Long Point: A Geography of the Soul
A personal anthology of Long Point quotations
This is a text I originally posted on my magazine site Numéro Cinq. It has more context here at Out & Back and might therefore find a better audience. Or not. I have, for example, published here some of the essays and stories I wrote based on Norfolk County and St. Williams stories, some derived from quotations included in this collection. I have linked to those posts at the bottom.
My mother’s forebears, McCalls and McInnises, settled in the cradle of Long Point Bay on the north shore of Lake Erie in the 1790s and early 1800s. I grew up about 20 miles away, still in Norfolk County, at the edge of the Great Norfolk Sand Plain about a 200 metres from a long low hill, the remnants of the Great Galt Moraine, a glacial deposit left at the end of the last Ice Age. (There is something about growing up around geological features called “Great” that tends to inspire delusions of grandeur.) I was raised on tales of the old days from my mother and grandmother, stories that infected me with the family collecting mania and a fanciful feel for the countryside which to me is steeped in drama, blood, superstition and comedy. Over the years I’ve been gathering a library of texts about Long Point and Norfolk County.
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I have used Norfolk County folklore and history in several pieces of fiction and nonfiction. “A Flame, a Burst of Light” is short story about prisoners of war returning from a disastrous prison camp in Ohio in 1814. It was originally published in The New Quarterly and is included in my book of stories Savage Love. “The Sun Lord and the Royal Child” is a short story about the scandalous behaviour of archaeologists, the Neutral, and the Southwold Earthworks. It was originally published in Ninth Letter and reprinted in Savage Love. “Swain Corliss, Hero of Malcolm’s Mills (now Oakland, Ontario, November 6, 1814″ is about the 1814 battle. You can find it in my book A Guide to Animal Behaviour. “Turned into a Horse by Witches” is about Dr. Troyer, the famous Long Point witch doctor, and is also in A Guide to Animal Behaviour. And, of course, some of the scenes in my novel The Life and Times of Captain N. take place on the Lake Erie shoreline. The character Hendrick Nellis is based on the real Hendrick Nelles. The character Mary Hunsacker is based on Mary Sitts who is buried in the pioneer cemetery in Boston (Norfolk County).
Here is a brief version, something to give you a taste of the mystery and beauty of the place. The order is roughly chronological, but for emphasis and poetry I have slipped elements in where they don’t belong. The texts by various McCalls and McInnises are family documents.
A Geography of the Soul
Just off Grubb Reef the wheelsman turns the ship fourteen degrees more to the southeast to clear the Southeast Shoal Light which stands on the reef formed by Point Pelee as it slopes down into the lake. Once safely round this point, the ship sails out into the open lake, and heads northeast (the course is ENE 1/8 E) straight across the middle of the lake for Long Point, 133 miles away. Lake Erie, Harlan Hatcher.
Viewed from a distance the Point appears as an attenuated tree-clad fringe on the horizon. The great outer portion is almost uninhabited, for as yet no road penetrates its wild seclusion. George Laidler, “Long Point, Lake Erie: Some Physical and Historical Aspects.”
On de Gallinée’s map of 1670 this spit is grossly indicated and named “Peninsula of Lake Erie” (Coyne, 1902). On a map dated 1763 (Charlevoix, 1766) it is indicated as “Long Pt.” Later it was known as “North Foreland” (Smyth, 1799). The peninsula is now generally known as Long Point. L. L. Snyder, “A Faunal Investigation of Long Point and Vicinity, Norfolk County, Ontario”, Contribution No. 4, Royal Ontario Museum of Zoology, Transactions of the Royal Canadian Institute, 1932.
The interpreter Etienne Brulé is believed to be the first White to have contacted the Neutral. This probably occured in 1615-16 when he accompanied a party of Huron journeying to seek military aid from the Andastes in Pennsylvania against the Onondaga. The Hood Site: A Historic Neutral Town of 1640 A.D. National Museum of Man Mercury Series Paper No. 121.
From Haldimand county westward the shore of Lake Erie takes them form of three big scallops with as many big sand spits at the apexes. The centre of the scallops are marked by high bluffs which are constantly shifting inland. Conversely the spits are gradually extending farther out into the lake using the sand made available by the erosion of the shore.
It is not surprising to find the longest of these spits built off the shore in Norfolk county opposite the great Norfolk sand plain; Long Point, as it is called, is built from the west at the eastern apex of the biggest scallop. A smaller spit built from the east is growing out to meet it, threatening to confine a section of the lake that even now is called Inner Bay. The conformation of Long Point is clearly apparent from a map. It is fabricated loosely from a succession of sand bars which run at an angle to the long axis of the spit. Marsh or open water appears between the bars. The Physiography of Southern Ontario, L. J. Chapman and D. F. Putnam.
The presence of pre-ceramic sites in Ontario has been established. On typological grounds, as well as characteristics of sites, there appear to be at least two branches or, possibly, time levels involved. In the Lake Erie periphery are small sites, usually located on high clay knolls and at elevations of 775 feet or higher. On such sites the emphasis is upon scrapers, with very few projectile points. A Preliminary Report on an Archaeological Survey of Southwestern Ontario for 1950, Thomas E. Lee.
The first aborigines to occupy southwestern Ontario were probably Mound-Building Indians who had reached their peak chiefly in Ohio and had trickled from there into the peninsula about the time of Christ. They were a people of high culture. Though no mounds attributed to them have so far been found in Norfolk County, nevertheless many of their artifacts have been found there. These people disappeared just as mysteriously as they had originated. “The Indian History of St. Williams” (unpublished typescript), Clayton McCall, 1960.
When they reached Lake Erie, they saw it tossing like an angry ocean. They had no mind to tempt the dangerous and unknown navigation, and encamped for the winter in the forest near the peninsula called the Long Point. Here they gathered a good store of chestnuts, hickory-nuts, plums, and grapes, and built themselves a log cabin, with a recess at the end for an altar. They passed the winter unmolested, shooting game in abundance, and saying mass three times a week. Early in spring, they planted a large cross, attached to it the arms of France, and took formal possession of the country in the name of Louis XIV. This done, they resumed their voyage, and, after many troubles, landed one evening in a state of exhaustion on or near Point Pelee, towards the western extremity of Lake Erie. La Salle and the Discovery of the Great West, Francis Parkman.
We slept that night on the bank of this river, about two leagues from its mouth, and it was at this place [Walsingham Swamp] that (we heard toward the east voices that seemed to us to be the voices of men calling to each other. We ran to the river bank to see if it was not our men looking for us, and at the same time) we heard the same voices on the south side. We turned our heads in that direction, but at last were undeceived, hearing them at the same time toward the west, which gave us to understand that it was the phenomenon commonly called the hunting of Arthur. [Next day they cross Big Creek and drop down to Long Point.] Narrative of de Bréhant de Gallinée, Easter, 1670.
N.B. This is fascinating. In 1670, they observe in the skies above Norfolk, evidence of the legendary Arthur’s Hunt, a mainstay of European myth since the Dark Ages. -dg
Probably the best known site long considered to be Neutral was called the “Southwold Earthwork,” located about seven miles north of Port Stanley…Its leading physical characteristic was its “walled” construction, and when an ossuary was found there, it seemed further to fit into the Neutral pattern. The Neutral Indians, A Source Book, Gordon K. Wright.
The location of the Indian villages near the north shore of Lake Erie, and the absence of any indication of the Thames River, coupled with its fairley accurate knowledge of the Lake Erie tributaries, would seem to point to a highway of Indian travel, nearly coinciding with the present Talbot Road, — which latter, as we are told by early settlers, followed an Indian trail. (Cf. Mitchell’s map of 1756 or 1757, and Galinée’s Journal.) N. D. des Anges, Alexis, St. Joseph, and St. Michel would be all on or near this main trail, except the first, which would be on the trail from Brantford to Port Dover. According to Sanson’s map, Alexis coincides with the Southwold Earthwork; it is the only village on the map answering the description of Tsohahissen’s village. “The Country of the Neutrals from Champlain to Talbot,” James H. Coyne
We coasted along the North Coast of the Lake of Erie, being favour’d by the Calms. Upon the brink of this Lake we frequently saw flocks of fifty or sixty Turkeys, which run incredibly fast upon the Sands: and the Savages of our Company kill’d great numbers of ’em, which they gave to us in exchange for the Fish that we catch’d. The 25th [August, 1687] we arrived at a long point of Land which shoots out 14 or 15 leagues into the Lake; and the heat being excessive, we chose to transport our Boats and Baggage two hundred paces over-land, rather than coast for about thirty-five Leagues. Baron Lahontan, 1687.
