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More About David Price

By Mrs. A. H. Sternaman, Owosso, Mich.

[Welland Tribune, August 1897]

               I am descended from four of the pioneer families of Welland county, namely, Abraham Neff, Michael Gonder and Jacob Morningstar, who were my great grandparents, and David Price, who was my grandfather. Uncle Johnny Price is my own uncle. My mother, Sophia Margaret Price Neff, was his oldest sister, and was the oldest of the family. She was born at old Niagara, February 6th, 1802, and at the time of the war of 1812, she, with her parents, moved to Chippawa Creek or where Welland now is. She was married to John Neff of Wainfleet, December 6th, 1818, and I am their seventh child. About my own and parents’ life, I have not much to write, but it is of my grandfather, David Price’s life, as a prisoner among the Indians that I am going to speak. What Uncle Johnnie has written about is about the same as I have heard my mother relate, with the exception of a few variations which we can overlook, considering his great age.


             I have often heard my mother say that she never heard her father mention but two circumstances that happened that he remembered of his father. The once instance was when he (grandfather) was about three years old, when his mother sent him and Joseph, his elder brother, to call his father (who was in the clearing chopping) to dinner. When they got to where their father was he had chopped a tree with an owl’s nest in it, so he gave each of the boys an owl to carry to the house. They hadn’t gone far when my grandfather got tired, so he put his owl down so as to rest himself, and when he went to pick it up it would turn and look at him; so he walked around on the other side of it, but it would look at him as before; so he got a stick and hit it and then tried to take it, but it would still look at him; so he kept hitting it until he made it behave as supposed, then he picked it up and followed his father and brother home, they having gone on and left him.

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Canadian Pioneer Days and the War of 1812

Being the Reminiscences by John Price of his Father, David Price, of Welland, Ont.-Anecdotes of Early Life on the Niagara Frontier-Seven Years Among the Indians of Revolutionary Times

Written for the Buffalo Express by D.D. Babcock


             “Uncle Johnny Price” was first pointed out to me as “the man who used to own half of Welland.” “Too much liberality” and “too much ingratitude” were sentimentally given as causes of his poverty and his presence now in the county home. He is the only surviving son of a noted Tory hero of the War of Independence, and his recollection of his father’s conversations carry us back through a century and a half of American history. These are herewith given nearly in his own words:

             On Candlemas day-February 2d-1821, I was born in the log house of my father, David Price, on the south bank of the Chippawa creek (or Welland river), about 30 rods from the present site of the Welland high school building. From Brown’s bridge, two and half miles above Welland, to Misener’s bridge, two and a half miles below Welland, there were fifteen families settled along both sides of the creek. Such was the wilderness and swamp between the creek and Lake Erie, that to reach Humberstone we were compelled to go east twelve miles, to the mouth of the creek on Niagara river, up the river to the lake and thence along the lake shore west. When I was a child a road was cut through the swamp straight south but it could only be used in the winter with sleighs. A road was also opened to Lake Ontario by way of St. Catharines, which was then a small village. We did our milling at St. Johns, a little hamlet about five miles north, where there were two grist mills and a carding and fulling mill, but no kind of a store. We went to Niagara-on-the-lake, at the mouth of the Niagara river, by way of Chippawa and Drummondville, 36 miles, for our groceries and general trade.

             There was a log schoolhouse on the north bank of the creek, directly across from our house. I was the ninth of eleven children. In the winter we crossed the creek to school on the ice; in summer in a canoe. The first teacher I remember was a man from the Untied States by the name of De Vinne. Our teachers were generally men. I remember only one female teacher, a Mrs. Wilford or Wilfred, who lived a mile above the school-house on the bank of the creek. I was then 13 years old. I think no event of my school-boy days made a deeper impression on my mind than a little affair connected with an Irish teacher who was given to some irregularities; the use of alcoholic drinks, sleeping off their effects in school hours, unbecoming language, and, not least, amusing himself by twisting his whip into the hair of two little colored pupils and leading them about the room. A rumor of these things reached the ears of the trustees, and one day at noon, they came to investigate. The teacher stoutly denied the charges, and called up the pupils to collaborate his story. I was one of the smaller boys, but was greatly shocked to hear all the larger pupils deny any knowledge of such things. I found myself burning with indignation, and when one of the trustees asked, “Is there any one here who has ever seen these things,” I arose and said, “Yes, sir, I have seen them several times.” And when the teacher turned his threatening face on me, I resolved to tell the truth if I died for it. One of the trustees who appreciated the situation said kindly, “Speak up, Johnny, and tell the truth. No one shall hurt you for that.” After my testimony, the other pupils confessed to having seen the same, and the teacher was discharged on the spot. How often have I since observed that motives of fear, gain or a partisan spirit make men liars.

