In the beginning

Aurelia’s land grant application of July 1, 1813 summarized her marriage relationship with Tom as a marriage of convenience. At the time of their marriage on April 28, 1812 she had five children to rear and had been widowed by Henry Peters for four, long, hard years. The title to Henry’s land, however was never severed, his mother Ann Peters retained sole title to all of the land granted on behalf of all of her sons. Ann’s disapproval of Tom would not bode well for her successful application. The land was rightly her inheritance, but she knew that Ann would appeal any grant in Aurelia’s favor.  It came as no great surprise that her petition appeal was “postponed” late in the fall of 1813.

During that summer, however, it became known to Tom and Aurelia that a small plot of land on the south side of the Bay, east of McAuleys was available.  It was poor and windswept but it would provide sound mooring for the boats, and limited cattle and vegetable farming. And so in the fall of 1814, Tom and Aurelia, together with their son Tom and Aurelia's five children moved from the north side of Cow Bay to their new home on the "South Head" of the bay.

The ensuing years saw  hardships but not unprosperous, fish were plentiful, the land produced their vegetable requirements, hens, cows, horses and especially sheep provided their dairy , protien, transport and clothing. Not many months would pass and their family of six would grow by one more son. An unfortunate incident with a fish bone however would end his short life.

Great grand mothers's hill

The record of the passage of Thomas , his first wife Aurelia and his second wife Catherine Sutherland is scant. Little remains of official record but verbal account will periodically surface to reveal hazy evidence of their identity. Catherine, the daughter lived until 1927; lived in her mother’s house and raised Christie, her daughter and her grand daughter Philomena. In the early twenties she had great grand children who remember her, the manner in which she survived and her stories. Thomas moved to south head to be close to the sea and the ease of access that proximity provided. There is sufficient multiple and independent evidence to corroborate some of the legend of his youth and I firmly believes that he received a moderately superior education in a seminary. There is also strong evidence to conclude that he took great measure to hide. This is the real reason I believe he located on the south head of Cow Bay and principal reason he and his family suffered the self imposed hardships and impoverishment. The first house he built was very close to the sea and winter at that location was bitter hell with the northwest wind coursing several miles of open bay before depositing its anger upon the defiant dwelling and souls of its inhabitants. The first years on south head proved to be extreme, the first of their common children lost his life and choked consuming the fruits of his father’s labour. They suffered the loss of their tiny dwelling by fire, laboured throughout the following summer to rebuild only to witness the same demise to the new dwelling in the subsequent year. The third home that Tom built was up the hill and set back from the sea, a location that became fondly known by her great grand daughter Eunice as great grandmothers hill.

The home on great grandmothers hill was humble, small and scant of furniture. The ground floor was dominated by a very large stove used both to cook and heat and always seated at the back was a large bowl containing fresh curd. Kitchen was never without pilot bread, a simple type of biscuit made of flour, water, and salt. Pilot bread was inexpensive and long lasting, and frequently served as dinner in the absence of alternatives. The second dominant feature of the room was the tramps couch, a leather covered settee with a headrest intended for fast repose. Obscure behind the stove was a small wooden stair that led to a second floor. In earlier years I can imagine this floor to sleep many heads but now it contains only one simple bed with a burlap covered straw mattress. Few other adornments defined the main floor, a table, several chairs, and insufficient illumination. Set to one side in a separate room stood a spinning wheel and carders, principal sources of income for Catherine in her later years. Enclosing the rear door stood a porch, an outdoor storage and buffer against the chill of the sea. Resting upon the windowsills of the porch stood wooden bowls filled with milk, thick at the surface with an inviting yellow cream. Water for all cooking, drinking and household use was carried daily in wooden buckets from Frenchman’s brook, a stream that ran close by the house.

Outside, the barn housed domestic animals, cows, horses, chickens and probably a pig or two. Just outside the house enclosed within a fence stood a small garden; it adequately provided for fresh vegetables all summer and preserved vegetable all winter. Beside the barn, Catherine planted her flower garden and probably delighted each spring with lush rhubarb and in summer an abundance of daffodils, lilies, and iris. Each spring they continue to return in her celebration. Adjacent to an orchard of Aspen apple trees stood a substantial open field, which provided hay for the cattle. Catherine wasn’t granted much opportunity; she was born of an aging father who only survived her fourth year. Her mother, of little means more than courage, struggled for survival to provide for Catherine’s welfare. Catherine’s choice of husband was poor, probably very ill advised and in consequence suffered a tumultuous marriage. She, however learned, adopted and reflected the lifestyle of her predecessors and through the eyes of her great grand children we obtain a glimpse into their lives.


