Emigrants Letters from St Thomas to Scotland – 1831 – 1856

Transcribed by Colin Cruickshank

[Extract from email from Colin Cruickshank]

From: Colin and Lesley [email protected]
Sent: Saturday, August 09, 2003 11:55 AM
To:Elgin OGS
Subject: Emigrants Letters from St Thomas to Scotland – 1831 – 1856
Dear Elgin County Branch of Ontario Genealogical Society,
I have been reading your website with interest as I have in my possession letters from emigrants  who settled in River Road, St Thomas. The letters were written to James McNicol, Farmer, Milltown of Kilravock, by Nairn, Scotland  by his sister (actually sister-in-law) Marjory and his nephews John Mackintosh and John McNicol.

These letters have passed down through my late mother’s family . She was born AnneMcNicol Reid at Castle Stuart Farm, Dalcross, Inverness-shire only a few miles from James McNicol’s farm. I would be grateful to be put in touch with any descendants of the settlers mentioned in the letters, the texts of which I have attached to this mail. I would be interested to discover if Marjory McNicol is the same person as Margery McNicol wife of Donald McNicol died August 8th 1856 aged 70 years 6 months who is buried in the St Thomas graveyard. My mother lent two of the letters to National Library of Scotland  in 1977 for an exhibition entitled ‘Emigration from the Highlands 1800 – 1900’  and photocopies were retained by the library. Other than this, I do not believe that these letters have ever been published or shown to a society such as yours.
Colin Cruickshank

Letter Dated August 2 1831
from Marjory McNicol St Thomas
To Mr James Mc Nicol, Farmer, Connage, by Inverness, N.B.

The exterior of the single sheet is endorsed:
paid 11d & 20cts and stamped :, St Thomas UC, 4 August 1831, SHIP LETTER  LIVERPOOL,Southold River road 2nd August 1831

Dear brother
I have the pleasure of perusing your two last letters in the same day, viz on the 12th April, dated 20th January, stating that you were all in good health.

The last of them was altogether concerning the money of my dear beloved husband and father of my family. I mean the money in Mr John McNishie’s hands. We delayed so long in writing you till we found the best way of getting it out here. I met with several that would draw it, but very few that would suit me. I wrote to Mr Mc Pherson, Montreal as he was in the habit of remitting money to the old country, if he would accept of taking our money with Mr McNishie and that he would settle with us here but had no answer from him: this McPherson is son to David McPherson above Inverness. You charged me strictly to send you a stamp but let me tell you that there is no such thing as stamps here, clear blank paper serve all manner of purposes here and is as legal as your fine stamped papers.

I have enclosed a Receipt for the money that is in the hands of Donald McNishie and have given a draft for the amount, and when the draft is paid you will give him the receipt. We are all of us very sorry that we have to mention to you that Angus Sinclair is no more, he died on the 10th day of March 1830 about seven o’clock in the morning: his widow and three children live with us in the best state of health. Ann had a fit of the ague some time ago but is perfectly recovered from it, it was of the ague that her husband died, very few emigrants escape it, very often ill soon after arrival in this quarter of the globe. Please enquire of John Jack and Hugh Munro whether Ann has a right to the Society’s allowance or not, and if she is, she would like to get it. Thomas McKenzie is in a place called Hamilton is doing well and enjoys the best of health. John Tolmie has left the last place he was in and moved up our way, he lived with us for upwards of twenty days, but today he starts for a place called Woodhouse to take charge of a fine school, he is to write to his father in the course of a few days; this is Tolmie’s own handwriting. all well. I live since last January on my own one hundred acres of fine land and expect to buy some more very soon, what crop I raised this season looks remarkably well. The wheat is mostly all cut in this quarter, and in most places is a very heavy crop. You may tell my sister & Donald McPhail her son, that I do not advise them to come to this country, but one thing I know is that when people once get themselves properly settled that they are much better off here than at home. I tell you that it goes very hard with people at first, particularly with those that have no pieces of money with them after settling. When we settled here, there was not a single tree cut down, but now I have eight acres clear, and that the very best of land. I got built a fine large house to live in. I have about four acres under Indian corn, pumpkins, potatoes, Kail and a variety of other things to tedious to be mentioned. Soon I intend to sow my wheat, from eight to nine acres. It cost me from forty five to forty six pounds before I got ourselves settled. If Donald McPhail has a mind to try it he better come to New York as it will be much cheaper than by Quebec. The land costs about eleven shillings & three pence an acre and a few other little expences, but should he not take land, he would get 4/6 sterling per day & victuals which is no bad wages. If Ann has anything due the Society, let it be deducted from her allowance. Young girls do much better here than at home. If Donald & his mother come out, I will let them have twenty acres of my land, but mind you they will have to take up their hatchets and cut down the large trees, and then can have as many cattle & hogs as they like. You need not take any axes out with you, nothing but clothes and such things as you require on the voyage you may take some pots as they will be very useful. John Clunas lives close to Wm McIntosh has got two hundred acres and about fifty cleared and is doing extraordinarily well. Thomas his brother lives near him, and has got 100 acres of good land.

