Fire in the Forest

The Ragtag Daily Prompt this morning was COUNTLESS BRANCHES

A forest of living, greening branches can be an inspiring sight, but here’s an account of a raging blaze started in the felled trees on a homesteader’s farm. They were set ablze by the hired man, who had good intentions, but seriously lacked common sense. The REBLOG button on his post isn’t working, so I’ve reprinted this from Flatlander Faith.com. See the original post HERE.

[This is an excerpt from a Canadian Classic, Roughing it in the Bush, by Susanna Moodie, first published in 1852.  At the climax of the crisis described here, she buries her head in her apron. It was her custom to  pull up her apron to cover her head for privacy when praying.]

The winter and spring of 1834 had passed away. The latter was uncommonly cold and backward; so much so that we had a very heavy fall of snow upon the 14th and 15th of May

A late, cold spring in Canada is generally succeeded by a burning, hot summer; and the summer of ’34 was the hottest I ever remember.  No rain fell upon the earth for many weeks, till nature drooped and withered beneath one bright blaze of sunlight; and the ague and fever in the woods, and the cholera in the large towns and cities, spread death and sickness through the country.

Moodie had made during the winter a large clearing of twenty acres around the house. The progress of the workmen had been watched by me with the keenest interest. Every tree that reached the ground opened a wider gap in the dark wood, giving us a broader ray of light and a clearer glimpse of the blue sky. But when the dark cedar swamp fronting the house fell beneath the strokes of the axe, and we got a first view of the lake my joy was complete: a new and beautiful object was now constantly before me, which gave me the greatest pleasure.

The confusion of an uncleared fallow spread around us on every side. Huge trunks of trees and piles of brush gave a littered and uncomfortable appearance to the locality, and as the weather had been very dry for some weeks, I heard my husband talking with his choppers as to the expediency of firing the fallow. They still urged him to wait a little longer, until he could get a good breeze to carry the fire well through the brush.

Business called him suddenly to Toronto, but he left a strict charge with old Thomas and his sons, who were engaged in the job, by no means to attempt to burn it off till he returned, as he wished to be upon the premises himself in case of any danger. He had previously burnt all the heaps immediately about the doors. While he was absent, old Thomas and his second son fell sick with the ague, and went home to their own township, leaving John, a surly, obstinate young man, in charge of the shanty, where they slept, and kept their tools and provisions.

The day was sultry, and towards noon a strong wind sprang up that roared in the pine tops like the dashing of distant billows, but without in the least degree abating the heat. The children were lying listlessly on the floor for coolness, and the girl and I were finishing sun-bonnets, when Mary suddenly exclaimed, “Bless us, mistress, what a smoke!” I ran immediately to the door, but was not able to distinguish ten yards before me. The swamp immediately below us was on fire, and the heavy wind was driving a dense black cloud of smoke directly towards us.

“What can this mean?” I cried. “Who can have set fire to the fallow?”

John Thomas stood pale and trembling before me. “John, what is the meaning of this fire?”

“Oh, ma’am, I hope you will forgive me; it was I set fire to it, and I would give all I have in the world if I had not done it.”

“What is the danger?”

“Oh, I’m terribly feared that we shall all be burnt up,” said the fellow, beginning to whimper.

“We must get out of it as fast as we can, and leave the house to its fate.”

“We can’t get out,” said the man, in a low, hollow tone, which seemed the concentration of fear; “I would have got out if I could; but just step to the back door, ma’am, and see.”

I had not felt the least alarm up to this minute. Judge then my horror, when, on going to the back door, I saw that the fellow, to make sure of his work, had fired the field in fifty different places. Behind, before, on every side, we were surrounded by a wall of fire, burning ferociously within a hundred yards of us, and cutting off all possibility of retreat.

I closed the door and went back to the parlour. Fear was knocking loudly at my heart – I felt stupefied. The girl sat upon the floor by the children, who had both fallen asleep. She was silently weeping; while the fool who had caused the mischief was crying aloud.

A strange calm succeeded my first alarm; tears and lamentations were useless; a horrible death was impending over us, and yet I could not believe that we were to die.

My eye fell upon the sleeping angels, locked peacefully in each other’s arms, and my tears flowed for the first time. Mary, the servant-girl, looked piteously up in my face. The good, faithful creature had not uttered one word of complaint, but now she faltered forth, “The dear precious lambs! Oh such a death!”

