Monday, October 4, 2010

The Hector, 1773 and 2008

The Hector

Two years ago, I gave a paper at a conference at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia. The day after it ended I went on an excursion to see a replica of the Hector in Pictou. In the history of Highland emigration to the Maritimes the Hector is a bit like the Mayflower.

On our drive across Nova Scotia, I sat in the back of an SUV with three rows of seats. I was a bit freaked-out about this; I had no idea how I would exit the "way back-back" in case of an accident. However, once we were on our way and I was distracted by the scenery and chit-chat with my travel-mates that fear was pushed to the back of my mind. We had a lovely lunch of fish and chips in Pictou and then went to visit the the Hector Heritage Quay on what was a steel-grey day with strong winds off the Gulf of St. Lawrence.

Deck of the Hector

The emigrants aboard the Hector had been recruited mostly from Wester Ross (a handful were from Glasgow) on behalf of the Philadelphia Land Company. One of the proprietors of this company was John Witherspoon (yes, that Witherspoon - Presbyterian minister, President of Princeton, and signer of the Declaration of Independence).

While I had to spend several hours being cooped up in an SUV without enough doors, the 190 passengers spent two-and-a-half months aboard the Hector between July and September 1773. When the weather was good they could be on deck in the sunshine. However, when the weather was bad, which was often - they even encountered a hurricane - they were confined to the hold which was 83' x 24 ' x10'. The things that look like shelves were actually berths for the passengers. I wonder if they "freaked-out"?

The hold of the Hector

The quarters must have been unbearable as there was dysentery and all sorts of other illness on board. And of course there was no proper sanitation. Most of the passengers did live to see Pictou, but their troubles did not end there. First off, there really wasn't a Pictou yet. They imagined a small village on the other side of the Atlantic, but it was an untamed, wooded wilderness, like nothing they had ever seen. On top of that, they land they had been promised was two to three miles inland; the coastal land was already promised to others.

But they persevered, learned to build lean-tos and somehow made it through that first winter. Within two years they had sent their first shipment of lumber back to the UK, the beginning of a thriving timber industry in Pictou. The voyage of the Hector was also the beginning of long-lasting migration networks connecting the Highlands and the Maritimes.

Looking skyward from the hold

In 1833, William McKay, who sailed on the Hector as a ten-year old boy, compiled a list of those who sailed with him. There is a transcript of the list and an image of the hand written list, both at the Hector Heritage Quay website.

More information on the voyage of the Hector can be found in almost any good book on 18th Scottish emigration to North America or books on migration to Canada. For this post I used Voyagers to the West: A Passage in the Peopling of America on the Eve of the Revolution by Bernard Bailyn and An Unstoppable Force: The Scottish Exodus to Canada by Lucille Campey.

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