In October, 1897, The Beaver published a photograveur and some rough notes of "The McKim Boys" - five sons of the family of John McKim and Lydia Switzer, all natives of Ernesttown, then ranging in ages from 72 to 84 years, in whose family a death had never occurred up to that time, and they were all in good health and in the enjoyment of their full mental and physical energies to a remarkable degree. Those notes were republished far and near among the Canadian exchanges then, so remarkable were the facts concerning them. Since that death has broken in on that family circle, and there have been taken away Peter McKim, J.P., of Kingston, the eldest, when in his 84th year, and our well-known Napanee citizen, Mr. J.N. McKim in his 78th year. The remaining three brothers, Hiram McKim, J.P., of Sydenham, Mr. Miles McKim, of Westbrooke, and Christopher McKim, of Cleveland, Ohio, are yet alive and in excellent health for men of their years.
HIRAM McKIM J.P.
A few days ago the writer had the pleasure of meeting the venerable Hiram McKim, at his comfortable home near the village of Sydenham, Frontenac county and of listening to many of his remembrances of a long and varied life's experience. Some of those experiences of the earlier days in this and the adjoining county are well worthy of note, as they give us an idea of the times of our grandfathers.
Mr. McKim was born at Switzerville in the year 1815 and is no, therefore, in his 87th year. His health seems good yet, and his memory remarkably clear though the burden of his more than four score years is telling on his physical energies. He can yet say:
"My age is lusty as winter;
Frosty but kindly"
and he can well attribute it to the fact that in his youth he never did apply hot and rebellious liquors to his blood, nor at any time since, though pretty free imbibing in spirits was quite a prevailing custom in his boyhood days. The entire family of boys were a family of total abstainers, and possibly he and his elder brother, Peter, nay not have had more than one experience of a regular 'drunk' in all his days.
AN EARLY DRINKING EXPERIENCE
It may be as well to give that experience here in his own words, as near as possible for it gives an idea of the customs that prevailed, even among children, eighty years ago. His statement is something like this;
"I remember in about the year 1824, we had at Switzer's an Irish schoolmaster named Pat Lee. The school was large then, for there were many children in nearly every family at that time. We had no school holiday at that time except on Saturday afternoon. The teacher evidently wanted to begin the new year well, and to give good evidence of his hospitality and good will to all the children in his care. He got three gallons of whiskey and brought it to the schoolhouse, and all the boys and girls were heartily invited, in fact, urged, to partake freely of his good cheer. It was thought nothing of then, as nearly every family used more or less at home. The pail and tin cup were passed around and used very freely by all present. The custom then was on all such occasions to allow none to be left. It was not long before all showed signs of their indulgence; in fact teacher and scholars, the girls included, were, most of them, gloriously drunk and a little later on were helplessly so. There was a desk running all round the wall and Peter and I got on it. Pretty soon Peter, my brother, jumped right through the window, carrying sash and glass with him. His face was terribly cut and bruised with the broken glass and his fall on the ground and he was taken home in a very bloody condition.
"Some one sent word to my father, who did not live far off, and he hitched up a large sleigh and took the children to their homes, where some of them were delivered in an almost helpless state. A day or two later as the teacher was passing my father's house, he was called in and shown Peter's terribly cut and disfigured face. My father said to him pretty sternly, "Do you see that? Please step outside for a minute or two and I will fix your face in the same style." The teacher begged and pleaded very hard, and assured that he meant no harm, but merely to celebrate the new year in becoming manner. There was then a reconciliation and the teacher was taken in and given a glass or two just to renew old friendship, and he went on."
"Not much then was thought of an incident like that, and it is not probable that here was any further trouble about it. It may have been merely felt that his acts of friendship were carried a little too far. It may be here remarked that the Switzer neighborhood, where this occurred, was the scene of the formation of one of the first temperance societies in this county, and it has been noted for its strong temperance sentiment ever since. From an old copy of the Kingston Gazette, now in the writer's possession, it is learned that as early as 1828 a strong society was formed in the Methodist church there; the influence was always afterwards felt in the locality. It has ever since been noted for its strong temperance sentiment. The old church was for years the gathering place for the annual meetings of the old Midland District Temperance Society to which men gathered from many townships.
AN INNOVATION THEN
It may be just as well to give here a news item which was considered of sufficient importance to stand at the editorial head of the Kingston Gazette and Advocate of October 12 1828. It read as follows:
"We are informed by a respectable farmer from the 5th concession of Ernesttown that a bee was lately made for securing the crops of potatoes, etc., at which no liquor was drunk. Also, two buildings were lately raised in Ernesttown without the aid of ardent spirits."
That announcement went before such news items as the arrival of Sir John Colborne as Governor in succession of Sir Peregrine Maitland, who had just retired from the Province; the coming into port of the fine new steamer the Sir James Kempt, and other news of the week. We have heard from another source of another man who tried, about that time, the strange experiment of raising a barn without the customary supply of whisky, but when the men heard of it they all left him in disgust. One has said, "We used to have an abundance of liquors on hand, and in the afternoon we would all work hard and raise the barn, and then in the evening we would all 'raise Cain' before getting away."