I threw myself down upon the floor beside them, and pressed them alternately to my heart, while inwardly I thanked God that they were asleep, unconscious of danger.

The heat soon became suffocating. We were parched with thirst, and there was not a drop of water in the house. I turned once more to the door, hoping that a passage might have been burnt through to the water. I saw nothing but a dense cloud of fire and smoke – could hear nothing but the crackling and roaring of the flames, which were gaining so fast on us that I felt their scorching breath in my face.

“Ah,” thought I – and it was a most bitter thought – “what will my beloved husband say when he returns and finds that poor Susy and his dear girls have perished in this miserable manner? But God can save us yet.”

The thought had scarcely found a voice in my heart before the wind rose to a hurricane, scattering the flames on all sides into a tempest of burning billows. I buried my head in my apron, for I thought that our time was come, and that all was lost, when a most terrific crash of thunder burst over our heads, and, like the breaking of a water-spout, down came the rushing torrent of rain which had been pent up for so many weeks. In a few minutes the chip-yard was all afloat, and the fire effectually checked. The storm which, unnoticed by us, had been gathering all day, and which was the only one of any note we had that summer, continued to rage all night, and before morning had quite subdued the cruel enemy whose approach we had viewed with such dread.

The imminent danger in which we had been placed struck me more forcibly after it was past than at the time, and both the girl and myself sank to our knees and offered up our hearts in humble thanksgiving to that God who had saved us by an act of His Providence from an awful and sudden death. When all hope from human assistance was lost, His hand was mercifully stretched forth, making His strength more perfectly manifested in our weakness.

“He is their stay when earthly hope is lost,
The light and anchor of the tempest-toss’d.”

All My Kin

Today’s Word of the Day prompt is the word KINDRED. Something everyone has, whether they know it or not.

I’ve written before about my adventures on Ancestry.com — and now I’ve built another family tree on MyHeritage.com, so I’ve got lots of information coming at me in regards to my forebears. Basically my Vance great-great-great-grandfather David had his origins in Gallowayshire, Scotland, and moved to Wigtownshire, married thirteen-year-old Agnes Jones and had a large family, mostly boys. He was killed at age 34 in a storm, after which several of his sons left that area hoping for a better life in Canada. They emigrated circa 1835.

David’s son, my great-great gr. Joseph, married Sarah Shannon and had one son, then she passed away. He brought his son John along when he came to Canada. En route to Oxford County he met another Sarah, the daughter of Samuel Russell and Sarah Jane (nee Powers) Allen of upstate New York. Joseph and Sarah were married and their first son — and possibly their daughter as well — appear to have been born in Quebec. The two offspring, true to form, were named Joseph and Sarah Jane.

This tendency to name the oldest children after their parents sometimes helps matters and sometimes confuses the issue. My great-great grandparents named their children after all of Joseph’s brothers, plus Samuel after Samuel Allen, I’m supposing, and the youngest one was William, some other kinsman’s name.

Joseph’s oldest son Joseph name his two oldest children Joseph and Sarah Jane; so did Great-uncle George and James, if I have it right. To add to the confusion of all the same-name cousins, I also discovered that three of my great-grandfather’s brothers married Margarets. Wouldn’t that have given some interesting family gatherings?

Samuel, my great grandfather, was the second youngest of Joseph and Sarah’s six sons, born after they were settled and farming in Oxford County, Ontario. Most of the kindred settled in the Tavistock area and from there have spread out in every direction. Great-grandpa Sam and his brother James came west; at least two of his brothers went to Michigan when land was opening up there; some moved farther north in Ontario, to Huron and Lambton Counties.

Great-grandfather never had a girl to name after his mother, but he named his oldest son Allen, so that family was represented. Maybe he figured there were already enough Josephs in the clan, as his second son was William James after his two brothers.

Grandfather Allen Vance kept up the tradition: his older sons were Samuel Charles, William Steven, and Joseph Daniel. My father, the youngest, was Wilfred Allen, but his dad died when he was a boy and he started calling himself Allen Wilfred. My brother is James Allen. Looks like that’s where the tradition will end.

And that’s enough — probably a lot more than you wanted to know — about my kindred.

Intriguing Data

I’ve been digging into the family tree roots again, and discovered some interesting facts and figures for my forebear’s family. My husband also got his DNA results back today and is tripping through all the family info — and mis-info — on his side. Names garbled on old records, etc. Dad was Walter Frank and wouldn’t appreciate being listed as Wally T!

