A Visit to Madawaska: William T Baird, July 1838

In his autobiography, Seventy Years of New Brunswick Life, William T. Baird describes his visit to the Madawaska Settlement. Baird, at that time about 20 years of age, was working as a druggist in Fredericton; this trip was part of a vacation for him.

Mentioned in this excerpt include Simonette Hebert, Leonard Coombs, Charles Hartt, Francis Rice, John Emerson, Paul Cyr, Jérome Gagnon, Elizabeth Coombs Beckwith.

William T. Baird, Seventy Years of New Brunswick Life. Autobiographical Sketches. St.John, NB: Geo. E.Day, 1890. The entire book has been put online at the Website Our Roots: Canada's Local History Online, at http://www.ourroots.ca/f/toc.asp?id=3064.  The transcription below has been done from the actual book.

I had been invited by two friends, young men studying French at Madawaska, to make them a visit, and this invitation I now gladly accepted.

Cook Hammond, of Kingsclear, a young man (since well established at "Violet Brook," where he now lives with his family), furnished a horse. I hired a wagon and we set out on our journey. Reaching the Grand Falls, we employed a Frenchman, whose pirogue we entered to complete our journey. It was the month of July and the weather being warm, I wore a white flannel jacket slightly embroidered. Groups of French were often seen on the banks of the river, the male portions of whom, after a few words in French spoken by Hammond, decamped instantly.

The excitement of Papineau's rebellion had not yet subsided, and the announcement that I was a Government agent taking the census, to the French mind meant conscription and new "Acadian horrors."

The simplicity and jollity of the people interested me very much. The ovens for baking were formed of clay on elevated platforms outside their dwellings, and of an oval or beehive shape. The loaves resembled huge knots sliced from a tree and the bread dark but sweet.

At the hospitable residence of Col. Coombes we were made to feel quite at home, to which end the young ladies performed their part charmingly.

Pushing on, we reached the house and beautiful farm of Simonette Hebert, where my friend, Charles Hartt (now a lawyer in New York) was staying.

The settlement of the Boundary Question between England and the United States by arbitration gave to the latter, by most unrighteous decision, this and other superior farming lands on the western side of the St.John River to an extent of 3,000,000 of acres.

Simonette Hebert was one of the most respectable and well-to-do farmers in Madawaska. Before the division of the county, when jurors were brought from that place to Woodstock, the court was frequently amused by the crier calling "Simon-eat-a-bear!" three times, as is the custom.

The best way of obtaining a French education at that period was by residing for a time at Madawaska, where capable instructors were found from the Province of Quebec. The late Judge Wilmot and others thus obtained their knowledge of the French language. Hartt's tutor was an Englishman named Turner, a good scholar, but sadly demoralized by periodical sprees.
Making Simonette's for a time my head-quarters, Hartt and I sallied out daily with rod and gun to slay the innocent. A little above Hebert's, on the opposite side, the little Madawaska river entered the St. John. The only house then to be seen was a small log cabin on the lower side of the stream.

A half mile above, on the St.John, lived Squire Rice, a magistrate, and a good sample of a witty Irishman. John Emmerson, an Irish Protestant, lived there also. He was a very worthy man, and from good habits and close attention to business accumulated considerable property. The beautiful houses that embellish the rising village of Edmundston, erected by his sons, are evidence of a father's thrift.

The glorious sunshine, the deep meadows, and beautiful wild flowers, after a long and close confinement, seemed to me a very paradise, which passed all too swiftly away. At the close of two weeks thus pleasantly spent, Hartt accompanying me, we visited Joseph Hea, who resided at Paul Crocks, several miles below. His tutor was a Frenchman from Old France, named Joliette. The purity of the language as spoken by him was in marked contrast with the patois of the native.

Our new residence, pro tem, was also on the western side of the St. John. The settlement here was more populous, and the Anglais visitors the centre of attraction. We were frequently invited to evening parties.

I had taken with me an octave flute on which I had learned to play, but my pride oozed out from the ends of my fingers in the presence of twenty fiddlers all in a row. The voice and energetic motions of arms and legs, as time was beaten to the scraping of the bows, presented a phases in acoustics altogether novel.

Accepting on one occasion an invitation to visit Jerome Gonieau's [Gagnon], directly opposite to Crocks, we paddled over early in the evening, and found a merry young company assembled, male and female. Having enjoyed the French novelties of song and dance until a late hour, we started to return. Leaving the landing we paddled out from the shore. The night was intensely dark, — neither light nor star to guide our course.

When near the centre of the river we found the canoe lifted as by a fiendish hand, and turned upside down. We soon found ourselves scrambling for life among the branches of a floating tree. After many times sinking and rising among the smaller branches, we reached the trunk of the tree, which was a large one and sustained us nobly. We were also fortunate in finding our craft and a paddle entangled in the branches. Righting the canoe, she was soon bailed out, and we were once more afloat.
Through the jealousy of one "May Rose," the doors were fastened, and wet and wary we clambered through a window into the parlor.

As if in proof of the old adage that "misfortunes seldom come single," a step or two only had been taken by Hea when his foot encountered a treacherous rope, placed by cunning hands, causing his nose, — a good Roman on, — to be deprived of a considerable portion of its epidermis. The mirth of Hartt was soon checked, for leaping, as he thought, into a bed of down, he found a bed of thistles.

The period of my vacation having come to an end, with recruited health and bright visions of the future, I said, "adieu!" to friends old and new and turned my back upon scenes Arcadian for others more prosaic.

The then central point of Madawaska was the chapel, around which clustered a few dwelling houses, with a single store. The village was on the western side of the river and was my first stopping place. I here saw P.C. Amireaux, a genial, intelligent Frenchman, well known in Fredericton.

Our prow again touched the shore at the landing of Col. Coombes, which proved to be the end of my canoe journey homeward. The colonel was in command of the militia of that section above the Grand Falls; a magistrate, therefore an authority in law among the French; spoke the language like a native, and was a fair sample of the solid yeoman of his day in New Brunswick. He well sustained the character of hospitality, for which our people are noted, and in its early settlement often tested their resources.

On arriving here I found that my seat in the wagon had been "spoken for" by a lady, the colonel's daughter, then living in Fredericton, and wife of Charles Beckwith [Elizabeth Coombs Beckwith]. It was supposed that I should ride a beautiful and fast-pacing French pony, purchased fro Major Magny, of the 36th Regiment. Accustomed to the saddle in my early morning rides to the shooting ground, I gladly accepted, and any regrets or local rememberances of this one- hundred-and-fifty mile ride have long since been obliterated.


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Last revised 19 Feb 2005