Windham Life and Times – June 7, 2019

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A blind man plays the fiddle to a family audience. Coloured engraving by J. Burnet after D. Wilkie, 1806. Credit: Wellcome Collection. CC BY.

Reverend MacGregor’s Fiddle

Scots-Irish Influence on American Music

E.H. Derby in his address to the Londonderry Celebration of 1869 says, “..and, if tradition may be trusted, even their clergy introduced musical instruments into New Hampshire. I do not refer to the ear-piercing fife alone, or the spirit-stirring drum, whose ‘toot’ so engrossed the ear that Matthew Clark, when presiding over the Session, that he could do no business,— I allude to a stringed instrument of music. The pastor of whom the tale is told had served as a chaplain in the army, and while in camp had learned to play the violin. He brought one to America — doubtless at the bottom of his chest — and in his log cabin, in the dreary winter nights, found solace in the music. But, late one night, an elder heard the ‘linked sweetness drawn out,’ and peeping through the crevice in the cabin, liked the elders who watched Susanna, decried his pastor in the very act of drawing the bow, and reported him to the session; and the elders decreed that he should ‘hang up the fiddle and bow’ for three successive Sundays, in front of the pulpit. And this, I presume, was the first display of stringed instruments of music in New Hampshire. Derry must not, therefore, be forgotten at the great Musical Festival, for which Mr. Gilmore is rearing a structure that reminds of the Coliseum.”

Well if fiddle playing was frowned upon by the early elders of Nutfield, it soon took on a prominence within the community. In Old Portraits and Modern Sketches, 1850, John Greenleaf Whittier reports the following about the fairs held in early Londonderry. “Their moral acclimation in Ireland had not been without its effect upon their character. Side by side with a Presbyterian as austere as that of John Knox, had grown up something of the wild Milesian humor, love of convivial excitement and merry-making, Their long prayers and fierce zeal in behalf of orthodox tenants, only served, in the eyes of their Puritan neighbors, to make more glaring still the scandal of their marked social irregularities. It became a common saying in the region round about, that, ‘the Derry Presbyterians would never give up a pint of doctrine or a pint of rum.’ …Ere long the celebrated Derry Fair was established in imitation of those with which they had been familiar in Ireland. Thither annually came  all manners of horse-jockeys and peddlers, gentlemen and beggars, fortune-tellers, wrestlers, dancers and fiddlers, gay young farmers and buxom maidens. Strong drink abounded… A wild, frolicking, drinking, fiddling, courting, horse-racing, riotous merry-making— a sort of Protestant carnival, relaxing the grimness of Puritanism for leagues around.” The Scots-Irish seem to be characterized by an uneasy dichotomy,  the side by side need for both religious revival and the “hooting and hollering” of a jolly good time!

The same Scots-Irish people who settled in Nutfield were also the dominant cultural force in the settlement of the Appalachian Mountain areas of Virginia, West Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee and North Carolina.  And these Scots-Irish settlers certainly brought the fiddle with them and used it plenty, in the mountains and valleys where American country music had its roots. There is a great New York Times best seller, called Wayfaring Strangers, written by Fiona Ritchie and Doug Orr, with a forward by Dolly Parton, that traces this “musical voyage” from Scotland and Ulster to Appalachia. These settlers, “brought with them a wealth of traditional ballads and tunes from the British Isles and Ireland, a carrying stream that merged with the sounds and songs of English, German, Welsh, African American, French, and Cherokee origin.”

I’m just a poor wayfaring stranger
Traveling through this world below
There is no sickness, no toil, nor danger
In that bright land to which I go

I’m going there to see my Father
And all my loved ones who’ve gone on
I’m just going over Jordan
I’m just going over home

I know dark clouds will gather ’round me
I know my way is hard and steep
But beauteous fields arise before me
Where God’s redeemed, their vigils keep
I’m going there to see my Mother
She said she’d meet me when I come

So, I’m just going over Jordan
I’m just going over home
I’m just going over Jordan
I’m just going over home

