Introduction to the
JOURNAL of GEORGE COPPING
of Rawdon, Quebec
George Copping was born at Hatfield Broad Oak, Essex on June 11, 1780 and died at Rawdon on May 28, 1849. He married Elizabeth Saggers in London in 1806 and in May 1811, they emigrated, on the Lively with four young children, to Quebec City.
The Journal you are about to read was written during a ten year period from 1836 to 1846. Many years later, a typed copy was made and Beverly Prud’homme put it on a diskette which has been posted on this site. George’s earlier journals were destroyed when the Copping family lost everything in a fire, including his books, diaries and presumably their linens and furniture, almost everything that they brought from England. The journals for 1839, 1841, 1842 and any written in the four years prior to his death are missing. Miss Mabel Mitchell, a Copping great grandchild, who created a Tree of Copping Descendants in1904, may have played a part in the salvation of the remaining diaries. It is unclear if the original journal is still extant. We would be grateful for any information concerning its fate.
The Journal records the daily events of George Copping, his family and their interaction with their neighbours after settling at Rawdon some time between the fall of 1821 and September of 1823. It naturally focuses on his own family and his nearest neighbours who were the Browns, Marlins, Laws, Petries and Asbils. Other families who were near and often mentioned include the Hobbs, Dunns, Reids and Boyces but many others are also named.
George lived for a time in the Quebec City region where they had arrived and two children were born. After an attempt at commercial life in that city, they continued up the St. Lawrence to Montreal and while resident there, three children were born. Then, the final move to Rawdon some time between the fall of 1821 and September of 1823. It was here that the youngest two of the family were born and baptized.
When the Journal opens, January 1st, 1836, George Copping was settled on lot 26 of Range 6, on what is now St. Alphonse Road in Rawdon, Quebec. The five oldest offspring were married or living in their own places, the six youngest children still at home with their parents. The family was living in the new house, as yet unfinished, that was being built to replace the one destroyed by fire.
The Coppings were hard working, good and intelligent people. Exactly the kind of immigrants authorities hoped to attract, and have settle in Canada. George Copping appears to have been a much-respected and trusted member of his community and was often called upon to mediate in disputes between neighbours.
Wandering sheep, pigs, cattle and horses caused a great deal of loss and damage to crops and so keeping fences mended was a constant pre-occupation for George. The old adage "Good fences make good neighbours" was constantly tried. From early spring until late fall, keeping their animals in and their neighbours’ animals out was a hard fought battle with many skirmishes lost. This caused no little amount of hard feelings and George was often called for 'consultations', as he referred to them, to settle damages. This required several community members to arbitrate, assessing damages and recommending retribution. Occasionally he had harsh words for those whose lack of fences or exaggerated demands for retribution caused problems among the neighbours.
George served as a trustee of the school and as a member of the board for the Church of England. He was an advocate for schooling and when the boys were in their teens, long past the age of regular schooling for working folk of that time, they sometimes attended night school. At one point George mentions that Thomas, who is 20 years old, is at school because his finger is too sore and he is unable to work. For many people at that time school was not an option.
As many of the settlers were illiterate or not comfortable writing letters, George would be called upon to assist when they received a letter or wanted to send a written message. Because of their literacy, the Coppings attracted neighbours who came to borrow books or procure paper and ink.
It is shocking to read how often men and especially the young men were seriously injured or killed while using axes, scythes or by falling trees. There are frequent references to rabid dogs, bears, wild cats, smallpox, measles, whooping cough, toothaches, fever, arthritic joints and bad backs. You had to be tough as nails to survive in Canada in those days because it was survival of the fittest for animals and people.
The loss of children was as deeply felt then as it is today and although the loss of a child was an emotional trauma, it was the loss of a helping hand in its youth and an expected asset for the parents’ old age. Parents were forced to rely on their children when they could no longer function independently as homes for seniors and pensions were not known.
Few couples successfully raised to adulthood all the children born to them. The Copping family was an exception in that every one of their eleven children not only survived but also all lived to a good old age. Nine died in their seventies and eighties, one in her late sixties and Charles’ date of death is not known.
