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Dr. William Canniff Papers

Joseph B. Allison Letter, 1867

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Joseph Allison sent the lengthy letter below to Dr. William Canniff describing what he knew of the early loyalist years in Adolphustown. Allison was born about 1785 so would have pretty direct knowledge of the events.

The letter is dated 17 April 1867 and is transcribed as spelled and formatted roughly as the original. Thanks are extended to Carm Foster and Doug Smith for their help in the transcription.


Source: Dr William Canniff Papers, F1390, MU492, G6 (1), Archives of Ontario,

Randy Saylor, Feb 2014



Letter to Wm Canniff from Joseph B. Allison


[page 1]                                                                                                                              

To Canniff M.D.                                                                                                                  .

Sir, I send you an account of the early settlers of this Township, as far as I have learned from pesonaly from them.  They ware principally from that class called refugees not involved in an standing Regiment, but when the revolution broke out remained true to the Government and had to leave their homes and go within the British lines for protection, some, of them ware employed in the Navy yard others ware cutting and sawing wood for the use of the Garisons others, in departments of the Public Service.  They ware mostly from the Counties of Rockland, Orange, Ulster on the west side of the Hudson, and Westchester, Dutches and Columbia on the east.  They and their ancestors represented many of the States of Europe, English, Irish, Scotch, Germans, French &c.  As it respects their religious views very little was said about it for 5 or 6 years after their emegraton devine worship out of the question.  In the year 1783 the peace was declared and the Government ofered to all those who had joined the Royal Standard, and wished to follow the retering? flagg of their Soverign, to any of the Porttish? Posessions.  That they should have a free passage to any of the colonies of the British Empire, with Provisions suitable until they could help themselves and bring their lands into cultivation.  Now all was bussle in organizing a great many Cores or companes for the British Provinces.  Same for one place and same for another.  A fleet of transport was fitted up and an armed men to guard them to the Gulf of St. Larance.  Major Peter Van Alstine.  C? among the which was distined for the Bay Quinte this company safeley landed at Quebec in the fall of 1783, and proceeded up the river St Larance to the mouth of the Serell river, and tooke winter quarters, their.  Journey from Quebec was performed in what was called French Battaus, here they suffered much during a Canadian winter as their linen Tents was not the thing has frost and snow of land Canada.  In the spring of 1784 they resumed their journey in that frail vessle, up the St Larance and arrived at their distinaton now A last? Johnstown 16th June


[page 2]

The surveying party at the time of the arrival of Trumpour had commenced running out the boundary lines, between townships, the boundary between Adolphustown was originaly run was Nos  runing from the bay Quinte to hay bay, but as there was not enough Land in Fredericksburgh for to settle Sir Johns 2 Battalion there was twelve and a half Lots added and called Fredericksburgh Aditional. That left the boundary of Adolphustown at the center of Lot No 13. Major Holland who was the original surveyor of Adolphustown surveyed about 300 acres and called it a town plott. This was the spot on which the UEs first landed and pitched there tents. They remained intil the fall. When their lands was run out and ready to be ?? when all was up and to their land building their shanties and preparing for winter.


Now every man becomes a land holder has a home of he own, let it be ever so such. But they have to meet many privation and dificulties not withstanding all the government had done for them. The most of them were not accustomed to forest labour, and the tools that was furnished them was of such a structure and shape that man could not perform half the work with them. They could with our present improved tools. Then again they had neither cows horses or oxen to assist in getting the timber together after it had been felled. But what was ones business was everyones business and they whare all dependent on each other. Each concession was was considered a neighbourhood, there being about four miles in length and after the ?? ?? fall and the brush burnt. Then came on the loging bees, and every man had to give account of himself if he should be missing when qualified?, there whare no aristocrats from Major Van Alstine down to the humblest individual had to do what they could. They whare perfectly organized


[page 3]

In this branch of business then, when divided in Companys of squads of 6 in each company and each Company to take a regular through of about 6 or 7 rods wide rooting and piling all the all the timber in their respective throughs.

There rooting Bees ware always attended with much strife all striving for the mastery and as they ware always used to their rations of rum, they must have all they wanted. On these occasions, whatever else was wanted. Then in evenings after the gallon was was ?? thay must have their dance, as they called it.


