Life in some border communities was harsh and sometimes deadly


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

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Well, we do!

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

But we will try to modify this point of view.

Let’s go to this supposedly boring and boring town of Morpeth (formerly known as Howard).

In April 1831, Penuil Stevens received a subpoena in the Court of General Quarter Sessions, Sandwich, to testify against Garret Lee and Howard’s company (Morpeth) for selling liquor without a license.

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

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Later, a grand jury indicted all 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 at large, were not being pursued more diligently, the answer was one that echoed the nuances of the Dukes of Hazzard . It was reported by Charles Eliot in a newspaper of the time that the sheriff, William Hands, was “a senile fool” who sometimes chose to be less diligent in pursuing 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 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 sides 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 allegedly pointed a gun at John’s son, Samuel Craford, and threatened to kill him.

One wonders when either family had time to farm.

The quarrel reached its climax on the afternoon of October 3, 1832, when an arbitration concerning the two rival families was rendered by two magistrates of the school of Howard (Morpeth). The decision was in favor of the Crafords, and although both parties signed the legal documents, the Parkers were unhappy.

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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.

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 that their young families could not survive if forced to serve long prison sentences. .

Such was justice in early Canada.

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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, life civilized was often marked by very jagged edges.

The Gilberts are award-winning historians with a passion for telling the stories of CK’s fascinating past.

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