The death of a working adult and the loss of crops or beasts could mean the difference between life and starvation but were anticipated due to disease and accidents. The lack of a social safety net meant that the community was obliged to furnish from their own meager supplies for the less fortunate. Neighbours contributed and collected for those who had fallen on hard times. The Journal records George’s contributions to these collections. He also writes of neighbours taking refuge at his home during times of stress until other arrangements were made.
The people of the settlement were interdependent because the skills and trades of the community were needed in order for the whole to survive and live well. The blacksmith, miller, store owner, tanner and lumber mill owner were all extremely important members of their society.
The Copping homestead was a gathering place; neighbours used their potash plant and their barn for threshing of grain. George’s sons regularly delivered potash and sometimes wooden lath for building to Montreal. It was not unusual to deliver goods for a neighbour as well as their own produce. The Coppings produced pearlash, a purified form of potash, used in the production of finer soaps and in glass making.
The Coppings made repairs to their own carts, wagons and sleighs, as well as doing barrel repairs and making furniture etc. All family members planted, weeded, cultivated and harvested crops of all types for their own use and for barter or sale.
Elizabeth did nursing and midwifery for the family as well as for community members. She was often away for days at a time when someone was giving birth, was ill or suffered a severe injury. Doubtless, when a case ended in death, Elizabeth would be pressed to stay on to comfort the family and assist with laying out of the body.
Despite seeming to be very capable in many ways, Elizabeth did not do the family tailoring. This was done by a neighbour, often Mrs. Petrie or Mrs. Brown, in exchange for work done by “the Boys” or Mary. They came over to measure and cut the required item and then took it off home to sew, coming back for further fittings as needed. Interestingly, both men and women chose and brought home yard goods for pants and jacket making and on at least one occasion a son cobbled his own moccasins from leather he got from the community’s leather tanner.
Elizabeth and her daughters worked long hours at farm chores and gardening as well taking care of the large household – washing, cooking, sewing and cleaning, all done by hand. These regular household duties are rarely mentioned, possibly because they were not income producing but more likely, because they were part of routine and not worthy of note just as he does not mention his own repetitive chores.
As well as household duties, the women worked in the fields and gardens without regard to their gender. As early as the age of eleven, the girls planted, seeded, weeded and hoed. They pulled weeds and cut thistles. They reaped, bundled and hauled in the hay and grain. Neither were they excused from the dirty, backbreaking task of digging potatoes and hauling them in to the root cellar. Apparently neither long skirts nor fourteen pounds of clothing hampered the women’s work. At sugaring time, they were in the bush to gather and boil sap and to help with the potash letching when needed. No delicate ladies, these!
Frequent overnight guests must have added considerably to their work. George often mentions that people passing by were bedded down for the night as they paused in their journey to and from Montreal. As well, he reports children staying to attend the nearby school.
Although it was only in the most severe weather, or extremely poor road conditions that none of the Copping family attended church, it was rare for all to go at the same time. Sometimes they attended services at different churches, or sometimes at both the Protestant churches. At this time, in addition to the Church of England, to which the Coppings were attached, there appears to have been a Presbyterian congregation as well as visits from itinerant Methodist preachers who eventually established a church in the community.
Church and businesses were meeting places where news was exchanged, as well as to repay and receive payment of debts owed. Arrangements for an exchange of labour or the borrowing equipment or materials were also made when neighbours met.
There were frequent references to sons, daughters, wives and husbands travelling to someone else’s property to borrow or return items, to deliver barter items of payment, perform services or hours of work or come together to help get a big job done. All this travelling back and forth is surprising. A person might assume that people attended to their own work all week and would rarely see others during that time but this is proven totally incorrect as you read through the journals.
