Up the Gatineau! Selected Articles
Volume 7, page 14
Marion A. Meech
In the graveyard at Old Chelsea, Quebec, a thin marble slab carries the inscription:
"I would not live always, l ask not to stay
Where storm after storm rises dark o'er the way"
Above the inscription are two names: Asa Meech who died in 1849 at the age of 74 years, and Margaret Docksteader "his beloved wife" who died four years later at the age of 55. There had been many storms in his life — especially personal griefs — but, from the fragments of truth and legend that are available, it would appear that Asa Meech bore these griefs with courage and steadfast faith, and devoted his energies to the service of humanity.
His forbears may be traced readily through two studies of New England families: the Spicer Genealogy and the Wallbridge Genealogy. According to these the name John Meech appears in "original papers at Salem, Mass., in 1629”, but then there is a gap in the records until 1691, when a John Meech married and established a home in Preston, Connecticut. The records are clear from here on: Asa Meech was his great grandson. As for the gap between 1629 and 1691 there are two possibilities: the John of 1691 may have been a son or grandson of the earlier one, and the Spicer Genealogy supports this view. But there has always been a widely accepted story that during the political persecutions by James ll, a Stephen Wallbridge, with two brothers, fled from Dorset to escape the Bloody Assizes of Judge Jeffries in 1685, and came to New England using his mother's maiden name of Meech. This story is supported by the Wallbridge Genealogy, and the name Wallbridge has occasionally been used as a given name in the Meech family.
From the records of First Congregational Church, Brockton, Mass., comes the information that Asa Meech was ordained and became assistant pastor 1800-02, and then pastor till 1811. In the meantime, he had acquired a degree from Brown University in 1807; there was always a family belief that he had been to Oxford, and if this is true it must have been before 1800. From 1812-22 he was minister at the Congregational Church of Canterbury, Conn., but the records of St. James’ Anglican Church in Hull indicate that he was in this area for a time in 1815. Perhaps, like many of the pioneer settlers, he made a preliminary journey to the frontier before committing himself to a permanent move.
However, it is established fact that he was located on lot 21 in the 10th range of the Township of Hull in 1821, and that he lived there until his death in 1849 in the home that he built, and that is still there. The Public Archives provides information about the development of the Chelsea area, in petitions for land grants, and in reports of the government land agent, Philemon Wright. From these old papers one's imagination readily creates a picture of scattered homes, growing families, varied labours, and slowly increasing crops and livestock. In November 1823, Philemon Wright submitted to the governor of the Province a report on the progress, in the preceding two years, of seventeen settler families. Of Asa Meech he says: 48 years, married, 4 children, lot 21, 10th Range, one house, no barns, 24 acres cleared, 6 under cultivation, 15 horn cattle, 15 swine, 2 horses, 4 sheep, 20 days’ work on the road in the settlement, no saw mills, no labouring men, $50 expenses on the land. Four years later, April 7, 1827, another report by Philemon Wright covers the progress of 53 families. By this time Asa Meech had lot 22 also, with 12 acres cleared; a barn had been erected, a bee-hive established, and $150 expended on the land. Wright speaks of him as “a good industrious farmer with a large family, who wants a charter for a full lot".
The census reports in the Public Archives give a great deal of information. In 1842 there were 500 acres, 75 improved, with the following crop statistics in Winchester bushels: wheat 100, oats 200, peas 20, Indian corn 10, potatoes 500, maple sugar 100 lbs. There were 16 neat cattle, 3 horses, 37 sheep, 8 hogs. The women of the house had made 23 yards of fulled cloth, 40 yards of flannel or woollen not fulled, but no linen or cotton. The census of 1851 (2 years-after Asa‘s death) speaks of the frame construction of the house; 90 acres of land under cultivation, 110 acres of woods, 150 lbs butter, but no cheese, 4 cwt pork, 6 horses, 26 sheep, 5 pigs, 6 milch cows, with the additional information that there were 2 children attending school. These homely details evoke a picture of unremitting labour on the land, where year after year pioneer families must have toiled incessantly for necessities of life and a few material comforts.
