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The Country of the Neutrals - (As Far As Comprised in the County of Elgin), From Champlain to Talbot
by James H. Coyne
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On the 27th the chiefs at the village entertained the party with venison, and dancing, "a ceremony they never dispense with when any of the King's officers of rank visit their villages."

"28th.—At six we stopped at an old Misissaga hut, upon the south side of the Thames. After taking some refreshment of salt pork and venison, well cooked by Lieutenant Smith, who superintended that department, we, as usual, sang God Save the King, and went to rest."

"March 1st.—We set out along the banks of the river; hen, ascending a high hill, quitted our former path, and directed our course to the northward. A good deal of snow having fallen, and lying still on the ground, we saw tracks of otters, deer, wolves and bears and other animals many of which being quite fresh induced the Mohawks to pursue them, but without success. We walked 14 or 15 miles and twice crossed the river, and a few creeks, upon the ice; once we came close to a Chippawa hunting camp, opposite to a fine terrace, on the banks of which we encamped, near a bay. * * * 2nd.—We struck the Thames at one end of a low flat island enveloped with shrubs and trees; the rapidity and strength of the current were such as to have forced a channel through the main land, being a peninsula, and to have formed the island. We walked over a rich meadow, and at its extremity came to the forks of the river.[21] The Governor wished to examine this situation and its environs: and we therefore remained here all the day. He judged it to be a situation eminently calculated for the metropolis of Canada. Among many other essentials, it possesses the following advantages: command of territory,—internal situation,—central position,—facility of water communication up and down the Thames into Lakes St. Clair, Erie, Huron and Superior,—navigable for boats to near its source, and for small crafts probably to the Moravian settlement—to the northward by a small portage to the waters flowing into Lake Huron—to the south-east by a carrying place into Lake Ontario and the River St. Lawrence; the soil luxuriantly fertile,—the land rich, and capable of being easily cleared, and soon put into a state of agriculture,—a pinery upon an adjacent high knoll, and other timber on the heights, well calculated for the erection of public buildings,—a climate not inferior to any part of Canada."

[21] Now the city of London.

"To these natural advantages an object of great consideration is to be added, that the enormous expenses of the Indian Department would be greatly diminished, if not abolished; the Indians would, in all probability, be induced to become the carriers of their own peltries, and they would find a ready, contiguous, commodious, and equitable mart, honorably advantageous to Government, and the community in general, without their becoming a prey to the monopolizing and unprincipled trader."

"The young Indians, who had chased a herd of deer in company with Lieutenant Givens, returned unsuccessful, but brought with them a large porcupine; which was very seasonable, as our provisions were nearly expended. This animal afforded us a very good repast, and tasted like a pig. The Newfoundland dog attempted to bite the porcupine, but soon got his mouth filled with the barbed quills, which gave him exquisite pain. An Indian undertook to extract them, and with much perseverance plucked them out, one by one, and carefully applied a root or decoction, which speedily healed the wound."

"Various figures were delineated on trees at the forks of the River Thames, done with charcoal and vermillion; the most remarkable were the imitations of men with deer's heads."

"We saw a fine eagle on the wing, and two or three large birds, perhaps vultures."

"3rd.—We were glad to leave our wigwam early this morning, it having rained incessantly the whole night; besides, the hemlock branches on which we slept were wet before they were gathered for our use.—We first ascended the height at least 120 feet into a continuation of the pinery already mentioned; quitting that, we came to a beautiful plain with detached clumps of white oak, and open woods; then crossing a creek running into the south branch of the Thames, we entered a thick swampy wood, where we were at a loss to discover any track; but in a few minutes we were released from this dilemma by the Indians, who making a cast, soon descried our old path to Detroit. Descending a hill and crossing a brook, we came at noon to the encampment we left on the 14th of February, and were agreeably surprised by meeting Captain Brant and a numerous retinue; among them were four of the Indians we had despatched to him when we first altered our course for the forks of the River Thames."