It was considered the privilege and duty of all women in the neighbourhood to attend and assist cookery as there ware many of them batchelors. Indeed, if there was a weding in one of those Concession neighbourhoods all had a right to go and attend it, that belonged to the Neighbourhood.


Those pioneers of Adolphustown ware a wonderful hardy set of men, grate physical power and altho inured to hardship of a very pressing kind in there youth, still they lived to a grate age. Very few of them died undet 80 years old and two of them lived over 100.


John FitGerald was the oldist man that came to ground with Van Alstine. He died in 1806 aged 101. Daniel Cole, aged 108, when he died. You see that they lived to a much grater age than the generation that suceeded them.

We now have them located on the their lands but receiving their provision from the Government. Philip Dorland acted as their Comisary under the instruction of a Committee.


The provision and tools whare brought up from Kingston and Quebec by French Bateaux.

Major Peter Van Alstine, Thomas Dorland, Nicholas Hagerman, Capt. Peter Ruttan, Michael Hout and Philip Dorland whare the leading business men in the Township. should there be any dispute or grievance, the case would be left for some one or more of them the settle but these whare things they all with few exceptions tried to do as they would wish to be done by


[page 4]

Some of them lost considerable property, which was confiscated on their remaining loyal to the Crown of Grate Brittain, which the Government undertook to endemnify. Capt. Joseph Allin got a large Tract of wild land for losses. Others got more or less. Notwithstanding the Liberality of the Government in this it created a bad feeling among the pioneers as some that had losses whare not able to get evidence sufficient in this distant land, while others was thought to have got too much evidence and obtained more than they ought.


Some of them suffered amazingly. Perhaps none of them more or as much as did Mr Henry Hover. In the first year of the was, after his Father had left and gone to the Brittish, he and a younger brother was after the cows and there came a scouting party along an made prisoners of them and marched them Landcaster Jail.


When the two brothers ware ironed together on half rations with no other accomodations than a brick floor and one old blanket, the younger brother died shortly after. Here Henry remained for 18 months, when he was exchanged and taken to New York.  But as he inlisted on coming to New York in Butlers Ranger and the Regiment was at Niagara, he with a number of others ware sent to join the Regiment at Niagara.


While on their way through the great wilderness, he was again taken prisoner and put in Landcaster Jail ware again suffered until the end of the war. His comrade with whom he was shackled died leaving him a legacy of his blanket, which was of grate use to him.  Here he said he must have starved if he had not obtained an instrument for making button molds, which he made out of the bones that war thrown into the prison, a gross of which would get him a pound of bread. But the day of his long desired release came. The war closed in the spring of 1783 and he with the rest of the prisoners release?


[page 5]

went to New York. Again he with others of his comrades had to engage in the perealus journey across the grate wilderness from New York to Niagary join the Rigment and get his discharge which he accomplished with safety. In the spring of 1784 he got location ticket for land in St Davids, a Township in the neighbourhood of Niagary. He then came to Adolphustown in search of his parents which came to this place with Major Van Alstines Corps and arrived a few weeks after them. When he came and found his friends here he concluded to give up his location in St Davids and located himself with his friends in this neighbourhood on Lot No 15 in the first concession where he lived respectable and respected by all that knew him and died in the eightieth year of his age in grate peace.


Joseph Allsion at the outbrake of the Revolution kept his home and at Harviststraw [Haverstraw]  now - Rockland New York - and joined the Royal Standard engaged as a sawyer in the naveyard at New York and during the war was engaged in prokuring lumber for the dock yard at a place called Mosicena? at which small place he owned a small house and kept a waggon and horses for drawing lumber. While here there came own a scouting party of the Rebel Army commanded by Colonel Wisenarlt. Three hundred strong and burned his house with all the little lumbering vilage and took away his waggon and horses, before they could get organized to give them battle.