             In the fall of 1833 I witnessed what was called “the fall of the stars.” It was not a display of shooting meteors passing through the air, but a perpendicular fall of tens of thousands of star-like bodies, each of which left behind it a trail of light which seemed to disappear from the earth up, leaving the impression that the fiery body had returned to the heavens by its own track. The religious impressions which had been with me much since I ws six years of age were strengthened by that wondrous display, and I was fully determined to form such an acquaintance with my Creator as would give me peace and joy, though the heavens should really fall and the earth come to an end. The carrying out of that resolution has been the only worthy success of my life.

             The chief events of my life that are of interest are connected with my father’s life and are indicated in my recollections of him. At his death he willed me the use of 100 acres of the home farm during my life, one-third of the proceeds to go to my mother. At my death the land to go to my children; or in case I die without issue, to the children of my brother Daniel. As I have no children, when I die my nephew and niece will have a legal claim on the 100 acres entailed to me, about 40 acres of which were taken by the ship canal and on the balance nearly half of Welland is built.


             My father was born about 1750, of Welsh parents, in the valley of the Mohawk river. He was the elder of the two children of David Price, David and Joseph. When he was about four years old a man on a white horse rode through the country telling of Braddocks defeat and warning the people to flee for their lives. They hastily gathered up their few worldly goods and forsook their homes, moving everything on horseback by Indian Trails through the woods, south and west, across the Pennsylvania line near the Genessee river, south of what is now Wellsville, N.Y. to a place called Yellow Breeches. There, comparatively safe from the invading French and Indians of Canada, they began anew to clear a farm and make a home in the forest.

             At 14 years of age, my father was sent away from home to school, where he remained till he was 21, and having completed his course of study, returned home. Three weeks later, while walking through the fields with a young companion, they were surprised by a band of Seneca Indians. My father did not run, but sat down on a rock. The Indian who made him a prisoner struck him a blow on the back with the pipe end of his tomahawk, which he felt for six months after. His companion started to run but was shot and captured with a broken arm. This young man was ransomed by the British government, who then gave a bounty for white prisoners. My father was kept separate and ransom for him was refused. After two years, on his promise not to leave them, they gave him a gun and trusted him on many occasions with important missions. Though held and treated as a captive, on his promise to return with them, he was allowed to go among the whites at the British forts. The tribe remained in the British service till the close of the war for American Independence. They ranged from Fort Niagara in New York through the forests south, east, and west, employed as scouts, and in frequent skirmishes. The chief of their band was Little Beard. After his son was killed in battle he adopted my father. The invitation was accompanied by a rude sort of baptism performed by two squaws, which he was told, washed out the white man’s blood and left only Indian blood in his veins.

             I have heard from him many instances of his experience. On one occasion an Onondaga Indian, who fought for the colonists, was taken prisoner. He was confronted by a brother who remained in the British services. The brother, before the assembled Indians of the different tribes, addressed the traitor, as he was considered, rehearsing his crimes:

             “At——-you led the colonists to our wigwams, where they massacred our women and children and burned our villages. At—you guided the whites to the retreat of the women and children of the tribe, where again, such as were found, were assassinated in cold blood. You shall die on this spot. My hands shall not be red with my brother’s blood.” Turning to the Indians about, he asked: “Who shall strike the blow.”

             Little Beard, by whose side my father stood, drew a short broad sword, and struck a light straight blow which drew no blood, and a second blow which severed the head from the body. The headless trunk sprang into the air and fell at length.

             One day while stopping by the side of a stream for noon-day rest, the Indians rose one by one and took the trail till only three were left-my father, a young prisoner and an Indian by the name of Jackberry-who ordered the white boy to go across the stream where his horse was feeding, and swim the horse back. The boy replied that he could not swim and would certainly drown if he entered the stream. The Indian angrily repeated the command. My father interfered, and told Jackberry to swim for his own horse. Jackberry twitted him with being only a prisoner himself, and asked how he dared to interfere. In the quarrel that ensued Jackberry was knocked down by a blow over the head with a gun, and swam for his own horse. Both reported the matter to Little Beard, who justified my father and rebuked the Indian for his folly.

             When Major Moses Van Campen of the Genessee valley was a prisoner, and compelled to run the gauntlet, my father was a witness of that wonderful exploit.

             Once when out with a scouting party, accompanied by a few squaws, their food was exhausted, and they suffered much from hunger. They entered an outside cellar, near a farm house, where they found a basket of huckleberries and some crocks of milk. The berries were poured into the crocks, and each helped himself as best he could, until the inmates of the house had cut two holes through the door towards the cellar and thrust out the muzzles of two guns, when the party took to flight. All escaped without a wound from the shots that followed, though the knot in the silk handkerchief that was tied over my fathers head was cut by a bullet.