     Getting back to Pastor MacGregor and his fiddle, Wayfaring Strangers in explaining the origin of the Scottish fiddle states, “Throughout the long history of migrations from Scottish Lowlands and Highlands, the fiddle was the ideal traveling companion, whether for sailors, journeymen, merchants, or emigrants. It was portable, adaptable to new playing styles, the instrument of choice for dances, and perfect both for soloists and playing partners. So it is not surprising that the fiddle eventually followed the Scottish emigration trail all the way to the southern Appalachians. Beginning in the seventeenth century, it took its place as the most popular dance instrument on both sides of the Atlantic. Hanover County, Virginia, hosted the first fiddling contest of colonial times in 1736, held on November 30 in honor of the holiday of St. Andrew, patron saint of Scotland.” In Scotland “…the music of the classical violin was the initial attraction, folk-style fiddle playing soon followed. These adaptions of the instrument were no doubt related to the widespread interest in dancing at community gatherings, weddings, funerals, and local festivals and fairs, as well as the ballrooms and drawing rooms of the landed gentry…”

Wayfaring Strangers: The Musical Voyage From Scotland and Ulster to Appalachia. On Amazon

Windham Life and Times – May 31, 2019

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The Windham Range at Policy Pond | 1728

An example of a proprietors grants for what became the Windham Range. Londonderry, October 22nd, 1728. Then laid out to William Humphrey fifty six acres of land which is the amendment and twenty acres of addition which his home lot was allowed said land laying southeasterly of Cobbets pond, bounded on the west by a dry oak tree marked standing on said pond, from thence running southeast to Policy pond and bounding on John Stewart’s land to a stake and stones, from thence running northeast twenty seven rods to a stake and stones bounding on Policy pond, from thence running northwest and bounding on John Anderson’s land to the pond first mentioned to a white oak tree marked, from thence running southwesterly on said pond to the bounds first mentioned. Not there is land within the bounds for two highways running across said land reserved for the use of the town, one four rods wide and the other two rods wide, when they think fit to lay them out….”

Rev. Jesse G. McMurphy states that, “In 1728 a fine area of about twelve hundred acres was laid out in the southern part of Londonderry between two beautiful ponds. One of these ponds in recent years has become famous as a summer resort, (1895) and the location of a station there on the line of the Boston & Maine railroad has facilitated the coming of numerous pleasure parties to the shores of this body of water once called Policy pond, but now widely known as Canobie, with station and post office of the same name. The farms laid out in this range were planned according to a more general usage, being long and narrow, with the longest lines running northwest and southeast, and with slight variations in length filling the space between Policy and Cobbetts ponds. The farm at the northeast end is characterized as the head of the range, and was originally allotted to the Rev. James McGregor as an amendment to his former grants. The present owner of this farm is Hon. Leonard A. Morrison, author of ‘Morrison Family,’ ‘History of Windham,’ ‘Windham Centennial Celebration,’ ‘Norris Family,’ ‘Dinsmoor Family,’ ‘Allison Family,’ ‘Rambles in Europe,’ and ‘Scotch-Irish Characteristics.’ He is a man who has done much for his townsmen and for the preservation of valuable historic facts in the town of Londonderry, in which his ancestors were charter proprietors. Next to this farm were the amendment lands of James and John Morrison, the first now occupied by Albert A. Morrison and the second by Oliver G. Woodbury. The original lot of John Barr is now the property of John A. Park, George F. Armstrong occupies the farm laid out to Samuel Allison. These five farms are identified by Mr. Morrison, and from him chiefly the identification of the remainder is obtained. In the relative positions of the sixth, seventh and eight farms there is a conflict of testimony. I quote from a letter of Mr. Morrison: ‘I once owned half of John Stuart’s farm. The range road divided it, and his old cellar is on the half owned by my relative, Albert Morrison as pasture land. He may have owned another piece. Once some forty-six acres in this piece. There is no room between his place and that of Samuel Allison. Allison’s farm was sold to Mr. Park and where Park’s house stood was some twenty-five rods from John Stuart’s. The bounds of the farms have changed, of course, and I cannot write any more definite than was my last letter the other day. Exeter records would be the place to trace them.’ ”