On the 4th, after crossing brooks and rivulets, much swollen by a thunder-storm, and passing the hut occupied by them on the 12th February they noticed "very fine beech trees."

Next day:—"We again crossed one of the branches of the south-east fork of the Thames, and halted in a cypress or cedar grove, where we were much amused by seeing Brant and the Indians chase a lynx with their dogs and rifle guns, but they did not catch it. Several porcupines were seen."

On the 6th they reached the Mohawk village, crossing the river at a different place and by a nearer route than before. The Indians had met the Governor with horses at "the end of the plain, near the Salt Lick Creek." The party finally arrived at Navy Hall on the 10th day of March.

At this period the overland route from Detroit to Niagara was apparently well known. There was an annual "Winter-express" each way, which Simcoe met on his westward journey on the 12th February and on his homeward route on the 5th March. Littlehales mentions a Mr. Clarke as being with it on each occasion. On their first meeting, the express was accompanied by a Wyandot and a Chippawa Indian. The second time, Mr. Augustus Jones, the surveyor, was either with or following it. He surveyed the north-west part of Southwold in the following year. On the up trip, the Governor's party met one man, who afterward proved to be a runaway thief from Detroit. They were also overtaken by a traveller, who, as they were subsequently informed, had got himself supplied with provisions and horses to the Grand Rivet, and a guide from thence to Detroit, by the false representation that he had despatches for the Governor. "He quitted us under the plausible pretence of looking for land to establish a settlement."

It appears that immediately after the capture of Niagara by Johnston in 1759, merchants from New England and Virginia had rushed in to participate in the fur-trade, which until that time had been largely monopolized by the French. As might be expected, many lawless acts were committed by these adventurers, and various proceedings were adopted by the Government to check and control them. After the American Revolution land-hunters came into the peninsula and undertook to purchase lands directly from the Indians. These purchases were ignored by the Land Boards, who always repudiated the idea that the Indians were proprietors of the land. No steps were taken however to locate settlers until the Indian title by occupancy was surrendered to the Crown. Even then, Simcoe's first step was to procure surveys for the purpose of establishing military roads, fortified posts, dockyards, etc., in order that when the settlers came they might be easily defended against hostile attacks, whether from the Indians, the United States troops, or the French or Spanish, who it was believed might invade the province by way of the Mississippi, the Ohio and the upper lakes.

Patrick McNiff's survey of the River Thames, as far as the upper Delaware village, was finished in 1793. His map is dated at Detroit on the 25th June of this year. In it he mentions that "from the entrance to the 12th lot of the 3rd township was surveyed two years since, from the 12th lot * * * to the upper village was surveyed in April and May 1793."

The map gives the "road leading from the Delawares to the Moravian village," "corn-fields" along the east bank of the river, an Indian village in the Southwold bend, and opposite on the southerly bank the "road leading to the entrance of Kettle Creek[22] on Lake Erie. Five hours' journey." It also shows the road leading to the Mohawk village on the Grand River.

[22] This disposes of the story told by Colonel Talbot to Mrs. Jamieson in 1837. He informed her that the name originated from his men having lost a kettle in the creek. But the creek was called Riviere a la Chaudiere or Kettle River by the French, and that is one of the names given to it in D. W. Smith's Gazetteer, of Upper Canada published in 1799.

The Moravian village is near the site of the battle field, and it is marked "commenced in May, 1792." The present location of Dundas Street and the Longwoods Road would appear to correspond with the roads east and west of Delaware as laid down.[23] Simcoe in forwarding McNiff's survey to Mr. Dundas on 20th September, 1793, thus refers to the Lake Erie region:

[23] The writer has not been able to see Mr. McNiff's report upon this survey.

"The tract of country which lies between the river (or rather navigable canal as its Indian name and French translation import) and Lake Erie, is one of the finest for all agricultural purposes in North America, and far exceeds the soil or climate of the Atlantic States. There are few or no interjacent swamps, and a variety of useful streams empty themselves into the lake or the river."