Skinny nose

There is a mound of stone suspiciously like a grave along the well-trod path between the house and the barn at Catherine Clarke’s family homestead. It is called “skinny nose” and is frequently used as a reference point in locating other features.

Winter gales in the north Atlantic at their kindest are crucificial. In the early months of spring, the ice from the St Lawrence breaks up, drifts west and south and clusters about the shores of its immediate landfall. There is little pacific about winter. At 46 degrees north, the south head of Port Morien protrudes defiantly into the fury of the weather, epitomizing the character of its inhabitants. Any attempts to establish commercial enterprise on its cliffs have met with disaster. And so with the many attempts to build coal loading terminals on it’s cape , each fortification more substantial than its predecessor and each in its turn surrendering in infancy. All attempts to commercialize the coal resting shallow beneath the surface have met with little success. In time all efforts were abandoned and the property was sold, very economically I would assume. There is no record of the date of sale, however, sometime before March 1864, Catherine Sutherland Murrant came into the procession of the one hundred acres of the land surrounding the coal pit.

Within the Bay of Morien however, several mines established a very successful commercial operation with elaborate facilities to load ships. And so, the town of Cow Bay became a very busy coal port employing a large force of locals and conducing a very vibrant support economy. The chaos of the commercial activity and the violence of the weather induced frequent calamity. One such calamity is recorded to have occurred during a winter storm and close to the reef hedging the property of Catherine Clarke. The incident went unnoticed until the following morning when a resident found the bodies of several seamen on the shore amongst the seaweed. Over the course of several days the balance of the crew were recovered from the sea and a mass burial was arranged at the local cemetery in Homerville. Several days following the burial, another corpse was found hidden amongst the kelp, presumably from the same wreck .Some debate existed whether it was from the ship or a totally unrelated incident. Authorities were not notified and the individual remained for several days unclaimed upon the shore. Catherine, feeling a degree of responsibility for the body currently on her property asked the neighbours to assist her with his burial. And so the young man was buried along the well warn path between her house and the barn. Over the grave she erected a long mound of stones and identified the head with a cross bearing the name "skinny nose". At some time during the ordeal of his death his nose had been scraped and it remained his only significant feature. The cross has long since disappeared however the mound of stone marking the grave of skinny nose was evident as late as 1980.

John Clarke

Catherine Murrant Clarke was born in 1849 and her dad died in 1853. Catherine was 23 years of age when she married John Henry Clarke in 1872. He was a New Brunswick born seaman and I expect frequented Port Morien aboard a freight bearing vessel; Port  Morien was a very busy harbour. Apparently his homeport was Halifax and most of his life was spent at sea or in Halifax. His visits to Port Morien were obviously infrequent as their only child Christina was born 5 years into the marriage in 1877. During the summer of 1876 John had occasion to visit Catherine in Cape Breton and convinced her that a better life awaited them in Halifax. There was an honest, good living to be made running a boarding house and she must at least travel to Halifax to evaluate the opportunity. She was 27 years of age, still living at home with her mother of 57 years and although money was scarce, her pew was comfortable. Catherine was not enthusiastic, however in the fall of that year, three months into her pregnancy, she decided to make the journey, packed sufficient luggage, , made the appropriate reservations, boarded a vessel in Sydney and travelled to Halifax. The journey was a novel experience; and as it progressed, she became jubilant with the idea, the decision was hers and a new and better life awaited her and her baby. She became ecstatic at seeing her husband and together assessing the plan for their new life. The boat finally made berth, her passengers fussing redundantly to identify and sort luggage, search and greet loved ones and rush to assorted transportation. Soon the clamour subsided, the crowd dispersed and Catherine is alone, waiting in vain for John. Her abandonment shattered the confidence she had worked so hard to develop over the last few months.

She apparently found refuge, eventually located John and together they located and visited the premises of their potential future. Much remained unspoken of subsequent events of the unhappy journey; events succeeded in destroying her trust, in crushing her dreams; she became depressed. For the balance of the journey she aphetically attended essentials in anticipation of her return journey. In a few days, she parted company with John Clarke and never again welcomed him to her home with her mom on South head. John frequently returned to Port Morien, however Catherine refused to see him. Christina Anne Sutherland Clarke was born on April 4 of the following year; society insisted she carry his name, she never met or knew her father.

See the archives for previously posted anecdotes.



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