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8301Oral History of Early Athol

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  • Rick Read <5reads@msn.com>
    Feb 9, 2003
      The following was given to me by my parents. My dad was the son of
      Nettie Archibald Baker; she was the daughter Hance Wilson Baker and
      Angelina Harriet Cleveland.

      Early History of Athol

      According to my best information and remembrance.
      Signed, H.R. Baker

      My recollections of Athol date from 1850 when I was about four years
      old until 1866, when I left home to make my way in the world. After
      that I visited Athol only occasionally for a day or so at a time. So
      that for the last fifty-seven years I know little of her people and
      their doings. What I can recall of the years between 1850 and 1866 I
      will narrate to you as best I can.

      According to Judge Baker, (see genealogy drawn up by him now in the
      possession of Edward Elderkin Esq., Amherst,) a certain William
      Baker, who was born in the Parish of St. Andrews, Holborn, London, in
      August 1714, came into North America when he was about eighteen years
      of age. They said William Baker was married twice, and was the
      father of sixteen children. William Baker died in 1785, and was
      buried in Trenton, New Jersey. His many descendents finally settled
      in Kentucky, at that time a colony of Great Briton.

      About thirty years ago when on a visit to my father, he gave me the
      following narrative, which I wrote down at the time and now
      transcribe for your information. Said my father to me: "Your
      grandfather's name was Hance Baker. He was born in Kentucky.
      Charles Baker came to Nova Scotia about 1750 at the close of the
      Revolutionary War, not being to live under the Stars and Stripes.
      His wife was concealed in a nunnery to save her life – her maiden
      name was Miss Barron. Charles Baker was an officer in the British
      Army. He had a brother Thomas who came with him and was appointed
      sheriff of Amherst, but not liking the country, resigned his office
      and went back to Kentucky. Charles Baker was appointed the first
      Judge of Amherst. His wife was a short stiff woman, somewhat quick
      of temper, celebrated as a house-keeper, would boil a ham at a time
      and fix it up with spices, etc., so that one would fairly kill
      himself eating. Luther Baker, my father, spent two years with Judge
      Baker, going to school in Amherst. His grandmother once boxed his
      ears and would not allow him to go out evenings. Judge Baker had
      four sons, Charles, Edward, John, and Hance. Judge Baker lived his
      life in Amherst and died at the age of ninety-three years. All his
      sons settled in Barronsfield, near Minudie. He had two daughters,
      Charlotte, who married Joseph Carr, merchant of Amherst, and Annie,
      who married John Oxley, of River Phillip – the same is the mother of
      all Oxleys.

      Hance Baker, my grandfather, married Miss Dorothy Patten of
      Cornwallis. He moved from Barronsfield to what is now known as
      Athol. Judge Baker had taken up lands in both Minudie and Athol.
      (Here ends Luther Baker's narrative.)

      It would appear from the foregoing that my grandfather was the
      pioneer settler at Athol. According to Judge Baker's genealogy, he
      was born April 6, 1786. He must have come to Athol therefore early
      in the following century, probably about 1810 or 1812. At one time
      he owned, besides the homestead, which you have now, all of Athol
      from William Reid's farm, down to the bridge over the Athol River and
      my father's farm in addition. He had seven children as follows:
      Susan, married Jeremiah Embree of Amherst, house-builder. Edward
      married Miss Bulmer of Nappan. Luther married Miss Keiver, sister
      of, and brought up by, Mrs. William Reid. Rebecca married Allen
      Dobson, merchant of Athol. Matthew married Miss Smith of Amherst
      Read; Charlotte died young, and Hance by second wife, married Miss
      Cleveland. *

      *Angeline Harriet Cleveland: born Debert, Colchester County, Nova
      Scotia on January 29th, 1838.
      Hance Wilson Baker: born in Athol, Nova Scotia, May 14th, 1841
      Married July 21st, 1860

      I remember my grandfather very well. He was a tall, stout, fine
      looking man, with a fervent, kindly-kind of voice. He sometimes lead
      the prayer meeting – made a very telling address and offered a
      sincere and moving prayer. I heard a woman once asked the
      question, "Don't you think Mr. Baker is just as good as a preacher?"
      He died at 74 years of age in the summer of 1860. Rev. Mr. Weddall,
      father of Dr. Weddall of New Brunswick and Price Edward Island
      Conference, preached the funeral sermon. Among the things he
      said, "I had the pleasure of seeing our brother die. I call it a
      pleasure, for he died in the faith. Thank God, I believe our brother
      is in Heaven before the Throne!"

      Another pioneer of Athol was Thomas Reid, perhaps five or six years
      younger than my grandfather. He lived about two miles up the Maccan
      River. He was a small sized man, had a very pleasant manner, and was
      a fluent, easy talker. He was Class and Prayer Leader in the Society
      of Methodists as long as I could remember, and a more faithful man in
      his office never gave out a hymn and exhorted believers to fidelity
      or sinners to repentance. As a boy I listened to him with wonder and
      reverence – almost as to an angel from Heaven. He died a few years
      after I left Athol. Dr. John Reid, his nephew, preached the sermon.