             My father spoke both German and Low Dutch, and, during his stay with the Indians, picked up six dialects of the tribes with which he associated.

             Returning to the fort at one time with a single Dutchman as prisoner my father informed that when the party neared the fort, upon a customary signal the young Indians would come out with whips to torment him, but that he would be allowed to defend himself freely against the rabble of youngsters. Soon after the expected yell, the boys appeared armed with sprouts eager for the sport. The prisoner endured the blows but a short time, when he caught a hold on a strong stick, one end of which was frozen into the ground. After some wrenching it suddenly came loose, when he swung it furiously about him with curses of mingled German, English and Latin, evidently borrowed from the service of the church, all uttered with full German guttural emphasis, including an assortment of heavy-trilled r’s, which only an angry Dutchman can produce. The loosening of the tongue was more fearful than that of the club, and the youngsters scattered in dismay, while some of the braves threw themselves on the ground in convulsions of laughter.


             My father was one of a party who brought to Niagara two captive Dutch girls. When they camped at night the girls sat by themselves and conversed in German. One of them, seeing him engaged in making a ramrod for his gun, declared to the other that he was certainly a white man. While they were disputing the question he spoke to them in Dutch, where upon they became so demonstrative that he quickly gathered up his things and went away, greatly to their indignation. When they saw a poor horse killed for food, one of the girls, whose name was Lizzie, declared that she would starve before she would eat horse meat. But before they reached Niagara the supply of food was so scant and the fatigue of long marches so great that meat from the same horse, in an advanced stage of decomposition, after being thoroughly cooked, was eagerly eaten by Miss Lizzie and her companion, Miss Haverstraw. The party received the British bounty for prisoners, and the girls remained in Canada. Years after, when Miss Lizzie had become the wife of my uncle Joseph, she learned that, had my father entered into animated conversation with the captive girls, they would all have incurred the risk of being tomahawked; and she declared that the poorest horse meat she ever saw furnished one of the most agreeable feasts of her life. In my youth I heard her repeatedly refer to these things.

             One morning during a hard winter for game, Little Beard arose and declared that he had had a dream. As he was going through the woods, a rattlesnake came out from under a rock and spoke to him:

 “If you will give me a chew of tobacco (and tobacco and willow-bark such as the Indians prepare for smoking), you may kill as many deer as you please.”

The Chief took father with him, and when they came to the place, though father saw no rock there, he threw tobacco on the snow and said:

“Now, I hope you will be as good as your word.”

             A few days later the snow fell so deep that they went on snowshoes and tomahawked the deer that could not run away.

My father confessed that he was guilty of some deceitful tricks. When they were on a march he carried the bread-bag, and the loaves were always carefully counted. As they neared a camping-place he sometimes fell behind, and watching his opportunity, threw out a loaf, which he afterwards picked up and ate by himself. They never failed to observe the shortage in count, but seem never to have suspected him.

When a large band was on the march, and a pack horse gave out, he was promptly killed at night and cooked and eaten. Sometimes not a scrap of the hide was left.

After seven years with the tribe, my father expressed a desire to return to life among the whites. Little Beard assured him that if he would remain he should have 10,000 acres of land on the north sore of Lake Ontario, about where Toronto is now situated, and, at the death of the chief, succeed to the command of the Seneca Nation; but that if he went away he should go bare-handed as he came. With assurances of continued affection and gratitude, my father severed his connection with the tribe at the British military post at Oswego. He was at once taken into the employ of the commandant as interpreter and clerk, a position which he held till the close of the war.

When his services could be spared, after peace was concluded, he resolved to visit his old home at Yellow Breeches, a trip which he made alone through the woods of Western New York. The war being ended, he thought to travel by frequented roads and stop at hotels, but was surprised to find a feeling against such men as he, so strong that it nearly cost him his life. Stopping one day at a hotel, he was recognized by the landlady, who in the presence of several men addressed him as Mr. Price. One of the men asked him if he was not the Price who led the Indians at a certain massacre of the whites. He denied it. But he said to me:

“I should have denied it the same if I had been, for I saw that they intended to kill me.”

             He gave his gun and tomahawk to the hostess, telling her he had an errand up the North Branch Road and would be back for them sometime during the day. She said:

             “Mr. Price, you will be well accommodated here as anywhere. You may as well stay here.”

