Emigration To Canada
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Many of those who were displaced from their small plots of ground went to the new mill towns such as at New Lanark or into the factories in larger centres like Glasgow or Paisley. Some, like Robert Hamilton, worked in Glasgow long enough to arrange for the family emigration to Canada.

To start this section, here is a summary of the emigration of the James McCowan family, taken from:

A Man and His Home
William Porteous McCowan

by D.B. McCowan, 1988


William Porteous McCowan was not a particularly prominent man during his 69 years in Scarborough. He neither held public office nor did he create any work of art. He left no published memoirs nor did he leave personal diaries. A life-long bachelor, he left no descendants. However, he did leave us his home. The log house occupied by "Uncle Willie McCowan" for over half a century is now a museum in Thomson Memorial Park and is scheduled for a third "recent era" restoration in early 1989. Readers who visit the cabin may readily feel the presence of William, his sister and his mother as they relax near the fire on an autumn eve. Furniture and accessories that were in the building in 1860 have been located in several private collections.

Early Life in Scotland and Emigration to Scarborough

William Porteous McCowan was born at East Auchanbeg, Lesmahagow Parish, Lanarkshire at 4:30 a.m. on Wednesday, May 17, 1820. He was named, in part, for his mother, Margaret Porteous. We have not yet located documents that refer specifically to William himself during his youth in Scotland. However, we can get a feel for his adult values and, perhaps, begin to understand the bachelor's quiet disposition as we briefly introduce the ambitious and industrious yet compassionate and pious character of his father.

At the time of William's birth, James McCowan (born 1773) was embroiled in a long legal struggle to retain control of his coal mining interests. The McCowan bid to renew the lease of the Auchanbeg Coalworks in 1818 had been unsuccessful. James was now marketing coal and lime out of his works in Blackwood, some five miles north of the family residence. Frequent trips to Glasgow with his minerals and occasional journeys to Edinburgh with legal papers probably meant that James saw relatively little of his fourth and youngest son during at least the first year of the infant's life.

On December 26, 1820, James petitioned for his sequestration (bankruptcy). Notice of the sequestration appeared in the General Minute Books for the Court of Session (Jan. 4, 1821) and in the Jan. 12, 1821 issue of the Clydesdale Journal, a Hamilton, Lanarkshire paper. This sequestration may have ended James McCowan's interest in Lesmahagow minerals.

In such circumstances, a person with less entrepreneurial drive may have been inclined to apply for assistance to emigrate. Indeed, two days after the birth of his fourth son, James may have scanned the following notice in the Clydesdale Journal:

Emigration to Canada: Several Emigrant Societies in and about Glasgow, and a Society in Lesmahagow, having applied to the County of Lanark for aid and facilities to obtain settlements in the British Colonies in North America, their case was submitted to His Majesty's Ministers. An extensive Emigration is not contemplated this season; but it is probable a numerous body of people will apply to government to get out on similar terms next spring...

James was not so distressed by his financial problems as to join the Lesmahagow Emigrant Society. Instead, he concentrated his efforts on farming at East Auchanbeg. According to the 1821 Lesmahagow census he appears to have employed a male farm servant about 15 years of age and a female servant aged between 20 and 30 years. His eldest sons, Robert, James and David and daughter, Margaret, were all under eight years of age at this time and so could have been of little help in the operation of the farm.

James McCowan had never intended to survive on the income from the farm of East Auchanbeg. The farm had been intended to only complement the coal-works -- pasture and feed for the gin horses and a source for a meal allowance for his colliers. On no more than twenty arable acres and 150 acres of "braes and pasture" he apparently managed to survive for a decade. By 1830 he was an established cattle breeder. In February, 1831, his farm stock included a very respectable herd of  "seven cowes, four ques (calves still fed on milk), five calves, one horse, one sow, sixty sheep".

On February 11 of that year, the owner of the estate, John Gibson, petitioned for the sequestration of James McCowan on seemingly questionable grounds. We can only assume at this point that the sequestration was carried through to the end. We assume also that James McCowan remained at East Auchanbeg until his emigration in 1833, but this is not proven. We only know that he was still involved in local cattle breeding until at least July 1831.

There is some evidence that James McCowan's sons, including, perhaps, William, worked as hewers at the Auchanbeg coalface to supplement the farm income: "... the coalmaster who is now Killie Scott and his son Jas. that drove the coals from you." [This could also refer to an earlier period when James McCowan perhaps contracted Scott to cart some of his coal output to market.]

By this time, lowland Scotland had developed an excellent system of education. (See also "His Library and Education.") Young William McCowan was fortunate enough to be a student of John Muir at Skellyhill School about a mile north of Auchanbeg. The Muir and McCowan families emigrated together in 1833 and settled about a mile and a half apart in Scarborough, at that time "comparatively a wilderness".

With land to clear of virgin forest there was probably much less time available to William for formal study, but the influence of his former teacher, John Muir, probably continued. As the two lived less than a mile on either side of a school facility (on Lot 18, Concession C) it is not unlikely (though not yet proven) that William continued to prosper under this respected tutor. During this period it was not uncommon for a pupil to attend classes part-time until nearly twenty years of age, as recorded Robert Rae in Scarborough "after I was sixteen years of age I attended school about six weeks each winter until I was nineteen years old".

In August of 1834 William very nearly perished of cholera. His father wrote: "Willm is just now very ill of collera and whither he will get better or not is known to God only ... this letter I have penned sittin at my son Willm's bedhead just waiting on him".

William survived "the cholera" but his father and brother did not....

From A Man and His Home: William Porteous McCowan, 1820-1902
The Scarboro Heights Record V11 #11