The Route from Lachine to Baldoon, 1804

Old Baldoon

By Mrs. Jane M. Kinney
Read at the annual meeting, June 27, 1907

This settlement of Highland Scotch people led by the Earl of Selkirk, is in Canada up the river that empties into the St. Glair River, nearly opposite Algonac and the mouth of which is at the north end of Walpole Island.

About five miles up the Sydenham River or Chenal Ecarte” we find in Dover Township south of and bounded by the Indian line of the 1790 surrender, on the north by the Chenal Ecarte on the southwest and by Bear Creek on the Sydenham River on the southeast lies that triangular tract of land in area some 950 acres known as the Baldoon farm. The property at one time of the Right Hon. Thomas Douglas, fifth Earl of Selkirk 1)See sketch of the Earl of Selkirk, Vols. XXXVI, p. 59, and XXXVII, p. 613, this series. The name “Dundas” is a mistake for “Douglas” in both sketches. of St. Mary’s, Isle Kirkcudbright, Scotland.

Upon what understanding he became possessor of these lands, whether upon condition of settlement is not very well known, but that he received absolute title to the same as also to lands adjoining south of Bear Creek by patents, the former bearing date 18th March, 1806 and the latter at different times in 1806-1807, that he was also to receive, as was generally believed by the earliest settlers, the lands known as the Baldoon range of lots between Chatham and Bear Creek upon conditions of settlement similar to those enjoyed by Col. Talbot in the Lake Erie grants, is also probable as the surveyor-general’s instructions reputing certain surveys thereof said they were undertaken on the Earl’s behalf. 2)Selkirk made application for land for his settlement in 1803. See Letter from Lt. Gen. Hunter, Feb. 28, 1803, Vol. XXIII, p. 429, this series.

It may not be generally known that lot 24, Dover, 189 acres and lots 1-2 Chatham, 389 acres now forming the town of Chatham north of the River Thames, were patented to the Earl of Selkirk, 28th of March, 1807, at all events to the Baldoon farm so named after a Highland Scottish Parish. In 1804 the Earl came, with a company of Scotch people, to settle them on these lands. It would be impossible at this time to speculate as to his personal motives. Selkirk’s arguments to induce the people to take part in his schemes were not without plausible exaggeration and honeyed words. He may have been a philanthropist but was just as surely an adventurer, and used those things necessary to forward his plans.

For weeks and months the subject of going to America to Canada was the sole text of conversation until about about a dozen families consented to take part in his schemes and started for America. The Isle of Mull was the home of nearly all who sought a home in the new country. Among those who first reached Baldoon were: Angus McDonald, farmer of Argyle, Daniel McDonald, piper of Argyle, Peter McDonald, school-teacher of Argyle, Allen McLean, farmer, Donald McCallum, farmer, Charles Morrison, Argyle, McPherson, farmer of Argyle, Buchanan, John McDonald, Albert McDonald of Argyle, John and Allen McDougall. Strange as it may seem the lands bordering on the Chenal Ecart were not the low, marshy over-flowed lands of today. The banks were at all places well defined and the mistake made by Selkirk was more in the light of later events than of the dates of which I write. There has been a gradual trans-formation by the rising of the water. The Earl had provided that each family should have a farm of its own and land which could soonest be brought into cultivation was selected and laid out along the river bank on the southeast side of the river Sydenham and just west of where the town line reaches the river. Selkirk also sought to provide material for the houses. Everything during the fall and winter that could be done was done toward preparing these houses and getting ready to break ground for cultivation in the spring, but with the few facilities for the work, sickness and the thousand and one other discouragements, there was little happiness and many a strong heart that never before weakened almost cursed the day when they set out for Baldoon.

The Isle of Mull from which these brave people sailed is the largest of the Inner Hebrides and belongs to the county of Argyle. It is triangular and washed by the Atlantic on the west and north and on the northeast by the Sound of Mull. The comfortable homes from which they went looked out on a rugged head-land putting out into the ocean where its bluff and rocky base was continually lashed by the heavy swells. The somber old castle on its summit spoke only of the days when Mull itself had its clans and petty governments. When they sailed from Tobermory it was a sad parting; neighbors and friends flocked to the shore to say a last good-bye; parents giving a last embrace to their children whom they could not expect to see again.

