Friday, January 23, 2009

Calling small capitalists!

Moore Museum, Mooretown, Ontario

It is not enough that Thomas Sutherland (1772-1850) founded Mooretown—then known as Sutherland’s Landing. He also worked to people it by recruiting individuals and families. On the front page of the December 17th, 1836 issue of The Scotsman TS published the following:

THE SUBSCRIBER requests most seriously to call the attention of his late fellow citizens of Edinburgh, Leith, and vicinity; of respectable persons possessing limited incomes of ₤ 50 to ₤ 150 per annum, of half-pay officers, and small capitalists, as well as of tradesmen of all descriptions, who, in many instances, find it difficult at home to maintain appearances, or, in homely phrase, to make “both ends meet,” to the following statement of facts, by which it may be seen that many have it is their power vastly to improve their circumstances, and add greatly to the comfort of themselves and families, by a change of country to one of the finest in the globe….

Sutherland goes on to describe the settlement at length, as well as its inhabitants and trade routes. He also lists references for his character, among them Archibald Geikie, Sr. & Jr.

Geikie, Sr. would live to regret his endorsement of Sutherland—an acrimonious exchange of letters between he and Sutherland which occurred following Geikie, Sr.’s migration to Sutherland’s settlement in Canada has been preserved. Among the charges? Sutherland did not adequately appreciate the issues of The Scotsman Geikie made available to him. Geikie, Jr.’s son, [John] Cunningham Geikie, would go on to immortalize the settlement in his novel, Life in the Woods: A True Story of the Canadian Bush (London: W. Isbister & Co., 1873). The novel has recently been reissued. It can also be read online here. (Thank you to Kathy Witheridge for sharing an article which links Geikie and Sutherland.)

Geikie’s work is obviously a fiction, but it is worth comparing his vision of Sutherland’s settlement with the one TS forwarded above:

“…, it was a straggling collection of wooden houses of all sizes and shapes, a large one next to a miserable one-storey shell, placed with its end to the street. There were a few brick houses, but only a few. The streets were like a newly-ploughed field in rainy-weather, for mud, the waggons often sinking almost to the axles in it. There was no gas, and the pavements were both few and bad. It has come to be a fine place now, but to us it seemed very wretched.” (page 20)

False advertising, perhaps.

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