Mr. Morrison writes that ‘William Humphrey’s land is included in the farm of Joseph W. Dinsmoor; John Anderson’s land (Meaning the farm of John Stewart on the map) is included in the farm of Jacob Myers; John Barnett’s land is now Isaiah W. Haseltine’s; William Nichols’ land is included in the farm of George N. Noyes; Robert Wear’s land now in B.F. Senter’s farm; Archibald Clendenbrnen’s land was at the base of Senter’s hill going from Canobie Lake to Cobbet’s pond. In this part of the range it is quite evident that the original order of the allotments has been altered and probably so far back that traditions alone cannot determine the correctness of the plans adopted, and only an exhaustive treatise compiled from town records and old deeds requiring years of patient toil could establish the certainty of many controverted facts of lines, bounds, and even residences. It is greatly regretted that the plans of the town of Londonderry or Nutfield, originally made, however fragmentary and crude, have not been preserved. Great care has been taken to secure the accuracy in this map, and in order that the student may have easy access to the material certifying to the correctness of the plans, the numbers of the pages in Volume II of the town records are given for reference in the lower right corner of each lot.”


Windham Life and Times – May 24, 2019

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Burying the Time Capsule in 1969

The burying of the time capsule for the Nutfield Celebration in the summer of 1969, at the MacGregor (Derry) Library, included children representatives from the towns of Derry, Londonderry and Windham. The idea being that they might still be around when it was dug up in 2019. That was an incredible time, the summer of 1969. The United States landed Neil Armstrong on the moon, getting there aboard Apollo 10, Richard Nixon was president, the Viet Nam War raged with the body counts blaring nightly from Walter Cronkite on the television. The first color prime time season on television was in 1966. It was black and white until then. Of course, this meant the war was also broadcast in living or should I say dying color. The 747 flew for the first time, the Beatles performed publicly for the last time and Edward Kennedy roared off the dike bridge on Martha’s Vineyard. The great muscle car the Pontiac Trans Am first appeared, Big Bird, Elmo and PBS made their debut and Charles Manson was loose in the hills above Los Angeles. Woodstock became the youth event of pretty much all time, announcing to the world that the baby boomers were coming of age and ready to dominate American culture. I would soon own a Nehru jacket with a Maltese Cross pendant and a Honda 70 that I loved!  I’m the kid in the middle, at the top of the picture, starring into the hole. You have to wonder what the next 50 years will bring? Are we to have microchips implanted in our brains merging man and machine? Possibly. Its only a few more years of cell phone conditioning away or maybe it will be a return to the stone age instead. So here’s to 2069 and all that lies ahead!


Windham Life and Times – May 17, 2019

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Tales of “Olde Londonderry” | Wiley’s Book of Nutfield

“Family prayer was regularly observed every morning and every evening in all the rude dwelling of the early settlers, and the Scriptures were devoutly read. If any family omitted these daily acts of devotion, there would immediately be an investigation by the pastor. It is related that Rev. Macgregor was one evening informed that a member of his flock had become neglectful of family worship. He went at once to his house, and finding that the family had retired for the night, called up the man and asked if the report was true. The fact was admitted and the pastor, reproving him sternly for his fault, refused to leave the house until the backslider had knelt and offered up prayer.”

“MUSCULAR CHRISTIANITY is not of recent origin. Rev. James MacGregor was a muscular Christian, as he proved upon more than one occasion. In the summer after the arrival of the first settlers at Nutfield a large party of men came up from Massachusetts, as had been their custom for several years previous, to mow grass on the fine natural meadows. Their coming was not wholly unexpected, but it was supposed they would refrain from their purpose after being told that the Nutfield settlers had a claim to the land and the grass. They laughed to scorn the claims of the settlers, however, and proceeded to carry out their intention. Then Mr. MacGregor, at the head of his parishioners, went out and ordered them off the ground. This angered the leader of the party, who stepped up to the minister and shaking his fist in his face, exclaimed in a threatening voice, alluding to his clerical attire, ‘Nothing saves you sir, but your black coat.’ ‘Well, it shan’t save you, sir,’ retorted Mr. MacGregor, and throwing off his coat, was about to smite him hip and thigh, when the boasting leader, with his party, beat a hasty retreat.”

