It was about five o'clock in the morning; the sun was showing red over the tops of the Allegheny Mountains and the date was the first week in April in the year 1794. Four Conestoga wagons, (Photo) two drawn by horses and two drawn by oxen, were loaded to capacity with the household effects of four families about to leave their homes in Somerset County, Pennsylvania, for new homes in Canada. The preceding summer two of the men had gone to Canada to spy out the land In the Niagara District, they had found most of the good land had been either allotted or settled upon by earlier arrivals, and so they had traveled around the head of Lake Ontario to York. Here they were told they might get 200 acres as a grant, and that additional land would be available either to rent or for purchase at a low price.
This particular morning there was a quiet spirit of anticipation, for they were leaving good homes to live in a land of virgin forest. In the group there were grandparents as well as parents with small children, responding to an inherited drive to be pioneers in search of a new country where they could continue to live under the British flag and be free of army service and have freedom to practice their religion. The previous evening their friends had met with them to hold a religious service -- they belonged to the Dunkard church -- and to wish them well on their journey. Some of their well-wishers hoped to follow soon, particularly if the reports coming back were good.
The women and small children would ride in the Conestoga wagons, a means of conveyance first made in the Conestoga Valley of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. The wagons being used on this trip were made locally out of swamp oak, white oak, hickory, locust, gum or poplar from neighboring woodlands, and ironed by the local blacksmith. All the work was, of course, done by hand. The wagons used on this migration were the farm type, much smaller but built along the same lines as the large transports often drawn by six horses.
The type of wagon was admirably suited to travel over poor roads, for the wagon bed was long and deep, with a considerable sag in the middle, both lengthwise and crosswise, so that, should the load shift, it would settle towards the centre and not press against the end gates. The body resembled a rowboat with square ends, and indeed was sometimes used as such after the interstices were carefully caulked with tar and the wheels removed and placed inside the wagon. Such rivers as the Susquehanna and Niagara could thus be crossed if ferries were not available.
The bows of the wagon followed the line of the ends of the body, and were slanted outwards. A white homespun tentlike cover was spread over the hoops to protect goods and persons riding in the wagon. The driver usually rode the horse on the left hand side, or walked on that side. The drivers of the big transport wagons are given the credit for the fact that traffic in America passes on the right instead of the left, contrary to English custom.
Our calvalcade had a cow tied to the back of each wagon. Her milk was placed in a bucket under the wagon, and the rocking back and forth of the bucket turned the milk into butter. As well as the cows, there were sheep, pigs, and fowl. These were to prove a considerable difficulty on the route, because of their tendency to stray far and the efforts needed to protect them from attack by wild animals. Such livestock were put in the charge of the young men and girls, particularly when streams had to be forded and the animals had to swim.
The Conestoga wagon was usually drawn by the Conestoga horse, bred, it is thought, of Flemish stallions with Virginia mares. It had a short arched neck, full mane, good clean legs, and a weight of fourteen hundred pounds or more. It was powerful and quiet but slow and thus suited for pioneer work. It was popular in Upper Canada until about 1840 when, with improved roads, faster-moving horses were sought. Other breeds, such as Canadian, Clydesdale, and Shires took their place and the Conestoga disappeared.
Although most of the early settlers from Pennsylvania made the trip to Canada by Conestoga wagon, only two of the original wagons are still in existence in Ontario at the present time (1971); on, in Waterloo county, came up in 1807; the other, and older, is in the possession of Amos Baker, Lot 11, Concession 2, Vaughan Township, whose great-great-grandfather, John Baker, drove up from Somerset County, Pennsylvania, in 1796. How well it was made was demonstrated at the centenary of Waterloo County in 1952, when it was driven back over the same route that John Baker had taken in 1796.
There were two routes by which early settlers made their way from Pennsylvania and New York states into Upper Canada. Those Sunbury, Williamsport, Bath, Genesee, and Batavia, cross the Niagara River at Buffalo, and then continued by St. Catharines and Hamilton as far as York. Those from the eastern sections went by way of Reading, Allentown, Wilkes-Barre, Elmira, Canandaigua, and Rochester to Lewiston. From there they followed the same route to Canada as far as Hamilton.
The settlers we are interested in came by way of Harrisburg. It was not unusual for the trip to take six weeks or more. When they arrived in the Niagara area they were almost 'home-free,' for those who had preceded them were always most hospitable and gave them the benefit of their experience. Many such migrations of families were to take place during the next twenty years.
Those who came before 1796 did not receive deeds for their property; sometimes, however, location tickets were given. Hence, those who came into Vaughan township in the early years took up land as squatters. Normally they would put up a barn or some form of protection for the livestock before they built a house. Coming as most of them did in the early summer, the protection could be simple at first until the cold weather came. By that time adequate shelter was unusually completed.
Extraction of the Introduction to the following book:
A History of Vaughan Township
by G. Elmore Reaman
@George C. H. Snider, 1971
Printed: University of Toronto
My children's paternal lines of Keffer, Puterbaugh (main lines) followed the above route.