The Moricenians were all armed and enroled for their for their own protection and that of the Government property, About daylight in the morning they ware prepaired to pursue their invaders overtaking the rear guard making a number of prisoners and horses and drove them fast into the Rebel lines. Mr Allison made no claim for losses. But


[page 6]

But took the land in his own hand and a few with after? he with a comrade took a sow? into the Rebel camp after being there a few days and nights, they examining a stable containing five excellent horses well equiped finding out the particulars with regard to their security, they on a dark and stormy night relieved five troops of the care of horses. They effected this without being discovered but still had a very hazerdous journey to go, near the lines was gard of Rebels which they had to pass which they did with grate secrecy but an alarm was given and their horses put under as fast speed as possible. Had they have a few hundred yards further to go they would have either been shot or taken prisoners by their pursuers but Allsion returned safely rejoicing over his five fine horses which went to make up part of his Moricena loss. He was in the battle of the White Plains - and altho he escaped unhurt still he ran a very masons? chaner?. The man by the side of him fell and the belt on which his canteen hung was cut off, yet he took time to take it up, drink what rum there was in it. He was a man of a very strong constitution and daring character  as was mostly all the UEs.


There was much laid up against by the rebbel party for the cause that he took even after he had been here for several years. He went down to Haviststraw [Haverstraw] to see his aged mother and there was a mob raised to tar and fether him and in order to get rid of them he had to take a blanket and go and sleep in the woods. He was a very profitable man in the ?????ment here as he was a wipsawyer by trade he asisted in sawing the bords mostly for ??cle [crude?] bildings of the first setlers. He drew the lot of land on which i now live  viz: 17 in the first concession and lived and died on the same at the advanced age of 88 years.


[page 7]

For the first 6 or 7 years, they ware destitute of any means of grace, except a Minister of the Gospel would make an appointment when visiting his forest? There whare several other preachers that done so; David Sand and Elias Hick. He who entered was at the head of the party called Hicksites. And Rollan? Robertson, who was father of old Mr William Casey’s wife - he was a very pious man and very useful in getting the descendants of the old Quaker families in Dutchess County, that had congregated here into a Society.


I think from circumstance which now strike my mind that it was about 1790, when they became organized. James Noxon, I think, was their first ?? Minister.


I recollect hearing the old people say that Parson Stewart, father of the late George Bull Stewart held divine service once in the house of Nicholas Hagerman Sr. and that the Reverend Mr Langhorn of Bath held divine service at the same place in 1790. This is all the Ministration they had from the Church of England until after that date.

In 1790, William Losey [Losee], a Minister of the Methodist Episcopal Church in the State of New York visited Adolphustown to see some of his old friends and preached several times. And told the people if they wished have such preaching he would bring their case before the next conference at Albany. He thought they would send them a preacher, they did.


In 1791, they sent the Rev William Losey[Losee] who suceded in raising large societies in Adolphustown, Fredericksburgh and Ernestown. The Methodist and Quaker whare then and for many years after the two popular branches of the Christian Church in Adolphustown and comprehended with a few exceptions the whole of the first settlers.


In the year 1796 Major Van Alstine sent for a young Clergy man? of the Presbyterian & by the name of Robert McDole, who commenced his labours about 1797. The Major died shortly after and Mr McDole located himself in Fredericksburgh but only managed to preach occasionally in Adolphustown


[page 8]

I have been able to procure the register of the names of the first settlers or original drawers of each lot in the Township. I have had all the document of the Township locked. It must have been mislaid. The following is the doings of the first town meeting  which was on the 6th of March 1792.


The following officers

Reuben Bedell, Township Clerk

Paul Huff and Phillip Dorland, overseers of the Poor

Joseph Allison and Garet Benson, Constables

Willet Casey, Paul Huff and John Huyck, Pound Keepers

Abraham Maybee and Peter Ruttan, Fence Viewers


The hight of the fence to be 4 feet 8 inches, water fence noted to be no fence, hogs moving at large to have yanks? on 18 by 24 inches, no piggs to run until three months old, no stalion to run.

Any person putting fire to any brush or stuble that was not his endevours to hinder it from doing damage shall forfit the sum of forty shillings.


This township meeting was held nearly 8 years after they came to the ground. You see they did not transacta grate amount of business in their first legislation, but they increased every year - In the years 1794, the 10th year of the settlement, they have left recorded in the old Township book that I have before me a compleat census or return of every family  men and women male and female which I think I will copy and send you .