Facts and dates, spellings and census records all make for interesting reading and quite a few chuckles as you try to sort out how great-great grandmother had her first child at age seven, or another had her last baby at age 56.

There were some interesting age spreads back then, as there are today. My gr-gr-grandma Ruth’s sister, Rebecca, was 24 when she married John Pepper, a widower aged 44. It really interested me to learn that the couple lived in Fullarton, Ontario, the small town we lived in for some years, thirty-odd years ago.

One of their brothers was Jonathan Burnham Dobson. Confusingly, I’ve discovered two men by that name, one lived mostly in New Brunswick and one in Ontario. That may take some sorting out, if I really want to go there.

I’ve been following the life story and descendants of the Ontario fellow. I’ve learned that his wife was Ann Blatchford (Ontario marriage record — can’t argue with that.) Ann was — if you believe half a dozen Family Tree records the daughter of Thomas Tapson and Jane Blatchford. Or did someone cross a wire there?

Depending on whose record you believe, Ann was born in Lydford, Lifton, or Bridestowe, all in Devon. According to all accounts she was married in 1842 to William Blatchford.

One record says they had 7 children, born from 1845 to 1857. And William died in 1852.
One record says they had five children from 1845-1853, and William died in 1854.
One record shows they had three children widely spaced and William died in 1858.

Her children were for sure William, Elizabeth Ann, George, and Mary Jane, give or take a Richard, Louisa, Joanna, or Thomas Charles.

All agree that Ann (Tapson) Blatchford married Jonathan Dobson in 1859. (Thank you DVS!) Born in 1831, he would have been 27 and she 38. Except that the Ontario Marriage registration gives her age as 28. I’d like to know how lost those ten years. 🙂

I’ve found record of their one daughter, Margaret. Some family trees list her as Margaret Marguerite. I’ve spent this afternoon discovering her spouse, their children and spouses. Don’t ask me why? 😉

One researcher covered all the bases in the info they posted:
Ann was born at Lydford, Devon, England, married William Blatchford in 1842. The couple had six children before William died in 1852. At some point they immigrated to Ontario.
Children’s names and birth years:
William (44), Elizabeth (47), George (49), Thomas C (51), Mary Jane (53) and Richard (63)
Oh, wait — don’t forget Joanna, supposedly born in 57.

Then Ann married Jonathan Dobson and their children were:
Louisa (33), Henry (54), Sara (56), Margaret Marguerite (59) Ann (59) and Emma (63), when Ann would have been 43. Possible — but talk about prolific! It will take some serious DNA research to sort out all those offspring.

While I’m speaking of things being rather a mess, have you all come to terms with the newest update in Word Press, where we have to go through the Stats to get to the WordPress Administration instead of having the left-hand drop-down menu like we used to? I find it a pain.

Of Mice and Man

It’s a windy, winterish day here with a light dusting of fresh snow.
Time for another seasonal haiku:

diligent deer mice
along the train track
harvest the harvest

Nature note:
Jack Miner, Ontario’s famous naturalist during the early 1900s, writes of a find he once made in a northern forest. He and some fellow hunters made camp near a large, dead pine tree. They felled this tree so it wouldn’t fall on the tent if a high wind came up, and they chopped the top branches into firewood.

Eighty feet up the tree they found a little hole less than an inch in diameter with an inner cavity occupied by a family of deer mice. Jack estimated that there was no human habitation for three or four miles and for sure no grain fields within fifty or a hundred miles, yet they found between one and two quarts of clean wheat stored in the mouse family’s pantry.

He explained that these far-sighted deer mice, no bigger than your thumb, would creep down the tree at night and make trip after trip to the railroad tracks thee hundred feet away. All through the fall they’d fill their little cheeks with kernels of grain that had sifted out of the boxcars en route to the terminal, then dash back home and up the tree to squirrel away their winter food supply. They performed this task in spite of the danger from lurking predators and swooping owls.

Jack admired these ambitious, courageous little creatures. In Wild Goose Jack, his autobiography published in 1969, he writes:
“In walking along the railroad tracks with a lantern during October, before the snow has fallen, one will usually see deer mice by the dozens…gathering food for winter.”

That Long Dark Night

Fandango’s FOWC Word prompt for today is: MEMORY

I appreciate these agreeable, simple words! This one should inspire a wide variety of responses. For my response I’m going to pull up a tidbit I originally posted in Dec 2013.