      A Third pioneer was William Reid, brother of Thomas, a few years
      younger. He married Miss Fanny Keiver, twenty years older than my
      Mother. They had but one child, a son Robert, but they usually had
      two or three adopted children. I remember three of them, Jane
      Corbet, Rebecca Mills, and a boy, Gimmison.

      They had one of the best farms in Athol – kept forty head of cattle,
      six horses, and about fifty sheep. As a boy I often used to stop
      there for weeks at a time, of course doing many chores. Aunt Fanny
      was a very religious person. She could preach with anyone and always
      in the morning, first thing, you could hear her rolling David's
      Psalms aloft to the skies with trembling voice. Uncle William also
      was a very devoted Christian, fervent in prayer and knowing only one
      book – the Holy Bible.

      There is another pioneer family that I must mention, Mr. and Mrs.
      Aaron Boss. They would probably be a few years younger than my
      grandfather. They lived two miles or so up the Athol River. They
      had two sons, oldish young men when I first knew them. They had a
      very good saw-mill for the times, to which neighbors hauled logs in
      the winter season. Many a load did we boys take there, and many a
      load did we haul away. They also had an excellent farm and were
      thrifty well-to-do people. I spent two days with them once when a
      boy, helping to put in the spring crop. They were wonderfully
      religious people. If I remember correctly, we had worship morning
      and evening. First the father would pray – and such praying I have
      rarely heard since. His whole frame swayed and shook, and his voice
      rolled aloft in a great volume which fairly stormed the gates of
      Heaven. Then the boys followed, more quiet, but none the less
      fervent and earnest, and when we arose from our knees every face
      seemed transfigured and aglow with Heaven's light. They were great
      friends and supporters of Methodism in those early days when
      Methodism was young and comparatively poor and small in numbers.

      These four families, which I have named, I think, were the chief
      pioneers in the settlement of Athol. Of course there were other
      families that came, or sprang up a little later, very worthy people,
      of whom it would be interesting to write, but that would take me too
      far afield and tire your patience. Besides, I dare say Cecil or some
      other person can tell you of them. The Smiths – Three or four
      families, the Browns, the Pugsleys, the Harrisons, the Elderkins,
      Hance Mills, Sam Etter and many more.

      Of course, when Grandfather settled in Athol, it would be broken
      forest. Even the marsh was, much of it heavily wooded. The trees
      had to be felled, burned and piled, the stumps dug out, the marsh
      ditched, diked and ploughed. It was an endless job, and required
      labor incessant, but they were a great hearted people who settled
      there, and were equal to the tasks assigned them by nature. Even
      when I was a boy the woods were very dark and heavy round about us
      and seemed to shut us in and press down upon us. I remember we boys,
      with father Luther to help us, went to work and cut down fifteen
      acres of heavy forest. In the summer we burned it -–it was a
      wonderful sight! To see fifteen acres, one immense blaze reaching up
      to the very highest heavens, the flames leaping and dancing and
      roaring as if in the wildest glee and fury! We boys were in supreme
      delight! Then we piled and burned and cleared up the fifteen acres
      and sowed it with rye, and had an immense crop, and bread – the very
      sweetest, enough to do us for several years. Hurrah for old times!
      It was good to be living then! We had something to stir our blood,
      stimulate imagination and make life worthwhile!

      In those early days we were troubled with bears and had to fight
      them. I remember when I was about eight years old, seeing a bear one
      summer evening come out of the woods and chase a neighbor's
      sheep `round the field. We gathered together in a circle and were
      nearly scared to death! Would he get the sheep? Of course!

      One dark summer evening we were all in the house just preparing for
      bed when our sheep (we had about fifty) all rushed into the yard and
      pushed at the kitchen door. Next morning, counting them, we found
      that one was missing. Bruin had taken the fattest one for it's
      supper. On another occasion, in one night we lost fifteen and a
      number of others were badly wounded so that they died or we had to
      kill them. We set traps and deadfalls for the brutes – but no, they
      were too cunning for us! However, Willie Brown succeeded in taking
      one. I remember going to see the awful creature, being greatly
      alarmed lest he should come to life and spring upon us, tearing us to

      The woods and forests being so very dense and dark in those days
      (Pugsley's woods especially – that is what we used to call it). It
      is no wonder that ghosts, goblins and a thousand other evil things
      hid themselves in their gloomy depths, and came out to frighten and
      waylay belated travellers. Most dreadful stories were told of
      robberies, murders, crimes the blackest, and awful shapes that
      appeared with eyes like fire, mouth large as a river, and voice
      shaking the earth like an earthquake, sometimes with hair streaming
      out behind one hundred yards long, and often with bleeding throats,
      and flaming sword flashing in red right hand! Then raced their
      horses at full gallop through the woods, chased by these hideous
      monsters. Under Half-Way Brook Bridge many of these creatures hid
      and held their mighty orgies, feasting on the brains and bodies of
      travellers whom they had captured. The bravest man dare not descend
      into the depth of that brook! It meant certain torture and death to
      do so. I see you smile, my courteous niece, but these things were
      very real to the people sixty and seventy years ago. I wonder if we
      are more courageous than they. I trow not!