Drive along the backroads of the Carolinian zone, hemmed in by Lakes Huron and Ontario along its ends, and Lake Erie to the south, and at first the woods may not strike you as all that different from those further north. Sugar maple and beech are common, and other familiar species such as basswood, ash, and oak occur in abundance as well. But look a little closer, and you begin to see other trees — sassafras, tulip tree, pawpaw, red mulberry, sour gum, wild crab. Some species, with names like cucumber tree and Kentucky coffee tree, seem very much out of place in the Canadian arboreal roster, for their main distribution ranges far to the south, even reaching to the Gulf of Mexico.
Look at the shrub layer and you see even more southern specialties — stoneroot, running strawberry bush, wild yam vine, bittersweet, and bladdernut. And as Paul Catling of Agriculture Canada points out, the southern flavour adds spice to other plant groups as well, even sedges and grasses, and aquatic plants such as yellow lotus…
This distinctive vegetation also affects the wildlife of the Carolinian zone. Several birds reach the northern limit of their breeding range here, including Acadian flycatcher, Carolina wren, blue-grey gnatcatcher, red-bellied woodpecker, and yellow-breasted chat. Bill Judd of London, a naturalist who has explored the woods of that area for decades, reports that over 50 species of insects and spiders are restricted in Canada to the Carolinian zone. Even fish are affected by the climatic factors that control the vegetation — southern species such as green sunfish and lake chubsucker reach their Ontario limits in this region.
From the cattail marshes and sandy spits of the Lake Erie shoreline through the hardwood swamps and arid dunes of the townships further inland, Carolinian Canada presents a diversity of habitats, all sharing a southern affinity. But it is from the trees that the name Carolinian is derived. Originally the term was applied to the forests of the coastal zone along the Carolinas; then, in his 1898 classification of U.S. life zones, C. H. Merriam extended the zone into southern Ontario. The term is now seldom applied to the broad belt of eastern deciduous forest that stretches between the Appalachians and the Mississippi valley; it is only in Ontario that its common use has continued. Ron Reid, “Exploring Canada’s Deep South,” Seasons, Summer, 1985.
The Louisiana of today is but a single State of the American republic. The Louisiana of La Salle stretched from the Alleghenies to the Rocky Mountains: from the Rio Grande and the Gulf to the farthest springs of the Missouri. The boundaries are laid down in the great map of Franquelin, made in 1684, and preserved in the Depot des Cartes of the Marine. The line runs along the south shore of Lake Erie… Parkman.
The true Iroquois, or Five Nations, extended through Central New York, from the Hudson to the Genesee. Southward lay the Andastes, on and near the Susquehanna; westward, the Eries, along the southern shore of Lake Erie, and the Neutral Nationa, along its northern shore from Niagara towards Detroit; while the towns of the Hurons lay near the lake to which they have left their name. The Jesuits in North American, Francis Parkman.
The Attiwandaron occupied that part of southwestern Ontario which lies south of an imaginary line drawn from Goderich on Lake Huron to Oakville on Lake Ontario. In addition they had four frontier villages east of the Niagara River and claimed a small area west of Lake St. Clair. A recapitulation of various early estimates of the Attiwandaron population shows that 35,000 is the most likely figure.
In 1640, when the first overall attempt to evangelize the Attiwandaron was made by the sending of Fathers Brebeuf and Chaumont from Huronia, a journey of six days was required to reach the nearest village. The two priests put the total of Attiwandaron villages at 40…
In Ragueneau’s Relation of 1644 it is recorded that in the previous year the Attiwandaron threw 2,000 of their warriors into the lands of the Mascoutin beyond the Detroit River. They captured a large town and raided the country. 800 captives were dragged home. Yet in the winter of 1650-51 — following the destruction of the Petuns and Hurons in 1648-49 — the Five Nations of the Iroquois were able to completely annihilate the Attiwandaron by throwing 1,400 picked warriors against them. Clayton McCall.
The Attiwandaron (“people with speech a little different” as they were termed by their kin the Hurons) formed the van of the Iroquois migration that first entered Canada, via the Detroit River circa 1200 A.D. (an apparently accurate estimate of the period by Parker the historian). They were the mother nation of the Iroquois, and were so well satisfied with the peninsula that they chose it as their permanent home. The Petuns and Hurons to the northward (from and including the Bruce Peninsula to Lake Simcoe), the Five Nations of the Iroquois in what is now New York State and the Iroquois tribes temporarily living along the St. Lawrence in Cartier’s time were all offshoots. As the professional archaeologists in Canada still have the obsession that all the aborigines of this country are the descendants of primitive Siberian tribes who crossed over to North America via Bering Strait, they have made practically no effort to find a different origin for the Iroquois. But the Smithsonian Institution (of Washington, D.C.) has shown that the earliest known Iroquoian sites are in Arkansas, and that slightly later ones are in Missouri, Indiana and Ohio. This would indicate a northern thrust for corn-growing areas — corn having been considered of the utmost importance by the Iroquois (in its parched state having been the ‘iron rations’ that enabled the Five Nations of the Iroquois alone to conquer more territory than did the ancient Romans). My study of the ‘horned-serpent’ legends of the Iroquois has positively convinced me that the Iroquois came northward from Mexico. Furthermore it is my opinion that they could be the lost Toltec who are known to have disappeared from Mexico in 1064 A.D. McCall.
In 1625 Brulé returned to Neutral territory and lived there until the following year, visiting the towns west of the Niagara River, but probably not those east of the river. The Neutral Indians, A Source Book, Gordon K. Wright.
Journeying southward five days from the Tionnontate towns, the forest traveller reached the border villages of the Attiwandarons, or Neutral Nation. As early as 1626, they were visited by the Franciscan friar, La Roche Daillon, who reports as numerous population in twenty-eight towns, besides small hamlets. Their country, about forty leagues in extent, embraced wide and fertile districts on the north shore of Lake Erie… Parkman.
Attiwandarons, Attiwendaronk, Atirhagenrenrets, Rhagenratka (Jesuit Relations), Attionidarons (Sagard). Parkman.
Still a different concept of the early days of the Neutrals is to be found in the traditional story of them. According to tradition, they were the parent member of the Huron-Iroquois stock, since it was a Neutral maternal family which transmitted the title of “Mother of Nations” — “Djigohsahse,” who was said to be the lineal descendant of the first woman on earth.
Although the Jesuits recorded that the Erie Nation was known as the Nation of the Cat, it is interesting to note that Morgan learned from the Iroquois of his day that the Neutral Nation had long been known to them as the Cat Nation. Morgan wrote: “It is a singular fact that the Neuter Nation, who dwelt on the banks of the Niagara River, and who were expelled by the Iroquois about the year 1643, was known among them as the Je-go-sa-sa, or Cat Nation. The word signifies ‘a wild cat’: and, from being the name of a woman of great influence among them, it came to be the name of the nation.”
At two days’ journey from them [the Cheveux Releves or High Hairs or Ottawas] in a southerly direction, there is also another tribe of savages, who produce a great quantity of tobacco. These are called the Neutral nation; they number four thousand warriors and inhabit a district westward of the lake of the Onondagas from eighty to a hundred leagues in extent. These however assist the Cheveux-releves against the Fire People, but as between the Iroquois and our tribe they are at peace and remain neutral. Samuel Champlain, Works.
The bedrock that underlies this part of Ontario is some of the youngest in the province, dating from only 500 million to 350 million years ago. The older shales and limestones surface along the Niagara Escarpment, but the bedrock is exposed in only a few other places, notably on Pelee Island and at the Oriskany sandstone site west of Cayuga. Beneath the glacial debris that covers most of the zone are bands of sedimentary rocks, rich in nutrients that give rise to fertile soils.
The tracks of recent glaciation were left be a series of advances into the Ohio valley over the last million years. As the final set of glaciers withdrew from southern Ontario about 12,000 to 14,000 years ago, it did not move smoothly. Instead, it split along the central highlands of southwestern Ontario and withdrew in two main lobes — one in Lake Huron, the other in Lake Erie. The Erie lobe actually retreated in a southeasterly direction, melting back from the highlands into the Lake Erie basin. Where the glacier hesitated, it left a series of parallel moraines along its front. These moraines now form low hills in the central section of the Carolinian zone, as well as in a few other isolated spots.
As the glacier melted, it released enormous quantities of water, which pooled in a series of glacial lakes. The westerly counties of Essex, Kent, and Lambton were covered for a time by Lake Whittlesey, which smoothed the ridges of the till and deposited clay in the hollows. Later, glacial Lake Warren covered almost all the Carolinian zone, forming the clay plains of Wentworth as the fine suspended sediments settled out of its murky waters. Where the rushing waters entered these lakes, sand deltas were built up, which created the sand plains now found in Norfolk and eastern Kent counties.