The trip to Kirkaldy was uneventful but there they met their first disappointment. War had been declared between England and France and French privateers were on every sea, Selkirk thought it not safe to proceed and they settled down at Kirkaldy to wait for a year, anxious as they were to see their new home. At last on a beautiful May morning they went on board the good ship Oughton, the breeze hardly strong enough to fill the sails, and the sun in all its splendor marked old Scot-land’s shores bright and glorious, the low swell of the tide gave back its shining rays in one continuous reflection filling the hearts of most with pleasure as it denoted a safe and comfortable voyage. The first event on shipboard was of a sad nature. When out about three weeks a young boy, the brother of Mr. John Buchanan, was taken sick and buried at sea. There was a dead calm at the time, all preparations had been made. The ship had been made as trim as possible for the occasion and the sailors were dressed befittingly and stood in double file on each side of the remains. The captain read the burial service from the prayer book and the friends took a last sad look, then the body weighted by shot, was dropped overboard and immediately carried hundreds of fathoms below.

The sadness of the relatives was augmented by the sadness of such a burial and made an impression never to be forgotten, on the children who witnessed the burial at sea. It was five weeks before land was sighted. As large fog banks cleared away the banks of Newfoundland appeared. Another week elapsed before they reached Montreal. When they left the ship they naturally judged the whole country by what they saw first. The scenery at the mouth of the St. Lawrence River is weird and majestic, and to tourists, furnish subjects for unlimited admiration. But the Highlanders were looking for a home, a place to till the soil expecting to own large fertile farms and the rock-bound shores somewhat modified their happy anticipations. There were seven hundred miles to travel before the home selected by Selkirk could be reached and there must be time to prepare for the long cold winter.

Arrangements were at once made to transport the people and their household goods around the La Ohene Rapids in a long procession of French carts and, as it was a pleasant time of year, gave opportunity to view the country and become somewhat acquainted with the quaint plodding French inhabitants and their manners. At La Chene they transferred to batteaux. Up to this time the journey had been comparatively easy. The men had not been called upon to exert themselves. They now found that progress meant steady and never ceasing work.

Kingston was at last reached and the first experience in batteaux was over. The next morning a little vessel, bound for Queenston, awaited them. As they were ready to sail Selkirk came on board. He had come by way of New York and hastened across the country to meet and give cheerful news of the new home in the west. It took four days to reach Queenston, and here they waited a few days to have the goods transported by portage around the Falls of Niagara. You may imagine their surprise at Niagara Falls as none had ever dreamed of their grandeur. A safe distance above the falls they resumed the batteaux and pulling slowly against the obstinate current wound their way to Lake Erie skirting the shores until they reached Amherstburg and after a short rest they came in open boats to Chenal Ecarte’, landing early in September, 1804. At last they had reached the home nestling under the majestic elms.

One word in regard to the far-famed mysteries of Baldoon. Suffice it to say there was nothing that could not have been done by a sleight-of-hand performer. I have heard our grandfather say he watched closely for some days, and although unable to see who did the tricks, for such they were, he thought them the work of some one, either in spite or for simple play on the credulity of those in the home. 3)The Baldoon mysteries here referred to were written up under the title of The Belledoon Mysteries by Niel McDonald and read like a fairy tale. The unfortunate family which suffered from these manifestations was that of John McDonald, son of Daniel. A great deal of testimony was taken in proof of these mysterious happenings of 1829-1830, but no plausible solution of the mystery was ever found. In the neighborhood were a school teacher and two soldiers of Fort Gratiot and When McDonald sought the protection of the law, these people dis-appeared. Prom that time the annoyances were never again experienced. This led many to attribute them to sleight of hand. Original letters and pamphlet mentioned above.

Scarcely had they set foot upon their new settlement, when misfortunes overtook them. No proper provision had been made for their reception. The ship carpenters and others sent in advance to prepare cabins for their accommodation had decamped without accomplishing their purpose. It is said they had run off to Sandwich for fear of the Indians. Their position was terrible, their isolation complete. The nearest inhabitants were on the “Thames,” seventeen miles distant, and accessible only by a devious trail, known to and attempted by few, across the Plains via. Big Point and the higher ground to “Dolsen’s.” Lot No. 5 on the river Dover, west. To the north and east the forest stretched unbroken. To the south and west extended the equally boundless St. Clair and the expansive Grand Marais. Exposed to the intolerable heat of an August and September sun, to myriads of mosquitoes and poisonous insects, to the miasmatic vapors of a vegetable decaying soil and neighboring fetid bogs, barely covered with tents or some other off-hand and* nondescript shelter which eventually had been provided, they fell sick with those dire diseases (malarial fever and dysentery) and no less than forty-two out of their original number fell victims the first season of their arrival. 4)See letter of Selkirk to Lt. Gen. Peter Hunter, Feb. 1, 1805, Vol. XXIII, p. 433-4 this series.

