Saturday, 24 February 2018

Families of Immigrants: First Half of the Nineteenth Century

Immigrant ship used on the Atlantic run to New York*

Not much changed between 1853, when the Gilchrists immigrated and 1843 when the May Gilchrist’s maternal grandparents made their way to what was to become Canada, but their journey to Ontario took a different path. The date of 1843 is an informed guesstimate. Kenneth Matheson may have taken his family to the New World anytime between June 25, 1841, when his daughter Margaret was baptized in Kilmuir, on the Isle of Skye, and November 1, 1843 when the next daughter, Catherine, was born in Belle Creek, Prince Edward Island.  

At that time the sailing ships, having dropped off the lumbar that they had hauled east, knew immigrants from the Western Isles would fill their holds on the way back. The ships called in at island ports to pick up their human cargo making the start of the journey, at least, relatively convenient. By then there was assistance with payment for their passage as Lord MacDonald, the owner of Skye, wished to hasten his excess tenants on their way.


A view from the Isle of Skye

Getting to the ship was the easier part of the journey. Once on board, Anne, Kenneth Matheson’s wife, would have had her hands full with Alexander who was under 5 and Margaret, either a babe in arms or a toddler. Were there fights over the cook pots on the communal stove or were the women, many from the same villages, able to work as a community? It not known how long the Mathesons were at sea, if the passengers were shut below decks due to storms that lengthened their journeys or if disease made its presence felt.
The young Matheson family was also fortunate to be heading to PEI. That meant no long overland journey to get to their destination. Belle Creek was close to the water. Maybe that is what had drawn Skye settlers there since the early 1800s. Perhaps it was the comfort of being among people they knew that kept the Mathesons in PEI long enough to have three more children, Charlotte, Angus and Henrietta. A short while after the birth of Henrietta, the family was on the move again. 

They were heading to Morriston in Ontario. It would have been a long journey over land and water. Their route up the St. Lawrence may have been too early for the river steamships. Durham boats were a frequent means of transport on the St. Lawrence and were a lot slower than the racing steamboats which replaced them. Whatever route they took, it was probably well used. Around this time, many settlers moved from PEI to Ontario in search of better land and more opportunities. 




A Durham boat on the St. Lawrence River**

Kenneth Matheson was looking for opportunities to work at his profession as a stonemason. Ontario was the place to do that. Morriston, just like Belle Creek, had a large Scottish population. There were so many Scots in the township of Puslinch, where the Mathesons settled, that the enumerator for the 1851 census made a note of his difficulties completing the census as there were many highlanders amongst the population who only spoke Gaelic.  Like many immigrants, they had settled among people from back home.  

                               At the time of the 1851 census, the Matheson family was living in a one story log cabin


**By Henry Byam Martin - Photographer unknown. The image presented here is a photograph that differs in color and is reversed from the original., Public Domain, 

Campey, Lucille H. “A Very Fine Class of Immigrants”: Prince Edward Island’s Scottish Pioneers 1770-1850. Natural Heritage Books, Toronto, 2001.

Campey, Lucille H. Ignored but Not Forgotten: Canada’s English Immigrants. Dundurn, Toronto, 2014.

Littlefield, Angie. The Thomsons of Durham: Tom Thomson’s Family Heritage. Durham West Arts Centre, Ajax, Ontario, 2005.

Spalding, Simon. Food at Sea: Shipboard Cuisine from Ancient to Modern Times. Rowman & Littlefield, Lanham, Maryland, 2015.