At one point in time there were over 3.5 billion passenger pigeons in North America and flocks of giant numbers would blacken the sky– but, did you know the early settlers and their ancestors managed to wipe out most of the birds by 1914? In clearing the forests over the course of the 19th century the loss of natural wilderness paired with increased hunting may have triggered the passenger pigeon’s rapid extinction.
Was this the case in Pigeon Hill, Quebec? George Titemore, from Colombia County, N.Y. was the first person to set up his residence there in 1788, just a little less than 3/4 of a mile south where the knoll-top community of Pigeon Hill now exists.
Local gossip speaks of a bank teller in Bedford that has said that Pigeon Hill got its name from a French man named Mr. Pigeon. Actually, it was when the early settlers arrived in the area, they supposedly found a ready food supply in the hoardes of passenger pigeons roosting upon the hill. But, according to the history books, it really wasn’t a Hitchcock moment. The original settlers basically only found pasturage and hay for their animals, and in 1792 a famine for the families living in this section of St. Armand threatened their existence. They had no choice but to go into their wheat fields and shell out the unripe grain and boil it for food.
The Titemore family was so desperate that head of household George went to see a gentleman living just over the border in Berkshire, Vermont and purchased 100 pounds of flour for $9.00. George carried it on his back through the woods to his residence which was about 15 miles and also managed to bag a moose, not pigeons, that was grazing with his horses. He died in 1832 at the age of 76 and had 13 children, yet only two remained in the area.
George’s sister Sophia Titemore was the first white person buried in the Pigeon Hill Cemetery (Old Methodist Cemetery) on Rue Des Erable. Her brother John is also buried there, and his final resting place is marked by a small slate stone scribed JT Died July 31 1809 aged 87. There are four slate stones grouped in a square which would probably indicate family members, unfortunately, only JT’s is legible.
Another Pigeon Hill resident Henry Groat had no descendants when he died in 1811, but the stream east of Pigeon Hill where he resided was named Groat Creek after him. The local pigeons have roosted since 1845 on Guthrie Bridge built over Groat Creek, and this is the shortest public covered bridge among the twenty-one authentic covered bridges remaining in the Eastern Townships.
Adam and Eve Sager came to town in 1791 and once again the pigeons proved to be smarter than their human being counterparts after Mrs. Sager was found killed by lightning at the beginning of 1825. Even after that fateful accident, Pigeon Hill was still called Sagerville in honour of the Sagers, but due to the large amount of pigeons that frequented the area the name was soon changed to Pigeon Hill.
The first general store was opened by Pete Yeager about 1810, but he only traded for a couple of years until Adi Vincent and his son took over. Gath Holt was next with a new store by the Episcopal church, but rumour as the pigeon flies was that it was destroyed by gun powder 3 or 4 years later. Fortunately it happened on a Sunday, so few were out and about, and the cause of the explosion was unknown and never talked about.
One Thursday, in June of 1866, the Fenians left their camp in Franklin, Vermont for the sole purpose of stealing horses and plundering dwellings in Canada. One raid found the area around Pigeon Hill overrun with the ragged dirty and half armed Fenians, led by General Samuel Spear. I’m sure the local pigeons in the trees noticed that plundering and burning were more congenial to the Fenian’s tastes than fighting for military fame or taking over Pigeon Hill for their very own. They broke into old Noah Sager’s Hotel and stole and destroyed what they could. Even Edward Titemore’s home was destroyed in the 1866 Fenian Raid.
Not content with Thursday’s events they returned again on Friday, and 20 more scallywags joined Thursday’s original 40 and spent the day plundering some more. The poor locals were nothing but clay pigeons to these dastardly Fenians while they watched them march to the hotel of F.B. Carpenter and help themselves to a free dinner and then an additional 50 bucks in cash, which would be about $720 in today’s money.
For two days or three days the inhabitants of Pigeon Hill remained mostly unarmed and gossip was abound that there was a 1000 more wild Irishmen hovering nearby awaiting their chance to finish the place off. In the Detroit Free Press of June of 1866 it was reported that a fight was imminent with the British regulars prepared to fight the Fenians between the boundary lines at Pigeon Hill. Appearances indicated that the British would surround the Fenians, and it was also noted that numbers of discontented invaders were now returning to the States. On June 7, 1866 the Fenian raiders were finally expelled by members of the Canadian Militia after also causing massive chaos at nearby Frelighsburg and St. Armand.
They say that almost every last bird was wiped out in the community where the farmlands of Quebec look to the north and the hills of Vermont to the south. I could find very little mention of Pigeon Hill again except in the newspapers of January of 1896 and August of 1919. Pigeon Hill resident Thomas Hogan never found his Uncle Dandy Hogan after he placed a personal ad in the January St. Louis Dispatch of 1896. The man had been missing for a year and was last seen working at South Atlantic Mills in St. Louis, Mo. In August 1919, a well known open Pigeon Hill liquor joint was busted up at 2:30 am that morning. It was noted that it was the largest seizure made along the border in some time. There was no record of who the stool pigeon was after Deputy Collector L. D. Seward stopped an automobile containing 4 gallons on the Highgate Springs Road originating from Pigeon Hill.
William Shakespeare once said: “We know what we are, but know not what we may be”. Pigeon Hill may not have become one the great hubs of the Eastern Townships– but it will be remembered in the history books and forever debated why it was named Pigeon Hill.
Come and visit the Lanark County Genealogical Society Facebook page– what’s there? Cool old photos–and lots of things interesting to read.
Information where you can buy all Linda Seccaspina’s books-You can also read Linda in The Townships Sun andScreamin’ Mamas (USA)