As the glaciers ploughed their ponderous way to and fro over Canada, the vegetation patterns followed, retreating southwards before the ice, surging north again in periods of warmth. Fossils of 100,000 year old trees and other vegetation found in the sand beds atop the Don Valley brickyard in central Toronto show that Carolinian species existed in Ontario in the final mild period between glaciers. But at the time of the last glacier, most of these species had retreated to warmer climes of Alabama. Nor did they return immediately, for the first colonizers of the newly created landforms were the grasses and sedges of a tundra community, soon followed by a forest dominated by spruce. In this habitat, mastodons and woolly mammoths roamed. Fossils of these giant elephant-like beasts have been found in close to 80 locations in Ontario, all in the Carolinian zone or just to the north. Reid.
Scholars have not previously recognized or fully appreciated the magnitude and complexity of historic Neutral Iroquois society. Indeed, in comparison to the extensive research paid to the Hurons and to the League Iroquois, the Neutrals, who were once the largest early 17th century Iroquoian grouping, variously have been downplayed, misinterpreted, or even ignored altogether. “Tsouharissen’s Chiefdom: An Early Historic 17th Century Neutral Iroquoian Ranked Society,” W. C. Noble, Canadian Journal of Archaeology, Vol. 9 (No.2) 1985.
Yet this people were abundantly ferocious, and, while holding a pacific attitude betwixt their warring kindred, waged deadly strife with the Mascoutins, an Algonquin horde beyond Lake Michigan. Indeed, it was but recently that they had been at blows with seventeen Algonquin tribes. They burned female prisoners, a practice unknown to the Hurons. Their country was full of game, and they were bold and active hunters. In form and stature they surpassed even the Hurons, whom they resembled in their mode of life, and from whose language their own, though radically similar, was dialectically distinct. Their licentiousness was even more open and shameless; and they stood alone in the extravagance of some of their usages. They kept their dead in their houses till they became insupportable; then scraped the flesh from the bones, and displayed them in rows along the walls, there to remain till the periodical Feast of the Dead, or general burial. In summer, the men wore no clothing whatsoever, but were generally tattooed from head to foot with powdered charcoal…
Southward and eastward of Lake Erie dwelt a kindred peoople, the Eries, or “Nation of the Cat.” Little besides their existence is known of them. They seem to have occupied southwestern New York, as far east as the Genessee, the frontier of the Senecas, and in habits and language to have resembled the Hurons. They were noted warriors, fought with poisoned arrows, and were long a terror to the neighboring Iroquois. Parkman.
This tradition, apparently, can be traced back to about 1625 A.D., the year Etienne Brulé visited there. Brulé, so near as we know, was the first European to visit the area and to be entertained by the Neutral Indians who lived there at the time. Although the details of Brulé’s visit were never recorded, relationships must have been reasonably cordial, for shortly after his visit, one of the local damsels bore him a daughter. By the time she reached her early 20s the girl had attained some prominence in the community. She had become what a less strident age would have called a medicine man; and at her early death, when she was buried in the village cemetery…, the tools of her profession were buried with her. Three of the sucking tubes which she used in the curing ceremonies were carefully placed in the grave, just above her left shoulder…
For example, Grave No. 9 contained the bodies of 57 individuals — 26 adults and 31 sub-adults. One of the adult females, incidentally, was the medicine woman mentioned above, whom we suspect might be the daughter of Etienne Brulé. All that we really know, of course, is that that timing is right, and that she is half-European. For the gross morphology of her skull — that is, its general appearance — is distinctly European, while her dentition, with equal assurance, is Indian. Grave furniture for No. 9 consisted of seven sucking tubes, four turtle shell rattles, four clay vessels, one antler comb, two lumps of red ochre, some animal bones which probably had some ritual significance, 20 copper beads, 274 shell beads and 421 glass beads. “Some Bones of Contention”, W. A. Kenyon.
The immediate post 1638-40 smallpox period saw the Neutral Iroquois population depleted by half, and perhaps as much as two-thirds. Noble.
The term Neutralia, which was coined in St. John’s, Newfoundland,in 1972, replaces the name Attiwandaronia coined by Harris in 1895… Noble.
The Indians, it is well known, ascribe mysterious and supernatural powers to the insane, and respect them accordingly. The Neutral Nation was full of pretended madmen, who raved about the villages, throwing firebrands, and making other displays of frenzy. Parkman.
Demons in troops appeared before him [Brebeuf], sometimes in the guise of men, sometimes as bears, wolves, or wild-cats. He called on God, and the apparitions vanished. Death, like a skeleton, sometimes menaced him, and once, as he faced it with an unquailing eye, it fell powerless at his feet. A demon, in the form of a woman, assailed him with the temptation which beset St. Benedict among the rocks of Subiaco; but Brebeuf signed the cross, and the infernal siren melted into air. He saw the vision of a vast and gorgeous palace; and a miraculous voice assured him that such was to be the reward of those who dwelt in savage hovels for the cause of God. Angels appeared to him; and more than once St. Joseph and the Virgin were visibly present before his sight. Once, when he was among the Neutral Nation, in the winter of 1640, he beheld the ominous apparition of a great cross slowly approaching from the quarter where lay the country of the Iroquois. He told the vision to his comrades.
“What was it like? How large was it?” they eagerly demanded. “Large enough,” replied the priest, “to crucify us all.” Parkman.
“Last summer,” writes Lalement in 1643, “two thousand warrior of the Neutral Nation attacked a town of the Nation of Fire, well fortified with a palisade, and defended by nine hundred warriors. They took it after a siege of ten days; killed many on the spot; and made eight hundred prisoners, men, women, and children. After burning seventy of the best warriors, they put out the eyes of the old men, and cut away their lips, and then left them to drag out a miserable existence. Behold the scourge that is depopulating all this country!” Parkman.
Their turn was now come, and their victims found fit avengers; for no sooner were the Hurons broken and dispersed, then the Iroquois, without waiting to take breath, turned their fury on the Neutrals. At the end of the autumn of 1650, they assaulted and took one of their chief towns, said to have contained at the time more than sixteen hundred men, besides women and children; and early in the following spring they took another town. The slaughter was prodigious, and the victors drove back troops of captives for butchery or adoption. It was the death-blow of the Neutrals. They abandoned their cornfields and villages in the wildest terror, and dispersed themselves abroad in forests which could not yield sustenance to such a multitude. They perished by the thousands, and from that time forward the nation ceased to exist. Parkman.
…In his letter to a friend in Angers, written on July 18, 1627 from the Huron Bear tribe village of Toanchain and after his three-month stay in Neutralia, Recollet monk Joseph de la Roche recorded: “This man [Tsouharissen] is the chief of the greatest credit and authority that has ever been in all these nations…It is unexampled in the other nations to have a chief so absolute. He acquired this honour and power by his courage, and by having been many times at war against seventeen nations who are their enemies…” Noble.
At this juncture, certain sections of the traditional oral account can be introduced. It has been remembered that Tsouharissen was an only child of the respected and renowned woman Tahinya, who died shortly after his birth. Although of noble lineage and the highest ranking turtle clan, he was reared as a commoner. Early in his childhood Tsouharissen exhibited special talents, including an edetic memory, adult knowledge, a quick inquiring mind, and intuitive abilities. It is remembered that when he was asked as a child what his spirit wanted, he replied, “I want to know how the Sun comes to me in the morning — I wish to have a piece of the Sun to carry with me always.” This astonishing request was finally fulfilled when Tsouharissen was introduced to the elderly, renowned Cherokee priest-chief Tsouhahachonka who came north to see this boy wonder and arrange for his religious training. Eventually, the child-man guided the elderly priest as instructive companion on a journey northward (probably Lake Superior), where: “on the eastern face of a mountain top, at the first rays of the rising sun, he cracked open the rock face and a piece of pure crystal glass fell to the ground. The child picked it up, and it is said that when he held it up to the Sun, sparks flew from his hand. The priest bowed to this child-man — this one with the memory — this leader of the people. The priest bowed to the holiness of the reincarnate of the Sun Creator.” (Anonymous 1983-84)
After his years of religious training, Tsouharissen became an all-powerful warrior-priest-chief of his people. The oral account clearly indicates that the Neutrals did not dissociate the concepts of priest and chief in him, and the honorific title of Tsouh signifies his high priestly status. His name, arissen, means “the Sun’s Child.” Noble.