             But a man in the crowd gave him a signal to get away quickly. He assured her that it was necessary for him to go, but that he would be back again. When he came to the forks of the road, instead of going up the North Branch, he took the South Branch, and soon came to a hill where the sun had melted the snow off. He climbed the hillside and sat down behind a stump. After an hour or so a crowd of excited men came along, armed with guns and clubs, having evidently been up the other road to the place of his supposed errand. He waited till day returned in angry disappointment, and after dark crept down to the river, built a raft of rails from the fence, which he tied together with a grapevine, got some kind of a setting pole from the woods and pushed himself across the river. As soon as the raft struck the other bank he leaped ashore and left the raft go afloat. Now thoroughly alarmed for his safety and deprived of the means of obtaining game, he walked by roads in the night and in the woods by day, when he was not sleeping or resting, and for six days he had no food.

One night, his moccasins beginning to give out, he went down to a farm-house and looked for an old shoe with which to mend them up. As he was going through the back yard he received a painful shock, which showed him how weak and nervous he was becoming. He stepped on a hoop, which flew up and struck him from behind. He gave a desperate leap for life before he could recover himself. But he found an old shoe that answered his purpose very well.

On the sixth day he walked by the road in an unfrequented section. A woman stepped to the door of a small house as he passed and asked him if he would carry her husband’s dinner to him, saying that he was at work on a mill two miles away on that road. He consented. As he walked along he thought he would be justified in opening the pail. As he looked over its contents, he said to himself:

“There is not half enough for me; the man shall have his dinner.” And he got it, my father sitting by and talking while he ate.

             He now gathered boldness to stop at settlers’ houses and ask for food and soon came to the neighborhood of his old home. When he reached the farm, seeing a man chopping in the edge of a clearing, he went towards him. He was still dressed in Indian Costume; but the chopper, who was his only brother, recognized him fifty rods away and came to meet him. After the first greetings, he learned that his parents were dead and his brother married. They went to the house. My Uncle Joseph stopped at the door and asked for a drink of buttermilk. She brought the buttermilk, and, seeing the stranger, threw it full in her husband’s face. He thereupon took his gun and ammunition and walked away with my father, never to return to her.


             Warned by the dangers of the trip from Oswego, the brothers made a detour of about 300 miles through the woods in returning. They lived wholly on the proceeds of the hunt, though my father had only his hunting knife. His other weapons were not replaced till they reached Oswego. But meat without salt and bread did not agree with my uncle and they found it necessary to camp for a few days till he should feel better. They came to a bank of a creek which seemed familiar to my father. Leaving his brother to make camp, he went up stream and found where years before he had stretched an elk skin. Attracted by the firing of a gun, he returned quickly to his brother, and found him shooting at an elk in the creek, already badly wounded. A shot through the head killed him, and they had a good supply of meat. Joseph, exhausted and sick as he was, thought that if he only had a good soup he should feel better, but they had no dish of any kind to prepare it in or to eat it from. My father went into the woods and sat down on a fallen tree to study over the matter. After some thinking he went to an elm tree, took off a piece of bark of a size to suit him, sent his brother to the creek to find a dozen stones the size of his fist, which were put in the fire to heat, stripped from the bark the rough outside, and so tied the ends together as to make a trough that would hold water. He rigged a pair of tongs which to handle the stones, and whittled out some spoons. The meat and water were placed in the trough and kept boiling with the hot stones till thoroughly cooked. The soup was quite satisfactory.

             The next day my father tramped six miles up the stream to a beaver dam, where he saw the fresh tracks of an Indian. His shout was answered by one of his old associates of the Senecas, who informed him that with a brother he was camping six miles away, and invited my father to join them there, which he promised to do the next day. Owing to his brother’s weakness, their progress was slow, and they reached the wigwam of their Indian friends late in the afternoon, where they had sat all day awaiting them. Here they found venison, elk and bear meat, but no salt. My uncle complained of the fare, but my father declared that the elk meat was bread to him, and the bear meat was meat indeed. They remained here till Uncle Joseph’s health was recovered, and when they reached Oswego my father was again taken into Government employ.

When the post at Oswego was evacuated he removed with the Government officers to Niagara on the New York side of the river, and afterwards to Fort George, at the mouth of the Niagara river, in Canada,West. Here he was an interpreter, clerk and storekeeper in the Indian Department.

Chapter V

             While at Niagara my father saw and loved a girl of about seventeen, daughter of Michael Gonder, a German, who first settled in Pennsylvania, and there becoming dissatisfied with his wife, left with a young woman (afterwards my grandmother) and came to Canada.

             Having won the daughter’s affections, my father took her away without asking the consent of her parents. The next morning her father, thinking it necessary to preserve family discipline, provided himself with a good whip, cut from the bush, and went about the neighborhood in search of the girl, expecting to find her at the house of some girl friend. When he found out the real occurrence, he was not displeased with the arrangement. She proved to be a faithful wife and an affectionate mother to his children, of whom four were born, at the fort.

