Johnston, James, F.W. 1851. "Notes on North America: Agricultural, Economical, and Social ". Volume II William Blackwood and Sons Edinburgh and London. 512 p. 13.8 MB download. Digitized 15 Aug 2006.
The passage below was taken from “Notes on North America, Agricultural, Economical and Social” by the Scottish agricultural chemist, Professor James EW. Johnston of Durham University. In his book Johnston describes an 1850 journey through eastern North America where he documented the loss of natural soil fertility, demonstrating in particular the depleted condition of the soil in New York state as compared to the more fertile farmlands to the West. Despite the travelogue style of his writing Johnston’s book was to become enormously influential. Based on his reading of the book Karl Marx came to refer to Johnston as the "the English Liebig,", after Jusus Liebig the famous German plant biologist of ‘Limiting Growth Factors’ fame. In the following excerpt Johston makes observations on the then newly founded Harvey Settlement providing a unique professional perspective on the future prospects of the community. Excerpt below was taken from CIHM#35750 at the University of New Brunswick (Canadian Institute of Historical Microreproductions), pages 168 to 178 inclusive: (Spelling as appeared in original). A second entry referring to Harvey is found on p. 202 and 203.
JAMES F. W. JOHNSTON
M.A.,F.R.S.SI., & E, F.G.S, C.S, &c.
Reader in Chemistry and Mineralogy in the University of Durham
William Blackwood and Sons
Edinburgh and London
Having crossed this belt of swamp, we passed the Trout Brook, a feeder of the Macadavic, and, descending towards this river, drove for a couple of miles along a cleared upper intervale of granitic sand to Vail's, about thirty miles from St Stephens, where we stopped to bait.
We were now on the banks of the Macadavic, a river near the mouth of which, at St George, I had spent part of the previous Friday. At this point, and for some distance above and below, a broad space intervened between the hills on both sides. This space was occupied by marshy islands overflowed by the river in floods, but from which Mr Vail yearly obtained much of his winter's hay-of a small portion of dry intervale land of good quality, from which good crops of grain were obtained-but chiefly of an extensive low flat swamp of stunted pines, which, if cleared, was naturally too wet for cultivation. At a higher level was the second intervale of sandy soil, along which my road had brought me, and upon which four or five farms had been cleared, but which required some attention to manure, if regular crops were desired from it.
While my horse was baiting, I crossed the river and walked forward over the mile of flat swamp which intervened between the river and the hills, and over which the road ran. The last rocks I had seen were slates more or less metamorphic; but when I reached the steep hill, I found myself at a lofty escarpment of grey sandstone conglomerate, the base on this side, as I believe, of the New Brunswick coal-measures. I saw no rocks in place beneath the grey conglomerate; but my time did not admit of much search. Vail informed me, however, that there was limestone in the flat swamp, at some distance from the road. On the top of the hill I passed for some distance patches of red drift, in connection with which a drifted mass of gypsum had been met with. I infer, therefore, that this broad swamp between the hill and the river represents the former site of: or now actually covers, the soft red rocks, the red marls, the deposits of gypsum, the limestone, and perhaps the red conglomerate, which, in this order, are found beneath the grey coal-measures of New Brunswick. A search through the woods would probably discover traces of them; and such a search may be rewarded by the discovery of tracts of available land now hidden in the wilderness.
After ascending the hill, the same grey conglomerate, or grey coal-measure sandstones overlying it at a low angle, formed seven miles of a stony pine-clad wilderness table-land, before we came to a few miserable clearings on soil which, during the present arid season, had yielded most scanty crops. Grey sandstones, for the most part thinner bedded, accompanied me afterwards--forming, with occasional exceptions, poor and stony soils-all the way to Fredericton. The surface of the harder of these rocks, when they come occasionally today, and are uncovered by drift, exhibit the grooves and polish usually attributed to the action of currents and icebergs during what bas been called the diluvial or drift period.
One of the exceptions to the general poor character of the land is seen at the Harvey Settlement, about twenty-five miles from Fredericton. This settlement, named after Sir John Harvey, who was the governor at the time it was commenced, is now one of the most flourishing in the province. It was formed in the summer and autumn of 1 837, by a number of families who came from the neighbourhood of Wooler in Northumberland, after some arrangement with the officers, and for the purpose, of settling on the lands of the New Brunswick and Nova Scotia Land Company. On their arrival at Fredericton, however, in July 1837, they found no preparation had been made by the Company for their reception or location. Being poor, they were at once thrown upon the public bounty; and though a few got employment, yet the great bulk, both of the men and of their families, were soon in distress. The Legislature, therefore, at once assigned to them the tract of land they now occupy, furnished them with supplies, and appointed a commission-at the head of which was the present Attorney-general-to assist in arranging the division of the land, and other necessary matters.
