The Story So Far
The Bishop’s Curse.
Chapter 1 Arrival
It was cold! The Scottish migrants aboard the ship MacDonald had finally made landfall in the New World – Upper Canada as they would become to know it. It was 1786, November. Aboard the MacDonald, a mighty three masted ship, the 540 Scottish Highlanders were brought together by the Reverend Alexander MacDonell, also mighty in strength and size. The priest had organized the new settlers and arranged the voyage to the New World as this particular group of highlanders had been forcibly removed from their lands in Scotland. With no other hope people of the Clans MacDonald, MacDonell, MacLeod and others set sail with a trust that the priest would guide them to a better future. The priest prayed for a safe journey calling on the King of the Elements and the angel St. Raphael for protection and to guide them to the new land.
The ship made it safely into the waters of the St. Lawrence River stopping briefly in Quebec City in Lower Canada before continuing on to it’s final destination near Falkner’s Landing, close to the Raisin River in Upper Canada. Just to the south was America, new to independence from Britain just 10 years previously. In America following the Revolutionary War those who were still loyal to Britain were exiled, forced to leave their land and settlements. These United Empire Loyalists came north across the St. Lawrence River to Upper Canada as well settling on land granted to them by the British government along the north shore of the river. The highlanders arriving from Scotland settled on more northerly lands with lots being divided up into 200 acre sections each in the so called “Indian Lands”.
The passing of the first 20 or so years in Glengarry, as the Scots named it, was difficult. The land although rich with promise needed to be cleared. A short growing season from May to October, a shortage of supplies and the fierce winters were just some of the conditions in which they had to acclimatize themselves. Settlements called “Glens” (glen being a Scottish word meaning valley) began to spring up over time and steady progress was made but there were many hardships to overcome. A bold Scottish heritage and a great desire to establish themselves in this new land did in fact allow the highlanders to overcome their struggles and become a fruitful new people in the glens of Glengarry.
Meanwhile under the leadership of Sir John Johnson the United Empire Loyalists made their settlements along the shore of the St. Lawrence River in Upper Canada. Sir John Johnson and his British compatriots fled in exile from America to find the British government more than ready to help them. There existed the constant threat of an American invasion into Upper and Lower Canada and the British needed to muster troops in the event of any such incursions. There were some Americans that believed the people of Upper and Lower Canada desired independence from Britain as well given the political struggles that were occurring. This made the threat of an American invasion very real. And the Americans did attempt an invasion, in fact, several times the Americans crossed the waters of the St. Lawrence River only to be repelled by the British military, local militias, settlers of the area and the Indian peoples.
Sir John Johnson was granted land inland from the St. Lawrence River, along the Raisin River where the settlement of Williamstown was established. Sir John Johnson donated a portion of his land for the creation of a town fairgrounds and a church. Many of the earliest Loyalists owed their lives to Sir John Johnson and many of them peacefully rest in Williamstown. With skills developed from their days in America these Loyalists were able to build river grist mills and provide wood, tools and supplies to all the settlers of Glengarry not to mention the education that went along with it. Soon Glengarry was establishing itself as an area of commerce in Upper Canada.
Chapter 2 Priest
Reverend Alexander MacDonell was also very busy during these early years in Glengarry. He was a large, strong, imposing man who was just as passionate about defending his heritage as he was about his religion. He was not afraid to invoke the will of God in times of trouble and praise his Lord in times of prosperity. And with a somewhat more unusual characteristic he believed in many of his culture’s superstitions. His goal was to administer the Catholic faith to all his parishioners here and far throughout Glengarry. And to build places of worship such as chapels and churches. But he was of a military mind as well. He was responsible for organizing the Glengarry Fencibles, a militia group which was formed of his local parishioners and sent to Ireland during uprisings as well as helping the British during the American invasions. The support of the Fencibles was an important part in the defeat of the Americans. Reverend M MacDonell had no tolerance for men who refused to fight often threatening them with ex-communication if they did not take to battle.