      The lumber interest was a large business in those days. Besides the
      Boss Mill, to which I have referred, Thomas Patton had another about
      half a mile further up the river and above him again was the John
      Keiver mill. These mills manufactured quantities of lumber. In the
      springs and fall it was rafted down the river, but during the summer,
      it was hauled down with great ox teams and piled on the river's bank
      just below the bridge at Athol, then loaded on scows and rowed away
      to Minudie, and placed on ships for Boston. My brother Charles
      worked many seasons at this business when a young man, and many were
      the stories he could tell of their narrow escapes.

      About 1850 the first store was started in Athol by David Elderkin and
      Samuel Freeman. Neither of these men were ever married. For a
      number of years they ran a very successful business, and were
      succeeded (on the death of David Elderkin) by Jeptha Elderkin and
      Mrs. Nobile (afterwards Mrs. Donkin). About 1862 Tuckers Brothers
      built a store just below Sam Etter's blacksmith shop and ran it for
      several years, meanwhile building a ship in 1864, down at the mouth
      of the two rivers. She was launched with great eclat, all we boys
      and girls of Athol standing on the deck of the ship enjoying the
      slide into the water immensely, shouting at the top of our voices.

      About the same time Elderkin and Donkin built one ship just below
      Athol bridge, which in due course glided into the tide with equal
      rejoicing and acclaim. Athol a centre for shipbuilding! Hopes ran
      high, but that was the beginning and ending of the enterprise. These
      ships were floated down in the tide below Lower Maccan River bridges
      and there furnished with spars and fitted for the sea.

      Before concluding this hurried and imperfect sketch of the Early
      history of Athol, I ought to say something about the religious life
      of the people.

      The first church built in Athol was the Methodist that now stands on
      the hill above the village. I was about eight years of age. That
      would be in 1854 or maybe a year later. Prior to that time (alas how
      many years from when grandfather settled there) the people worshipped
      either in private homes or, later in the little old school-house
      almost opposite my father's home. All denominations occupied that
      school-house. Rev. David McKeen, a bright light among the Baptists,
      held forth there. Dr. Alex Clark, Presbyterian, baptized all my
      father's family, except the oldest, Charles, there on one occasion.
      I remember it very well. We all stood in a row from Reid down to
      Frances, who was an infant in arms – six of us. Matthew Lodge, a
      very acceptable preacher, unfurled the banner of Methodism, while the
      Rev. Mr. Starr, a very able and brilliant minister of conference,
      indoctrinated us in the truths of Free Salvation by faith in Jesus

      As I have said about the year 1854 the Methodist church was built,
      Moses Low, of Nappan being the builder. He with three or four of his
      men, boarded at my father's home. As he was a very strong Liberal in
      politics and my father a staunch conservative, the dinner hour was
      often prolonged, to the delight of us boys, by their heated
      discussions as to the relative merits of Howe and Tupper.

      In due time the church was finished and dedicated to the worship of
      our Father in Heaven. Rev. James Buckley, a great old English
      preacher of the conference preached the sermon. Then a series of
      services were held and many souls were converted and gathered into
      the fold. The Bosses, the Harrisons, the Smiths, the Dodsworths and
      others. And so the church was fairly started upon its way. How she
      has answered to the great call of the Master, You of this generation
      must answer.

      Then our Baptist friends with heroic faith, gathered themselves
      together and resolved to arise and build. The result was the fine
      church that stands there on the flat as you pass along the way, a
      monument to Baptist faith and enterprise. Mighty sermons were
      preached there, as great as any that have ever come from Baptist

      And now for our Presbyterian people. They will not be outdone, you
      may be sure. William Reid, Luther Baker, Mrs. Allen Dobson, -- those
      are all, yet the church arises, fair and beautiful, comfortable and
      convenient. Of course it must be dedicated, and who but Rev.
      Alexander Clarke, D.D., of Amherst is worthy to fulfill such an
      office? Sunday we gathered to the Church's full capacity and
      listened to a learned discourse on the glories of Solomon's Temple
      and the greater glories of these Gospel times in which we live. The
      Doctor did mighty full justice and to the occasion as well.

      And now, my dear niece, I am sure I have worn out your patience in
      thus running on and you will think me a garrulous old man.

      Hoping the foregoing may be of some assistance to you,


      Signed, Uncle H.R. Baker
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