At first twenty-three families, comprising about two hundred individuals, were located; and though they endured many hardships, especially during the first winter, yet only two deaths occurred among them all for six years after their arrival, while there were thirty-nine happy births without medical aid. There are now fifty-three families of them, counting in all between three and four hundred souls, each family owning from three to five cows, and a hundred acres of land at least.
The cultivated land of these numerous farms lies on a succession of low ridges, between which cedar-swamps of greater or less extent intervene, and interfere both with regular clearing and cultivation, and with the continuity of farms. I stayed over night at this settlement, in a comfortable little inn kept by a Mr. Cockburn, who had several sons grown up, all of whom but one had already left him, and settled on farms of their own.
Nov. 13.--A second tier of lots--a second concession, as it would be called in Lower Canada --has been taken up and settled behind the farms first laid out here, along the high-road. The families of the old emigrants of 1837 are now becoming straitened for room. They complain bitterly that all the good land within immediate reach has been granted to speculators, who hold it from year to year to get the benefit of the increase in value which arises from the settlements made all around them. For the good of the province, such parties ought certainly to be compelled either to improve so much within a given time, to pay a tax to the local funds, or to sell at a fair price to those who would improve.
Behind the second tier of farms are extensive carriboo plains and pine-swamps as far as the Magadavic Lake; but, exploring in search of good land, the young pioneers of the settlement have discovered a tract of rich hardwood land in the midst of the wilderness beyond this lake, to which there is at present no access for want of roads, and no facility of settlement, because of its present remoteness from all human habitations. It is by such explorations, the results of natural expansion, that the better lands are discovered, and the means of successful extension afforded to the families of the older settlers.
Wheat is sown in this settlement among the stumps on the burned land. It gives twenty bushels sometimes; but if it gives ten bushels, it pays them for the little cost incurred with these first crops. Oats and potatoes are the principal produce; and since good mills have been established, the settlers have begun to consume much oatmeal. They are already celebrated for their Timothy seed, which they grow very pure. In 1848 they sold nearly eight hundred bushels, at 14s. 6d. a bushel; but, to the discredit of the province, which ought to have bought it for home consumption, it was carted fifty miles to Calais, and there sold for transport to the Boston market.
Though prosperous now, these settlers, as is the case with all poor settlers, had many difficulties at first, and among others that of having no roads--which those who followed them did not, and do not now anywhere experience in an equal degree. A barrel of flour, which now costs 4s. to bring it from Fredericton, a distance of twenty-five miles, then cost them 19s As they expressed it to me, "A man must work as hard here as at home, and longer hours. He must build his own house, make his own family's shoes, and do many other things. A useless man need not come here." Yet, they added, if a piece of good land was to be got handy, many of their friends were ready to come from home to join them.
In the middle of last summer, I made a short visit to the beautifully farmed country which lies between Cornhill and Yetholm, at the foot of the Cheviots, on either side of the Scottish Border, and near the paternal home of these Harvey settlers. It is a pretty country, at such a season of the year, for the lovers either of the picturesque or of fine farming, to visit. In the small village of Yetholm I found, by the report of the parish minister, that there were no less than thirty able-bodied men, accustomed to work on the adjoining farms, who were then unable to procure a single day's labour. Alarmed by the fall in the prices of grain-foolishly so, I think, on the part of farmers in such a half-pastoral district as that-the holders of the land has ceased to employ a single labourer they could dispense with. How the country suffers from this, besides the individual privation and misery it occasions! Every one of these patient intelligent men who emigrates is a loss to his country; and yet, I thought, how much more happy and permanently comfortable would those now idle men be, were they situated with their families on little farms of their own, like their old neighbours now settled at Harvey. Had I known of a bit of good land "handy" to that settlement, I could have felt in my heart to urge them to make up a party among themselves with the view of going there, and to offer to aid them in their views. Every one such man would be an invaluable gain to the province of New Brunswick.