About the year 1791 the Court of Quarter Sessions and District Court was established in Adolphustown. Half yearly they had been held in Kingston  for 2 or 3 years before this but the District then extended from near Gananockway to the Carrying Place comprehending the Counties of Frontenac, Lennox, Addington, North and South Hastings and Prince Edward. The people complained grately in having to go so far as ?? and be to so grate expense. The Government ofeered then if they would build a house to hold the courts in they should have the Courts half the time in July and January to which the Inhabitants of Adolphustown and some of the western townships subscribed and built the house.


[page 9]

The courts whare held according to promise half yearly in the Nine Court House?.

Alexander Fisher Esq, one of the first inhabitants of this Township was elected by his brother Magistrates as Chairman of the Quarter Sessions and appointed Judge of the District Court by the Government, which office he continued to fill for a grate many years. Though he was not bread a Lawyer he was a man of grate discernment and moral honesty governed his decisions.


Nicholas Hagerman, another pioneer of the Township  was the first Lawyer that plead at this County. He was a self made man. He was father of the late Hon Christopher Alexander Hagerman, one of the Circuit Judges of Upper Canada.


You see that our Township, thought perhaps the smallest in the Province if it ware consolidated would not be more than three miles and a half square has furnished as many statesmen and Judicial officers as any of the larger Townships. From the humble abodes of Adolphustown have gone to the Legislative Halls of Canada:

Members Thomas Dorland Willet Casey

John Roblin Henry Ruttan

Christopher A. Hagerman Samuel Casey

Paul Peterson Daniel Hagerman *

Dr W. Dorland Davis Roblin

* Daniel Hagerman was elected but died before the house met and we came very near having to second the name of the Hon. John A. McDonel [Macdonald]. Altho he was not from here, he spent his juvenile years and attended the Common Schools in Adolphustown.


And I had forgotten, John P. Roblin, who represented the County of Prince Edward for many years.

Now we challinge any Township in the Province that has not a City or Town connected with it to turn out eleven Members of Parliament. The whole of them U.E.s or their descendants - ever you will find the return made of the inhabitants in 1792, though a number of the names contained in that return did not come to the Township with the original refugees.


[pages 10]

[Allison has written in a large chart, the census report in his possession. This was published in 1899 and a transcription is available on the link below.]

A Return of the inhabitants of Adolphustown, March the 28th 1794


[page 11]

[Referring to the chart]

We understand that the columns men and women means those of mature age, while those of Male and Female represents the juvenile part of the Inhabitants of the Township.


If I could have obtained the missing list of the drawers of every lot of land in the Township I might have furnished you with considerable matter that would perhaps been interesting in your History. I have in these few sheets very imperfectly given you a few facts of the early settlement of this Township from which you may perhaps gather some matter if you are able to read the writing. I cannot write as I once could but if you can only make out what i mean it will answer. I see by looking over it that I have left out words and in some places put more and some spelt wrong but you must pardon this. I did intend when I commenced to write off but it is rather painful for me to write and you must take the will for the deed. If there is any particular subject of the Township that I have not referred to I would gladly give any information in my power


[page12]

And now Doctor believe me to be very anxious for your sucess. in your praise worthy undertaking to give a history to suceeding generations of the Perseverance. Trials hardships and sucess of the old Refugees in opening up the Bay Quinte County for as their sucessors.  There is not one of them now living and but few of ther imediate Sucessors. 


William Ruttan has two sons still living Viz; Henry the Co H Sheriff of Northumberland and Merthas? P. W.  Lives along side of one occupeing the old homested - Daniel Cole has two living Henry on a part of the the old homested and John who lives in Ameliasburgh in front of Belleville.  Nicholas Peterson has 1 son living David and William owning the homested and Jacob who lives in Picton.  Henry Hovver has one son living Samuel C Hover who lives on the homested these are all that I can think of of the imediate male children living of the first emegrants to this Township.  Colonel Samuel Dorland Son of Thomas Dorland was said to be the first child born in the Township.  He also is numbered with the dead.  I had forgoten Samuel ? James of Ameliasburgh. 


I shall not trouble any more at present as I am aware that many things I have refered to will be but little use to you.  I shall be glad to hear from you at any time and you should think of any thing that I could throw any light upon I would do it with the zvertisol? of Johnson?


    Yours most Respectfuly

Adolphustown April 17 - 1867       Joseph B. Allison

Wm Canniff M. D

PS  My wife weighed the old pewter? platter it weighed a little over 5 lbs