The particular spot at which these Highland Scottish. Israelites effected a landing into the Baldoon land of promise was at a point where a “Sny” bends or cuts into the “farm” a little below and east of the small creek which enters the former stream there. Here, was erected shortly after the arrival of the settlers upon a knoll facing the “Sny” about 100 yards or so distant therefrom, and at a point pretty correctly marked by the old and solitary willow tree, the “Baldoon House” or “Castle” a story and half structure, which stood for several generations, and until the past few years, a well-known and historical landmark in that vast expanse of prairie landscape. A longish house, steep roofed, with a large verandah in front, at the ends of which and incorporated within it, were built two small apartments used as storerooms or pan-tries. From the “Castle” a row of cabins, which the Earl had erected for the settlers who were to occupy the lands on the northwest side of the farm, the eastern portion of the same on Bear Creek being re-served for his private sheep, whose sheepfold lay near the stream and whose site is now, in 1881, bearing for Mr. Little of Wallaceburg, a very heavy crop of onions. A little east and south of the “Castle” stood a storehouse erected for the general benefit, and attached to which in log hewn pens, were housed the horned cattle and barnyard animals. North and slightly eastward and not far distant on another elevated knoll, lay exposed to the summer’s midday sun and the winter’s northern blasts, the little “God’s acre” of the colony, a spot in which were laid to rest for their long sleep, after their wearied journey over sea, after many trials and grievous sickness, in the delirium of which they dreamed of their beloved Scottish hillsides and homes, those of the pilgrim band, fathers, mothers, children who died the year of their arrival.

No spot in the history of the settlements of the county is so replete with associations of so sad and melancholy a character. The most callous, the most unsympathetic, could scarce view that forlorn and neglected spot without a tightening of the heart, a moistening of the eye. Here, too, but at some distance and towards the gore or point, was erected by Laughlin McDougall, probably with the Earl’s consent, about the termination of the War of 1812-1814, the old Windmill whose broad sail arms for many years formed a familiar and grateful guidepost for wearied travelers and early navigators of the Chenal Ecarte’ and Bear Creek. Nor was the location devoid of interesting reminiscences of a less sorrowful character. In the “Castle” in the year 1814, the American General McArthur fed and feasted and maybe in company with his more friendly Scottish brethren of Baldoon, whilst in the neighbor-hood along the “Sny” and Bear Creek, bivouacked his rugged troopers. So fed the same year Yankee Capt. Forsyth and his soldiers, less gen-erous, however than the former, for it was he, not McArthur, that plundered Baldoon of its sheep and cattle, the settlers of their stores, and even the Earl of his dress and small clothes, which latter with a marquee tent and other articles had been sent, in the early days of the colony in anticipation of his Lordship’s extended visit, and in which garments Forsyth and his uncouth followers dressed and strutted to their own admiration. Here, also, the Earl’s successor, the Hudson Bay trader Dr. John McNab and his squaw spouse, “kept hall” and watched his flocks; and here, too*, lived, preceded him in occupation, and following him next in possession, Indian Agent ‘Squire William Jones. These lands that knew the Earl now, know his family not. Settled under his auspices a little in advance of, but concurrently with the lands on the Red River 5)Red River Settlement was made by Scotch and Irish in the fall of 1812. See Selkirk Correspondence; Letter look of Captain Miles Macdonell, Canadian Archives, 1886, Note E. of the North, the lands of Baldoon, which at one time gave promise of a successful future, are now at best wettish meadows. The Lands of Selkirk, or Red River are supporting a large, increasing population, and sustain on the banks of the river of that name, in the city of Winnipeg, a town of 12,000 inhabitants.