George, with few exceptions, wrote daily in his journal. He used the journal to keep a record of debts owed to him and by him. He sometimes repaid debts by barter, as in one instance “over eleven pounds of butter”. He kept meticulous records of how much sap was collected and how much maple sugar was produced. He recorded exactly how much he paid for meat per pound, how much he charged others for meat from his animals and how many pounds his own butchered animals produced for the family’s use. He kept track of planting and harvest dates, the production of his fields, how much wood was cut, firewood split, wooden lath made, furniture built, sleighs, wagons and carts made and loaned along with oxen or horses to pull them, as well as the potash produced. Possibly he wrote down the loan of equipment and tools so he would know where to look for them if they weren’t returned.
It is clear that he is not recording events for a reader or writing a social history. There is no follow up on items of interest to us and supporting evidence is seldom provided. In fact, he would be astonished that we are interested in reading the Journal today. His references to political events (1837 Rebellion), family scandal (Clara leaving her marriage) or murder are oblique and often puzzling and frustrating.
For instance in 1838, there are four entries referring to the murder of a young man surnamed Steven (or Stephen or Stephens).
June 12 - Mr. Dugas, Daniel Truesdell and John Smiley called in here on their way from an inquest on Mr. Stevens, killed by three McDon . . .
June 13 - James has gone to the funeral of the young man Mr. Stephens that was killed the day before yesterday.
June 22 - Thomas has gone to the inquest of poor Mr. Stephen, they took open the coffin and looked at him and they went to Mr. Truesdell's and established the verdict of willful murder against John and Alexander McDonald.
July 1 - in the afternoon William Eveleigh, John Eveleigh, Mr. Rourke, William Sinclair and the two Stephen's came to take Edward McDonald and they took James and Henry with them and their muskets and ball cartridges.
Further, on Sept 1, he reports “old John McDonald” is in gaol. Possibly, this is the Jack McDonald who is reported as dying on 15, April 1840.
To Mr. Copping, these were the events of a day. He leaves us to wonder how the young man was killed, did they really open the coffin nine days after burial, did they actually arrest Edward and why did this take two weeks to occur? Were the accused hanged? We may make a story of it if we wish; however, we cannot be sure we are getting it correctly. So, read and enjoy these remarkable background glimpses remembering that the full story lies elsewhere.
The Copping Children in the Journal
The descendants of the children of George and Elizabeth Copping are spread across North America and to many places beyond. The Coppings had a unique approach in the naming of their sons as will be seen in the following description of their lives in 1836 when the Journal commences.
The oldest son, George, was married to Mary Gray and in 1836 they were living with their three little boys on Lot 20 North on the 4th Range. A ticket of location had been issued to the Coppings for this lot in 1824. George would have been about an hour's travel from his father’s home farm (6 / N 24), and yet, there was much coming and going between the two places. The brothers and sisters who were still living at home frequently went “down to George's” to lend a hand, borrow a piece of equipment, or to join in festivities. His mother, Elizabeth, also went to give a hand in the house or garden or help with a sick child. His sister, Mary, went to spin, baby sit and visit. George's place was also a stop on the way home from John’s mill in what is now St-Ligouri.
George was appointed as one of the first three “road and bridge inspectors” for the Township of Rawdon on November 13, 1845 with Antoine Dandurand and John Daly.
The second son, William, and his wife, Margaret Gray, (Peggy) with their first son, were settled at 6 / N 23 next to the family homestead. Margaret was a sister to George's wife, Mary. They were from a large Irish Protestant family from County Sligo. William and Mary later moved to 8 / S 24, formerly owned by George Keo, but we find this move was not without its trials and tribulations as we read through the Journal. The “Boys” often gave William a hand and they worked the potash together. At times, Old George and even Elizabeth and Mary boiled potash for William as well as for themselves. Joseph, once he passed his thirteenth birthday, which would seem to be the coming of age, frequently hauled and chopped wood, or took grain to the mill for his brother.
William did quite well for himself and there is regular mention in the Journal of Peggy’s maid servant and a cook is mentioned, as well. William became a councillor for the Municipality of Rawdon, and a Justice of the Peace.
Tragedy hits the households of the two eldest sons shortly after the Journal opens. They each lose a son within hours of each other. Both babies are waked at George’s and a procession leaves from there to go to the church for burial.
