1925 article by Charles Wesley Blackett (1859-1925)
Original URL: https://www.theblacketts.com/articles/222-1925-article-by-charles-wesley-blackett--1859-1925 (lost in Oct 2019)
Written by Charles Wesley Blackett in 1925
My great-grandfather Blackett came from England with his family in the latter part of the eighteenth century or very early in the nineteenth and settled in Prince Edward Island.
Grandfather, who was born in London, used to tell stories about the family having been of some consequence in England, that they had some claim to coal mines in the north of England, and always carried and gave the impression that their condition as pioneer settlers did not represent their ability or condition. Whether this is a common boast of Englishmen on the move or not I do not know.
My grandfather married in Prince Edward Island and moved later to Cape Breton and lived for a time at Sydney Mines, where my father, the oldest child, was born. Then he went to Sydney and purchased land (a lot of it) about ten miles from that old garrison town on the northern side of what has since been known as Blackett’s lake, the present source of water supply for the City of Sydney. It is not necessary I should follow his fortunes further. He died at 89 years of age.
When my father married, he got a farm from his father on the shore of Blackett’s Lake, built his house, and raised his family. I am the ninth child born, August 3, 1859. After many years of farming, my father who was very ingenious, able to make a plough, build a boat, or a house, make a loom, graft trees, or fix a clock, took a journey to Cambridge, Mass, where he worked in the old iron works (“Cataumet” if I remember) and quickly learned the trade of blacksmith, in which he had tinkered at the farm. I am surprised he did not bring his family to Cambridge. Instead he returned to Cape Breton and I was born there rather than in Mass. But so free and independent were the pioneer people of Cape Breton, so generous and genuinely honest that I have no apologies to offer my birth opportunities.
Childhood! Who can describe it. My first memory of the world was of Sydney (the shipyard just out of town and above fresh water creek) where my father moved when he resolved to give up farming and to work at blacksmithing. Sydney River (Spanish River on old maps) is a beautiful stream navigable for ten or fourteen miles. The Shipyard just outside of the old garrison town was so named from the fact that several ships were built there. Father hired the old house where the builder of ships had lived, a kind of bungalow affair, and a blacksmith shop there.
Everybody worked at something in our house. The two oldest children when grown went away to work. I remember Mame (Mary A.), Maggie, Belle, Kate, Donald, George at home. They went off one by one, but when at home all did something. Father was a hard and ingenious worker. Mother was a manager and a perfectly intense person at her task. But the fact that work was so constant did not obscure a thirst for knowledge, and especially for religious knowledge. There remained round about many old Scotch settlers who had known my grandmother (McLeod) and her family in Scotland. They always held my mother in a kind of veneration for the sake of her old family ties. They were clannish and she represented headship to them. But they came gladly to see her and to hear her talk religion.
I do not know why it was that Father closed up his shop in Sydney and went to work as a blacksmith at Glace Bay—a part called the Roost. Then he moved to Bridgeport. Hard times came. He could not be idle. He took a coal cutters pick and went for a time into the coal mine. He did not like it of course. It was black dirty work. Then he moved back to Glace Bay and there he stayed either as a journeyman or running his own shop, the rest of his days. Poor Father. He was about six feet tall, very strong, a hasty temper but a very kind heart. Strictly honest, money was never his if he owed any man anything. He toiled hard at his trade, made a side line of a boat and herring nets, in the spring and summer. This was clear money, but that was scarcely his reason for doing it. He loved some sport, liked to take a gun sometimes, go to the woods and bring home a brace of partridges or a rabbit or two. He knew wood craft well, knew all the trees, many of the shrubs and weeds, with their uses in the medicines of the time. He never had the advantages of education, but read knowledge, and if he had had my opportunities would have been a very bright man in my judgement. His forte was mechanics and his stuff was that of which pioneers are made. After his marriage he acquired Gaelic, because he had to converse with my grandmother. It did not seem to be hard for him to learn it. I never could acquire it. In his young manhood some preachers were anxious to have him take up the Meth. Ministry. He refused, and lamented it till his dying day.
That was pioneer country even in my childhood. I suppose when I was a boy there were no more people in all Cape Breton than are now gathered in the city of Sydney. There were just two things that were most abundant, trees and water.
[Preserved and shared by Donna Blackett Long, great-granddaughter of Charles Wesley Blackett.]