The oral tradition relates that Tsouharissen had multiple, concurrent wives: his first three were politically ascribed marriages, while the fourth was a genuine matter of love (Anonymous 1983-84). The first wife, a local Neutral lady of the highest ranked turtle lineage, bore him one male child and two females, but none showed exceptional abilities. The second wife was a Cherokee woman renowned for her “fleetness of foot,” and she bore him two female children. The third wife, an Algonkian from northern Ontario, was blessed with a remarkably retentive memory and intuitive abilities; she had two daughters. Tsouharissen’s fourth wife was a beautiful young Tuscarora lady whom he brought to Neutralia in late spring, 1641, after the Jesuit departure. This wife gave birth to a daughter, born in the same winter month (January) as Tsouharissen; she became his favourite child, and when she exhibited intellectual, intuitive, and religious abilities, Tsouharissen chose this youngest daughter to succeed him as paramount Neutral chief, just as his own female cousin had been chief of the Cherokee (Anonymous 1983-84).
It is recounted that Tsouharissen’s first wife became so jealous of the fourth wife and the intended succession that she murdered the youngest daughter. In total grief and embarrassment, the fourth wife went into the woods and committed suicided. Enraged and grief-stricken at this atrocious act, witnessed by some men returning from a hunt for new born deer, Tsouharissen assembled and put to death the first wife, all her family, her brothers and sisters, their husbands and wives and their brothers and sisters and all their children. The entire royal lineage was eliminated…
Cyclical instability associated with succession has been noted to be a chronic problem in many chiefdoms, and the historic Neutral Iroquois case serves to underline the fragility and importance such matters have for successful perpetuation of a chiefdom. In this case, Tsouharissen’s tragic domestic affairs fragmented and destroyed what might otherwise have become an ongoing powerful native social order. As it was, the Neutral chiefdom finally collapsed in 1653 at the hands of the League Iroquois, some seven years after Tsouharissen’s probable death in 1646. Noble.
After the expulsion of the Neutrals, what had been their country remained an unpeopled wilderness, being described on the French maps as “the Iroquois beaver ground.” Owen.
While it is true that the Great Lakes are tideless they may be regarded as inland seas because of the immense areas they present to stormy winds. Over long periods they are subject to fluctuations in level of several feet, chiefly owing to variation in the annual rainfall. This variation, the contour of the coastline, the strong winds and the currents that they produce account for extensive erosion at some places and the emergence of land at others. Currents sufficiently strong will carry sand and gravel in suspension and deposit it when retarded by shallow waters or a projection of the land. The gradual accumulation of sand borne by wind and water will give rise to shoals and beaches further along.
In course of time shore processes reduce the smaller irregularities and tend to straighten old shorelines by building spits out from the land and bars across bays, thus gradually closing them with a nearly continuous barrier beach of loose waste. A relatively abrupt change in shoreline direction turns a longshore current out into the lake and forms a flying spit. At first the bar is narrow and ridge-like, then it lengthens and broadens. As the apex advances into deeper water its progress is slower, so giving time and opportunity for storms to modify its extremity. In general the apex tends to turn inwards because of currents from the deeper water offshore. The broadening and hooking encloses a number of lagoons between the inner bars that are built up at successive intervals. These dry up and in time become covered with drifting and deposited waste.
When streams from adjacent uplands flow into the waters on the inner side of a spit its growth on that side is materially aided. Silt and debris discharged into a lake or bay will distribute most of its coarse deposit along the shore. Nearly all the fine will be carried out and settle in deeper water. Waste deposited below the wave base will gradually accumulate in front of the mouth of the stream and build up a shallower level. This forms a suitable bed for the growth of marsh grass, bullrushes and other freshwater plants, usually taking the form of a delta. Their thickening roots become a matted and tangled mass that holds sand and mud carried by the water, whose reduced circulation is sufficient for a time to encourage the growth and extension of the grasses. The intervening water courses gradually become narrower and more sluggish as they are encroached upon by the grasses and the sediment deposited by the waves and high water. Later they disappear, leaving ponds here and there, and when the water level recedes they become dry land.
Sand blown forward from a beach will gather into drifts like waves and ridges a short distance from the water’s edge. These dunes sometimes present a cliff-like face. Strong inshore winds create an updraft in front while the air above the crest blows almost horizontally. Near the edge, where the drafts meet, vortical whirls rotating inwards are produced and cause the conveyed sand to accumulate close behind. Sand dune slowly overwhelm the marshes and woodlands on the lee side or earlier-built portions of bar or spit. George Laidler, “Long Point, Lake Erie: Some Physical and Historical Aspects”.
This version is taken from a book also unnamed, written by a Detroit Wyandot, P. D. Clarke, who is said to have obtained most of his information from an old woman of the Big Turtle clan of Wyandots at Amherstburg.
It commences, “About the latter part of the first decade of the eighteenth century, a war party of Wyandots started down Detroit River in twenty canoes, accompanied by two canoes manned by Chippewas, for Long Point, where they expected to find some Senecas.”
At Long Point they discovered “footprints in the sand, which, they supposed, might have been made by a party of Senecas.” Soon “the whole party of Senecas made their appearance round the point, and the greater portion of them pushed directly into the lake.” Immediately the Wyandots eft their moorings and manoeuvred for position. When the Senecas realized they could not surround their foes and drive them ashore, “both parties prepared for the impending attack.”
Then followed a sharp exchange of threats, given in full, between the opposing chiefs. After this “the Wyandot chief donned his conical-shaped panther-skin cap, and addressed a few words to his followers reminding them of their wrongs and how some of their nation were destroyed in the east and the north by the Senecas and their allies; meanwhile, dropping little by little, bits of tobacco and some substance from his medicine bag into the deep beneath him, invoking the god of battles to be with them during the approaching struggle.” Before his rite was ended, “came a shower of arrows, as thick as hail, from the enemy, accompanied by some rifle bullets that whistled over their heads.” The fire was returned “with barbed arrows and firearms,” thus ending the first phase.
As Clarke’s language is so picturesque, the story is best ended in his own words, as follows: “But one regular volley was exchanged, for they were soon at close quarters with their tomahawks. Shouts after shouts mingled with the savage yells of both parties rent the air, and rendered the deadly conflict doubly horrible. The surface of the blue lake was tinged with the blood of the combatants. The battle lasted but a short time. The Senecas were killed to a man. Not a Wyandot was slain.” C. M. McCall, “An Early Indian Naval Battle Off Long Point,” The Simcoe Reformer
At the extreme southeasterly limit of lot number thirteen, in the Township of Charlotteville, the high bank of Lake Erie makes a bend almost east and west for a few hundred yards and then follows a course a few degrees south of west. This bend forms a bold bluff of about one hundred and fifty feet in height. Its base is traversed by a small stream of pure water, fed from springs from the side of the high bank, near the angle farthest from the lake shore.
The base of the bluff is the apex of a triangular piece of land, composed of marsh, swamp and a narrow strip of upland, bounded on the east and south by water and on the west and north by the high bank.
From the base of the bluff to the extreme [southerly] point of this [ ] tract of land is about three miles, and from this point to its northwest angle is about two miles, and from there along the base of the high bank to the bluff is about three and a half miles.
This strip of land is known as Turkey Point. The marsh on the west is called the Back Marsh and the marsh on the east and south is called the Front Marsh.
It received its named from the early settlers on account of the great number of wild turkeys that used to roost in the hemlock and alder trees along the bank of the ridge and in the swamp adjacent thereto. Here the wild turkey had every environment suitable to its wants, abundance of shelter and protection from iots natural foes, and abundance of food from the seeds of the black oak, beech and maple trees near by. During the summer season, they fed on the seeds of the June grass and on the grasshoppers; in the autumn on crickets so numerous in the open glades of the plains to the north. The Indians were accustomed to burn off in the spring the dead grass and leaves over these plains, so that the grass would grow thicker and afford better grazing for the deer.
In the early days of the pioneers, the settler, with his wife and family, used to drive in their wagons along the bay shore to the end of Turkey Point, and fish by driving their wagons out into the water a short distance. With a long cedar pole they could cast their lines into the channel, known among them as the Deep Hole, and in this way the extreme end of Turkey Point was called Deep Hole Point. The northwest angle of this parcel of land, at the coast line, in front of lot umber four, was called Goose Roost, because wild geese used to roost there. A line drawn from Deep Hole Point to the most northerly point of Ryerson’s Island, called Mohawk Point, is the division between the Outer and Inner Bays of Long Point.