But in that year, by treaty dated 7th Sept., 1797, the principal chiefs, warriors and people of the Chippewa Nation of Indians did, by an instrument under their picture signatures (totems) surrender and convey unto His Majesty, King George III, for and in consideration of the sum of eight hundred pounds (Quebec currency), value in goods, estimated according to the Montreal price all and singular that tract of land lying north of the Indian line and east of the St. Clair, in area about twelve miles square, and comprising within its boundaries the western portion of Chatham Gore above named, said instrument being subscribed to by thirteen Chippewa Chiefs as principals, three Ottawa chiefs as witnesses, four interpreters, six Indian and Western District officials, and the representative of His Majesty, Alex. McKee, D. S. G., D. I. G., I. A.

“I shall be well satisfied to have you for one of my tenants, and the terms proposed are such that you will find more for your advantage than to take up a lot of land for yourself.

“It is my intention to let the farm of Baldoon, with the sheep and other stock on shares, according to a plan which I have explained to Mr. Clark, of Queenston.

“I am yours, &c.,

“Selkirk.” “To Lionel Johnson.”

The reason for the abandonment of Baldoon by the greater part of the settlers was primarily the rising of the waters. No doubt the cause so often contributing to change of residence that is, the idea of bettering our conditions, led some to go.

Mr. Angus McDonald, printer came to Michigan buying the land where Algonac is now situated. Mr. J. K. Smith married Miss Catherine McDonald and she lived to a good old age, in the Smith mansion, at Algonac and was the mother of Abram Smith esquire of that place, Mr. Samuel Lattee Smith of Detroit, Mr. Angus Smith of Milwaukee and several elegant and accomplished daughters. One of the direct descend-ants married a descendant of Cadillac. One is the wife of a Bishop, while many married men who have risen to high positions in the Do-minion of Canada. My grandfather Hugh McCallum was an only son in a family of sisters whose father and mother died in one month after reaching Baldoon ; of fine physique and good education he was, although very young, a leader. He was a teacher, and as it is called in Canada, a writer and was doing the work of a conveyancer and was the great friend of all who trusted their business to him. At the breaking out of the War of 1812 he volunteered, remaining all through the war. At the siege of Detroit he was awarded a medal for gallantry, afterward when many of the Baldoon people went to the Falls of Bear Creek he followed. About two miles from Baldoon he surveyed and platted the village and named it Wallaceburg, after the Scottish Chief Sir William Wallace. He was the first postmaster and merchant. On the breaking out of the Rebellion he raised a company and was made captain.

I have in my possession many letters written to my grandfather by the Earl of Selkirk, his agents, surveyor-general, postmaster-general and men prominent in law and business at that time, in Detroit, Sandwich and Toronto, showing the difficulty of postal facilities or of obtaining paper, postage and quills for pens.

I have also a number of articles, among them my great-grandmother’s Psalm Book in Gaelic brought by her from the Isle of Mull to Baldoon, an arithmetic of my; Grandfather’s and a book on navigation, that are all over 100 years old. The Psalm Book was published in 1777. It is, indeed, a far way from Scotland to Baldoon but who shall say that the coming was vain or in any way to be regretted.

Source: Collections and Researches made by the Michigan Pioneer and Historical Society, vol. XXXVIII. Wynkoop Hallenbeck Crawford Co., State Printers, Lansing, Michigan, 1912.

References   [ + ]

1.See sketch of the Earl of Selkirk, Vols. XXXVI, p. 59, and XXXVII, p. 613, this series. The name “Dundas” is a mistake for “Douglas” in both sketches.
2.Selkirk made application for land for his settlement in 1803. See Letter from Lt. Gen. Hunter, Feb. 28, 1803, Vol. XXIII, p. 429, this series.
3.The Baldoon mysteries here referred to were written up under the title of The Belledoon Mysteries by Niel McDonald and read like a fairy tale. The unfortunate family which suffered from these manifestations was that of John McDonald, son of Daniel. A great deal of testimony was taken in proof of these mysterious happenings of 1829-1830, but no plausible solution of the mystery was ever found. In the neighborhood were a school teacher and two soldiers of Fort Gratiot and When McDonald sought the protection of the law, these people dis-appeared. Prom that time the annoyances were never again experienced. This led many to attribute them to sleight of hand. Original letters and pamphlet mentioned above.
4.See letter of Selkirk to Lt. Gen. Peter Hunter, Feb. 1, 1805, Vol. XXIII, p. 433-4 this series.
5.Red River Settlement was made by Scotch and Irish in the fall of 1812. See Selkirk Correspondence; Letter look of Captain Miles Macdonell, Canadian Archives, 1886, Note E.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top