Charles, who would have been about 25 years old at the time of the Journal, did not live in the Rawdon area. According to family tradition, Charles never saw the place and took over the family business in Montreal when the rest of his family moved to Rawdon to take up farming. There is no evidence to support this and it seems an unlikely story, as he would have been only eleven or twelve when the family moved to Rawdon. A look at the 1825 census seems to indicate that George and Elizabeth and all ten children were at Rawdon in 1825. Possibly, he was apprenticed at a very early age to a friend, John Eveleigh, in Montreal who was in the leather trade. Another early settler at Rawdon, John Eveleigh, also had previously been at Montreal. His son Joseph returned to Montreal about 1830 and established himself as trunkmaker and dealer in leather.
Charles later married Emma Bennett of New York State and they had 5 children all born in New York. In the Journal, Old George mentions receiving letters from Charles and sending letters to him. Charles sent him a pair of boots, as well.
John operated and later owned a flour mill on what was then the first range in Rawdon, now a part of St-Ligouri more than an hour's ride from the home farm. Young George's farm on the 4th Range would have been about halfway from the home farm to John’s.
George mentions going down to John's for meal and flour. He also refers to James going down to work for John. Did John actually own the mill at this time and was it part of the family property? It would appear that he was apprenticed to or working for Philomen Dugas, a well-known and successful miller, merchant and entrepreneur. In support of this idea is a list of students who were attending the School at the Forks, very close to the Dugas establishment, in 1826. John Copping is one of only eight scholars and the only one whose family did not live with a half mile of the school and the only Copping.
In 1837, John married Julie Dugas, Philomen's daughter; she was another of the students at the School at the Forks in 1826. She, as her parents were, was born in the United States. This was a mixed marriage - she was Roman Catholic –but there does not seem to have been any alienation between the families. John converted to the Catholic faith shortly before the marriage and the young Dugas-Coppings were brought Catholic. Admittedly old George seemed a little uptight at first, but things were soon smoothed over. He often went down to the mill and when Julie was ill, Elizabeth went down to stay with her. Julie and John also came up to visit regularly at the homestead.
It is easy to imagine Clarinda being the apple of her father's eye, and the darling of her big brothers. She was the first girl and remained the only one for another nine years until Elizabeth was born. Clarinda is said to have been particularly pretty and have had a lovely singing voice. That she was very attractive is evident in photos of her that have survived from later years. William was said to be an accomplished violinist, and would play for her. Beverly’s grandfather and others of the older folk used to say that on a beautiful evening in spring or summer neighbours would gather for an impromptu concert given by the pair. When the Journal opens, Clarinda has just married Edward Reinhardt. Whether they are still in Montreal, or are already settled on the farm he purchased nearby, is unclear. Certainly they are on the farm when ‘the scandal’ erupts.
James & Thomas Henry
The oldest of the six children still at home, James 22, and Thomas 20, were already looking around for their own sections of land. James would seem to be courting his future wife, Florella Wright, in Montreal - it is always James who makes the deliveries of potash to Montreal. Thomas may already have had his eye on a girl from “up the township”, Bessie Sharp, and so was also interested in finding his own place. Their search and settling is detailed, as much as George details, in the pages of the Journal.
Henry, 19 at the time the Journal opens, is the youngest of ‘the boys’ referred to in the daily account. Once his two older brothers were settled he took the lot directly behind the homestead. He was also married and settled before the end of the Journal to the first of his three wives. The first two wives bore him 14 children and the third raised them.
Mary, Joseph, Eliza
Then there were the three youngest children - Mary, Joseph and the baby of the family, Eliza. Mary and Joseph as the names imply were a pair, often working together in the fields and garden. At the beginning of 1836 they were about 14 and 12, respectively. Mary had the unenviable position of being the oldest girl at home and as such shouldered much responsibility. She helped out at home, where she had her own calf, pig and sheep to look after and worked in the fields and garden. She was frequently sent to help neighbours or to her brothers George or William.
Eliza was almost ten when the Journal opens and is seldom mentioned except when she is ill or sent on an errand. She would probably have helped with household tasks or even outside chores, but there is little mention of her contributions.
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