One of the many family sagas of emigration to Ramsay township was that of the McDonald family which, after investigating other locations, chose land in the tenth concession of Ramsay north of the falls of Almonte. Long-lived members of this family included the father, John McDonald of the Isle of Mull, who came in 1821 with his wife, three sons and several daughters, and lived in Ramsay till he reached his hundredth year in 1857. His son Neil at the age of 100 had the distinction of living in three centuries before his death in 1901 at his Ramsay homestead.
The Almonte Gazette 1896
We have pleasure this week in giving space to the following sketch on the life of one of Lanark County’s hardy pioneers, who had his share of the trials and incidents to life hereabout in the 1820s and thirties, in the person of Mr. Neil McDonald, father of Mr. Lauchlin McDonald, 10th line of Ramsay (with whom the venerable gentleman resides) and grandfather of Bev. John A. McDonald of Whitnesy, Mr. Neil McDonald of Carleton Place High School, Mr. R. L. McDonald, principal of Almonte public school, and Mr. W. McDonald, student at Queen’s.
Neil McDonald was born at Loch Buy, Isle of Mull, on the west coast of Scotland, in the year 1800. He well remembers Waterloo, where many of his clansmen fought and bled. His father, John McDonald, although in comfortable circumstances, was led to emigrate to Canada to find homes for his sons. Accordingly, in June 1821, he with his family of three sons and five daughters, set sail from Oban in the ship, “ Duchess of Richmond,” and after an uneventful Crossing of five weeks landed at Quebec on the 2nd of August.
From Quebec they went by steam to Montreal, thence to Lachine by stage. Taking small boats they sailed up the Ottawa to Point Fortune, but failing to secure land to suit them, returned up the St. Lawrence and took a Durham boat to Prescott, intending to go to Little York, now Toronto. Meeting friends they were induced to go to Perth. They were conveyed to Perth by wagon, making that distance in three days.
Perth was then a small village having three taverns, two distilleries and three stores, with blacksmith, shoemaker and tailor shops. Applying to the late Col. Matheson for land, they were sent to Prospect in Lanark, Dalhousie and Sherbrooke Townships, but failing to find a suitable location, rented a farm in Drummond, twelve miles from Perth, from Duncan McNaughton, doing statute labour and paying taxes as rent. It was now fall, and after laying in a supply of provisions, they set to work to clear land.
After a hard winter’s work they got about 12 acres roughly cleared and set to work to plant it, using hoes. They were rewarded with a fine crop of corn, potatoes, and a little wheat and oats. This was all cut with sickles. In the summer of 1822, Neil and Lauchlin went to Ramsay and took up 400 acres of land for father and sons, being lots 22, 24 and 25, now owned by Lauchlin McDonald, John Arthur, Sr., and James Barker, Jr., on the 10th concession, and lot 19 on the 11th concession now owned by Michael Ryan.
The brothers cleared an acre of land on lot 22 and built a shanty near the 10th line. They planted potatoes on it, but the crop proved a failure, and they had but a few bushels. The following winter Neil, with his sister, Flora (afterwards Mrs. D. McNaughton, Drummond) worked on the new farm, and chopped ten acres. They carried hay on their backs a distance of two miles for their cow. In the fall of 1821, all but the parents and Laughlin were taken ill of fever, and Neil’s life was despaired of, but all recovered except Donald, who died about two years later from its effects.
The hard work and severe climate was fatal also to Lauchlin who died within a fortnight of Donald. The bodies of the two brothers were carried from Drummond, a distance of 22 miles, on the shoulders of friends and interred in the place which is now the family burial ground. The other members of the family moved down in May, bringing three cows and two pigs. The father and Neil put in about one acre -of potatoes and one of wheat, and had a good yield of both. They then logged the remainder of the clearing, burning a great many fine pines and oaks.
The next winter his sister, Belle, followed her brothers to -the grave. His sister Sarah, had been married in the preceding April to Mr. A. Cameron of Beekwith, father of Mr. R. Cameron of this town. Flora was married in the fall of 1824 to Mr. D, McNaughton of Drummond, leaving Neil alone with his father and mother. In June of that year they carried a barrel of flour from Morphy’s Falls (now Carleton Place), a distance of twelve miles. This was one of the heaviest tasks of his life.
In December of 1825, he, in company with “Big Neil McKillop” set out to purchase a yoke of oxen and some sheep. They spent fifteen days travelling, going as far as Cornwall and spending the nights sleeping by the firesides of hospitable settlers. In the same year about four hundred Irishmen from Ballygiblin arrived and camped in the neighbourhood. Many of them took up land, but the rest remained and -became the terror of the country. Finally the militia had to be called out to keep the peace, and one of the rebels was shot in an attempt to restore order.
When Neil first came to Ramsay, Almonte was called Shepherd’s Falls after a young Scotsman named Shepherd, who had erected the frame of a sawmill, but who at that time was in gaol (jail) for debt. This and a small shanty uninhabited, were the only buildings erected. Shepherd’s property was purchased by Mr. Boyce, a Yankee from Brockville, who divided the land between his son and his son in law, Daniel Shipman. His son started a carding mill, and D. Shipman completed the, sawmill and married a McLean, near Carleton Place, and after a happy married life of nineteen years she died, leaving a family of -two sons and five daughters Isabel (Mrs. Alex. Bayne of Carleton Place); Lauchlin, living on the homestead; Margaret (Mrs. James Cowan of Pakenham); Catherine (Mrs. Stephen Dickson of Calabogie); and John, Flora and Mary, deceased.
The old gentleman is stil quite hearty, although during the past ftew years he has become almost blind. His mental faculties are quite clear. He takes great pleasure in recounting the varied experiences of his long life. His grip is still hearty, and he has all the appearances of completing his century as his, father did, who lived to be one hundred years of age. We trust he may.