New Brunswick History and Other Stuff

A Pompous Captain on the Evils of Logging

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From the blog at

Logging with Oxen

Logging With Oxen

From the McCord Museum

This story is from the anonymous book Letters from Nova Scotia and New Brunswick Illustrative of Their Moral, Religious, and Physical Circumstances During the Years 1826, 1827, and 1828, Edinburgh, 1829. The letters are fictional, but honestly reflect some of the social issues of the day.

Here, an old retired Captain complains of the neglect of agriculture in favour of logging. The Captain was a cranky old man, but the subject, that agriculture was being neglected, was a popular one.

A Pompous Captain on the Evils of Logging

March 17, 1826

My Dear Sir,

In my last letter I wrote you of my visit to Dr. — of the —, and of our conversation till Captain — of the — entered the room. Permit me to introduce you to my friend the Captain. He is a stout muscular tall man, and though he has not seen fifty summers and winters, yet his head has many gray hairs, and his body bends considerably, the effect of twenty years of military labour. His aspect is stern, and his manners altogether are rough, but when he opens his lips to speak in a private company, his features seem to relax, and there is a kindness in his eyes, and a softness in his tones, which win and delight. Though fond of argument, though, like Goldsmith’s schoolmaster, even when vanquished he can argue still, though he debates just as I should believe he fights, with his whole might, and yields as reluctantly to the moral power of demonstration as the bravest soldier to the physical strength of his adversary, yet he can be “pleased with a rattle and tickled with a straw.” He delights in politics. His principles are ultra-tory, and I am positive that he would prefer, like Peter the Hermit, to marshal the nations to war against the political infidels of his times, as he designates the Whigs and radicals, to the noblest honours of the British army. We differ on almost all subjects, and therefore we have had many stormy disputes; but still I have whiled away many pleasant hours in his company, and I respect him.

“When saw you —,” he exclaimed as he entered the room. “Oh, Mr. —, I beg your pardon, how are you. Were you at the launch to-day” I replied in the negative. “Oh!” said he, “the timber trade is the ruin of this country. The soil, I say the soil is the basis of a nation’s wealth, and just as its capabilities are developed and improved, does it rise in importance.” “The trees,” said I, “are a mine of wealth. They fetch riches into the country.” “The trees,” he replied, may put a few pounds into the farmer’s pockets, but they, do not at all better the circumstances of these provinces.” (The Doctor begged to interrupt him for a moment to ask him to fill a glass which the servant bad just set down before him. “Oh, no. Not that cold stuff, Doctor. Have you got any warm water? I shall take a tumbler of rum toddy.”) “If the farmer produce a sufficiency for his own yearly consumption, and then cut down trees and manufactures them for the foreign market, that he may have the means of obtaining foreign articles, he does not benefit his property. He may, in this way, have plenty of luxuries. He may make himself rich, not because his grounds are a farthing more valuable than they were previously, but because he has got a liberal remuneration for his labour; because he has been a fortunate workman. In this way, indeed, (the doctor fell asleep,) he may be enabled to uphold a vast establishment, to furnish his premises with plenty of foreign furniture, and his table with plenty of foreign luxuries, yet his son, but for the money he has in his pockets, is as poor as his father was at the commencement of his, I mean to say that his exertions have not contributed to the benefit of his country, and that his landed property at his death is just what it was at his succession to it.” “But you must allow,” said I, “that the cutting down of the trees is a necessary preliminary to the cultivation of the soil.” “I admit it, Sir. But then the labour employed in manufacturing them into boards, and in conveying them to the wharves, is not necessary, and from this labour, not from the trees, for in themselves they are almost valueless, the profit arises.”

“And how do they employ the ready cash, which obtain from their labour?” “They have plenty of food to eat, but then they will not eat; and plenty of clothing to put on, but then they will not put it on.” “No, Sir. In their opinion the flour from the United States makes more excellent bread, than the wheat, or rye, or maize of Nova Scotia, and, therefore, they sell their own produce, and buy it. The poorest of the poor looks with contempt upon any bread, which is not wheaten, and will not eat it upon any account.”