In the geological formation and structure of Turkey Point, we find lake sand and shells of fresh water bi-valves and gastropods, proving clearly that it has been formed by lake sand, by the waves of the adjacent waters and by the winds. When an east wind prevails, the waters are driven up the lake, and the water level is lowered in the bay. The waves, washing and breaking on the shore, form sand bars a short distance from the shore and the first west or southwest wind that follows, returns the waters and carries the sand some distance towards, often upon it, adding several feet, in places, to the shore and which, in some instances in my own recollection, have formed a sand bar across a small inlet or outlet, and which sand bar afterwards became the shore proper, to usurp, gradually, in the same manner, more of the water’s domain. The space of shallow water so separated from the bay afterwards filled up, and is now marsh, gradually becoming dry land. “Turkey Point”, W. J. W. McInnes
Monday (August) 24th — Embarked at 5 o’clock with a strong wind at N.E. Sailed at a great rate. Sea very high, especially to Point Bass (Point a la Biche on French Maps, now Turkey Point), off which came a canoe of Mississengeys, nine in number, all naked. They only came to get something; then returned. At Point Bass, it makes a great bay, through which we sailed about ten miles to Grand Point, where we were obliged to row and sail through bulrushes and a great meadow, to the bank which divides the lake; makes the Great Point the passage or carrying place, which is now cut open a little by Major Gladwin; is not above forty yards across…
Tuesday 25th — …At nine, Mr. Bream came to our camp. He had been round the Grand point, which he says is twenty-two miles long from the carrying place; very low toward the end, which is swampy, and about two miles broad; lies mostly S.E., and is about a third of the lake in length. William Johnson’s Journal, 1761.
One of the first white settlers walking over this locality gathered more than a bushel of arrow points and wondered why they were so plentiful, and more than one hundred years after him, a farmer, while digging post holes for a fence, unearthed several of these flat and nearly square shaped stones, the Indians used to sink their nets.
A few mounds, longer than wide, and two or three excavations, circular in shape, and not very far distant apart, stones of various shapes and sizes, formed by some hidden secret we do not possess, of rock of various strata, altogether foreign to the locality, are all that remain to us, as evidence of the red man. “Turkey Point”, McInnes.
It was January, 1772, when trouble began with some Ojibwas, Mississagas and Ottawas. He [David Ramsay] was compelled to furnish them rum, his life was threatened, his goods plundered, and at last his hut was attacked by night. He killed and scalped three Ottawas, according to his own story, the other Indians having departed previous to the attack. One of those scalped was a woman. When the ice broke up, he and his brother, a boy of seventeen, put his furs and other goods, chiefly deerskins, into the batteau, and set out for Niagara by way of Lake Erie. At Long Point he was forced by the ice to go ashore and camp. Some days afterwards Indians came to the same place and at once began the quarrel with him, chiefly over rum, which he was compelled to furnish them. They threatened his life, and actually seized and pinioned him, tying his arms behind his back and his hands up to his neck, and making him sit by the fire. To make a long story short, Ramsay, in the end, got the better of his assailants. His brother had been able to help him in the struggle, owing to the fact that he had been less carefully watched. It is easy to imagine the effect of rum as a factor in the battle. Ramsay killed his guard and four other Indians, including a boy, scalped them, and got away with his brother. James H. Coyne, “David Ramsay in Long Point Legend and History”.
If the tradition handed down in the first Smith family be true in fact, no doubt would remain as to who was the first white man that established a residence in Norfolk, remaining and afterwards becoming the first settler. This man’s name was William Smith, familiarly known in pioneer times as “Uncle Billy” Smith… It is said that “Uncle Billy” left the parental roof the year following the settlement at Fort Erie, and wandered up into Long Point country where he lived among the Indians. This was in 1786, some four or five years previous to the earliest date claimed for the first settlement. Owen.
…the situation of Long Point is eminently suitable for a fortified post and naval arsenal for Lake Erie, and the establishment of one here would conteract the one held by the United States at Presque’ Isle. A harbor could be constructed on the island near it. It possesses every facility necessary for an important centre of military operations…The settlers to be brought in should be brave and determined Loyalists, such as those from Pennsylvania and Maryland, who at the end of the war were associated to support the cause of the King, and who had sent an agent to ascertain what arrangements could be made for their removal to the province. A strong settlement there would effectually separate the Mohawks on the Grand River from the other Indians. Lieutenant-Governor Simcoe in a letter to the Home Government in London, September 20, 1793.
[Summer 1794] The heavy Batteau was transported from Queenston around the Falls to Chippawa, a distance of 12 miles. Supplies were added to those brought from New York and they once more started on their journey bidding goodbye to the last vestage [sic] of Civilization. They were 12 days making a 100 miles, not bad travelling in those days taking the current of the River & Lake, adverse winds and an unknown coast into consideration. When my Father came within the Bay formed by Long Point, He watched the coast for a favourable impression and after a scrutiny of many miles the Boat was run into a small creek, the high Banks sloping gradually on each side. Directions were given to the men to erect the Tent for my mother.
My Father had not been long on shore before He decided that that should be his home. In wandering about He came to a small eminence [sic] which would (when the Trees were felled) command a view of the Harbour. He gazed around him for a few minuets [sic] and said, “here I will be buried,” and there after 18 years toil he sleeps in peace. “Historical Memoranda,” Mrs. Amelia Harris.
My Father had a couple of Deer Hounds and he used to go to the woods for his Deer, as a farmer would go to his fold for a sheep. Wild turkeys and partridges were Bagged with very little skill or exertion, and when the Creek and Lake were not frozen He need scarcely leave his own Door to shoot Ducks, but the great sporting ground and it is [s]till famous, and the resort of sporting gentlemen from Toronto, Woodstock, and indeed all parts of Canada West, is at the head of Long Point Bay. I have known him several years later return from there with 20 wild geese and a hundred Duck, the result of a few days’ shooting. Pigeons were so plentiful as late as 1810 and 1812 that they could be knocked down with poles. Bears and Wolves were plentiful and the latter used to keep up a most melancholy howl about the house at night, so near that my Mother could scarcely be persuaded that they were not under the window. The Cow, for security, was tied to the Kitchen Door every night, during the day she accompanied the men to the field they were chopping and fed upon brouse which kept her fat and in good heart, the men making a point of felling a maple Tree each morning for her particular benefit. Amelia Harris.
At first it formed part of the Western district, an extremely indefinite province. Previous to the Treaty of 1794, which came into effect in 1796, the Ohio and Mississippi rivers formed the boundary line of Canada. By that treaty the line of division waas drawn in the middle of the lakes.
The Surveyor-General described the Western district as follows in 1796 (in the early part of the year): “On the south it is bounded by Lake Erie; on the east by a meridian passing through the easterly extremity of Long Point, and comprehends all the lands north-westerly of these boundaries, not included within in the bounds of the Hudson Bay Company or the territory of the United States. The boundary which divides it from Louisiana is not well known after it reaches the sources of the Mississippi.” L. H. Tasker, “The United Empire Loyalist Settlement at Long Point, Lake Erie,” Ontario Historical Society Papers and Records, V.II, 1900.
The country is thickly timbered, the chief trees being oak, beech, pine and walnut. Making our way through the forest we reached the lake at a place which, from the abundance of wild-fowl, is named Turkey Point. A ridge or cliff of considerable height skirts the shore for some distance. Between this and Lake Erie is a wide and gently sloping beach. The long ridge of hard sand (Long Point proper) encloses a safe and commodious harbor. The view from the high bank is magnificent. Altogether the place presents a combination of natural advantages and natural beauty but seldom found. Here we have laid out a site of six hundred acres for a town, with reservations for Government buildings, and called it Charlotte Villa, in honor of Queen Charlotte. Lord Simcoe, summer 1795.
Judge Ermatinger commenced by painting a vivid word pictures, describing the surpassing natural beauty of Turkey Point, one could almost fancy himself the first visitor to the region, so primeval, still and grand the scene. A trail leads down the crest of the hill to the level land 150 feet below. A little to the right is the road constructed by the soldiers when the Point was garrisoned, and it affords a safer descent, and a view narrowed by the cliff, but heightened in beauty thereby. Upon these heights was the first capital and chief military depot of the London district. A court house and jail and fort, red-coated foot soliders and more sombrely dressed court officials, litigants, and witnesses, were once familiar objects there. The civic officials during sessions of court lodge at Hatch’s Hotel below the hill, where a fisherman’s dwelling now stands. No trace of any of the buildings referred to now remains, save the almost obliterated fitches which surrounded the fort, or a few broken bricks from the chimneys…In 1795 there were four settlers, when Governor Simcoe visited the point, and, it is said, contemplated making it the provincial capital. Certain it is, however, that it was intended to be the site of one of the great cities of the province. A large tract of land was set apart for this purpose and it still held by the government. But the city did not materialize. It is as the site of ancient Carthage, but more desolate, though nonetheless beautiful. The place was know as Turkey Point, Port Norfolk, Charlotteville and Fort Norfolk. The two first names designate the low lands and harbor, and the two latter the uplands and fort. “Turkey Point, The Ancient Capital of the London District, Paper read by Judge Ermatinger before the Elgin Historical and Scientific Institute,” The Simcoe Reformer, Dec. 18, 1936.
