A Glimpse of Pioneer Life

The year was 1796 when a Mr. Lovekin of New York and his two hired men proceeded in advance of his family to locate his land and prepare a home for their reception likely a year later. Having settled at the mouth of Baldwin’s Creek (now Wilmot’s) he commenced to build himself a temporary shanty.

His next task was to clear some land and cut timber for a more elaborate home later on. As a settler he would at once set to work to prepare for the approaching winter. A log shanty would be built with a bark roof and plastered on the inside with mud. For several years his only neighbors would be Indians. In the next few years his nearest neighbors might be thirty miles to the west and at Smith’s Creek (Port Hope) about the same distance east.

During the winter the early pioneers would spend most of their time trapping and hunting. Deer and bear having been so plentiful, that an abundance of animal food could be obtained with very little trouble. The furred animals were also very numerous and required very little skill to trap and skins were the only source of money to the early settler.

The biggest inconvenience felt among them was the want of a mill to grind their grain and corn. Myer’s Mill, the nearest was located on Lake Ontario 60 miles east at Belleville. The trip to the mill usually required two weeks to go and return. A canoe was the only conveyance available and would have to be hauled up on the shore at night while camping in the woods. If a storm occurred, they would be weather-bound until it passed.

Upon reaching the mill, they waited for the grist to be ground and then return in the same manner. Because a trip to the mill was filled with so many obstacles and perils some settlers would resort to large coffee mills brought with them. These mills would be used to grind or crack their grain. Another improvised method was to make a crude mortar by hollowing out a stump. This could be done by boring or chiseling but more often the preferred method was to burn out the inside of a stump and the cavity scraped with a knife until all the charred spots were removed. A wooden ‘pounder’ or pestle would then be used to bruise the corn in the cavity of the stump. This bruised corn was known as ‘Samp’ and when pounded fine was made into ‘Johnny Cake’ and the course material was boiled into mush.

Another nutritious and wholesome food was found in wild rice which grew in most of the marshes around Lake Ontario and in abundance in Rice Lake. Rice would first be parched and then pounded and made into cakes or boiled.

During the summer having cleared some of his land and constructed a house, with the exception of the doors and windows, Mr. Lovekin decided to return to his family in New York and the following spring to bring them to their new home. Seems he had about one hundred and fifty dollars in silver and because of its weight he decided not to take it with him. A plan was devised to wrap it in paper, put it in a stocking and securing it with a cord it was hung up in a hollow tree which he carefully selected.

On returning the following year with his family, he was astonished on entering his house to find it occupied by an old bear. After ridding the bear and inspecting the house, he found from the quantity of leaves and brush piled up in a corner of the room, that the bear had taken up it’s winter quarters there.

After settling the family and their effects into the house, he went to the tree to see if the money was all safe. He found a small piece of the string which had been secured to the knotty protuberance within the hollow, but the stocking and contents were gone from where he had placed them! He felt disappointed and considered it lost. But occasionally it would revert to his mind and he was not sure of this and so some time later, to satisfy himself, he set about to cut down the tree. At the bottom he found portions of the paper and stocking cut up fine and mixed with grass and leaves in the form of a woodmouse’s nest. After removing the nest he found all his money buried in loose rotten wood.

The Indians were sometimes very troublesome and being well armed caused some anxiety among the pioneers. At this time there was only one instance ever recorded of a white man being killed by one.

An early settler relates a story of when he was a child, his father being absent from home having gone to Myer’s Mill with his grist. An Indian women with four papooses came to his house and asked his mother for ‘naw-pah-nee’ (flour). Because of it’s scarcity, his mother refused to give her any so the Indian women proceeded to search the house and found the flour in a kneading trough. She brought it forth and proceeded to divide it equally to everyone in the room, beginning with a double handful to each beginning with his mother, then herself and to each white child and papoose until it was divided. She then took her share and travelled off through the woods.

Another settler having moved in 1795 to the Township of Hope says “there was no mill at Smith’s Creek (Port Hope). My father went once to Kingston and several times to Napanee, taking his grist in a canoe.”

While living in Hope this man lost a span of horses and they were gone for a year and three months. When he learned from the Indians where they were, upon repairing to the place found the horse and a colt which had been foaled. The mare was never found.

Another story related by Mr. Lovekin was of the early days he and his men took the boat into a marsh for the purpose of cutting grass with which to make their beds. While doing so they heard the wolves howling around them, which at first the men began to mimic. The noise continued and the wolves increased in numbers getting closer to them. The men now frightened paddled to the lake, the wolves now increased in number to thirty or forty assembled on a sand bar snapping and howling. Arriving at their shanty they stayed in the boat until the last of the dusky forms retired into the woods. A large fire was kept for the remainder of the night.

These are just a few interesting narratives of early Ontario pioneers found in the Northumberland and Durham Historical Atlas of 1878.

Regards, Ranger.


  1. EWART TIMLIN · · Reply

    I really enjoy reading your historical info.ET/CAT


  2. Thanks again Ewart, Stay tuned for an upcoming posting, a great piece of history from ‘our’ time penned by a special guest writer.


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