The settlement has its school and a permanent school-master-an intelligent man, with whom I had some conversation-not overpaid, nor above the necessity of mending his own clothes, and making shoes for his family. It has regular visits, also, from a Presbyterian clergyman, and was about to build a church with the view of securing his resident services. It has now also its own corn-mill; and all this where, only twelve years before, was an unexplored wilderness. How much a small knot of industrious men, without capital, and without the aid of a rushing immigration, such as pours into the North-western States, may, even in unfavourable circumstances, in a short period effect!
I conversed with two of the settlers as to their own history and progress. Mr. Grieves was a shepherd at Whittingham, on the Border. He landed at Fredericton, in 1837, with a family often, and with only 7s. 6d. in his pocket. He did not come out immediately to Harvey along with the other settlers, but having received his grant of land, he hired himself as a farm-servant to Colonel Shore at Fredericton, at £30 a-year; and such of his children as could do anything he hired out also. Supporting the rest of his family out of his earnings, he saved what he could; and whenever he had a pound or two to spare, he got an acre or two of his land cleared. In this way he did good to the other settlers, by bringing some money among them and giving a little employment. At last, four years ago-that was, after seven years' service-he came out, and settled on his land himself: building a good house for his family right away-that is, without the previous erection of a log-house, as is usually the case; and a very good house he appeared to have. He now owns seven hundred acres of land in different lots, and has clearings of twenty acres on each of three or four of these farm-lots, intended for his several sons, who appear to be as industrious as himself.
When I asked him how it was that he appeared to have got on better than the rest of those around him, he said, "he and his family had saved it off their backs and their belly." But he added -and it really moved mc to find here lingering some heart and gratefulness still for kindness conferred, among so many who are filled only with grumbling and discontent-"Few have had so good a chance as I had, sir, or have met with so kind a master." I afterwards had the pleasure of meeting that master at Fredericton, and found him as grateful for the warm attachment and zealous service of so good a hind. I can well fancy a canny Northumbrian shepherd, with his thriftily brought up, obedient, and respectful children, gaining friends in New Brunswick, and thriving as Grieves has done. "Had I my life to begin again, "he said, "I would come out here; for though I might not have more comfort myself, there is the satisfaction of providing well for my family."
Mr. Pass was a different character. He was an Englishman from a more southern district, and had been the manager of a chemical work in some of the midland counties. He had saved £ 150, brought up his only son as a carpenter, and then came out six years ago, and settled at the northern end of Harvey. He had done well, he said, but through hard work; and all who have done well say the same. He considered himself better than at home, and that no climate could exceed that of his new country. It is especially the place for the labouring man, for he cannot worser himself; and, if he is industrious, is always getting better. This, in reality, is the great charm of these new regions, that the poor man, from the moment he places his feet in the country, if he be industrious, is constantly ascending the ladder, and is cheered by increasing prosperity. But after he and his sons have attained to competence, and the stimulus to great exertion ceases, the progress is not so rapid, and a man cannot himself, or through his sons, progress indefinitely in wealth and station, as at home. At least it is not done, and a kind of listlessness creeps over the second or third generation -the provincial-born-which has given rise to the no doubt well-founded remark to which I have already adverted, that the new immigrants are more energetic and industrious than the native provincials. Why is it so? One reason assigned here, as in other places of which I have spoken, is that, so long as you till your own land, or work at it along with the two or three men you employ, the cultivation in the Provinces, as in the States, is profitable; but that, on a larger scale, farming is not profitable. This is a very general belief in north-eastern America, and, if true, satisfactorily enough accounts for the greater industry and energy of the poorest, and the slackened exertions of the better off. But is the unprofitableness of more extensive farming a necessary or unavoidable thing? This question is a very important one, both to the colony and to intending emigrants. I shall discuss it in the succeeding chapter.
Leaving the Harvey Settlement, on my way to Fredericton, three or four miles of wilderness brought me to the Acton Settlement, which is six years old, and consists of twenty families of Irish. The front lots are occupied by Cork men, Roman Catholics; the rear lots by Protestants. James Moodie, one of the latter, described them as thriving and contented. He owned three hundred acres. He wished to have farms for each of his three sons, and as soon as they saved £15 among them, he bought another one hundred-acre lot.
On a ridge to the right is the Cork Settlement, six miles from that of Harvey. It consists entirely of Cork men, who have not prospered as yet. According to Mr. Pass, the south-country Irish are the poorest men that come out-do the worst, and are the least contented. As at home, they depend upon grants, and charity when the can get it, more than upon their own industry. Many of them have gone into Maine, thinking to better themselves; but they found out their mistake, and had all come back worse than they went.
