strong hands anxious to make a clearing where he could put up his shanty. Soon was the wilderness dotted with humble log houses whose blue smoke curling upwards towards the evening sky told of peace, happiness and hope in a new and lonely land. Little by little the tree-covered acres gave way to new clearings, which in their turn stretched out into wide and prolific farms; the ‘blaze’ of the pioneer’s axe, the only guide by which provisions and implements could be brought from Smith’s Creek, became a narrow and crooked footpath, which in its turn was improved until a fine wide gravel road extended up to and past the township.
South Monaghan seems to have been more fortunate in the matter of first settlements than her neighbouring townships. For example in Otonabee, a number of retired army officers, who seem to have been held in great favour by the Family Compact, received liberal grants of land along the front, bordering on Rice Lake. Of course this class of settlers was too dignified to work. The real settler who was willing to work and improve his property, had to take inferior farms, on which they had to perform settlement duties, which in turn enhanced the value of the land of these favourites.
Settlement duties consisted in chopping down and clearing out all the trees and brushwood along the concession line in front of a lot, to the width of two rods, and cutting down the timber four rods wide along the side of this, thus making a passage through the forest six rods wide along the entire length of a lot of one hundred acres, which with similar work on the part of the owner opposite, opened to view the whole breadth of the concession line.
It was on Lot 7, Con. 2, South Monaghan, where the subject of our sketch was born. His brother, William, was the first child born in the township. In all there was a family of seven; the only other surviving member is the youngest sister of Mr. Dawson, Mrs. Gillanders, now living in British Columbia.
Mr. Dawson recollects that the township was densely wooded, the bushes and foliage being so thick that it was sometimes almost impossible to creep through. For a number of years they made frequent trips to Smith’s Creek to have their grain ground into flour. They were fortunate in having a yoke of oxen, with which to transfer this as well as their ordinary supplies. Many settlers were obliged to carry their grists on their backs or do without. Those were the days to try the hearts of men. Many were the acts of heroism, of self-sacrifice, of love and devotion, in those pioneer days, which have never been recorded and all but forgotten.
However, two rather striking cases exhibiting remarkable tests of endurance have been handed down to us. One, that of Mr. Robert Reid, who helped in opening up the the township of Douro for settlement, who is said to have dragged a large logging chain from his home, about four miles northeast of Peterborough, all the way to Smith’s Creek (Port Hope) to have a link welded. The other, that of Adam Scott, the first miller of Peterborough, who trudged all the way to Port Hope and back through snow ten inches deep to have repaired the iron crank of his grist mill, thus carrying a weight equal to a barrel of pork. Compare these with present day pioneering and we see the “tremendous difficulties” of the present vanish into thin air, for they are as luxuries compared to the trials of our forefathers.
Mr. Dawson, Sr., was man of great physical strength, enabling him to perform an immense amount of work. For a short time he acted as tax collector, but his great aversion to matters pertaining to the public generally, led him to relinquish the “trust” and never again did he accept a public office. His personal business so engrossed his attention that he could find time for nothing else. So faithfully did he stick to this principle that at his death, when he was eighty-eight, he was able to leave each of his children two hundred acres of land. He was a faithful member of the Methodist Church and contributed liberally to its maintenance.
Mr. Dawson’s mother was one of those rare types of women who are always in demand during the hours of sickness or trouble. She was an excellent nurse and many a fevered brow felt the cooling, soothing touch of her tender hand. Next to God we are indebted to women, first for life itself, and then for making it worth having. Providence has placed the genius of women in their hearts, because the fruits of their genius are always works of love.
When Mr. Dawson was twenty-five he left the parental roof and married Miss Harriet Barnard, sister of Mr. Joseph Barnard of east City, and settled on the concession know as “the broken front” along the lake, on a farm formerly owned by and English Gentleman named Major Moodie. It was his daughter, Miss Harriet Moodie, who acted as bridesmaid for Mrs. Dawson. She afterwards became the wife of a Mr. Roblin living near Picton. At her death the Christian Guardian paid a glowing tribute to her beautiful life and the tower of strength she had been to the Methodist Church in Prince Edward.
Mrs. Dawson’s parents came to this country in 1831 and settled in South Monaghan. Mr. Barnard was such an active man that it was quite a common thing for him to get up early, walk to Port Hope for anything be required and get back before breakfast. Of course breakfast would be late on such a morning. Besides being a local preacher for the Methodists he was one of the fist schoolteachers. Grant was another, and it was to the latter that Mr. Richard Dawson first went to school.
Mrs. Dawson passed away in 1864, leaving, besides her sorrowing husband, a family of seven children; (the youngest is now deceased.) They are as follows:
Mrs. N. Kerr, Michigan; Mrs. W. Wood, Hope; Mrs. John Perrin, London; W. E. Dawson, near St. Mary’s; J. W. Dawson, on the homestead, and Miss Harriet, at home.
Mr. Dawson was requested several times to become a member of the council, but like his father, he disliked publicity, preferring rather to remain at home and attend to its duties. Even in church matters he has pursued the same policy. Though one of the Methodist Church’s most faithful members and one of its most liberal supporters; he has never held any official position therein.
In politics Mr. Dawson is a Liberal, and has always been a close student of public affairs. In his earlier days he was a great admirer of those men who sought to gain for the common people the privileges they were so long denied. One man that particularly appealed to him as a sincere reformer was the Hon. George Brown, the uncrowned King of Upper Canada, founder of the Toronto “Globe” and one of the great Fathers of Confederation. A man of great force of character and honesty of purpose, who, throughout his political career sought to wrest from unwilling hands by constitutional measures, that which William Lyon Mackenzie had failed to accomplish by force of arms. In establishing “The Globe” he took a step which was pregnant with results to Canada. Apt and forceful in all things, he selected for its motto a sentence from Julius, singularly suitable to the occasion: The subject who is truly loyal to the Chief Magistrate will neither advise nor submit to arbitrary measures.”
Mr. Dawson had always been a great reader until four years ago he suffered a slight impairment of health, which left his vision somewhat imperfect. Previous to that he had enjoyed excellent health.
Happy in the possession of an honoured old age he calmly awaits the “summons Home.”
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