They poured across the border. They walked, they rowed, and they sailed. They came on horseback, in carriages, in small boats and in large ships. They came up the eastern seaboard, along the rivers and through the wilderness. Many of them died along the way of disease or despair or as victims of bullets and bayonets, tomahawks and arrows and even bare fists. Some were rich, many were poor. A good many of them were soldiers of the families of mariners, teachers, preachers, and slaves.
They were the Loyalists - tens of thousands of North Americans who were driven from their native hearths during the American Revolutionary War because they would not embrace independence and republicanism.
Some of them were driven from their homes, publicly humiliated, tarred and feathered and ridden out of town on a rail. Some came sneaking through the night leaving property and even family behind, driven by the interdiction of a local Committee of Public Safety. Some fled from the mob in blind panic. Most fled with the help of Her Majesty's Navy, crowded together - men, women, children, cattle, pigs, and chickens, on already overburdened ships.
The coming of the Loyalists was a pivotal point in Canadian history. Some say it was the equivalent of the Norman invasion of England in 1066, but more potent because in much of the country the invaders were the majority. When the fleets landed in Nova Scotia in 1783, they left more loyalists than there were established colonists. A local population of about 20,000 in Atlantic Canada was buried in a transplanted population of 34,000 Loyalists. The area that is now Ontario was a wilderness, almost void of white men, with just a scattering of First Nations and French fur traders. It was overwhelmed by somewhere between 7,500 and 12,000 newcomers who were fruitful and multiplied. The opening of the Upper Canada interior proceeded just as quickly with the population increasing from 10,000 in 1751 to 925,000 in 1774. This put enormous pressure on the government to clear and settle the land.
Phineas and Anna Hurd had been wealthy landowners in Connecticut. Both Phineas and Anna had been born and raised in Connecticut. They had 6 children before moving to Arlington, Vermont, where they had an additional 6 children. Phineas owned one of the finest farms in Arlington and was reported to be one of the wealthiest men in the country. He was a Loyalist who had declared his allegiance to the King of England. His problems arose when he ran into some difficulties with a neighbour who happened to be a Captain under the order of the Committee of Safety.
It had been suspected that Phineas Hurd and friends had been collecting arms and stockpiling them for the British. On one occasion, in the company of one such friend, Benjamin Eastman, Phineas went to Sandgate, Vermont and persuaded some residents to hand over their weapons. He convinced them that they would be in no condition to fight or offer resistance to the advancing armies of General Burgoyne. The pattern was that Phineas would collect the arms, hide them at predetermined spots, and the British would retrieve them.
For this act of treason, as determined by the Committee of Safety, Phineas Hurd and Benjamin Eastman were arrested on August 22, 1777. Eastman recanted his actions and swore allegiance to the America and was released. Phineas Hurd refused to recant and was jailed. He escaped, how is not known. However, sometime later it was reported to the Captain (his neighbour) that Phineas was at home. The Committee of Safety convinced a friend of the Hurds to get Phineas to meet him. When Phineas appeared, he was taken into custody without the opportunity to speak to his family. They never saw him again. Phineas was however, allowed to contact a family friend, Israel Burritt, and have him tell Anna what had happened. The general opinion of the day was that Phineas was held prisoner on a prison ship moored at the mouth of the North River (Hudson River). On December 31, 1777, the ship mysteriously burned, killing all on board, including Phineas.
Anna Hurd, with a family of 12 children, the oldest just 18, was not long left to mourn by the authorities. In a few days, her house was entered by those claiming to act by authority of the Committee and was stripped of everything. Even the cup containing the medicine for her children, sick with the measles, and the linen from the clothesline were taken. Anna was the victim of such search and seizure a total of three times. On one occasion the searchers, disappointed and maddened at not finding anything to carry away, beat Anna with their muskets from room to room, and so abused her that she carried the scars of their cruel treatment to her grave.
The estate of Phineas Hurd was declared confiscated and advertised for sale, but fortunately no purchaser was found. His eldest son, Tyrus, threatened death to any person who should venture to take possession. On October 12, 1778, the General Assembly of Vermont, "a petition, granted to the widow Anna Hurd, the use of her late husband's farm, during their pleasure". This put an end to any further annoyance" (from the Vermont Historical Gazetteer by Abby Maria Hemmingway, Vol. 1, 1867). Just a few months afterwards, however, the lease of Phineas' land was given to Jacob Galusha in return for which he was to support Anna and her family. It was not long before Anna decided to leave.
When Phineas and Anna moved to Arlington, they did so with Anna's brother Jehiel Hawley. So when Anna packed up and moved to Canada, she did so with only 6 children; the older 6 children stayed in Vermont with her brother.
Asahel Hurd, the seventh child, and our link in the Hurd chain, was not happy with the Assembly's actions. Asahel, along with Stephen and Adoniram Burritt joined General Burgoyne's army. Asahel was just 10 years old at the time. He was involved in the battles at Saratoga, New York: the first on September 9, 1777 in which General Burgoyne's army was soundly defeated, and the second on October 17, 1777 where General Burgoyne's army was not only defeated but surrendered. General Horatio Gates, along with Commanders Daniel Morgan and Benedict Arnold, commanded the American armies.
This was another blow to Anna Hurd. Her husband was killed as a Loyalist and now her son was captured by the American Patriots while in the service of the British army. Asahel and the Burritt brothers escaped and made their way back to Vermont. Anna had no choice and decided, for the safety and well-being of her children, to leave the American Colonies for the British Colony to the north. They travelled by stealth rather than be caught by the Patriots. They walked on narrow bush trails through hostile country and made their way to Fort St. Johns, Quebec (now St. Jean).