“GARRISON HOUSES, to which the people could flee when threatened by the Indians, were not as numerous in Nutfield as in most other colonies, for the reason that there was not great need of them. Nevertheless there were a few, the house of Captain James Gregg, near the mill, being a garrison, and also the house of Samuel Barr, now Mr. Thwyng’s. Rev. Macgregor’s dwelling was surrounded by a flanker, which was built by the town, and in West Parish a garrison stood on the spot now occupied by the house of Charles A. Tenney Tradition ascribes the preservation of the colony from attacks of Indians to the influence of Mr. MacGregor with the Marquis de Vaudreuil, the French governor of Canada. It is said that they were classmates at college, that a correspondence was maintained between them, and that at the request of his friend the governor caused means to be used for the protection of the settlement. He was said to have induced the Catholic priests to charge the Indians not to injure any of the Nutfield settlers, as they were different from the English; and to assure them that no bounty would be paid for their scalps, and that, if they killed any of them, their sins would not be forgiven. Another and perhaps more plausible reason for the immunity of the colony from Indian attacks was the fact that the settlers had secured through Colonel Wheelwright a fair and acknowledged Indian title to the lands.”

“PLAIN SPEAKING, even to a clergyman, was the custom among the blunt Scotch settlers of Nutfield. If they had anything to say, they never beat around the bush. It is related of one of the early ministers —tradition has kindly concealed his identity — that after passing a long and laborious day in parochial visits, he rode up toward evening to the house of one of his elders. He had, as a matter of course, been urged at every dwelling to partake of the stimulants which were then considered indispensable, and, between fatigue and the excessive hospitality of his parishioners, he found it difficult to keep himself upright in the saddle. The elder’s keen eye took in the situation. ‘Won’t ye light doun, parson,’ said he ‘and come in and get something to eat? For I perceive ye’ve had enough to drink already!’ ”




Windham Life and Times – May 10, 2019

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The Elopement of Susan MacGregor | Wiley’s Book of Nutfield

Clockwise: The first framed house in Londonderry built by the Rev. James McGregor. Rev. David MacGregor was the son of the first minister of Londonderry. The McGregor coat of arms. The “auld” gun owned and used by Rev. James McGregor. “ James MacGregor was “the first minister of Londonderry, was born in 1677, and died in 1729. During his brief pastorate of ten years, his influence in town was unbounded in matters temporal as well as spiritual. A gun carried in the famous siege of Derry, (Northern Ireland) in 1688-89, is now in the possession of A.F. Hall, Esq., of Manchester, N.H. Additional interest attaches to it from the fact that Mr. MacGregor always carried it into his pulpit on the Sabbath, well loaded and primed, to be ready in case of sudden attack by the ‘Indian enemy.’ It is well represented by the artist.” Londonderry Celebration June 10, 1869.

      “Mrs. Ballou remembers this elopement story of the MacGregors: Rev. James MacGregor, first pastor of the church in Londonderry, had died and his son, Rev. David was the pastor of the East Parish church. Alexander, another son, lived on some of the MacGregor lands where the Morrisons recently lived, and where the old MacGregor house, the first framed house in Londonderry, was still standing a few years ago. James another brother had a pew in the meeting-house. Susan a daughter of Alexander MacGregor, fell in love with one Burnside, who kept a store in the East Village and was not liked by the Stricter Presbyterians, especially the MacGregors. Susan’s parent opposed the intimacy between her and Burnside, but their mutual affection ripened and failing to secure the consent of her father and mother, Susan determined to elope. The arrangements were quietly made by procuring a license from the Governor, and the time was set. Susan prepared her wardrobe, tied it in a bundle and on the day of the wedding placed it behind the door that opened into the stairway in the front hall. Burnside gathered his friends on horseback, and halting them a few steps from the house, rode up to the front door in great style. Susan caught up her bundle from behind the hall door, and before any of the family knew what was going on, had mounted the horse behind her lover, and the party had started for a minister. Nothing was done to interfere with the wedding, and Mr. and Mrs. Burnside settled down to housekeeping, to the great indignation of the MacGregors, who refused to visit them. Mrs. Burnside, however, sought to overcome their scruples by taking her husband to church the following Sunday. With great assurance she marched up the aisle a little late, followed by her husband, and stopped in front of her uncle James MacGregor’s pew. He instantly opened the pew door and let her in, but seeing Burnside he suddenly closed the door and shut him out. Burnside, however, did not hesitate a moment, and touching the door lightly with his hand, he vaulted over it and sat down next to his wife, to the amazement of the congregation and the mortification of the MacGregors. Such audacity was unbearable and James MacGregor seized the young man by the shoulders and would have pitched him out of the pew but for the timely remonstrance of the scandalized pastor. Stopping in the midst of his sermon, Rev. David McGregor called out: ‘Brother James, do not disturb the house of God!’ This restored order, and the young couple remained together. But the MacGregors did not visit Susan until after the birth of her first child, when it was commonly reported that she was in delicate health and might not live long. Then they relented, and were in a measure reconciled to the marriage. It is said that the issue of this marriage became renowned in the succeeding generations and one of the sons was a general in the Revolutionary war. This Susan MacGregor and James, 2nd, were the only children of Alexander, the son of Rev. James, first pastor of town. Alexander married and settled in Rhode Island, and died after the birth of these two children. His widow married an Allen and remained in Rhode Island, but the two children were brought to Londonderry and raised in the family of James MacGregor, who figures as the uncle in this story.”