But the priest had one secret. Something he believed would ensure the success of every endeavour he embarked upon. Something he kept hidden and disguised as he knew if the knowledge of what he possessed reached the ears of his countrymen there would be a terrible outcry and demand for restitution. Far to the north and surrounded by the sea and the many lochs of Scotland lies Dunvegan Castle, the ancestral home of the Clan MacLeod. In this castle are kept heirlooms that are said to have magical abilities including a fairy flag, a drinking cup called the Dunvegan Cup, a horn of Sir Rory Mor and a sword of the Clan MacLeod. All of the heirlooms of the Clan MacLeod are said to be blessed with unnatural mystical powers.
The fairy flag, for example, has been used numerous times in battle by the Clan MacLeod. By summoning the magical properties of the fairy flag the size of a military force appears to grow, it has been known to save the lives of members of the clan, to cure plagues and increase fertility. The fairy flag is believed to be a gift from the fairies to a clan chieftain from a lost fairy lover and was to be used to defeat evil spirits. It may have been used during the Holy Crusades by the Knights Templar but it is also linked to a prophecy foretelling the demise of the Clan MacLeod. For if the flag were to be unfurled more than three times in battle it would lose its magical powers and if the flag were to be moved from its ancestral resting place at Dunvegan Castle in Scotland a terrible curse would be placed on those involved in the act.
Reverend MacDonell had removed one of the heirlooms from Dunvegan Castle before he set sail to the New World. He kept it hidden from his parishioners and dreamed about the great promise it would bring to his people. Ignoring any rumoured curse the priest boldly called upon the magical mystical powers of the his prize over and over again.
Chapter 3 Veil
Upon arriving in the New World at Falkner’s Landing on the St. Lawrence River, the priest was sought out by Montgomery Falkner. The Falkners were from England and had arrived three years earlier. Montgomery Falkner had taken leadership of a small band of settlers and together they learned what they needed to survive in their new environment. It was not an easy time but their community had established itself. Some members had left and crossed the river to the south to the Americas but those who stayed behind did so with the promise of a new start and the protection of Britain.
The priest relied on any information Falkner could provide and after several days priest believed he could ask a great favour from him. Bringing forth a carefully cloth wrapped package the priest entrusted his prize to Montgomery Falkner. “This … requires a hiding location for a short time”, the priest told Montgomery. “It is of great value and should it be mishandled or tinkered with … well”, spoke the priest solemnly, “well it would bring great pain and suffering to those involved”. Falkner believed the priest was referring to some sort of religious artefact and being the honest man he was, he accepted the task of hiding the object the priest had entrusted him with. “I know a place”, Falkner leaned into the priest, “where your valuable can be taken for secrecy”. The priest nodded and handed the object over and also with a quiet yet penetrating last whisper, “Do not forsake me in this task, I shall return for it when the time is right”. Falkner nodded as well and made a gesture for the priest to follow him inside his home.
Montgomery Falkner’s home was similar to all the other structures in the settlement. A simple wooden cabin built about 60 feet by 60 feet square. A large stone chimney dominated the interior of the house. The priest had seen many just like this in the days he had spent at Falkner’s Landing. It was kind and fortunate of the settlement to take in the migrants from Scotland but it was now time to move on. Montgomery Falkner had but one last secret and he felt compelled by the trust of the priest to reveal it. Falkner lead the priest to a small back room in the house. There were some furs and garments randomly scattered on the floor. Reaching down Montgomery’s hand slid along a floor plank then stopped. The priest heard a metallic sound as Montgomery released a latch on the floorboard. “A secret tunnel?”, asks the priest. “A secret tunnel … yes”, replied Montgomery. Grabbing and lighting a lantern Montgomery opened the trap door and disappeared down some steps. The priest was a little reluctant to follow but did so after Falkner popped his head up and waved the priest onwards.
The light of the lantern did not reveal much to the priest but as his eyes adjusted to darkness the priest saw a long shaft dug out and supported by timber stretching farther under the ground. The tunnel was tall enough that the two men needed not to crouch. The priest noticed bits and pieces of armoury scattered amongst broken beams of wood and clumps of dirt. After a short walk Falkner stopped in front of a large piece of fabric. As the light of the lantern shone on the cloth the priest silently gasped to himself. He knew this veil. Falkner slowly parted the veil to reveal a shield, his family’s shield, a shield of the Knights Templar.