There are all denominations of preachers here, you may go and hear whomsoever you please, such as Presbyterians, Methodists, Baptists, Episcopalians & Roman Catholics if you choose.

As to Revd Mr McIntosh, James McIntosh’s son, we cannot say much about him, only that he lived for some time in this neighbourhood in an elegant place indeed, but removed from it before we settled here, where he has gone to and what he is doing now we cannot ???? tell. Only we would like tell whether he is writing home to his parents or not. Let us know particularly about this as we would like to know very well where he is and what he is doing. Alexander Clark came to see us in winter, staid over night and twenty days after returned with his young wife, a widow he got in the Scotch settlement, who came originally from Argyleshire ????d, he is enjoying very good health now. Let us ????  he gained that Law, whether Dundonald or ???? – ???? wishes to know whether her father-in-law received the letter she sent him on 25th March ulto. tell Messrs Munro and Jack that I am under the greatest obligations to them for their very strict attention to my affairs at home. Give my warmest wishes to David Cameron and his family & tell them that if they were here they could live more independently than at home. Remember me to Ann McGillivary and her sisters. I have it not in my powers to mention all the names I wished but, in short, my best wishes & respects to all enquiring friends & in particular to all the surrounding neighbourhood.

We all of us enjoy the very best of health and hope that this will find you all the same. We all of us join together for the good welfare of you all, and Sarah wishes in particular to be remembered to her Uncles and little Isabella, and that John has got plenty of apple trees planted, and that little Isabella will get plenty of fruit from her the first time she comes to America to see her. All our friends about here are in the best state of health at present for which we should be very thankful, if we knew how. do not forget to mention me to my dear sister and feel much consoled that William was called to his long home as it so pleased the Almighty. I cannot tell how much I am obliged to Mr Tolmie for his kindness to you all. I wrote twice to Ian Fraser, Glengarry, but received no answer from him as yet, I remain Der Brothers your faithfully – May McNicol

I desire to inform you that I have drawn on you for £51.11.6 Sterling on sight in favor of Thomas G Ridout Esqr

Marjory McNicol

Letter dated May 8th 1833 from John Mackintosh St Thomas to Mr James Mc Nicol Farmer Milltown of Kilravock, by Nairn, N.B.

