‘Voices from Lambton’s Past’: The founder of Canada’s first commune, part 2

Feature, Lambton County History — By on January 20, 2012 at 1:00 am

30 August 1830 – Perche Creek, Lake Huron

The boat still about a half-hour away, I continued with my thoughts about how much had been accomplished over the last year, changing this forest broken only by a meandering creek into the community it is today. I remember so clearly the day we arrived.

It has been a hard two years. But our communal building is up, land has been cleared and crops have been planted.

It is time for my family to be reunited. I wrote to my wife three months ago advising her to sell our assets in England and book passage for her, her sister and our three daughters to Maxwell. They are almost here.

With remorse, I recall our only tragedy, a young boy, Colin McDuff, who died of a fever. Along the shore, a cairn of stones marks the location of his mortal remains,

I am roused from my thoughts by the voice of a young girl yelling out, “Father! Father! It’s me!”

I look up and see the ship dropping anchor, along the rail my youngest daughter Julia waving her arms and yelling, “Father! Father! It’s me!”

With a big grin on my face, I wave back and say quietly to myself, “I am so glad to see you, Julia, and your sisters and of course, your mother and your aunt. It has been a long time since we have all been together.”

Now my whole family is here in this new community we have created in this wilderness.

With my sons beside me, we are shouting greetings back and forth.

            As the rowboat pulls in to the pier at the mouth of Perche Creek, my youngest daughter Julia bounds out and jumps into my arms. “Father, I'm so glad to see you. See how I've grown. Do you like my dress? I have so much to tell you.”

“Soon, lass. First, let me take a good look at you. You are still your father's pretty little girl.”

“Father, I'm not a little girl anymore. You know I am now twelve years old, almost a grown-up. Would you like me to tell you about our trip?”

“Soon, lass. First, let me greet your mother, your two older sisters and your aunt and show all of you our new home.”

Several hours later

With my youngest daughter, I sit on a large rock along the shore of Lake Huron.

“Now, Julia, while we watch the sun set, tell me about your trip up from Detroit.”

“Such an adventure, father. The steamboat we sailed in was much smaller than the one we crossed the ocean on. But it was way more fun. It seems like it was so long ago but it was has been just four days since we sailed from Detroit.

“Do you want to hear what it was like when we stayed last night with the Laforge family?”

“I most certainly do. You go right ahead.”

“It was in a small log cabin. Real crowded, you know. There were already ten people living there, Mister Laforge, his wife and eight children, one of them an Indian.

“Add to that Alexander Hamilton, mother, Aunt Susan and the three of us girls and it was a full house.

“It's a good thing Alexander knew some French or we wouldn't be able to even talk to them. Mother didn't know what to do or even what to talk about.

 “Then, a most splendid looking Indian man and his woman came calling on the Laforges. He said that he knew you. His name is Waywaynosh. Do you know him father?”

“Indeed I do, lass. He is the one the lake at the other end of this creek is named after. His wife's name is Macconco. What did you think of them?”

“Oh father, I was quite impressed with both of them, especially his wife. You know that she is a queen and even brought her daughter, the baby princess.

“You should have seen her, father. She told us all about herself. But it took so long.

“First she had to make signs with her hands to Mr. Laforge. Then he had to tell Alexander in French. Then Alexander had to change everything to English before we understood what was said. It was different talking to people like that but real fun.

“She told us that her hat was made out of the fur of a black beaver. There were strands of real silver adorning it. Round her neck and hanging from her ears were hundreds of shiny silver and glass beads.

“And she wore a big cloak type dress of the brightest red cloth I have ever seen, covered entirely with row after row of more silver and glass beads.

“But the strangest thing was the little princess. How I pitied her, laid out flat on a piece of board that looked to me like a shallow box with two sides taken away. The poor little thing was lying in this box with pieces of the same red cloth wrapped round and round her as tightly as possible.

“The little princess looked to be quite fat and the day was so hot. But she just lay there quietly, not even able to move her hands, mosquitoes flying all around in such numbers that I wonder how the little thing kept alive. To me, she looked like pictures of those mummies from the olden days in Egypt.

“But mother seemed to be quite pleased. She remarked that it was quite nice to be able to sit and have tea with a real queen.”

“The most fun part was when it came time to sleep. Mother was so astounded when told that there were no beds for any of us.

“‘Sleep in the hall’ is what Alexander translated when Mr. Laforge laid blankets on the floor for us. When mother insisted that this was not acceptable, Mister Laforge told Alexander that he and his wife slept in the only bed available in the house while all of their children slept on the floor at the end of their bed.

“Mother and Aunt Susan were so horrified. But after the lantern was extinguished, the last thing I heard was Aunt Susan saying to mother ‘I will just loosen my things and lie down and hope that none of the cats will lay on my face.’

“Mother replied ‘I am so astonished about these sleeping arrangements. I am unable to imagine what any of our relatives or friends might say if they could only see us now.’

“It was not long after that before I fell to sleep and slept soundly until morning. Aunt Susan did tell me this morning that a party of drunken Indians had tried to come in through the door last night.

“But Mister Laforge stopped them and fastened the door to make sure no one else would try to come in during the night.

“After a breakfast of eggs and pancakes, Alexander Hamilton thanked the Laforges for putting us up overnight and we walked up to the point past the Rapids to board the boat that brought us the rest of the way here.

“Now, father, tell me more about my new home.”

HISTORICAL NOTES from the author: 

The image accompanying this story is of the settlement at Maxwell draw

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