“Where were you when the lights went out?”

Remember that question, popular in the early seventies? Do you remember the incident it stems from? Can you remember the BeeGees’ song “When the Lights All Went Out in Massachusetts”? If you can, you’re as old as I am!

One day my mind went back to that long dark night, so I asked some friends these questions. They’d never heard of it. Some had heard that question, but had no idea what incident it referred to. Tsk, tsk! A whole generation has arisen (maybe even two already) who don’t remember when the lights all went out in Massachusetts.

But what year was that again? And what caused the power failure? And which states did it hit? I was pretty sure I remembered, but when I googled it, I found that I hadn’t gotten the basic details straight at all. All these years I thought the Yanks were to blame, but it actually started when Canadian electrical workers used the wrong size of wire in a power substation. (Blush!)

One book I refer to at times and enjoy reading just for the fun of it is Jack M. Bickham’s The 38 MOST COMMON FICTION WRITING MISTAKES (And How to Avoid Them)  © 1992 by Jack M. Bickham

Chapter 20 in this book is titled: “Don’t Assume You Know; Look It Up”
This is invaluable advice.

So, dear aged friends, without asking Mr Google, when did the lights go out all across the Eastern seaboard and southern Ontario and Quebec? And where were you?

 

Canada Becomes Our Home (2)

Once upon a time in Gallowayshire, Scotland, a man named David Vance took a wife named Agnes Jones. The two of them had a number of sons. Sad to say, David was killed in a lightning storm at age thirty-four. After this David’s sons yielded to the lure of the New world, with its offer of farm land for all. Ontario, Canada was being opened up for farming and it sounded good to them.

One of his sons, Joseph, was now a widower with a young son. Together with three of his brothers and their families, he and son John boarded a ship that took them to New York. While in New York he met Sarah, the daughter of Samuel Allen, and she consented to be his wife and go with him to Ontario.Canada flag

They landed in Oxford County about 1835, took up a homestead, and settled down to raise a family right near his brothers. Sarah and Joseph had six sons and one daughter, Sarah Jane.

One of their youngest sons, Samuel, married a Miss Mary Smith, daughter of John Smith and Ruth (Dobson). Mary had had a mishap when she was a young girl: she’d fallen from the roof of a shed or granary and broken her ankles. According to family tradition, the bones didn’t heal right and she was crippled from then on, walking with two canes in her adult years.

Sam and Mary farmed near Listowel, Ontario and had two sons, Allen and William. In the 1890s Sam and Allen felt the call to “Go west”; in the fall of 1899 they boarded the train for Saskatchewan to claim some of the almost-free farm land. Sam’s second son, William, was only 16— too young to file on a homestead — so he stayed in Ontario with his mother.

That fall Sam and Allen each filed on a homestead near Spy Hill, SK. But then they went hunting and Sam was killed when his gun backfired. In the spring Allen went back to Ontario; this was when Mary learned that Sam was dead.

SK flag
Saskatchewan provincial flag

Allen had his work cut out for him when the Vance family arrived in Spy Hill. He had to fulfill the obligations of his own homestead agreement — which involved breaking so many acres and building a home — plus those of his father so that his mother could get her land title. A few years later Allen married a schoolteacher, Miss Emily Turner, born in Grey County, Ontario.

While the Vances were looking toward Saskatchewan and the almost-free 160 acres of farmland, so were certain American farmers. Farmland was filling up fast in the US Midwest, so fathers with a number of sons were thinking they needed more cheap land.

James Henry Harmon was born in Maine and later homesteaded in Iowa, then moved to  Elk River, Minnesota, where my great-grandfather James Welcome Harmon was born.  James II married Mary Wilson and farmed in southern MN until the farmland was all taken up there. James had nine children already and, thinking of opportunity for his sons, he decided to claim one of the cheap homesteads being offered in western Canada. Just before the start of WWI James brought his family to the rich farmland southwest of the town of Melfort.

Leath Falconer and his wife were both born in Scotland, but they decided to find the end of the rainbow near Melfort, SK, together with their two daughters, Thelma & Rebecca. In time Thelma Falconer met up with Floyd Harmon and there was a wedding.

Their daughter Louise married Allen Vance, a younger son of Allen Vance and Emily Turner. and thus I came into the world 11 months after my brother Jim, followed by four siblings. Born here in Sask; grew up on the Canadian prairie. Love this land!

Canada Day wreath