Ernesttown, the second township laid out in our part of Upper Canada was named for Prince Ernest, the eighth child of King George III. When Captain Grass was given the honour of first choice of land he took the first township where Kingston now is, and Sir John Johnston chose the Ernesttown section when he was given second choice of land. When the choice was made Johnston’s followers went up the bay as far as where Millhaven is and in military tents spread out along the shore waited for lots to be drawn to show where their land would be. There one might have seen them wandering along the shore, fishing from the sides of bateaux, preparing the rations for a meal, while the children ran around at play. There were four hundred of them, one of the largest groups to come together for settlement to our part of the country. For weeks they had to wait for the drawings to be finished.
The survey was done and the drawings completed and as each family was allotted its place the father shouldered the tent, the few belongings were gathered together, and the family started its procession towards the new home. Only folk like the U.E.L.’s who had lost their old homes could know the true meaning of that word, Home. And now these new homes had to be hewn from primeval forest, far from where home to them had been, and with little or nothing to start the new venture. The first night on their new soil had of necessity to be spent in their tents with, it is likely, a bed of the hemlock boughs cut in the vicinity.
Among the names of those early settlers could be found names still familiar in the township: Amey, Brisco, Baker, Booth, Fairfield, Finkle, Fraser, Maybee, Rose, Snider, and many others not recorded. The officers of the regiment received their land along the shore with the privates getting land farther back and as they grew up the children of these Loyalists settled even farther away from the shore.
The settlement grew up very rapidly. Ernesttown Village (later Bath) became the town of importance in the township and at one time rivalled Kingston as a commercial and educational centre. By 1811 the township had a population of 2,300 people in it. In 1812 the name of the village was changed to Bath after the famous English health resort. In spite of all the hardships the people of Ernesttown had done well in their new abodes.
By 1816, Samuel Purdy felt that the township and the village were doing so well that it would pay to have regular stage service between Bath and Kingston, and he set up a line. So successful did it prove that the following year he extended his service to run between York and Kingston. The stage left Kingston every Monday morning at six o’clock and York on Thursday mornings at the same time. The following was his advertisement for the new route: “Persons wishing for a passage will call at Mr. David Brown’s Inn, Kingston where the stage books will be kept. From twenty to twenty-eight pounds of baggage will be allowed to each passenger, over this they must be charged for. All baggage sent by the stage will be forwarded with care, and delivered with punctuality, and all favours acknowledged by the public’s humble servant. (Signed) Samuel Purdy, Kingston, January 23, 1817. N.B. stage fare eighteen dollars.”
Until the stage started the ordinary method of travelling to York was by a huge flat bottomed boat propelled by oars. This went up the bay once a week to the Carrying Place where it was hauled out of the water by Asa Weller, a tavern keeper. On a wagon drawn by a yoke of oxen it was hauled across the isthmus and again let down into the water to continue the voyage to the capital.
Horseback was, of course, another means of reaching York. The starting point was at Finkle’s Tavern at Bath where a white guide showed the way as far as Trent. From there a native guide took over but besides being dangerous the trip was lonely and not much baggage could be taken.
We have mentioned the following facts so will not go into detail again:
Finkle’s Tavern, Bath, was the scene of the first court held in the county.
The first hanging in Canada took place there.
The first road built in the province was between Bath and Kingston.
Ernesttown took a prominent place in the building of early churches and schools.
The first brewery and distillery in Upper Canada was built not far from Bath.
The town of Bath was the military centre for the county and it was there that the volunteers from the other townships met to train. During the War of 1812-14, the following officers came from Bath: Lieutenant-Colonel James Parret; Captains Joshua Booth, Norris Briscoe, Robert Clark, Peter Daly, C. Fralick and Sheldon Hawley; Lieutenants Henry Day, Daniel Fraser, Davis Hambly, John Richards, Robert Worlet; Ensigns Abraham Amey, Isaac Fraser, David Lockwood, Daniel Simmons, Solomon John, and John Thorp.
One of the earliest factories opened in Ernesttown, one of the earliest of its kind in the province, was a pearl and pot barley factory. This mill is believed to have been built near Millhaven. In fact, Millhaven was at one time quite a village, having a population of one hundred and fifty people, good water power; it was two miles closer to Kingston than Bath and had a large grist mill, but for some reason did not continue to advance.
The reason for Bath’s lack of advancement is laid to the “cupidity of one man who asked such exhorbitant amounts for his land and caused so much trouble” that the proposed Grand Trunk line through Bath did not run where planned but avoided the village altogether, much to its detriment. Before the building of the railway outside of Bath, the following description was written of the village: “This quaint looking Dutch town has long been a standard stopping-place on the Bay of Quinte, and is much better known than many villages four times its size. Its population exceeds four hundred souls, it has a good many merchants’ shops, twice as many machine shops, several factories, a shipyard, wharves, and warehouses, a custom house, good inns, churches, an academy or grammar school, a post-office, and a hundred other village adjuncts. Its distance from Kingston is seventeen miles and there is an hourly communication with that city by steam. Bath does a much larger mercantile business than its size would imply, being a place for storing and shipping grain.”
Not only has Bath lost the old glory which seemed almost certain to be its but other villages in the county have retrogressed from what they once were: Morven and Wilton are two good examples of this. Morven at one time cut quite a figure in elections and the tavern at Storms’ Corners was a popular spot. Lake’s carriage factory was a leading industry and the village boasted two general stores and a drug store. There were, two tanneries close by and it seemed on the way to becoming a large and thriving place.
Wilton is not the village of years ago. A list of its business enterprises of a hundred years ago show:
Two shoemaker shops, three blacksmiths, two cabinet makers, one saddler, two carriage makers, a mason, two tailors, two merchants, two physicians, a grist and saw mill, a hotel, a shoemaker and two carpenters – a very good list for a small village of that time. It seems that unless a small village has some particular attraction it cannot compete with the larger cities of today. the following extract was taken from a prize winning essay in 1856:
“This is an old place of business, but is not a large village, its population straggling and scarcely amounting to 150 souls, all told. Big Creek, which empties into Hay Bay, takes its rise a few miles to the eastward and passes through the village, turning a couple of miles in its progress. But Wilton owes its importance and standing to being the residence of Sidney Warner, Esq., a leading merchant of the county, and who for many years has been the reeve of Ernesttown. Here he does a very extensive business, having large mills at a short distance, and being known far and near as a man of trust and probity. Besides Mr. Warner’s there are several other establishments in Wilton and one clean, good, well-kept inn, that of Mr. Simmons. Wilton is sixteen miles from Kingston and four miles from mill creek, turning off to the north at the latter place, with a good road all the way. The country round about the village is excellent.”