Windham Life and Times – May 3, 2019

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Drawing from Wiley’s Book of Nutfield of the “English Range.”

The  English Range | Wiley’s Book of Nutfield

The influential New Hampshire officials who helped secure the land grant from the Crown for the Scotch-Irish, being of the political class, expected and received their quid pro quo as land grants in Londonderry, in what became known as the English Range.  Again from Wiley’s Book of Nutfield: “Within 12 months after the arrival of the first sixteen families, the population of Nutfield, afterward the incorporated township of Londonderry, numbered several hundred, and simultaneously the allotments of homesteads were made to the proprietors under the charter to the number of one hundred and twenty-four and a half shares, exclusive of large awards in land given to some particularly influential persons who had assisted the immigrants in securing a grant of land. About Seven Thousand Five Hundred acres were laid out in homesteads under the schedule as recorded with the charter, June 1, 1722, and on the same day one thousand eight hundred and fifty-six acres were allowed as rewards for special services to thirteen persons directly connected with the procuring of clear titles to the land. The largest grants of land for special services were made to the officers of the crown, who acted as mediators between the colonists and the king. These loyalists were the Lieutenant Governor of His Majesty’s Province of New Hampshire in New England, and that body of followers commonly designated as the governor’s suite, with colonels and men of military insignia in the service of the king. These persons received grants of land in proportion to the supposed importance of their rank and services, not alone in Nutfield but in various other settlements over a wide area of land not very clearly defined in early records.”

“Without controversy the section of the township which was called the English Range embraced the most pronounced Tory faction, and as Englishmen in sentiment, spirit and religious opinions the settlers there had a profound contempt for the zeal, piety, and learning of the fugitive Covenanters by whose pestiferous preaching the whole of Great Britain was shaken.”

“The series of parallel homesteads that may properly be designated the English Range began at the most easterly corner of Beaver pond and extended in the form of a rectangle whose longer side lay in a due northwest line to a point near Sheild’s upper pond, and the shorter line lay in a due northeast line along the course of the stream above Beaver pond to the limit of the Haverhill False Line, so called by reason of a claim that the people of Haverhill made to the part of town then lying east of the meridional line through that corner of the English Range.…”

“…The English Range embraced a beautiful tract of land, with fine glimpses of Beaver pond from almost ever part, and some of the farms running down to the firm shores were selected for the more noted persons of the community…The following agreement will explain the laying out of some of these lots. It was made at the time when the people of Nutfield had secured a deed of land, on which they settled, from Col. John Wheelwright of Wells, Me.: “These presents witnessed that the Rev. James McGregor and Samuel Graves do in the name of the people of Nutfield and by virtue of being a committee from them agree that the Honorable Governor John Wentworth of Portsmouth and Col Wheelwright of Wells and their heirs forever should have and possess two lots with them in Nutfield lying to the northward of and butting upon Beaver pond, to wit:  Lt.-Gov. Wentworth to have the third and Col. Wheelwright the fourth in order upon the range, together with what second divisions will fall to the said lots throughout the said town, and each of these gentlemen and their heirs to have besides the said lots five hundred acres apiece forever laid out in farms where they shall think fit in said town, Record this 9th day of January, 1720.”