The Governor makes frequent reference in his correspondence and state papers to his plans for establishing the capital of Upper Canada at the upper forks of the Thames, to be called Georgina, London or New London. Down to the very time of his departure in 1796, and after the seat of government had been transferred to York (now Toronto), he regarded the latter as but a temporary capital, the real metropolis having yet to be built at London in accordance with his original design.

Talbot remained in the service of the Lieutenant Governor until June 1794, when as Major of the 5th Regiment he departed for England under orders for Flanders, carrying with him special letters of recommendation from Simcoe to Dundas and to Mr. King, the Under Secretary of State. He had been employed in various confidential missions. In 1793 he had been sent to Philadelphia to await news from Europe, when war with France was believed to be imminent. On the 22nd August, 1793, we find Talbot in "the most confidential intercourse with the several Indian tribes," as Simcoe expresses it, at the Miamis Rapids, where he had met the United States Commissioners and the Confederated Indians to consider the boundary question. In April, 1794; Simcoe was himself at the Falls of the Miami, and he repeated the visit during the following September, going by way of Fort Erie. This visit was a prolonged one; for we find that in October he met an Indian Council at Brown's Town in the Miami country. It is probable Talbot accompanied him in his capacity as military secretary. The construction by Simcoe of the fort at the foot of the rapids of the Miami in the spring of that year was an audacious step, which might easily have produced a new war between the United States and England, although Simcoe believed it had had the opposite result, and prevented war. All disputes between the two nations were however concluded by the treaty of 1794, usually called the Jay Treaty. Provision was made for the abandonment of the frontier posts hitherto occupied by English garrisons. Forts Niagara, Detroit, Miami and Michilimackinac received American garrisons in 1796 or shortly thereafter; English troops were stationed in new forts at St. Joseph's Island, Malden, Turkey Point, Fort Erie, Toronto, etc. The English flag floated no longer south of the great lakes. During the year 1796, Simcoe went to England on leave of absence, and he never returned to Canada.



COLONEL TALBOT.

The Honorable Thomas Talbot received his company and his majority in the same year, 1793. He was Colonel of the Fifth Regiment in 1795, at the early age of twenty-five. After eight years of military service on the Continent, partly in Flanders and partly at Gibraltar, he was still in 1803 a young man with every prospect that is usually considered alluring to ambition. Suddenly, to the amazement of his friends and the public, he abandoned the brilliant career upon which he had entered under so favorable auspices, cut himself loose from civilization itself, and buried himself in the recesses of the Canadian forest. He determined to settle on the north shore of Lake Erie, where he had previously selected a location on one of his journeyings with Governor Simcoe. Talbot had formed plans for diverting the stream of immigration from the United States, or rather for continuing its current as far as Upper Canada. He would attract settlers from New York, Pennsylvania and New England, who were dissatisfied with republican institutions or allured by the fertility of the Lake Erie region, and would build up a loyal British community, under the laws and institutions of the mother land.

It was a memorable event in the history of the County of Elgin, when on the 21st day of May, 1803, landing at Port Talbot, he took an axe and chopped down the first tree, thus inaugurating what has since been known as the Talbot Settlement. Henceforward, Colonel Talbot, Port Talbot, the Talbot Road, and the Talbot Settlement, are names inseparably connected with the history of the making of Upper Canada.

At that time the nearest settlement on Lake Erie was near Turkey Point, 60 miles away. In 1802 there was but one settled minister west of Niagara, Father Marchand, of Sandwich, a Roman Catholic priest. There were but seven clergymen settled in the whole Province. The record[24] states, however, that "Besides, there are several missionaries of the Methodistical order, whose residence is not fixed." Even at that early day the circuit-rider threaded the maze of forest between the Long Point clearings and those near the mouth of the Thames, and made his way down the Detroit River to the Essex shore of Lake Erie, where there was a fringe of settlement. But, generally speaking, the country north of Lake Erie to the borders of Lake Huron and the Georgian Bay was still a wilderness of continuous unbroken forest.

[24] Tiffany's Upper Canada Almanac, Niagara, 1802.

THE END

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