             Fort George was commanded by Col. Clarris, and the surgeon of the post was a Dr. Carr. On the occasion of the sickness of one of his children, my father wrote a note to summon the doctor, who sent a reply that he would be there at such a time, and failed to come. A second note called forth a second promise, which was also broken. Thereupon my father wrote him sharply, demanding that he come at once, or distinctly refuse to do so. The surgeon came in a state of considerable indignation at so peremptory a letter. My father replied to his complaint:

             “Doctor, I have got to do my duty, and you shall do yours. If you do not I will report you to headquarters.”

             The doctor humbled himself, and my father was persuaded to make no mention of the matter in his report.

             The commandant of the fort gave orders on the storekeeper for supplies to be issued to the Indians; but they usually came first to my father, who wrote the colonel explaining their wants, and from the note that officer made out the order,-the Indians doing the tramping between the council-house and the residence of the commander, about three-quarters of a mile away. Sometimes a dozen such letters and orders passed between them in a single day. This became a source of annoyance to the officer, who one day forbade my father to write him any more such notes, and commanded him to come himself when he had anything to say. Father told him in very emphatic terms that he should do no such thing, and immediately began writing a letter to the governor at Montreal asking to be relieved of his work. While he was thus employed Dr. Carr came in, and on being told what he was doing, the doctor begged him to desist till he could have a talk with the colonel. That official, on being informed of my father’s determination, wrote promptly to withdraw his demand, and leaving the interpreter to exercise his own judgment as to the letters he should write.

             Being once at Fort Erie on some business connected with the Indians, Col. Claus, Dr. Carr and my father sat at dinner with the officers of the fort. Some Indians appeared at the open door, and demanded that one of them should come out. Col Claus, in a peremptory manner, ordered my father to go out and see what they wanted. He refused to go, and continued his dinner. In a loud and emphatic tone the colonel asked:

             “Will you go, sir, when I bid you?” Looking him full in the eye, my father replied,

             “I’ll be damned if I will, sir!” and finished his dinner.

             The matter was dropped till they were alone, when my father informed the Colonel that he must not assume to order him about like a dog.

             When the mailboats could not cross the lake, two Indians carried the mails around Lake Ontario. They were supplied with rations on the colonel’s order, and reported them insufficient; on the last day of the trip they were without food. The commander dismissed their complaint with rough and contemptuous words. They told their grievances to the interpreter who went at once to the colonel, where a very spirited conversation ensued, which resulted in abundant provisions for the Indians.


             About this time an incident occurred, the particulars of which were written out in hyme and published in pamphlet form by a residing elder of the Methodist church of the name of Webster.

             Two children of the name of Starkey, who lived near Niagara-Fort George-wandered into the woods after nuts and were lost. The next day a searching party was organized, of which my father was a member. For miles around every man joined in the search. The third day many became discouraged and gave up, while others dropped out each day; but the distracted parents could not be pacified. On the eighth day only my father and two others were left. That night my father had a remarkable dream. He thought he was going through a sort of swamp, when he came to a clump of bushes. After looking at them for a while, he determined to go through them, and on the other side he approached a fallen tree, over which he discovered the children, still alive, but nearly dead with cold and hunger. The next morning the remaining two men gave up the search. My father started out the ninth day alone with his dog, assuring the parents that he should find the children. The neighbors were convinced that his long residence among the Indians had made him superstitious, and that any further search was a foolish waste of time.

             He tramped all day. When the sun was about two hours high, he came to a place that looked so familiar he thought he must have been there before. He stopped and gazed about. Slowly it dawned upon him that this was the place he saw in his dream. He approached the clump of saplings and made his way through them in nervous wonder. On the other side was the fallen tree. Going up to it, exactly as in his dream, on the other side he saw the two children lying close together. With flint and steel he immediately started a fire, and from his provisions prepared nourishing food. He warmed them and fed them little by little as he thought safe during the night. By morning they were considerably revived. When the bright sun had warmed the air sufficiently, he started with the children, making frequent stops, and reached their home just at night on the tenth day. One may imagine the meeting of the family. During the day there had been much speculation as to what had become of the “old interpreter.”

             My father gave his brother a farm on the bank of the Niagara river, about a mile below the present village of Black Creek, where he settled after marrying the captive, Miss Lizzie, before mentioned. I believe that all their descendents are now in the United States.

             Note-In the first installment of this story, printed two weeks ago, Mr. John Price is quoted as locating a place called Yellow Breeches on the Genesee river. Yellow Breeches is the name of a creek flowing into the Susquehanna between York and Cumberland counties. This accounts for the return trip to Oswego of “over 300 miles” through the woods. He was quite sure that it was on the head waters of the Genesee.