The exterior of the single sheet letter bears the stamp

May 8th 1833
Dear uncel
I am writing you A small rip letting you know that I am in good helth at preasant hooping this will find you in the same. now I will say A little concerning the country the countery is good if A man kep his helth and if a man is willing to work he can make property but the monery are scearce. now we commencing are coming in to the woods we cut the small tumber first and then fal to the large trees & cross them at fifteen fet long and trun the tops of them and then make large heaps of the logs and burn them up. and I mak the groun ready for wheat and corn A acer of new land will take one bushel wheat to so it and five quarts of corn will plant one acer one acer of corn will yeald from forty to therty bushels wheat from forty to therty five bushels wheat at thre shillings and sixpence per bushel

I am very surprised at the young men of that part of the country that they are down harted and lo in spiret when they would stay so long ther as sleaves when they would nont work night and day to get away from ther not to be under masters and Mistress let them come hear an be there own Master and if they ar willing to work they can live hear as well as ther and far better living hear then the then the best of your gentlemen. the laberers from ten to fourten Dollars A mounthnDonald McFowel  he is a malter in a brewry he is twenty five Dollars A minth. We work with oxen hear among the logs A per of oxen will cost 60 to 65 Dollers A cow from 15 to 18 A Barrel of pork from 14 to 16 beeaf 11 to 12 per barrel sheep two Dollars A hores from 60 to 40 to therty they are part blod in them they are very light to what they were in the old country but they are smart to run.owr first houses ar mead of loges and of that when we will get eaberer we will frame houses and barns also every field that we will clear we must mak reals and feance it from six to seven fet hegt oll round to kep the cattel out we have no hirds hear for the bounds they cattle go as far as they have mind to go but we must kep a bell on them so as we will find them once A minth to give them salt and that will larn them to com home in the summer but in winter they will steay round we never put them in thear  let them or out all night the winter is midelen could but you may consider it for I never wore a per of ounder trousers sinc I com to this country and the summer very warm not scorching hot but ther ar not much ear owing to the woods being surorounding is till such time we will cut them down therear six years since I comenced hear I heave 50 Acer Cleared ounder good fence. I am sur you heave heard of the maple trees which we geat our sugar out of it in the mounth of march and April with in thre feet of the ruts where it rin out by puting a spout in it so is to fal in a throf and then boill it in to sougar it is the ashes we have hear that you have in the pearlash and potash I have a gredet to say to you but at the men time I wint say nomor till you return me Anser eny thing you want to now enquier in your letter of me .William I have not sen him for A year back but I heare from him every Mounth

Alexander Anderson and John Anderson they were seaing me this spring they ar well and douing well and William Mackintosh Alexander Clark Hugh Clark they ar about therty miles from me. Mother and rest of the famly widow sinclair and hir famly ar will widow McNicol and famlie ar well the is brought hom by Mr A Munro from fortrose gonring hom oweing to his helth. I am in hops you will excuse me for neglecting writing you it is now ouse to me to say my wife joins me with hir best respect to you also to Mrs McNicol and the famely
I am yours John Mackintosh
Direct to me John Mackintosh southnould [Southwold Twp.] uper cannad [Upper Canada] Norrth America to the caer of Mr Shaw post Master sentomas [St. Thomas]

Letters Dated March 22 1851 from Marjory and John McNicol St Thomas To Mr McNicol, Ardersier, Nairn, Scotland

Both letters are written on the same single sheet franked “Montreal”
Southwold March 22 1851

Dear Brother,
I take the opertunity to write to you not knowing but it will be the last you will have from me for my helth has been poorly for three years And I have failed very much.
My family are all well at presant but myself always complaining. And I hope that you and your family are injoying good helth. I was sorry for the death of your children especially for the dear girl Isobella.
I have not seen any person from there lately nor yet heard from you for some years the reason why I know not. But I hope you will write me emmediately.
I conclude with my best respects to you and your family
I am you obedient servant.
Marjory Mc Nicol


Dear Uncle,
I take this opportunity of writing you these few lines to let you know a leetle about this part of the country this part of it has been improved wonderfully since I came here and stil improving rapidly.

