Early History of Washburn’s Island
Mysterious Murder of Land Agent
Scugog Island was not settled quite as early as Reach Township, although it was surveyed by Major S. Wilmot in 1816. About this time it seems to have been uninhabited. There were some Mississauga Indians who camped at times where Port Perry now stands, but they did not live there permanently at first, but moved back and forth between the Kawartha Lakes and Lake Ontario. A trail led from Curts’ Point to Lake Ontario; and that trail was a portage over which the Indians had to carry their canoes and belongings when they required better hunting or fishing. It was a long tramp; but at that time there was no other connection between Scugog and Lake Ontario.
There is a legend told that at one time the Mississauga's enticed a number of their enemies, the Mohawk Indians, to Paxton’s Point, just where the Kent property is situated. Here, the story goes, the Mohawks were killed. But the legend seems to lack proof; it is likely one of the war songs of the Indian braves.
Later some two hundred of these Mississauga's Indians settled on the Island with their squaws and families. The Government granted them a reserve of 800 acres, and made some attempt to induce them to live as white men. Twelve houses and three barns were put up by Wm. Tyler, who received a contract from the Government to do this work. Some farm machinery was supplied; but these efforts did not materially alter the Indians’ method of living.
Away back in 1816, the Farewells who lived at the Front, opened up a trading post for barter with the Indians at Washburn’s Island on Lake Scugog. They left their agent, John Sharp, in charge of the post, while they went to tell the Indians their purpose. When they came back to camp, they found that Sharp had been killed. A hunt for the murderer followed, and it was found that an Indian named Ogetonicut had done the killing because his brother, Whistling Duck had been killed by a white man, and no white man’s life had been taken to avenge the Indian’s death. The Indian was arrested, and after a preliminary hearing it was decided that the trial would have to be held at Presqu’lle, as the murder had been committed in that judicial district.
A Government schooner named the “Speedy” was chartered to take those who needed to be present at the trial down the lake. The party was made up of the following persons: -
Judge Cochrane, Solicitor General Robert Isaac Gray, Sheriff Angus McDonnell, High Baliff John Fisk, two interpreters - Cowan and Taggard, Mr. Herkimer, Captain Paxton, and the Indian prisoner.
Tragedy seemed to follow tragedy, for a storm came up and the schooner was lost with all on board. The court at Presqu’lle was adjourned from day to day awaiting the arrival of the “Speedy” with her distinguished passengers. Finally a piece of the wrecked schooner was found where it had drifted ashore. Then the terrible story was known and the sitting of the court was abandoned.
A few summers ago the bones of a man were found by some campers at Washburn’s Island, and it is thought probable that the bones were those of John Sharp, who was murdered by the Indian Ogetonicut.
The settlement of Scugog depended much upon the means of easy communication between the island and the mainland. In the townships there were nothing but trails it is true; but they were better than water for the settlers. It was no easy task at first to settle and clear the Island, for cattle had to be transported, yokes of oxen carried over to the work; and other heavy loads removed back and forth. The first thing to be done was to construct a ferry - a big scow propelled by oars that required two men to each oar. Many stories are told of that old ferry which for many years was the only means of communication between the Island and Reach Township, of which it then formed a part.
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