Canadian Soil At Last

ILLUSTRATION:    1868 Etching by Henry Doyle depicting Emigrants leaving Ireland circa 1827 from “An Illustrated History of Ireland from AD 400 to 1800 by Mary Franes Cusack”.

Our Ulster ancestors set off on a journey to a strange and peculiar land called Canada first landing in Lower Canada.  Canada was an old Indian word that must have sounded strange to their Celtic ear.

Upper Canada?  Lower Canada?  These two terms describing early Canada may sound unfamiliar to the un-experienced mind, terms that Canadians take for granted, but may have never questioned or forgotten what they meant as time progressed.  Throughout the History of the McCutcheons From Donaghadee, these terms are used when speaking of a particular epoch.

Prior to 1791, Canada was under French rule.  Canada passed from French control to Great Britain through the “Treaty of Paris” dated 1763.  Canada became divided into two distinct ethnic, geographic, and political groups.  The French retained their autonomy in the lower portion of the river basin (watershed), closer to the headwaters of the St Lawrence River east of the city of Montreal.

The newer immigrants from Britain and the loyalist refugees fleeing the American Revolution of the late 18th century settled west of Montreal or the upper portion of the river basin (watershed).

The prefix’s “Upper” and “Lower” were attached to the word “Canada” to define each distinct geographic group which in turn became associated with the two distinct ethnic groups. These two terms were basic terms that described the watershed involving the Ottawa River, the Great Lakes and the St. Lawrence Seaway.  The Ottawa River headwaters over 1,100 kilometers North West of its drainage point into the St. Lawrence River with the ultimate destination of these waters finding their way into the Atlantic Ocean.

Another perspective of the aforementioned watershed; when travelling on the St. Lawrence River, one travels up to the Great Lakes or down to the Atlantic Ocean.  Henceforth, upper and lower.

Upper Canada and Lower Canada were thusly called from the 26th December 1791 until the 10th February 1841, when they came to be known as “Canada West” and “Canada East”.  In 1840, The Act of Union united Lower Canada and Upper Canada under one umbrella.  Lower Canada was renamed to “Canada East”; Upper Canada to “Canada West”.

Canada West entered confederation on the 1st July 1867 as the province of Ontario; Canada East as the province of Quebec.

The year was 1820….and 3,614 Irish people emigrated.  In 1821….1,518 Irish people emigrated.  From 1845 to 1850, 751,893….Irish people emigrated.  From 1820 to 1850, 43 % of the Emigrants to America were Irish.  This figure does not include those Irish who entered Canada, legally or illegally.  Most of the early Emigrants were Presbyterian – the Scots-Irish- from Ulster (1820 – 1840).  They were most often farmers or tradesmen.  The Emigrants from 1840-1850 were mostly Irish Catholics.  They didn’t leave earlier because they were more emotionally tied to family and community.

Isabella Morrison stated in her deposition dated 21st May 1844 “…the said Samuel McCutcheon was married to Charlotte Letitia, the only daughter of this deponent and the said Henry Morrison and this deponent further saith that about the year of our lord one thousand eight hundred and twenty four the said deponent accompanied the said Samuel McCutcheon and his family from Ireland….” 

Isabella’s recollection is that the McCutcheon family immigrated around 1824.  This is probably out by one year, as the following newspaper articles found, place McCutcheons on the de Salaberry in 1823.

Historical records indicate that the complete migration of the McCutcheons from Donaghadee was a “chain migration.”

Beginning in 1817, travel commenced by steam boat from Quebec City to Montreal, then passengers either embarked on Durham boats for the journey from Montreal to Kingston, or beginning circa 1823, overland by stage coach Montreal to Kingston.  After the frost left the ground, until it froze again, the overland journey by stage coach was deplorable.  It was fraught with rough corduroy roads, muddy treks through streams and gulley’s when it rained.  Stage coach travel fared better once the ground was frozen.

Montreal Gazette, Saturday June 14, 1823 – STEAM-BOAT DE SALABERRY LOST!