“I will tell you another way in which the farmers employ the ready cash, which they make by the timber trade. By expensive entertainments. The winter may be said to be seven months long; and, during the whole of this time, they are at parties two or three times a week. Their daughters must be dressed in all the elegance of British or French manufacture, and, instead of attending to the duties of domestic economy, their days and nights must be employed in reading novels, butchering tunes upon the pianoforte, and playing cards.” The Doctor awoke out of his sleep and heard these last words; “I say, Captain,” he exclaimed, I will not permit any gentleman to speak so lightly of the ladies of Nova Scotia in my company.” The Captain smiled. “I admit, my dear Doctor, that I have small pretensions to determine concerning the employments of the fair, but I do not think that as rational creatures, their happiness can be permanently secured; or, that as famers daughters, their fathers’ estates can be benefited by a ceaseless routine of engagements, like those which I have mentioned.” “I maintain. Sir,” said the Doctor, “that the ladies of Nova Scotia are pretty, and ought to have amusement.” “Beauty is, indeed,” replied the Captain, “an useful property, my dear Doctor, but the most valuable part of the young farmers of Nova Scotia and New Brunswick will not be caught by it without other good qualities. The light and airy, girl,— the sport of the ballroom, (‘hear, hear,’ from Dr. —) will grow old in her maidenhood, while those who have sunk into littleness before her, are wives and mothers. The reason is obvious. The qualities which make a pleasant flirt are wholly different from those which make a good wife and mother of a family.” “Just,” said the Doctor, “as the qualities which make Irishmen good soldiers or sailors make them bad farmers.”

“Now, Gentlemen,” said the Captain, “I will tell you of another way by which the farmers are kept poor, in spite of the profits of the timber trade. The habits, which many months of idleness and enjoyments have formed, cannot be cast off like an old coat, like an old coat at the commencement of summer. It is more easy to mortgage their property for any surplus of their expenditure above their means, and to trust to the contingencies of coming years for its liquidation, than to work, and the temptation is frequently a sufficient one. Lawyer — told me last night, that farmers allowed their accounts frequently to swell in the merchants’ books, till they were obliged to grant a mortgage upon the lands for their payment of them. Instead of buying with ready money only; instead of going to Halifax for their supplies, they purchase in country stores perhaps at 100 or 160 per cent, above the town prices.”

“They seem to forget, perhaps not to feel, that every shilling which is added to the sum total of their account to the store-keeper, takes away something from their freedom. They must obey the mandate of their creditor; not their own wishes. It is a fact, Captain. I know it is a fact. Think of the perpetual war in Ireland betwixt the landlords and the priests—betwixt earth and heaven. It is an excellent illustration of the contest, which the consciences of the inhabitants of this country have constantly with the commands of their creditors;” “Talk not to me of Ireland, Doctor, I detest it.” “I am sorry, Captain, that I cannot quarrel with you upon that subject. For, though dear to me, as an Irishman; though my soul loves to linger at times over its hills of verdure, and its valleys of fruits; yet the fact of its overgrown population, with all its debasement; comes upon me perpetually, and almost makes me wish that I had not been a native of Erin. But, for men, like those in Nova Scotia, who have the means of making themselves independent, to idle away their time in slavery, bespeaks a spirit so low, so mean, so abject, as to excite something like a mixture of pity and disgust. To while away the hours in idle indulgencies, while their families are ruining their constitutions, and acquiring habits, sufficient to blast all their prospects of happiness in after years, as exceedingly foolish as —“ “As you?” said the Captain, “to dwell like a hog in this den, when you might have all the comforts of a gentleman.” “I trust, Captain, you do not mean to impeach my conduct as an officer and a gentleman, for if —. “ “What a notion, my dear Sir; I might with equal propriety call the snow black before your doors. But certainly —.” “Oh, I know what you are about to say—but I maintain that knowingly to allow one’s property to be wasted, and, consequently, one’s independence to be stolen away from him, is a proof of a degradation of mind, which fits its subject for the political atmosphere of Turkey or of Spain.” “Speak not, Sir,” said the Captain, “so lightly of the allies of Great Britain.”

I was afraid of a long and stormy discussion upon this subject, which the Doctor had inadvertently introduced; and, therefore made a movement indicative of my departure. The Captain rose also, and took up his hat; but just as he had groped his way nearly to the door, his foot came in contact with a heap of books, &c. &c. and he fell prostrate upon the floor. He rose immediately; but his look, when the Doctor asked him if he had received any injury, I cannot picture.


Written by johnwood1946

July 20, 2016 at 8:58 AM

Posted in Uncategorized

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