Saturday, March 21, 2015

The Vermont Years

"I have at length arrived at headquarters. In coming from New Caledonia to this place, which is a distance of at least three thousand miles, nothing uncommon has occurred."

Nothing uncommon indeed, in making a transcontinental wilderness journey with a nine-months' pregnant woman and two small children. Nothing uncommon, in a marriage performed two days before a birth. After the free and easy days of the fur trade, what would soon seem uncommon to the Harmons was the life ahead of them.

Lisette was twenty-eight when she arrived in whitewashed Yankee Vermont. Half her life had been spent with Daniel, who was as much father as husband to her. She would spend the next twenty-four years in the young United States, raising ten children often alone, when Daniel took short assignments with the NorthWest Company.

Daniel's brothers Argalus and Calvin Harmon were comfortable Vergennes farmers turned land speculators. In 1820, they purchased a remote township in Vermont's Northeast Kingdom, a burgeoning wilderness of some 300 families. An experienced trader with some capital on hand, such as retirement pay from the NWC, was just the thing to grow the town.

Daniel soon found himself developing the first sawmill for Harmonville, later renamed Coventry. The mill on the Black River swiftly turned forests into farmland and timber into lumber, and the Harmon brothers were ardent in their land clearing efforts. Deacons of the church, they also took a dim view of drinking.

"Harmon, being much opposed to the use of alcohol and having given the land for the town common, set the penalty for drunkenness at the clearing of one stump from the common. This proved to be more effective at clearing land than at preventing drunkenness. Thereafter, one pint of rum was justly considered the fair price of pulling out one stump." (Vermont Historical Gazetteer)

Little is known of the Harmons' Vermont years, as the Coventry records perished in a fire in the mid-1960s. A contemporary journal, since lost, apparently makes some reference to the death of "the widow Harmon," indicating that Daniel's mother Lucretia lived with her sons after their father's death. Daniel eventually built a frame house for the growing family, as Lisette bore six more children in Coventry. Almira Amelia was born May 16, 1821; Henry Norman on March 13, 1825; Frederick Mortimer on January 4, 1828; Stephen on July 28, 1831; Susan Elizabeth on March 29, 1833; and Abby Maria on July 27, 1838.

In 1843, the Harmon family moved again, returning to Montreal. Recent research in Montreal and New Hampshire archives has unearthed a surprising reason for the move, which has long been inexplicable to Harmon scholars.

The Harmons' eldest daughter Polly had married a blacksmith from East Haverhill, NH by the name of Calvin Ladd. It seems that in 1842, Calvin Ladd purchased land on the island of Montreal from a well-known Montreal merchant Pascal Persillier. His son, Pascal Persillier-Lachapelle, had long feared that British merchants were overpowering (French) Canadian commerce. In 1837, Persillier had proposed a motion in the Saint Lawrence Patriots assembly to "liberalize commercial exchange" with the United States so that together they might "seize the economic and political jugular" of Great Britain. With his father, Persillier was elected a permanent member of the Patriot committee of Montréal.

Who better for the Montrealers to recruit for their patriotic purposes than the merchant son-in-law of a prominent NorthWest Company trader, whose wife was bilingual in French? Calvin Ladd had worked at the Fairbanks Scale Company in St. Johnsbury, Vermont, and was aware of the potential of the growing Industrial Revolution. While there is no direct evidence linking these events to the Harmon's move, it is certain that the Daniel Harmon family departed Coventry in the late winter of 1843 for Sault-au-Récollet, Quebec on the Rivière Des Prairies on l'Ile de Montréal (incorporated into the City in 1906).

The move was to be the death of Daniel. There is a record of an erysipelas (swine fever) epidemic in Coventry that winter, and its symptoms can mimic those of scarlet fever in humans. Frederick Mortimer, aged 15, was the first to die in March of 1843, perhaps weakened by a long winter journey on the frozen rivers that made travel more possible in the era before roads. Daniel also died in March, barely 65 years old; on May 26 he was followed by daughter Sally, now 26.

Polly was now the only one left who remembered Lisette's homeland. Her husband Calvin sued on Lisette's behalf for custody of Daniel's estate and the remaining children, and family records from this point bear the name of Ladd. Harmon descendant Joseph Betz notes that on the 22nd of February, 1861, Calvin Ladd's foundry and machine shops were destroyed by fire, and he sold out what property remained at Sault-au-Recollet and returned to the States. He accepted a position in the chief engineer's office at the Brooklyn Navy Yard. Polly died September 27, 1861 in Montreal, and Calvin married Charlotte E. Welsh on November 10, 1864 in Brooklyn, NY.

Lisette lived on in Montreal until February 14, 1862, the age of 72, when she was buried in Mount Royal Cemetery. Her life began in the year of the division of Upper and Lower Canada (b. 1791), and spanned the continent and the century to end on the eve of the American Civil War (d. 1862) and Canadian Confederation (1867). Her youngest daughter Abby Maria (who died a suicide by drowning in Ottawa) was buried in her mother's grave. The stone to both Harmons in Mount Royal Cemetery was probably a gift of Abby Maria's friends.

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