THE OLD SWITZER CHURCH
Mr. McKim, who was a native of that locality, has yet a fresh remembrance of the building and dedication of the old Switzer Methodist church, which was among the earliest and most important in Upper Canada eighty or more years ago. It was the place of meeting of the first Canadian Independent Conference, and of other important gatherings. To show the wonderful memory Mr. McKim still possesses, the writer may mention inquiry was made of him if he remembered the building of the old historic church. His answer was substantially as follows:
"Yes, it was about 1826. Bishop Hedding preached the dedication sermon. His text was "Say not ye, there are yet four months and then cometh the harvest" Behold, I say unto you, lift up your eyes and look on the fields; for they are white already to harvest. (John IV.35). The subject of the discourse was that there is always work at hand in the Lord's harvest, for all who are willing to work therein, even to the young boy."
He also remembers well the conference held in that church. October, 1828. Bishop Hedding, who was then a man of much prominence in American Methodism presided. Rev. Wm. Case, who had just begun his great mission work among the Indians, was present with a band of them, and they excited a good deal of attention, for at that time many doubted if it were possible to civilize and christianize these aborigines. That was a historic gathering, as then the steps were taken to make the Methodist church in Canada a separate and independent body from that in the United States. He also states that Peter Neville, a brother of the late Mitchell Neville, J.P., was the first person buried in the burying ground at that church. He was drowned when a young man. That was probably before the church was built.
SOME ELECTION REMEMBRANCES
Mr. McKim remembers some of the early elections in this county, when Marshall Bidwell and peter Perry represented it. There was but one polling place for all Lennox and Addington, and some of the polling generally lasted for a week. Some of the earliest of these were at John Fralick's tavern near where the Morven brick stands. Later on they were held at Bath. It was there that these old Reform party champions were defeated by John Solomon Cartwright and Geo. H. Detlor. Another incident that shows his wonderfully retentive memory may be given here. Doctor Vandyck, who came from New York State near Albany, the father of Mr. Henry Vandyck, now of Conway, we believe, was quite a prominent man then, and an ardent Reformer. As was the custom then some fly-sheets were printed with campaign doggerel. The Doctor was touched off somewhat as follows:
"A.V., the medical concoctor,
The Kinderhook doctor,
Can reduce diseases
By death when he pleases."
More samples like that could be quoted, but that will suffice just now. He moved to Murvale, Frontenac County nearly sixty years ago in 1843, and has ever since been identified with that county. One of the early members for it, he remembers, was Jacob Shibley, J.P., father of the present venerable Charles Shibley, who yet occupies the old homestead. Mr. Shibley moved in, four or five miles back of Wilton, when the whole surrounding country was an unbroken wilderness, and when there were no roads. He was a staunch old Reformer. His house was built by Mr. Rockwell, father of our venerable townsman, Mr. Sperry Rockwell, who was one of the few carpenters of that day. The house, built about 1820, stands firm and solid yet. Before Mr. Shibley, Mr. Clark Nichols represented the county. He lived somewhere back of Sydenham. One of the successors was Mr. John Bennett Marks, of Barriefield, who was in 1845 warden of the old United Counties Council, held at Kingston, and was one of the first presidents of the Provincial Agricultural Society. He also remembers quite an exciting election in Kingston when Christopher Hagerman, afterward Chief Justice was opposed by a Catholic priest named O'Grady. The latter, however, polled but a small vote.
He also remembers attending some of the Sessions held at Adolphustown. For years, it will be remembered the Quarter Sessions were held alternately there and at Kingston. The old court House was used also as a preaching place on Sundays, and he remembers hearing John Ryerson preach there. Even the text he can quote yet.
Mr. McKim was commissioned as a Justice of the Peace as early as 1838. Being a close reader, a careful student and with such a retentive memory, he had a well-earned credit for remembering more statute law than most lawyers, and he was often employed by his neighbors to conduct their cases before Judge Kenneth Mackenzie, Kirkpatrick and others. Years later, when the Dunkin and Scott Acts were in force in Frontenac, he was appointed a police magistrate and had much to do with law enforcement.
He well remembers the old "training days," too, which were memorable events half a century ago, when every able-bodied man between 20 and 60 years of age was "warned out" and subject to a fine for non-compliance. Not much was dine in the way of military drill at such times. The roll was called and every company formed and that was about all. The real fighting generally took place later on, when most of the men would get drinking, and the usual results were sure to follow. Some of the strong men were the heroes of bloody battles at such times. Seldom did a general training day pass without such bloody scenes. The many reminiscences of such an old man, with much a varied experience, are convincing proofs that much improvement has been made of late years, as regards habits of sobriety, peace and quietness.