             When the war of 1812 broke out, my father moved his family to a tract of 200 acres of land on the Chippewa creek, the present site of the town of Welland, while he still retained some connection with affairs at the fort. Before he moved his family he had command of all the Indian forces at the battle of Queenston. When the Yankees were driven down the river and some were plunging and swimming, only to be shot, my father stepped to the front and called to those who would surrender to come up the heights but they refused to do so till he assured them of protection from the Indians. He ordered the Indians back, and as each man came up his gun was taken from him by one of the command.

             I remember hearing him tell of Dilloway Tom, an old Indian who had been through the war of Independence. After the battle father saw Tom stripping the body of an American officer, and ordered him come away; but Tom gave no heed, and an hour later appeared dressed in full American uniform, with a sword at his side, and airs seldom assumed by the proudest of officers. He was greeted by the Indians with roars of laughter.

             My father commanded a detachment of Indians at the head of Lake Ontario, at a place near what is now Burlington Heights, sent against a body of Americans who had landed there. A night attack had been planned, but finding that the enemy greatly outnumbered them, he commanded the Indians to distribute themselves through the woods a good distance apart, each man provided with a torch and jumping from tree to tree till it looked as if the woods were full of Indians. The Americans were convinced that to stay and fight at such odds would be folly, and they retreated in haste.

             David Price was regularly in the British Service 36 years, and was often called upon after that for special service. He was a member of the English church and was very particular that his boys should keep out of bad company, avoid habits and vile language. He told us that if we could avoid evil influences in no other way, we could at least walk away and leave bad men to themselves. He found the Indians generally honorable and truthful, free from profanity, but somewhat given to obscenity; but, in dealing with the whites they were so often deceived and betrayed that some of them adopted the same methods. When Little Beard reported his warriors to the British pension agent, he gave a number much in excess of the truth. He was commanded to assemble the braves at Niagara to be counted. They fell short of the number given, and when asked to explain, he replied:

             “Our women and children cannot be left to starve. Some of our young men must continue the hunt. They cannot come here and be hunting at the same time.”

His claim ws allowed. When father expressed his surprise to Little Beard that he had lied, the chief simply said:

“We must have more supplies.”

Father often said that Red Jacket was the greatest orator he ever heard. In speaking, he stood quietly with his feet together, his toes a little turned in, and his body bent forward. He then poured out such a flood of eloquence that his hearers were carried along at his will.

In the time of Mackenzie’s rebellion 300 Indians were brought down from Grand River to drive the rebels and invaders from New York out of the country. Before they came the white infantry, of which my brother Jim was a member, had sharp skirmish with the enemy on the creek about three miles above our house. When the red men arrived, the insurgents had escaped, but they all came to pay their respects to father, who was acquainted with most of them. They filled the doorway and everyone wanted to shake his hand. While he was talking with a few older ones, sister Caroline began bringing up crocks of milk from the cellar at the back of the house. The Indians greatly enjoyed the treat, and after they had emptied about 30 crocks, amused themselves by counting the empty vessels.

The white officer in command asked them if father spoke their language well. The answer was:
             “Just the same as we do.”

After the war of 1812 my father spent most of his time with his family in the township of Crowland, before there was a Welland. The first postoffice that I remember was Port Robinson. About the same time there was a postoffice at Thompson’s store, near Brown’s bridge.

My father was very much of a hunter, and early taught his boys to handle a gun. He was exceedingly particular about our observing all the rules and cautions he gave us. We all became good shots, as Canadians generally were in those days. In the eyes of all his boys he was a hero, and the end of the law for all matters pertaining to game and hunting. I think he occupied something of the same position in the estimation of all his acquaintances. But he was very little of a farmer. He was over 70 when I was born, and there were two children younger than I. By the work of the boys and hired men about 50 acres of our farm were cleared during his life. He became so crippled with rheumatism in his right arm that he could do no such work. Though we always raised some crops, I remember only once that anything was sold off the farm. Then about a ton of hay was sold to a neighbor, for which a little work was received. But no one ever came to our house in want that he was not fed, and as far as possible, supplied. Father frequently killed a deer, and our hogs, fatted in the bush, were salted down for winter. When we killed a sheep it was generally divided among the neighbors. With a large family, little economy, and no hoarding, before his clearing was sufficient to raise grain, there came a time when they were reduced to want. He applied to the government for a pension, and meantime borrowed money of a friend at Niagara to relieve the immediate wants of his family. Getting money enough to pay it back, he made the trip to do so, and in his friend’s office, tendered the money in the presence of others. The friend asked him: “Have you bread at home at home for your family.” Being answered in the negative, he said to those about:
             “Here is the man who offers money when has no bread for his family,” and to father, “You keep that money till I ask you for it.”

Some time after, father received a letter from this man saying: “By coming down to Niagara at once you can do me the greatest favor of your life.”