We learn with much regret, from Captain Ryan of the Steamboat La-Prairie, arrived last night from Quebec, that the De Salaberry was discovered to be on fire last Thursday morning at six o’clock off Cap Rouge, and the flames having made so much progress as to be un-extinguishable, she was run on the chain of rocks at that place. As soon as the accident was perceived by the La-Prairie, then about three miles ahead, she ran down to her assistance, and, in concert with two boats dispatched from the shore on the same humane errand, took off such passengers as had remained on the wreck, some of whom had taken refuge in the chains and rigging, and whose distress may be more easily imagined than described. Many, indeed, of the more adventurous had jumped overboard before Captain Ryan reached her, but he is of opinion that few, if any, lives were lost. She then drifted with the flood tide into the middle of the river, and, when last seen, was burnt to the water’s edge. Both boats had left Quebec about two o’clock the same morning; the De Salaberry with about 150 persons (principally emigrants,) and a valuable cargo, all of which was lost; and the La-Prairie with 120, mostly of the same description – We understand that Mr. Kuper, who commanded the former, used every effort to save the lives and property of those on board. [Source] Courant.


It is with feelings of deep regret that we announce the loss of this boat. She left our port about two o’clock yesterday morning for the River Chambly and Montreal, with a full cargo, valued at upwards of 3000 [UKP], consisting chiefly of the summer investments of the merchants of the river Chambly: and had on board no less than 240 passengers, men, women and children, chiefly emigrants of the poorer classes. She had hardly passed Cape Rouge, about 4 o’clock, when she was discovered to be on fire. A quantity of fuel had been piled on the right side of the boilers under which it is supposed some particle of fire must have accidentally fallen. When Mr. Kuper (who had taken temporary charge of the boat, the master having lately left it,) was first alarmed, the fire seemed trifling: he hastened on deck, to direct that water should be poured down without delay; but on coming up, was astonished to find that the flames had penetrated the gratings over the engine room, where five puncheons of spirits had been stowed, one of which instantly caught fire, burst, and spread over the deck, communicating the blaze to several crates and hampers. The horror and confusion of the scene at this moment may be imagined but can hardly be described. The crowd of passengers huddled together in so small a craft, effectually baffled the spirited exertions Mr. Kuper and his crew made to subdue the raging element. In this perilous situation Mr. K. intent only on saving the lives of his passengers, directed the boat to be run a-shore; in nearing which, and before the water shoaled to the depth of a man’s height, she struck upon a rock; but the De Salaberry fortunately had two large American Boats, belonging to some rafts men who were returning home, attached to her, these with his own boat would have been fully adequate to save every individual and much of the property; several passengers at this moment in a state of uncontrollable alarm, precipitated themselves into the water;  though every exertion was made to save them, five or six unhappily perished, an American Gentleman, a cabin passenger, whose name is unknown, is supposed to have been of this number. It will hardly be credited that in this imminent peril, characters were found so inhumanly depraved as to avail themselves of common distress to plunder their fellow sufferers. It has however been reported to us, and we fear upon too good authority, that this was the case; that some of the first who landed detained the boats, regardless of the lives of those who remained on board, and commenced a most brutal scene of depredation and drinking. At a late hour of the day many were yet in a brutal state of intoxication, uttering the most ferocious execrations and threats against the proprietors of the vessel.

It is but justice to Mr. Kuper to add that during the whole of this trying scene, his exertions for the general safety were unremitting. We are sorry to find that the Boat was not insured, and that he thereby sustains a heavy loss independent of the property he had on board, being a principal owner. Mr. Willard of Sheffield is said to have lost property to the amount of 600 [UKP]: Mr. Cartier and Mr. Franchere, of Chambly, were also sufferers. The destruction of this Boat will prove a serious inconvenience to the public, as by means of her a regular communication with Lake Champlain had been opened, and Mr. Kuper had spared neither pains nor expense to render her accommodations equal to those of any other Boat of her class. Mr. Kuper expresses the utmost gratitude to the Proprietors of the Steam Boat Telegraph, for their alacrity in sending that boat to his assistance; several gentlemen of Quebec also rendered him their services. The Boat drifted as the tide rose, and was last seen off St. Augustin, nearly burned to the water’s edge.

Hitherto the steam-boats upon the St. Lawrence have been singularly fortunate, this being the first serious accident which has occurred. It is unnecessary for us to appeal to the feelings of a public, always keenly alive to the calls of humanity, in behalf of the unfortunate strangers who by this cruel accident are left destitute. We have no doubt that the deserving part of them will experience relief in the generosity of the inhabitants of Canada.

Since writing the above, we have been informed that the hull of the boat, having drifted as far as Pointe aux Trembles, upset, and the engine sunk – making the whole a total loss of between 8 and 9000 [UKP] [Source: Quebec Mercury].

