Settlement of Lot 32 and Cornwall
The process of settling the Island was a slow one. In fact, the population of the entire Island in 1770 was less than 1000 people.8 In a report given by John Stewart, Esq., he stated that between the years of 1769 and 1779, there was “nothing done”9 on Lot 32. Later, from the years 1780-1800 he stated, “Lots 31 and 32, on the first of these townships it has been seen that a settlement was early commenced, and it soon after spread to the other, but as they were both included in the sales of 1781, the uncertainty in which the property stood pending the proceedings consequent to that transaction, the improvement of them during this period was much retarted.”10
By 1798, there were eleven families in Lot 32. The families consisted of; John Wilson, family of eight; William Crosby, family of eight; William Hyde, family of nine, John Creamer, family of five; William Dockendorff, family of three; William Long, family of five; Donald McNab, family of three; Jacob Hartze, family of seven; Jer. Myers, family of four; Conrad Younker, family of two, and William Fisher, family of three.11 Some of these families names can still be found in Cornwall.
The majority of the settlers in the Cornwall area were of English, Irish or Scottish descent. Unfortunately, the census data for Lot 32 from the first half of the nineteenth century are missing, which makes it difficult to assess the conditions of settlement during that time. We do know that a large portion of Lot 32 was reserved for United Empire Loyalists. The reserved Loyalist lands were found mostly in the northern half of Lot 32, however, some United Empire Loyalists did take land in the Cornwall area, as you will see later on. According to the Meacham Atlas however, “The first census of the Island was taken in 1827. The population at that time was 23,000. Charlottetown and Royalty had a population of 2,000. Bridges now began to be built, and roads to be improved and extended all over the country.”12
The earliest attempt (perhaps the first) at a written history of Cornwall was written by Mrs. Bert Warren (a.k.a. Kate Angus). Her paper is not dated, but can be estimated sometime before 1967. In her paper, Mrs. Warren speaks about the birth of her siblings in the year 1874, so we can guess that she would have been born around that time as well. It appears that much of the information in her paper was obtained by means of oral history, and is believed to be very accurate. She speaks of an Aegis family who arrived at Bass Cove from England with many supplies most likely with the intention of settling on Prince Edward Island. This family however did not stay and later a family by the name of Appleby came and lived on the same land for several years. The author continues with stories of Charlotte Appleby’s famous home-made doughnuts which were very popular among the early residents of Cornwall. The Appleby’s later moved to New Brunswick. The story goes that the Drake brothers came to purchase the land which stayed in the family for several generations. Mrs. Warren then refers to her own family: John McDonald was her grandfather and was the one who settled the land next to the Drakes. This all took place before the year 1809 as she has a tax receipt dated that year.13
A former Cornwall resident by the name of Frank MacArthur also wrote a brief history of Cornwall in 1964. This author is inclined to think that Mr. MacArthurs book was written after Mrs. Warren’s history paper. Whatever the case may be, Mr. MacArthur has his own theories as to the first families in the area. He mentions the Newson family as well as the Mayhew’s who emigrated from England in the early 1800’s.14 He also states that William Leonard was the first Irishman to settle the area in the late 1700’s. The dates that MacArthur provides differ from family genealogy records. Louis MacDonald who was a great grandson of William Leonard, was very passionate and knowledgeable about his family genealogy. His records indicate that his great grandfather emigrated from Ireland in 1819. William settled in the Cornwall area, began clearing the land and built a log cabin for shelter. During those early years the only visitors he saw were the Mi’kmaq’s traveling through.15
It is interesting to note that these two early histories make mention of the earlier Mi’kmaq and French inhabitants of the area and the remnants of their time spent there. MacArthur specifically mentions the French, stating, “Tradition says a French fort was built on the West River shore of this property during the days of the French occupation. Certainly there is some basis for the story as one may yet see old ruins that resemble a military post. And a French settler is supposed to have operated a saw mill at the front end of the estate bordering on the Ferry Road. But as I said before these stories can’t be substantiated by facts.”16
Another oral tradition about the Mi’kmaqs of the area was told by a Cornwall resident. The story goes that when the one of the early settlers landed on the Primrose Point, the “natives” came down from the woods and helped the family off the boat. They took the woman and children up to their camp and the other began helping the new arrivals cut down some wood to build a home.17
Slowly but surely the southern half of Lot 32 was becoming established, beginning of course along the shore lines of the two rivers and moving inland as roads were created. Other families like the Mayhews, Pyes, Kellows, Scotts, Walshs, Egans, Costellos, Howards, Dockendorffs, McKinlays, and settled in the area. It appears that there was a slow but steady increase of population in the Cornwall area starting in the 1810s and up to the 1880s. By 1871, the population of Cornwall had increased to approximately 275 people.18 Cornwall was growing into a well-established farming village. In a report of Lot 32 submitted by Charles Hooper in 1871, it was stated that, “The soil is of a medium quality; nevertheless it is well adapted for agricultural pursuits. Fronting on the West River, and having the North River running through the center of the Township, there is a considerable quantity of sea manure and shell mud within the reach of most inhabitants, which they and those of the adjoining Township have, for the last five years, taken advantage of. Wheat is not much cultivated in the Northern portion of the Township. Potatoes, Barley, Oats, Turnips, and Hay, grown well, and will compete with almost any other Township on the Island. A large quantity of produce is shipped at Poplar Island Bridge; average distance from the Southern and Western sections of the Township about 2 1/2 miles. Charlottetown is the principal market for the Northern section of the Township; average distance about 6 miles.”19
Although the residents of Cornwall and area were mainly farmers, the region also boasted many different occupations and services. Some of the occupations (other than farming) of the inhabitants of Cornwall in 1881 included; joiners, seamstress, carriage maker, blacksmiths, school teacher, butcher, tailoress, millers, servant, labourer, dressmaker, shoe maker, Mason, students, ministers, store keepers/merchants. In his interview with Dutch Thompson, Louis MacDonald made the statement that Cornwall likely did not change much from the 1860’s to the 1950’s. The houses up to that point were built in the 1800’s.20 It appears that the big boom so to say or the point in time which saw the most growth in population in Cornwall happened around the 1960’s. Since that time Cornwall has seen more growth and more change than perhaps any other community on Prince Edward Island.