He mounted his horse and rode away. He found about $150 of pension money awaiting him; and during the remainder of his life, he received $1 a day from the government.


             Up to the time I was twenty years old deer were quite plenty here and an occasional bear was killed. My father was always a very successful hunter of these animals.

             When I was young he killed many deer by night, watching in bough houses in places frequented by them. Our winter-wheat fields were favorite resorts for deer in the fall, and from his little cover of boughs he often shot one as they came there to feed in the night. When he was nearly 80 he went out to watch for deer in the edge of a clearing about 400 yards south of where the court house now stands, on ground owned by Perry Martin. He had not waited long when he heard a heavy crash on the brush fence, followed by another, sounds which he knew no deer would ever make, and soon a black bear appeared less than four rods away. At night he used a “fusee” loaded with buckshot; by day he preferred a rifle. He took careful aim and fired. The bear whirled about and, as he said, “made the grass fly behind him,” but after recrossing the brush fence, stopped. From his groans, father knew that the bear was mortally wounded. He went to the house, and waking mother, told her he had killed a bear. The hired man and two of the boys were soon ready with the ox-sleigh, and mother, who was as strong and resolute as most men, went with them. They found the bear dead, but it was with considerable difficulty that the whole party succeeded in sliding the carcass up the boards onto the sleigh. The dressed meat weighed 400 pounds.

             After this, very early one morning, a neighbor of the name of Hellems-father of Justice Hellems-reported that he supposed one of our hogs had been killed by a bear during the night. He had heard the squealing of the hog in the woods south of his house. Mr. Hellems had to go to court, and, after giving father the direction, left him to hunt alone. He had two young dogs that he was training, and, after finding the remains of the hog, his attention was occupied with keeping the dogs to the track of the bear. He was soon surprised to see the dogs come running back, and, looking ahead, saw the bear facing him from the opposite side of a fallen tree, with his fore feet on the trunk. As my father fired the bear turned to run, and the shot broke his knee joint only. But this reduced this pace, so that the dogs worried him, and he frequently turned about to cuff them over. Father followed, without loading his gun, til the bear stopped at a large oak tree, and while father was loading, he climbed to a large limb not very high up, where he sat with his back against the tree, snapping his teeth. A shot brought him down, and almost as soon as he struck the ground a dog had him by each ear, but he was dead.

             When I was quite a boy, a neighbor reported to father one day that there were “plenty of bears” below the Cranberry marsh, feeding on acorns and beech-nuts. Arrangements were made for a hunt the next day, father urging the neighbor to be sure to bring no less than three dogs, as they would all be needed with his two in case they found bears. But the next morning the man came with only one dog, giving as a reason that if he borrowed dogs he would have to divide the meat with their owners. Father was much displeased with his selfish spirit, but with his hired man and two dogs they set off together. They found a family of bears. The neighbor and his son separated one and followed him, only to have their dog nearly killed. Father succeeded with his dogs in treeing a bear, and with two shots in quick succession brought him down. I think this was the last bear he ever killed.

             When he was past 85 years he started out one fine morning to see if he could find a deer. As he did not return, towards night the hired man, brother Jim and I started out to find him. We separated at about what is now the Junction. I went up the canal (what is now the “feeder”) while they followed the sleigh-road out through the swamp near where the ship canal now runs. They soon met him and recalled me by shouts. He was nearly tired out and somewhat confused. He had killed and skinned a fine deer and hung up the carcass and the skin. The next day four of us searched for it in vain. He had lost his bearings and given us the wrong direction.


             I remember well the first survey for the Grand River & St. Catharines canal through my father’s farm, beginning at the northeast corner, passing out near the southwest corner and going through our sugar bush. Though Mr. Hamilton Merritt, the moving spirit in the canal enterprise, and my father were for many years on good terms, father was determined that no canal should be cut across his farm and forbade the survey. When they insisted he pulled up their stakes and threw them away. He never gave his consent, and when it was cut through without it he had many wordy bouts with its projectors and officers. He was never able to see any public good in that enterprise that justified the violation of his private rights. The sense of justice made him as simply antagonistic to the government as to one man; it was time to submit with a good grace when he was compelled to. There was always a little feeling of unpleasantness during the construction of the canal. When the water was within four or five miles of us, it was held back by a dam of planks and sods till the excavations were completed below. Day after day we heard the report that, “Tomorrow the water will be let into the canal,” and still the excavations were not quite completed. One night two of our hired men and brother David went “cooning” and the next day the water was in the canal, well filled with floating planks and wheelbarrows. Of course this made it necessary to turn off the water at Grand river and caused an expensive delay.

