Kent transport

Gilberts: Pioneer life in Kent County was never easy

Dr. TK Holmes, one of Chatham’s first doctors and the first president of the Kent Historical Society, said in a 1930s article that by 1800 there were probably no more than 20 families living in the area known as Kent County.

Content of the article

Dr. TK Holmes, one of Chatham’s first doctors and the first president of the Kent Historical Society, said in a 1930s article that by 1800 there were probably no more than 20 families living in the area known as Kent County.

Advertisement 2

Content of the article

Holmes went on to describe the county of Kent at the dawn of the 19th century as an unbroken wilderness over which a few bands of natives roamed who hunted game through the trackless forest or fished in its lazy streams. Deer, bears, wolves, wild turkeys and foxes were plentiful, while small game was also abundant.

Until 1845 the lands of the old county of Kent were heavily forested with oak, walnut, whitewood, beech, maple, ash and elm. Around this time, a demand for some of them, especially for walnut, whitewood and oak, arose. Walnut and whitewood were exported for construction and furniture, and oak was made into staves and shipped to the West Indies for casks and used there for sugar, molasses and rum.

Advertisement 3

Content of the article

A few years later, beech and maple were cut into cordwood and exported as fuel or used on Great Western Railway locomotives.

The demand for forest products has boosted business in the farming community and dramatically accelerated land clearing. A standard hickory sawlog containing 303 feet of board measure sold for 50 cents in 1846.

The swampy lands that populated much of the land in Kent County hampered the progress of settlement until 1860 and the county’s crops were lower because of it.

Malaria and fever had a debilitating influence on the settlers. Until 1845, farm work was mainly done by oxen. The grain was first harvested with a sickle, later with a cradle and finally in 1847 the first harvester made its appearance. It belonged to John Williams, who lived a mile east of Kent Bridge.

Advertisement 4

Content of the article

The grain was threshed by hand flail or trampled by horses on the barn floor. The first thresher belonged to William Partridge of Walkerville, the straw being separated by a separate windmill.

Tallow candles provided the necessary nighttime lighting, as kerosene was not widespread until around 1860. In 1867, Dr Holmes carried a lantern on dark nights, although King Street in Chatham was lit by a few oil lamps .

Neighborhood visits, dancing, music (especially fiddling), a few sporting games, and logging and husking bees relieve the monotony of primitive rural life. The books were few in number but very popular. They would have included Pilgrim’s Progress, a history of Pizarro’s conquest of Peru, a life of Napoleon and the novels of Captain Marryat and Jane Austin, and Alexander Pope’s translation of the Iliad and the Odyssey.

Advertisement 5

Content of the article

For clothing, women would spin the thread and weave it into fabric on hand looms. The houses were heated by open fireplaces.

The practice of medicine and surgery was open to anyone with a basic knowledge of drugs. The “Doctor” made his rounds on horseback and usually supplemented his income by cultivating land or pursuing some other calling.

Lack of transport and early news transmission was an obvious disadvantage in the early days of Kent County. For example, news of the Battle of Waterloo, which took place on June 18, 1815, did not reach Kent County until late September.

Mail was transported on foot and by carriages drawn by four horses. These heavy cars were the only form of public transport for many years.

Before flour mills were built along the Thames River (by people like John McGregor and Mr. Arnold), locals had to haul their grain by canoe to Sandwich in modern Windsor. There he was ground by a windmill.

There was nothing easy at the start of what would become Chatham-Kent, but progress was steady and with each improvement life got a little easier.

Yet sometimes life must have seemed overwhelming and almost unbearable.

It should make us all thankful for the relatively easy life we ​​have today and make our problems pale in comparison.

Advertisement 1


Postmedia is committed to maintaining a lively yet civil discussion forum and encourages all readers to share their views on our articles. Comments can take up to an hour to be moderated before appearing on the site. We ask that you keep your comments relevant and respectful. We have enabled email notifications. You will now receive an email if you receive a reply to your comment, if there is an update to a comment thread you follow, or if a user follows you comments. See our Community Guidelines for more information and details on how to adjust your email settings.