I should like to see some of my old acquaintences pick up courage enough to cross the Atlantic and come to this part of the country for it is a healthy and fertile place and is ingenerely very much esteemed by travelers the grain that is raised here is Wheat, Rye, Maize, Oats, peas and Barley but wheat is the principal grain you would be astonished to see the number of teems that bring wheat to port Stanley in autom thousands of bushels crowding in daily. Port Sanley [ Port Stanley south of London, Ontario] is with in six or seven miles of my farm. I should like to see you or some of your family come to this country but perhaps your are thinking your are doing better But I think for the benifit of your family yould do better here the sooner any person comes the cheaper they will find land
All friends here are well.
I should like to know if your son James has any notion to come to America or not people that comes to this country does better than they could do there I know persons who came to this country pennyless and are worth hundreds of pounds by their own industry when they buy land here and pay for it. its their farm for ever without they wirk to dispose of it I consider it is a great comfort for a man call it his own.
I heard that Hugh Boas was talking of coming.
Ann’s children are well and Mary Sinclair married with two children.
Donald Sinclair works clos by in a sawmill and has thirteen dollars a month. Anabella Sinclair lives here. Isabella’s daughter lives here to. Donald Sinclair would like that you would tell his uncles to write to him his direction is Donald Sinclair Southwold St Thomas C. W.
My sisters joins me with their best respects to you and your wife and family and to all inquiring friends.
I am your Obedient Servant
John Mc Nicol
Direction John Mc Nicol Southwold River Road St Thomas C. W.


Some genealogical notes on names mentioned in the above letters compiled by Bruce C. Johnson Jr. Additional notes and comments are welcomed. 

The 1842 Census for Southwold Twp., Elgin County, Canada West gives:
John McNICHOLS, farmer (p. 9, line 26)
John McINTOSH, farmer, (p. 6, Line 25

The 1851 Census for Southwold Twp., Elgin County, Ontario gives
Margara Mc NICKELL
, age 60, born Scotland, Presb., Widow (p. 121 next to John McNICKELL, age 35, born Scotland, single and Margara McNICKELL, 35, born Scotland, widow.

Ann SINCLAIR, 39, widow, Presb., born Scotland with daughter, Annabella, 19, born Scotland (p. 121 next to family of Margara McNICKELL / Marjory McNICHOL)

[There is an Ann SINCLAIR buried at the Old English Churchyard Cemetery in St. Thomas, Ontario]

John McINTOSH, 53, born Scotland, Preb. with wife, Margaret, 36, born Scotland with children born in Canada West, Jane, 22, Margaret, 21, Mary, 19, Duncan, 17, Alex, 16, Daniel, 13, John, 11 and Charlotte, 9. (p. 117)

St. Thomas West Cemetery – Section OS Blocks gives:

BL1232 tall grey metal monument, wheat stalk

I am the / resurrection / and the life / John McNICOL / died / Oct. 27, 1883 (burial records give that John died 24 October 1883) / aged 70 years 11 mos & 11 ds / McNICOL / Clasped hands / I know that my redeemer liveth / Isabella DOUGLAS / daughter of / Donald & Margery McNICOL / died August 4th 1862 / aged 52 years 1 month 8 days / 1885 (Probably year monument was erected) / Roses / not dead / but gone before / Margery / wife of Donald McNICOL / died Aug. 8, 1856 / aged 70 years & 6 months / McNICOL / Wreath / 1885 / Because I live / ye shall live / also

[Burial Records indicate that John and Isabella’s spinster sister, Margery McNICOL is also buried at this plot. She died 30 June 1890 and was probably responsible for erecting the monument in 1885. – BCJ]

John and Thomas CLUNAS / CLUNIS  and William McINTOSH  mentioned in the first letter, resided in Malahide Twp. to the east of Southwold Twp. They are given in the 1851 census for Malahide Twp., Elgin County. (p. 18 and 16 respectively)

NOTE from

Dr. Laura J. Lawton

Angus Sinclair, who died of the auge was married to Anne or Annie McNicol.  The letter mentions Donald and Annabella outright.  But it does make reference to three little children.  The oldest child was named Marjorie Sinclair, who married my great-great  grandfather James Lawton Sr., of Yarmouth Twp. (son of George Lawton and Mary Ann Woolley).