Is the story boring? Not in Morpeth almost 200 years ago


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Do you sometimes feel that the history of Canada, as portrayed in countless textbooks, TV shows and movies, was populated only by generic stereotypes that seem so far removed from reality that they simply sound like unrealistic caricatures of cardboard human beings?

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Well, we do. It’s no wonder that today’s young people, as well as many adults, have a hard time seeing the characters of the past as real human beings who breathed, made mistakes and, at times, were slightly less than heroic.

Well, let’s modify this view!

Let’s go to this so-called backwoods, boring community of Morpeth (formerly known as Howard). In April 1831 Penuil Stevens received a subpoena in the Court of General Quarter Sessions, Sandwich to give evidence against Garret Lee and Company of Howard (Morpeth) for selling liquor without a licence.

However, before he could make the trip and testify, 16 local men (who obviously had no problem with Garret Lee’s illegal activities) grabbed Stevens, tarred and feathered him, and threatened him. serious bodily harm if he made the trip to Sandwich.

A grand jury later indicted the 16 men for “aggravated assault and rioting”, but only four went to trial and only one was convicted and punished.

When asked why these 16 men, who all lived in the area and were all known to the community, weren’t being pursued more diligently, the answer was one that echoed the nuances of the Dukes of Hazzard.

It was reported, by Charles Eliot at the time, that the sheriff, William Hands, was “a senile fool” who chose, at times, to be less than diligent in prosecuting certain criminals.

Around the same time (1832) and in the same supposedly sleepy town of Howard (Morpeth), a rather bizarre and violent murder occurred at Lee’s Store. Samuel Craford, eldest son of John Craford of Lake Shore, was the victim. But it turned out he was the only latest victim of a feud (reminiscent of the Hatfields and the McCoys) that had apparently been going on in the area for years.

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The feud grew out of a border dispute between the Crafords and the Parkers. In 1830,

both parties appeared before a grand jury in Sandwich, each charged with assaulting the other.

In 1831 John Parker brought new charges against John Craford accusing him of burning down his barn. Craford, in response, was heard telling anyone in the area who wanted to listen, that Mrs Parker had once “murdered a child”.

In a rather deranged attempt to seek justice for the alleged crime, Craford was spotted chasing Ms Parker with an axe.

Not to be outdone, John Parker reportedly pointed a gun at John’s son, Samuel Craford, and threatened to kill him.

One wonders when either family had time to farm.

The feud reached its boiling point (as if it weren’t already hot enough) on the afternoon of October 3, 1832 when an arbitration concerning the two rival families was made by two magistrates of the Howard school (Morpeth). The decision was in favor of the Crafords, and although both parties signed the legal documents, the Parkers were unhappy.

Half an hour later and half a mile away, at Lee’s Store, where another argument (between the Ruddle and Kennedy families) was being heard, the Craford family and the Parker family arrived and, as usual, began to drink. The drinks led to words and the words led to physical assaults so that Samuel Craford was beaten with truncheons by two members of the Parker family (James Moody and Francis Larue) and lay dying in the dust of the early October evening.

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Moody and Larue were convicted but served very little time as they asked for clemency on the grounds that the murder was not premeditated and their young families could not survive if forced to serve long prison terms.

Such was justice in early Canada.

So the next time someone complains to you that Canada’s history is full of sterile facts and figures and lacks real, living, breathing humans, tell them about Penuil Stevens, the Crafords, the Parkers and of life in Morpeth in the 1830s. Their stories may not represent the best side of what it is to be human, but they are replete with the reality of living in a difficult, frontier existence where emotions were vivid and carefully crafted, civilized life was often marked by very jagged edges.

Thanks to the brilliant research mind of Bryan Prince who sent me this strange story, I have another story from Morpeth that deals with a possible fake death, fraud, cunning lawyer, maybe of a grieving widow and a group of Morpeth citizens who went to the funeral and often touched the corpse to see if it “felt like it was dead”.

I’ll make sense of all those weird situations next week when we get back to the start of Morpeth.

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