A Memorable Incident in a Canadian Settlement Just Prior to the War of 1812-13—Fighting Blood That Flowed in the Veins of Those of Loyalist Stock Ever Heady to Defend the Flag of the Mother Country.
LATE in the winter of 1811, Tom Norton returned to his humble home in the Long Reach Settlement from Adolphustown, at which place he had been employed during the fall and early winter months.
Very pleasant it seemed to the little cobbler to be at home again! He stirred the fire on his lonely hearth until it threw out great rays of light and waves of heat, then with a bit of work on his knees, luxuriated in the glow and warmth. But he was very restless. A look of deep anxiety lurked in his usually laughing eyes, and his sunny face was sad.
Presently he arose and paced the shanty floor back and forth, time and again.
“I’d better do it to-night,” he murmured to himself.
“The boys ’ll all be down to Nathe’s, and I can see ’em there. I hate to tell ’em though, for I know every man jack of 'em, and I feel so sorry for the poor women.”
He walked to the door, flung it open, and stood looking out over the snowy landscape. Perturbed as he was in mind, even he could not resist the quiet beauty of the night, and he
stood and looked long and thoughtfully.
“It's a fair land,” he communed with himself. “Life has been hard here, but God knows we love our country, and we’ll never give it up, never ! Just a minute ago I was pitying the women, but there’s not one among ’em, I know, but will feel just as I do, so here goes for Nathe’s!”
It was a clear, cold Canadian night. The moon hung a tiny golden bow in the heavens, and countless stars glittered and sparkled. The great spruce trees skirting the high baniv of the Long Reach, bowed tneir tasseled heads and moaned beneath their burden of snow, the dark green of their foliage standing out in bold relief against the pearly whiteness. Here and there silvery moonbeams turned banks of snow into masses of sparkling diamonds, while across the northern sky flashed, like ’ some giant searchlight thrown over the world, the aurora borealis. Through the night tramped, as Tom Norton had surmised, many of the men and boys of the settlement to Nathan Walters’ carpenter shop, for this shop was to them, what the corner, store or smithy is to-day to a country village—the
clubhouse where many a man gets whatever of social life his small amount of leisure time affords him. But Nathan’s shop was a more important place in its day than any store or smithy that followed in its wake, inasmuch as it supplied the place of newspaper, music hall, lecture room and council chamber. Here on stormy days the men and boys assembled to tell stories, sing songs, discuss any event of interest, talk over plans for the future, and to enjoy themselves as best they could. In fact, without the shop, social intercourse, so far as the masculine members of the community were concerned, would have been something of a dead letter.
However, it was nothing of a social nature that brought the men and boys of the settlement together on this particular night. War’s dark cloud was hanging threateningly over their young country—a country that had as yet scarcely learned to walk.
Their wilderness home was to be invaded, and with England’s powers taxed to the utmost in her war against Napoleon, what were they to expect? They knew full well that Canada had done nothing to bring on a war, and their Loyalist blood boiled as they recalled how they and their fathers had suffered at the hands of this same party, that now proposed to invade their country.
One by one they entered the shop, and leaned their muskets, which they always carried when traveling through the woods, against the wall. Their faces were grim, stern and anxious as on block, stool or workbench they seated themselves, and gazed moodily into the fire. The resinous pine knots blazing on the hearth threw out gleams of light that touched fitfully objects here and there, now bringing into full view a bronzed face, a linsey-woolsey hunting shirt, a moccasined foot, or a dash of color in someone’s costume. Again it glinted across a saw, an adze, or flashed back from a polished musket barrel.
Tom Norton coming into the shop paused a moment with latch-string in
hand, as lie caught a gleam from the muskets.
“Look's like war over there," he said, pointing to the row against the wall.
Instantly he was surrounded. “What’s the news?” “When did you get back?” “Come and sit down here,” and numerous other exclamations greeted his ears.
Nathan Walters looked up from the ox-yoke he was fashioning, and a subtle gleam of good fellowship and mutual understanding shot from his dark eyes to the blue eyes of the newcomer, and it was Nathan’s question that Tom answered first of all.
“It's war, boys, war, and God knows some of us here know' all too well what that means!”
All eyes went back to the fire, and in its glowing heart, perhaps, some caught the blurred outlines of the common grave they were to share in the trenches of Lundy’s Lane.
But Tom was speaking. “England has her hands full, and it looks as though we’ll get little help from her, but, boys, w’e’ll never give up, wall we?”
“Never! Never!” came the emphatic reply, “we'll fight to the last man.”
Tom smiled grimly. “Yes, and to the last woman,” he added. “I got the last copy of the Kingston Gazette over to the fourth town. Thought perhaps you’d all like to hear what’s goin’ on,” and seating himself where the firelight was brightest he pulled the primitive little paper from his pocket while the others drew' closer around him.
Tom was the best reader among them, and even though he stopped to spell many of the words on the printed page, his audience always considered it a treat to have him read to them, and on this occasion they listened breathlessly.
No cable, or wireless message had made an appearance in the newspaper world of their day. The news Tom Norton read to them was many months old, but what mattered that? Here in the wilderness all was startlingly new, and they looked upon the
tiny journal, which was no larger than a sheet of foolscap, as the outcome of a marvelous enterprise—and
in reality it was.