Although these documents speak of Asa Meech as a farmer, traditions of the valley suggest that he had considerable intellectual and spiritual influence, that he conducted services throughout his lifetime and ministered to the people of the Hull Chelsea and Aylmer vicinity. Family tradition speaks of him as a teacher and doctor, too, who was tireless in his services to his fellowman. Miss Bearman, in her historical sketch of Chelsea United Church, speaks of him as follows:
"Asa Meech was a natural leader and seemed to possess an aptitude for administering successfully to the sick. Recollections on record of many old residents, now deceased, tell of his wise counsel and kindly deeds to and on behalf of the settlers for miles around. Irrespective of creed or birth, without remuneration, this talented and consecrated man served the community, preaching the Gospel, supervising the Sunday School and on week-days, teaching school in Chelsea for many years. In the winter, with his family, he travelled by sled the five and half miles to Chelsea and in the summer covered the distance over the rough terrain by wagon. It is assumed that, as was the custom of those early days, Asa Meech held those first services in the homes of the settlers. Later, it is believed that his work was continued in the little frame school house, long since razed by fire, which was located on the land now occupied by the residence of Mr. Thomas Nankin."
His family life brought him many sorrows, but one would hope that his later years were more secure and happy. He was married first to Mary DeWitt who died in 1809, leaving him with six young children, of whom only two survived the dangers and illnesses of childhood. Within a couple of years of Mary's death, he married her sister Maria, who bore him 5 children, and it was with her that he came to Chelsea. But tragedy ended his second marriage. Maria and her three youngest children were drowned in Brewery Creek when the spring freshets of 1822 washed away the bridge on which they were crossing. The story goes that the bereaved husband and father, who was away from home on a preaching mission, returned to conduct the service for his loved ones, but that overnight his hair had turned completely white.
He was married a third time, to Margaret Docksteader, and with her had 26 years of constant companionship till his death. They had ten children, two of whom must have died young, as there are no references to them in family stories or letters.
Of the first marriage there survived Asa, Jr., and Mary. In Philemon Wright's report of 1827 he speaks of Asa Jr. (who was then 24 years of age) as “a good industrious young man" occupying lot 20 in the 10th Range and asking for a charter for his 100 acres. He had a house, 10 acres cleared, 4 cattle, 2 sheep, 2 hogs, had put 8 days’ work on the road, and expended $20 on the land. This grant was confirmed, but Asa Jr. did not continue long in this area. A document of 1832 records the sale of the north half of lot 20 to his father for "five shillings, good and lawful money of this province". The indenture continues with this curious statement that “at the end of one year hence, he shall pay to the said Asa Meech Jr. the rent of one peppercorn, if the same shall be demanded, to the intent that by virtue hereof the said Asa Meech, Sr., may be in actual possession of the said premises". Asa Jr. then went to East Hawkesbury, where he acquired a grant of 200 acres near Vankleek Hill which is still farmed (1964) by his grandson Earle Meech, the only farmer in that area still on the original Crown grant.
The other surviving child of the first marriage was Mary, who married the Reverend John Mclntyre. He was Methodist Minister of the Chelsea Church in 1840. There is a reference to him also in Verna Ross McGiffin‘s "Pakenham, Ottawa Valley Village" (p. 71); he was minister there when the first chapel was built in 1835, then in Ottawa and Perth before coming to Hull Township. The archives of the United Church of Canada indicate that he withdrew from the Wesleyan Church in 1841 at a time when there were several withdrawals over a split in the church on the Clergy Reserves issue. There seems to be no record of him after that.
Of the second marriage there were two surviving sons: Samuel and Thomas. In the Public Archives there is an application for a land grant in Oxford Twp., Upper Canada, by a Samuel Meech in 1836; this Samuel would then be 25 years old. Of Thomas nothing is known, but since he is not mentioned in his father's will, perhaps it is safe to assume that he did not survive.
Of the third marriage there were two sons: John Docksteader and Charles George, and six daughters. Margaret, the eldest, married John Gordon of Aylmer. It was a granddaughter of theirs, Ethel Penman, who became Mrs. John Hope, and was well known as a resident of Meech Lake.
