Merrickville 225:Those were the days

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With talk of municipal amalgamations being heard in various quarters today, it is always interesting to look back to a time when the Township of Wolford was at the centre of a large amalgamated area. The Minutes of Council from 1802 until 1846 were set down in a “Town Book…for the Use of the Township of Woolford [as the Clerk spelt it constantly] and the Townships Incorporated therewith, Viz., Montague, Marlborough & Oxford”. It seems the Minutes were kept on separate sheets of paper, until the book itself was “Purchased by Mr. Joseph Haskins” in 1809 for the princely sum of 20 shillings, or £1; quite a lot of money in those days.

The very first Town Meeting was held on March 1, 1802 at the home of James Lakes, and Henry Arnold was elected Clerk for that year. Names that are still familiar today appear in the minutes of that first meeting, as what now sound like very exotic positions were filled. Daniel Burritt was appointed as one of the pound keepers that year. He was also appointed to a few other positions, such as Assessor and Overseer of Highways. Joseph Easton was named as Town Warden, along with William Brown.

They may not have had sign bylaws, and no-one was told what colour they could paint their front door, but some of the laws passed in 1802 were equally specific. For example, all fences had to be four feet, six inches high, and there had to be a space of five inches between the four bottom rails. This had to do with keeping animals from wandering, but an exception was made for hogs. “That all Hogs are to run at large in free but that those which do the people of the Neighbourhood damage, Shall be yoked with a sufficient yoke, or shut up, provided that the fences are Lawful.”

Some of the entries in the early years are a little obscure. In 1803, for example, it states that: “Ordered That Horses, Horned Cattle, Sheep and Swine Stand voted according to the Acts of the Province”.

One of the more interesting aspects of Council Minutes is the recording of births in the Townships. The population was small enough to make each birth a matter of interest, and it was clear that some couples were doing their part in adding to the community. William and Chloe Brown, of Wolford, had a son, Erastus, born in 1791, one of the earliest births in the region. Then, in 1792, they had another son; and yet more sons in 1794, 1796 and 1799. Daniel Burritt and his wife Electa, had a son in 1798, a daughter, Urania, in 1802, and Daniel jnr was born in 1804.

Finding unusual names for your children was something parents liked to do back then, just as they do today. But some of those names… We’ve come across Urania and Electa Burritt, but there was also Shankful Olmstead, Arethusa Powers, Orra Pamele, and Axy Waller. Jabez was a popular name, along with the more usual Hiram, Ira, Truman, Caleb and Erastus. It was a close knit community, where neighbours depended on each other for so many things. Wolford’s population in 1802 was 165, and Oxford’s was just 14, the Harris family who lived just outside what would become Burritt’s Rapids.

By 1815, just before significant immigration arrived after the War of 1812, Wolford’s population had grown to 322, but Oxford’s had only reached 25. That wave of immigration was soon to radically alter the character and make-up of the Townships. Two years later, in 1817, Oxford had 71 residents, while Wolford’s population remained almost unchanged. But the laws remained consistent. “Ordered that Sheep shall be free Commoners Except Rams for which the Law has made Provision”. It’s a brief insight into life in our locality a century ago, at a time when roads were primitive, at best; when a rural lifestyle of subsistence and labour was about to be transformed by the building of the Rideau Canal, and a whole new era would dawn.

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