The most important aboriginal site near St. Williams is that of the Attiwandaron village that covered probably the whole of the present Newkirk Cemetery and the field east and southeast of the same. It location was ideal — close to Long Point Bay, but far enough inland to be protected from enemies prowling about in canoes. Not only was it mostly on sandy soil, but it was well watered — the never-failing spring creek at the east, Mud Creek at the south and the latter’s northern bend at the west. To the northward was endless fairly level ground on which corn, beans, squashes and tobacco could be planted. The surface of the field is still marked with blackened spots from the fires of the long houses. McCall.
It was on July 14, 1796, that Thomas W. Welsh, first justice of the peace, first land surveyor, and first registrar of deeds for Norfolk, wrote out an oath of allegiance for the settlers of this district by signing which they promised fealty to King George III, and evidenced their intention of banding together for the defence of the new land to which they had recently come. Most of them came to Canada to be under the Union Jack.
In 1798 one return was inscribed “Return of Captain Thomas Welsh’s Company of the Regiment of Norfolk Militia, commanded by Samuel Ryerse, Esq.” This was the first mention of Colonel Ryerse, first Colonel of the Norfolk Militia… “Review of the Norfolk Regiment since 1796,” Enid Johnson, The Simcoe Reformer, 1950.
…the Norfolk Militia was organized into two regiments early in 1812. Lieut.-Colonel Joseph Ryerson was in command of the Militia at the time and continued his command of the First Regiment, while Lieut.-Colonel Robert Nicol was named to command the Second Regiment. Each unit was called upon to form two Flank Companies for active service in any part of the Province, each Company to consist of three officers and 37 other ranks. Johnson.
Lt.-Col. and Quartermaster General Nicol in 1812 surveyed the harbor and delivered a chart of the same to Sir Isaac Brock. Nowhere on the bar is the water then less than eight feet deep. Col. Nicol recommended the fortifying of Turkey Point, as in his opinion, it was the only place on Lake Erie where a naval depot and shipyard could be established. The colonel also recommended a survey of the harbor by officers of the engineers and royal navy and the construction of two frigates and two sloops of war with some gun vessels, a recommendation upon which action as commenced but afterward abandoned. Col. Nicol afterwards lost his life by falling one night over the precipice into the Niagara river while superintending the construction of Brock’s monument. Ermatinger.
In the spring of 1812 the first hanging took place at Turkey Point, when a negro, convicted of larceny and incendiarism, suffered the extreme penalty of the law. Ermatinger.
General Brock addressed a gathering of Norfolk men at the Culver Tavern about two mile south of Simcoe and from that spot the detachment proceeded to Dover and boarded boats, which could accommodate 400, and the remainder had to march to the relief of Amherstburg. Major Salmon and his men went by water, and had an extremely uncomfortable voyage. As a result of this expeditions behaviour at the capture of Detroit both Major Salmon and Lt.-Col. Nichol were awarded the Gold Medal for Distinguished Conduct. Johnson.
In May 1814 we had several days of heavy fog. On the 13th, I think, the fog lifted. We saw seven or eight ships under the American flag anchored of[f] Ryerse with a number of small Boats floating by the side of each ship. As the fog cleared away they hoisted sail and dropped down three miles below us, opposite Port Dover. Of course, an invasion was anticipated. The Militia under the command of Col. Talbot were immediately ordered to assemble at Brandtford [sic] a distance of thirty miles by 10 A.M. the next day, which they did, with a good many exceptions of Officers & Men. The general wish was to try & prevent the American landing and expressed indignation at being ordered to a safe distance from all danger. On the following morning, the 15th of May, as my Mother and myself were at Breakfast, the Dogs made an unusual barking. I went to the door to discover the cause. When I looked up I saw the hillside and the fields as far as they eye could reach covered with American soldiers. They had landed at Patterson’s Creek, Burnt the Mills and village of Port Dover and then marched to Ryerse. Two men stepped from the ranks, selected some large chips, came into the room where we were standing and took coals from the hearth, without speaking. My mother knew instinctively what they were going to do. She went out and asked to see the commanding officer, a gentleman rode up to her and said he was the person she asked for. She entreated Him to spare her property and said that she was a widow with a young family. He answered civilly & respectfully and regretted that his orders were to Burn, but that He would spare the house, which He did, & said in justification that the Buildings were used as Barracks and the mill furnished flour for British Troops. Very soon we saw [a] column of dark smoke arise from every Building and what at early morn had been a prosperous homestead, at noon there remained only smouldering ruins. The following day Col. Talbot and the Militia under his command marched to Fort Norfolk. The Americans were then safe on board their own ships & well on their way to their own shores. My Father had been dead less than two years, & little remained of all his labors, excepting the orchards and cultivated fields. Amelia Harris.
After killing the first Indian, I cut lead and chewed above thirty balls, and above three pounds of Goose Shot, for I thought it a pity to shoot an Indian with a smooth ball. David Ramsay to Patrick Campbell, 1793.
Specimens of wapiti antlers taken on Long Point are now in the possession of Mr. M. M. Smith, who resides in Simcoe, Norfolk County. It is estimated from casual hearsay accounts that wild wapiti disappeared from the region between one hundred and thirty and one hundred and forty years ago. Snyder, 1932.
About the end of the same month, part of the British prisoners taken at the battle of Lake Erie and during proctor’s retreat were landed at Long Point, having been purposely detained for more than a month in an unhealthy situation at Sandusky, to prevent them joining General Drummond in time to take part in the campaign. They were almost naked, most of them without shoes, and many of them suffering from ague. The surgeon sent to meet them reported that very few of them would ever be fit for duty again.
“At the first sight of our poor fellows,” he wrote on October 7 , “it was with difficulty I could repress my feelings of pity at their miserable condition and of indignation at their treatment which was the cause of it.
“The further we advanced, the scene of misery deepened and from wretchedness in appearance we arrived gradually to the very essence of everything miserable, nakedness, uncleanliness, disease, and death.”
A month later the remainder were put on shore in much the same condition. Major Muir wrote on that occasion:
“On the 25th October  three vessels anchored in the bay and a boat came ashore, and I was informed that the prisoners were on board, but many of them were sick. Soon after the boats arrived at the beach with some dead, others dying, and one half of them unable to help themselves in any manner whatever. In short, we lost six men and one woman that night…” Brig.-General E. A. Cruikshank, “The County of Norfolk in the War of 1812”.
One Ramsay, before and after the Revolution, traded with the Indians of this region up to Detroit. Dr. Troyer believed in magic, and had a mineral rod, by which he divined where gold was buried. About 1790, when Ramsay was coming from Detroit with two men and his boat loaded with furs and gold, he had a dispute with Indians living at Port Stanley, where they had large corn fields, over his refusal to furnish them liquor. They followed him from the land down to Port Burwell and the carrying place, and Long Point to the end of the peninsula, and prevented him doing any further trade. At the portage he buried his money in an iron chest and killed a black dog and buried it over the chest as protection. This was Ramsay’s last trip. About 1817 Dr. Troyer and his son, Michael, having found out by his divining rod where the treasure was, went out towards evening to dig it up. I saw them going out in the boat. My father was the only one I know about that they consulted but he was a believer and would not go. The Doctor afterwards told me that they dug down to the box. The Doctor was a Tunkard. He held a Bible open and a lighted candle to keep away the Evil One. Michael dug and tried to pry the chest out of the ground, when a black dog rose up beside the chest — grew bigger and bigger, until the light went out, and then they took to their boat and went home. As told to James H. Coyne by Simpson McCall in 1893.
The fort at Turkey Point, called Fort Norfolk, was from 150 to 200 feet square with an open square of yard in the centre. The building was one story in height, about seven feet clear. Rooms, with loopholes at intervals, were ranged around the inside of the walls, the centre being an open quadrangle. Married soldiers occupied shanties erected conveniently near the fort. Detachments of the 19th Light Dragoons and of the 37th Regiment were stationed there during the War of 1812-1814. Ermatinger.
