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The United Empire Loyalist Settlement at Long Point, Lake Erie
Chapter XVII. Clearing the Land

It is no small undertaking to enter the forest and attempt, even under the most favorable circumstances, to turn the wilderness into cultivated fields. Much more difficult was it for these Loyalists, many of them unaccustomed to the use of the axe, to remove the giant trees of the “forest primeval” from sufficient of their allotments to sow the seed. It has been mentioned that the British Government made the unfortunate mistake of sending out ship-axes for the colonists, and this clumsy implement, too blunt, too heavy, and too short-handled, almost doubled the labor of the already over-taxed settler. Many, indeed, who had had no experience of “roughing it in the bush” found it almost impossible to overcome the difficulties of pioneer life.

Moreover, a certain amount of land had to be cleared before any grain could be sown. This was the prime necessity after the building of the rude log-houses described, and the fact that often a wife and a number of starving children were dependent on him, caused the early colonist periods of almost superhuman exertion.

It is related of one early settler in the township of Stamford, named Spohn, that he used to work from the earliest streaks of dawn till the darkness prevented his further labor, and then walk three miles to the river where fish were to be caught, collect light wood, and spend often the greater part of the night in fishing by the aid of these “fire jacks.” The fishing tackle was very rude, the hooks being simply part of the bone of the pike. On the fish which he managed to catch in this way, and certain leaves and buds of trees, mixed with the milk of a cow, which he had fortunately brought with him, the family managed to exist until early August, when his little crop of spring wheat headed out sufficiently to allow a change of diet. Not less severe was the struggle for subsistence of the earliest Loyalist families who came to Long Point, among whom may be specially mentioned the families of Maby, Secord and Teeple.

At that time the only thought was to get rid of the great forests of beech, maple, white and yellow pine and walnut in the shortest and easiest way. The great green trees, after being felled, had to lie until they had dried sufficiently to be burned, or until they could be cut into pieces and removed. Time was necessary for the first, and for the second prolonged labor with the unwieldy axe. Moreover, beasts of burden or draught animals were rare in this section, and if the trees were to be removed while green they had to be cut into small pieces to permit of carrying.

The common process of clearing the land, after the first little plot had been planted, was to burn the trees. Often the trees were “girdled” with an axe; that is, the bark was cut through all round the tree, whereby it would die, and becoming gradually dry would burn the year following.

When the trees were felled they were set on fire, and most of the smaller branches would burn, leaving the great blackened trunks. Then came the “logging” bees, when the settlers of the neighborhood combined to draw these great logs into heaps, where they would be out of the way, comparatively speaking, till they were dry enough to bum.

Thus it was that the forest melted away before the determined attacks of the sturdy pioneers.

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