On Sunday at Beckwith; the people in an old shanty that was in such a state of ruin that cats and dogs could pass between the logs; and they will neither repair nor provide firewood lest it might make the minister comfortable. And they are seeking a new one from Scotland. Six months later, he records in his diary: “I set out for Beckwith to aid Mr. Buchanan at Sacrament. The barn and all it contained had been burned. This had been used for a church and was erected by the congregation. No steps had been taken to rebuild anything. On Saturday I preached in an old shanty: and the Sunday services, which began at eleven o’clock and lasted till four o’clock in the afternoon, were held in an open field near by, the people having erected a tent for preaching in, using logs in parallel lines for seats.
One hundred umbrellas were used to protect from the sun’s rays. During these years the Buchanans endured many of the discomforts of pioneer life. Long afterward the youngest of the children published under the title “The Pioneer Pastor,” her recollections of her father’s pastorate in Beckwith. She describes the hardships borne by these men from the High lands. Harvesting was beginning when her family arrived. Cutting grain with the old-fashioned sickle and scythe on ground dotted thickly with stumps was slow, wearisome work.
Reaping machines, mowing machines, horse rakes and other labor-saving implements now in vogue to lighten the task and multiply a hundred-fold the efficiency of the farmer had not yet been evolved. A cumbrous plow, hard to pull and harder to guide, a V-shaped harrow, alike heavy and unwieldy, a clumsy sled, home-made rakes weighty as iron and sure to blister the hands of the user, forked-stick pitch-forks, and gnarled flails certain to raise bumps on the heads, of unskilled threshers, with two or three scythes and sickles, represented the average farm equipment. Not a grist-mill, saw-mill, factory, shop, school-house, post-office, chimney or stove to be found in Beckwith in those earliest days of its settlement.
Two arm-chairs, made for Dr. and Mrs. Buchanan by Donald Kennedy, were the first in the township. Sawed boards, shingles and plastered walls were luxuries. Split logs furnished the materials for benches, tables, floors and roofs. The first year men carried flour and provisions on their backs from Perth and Brockville. Families subsisted for months on scanty fare. Their homes were shanties, chinked between the logs with wood and mud, often without a window, cold in winter, stifling in summer, uncomfortable always. A hole in the roof let out such smoke as happened to travel in its direction.
And the women bore more than their share of the burden. Besides their care of house and children they worked in the fields all spring and summer, burning brush, logging, planting and reaping. Much of the cooking, washing and mending was done before dawn or after dark while the men slept peacefully. At noon they prepared dinner, ate a bite hastily and hurried back to drudge until the sun went down. Then they got supper, put the youngsters to bed, patched, darned and did a multitude of chores. For them, toiling to better the conditions of their loved ones, never striking for higher wages, sixteen hours of constant labor was a short day. No respite, no vacation, nothing but hard work.
The Sabbath was the one breathing-spell in the week. Autumn and winter only varied the style of work. The women carded wool with hand-cards and spun it on small wheels, for stocking-yarn and the weaver’s loom. Knitting was an endless task by the light of the hearth fire or the feeble flicker of a tallow-dip; and everybody wore homespun.
Threshing wheat and oats wth the flail employed the men until good sleighing came. Then the whole neighborhood would go in company to Bytown—now Ottawa— to market their produce. Starting at midnight the line of ox-sleds would reach Richmond about daylight, stop an hour to vest and feed, travel all day and be at Bytown by dark. Next day they’would sell their grain, buy a few necessary articles, travel all night to Richmond and be home the third evening.
At one time fifteen wolves walked past the Buchanan yard, heading for the sheep pen. R attling tin pans and blowing a horn frightened them off. On another occasion two of the girls, going to see a sick woman, were assailed by a fierce wolf on the way back. “He followed us some distance,” says the chronicler, “grew bolder, ran up and took a bite out of my dress, almost pulling me down. My loud exclamation,
‘Begone, you brute,’ and clapping our hands put the impudent fellow to flight. We skipped home in short metre, regardless of sticks, stones and mud holes.
Unhappily, the relations between the old Minister and some of his congregation became, in time, less cordial. Most of the members before coming to Canada had been in communion with the established Church of Scotland—the Auld Kirk. Dr. Buchanan was an adherent of the Secession Church, and strongly opposed to anything like union of Church and State. Besides, after ten years in this rough, new charge, old age was making him less, able to meet all the claims of his scattered congregation.
There was urgent need of a new church building. That enterprise brought to a head all the dissensions and discontent which had been brewing. At first logs were taken out to erect a better church. They lay unused. Finally in 1832 it was determined to put up a stone building. When the walls were nearing completion a meeting of the congregation was called and Dr. Buchanan was requested to join the Auld Kirk (the Established Church) if he expected to preach in the new edifice.
One of his daughters has left her account of what followed, and, whether strictly accurate or not, it is vivid and touching. She writes: “Always a seceder, opposed to the union of church and state, my father positively declined to give up his honest convictions. He asked if they found any fault with his preaching or conduct; all answered, “No, none whatever.” Father then reminded them of his long and arduous services. He said: “I have preached in the open air, in wretched cabins, and in cold school rooms. I have taught day school for years without receiving one penny for my labor. I have spent stormy nights and weary days visiting the pick and dying, walking through swamps and paths that no horse could travel, without any charge for my medical services. Now you wish me, when you propose to have a comfortable house of worship, to sell my principles. That I shall never do. The God that has brought me thus far is able to keep me to the end, and my trust, is in Him.”
These words moved not a few to tears. Others, determined to have their way, continued the discussion. ‘If you join the Kirk,” one man shouted, “you will get into the new building; if you don’t you will eat thin kale.” Father replied to this coarse assault in the language of the Psalmist—“I have been young and now I am old, yet give I never seen the righteous forsaken, nor his seed, begging bread.” Several of the leaders said: “We were born in the Kirk and we will die in the Kirk.” Some protested against the proceedings. But the opponents of the old minister prevailed, and by the time the stone church was completed, the new minister Rev. John Smith, arrived to occupy its pulpit.
At his own home Dr. Buchanan continued to hold services for the few who were loyal to him; but his bodily strength was, failing, and even th a t small rem nant dwindled away. Two or three years passed, and death claimed him in the 74th year of his age and the 45th of his ministry. He was buried in the old Craig Street cemetery at Perth. Rev. Mr. Bell gave up his own plot there so that the remains of the old clergyman might rest near those of his eldest daughter, Mrs. John Ferguson.
At the new stone church, under the faithful service of Rev. Mr. Smith, there was peace and progress for some years. Then came that conflict which led to the “Disruption” in the Established Church in Scotland, the history of which is familiar. There was an unselfish and heroic side to the fight against the claims of ‘Heritors’ and other secular powers to force Ministers into the charge of Churches against the wishes of the congregation. Almost four hundred ministers walked out of the General Assembly of the Church, protesting against this interference in Church matters by secular powers. They knew that in so doing they were sacrificing their comfortable manses, their glebes and their assured stipends. In cold cash this meant a yearly loss equivalent to more th an $1,000,000 today.
From that sacrifice and secession arose the Free Church of Scotland. The conflict on the principle involved spread to Canada. They took their Church politics seriously, those Presbyterians of a century ago.