“The governors of the various provinces in New England were generally of good birth and highly respected by the colonies…The resolution passed by the town of Nutfield, in meeting assembled in 1719, is not without interest: The people of Nutfield do acknowledge with gratitude the obligation they are under to the above mentioned gentlemen, particularly to the Honorable Col. John Wentworth, Esq., Lieutenant Governor of New Hampshire. They remember with pleasure that his Honor, on all occasions, shewed a great deal of civility and real kindness to them, being strangers in the country, and cherished small beginnings of their settlement and defended them from the encroachment of violence of such as upon unjust ground would disturb their settlement and always gave them a favorable ear and easy access to the government and procured justice for them…”

“It appears from contemporary evidence that there was scarcely a resident of the English Range in 1719 who was not titled and serving the government in some capacity. Their descendants of the next generation were conspicuous leaders in the French and Indian wars. Very familiar are the names of Colonel Thornton, Colonel Barr, Sir James Leslie, Captain Blair, Ensign Blair, Captain Cargill, Colonel Wainwright, Colonel Wheelwright, and Lieutenant Goffe.”


Windham Life and Times – April 26 2019

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Above Left: Rev. McGregor preaches first sermon in Nutfield. Above Right: The “Double Range” along West Running Brook. The “Common Field” can be seen in the middle near the top abutting James Gregg’s land. The highway laid out in 1723 can be seen on the lower portion of the map. In order to be oriented correctly map should be rotated counter-clockwise

The Double Range | Wiley’s Book of Nutfield

“The appearance of the settlement along the banks of West Running Brook in 1720 must have been romantic. Imagine the thick growth of forests largely composed of walnut, chestnut, butternut and oak, and wild game some of it unpleasantly fierce and dangerous to encounter alone or without arms. It required some time for each family to clear away timber enough to let the sunshine and build a log cabin. The cabins dotted the slopes a little back from the brook, probably concealed from each other by the forests, and reached by private paths hastily cut among the trees. On frosty mornings the white curling smoke form the cabins along West Running Brook, rising over the tops of trees may have been a pleasing feature of pioneer life. In order to have corn and beans and other garden crops before fields could be cleared around each cabin, the settlers combined their strength and cleared a tract of land together, and all joined in planting and cultivating this tract, and the name by general consent became the Common Field. It is easily recognized now on the west side of the turnpike about a mile below Derry Lower Village, and just north of the brook. The map will enable the reader to locate the Common Field of early settlers at the south end of the Gregg land. The engraving is intended to give a view of the homesteads in their position and relative positions.”

“It is interesting to pursue the record and observe the list of names, the pioneers of a township that has become rather famous in the production of hardy, enterprising men who have continued building towns and cities from the Atlantic to the Pacific, and are found in every State. As far as possible to decipher the writing of a list of names, all but three of which are on the margin of the page, in a volume that thousands have handled and turned to the sunlight until the ink has nearly faded from sight, the first twenty settlers in Nutfield were: James McKeen, James Greg, Samuel Graves, David Cargill, Robert Wear, John Morrison, James Anderson, Thomas Steele, Alan Anderson, John Gregg, John Barnard, Archibald Clendennen, James Clark, James Nesmith, John Goffe, Elias Keyes, Joseph Simonds, James Alexander, James Sterrat, and Samuel Allison.”

“For convenience in visiting one another, these families had their homesteads laid out in narrow farms of sixty acres each, arranged in parallel lines so that the cabins, all being at the ends of the farms, were not over thirty rods apart, and by placing two ranges together, both facing the brook, the cultivated ends approaching each other, two rows of rude cabins were stretched along West Running Brook from the point where it empties into Beaver Brook, then called a river, to the most easterly side of the settlement, about five hundred rods distant. As the farms were three hundred and twenty rods in length the Double Range embraced an area of two thousand acres.”

To identify the sites of the original settlers a few directions only are requisite. The easiest method is that following the record of the laying out of a highway, always bearing in mind the dimensions of the original homesteads. The position of the highways will indicate the situation of the cabins, and quite frequently the record indicates on which side of the road one must look for traces of the log cabins and cultivated fields.

“High-minded and generous as the early Scotch-Irish settlers of Nutfield were they naturally had some of the defects of their virtues, and it is quite possible that even in their primitive surroundings worldly pride sometimes asserted itself. Illustrative of this is the anecdote related of the wife of the oldest John Morrison. When he was building his first rude dwelling in Londonderry she came up to him one day and, twining her arms affectionately around his neck, said: ‘Well, well, dear John, if it must be a log-house, do make it a log higher than the rest.’ The chronicles are silent on the point whether the Covenanter rebuked his wife’s sinful pride, or whether he yielded to the temptation.”