The above two articles about the loss of the de Salaberry is the only information found so far to date of any such “ship-wrecked” boat. Disaster struck the de Salaberry on Thursday, the 13th June 1823.  The second article clearly states that this if the FIRST of any such accident on the St. Lawrence River.

The largest company to  operate steam boats was the St. Lawrence River was the St. Lawrence Steamboat Company, from  1819 to 1836, on the Steamers Malsham, New Swiftsure, Lady Sherbrooke, Car of Commerce, Caledonia, Quebec, Telegraph, Chambly, Waterloo, John Molson, St. Lawrence, John Bull, Canada, Voyageur and Canadian Eagle. The steamboat records that exist are the passenger lists of one company; the St. Lawrence Steamboat Company.  However, this company was not the only one operating on the River, from Quebec to Montreal.  There are no lists for any of the competitors who operated boats on the St Lawrence at that time. These records can be found at:

In 1819 and 1820, this company operated two steamboats:  the Malsham and the New Swifstsure. They made 40 trips in 1819 and 43 in 1820.  No McCutcheons were recorded using either one of these ships during these two years.

By 1821, immigrant traffic became heavier, so this company added another steamer, the Lady Sherbrooke, and a total of 59 trips from Quebec to Montreal were made that year.  However, most of the immigrant traffic arrived from ports other than Belfast or Dublin.  There were only 2 ships from Belfast that docked at the port of Quebec that year, on the 30th May bringing a total 458 of Irish immigrants.   There was one McCutcheons reported; W. McCutcheon and his wife who journeyed from Quebec to Montreal on the 28th July 1821 on the steamer Malsham.  This could possibly have been William McCutcheon and Agnes Beck. (Alice Burke in her history book wrote that William was here in 1821).

In 1822 only 2 brigs arrived from Belfast to the Port Quebec importing a scant 250 settlers.  One reference was made to a McCutcheon and wife, travelling from Quebec to Montreal aboard the steamer the Caledonia on the 15th July 1822.

However, 1823 was a much different scenario.  Six Brig’s arrived from Belfast this year, with many others from Cork, Dublin, Sligo.  The St. Lawrence Steamboat Company ran 116 trips from Quebec to Montreal and by now there were more competitors offering trips, sometimes at cheaper fares.  The market became very competitive.  The de Salaberry was one of their competitors.

On the 30th May 1823, J. McCutcheon and family (4 adults) took steerage from Quebec to Montreal aboard the New Swiftsure.  They probably came from Belfast aboard one of these 4 brigs:

Brig Sarah Mary Ann 19 April 1823 left Belfast 22 May 1823 to Quebec 33 days on journey 201 settlers
Brig Sarah 21 April 1823 left Belfast 22 May 1823 to Quebec 31 days on journey 136 settlers
Brig Canada 18 April 1823 left Belfast 22 May 1823 to Quebec 32 days on journey 191 settlers
Brig Diadem 13 April 1823 left Belfast 25 May 1823 to Quebec 42 days on journey 316 settlers

However, (no first name given) McCutcheon and wife and three children under twelve and brother and sister over twelve were aboard the de Salaberry when it burned and sank just off Cap-Rouge, Quebec.  Cap-Rouge was once a town of its own, but Is now part of Quebec City.  This McCutcheon family was rescued by the steamer “Telegraph” and given passage aboard the steamer, Quebec on the 15th June 1823.

It’s probable that not all of the McCutcheons were aboard the de Salaberry.  Historical records that exist indicate that they travelled on different boats for probably a few reasons; availability of space (there were over 1675 passengers that had arrived between May 16 and 25) and like true Scotsmen, negotiated fares. A price war was happening between competing companies.

Early records of the pioneers coming into Erin Township and Esquesing district were circa 1820.   These early pioneers came to lay claim to their land and to clear some land and build a small log cabin.  Initially, some brought their wives and children; some left to pick up their wives and children.  They came as far as they could by railroad (the railroad came near to Georgetown) and then trekked the rest of the way by cart, blazing the trails, to their homesteads.

The log cabins that they first constructed where one room, with the cracks between the logs filled with mud to keep out the elements and the bugs.  The entrance door was made of split cedar, with a small glass window pane.  The roof was covered in bark and the floor of the cabins was roughly hewn logs.  They built a fireplace out of the stones that they cleared from their land.

William and his father John McCutcheon were amongst this first group of settlers in Erin Township.

Samuel and Letitia settled nearby in Mono Township.


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