Then came John Docksteader who married Mary Elizabeth Church; for many years he conducted the Bible Class; he became trustee of the Cantley Church, and was very active in fund raising. He continued to farm his father's land until his death in 1901. It was his two sons, Stephen and Silas, who were drowned in Meech Lake in September 1883, and who are buried in the private graveyard of the Church family (now owned and maintained by The Historical Society of the Gatineau). They had seven other surviving children all of whom went to the United States.
The next in the family was Cecilia. One spring day when Cecilia was sitting on the rail fence, three handsome lrishmen came riding by. They were the McConnells, whose father had recently taken up land; one of the three, Rinaldo, stopped and spoke to the 18-year-old Cecilia; it may not have been love at first sight, but they were soon married and went to live up the Mattawa. Anson Gard in "Pioneers of the Upper Ottawa" speaks of her as "one of the finest women I have met".
Harriet, the next daughter, married a John Harrington. It may be assumed that it was for his family that Harrington Lake was named.
Maria followed Harriet, and a little of her story remains in letters, one written by her from Lowell, Mass., in June 1855, to her youngest brother Charles:
"Dear Brother — l received your kind letter last evening. I am sorry to know that you have not been well. Health is a great blessing for which we ought to be thankful. I learn from your letter that you met with a very narrow escape; it must have been by the hand of mercy that your life was preserved. Does your duty call you into such dangerous places? If so be as careful as possible. I suppose you are, though I cannot avoid being rather nervous about you. You did not say where Mr. Hetherington had chosen to farm, nor the expense of it; please inform me how they get along; please inform me how you manage with your clothes, who keeps them in order, and if you are much in the water. You desire me to inform you concerning this place. Lowell is quite a pretty place. l like it here very much though rather lonely some times, being so far from home and relatives. If life is spared we will meet again; if not, I trust we will meet in Heaven where parting will be no more. There are some very good people here, also some that are rather roguish. Provisions of all kinds are dear, flour 13 per barrel and everything in accordance. l work on millinery for Mr. Thompson. My health is very good indeed. You wish me to state at what time l intended to go home; I thought of remaining here till the fall though I may not stay so long. I board at Mr. Hudson's. They all join me in sending their love to you, also Mrs. Sheffield. Please inform me how Cynthia gets along and if she talks much about being lonesome, and if she appears to improve in her education and manners. Give her my kind advice; you can get some good books for her to read, perhaps you have done so. Encourage her to cultivate an even disposition. l feel very anxious for her welfare; I presume you do too. She is young and without tender parents to watch over her. l trust you attend church and sabbath school regularly. There is nothing more essential to our eternal salvation. Life is short, we know not how soon we may be called to part with the things of time. Therefore let us work while it may be called today, for the day and the hour cometh when no man can work.
I remain your affectionate sister. Maria Meech"
From a few other family letters it appears that she married a Richard Bolton and went to Nebraska. A letter written by Cecilia in 1882 speaks of “the Misses Bolton out in Nebraska who have lost their dear mother".
The second son, Charles George, married Ellen Moore, daughter of David Moore, lumber merchant of Hull. They established their home in Aylmer, but Charles spent much of his time in the woods and on the rivers as a lumberman. In December of 1881, on the Mattawa, he slipped from the logs, and after being rescued, died of exposure, leaving a widow with five children ranging from one to sixteen years.
The youngest child of Asa Meech was Cynthia, about whom Maria's letter speaks. No doubt, at the time of the letter, Cynthia, who was sixteen, was being cared for by her brother John and his wife. She became Mrs. Stephen Glazier and eventually lived in Portland, Oregon. She was the last surviving one of her generation, dying in 1920 at the age of 81.
This is as much material on Asa Meech and his family as is available and relevant to the present purpose. To the third and fourth generations his descendants, numerous and widely scattered, think of him with affectionate respect. They have been farmers, ministers, teachers, prospectors, missionaries, and business men. Wherever they are, if they have some qualities of industry, endurance, integrity, idealism, or love of humanity, some measure of these must surely be attributable to an ancestor who chose to face the rigours of life in a land whose forests, rocks and snows must then have been forbidding to all but the dauntless in spirit.
This article is the prinicipal part of a paper given to The Historical Society of the Gatineau, at a meeting on 10 March 1964, by Miss Marion A. Meech, of Ottawa, who is a great grand-daughter of Asa Meech.