A Piety Hill Resident Witnessed the Stirring Event – Away Back in 1846 – A Frightened Crowd in the Hall
The gunpowder plots did not all end with the days of Guy Fawkes in attempting to blow up the English parliament, buy any means. Some older readers of the Beaver may yet well remember the stories that were told, years ago, of what was popularly called, “The Bath Gunpowder Plot.” Our sprightly old townsman, Peter Bristol, J.P., of Piety Hill, now past his eightieth year, was a witness of that stirring event and has still a lively remembrance of it. The facts in brief, were something as follows:
In the fall of 1846, or thereabouts, there was a great deal of agitation about “the tee-total question,” which was not then as well understood and clearly recognized as now. “Do the scriptures approve of any such principle or practice?” There were debates on some such question as that all over the bay country. Ministers as well as laymen were divided in opinion. Miro Ham, then a young man of a good deal of spirit, and it is said of a good deal of mischief, too, challenged any temperance champion to meet him in public debate on that question. He was on the anti-side and had the active sympathy of many of the antis of that day. It was at last announced that a Kingston minister would meet him in Bath on a fexed night for a debate. The meeting was held in the old Masonic hall, which was then the largest available meeting place for miles around.
People came in from miles distant and the hall was crowded to its fullest capacity. Rev. Conrad VanDuzen, one of the early Methodist preachers, was then appointed to the chair. It was arranged that Ham should speak first and then the Kingston man should reply. He led off with a long speech during which he used copious notes and quoted many texts, and concluded with the applause of his friends. Just as his opponent was called on and a good hearing was asked, a flash of gun-powder was seen at the lower end of the hall; the fire ran a long a little way where it met a handful and there was quite an explosion and a lot of blinding and stifling smoke. It ran along and met another and yet another heap with similar results. As it was reaching near the platform some gave it out when that was reached a whole keg would go off and the whole place would blow up.
Of course, a general rush was made for the door, which opened inwards and so great was the crush it could not be opened for a time. Cries of “fire,” screams of frightened women and yells of men became general by that time. The feeling with many was that they were thus fastened in a veritable death trap and might all perish together.
The late Smith Fralick, of Ernesttown, then a prominent and sturdy farmer, jumped on one of the benches and kicked away the lower sash of a lower window with his powerful boots. He then jumped through and was followed by a number of others. The window was some feet from the ground and there was a deep ditch right under it. He landed out in the darkness and in an instant some others landed on his back and shoulders. For a little that window rained men and they were sprawling and tramping each other. By that time the door was got open and there was a terrible rush in that direction. It was very dark outside and the steps had been removed from the door, which was several feet from the ground. There was another pile of men struggling over and under each other, with more noise and confusion.
Fortunately no one was killed or even badly maimed. The burning powder inside harmlessly spent itself doing no other harm than badly frightening the crowd inside and nearly suffocating them with the smoke. It was noticed that the men suspected of plotting the whole trick remained calm and undisturbed and that fact soon allayed the fears of the others. The meeting was entirely broken up, however, the people being glad to get away with no greater injuries than they had received. The chairman collared Ham on the spot and accused him of being at the bottom of the whole plot, and, we believe, John Davy, Jerry Johnson and some others were arrested charge with being parties to it, but nothing could be proved and “the gun-powder plot” proved to be a mere “flash in the pan.”