Lake Erie is two hundred and forty-six miles long, and sixty broad at its widest part. The depth averages from fifteen to eighteen fathoms over its whole extent, and, in consequence of this remarkable shallowness, it becomes rough and boisterous when the wind blows strongly from any point on the compass. At these times a very high and dangerous surf breaks upon its shores, which, in many places, resemble the beach of the sea, being strewed with dead fish and shells, and infested with aquatic birds of various kinds. Often during storms the Lake is covered with such a think mist, that it is impossible to see to the distance of ten yards from the shore. The waves then roll with terrific violence from amidst the cloudy obscurity, and suggest to the imagination the appalling dangers which threaten those vessels that are exposed to the tempest; for the navigation of the Lake is rendered highly dangerous, by reefs and projecting points of land, and by the nature of the banks, which, towards its western extremity, are so bold and precipitous, that when a vessel is driven upon them shipwreck becomes almost inevitable. John Howison Esq., Sketches of Upper Canada, 1821.
In the early days, these notes explained further, the four corners, now the main intersection of the village, were not opened and the site was covered with a black ash swamp. The road to the west turned at the top of the hill where the United Church now is, and followed the creek around, coming out on the hill where the old jam factory now stands and proceeding westward. “St. Williams Noted for its Forestry Station,” Jean Hall Waldie, The Simcoe Reformer.
Disastrous collision & loss of life. Propellor Cataract collided with brig Oxford off Long Point. Lost — captain John Lee & wife, 2 children, seamen. The Christian Messenger, June 12, 1856.
We regret to learn that the schooner A. Gilmour, Capt. Brown, of Kingston, and bound for that port, as wrecked in the gale of Saturday last, in Long Point cut, near Port Rowan. The Captain, his son and two of the hands were drowned. “Wreck and Loss of Life,” Caledonia Advertiser, Nov. 12, 1856.
He was roused from his sleep by the beating of invisible arms; cold draughts rushed through his apartment, no matter how carefully he closed every crevice against the air; horrible noises, groans and cries made the night hideous. Adele S., “The Legends of Long Point Bay,” The British Canadian, March 2, 1870.
Rising quickly, the doctor inserted the peg in the knot-hole, hoping thereby to capture Mrs. M., as he knew the queen of witches usually left a place last. Horrible were the screams that were heard outside and in the house. The doctor lit the lamp, and discerned, crouching in one corner, a beautiful girl whom neither he nor his companion had ever seen. She maintained a perfect silence, and young N. took her down stairs, followed by the doctor. A stormy discussion took place between Mrs. N., her son, and the doctor –the two elders wishing to at once treat the witch as the doctor’s books demanded; but N. interfered, and declared she should remain — that she was too beautiful to be punished. Doctor Troyer departed in a great rage, and for months he would not speak to N. Meanwhile, the girl remained at the N.’s, and enchanted everyone with her beauty and agreeable ways. She never could be induced to mention where she came from, and who she was. Finally, N. married her, and, to the surprise of all who knew the circumstances of her strange appearance, she made an excellent wife and mother. The years wore on, and the N.s prospered, till one unlucky day, during some house-cleaning, the peg in the knot-hole was unwittingly removed by one of the children. With a terrible scream the mother vanished, and never was heard of again. The chain which bound her to the place was broken, and she returned where she came from. N. mourned sincerely, and tried in all ways to find some trace of his phantom wife. Finally, after some years he married again, and the trouble was almost forgotten. Sometimes, however, at night, mysterious noises were heard, and the next morning traces of some person having been in the house were found, the children’s clothes were mended, and many little offices performed. After they were grown, she never appeared. Adele S., “The Legends of Long Point Bay” The British Canadian, March 2, 1870.
Port Royal, which is situated near the mouth of Big Creek, on the high land just before it dips down to the Long Point marshes, was the centre of lumber trade activities in the fiftiers and sixties of the 19th century. As one old-timer put it, “You could walk anywhere on Bog Creek, at any season of the year, on a jam of logs.” All about lay the great pine country, whose sandy slopes when denuded of their mantle of trees, became hills of menacing blow sand, “not worth fifty cents an acre for farming.”
Companies leased certain sections of land and as the timber was cut the logs were stamped with the company’s mark and put into big Creek. The river [drivers were strapping Irishmen, few of them under six feet tall. That was the day when three hotels did a roaring business in Port Rowan.
The logs were received at Port Royal and bound into rafts. Tugs, which could not navigate the creek, waited outside in Long Point Bay, and took the logs to the sawmills of Tonowanda and Buffalo. “Wealth of Logs Floated to Lake on ‘Big’ Creek” Mabel Burkholder, The Simcoe Reformer, 1945.
During the severe storm of Saturday last, a large American vessel — the Jersey City — was wrecked on the north side of Long Point. The crew and passengers, to the number of seventeen persons, succeeded in reaching the Point — but only to perish of cold and fatigue, unable to kindle a fire. “Dreadful Shipwreck on Long Point — Seventeen Lives Lost” Norfolk Messenger, Nov. 29, 1860.
In 1861, the alarms caused by the Fenian activities in the United States on becoming known here, occasioned the beginning of the reorganization of the militia. Four rifle companies and two infantry companies were formed. In 1866, the new unit was styled the 39th Battalion of Infantry which name was used until the First Great War. Johnson.
Across from the St. Williams planing mill stands a house which was pointed out to me as the first one built in the village. Erected in 1832 by Peter Price, one of the first pioneers to settle on the present site of St. Williams, this pleasant and attractive home is still occupied. It was once known as the “House in the Wilderness,” due to the heavy growth of shrubbery and trees in the old days. Waldie.
The McCalls were a Scottish clan from Argyleshire. Donald McCall came to America in the year 1756 with the regular British troops who were sent over against the French at the beginning of the Seven Years’ War. He was a private in Montgomery’s Highlanders, and took part in the capture of Louisburg in 1758, and served also under Wolfe at the Battle of the Plains of Abraham and the taking of Quebec. With a detachment of the regiment he was afterwards sent up the lakes. From the Niagara River the party came along the north shore of Lake Erie in batteaux, and when near Turkey Point had an encounter with some French and Indians. Their enemies fired at them from the shelter of the woods, but the plucky Highlanders promptly ran their boats ashore, defeated and chased them inland as far as where the village of Waterford now stands. On their way back they encamped for the night on what is now lot 18 of the 4th concession of the township of Charlotteville, near the present residence of Simpson McCall. In the morning the solders improvised some fishing tackle, and in a short time had caught out of Young’s Creek all the speckled trout the party could eat.
In 1763, after the Treaty of Paris, being discharged on the breaking up of his regiment, he settled in the State of New Jersey, where he lived until the breaking out of the Revolutionary War. He immediately joined the King’s Regiment, and did not retire from military life till after the surrender of Yorktown.
When he returned to his New Jersey home he soon found that he was regarded as an alien and shunned by his neighbors. Not caring to remain, in 1783 he made his way to New Brunswick and settled on a small allotment there.
In 1796 a party from New Brunswick, led by Donald McCall, came west to the Long Point settlement. He was selected as the leader because he had previously visited the country. Among the party were the loyalists Lieut. Jas. Munro and Peter Fairchild. They landed at the mouth of Big Creek on July 1st, 1796, and took up land in various localities.
The old leader, remembering his adventures with the French and Indians, and the episode of the speckled trout fishing alluded to above, made his way inland to the identical spot where the camp fires of his Highland regiment had been lighted forty years before.
His family consisted at the time of five sons and three daughters — John, Duncan, Daniel, James and Hugh, and Catherine, Elizabeth and Mary. Duncan, being already married, settled near his father, on Lot 23 of the 5th concession. On the 26th July, 1796, a son was born to him, the first white child born in the county of Norfolk. This child (Daniel) served afterwards in the War of 1812, taking part in the Battle of Lundy’s Lane and in a skirmish at Malcolm’s Hollow (Oakland), where the British were outnumbered and driven back by General McArthur. Tasker.
There are people in Port Rowan today who have a distinct remembrance of having seen this witch trap in Dr. Troyer’s bedroom. But in spite of this defensive means the witches would occasionally take him out in the night and transform him into various kinds of animals and compel him to perform all sorts of antics. One night the witches took him out of a peaceful slumber, transformed him into a horse and rode him across the lake to Dunkirk where they attended a witch dance. Strange as it may appear, Dr. Troyer believed all this, yet, aside from witchcraft, he was considered a sane man. He is described as wearing a long white flowing beard; and it is said he lived to be ninety-nine years old, and that just before his death he shot a hawk, off-hand, from the peak of the barn roof. E. A. Owen, Pioneer Sketches of Long Point Settlement, 1898.
McDonald was terrified by the melancholy wind stirring the tree-tops, owls hooting, wolves yelping, then the heavy tramp, tramp of a vast multitude, inarticulate voices of men, the crashing of boughs and snapping of twigs, and then the rush of some great unseen host. Soon there was the sound of combat in the air with an opposing multitude, followed by groans of the wounded and shrieks of the dying. James H. Coyne, “David Ramsay in Long Point Legend and History”.
