James Dougherty Leaves for Remsheg
Commissioned by the Cumberland County Museum & Archives, Amherst NS, through the attention of author Stephen Leahey.
A verbal account of the painting by Louise Cloutier
Commanding the viewer’s full attention, a confident and prosperous James Dougherty*, mounted on a bay horse, engages the viewer’s eye as he sets out on a day excursion. His attire suggests that the patriarch has business at hand. It is late fall, only a few leaves cling to the trees. Dougherty, now in the autumn of his somewhat short life, is portrayed in his mid-forties. He wears a Regency style, brown wool, double-breasted tail coat adorned with stamped brass buttons. Beneath it, to stave off the chill air, he dons a short, yellow, quilted-waistcoat on top of a white linen undershirt. The neckcloth around the standing collar of his shirt is tied in an Irish knot. His dark blue wool breeches are buttoned at the knee, exposing a bit of his white clocked sock before it disappears into a two-toned calf skin boot. His riding gloves, dyed blue, would have been made of kid skin. The tricorn hat, though losing popularity at the turn of the century, serves to remind us of his loyalist roots.
The Dougherty homestead is conveniently located for both water and land travel. It is in close proximity to the creek that will come to bear his name (seen between the house and barn). Docherty Creek, part of the Pugwash Estuary, is a water route that would have quickly connected Dougherty to the river that led to the soon to be established settlement of Pugwash* and the open waters of the Strait. By land and on horse, it would have been a brief ride to Remsheg*. Firmly established on the 699+ acre grant awarded him (perhaps as early as 1785*), we see that the land has long been cleared of trees. In the foreground, a young apple tree is suggestive of Dougherty’s tenure on the land.
Proud and demonstrative of his allegiance to the British, Dougherty pays homage by flying the Union Jack*. The house is a substantial one, demonstrating this Scotch-Irish born settler’s prosperity in the service of Britain. It is built in the Federal Style that was popular amongst loyalists in North America who deemed the style supportive of English patriotism. Though nearby mills have yet to be constructed by the settlers who will follow in his footsteps – clapboards, shingles, staves, and bricks* were readily available through the transport of supplies by British ships. Bricks were expensive; a sign of wealth. Dougherty’s chimney, steps, and fire pit surround are constructed of brick.
The English Style three-bay barn, representing agricultural success and triumph over the new world wilderness, would have been a great source of pride for this pioneer. It is clad in greying shingles and was, no doubt, built before the present house was constructed (at which time a smaller log cabin would have sufficed as lodging for James as he cleared his land*). His livestock* include sheep, horses, chickens and cattle. Most farms at this time would have had oxen as the dominant beast of labour. James, however, owns not one but two horses; another sign of wealth. The turn of the century is a time of many changes and he is amongst the first in the Remsheg District to have owned horses.
Snake fences enclose the farm animals. To the right of the furthest enclosure, we see a sliver of a large garden that the women of the household would have tended. Pumpkins, a winter supplement for livestock, have yet to be harvested. In the foreground, an apple barrel awaits transfer to a root cellar. The cart, at the ready, is stationed in the barnyard. A field mouse located near the barrel has gone undetected by the chickens. It, like its human counterparts, is in harvesting mode. Though almost undetectable, this small rodent has a significant role in the painting; it is a harbinger of the plague of mice that will consume all of Nova Scotia’s crops in 1815, the year of Dougherty’s death.
Three crows, facing east, rest on the peak of the 45-degree angled barn roof. A popular wives’ tale is insinuated here; the presence of three corvids announces the birth of a child or a marriage, both of which are possible in this scenario. I have made visible six of the 11 children that Dougherty is reported to have sired. Large families were the key to successful farms, since children became the workforce necessary to keep it functioning. Unperturbed by their father’s eminent absence, the older children are already engaged in essential duties. One daughter (located in the center of the painting) is dyeing wool, a task reserved for autumn. The girls would have gathered natural materials such as lichen, berries, flowers, carrots, etc. for making different hues of yellow. Rich browns, blues, grays, reds and blacks could be achieved by combining natural materials with metallic salts (tin, iron, or alum) for the dyeing of sheep’s wool. Though it is early morning, the household is already in full swing; a large cast iron pot emits steam while a younger sibling tends the fire. Their brother* brings more fuel for the fire. Two other offspring hang flannel pilchers, also known as “soakers” or “savers”; triangular shapes of felted wool used to cover diapers.
Wife Mary, still in her child bearing years and pregnant with Esther*, holds a young daughter in her arms. Their gaze follows James as he rides away. I have placed her in front of the family home and dooryard garden; both being the domain of the lady of the house. In her kitchen garden she grows herbs and flowers that would have contributed to the family’s diet. As it is late in the season, rosehips, in abundance, await harvesting. We also see lavender that she would have grown for tea and soap. A basket can be seen through the slat fence that has been erected to keep livestock out. Also visible is part of a ladder-back chair. While picking rosehips, Mary, in her “delicate condition”, would have welcomed a seat. Leaning against the chair is a wooden shovel*.