             When at last the canal was completed and in use, Mr. Merritt and two other officers were one day being towed down the canal by three men who walked along the towpaths. My father stood looking at them. Not being well acquainted with the dangers of canoeing, the one who steered allowed the bow to turn a little and the party was dumped into the canal. Father indulged in a hearty fit of laughter, and so soon as their ears were in condition to receive a communication, he cried out:

             “Good for you! You damned scoundrels! You dig a ditch for me and fall into it yourselves. I’d rather have that than $50!”

             The first canal was built largely for packet boats which ran chiefly for passengers and parcels, making daily trips; and for small vessels loaded with freight, which were locked down into Broad creek to run into Lake Erie. The little village that grew up about us was called Merrittville, (now the county town of Welland); a good part of it was built on our farm. The canal never seemed to command much patronage, and in 1844 work was begun on the Welland ship canal, which was a new canal only from Port Colborne to our place. From here to Lake Ontario it was an enlargement of the old canal. As the new canal was about eight feet above the level of Lake Erie, a lock was used at Port Colborne, and the canal from the Grand river to Welland was used as a feeder, as it is still called, though no longer so used since the ship canal has been deepened to the level of Lake Erie.

             My father was a Free Mason, quite prominent in their work. But after the Morgan murder he found no pleasure in them, and on occasion spoke strongly against the secret order. One day my brother-in-law, Henry Brackbill, and he were re-stocking their guns together in the shop. Henry expressed his admiration of the Masons and declared his intention to join them. Father, who had been a listener till then, spoke with much earnestness:

 “Henry, let them alone; there is no good in them. The book published by Morgan was true. He then told of the talk in the lodge when Morgan’s exposure first came out; how he had urged them to let it alone, and when they persisted in the course that led to the murder he told them squarely in the lodge:

             “You are a set of damned fools.”

             My father became possessed of several tracts of land in different parts of Ontario. A tract of 200 acres in the township of Houghton, on the shore of Lake Erie, included a valuable mill-site with waterpower. This he traded when I was a boy for 100 acres in Wainfleet and $900 in money. He owned 400 acres in Walsingham, near Big Creek; 200 acres in Gainsboro and another 100 in Wainfleet. This last place he sold to a young man of the name of William Dunn for four years’ work on our home farm. But Dunn courted my second sister, Susan, and when he took the deed for his 100 acres he took Susan with a deed for 100 acres more. I remember his as one of six strapping brothers, none of whom was less than six feet tall. Their wedding was one of my earliest recollections.

             My brother Reuben died at 16. I remember his wonderful ability in playing a flute and that he was a very sweet singer. David was married young and settled on 184 acres that father gave him over on Lake Ontario, near the “Twenty.” Brother Jim, in a fit of impatience at a sharp rebuke from father, left work one noon and went away, taking his pet horse. By the advice of officious neighbors, he went to a store at the mouth of the creek and ran father in debt about $25. Thereupon father declared he would disinherit Jim. I was thus left as my father’s chief help and constant companion for a number of years.

             In January, 1841, returning from the woods one day when ice covered the ground, father slipped and fell, breaking three ribs and sustaining other injuries. After lying six weeks in much suffering, he died. When it was decided by the physicians that he could not live, I was sent in haste to Niagara to bring John Lyons, father’s lawyer; Warren Coleman, judge of the surrogate court, and a Catholic priest of the name of Carroll. We drove back the same night, reaching home just before daylight and making for me a drive of over 75 miles. Mother deeded a tract of 284 acres of land, held in her name, to the priest and he deeded it to father, who then made his will. Two hundred acres were to be divided between the four daughters. One hundred acres of the homestead were given to sister Catharine and her husband to support mother during her life. As already related, 100 acres of the home farm were entailed to me, one-third of the proceeds going to mother during her life, and the land going to my brother Daniel’s children at my death.

             I was made chief executor of the estate and it was all left for me to settle according to the will. The four sisters gave brother Jim a clear deed of 100 acres at Long Point, on Lake Erie.

             What I have related of my father’s history is from memory of conversations with him, except the items which occurred within my own recollections. I was with him to the end of his life and he became very confidential with me. We spent many long winter evenings together, and some things related here were rehearsed again and again.

             “REMINISCENCES of the early days on the Niagara Frontier.” By D.D. Babcock, of Welland, is being published in the Buffalo Express, the first installment of which we reprint in today’s TRIBUNE. John Price, and his father, David Price, who are referred to in this article, will be well remembered by the pioneer residents of town. They at one time owned that portion of Welland comprising a large part of the third ward, and gave the site for the old M.E. church, since turned into a canning factory. John Price, who is still living, has become impoverished of late, and was recently an inmate of the county home, from which he was removed by relatives a few days ago.

Welland Tribune

14 May 1897

* Note: John Price: 2 February 1821-23 December 1900