Description of the harvest failure in the Madawaska Settlement, 1829

In 1829 the President of the Legislative Assembly of New Brunswick, responding to the requests of inhabitants of Madawaska, directed Thomas Baillie to report on the dire situation in the Madawaska settlement and to provide relief if necessary. (For details of that report, go to the 1829 Report page.)

Below is an article from the New Brunswick newspaper, The Gleaner and Northumberland Schediasma, published in Chatham, describing the situation in July 1829 and reporting on Baillie's mission

The situation described in the report and in the article below apparently repeated itself a few years later: the 1833 census of the Madawaska Settlement was in large part taken to ascertain the needs of a population that had been stricken by bad harvests for several years.

Thanks to Béatrice Craig for providing me with this text.

Gleaner and Northumberland Schediasma, July 28th, 1829

St John, July 21st., 1829.

"The present unfortunate condition of the Madawaska settlement excites our sincerest sympathy. We hope the causes of the evil will in the future be prevented, and that the exertions which are making for the immediate relief of the distressed inhabitants will be successful. meantime the following statement ( from a correspondent of the colonist) cannot fail to be read with much concern:

"The public generally are not acquainted , that unparalleled distress now exists in the French settlement of Madawaska, occasioned by the failure of the two lest years, of the wheat crop. The circumstances of being wedded to ancient notion, is strongly perceptible in the habits of all the settlers of Canadian origin. Wheat has been the standard of food with these people from time immemorial, and they have never attempted to raise oats or any other kind of grain for subsistence, excepting small quantities of pease and barley, for their own indispensable soups. The consequence of this unyielding system of cropping is deplorably felt after a succession of bad seasons for the wheat; and it is now experienced in a lamentable degree, among the settlers in that district who have lately come from Lower Canada. A petition from that settlement was presented to his honour the President1 a short time ago, stating that unless relief were soon afforded, many families must perish. With that humane consideration which so eminently distinguishes the personage who now directs the government, and with the same prompt and bland attention which is extended to all who have business to transact with him, arrangements were instantly made for the rendering of such assistance as the exigencies of the case might seem imperiously to require, under the superintendence and disposition of the Commissioner of Crown land, who was proceeding to the neighbourhood in the execution of his duty, and volunteered his services on so charitable an errand. That gentleman accordingly proceeded to the spot, and a scene of unspeakable misery was presented to his view, in the humble habitations of upward of seventy families. A meeting of the principle persons in the settlement took place in the presence of Mr Baillie and four gentlemen were appointed s committee to visit the sufferers, and to report their numbers and particular situations. Two hundred bushels of Indian Corn were then purchased at Woodstock, and immediately place at the disposal of the committee, for the purpose of present relief.

"Many families have for some time existed on the flour made from blighted wheat, kneaded into bread with the inner bark of the white birch. Berries and roots, procured from the forest, have been the sole dependence of others; and the prospect of procuring even such a miserable fare was obscured by rapidly increasing weakness. in one house which Mr. Baillie visited, there were 16 children, five of whom were unable to walk from the united causes of untended infancy and pinching debility."

1st note: President of the executive council who replaced the governor in his absence.

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Last revised 20 Jan 2011
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