Down one fourteen-inch column Tom read laboriously, while the men about him hung on every word he uttered. Eagerly they listened to England’s gains, and sorrowfully to her reverses, while more than one man present cursed Bonaparte under his breath. When all had been read Tom folded the paper and looked up. “Now, boys,” he said, “you see the fix England’s in, are we goin’ t’ let them Yankees come over here and take all our skelps?”
“Not by the great horn spoon!” cried John Black, excitedly, while others added the chorus: “Let ’em come; we’ll give ’em another kind of a Boston tea party !” “We’ll show ’em what kind o’ stuff we’re made of!”
“Yes, indeed,” said Nathan Walters, “they drove our fathers out, and they’d better beware of the sons !”
“They’re all enlisted over to Adolphustown,” said Tom Norton, “and Col. McDonnell’s drillin’ the Fifth Town men. I saw Col. Valleau today and he asked me to find out how many here ’ud be willin’ to volunteer.”
Every man present sprang to his feet, but Tom shook his head. “We can’t all go,” he said, “but we can all take the drill, and get to work at once for we'll need something more thorough than we get on trainin’ day.”
The fourth of June, the anniversary of the birth of King George III., was, for many years, the day set apart for the annual training of the militia. This was known as “general training day,” and ten days or so prior to the fourth, the men belonging to the various battalions were “warned” to appear at a certain place in the district to take part in the military drill. Grassy Point, on the Long Reach, was the training ground for all living in that vicinity, but as this place afforded many opportunities for various sports, their training had grown less and less strenuous, so that now the
men fully realized the work before
Training day had been a red-letter day in their lives, but now war’s red harvest was to be garnered, and in blood was the history of the days of 1812, ’13 and ’14 to be written.
A horrible, fratricidal war, was staring these men, and the men of all Canada, in the face ; a cruel, ruthless war between two nations of kindred blood, between relatives and warm friends? Whosoever was in the fault or whosoever in the right, God grant that no such calamity ever occurs in future ! May Canada and her sister nation live in peace and harmony!
Far from being harmonious, though, were the thoughts and feelings that swayed the Long Reach men as Tom Norton drew from his pocket a slip of paper on which he was to write the names of the volunteers. To a man they stood before him ; not even the youngest boy among them but clamored to have his name entered in the list. Tom Norton shook his head, but his eyes glowed like the coals on the hearth;
“Boys, boys,” he said, “some must stay at home. There’s the women and children to be thought of, besides the wheat must be sown and harvested in order that we don’t starve. Now who’ll volunteer to stay home?”
But a mighty shout went up from the men.
“We’ll go, the women can ’tend the grain !”
“The women can fight!”
But still Tom shook his head. Slowly he wrote the names of some of the younger men. Sadly, perhaps, for he, as well as the others, knew the meaning of war.
As the quill pen glided over the paper the shop door was opened and John Walters and Jane, his wife, entered. They had heard the shout, had seen Tom Norton pass the house, and knowing he had but recently returned from Adolphustown, had decided that he brought news of an invasion.
“What is it, Nathan?” John demanded of his son, and in a few words the story was told.
“Now, John,” said Tom Norton,
when the facts had all been stated, ‘.‘some must stay at home, don’t you think so?”
“Of course they must," said John, then waving his hand to silence the dissenting voices that greeted this, he said: “Don’t you know boys, at a
time like this, it takes more real courage t’ stay behind than t’ go?"
“You all want t’ go and that’s right, but somebody’s got t’ stay. Let Tom here do the choosin’.”
Faster now Tom’s pen moved over the paper. Looking over the men he singled them out and wrote them down. Not a sound was audible, save the crackling of the fire and the scratch, scratch of the pen.
When the list was finished Tom Norton drew a long breath, but the tension remained unrelaxed among the men until he commenced reading the names. Down the list he went as slowly as he had written, and each man whose name was called gave a short gasp of relief as he instinctively stepped beside the others so favored.
To the bottom of the list he went, and his “That’s all” held them spellbound an instant. The next a fierce clamor arose from those left out, but again John Walters silenced them. He was the oldest man present, and they listened to him, as they would to none other.
“It’s right, boys ! Abide by it. I know what war means, and God knows you may have your chance yet before it’s all over. We’re but a handful, you know, but a handful !”
After a moment’s pause he said: “Just let me see that list Tom.” He
looked it over then taking pen, dipped it deep into the ink-horn and wrote another name at the bottom.
Tom Norton looked at the paper quizzically as he received it back, then for the first time that night the old, merry light Hashed in his eyes as he said: “But, John, you’ve writ-
ten your own name here." John Walters straightened his stooped shoulders, and his heels clicked together as he stood “at attention."
“And why not?” he demanded. “I took my training when you were a child. I fought with the King’s Royal Rangers through the Yankee Revolution. I lost home and friends, and all I possessed but life, for my King and old England. My arm is still strong. It belongs to my King. My blood for the glory of the old flag, boys! You can't keep me home! I tell you you shan’t keep me home !"
Such another shout as re-echoed over the Long Reach! Even Tom Norton shouted and threw up his cap, then espying Jane weeping silently, he pointed to her and said : “What
But Jane Walters was the daughter of a Loyalist. With tears still wet on her cheeks, she went to the side of her husband and taking his hand and Nathan’s in hers, she said: “John is
right. He must go, Nathan must go.
Boys, you must all go, and-’’ and
here the great soul of her faltered as she reached the limitation of her sex, and her voice trembled as she cried like one in pain, “Would to God that I could go, too, that everv woman in the settlement could go and fight for our homes and our country."
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