The upper bedroom windows have been fitted with spring triggered blinds. Like the brass buttons on James’ overcoat, these were newly introduced at the start of the 1800’s. Shades were employed less for privacy and more for the preservation of expensive, imported fabrics used on chairs and other coverings. Direct sunlight made them susceptible to fading.
By the early 1800’s the Dougherty homestead would have been well established, inspiring other settlers to follow suit. The Piers, Gillis, McLeods and Wilkinsons would come and set down roots at Docherty Creek. The Eatons*, Thompsons, Paiges and Stevens would come later. Mills for grain and wood would spring up in the surrounding area and before the century would turn again, a train station would be built. Still later, industrialist and philanthropist Cyrus Eaton*, native of Pugwash Junction*, would build the Margaret King School just a short distance away from where James Dougherty and some of his family lie buried.
Today, the original house, barn and fences (even the train tracks and school) are gone. James’ gravestone still stands on what was once his land. Obscured by trees, it faces the road where cars and farm tractors roll by, many of the passersby unaware of its existence and the history made here. A tree threatens to knock it over. It is just a matter of time.
1. *Dougherty : Born 1758 in Dumfries, Scotland (a mixed Scotch-Irish population). Died 1815 Docherty Creek, NS
2. *Pugwash: Founded in 1807
3. *Remsheg: (Now known as Wallace). Dougherty’s house was on the road that led to Remsheg, a substantial Loyalist Townsite. In 1784 it became settled by approximately 460 United Empire Loyalists. These settlers were followed by Scottish and Irish immigrants.
4. *1785: A total of 1,697 Loyalist petitions in NS were processed by land surveyor Charles Morris. (The name (jhn) Dougherty is on a petition (circa 1782) of Loyalists names who were seeking land grants.
5. *Union Jack: The current and second Union Jack dates from 1 January 1801 with the Act of Union 1800, which merged the Kingdom of Great Britain and the Kingdom of Ireland to form the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. The new design added a red saltire, the cross of Saint Patrick, for Ireland.
6.*Bricks : Some locally-made bricks were available in Halifax soon after European settlers landed in 1749. English bricks imported to the Atlantic provinces by British ships, measured nine by three by four inches; NS made bricks, as regulated by a statute in 1792, were 8 by two by four inches. English “gray stock” bricks were considered superior and were, despite their name, a yellowish colour, except for a few of the earliest shipments, which were red. (journals.lib.unb.ca). Regarding other building materials, Charles Morris, the Surveyor General, in 1760 reported that in 1760-61 there were 15 saw mills (in Liverpool area) creating a quantity of shingles, clapboards, staves, …
7.*land: It is interesting to note that an old well next to a small rectangular depression in the ground (filled with bramble) where a cabin or shed once stood can still be found on the property once owned by Dougherty. (2022)
8.*livestock: It is reported in the 1795 Remsheg Tax Poll that James had 6 cattle, 7 sheep, and two horses. I have assigned James:
-Baby Doll Southdown Sheep (heritage breed considered hearty for grazing and producing good wool and mutton)
-Black Cattle: abundant in maritime provinces in the 18th c
-Dominque Chickens: good for grazing and killing mice
-Cleveland Bay Horse : originated in England and imported to the Americas in early 1800. Good for farming, drawing wagons, and saddle riding.
9. *brother: Oral history relates the birth of one son who was killed in a treeing accident while he
and his father were clearing land. It is reported that James planted an elm tree on his property
in his honour. Elm trees on the property succumbed to the Dutch Elm disease of the 20th c.
10.* Esther (Dougherty): Born Nov. 30, 1804, died June 22, 1884. Married Isaac Ackerley, another of the first Loyalist families.
11.* shovel: The Amherst Cumberland Museum is in possession of an 1800 circa shovel. Though it is
from the Collingwood area, it is possible that James’ would have had a similar farming
12. * Eatons: Cyrus Eaton began his early education in the late 1800’s in a one room school in Pugwash Junction and went on to financial success as an industrialist in the United States. Later, Cyrus Eaton would bring 22 scientists from around the world to Pugwash to reflect on nuclear disarmament, ultimately resulting in a Nobel Peace Prize for Joseph Rotblat and the Pugwash Conference.
13.* Pugwash Junction: In 1888, the railroad was completed. Previous to this, the district along the road leading to Pugwash from the vicinity of the station was called Dougherty Creek or Brook, and that area leading into Conns Mills and Oxford was called Lakeville. Now the two were given the name of Pugwash Junction, the station being the junction of the branch line from Pugwash and that of the main line from Pictou to Oxford Junction.