On the other hand-located in a hut at the cross-roads between Acton and Cork Settlements, weaving, with the aid of his daughters, a home-spun web for one of his neighbours, and, though a professed tee-totaller, not disdaining to make a penny by selling drams-I found one of these Cork men, in propria persona, who had a different tale to tell. He had been a schoolmaster to them, but found it a starving business, as they were all steeped in poverty and debt; and yet they were industrious, he said; and therefore he inveighed against the mother country for not making railways in the province, and sending out money to employ the people. The management of the Irish is still a problem, when unmixed with other population, in whatever country they are. Here was this fellow — M'Mahon by name-unsteady and in debt himself, trying one shift after another, as those that have been unaccustomed to steady labour at home do, industrious after a fashion, but unable to see that it is the persevering industry of the Scottish, English, and Protestant Irish settlers, that makes the luck for which they are envied. This man was a great talker, an encourager and spreader of disaffection among those who would gladly, as they sat idle, ascribe their misfortunes to any man or thing but to themselves. As at home, they get together in junketing and merry-making, and estimate the happiness of a spree far above the every-day comforts of clean well-furnished houses, and plentiful meals all days of the year. But mingle these same men in twos and threes among a great predominance of a steadier race, and the restraint and influence of new example makes their children steadier men than their fathers, and more reasonable and contented citizens.
At the Hanwell Settlement, also Irish, and less prosperous and extensive than Harvey, I did not linger. It is within eight or ten miles of Fredericton, and on inferior land. The grey sandstones -in fact, a sort of stony wilderness-continues thence the whole way to Fredericton. Everywhere blocks of drifted stone and rock strew the surface, or are seen in situ. Beneath the drifted grey rocks, an admixture of red matter was visible in the soil-the debris, no doubt, of red marl rocks towards the north or north-west. Were the superficial stones removed, there are many places where this red material is in sufficient quantity to form a productive soil; but it will be long before labour can be profitably expended in clearing a stony surface like this, which seems almost to set the reclaimer at defiance.
From the high ground above Fredericton, I again felt how very delightful it is, after such a journey as this, to feast the eyes, weary of stony barrens and perpetual pines, upon the beautiful river St John. I thought it, on this occasion, one of the finest rivers I had anywhere seen. Calm, broad, clear, just visibly flowing on, full to its banks, and reflecting from its surface the graceful American elms which at intervals fringe its shores, it has all the beauty of a long lake without its lifelessness. But its accessories are as yet chiefly those of nature-wooded ranges of hills varied in outline, now retiring from, and now approaching the water's edge, with an occasional clearing, and a rare white¬washed house with its still more rarely visible inhabitants, and stray cattle. These differ widely from the numerous craft and massive buildings, signs of art and industry, which strike the traveller's eye, when, leaving Cronstadt behind, he ascends the narrowing Neva. Yet, in some respects, this view of the St John recalled to my mind some of the points on the Russian river: though among European scenery, in its broad waters and forests of pines it most resembled the tamer portions of the sea-arms and fiords of Sweden and Norway.
I reached Fredericton about four in the afternoon, and there found my conductor, besides making me pay very high for his services, most anxious-like so many others of these provincial people-to persuade me that he had done me a great favour besides, in bringing me, and that I was obliged to him in a degree for which my money was no compensation. He could have made more at his ordinary occupation of serving writs and seizing debtors, and it was only to oblige my friends he had brought me at all. I could only regret that my friends should have induced him to do what was so much to his disadvantage, and assure him, that having paid his exorbitant demand, considered I had discharged every sort of obligation lowed him. This sort of thing, in one form or other, the traveller will often meet with in all these new countries; and not least frequently among those who have still a trace of the Irish "never went to service at home, sir" remaining in their heads.
I have stated that every new immigrant who arrives, if he bring health and a willingness to work, is a gain to the colony; I have also incidentally alluded to the fact — as when speaking of the Harvey Settlement, and of the country on the river Tobique — that there are tracts of good available land scattered through the province, in various counties, which cannot be settled, because of the want of the necessary roads.
Bodies of emigrants from the same country or neighbourhood, going out as a single party, would work pleasantly together, and be good company and agreeable neighbours to each other, as those of the Harvey Settlement have been. I believe there is at this moment scarcely a county in Great Britain, in which, if the case were fairly stated, and cheap provision made for carrying the intending emigrants directly to a destination prepared for them would not be found willing, with their families, to engage on such terms to embark for a new country, in which after tho years' hard labour, and some privation, independence and future comfort awaited them.