Once safely in Canada, Asahel and the Burritt brothers joined the King's Rangers and went back to fight. Asahel Hurd and Stephen Burritt served in the Third Company, which was commanded by Captain Henry Ruiter. The King's Rangers were disbanded in 1783, but Asahel and Stephen continued to serve in the British army until their discharge in 1793. On April 17, 1793, they made their way to Augusta (which is now Prescott, Ontario) and from there went on to Fort St. Johns and joined up with their families. The would then relocate to Burritt's Rapids in Grenville County, Ontario.
First Nations had crisscrossed the area for centuries and trappers and loggers had made seasonal forays, but there had been no serious attempts at permanent settlement. Then, over 200 years ago, the forest began to turn into farms. The United Empire Loyalists moved into the area. The early pioneers such as Asahel Hurd and Stephen Hurd finally settled in the southwest corner of Marlborough Township and founded Burritt's Rapids. Here they would have seen a beautiful but daunting landscape with dense forest concealing fertile land, but also extensive swamps, a network of small streams and rocky outcroppings.
This terrain made overland travel virtually impossible for the settlers, and the waterways were their principle method of travel. The creeks and the Rideau River remained essential transportation routes for another 100 years. On land, the settlers made use of widened trails or the portage routes of the trappers and loggers. As settlement moved inland from the river and creek banks, additional roads were created along road allowances, the boundaries of which were marked by surveyors by putting blazes on trees. The trees on these rudimentary roads were felled with axes and dragged off by oxen or horses to be burned, leaving the stumps to rot in time (5 to 7 years for most hardwood, longer for pine). Alternatively, and especially in swamps, the tree trunks were laid crossways on the road to make the notoriously rough corduroy roads, composed of logs of different diameters, rolling at different rates and often not placed close enough together. Deep mud holes and trees falling across the roadway added to the perils of overland travel. Nearly every account of pioneer life in Upper Canada describes the wretched conditions of the roads.
The following excerpt from Edwin C. Guillet's "Early Life in Upper Canada" is an example: "our passage through the great swamp, which in summer presents for several miles one uniform bridge of rough and unequal logs, all laid loosely across huge sleepers, so that they jump up and down, when pressed by wheels, like keys of a piano. The rough motion and jolting occasioned by this collision is so distressing, that it never fails to entail upon the traveller sore bones and aching head for the rest of the way. The path is so narrow over those logs that two wagons cannot pass without great difficulty, which is rendered more dangerous by the deep natural ditches on either side of the bridge formed by broad creeks that flow out of the swamp, and often terminate in mud-holes of very ominous dimensions."
Under these circumstances, most social and commercial travel in the early days was done in the winter when the frozen rivers and creeks made excellent highways. This winter transportation over snow roads or on the ice of the lake and river was one of the main sources of the rapid prosperity of the country, for during this season the farmer was able to take his produce to market and obtain a year's supplies. Even as late as 1825, it is estimated that at least two-thirds of the crops were transported in winter.
Settlers were required as a condition of their land grant to open a road in front of their lot (a lot was 200 acres; 1 mile long and 100 rods (1,650 feet) wide in Marlborough Township, 1 1/4 miles long and 100 rods wide in North Gower Township). The settler also had to share in the work necessary to maintain the road system in his area. But this obligation could and was taken fairly lightly when there was little or no enforcement of the requirement and when other more urgent demands on time and labour intervened such as provision of food and shelter.
The land grant procedure itself made a continuous road system of any quality unlikely because 2 out of every 7 lots in a checkerboard pattern were reserved for the Crown and clergy. In addition, scores of lots were granted to persons who had no intention of settling, but held onto the land for speculation. Military service was often rewarded by a land grant, with the size of the lot proportional to rank.
Phineas and Anna Hurd had been wealthy, as wealth was measured in those days: fertile fields, beautiful homes, and large holdings of cattle. But upon arriving in Canada, Anna and her children were not so well off. She and her family had all their worldly possessions on their backs. Their first home was a log cabin built with only an axe and drawknife to cut and shape the logs. The roof and furniture were made from split logs. Tables were made from the biggest logs split in two and mounted flat side up on four legs inserted in auger holes. Chairs were made the same way. The babies slept in sap-trough cradles. For heating and cooking fireplaces were built of stone in the corner of the cabin. There were no stove pipes, just a hole in the roof to let the smoke out. If the winds were favourable, the smoke escaped the house, if not, the smoke stayed inside.
The small community prospered and life for Anna and her family became somewhat comfortable. Anna petitioned the Governor of Canada for compensation for the loss of their lands and belongings as a result of their loyalty to the British Crown. In the late 1790's she and her family were each granted an Order in Council and paid compensation. Anna continued to return to Vermont to visit her family, but she never again called Vermont home. She died in Burritt's Rapids on December 21, 1822 and was buried in the Blue Church Cemetery near Prescott, Ontario.
On June 12, 1812, President James Madison declared war on Great Britain. This action thrust the people of Upper Canada in danger of an invasion once again. The war front extended from Montreal on the east to the western tip of Lake Erie, with some of the fiercest battles taking place between Fort Niagara and Buffalo. Lundy's Lane and Queenston Heights were pivot points in the war; through the leadership of Sir Isaac Brock, the overwhelming invading force was repelled (General Brock was killed at Queenston Heights in October 1812).
Quite a number of men went to the front from the little settlement of Burritt's Rapids during the period 1812-15. Stephen Hurd was a Lieutenant-Colonel and his father Asahel Hurd was a Captain. They both returned to the area after the war. The Hurds and Burritt’s continued to prosper in their new home carved out of the wilderness. In 1824, Stephen and Asahel headed a group and raised what proved to be a liberal subscription (government grant) toward building a bridge to span the Rideau River. The bridge became a reality; it was a substantial wooden structure (on the site of the present bridge) and the first bridge ever built across the Rideau River.