I shall now lead you a ramble through Long Point, which is a tract of country different in appearance from any I have yet described. When I first visited this part of the Province, the sudden change which took place in the aspect of nature seemed like magic. The soil became light and sandy, the forests had dwindled away, and natural groves and copses met the eye in their stead. The fields were beautifully level, and the uncultivated lands had more the appearance of a pleasure-ground than of a wilderness. The trees being small and few in number, and distributed in beautiful clumps, did not at all suggest the idea of a forest… John Howison.
…wide plains covered with small oaks stretched on either side, whole forests of these scorched and burnt up trees with their brick-red withered leaves, unvaried by a speck of green or any fresh foliage, followed one another, their parched and thirsty appearance exciting an oppressive feeling of hopelessness lifelessness and drought such as one may be supposed to experience travelling the desert sands of Africa. The Canadian Journal of Alfred Domett, 1833-1835.
Long Point abounds with game of various kinds, and the woods, from their openness, are favourable for pursuit of it. Partridges spring from the copses, and deer often bound across the path of him who traverses the forests. Immense flocks of passenger, or wild pigeon, frequent this and other parts of Upper Canada during the spring and autumn; and myriads of them are killed by firearms, or caught in nets by the inhabitants; for they fly so close, and in such numbers, that twenty or thirty may sometimes be brought down at a single shot… John Howison.
The Atlantic was another of the fine side-wheelers in the immigrant trade of the 1840s and 1850s. She was making her regular trip from Detroit to Buffalo in August 1852. She stopped at Erie to pick up about 200 Norwegians who were going to Quebec. The ship was so crowded, however, that she had to leave seventy-five of the Norwegian company on the Erie wharf. She was running in the after-midnight darkness and fog a few miles off Long Point and nearing her destination when the propeller-driven Ogdensburg, going west, hit her on the port side just forward of the wheel. There was no apparent damage, since the Ogdensburg had reversed her engines before the collision, and both ships went on in the fog and darkness, thinking all was well. The Atlantic steamed on two miles and suddenly began to sink. Her passengers were awakened and told to prepare to abandon ship. They threw overboard settees, chairs and mattresses for life preservers. The fires in the boilers went out with a hiss of steam. The process of abandoning ship was proceeding in calm order when the Norwegians suddenly went mad. They could not understand a word of English when the captain tried to direct them and explain what was happening. They started leaping overboard in the darkness in spite of all efforts to restrain them. The ship went down at two-thirty in the morning. The Ogdensburg had stopped for repairs after the collision. She heard the terrified shrieks of the drowning Norwegians two miles away. She rushed back to the scene in time to pick up 250 of the passengers. More than 300, most of them Norwegians, were drowned. Hatcher.
The seine netters’ fishing grounds are the Inner Bay whence they gather in a great conglomeration of coarse fish including perch, mullet and carp. The carp are shipped out alive in tank trucks to Toronto, New York and Chicago to meet the demand of the Jewish trade.
As they tend their nets the fishermen propel their dories about the bay by punting, due to the shallowness of the water which ranges from six to eight feet in depth, with a few channels about 14 feet deep. By June 1 the seine fishing season is concluded until fall. “Picturesque Port Rowan,” Jean Hall Waldie, The Simcoe Reformer.
Whitefish are now unknown in the waters of the Inner Bay, though the early settlers called the bar, a short distance from Deep Hole Point, White Fish Bar on account of the numbers of white they caught there. So much then for the filling up of the beautiful bay. In place of the white fish, we have the carp, properly styled the water hog… McInnes.
Not all wrecks were caused by treacherous weather and shoals. At various times ‘wreckers’ are known to have worked from the Long Point beaches. They were unscrupulous, ghoulish opportunists who lured vessels to their doom by using false beacons where captains were expecting the guiding beams of a lighthouse. Before anyone on the mainland was aware of the tragedy, the wreckers would strip the hapless vessel of her cargo and gear and make good their escape.
The area near the bay entrance to the Cut was a favourite area for their operations. For example, in December 1860 the schooner Greenbush was coming down the lake in a stiff blow, easing along the south beach as her captain watched for the red light that identified the wide mouth of the Cut. Picking it out, he ran towards the pounding surf and deeper water that the light marked for him. Suddenly the stout little schooner shuddered from bow to stern as her keel bottomed hard on a shoal. Her bow crashed even more heavily on the next sand bar, then a following sea lifted her stern high and swung it shorewards, leaving her heeling precariously to starboard. Too late the captain realized that a wrecker’s false light had lured him into the treacherous shallows far up the beach from the Cut. Not one of her crew of thirteen survived. Harry B. Barrett, Lore and Legends of Long Point.
…the report of the Ontario Game and Fisheries Department for 1909 which states that “a number” of elk was introduced by the Long Point Company in 1909, one of which escaped and was killed in November of that year. Snyder.
With marvelous rapidity it became an open common and a resort for the idle and dissipated. The place was shunned by sportsmen of the better sort. With steamboats and tugs on the American side of the lake and no railway on the Canadian side, Long Point was more easy of access from Buffalo and Erie than from any Canadian City. “Morrissey and Heenan” had their prize fight there and more recently “Dwyer and Elliot.” A brothel had a temporary location — the inmates supplied from Buffalo. Rev. Dr. Ryerson, Chief Superintendent of Education in Ontario, who had shot there from boyhood, wrote the Government that it was then impossible for a respectable man to go there, and ruin for any young man to shoot there. That immorality, drunkenness, and a low tone was prevalent throughout the place. Edward Harris, Recollections of Long Point, 1918.
Here Bill Price’s powder flask burst, when loading his gun. It is not certain whether he had been using brown paper for wadding or smoking his pipe at the time. Before the accident he had a very handsome face. This was Peter Price’s favorite son. He might have reached any position in Ontario had he not been so devoted to the marsh. Edward Harris, 1918.
But even there the canvas back, red head, widgeon and mallard ducks are met by the market hunter, with his pump gun, in his skeg boat, and with a string of one hundred decoys, are slaughtered in vast numbers and sold. “Turkey Point,” Dr. Walter McInnes.
Norfolk County is noted for having several plants growing in it naturally that are not found plentifully anywhere and that are not found elsewhere in Southern Ontario. Norfolk’s lake-tempered climate and variety of soils have much to do with the great number of different plants found within its borders.
Let us imagine that it is early morning on a day in late June and that we had camped the previous night on the north shore of Long Point Bay. On going down to the lake to wash we notice the umbrella-like leaves of the American Lotus standing in the shallow water. Later in the year these plants bear wonderful, large, lemon-yellow flowers possessing a very sweet scent… Robert Landon, “A Jaunt Among Norfolk’s Wild Flowers” The Monocle, May, 1929.
Much of the land around Long Point was a desolate sight a generation ago. The thick stands of white pine were cut off and the sand lands were cleared for agriculture. The results were inevitable: the thin soil was quickly exhausted, sand blew over the fields, sifted out from the roots of stumps, exposed barren limestone outcropping and drifted over the roads. Farms were abandoned and the buildings fell into ruins. Harlan Hatcher.
—Collected and edited by Douglas Glover
See also my cousin John Cardiff’s Norfolk County genealogical site Norfolk Genealogy which contains a trove of news clippings, photos, as well a minute historical data for individual families.
I have used Norfolk County folklore and history in several pieces of fiction and nonfiction.
“A Flame, a Burst of Light” is short story about prisoners of war returning from a disastrous prison camp in Ohio in 1814. It was originally published in The New Quarterly and is coming out in my book of stories Savage Love.
“The Sun Lord and the Royal Child” is a short story about the scandalous behaviour of archaeologists, the Neutral and the Southwold Earthworks. It was originally published in Ninth Letter and reprinted in Savage Love.
“Swain Corliss, Hero of Malcolm’s Mills (now Oakland, Ontario, November 6, 1814″ is about the 1814 battle. You can find it in my book A Guide to Animal Behaviour.
“Turned into a Horse by Witches” is about Dr. Troyer, the famous Long Point witch doctor, and is also in A Guide to Animal Behaviour.
My essay “Possum” about my great-grandfather John Brock and St Williams was published in The New Quarterly.
And, of course, some of the scenes in my novel The Life and Times of Captain N. take place on the Lake Erie shoreline. The character Hendrick Nellis is based on the real Hendrick Nelles. The character Mary Hunsacker is based on Mary Sitts who is buried in the pioneer cemetery in Boston (Norfolk County).
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