Chapter 4 Templar
The priest turned to face Montgomery Falkner. With eyes glazing red in the dim light of the lantern the priest spoke, “You are connected to the Knights Templar?”. “My family, my heritage, my oath … yes … I am of the society, yet I hide my heritage in these years”, explained Falkner. “I understand”, replied the priest. Years and years had past since the true time of the Knights Templar. Once the herald and protector of truth and justice, responsible for safe guarding Christianity throughout the old world, now the order was persecuted and much of the knowledge they possessed hidden from the world.
Now was the time for Montgomery Falkner to show his value for he believed the priest had entrusted him with a very important artefact of the Church. He was duty-bound to serve the priest. The priest realized this as well. “This veil, its an old robe of the Knights Templar, is it not”, the priest observed. It was unmistakably Knights Templar. A worn but whitish material with a fiery red cross, golden stitching at edges that were once most-likely the collar, cuffs and bottom of a tunic. “The last remnants of my order”, Falkner explained and then with pride and a sense of new strength Montgomery held the shield high. The red cross on the shield seemed to burst to life in the dim light and Montgomery Falkner swore on his life that he would be the protector of the priest’s possession.
The priest, who had been clutching his crucifix, murmured a prayer under is breath and then looked heavenward as if to thank the Lord for this blessing. Who could be more trusting than an exiled knight of the Templar order ready to serve again. The priest smiled as Montgomery Falkner lead the way out of the secret tunnel, the long black Cossack of the priest seemed to glow as he stepped out in the room. “One last question”, the priest wondered, “Is this not the hiding place you spoke of to me earlier”? Falkner shook his head no. “I have another location in mind, more remote, no one goes there, or at least I have not seen a trace of activity in the many times I have visited”, Falkner spoke. “It is a place, a sanctuary if you like for me … and it will serve your purpose well”, Falkner assured the priest. The priest nodded once again and seemed satisfied. “Your possession will be safe here tonight … and I will set out tomorrow at first light to the place I speak of”, Falkner promised. The smile widened on the priest’s face. “Very well”, he spoke, “Do not fail me in this task … I shall return for its retrieval soon enough”.
Chapter 5 Seedling
Early the next morning while the settlers slept Montgomery Falkner slipped the worn tunic of the Knights Templar over his shoulders and set off with the shield in one hand and the priest’s bounty in the other. Falkner stood tall as he slipped out of the village and towards the river. At this time of the year the water in the river had begun to freeze over and Falkner knew exactly which way to head out onto the ice. His destination was directly southwest, an island 1000 feet or so off of the river bank. The island was a common marker used by ships to mark not only Falkner’s settlement but also the mouth of the Raisin River, which was a river big enough to support a trade route inland. But Montgomery Falkner knew, as well known as the island was, it was never found to be habitable. Too many odd occurrences associated with the island but even so Falkner took refuge there when he needed. And now tasked with the priest’s trust he felt the history of his order flow in his veins. He was able to traverse the ice flows to the island in those early dawn hours in complete secrecy.
On the small island he dug out the snow and ice and then a four foot deep hole big enough to place the priest’s possession. Although Falkner was tempted, he did not unwrap the object nor try to determine what is was. He carefully lowered it into the hole and put back the earth. With his mission nearly complete, he went in search of any seeds he could find. Finding an acorn that looked relatively intact, he buried as a marker it in the soil he had just returned. As the seedling grows I will be able to identify the place where I have secretly hidden the priest’s relic he thought to himself. Falkner carefully made rudimentary measurements of the island and double checked that the hiding spot he had chosen represented the central point of an equilateral triangle with a side length of 60 feet. Knights Templar for centuries had relied on the basics of geometry to conceal plans or to direct themselves to their goals. This was no different for Falkner as he prided himself on fulfilling the old ways of his order.
One last measure was needed to ensure the secrecy. Falkner began to carve out a message on a flat rock. The message was not written in English, in fact it was a type of rune or script that most people would not be familiar with at all. An ancient script found throughout England, Scotland and Ireland known only to druids, secret orders and scholars. Falkner’s message was simple although coded: ‘Sixty feet across pointed and marked by oak at the equilateral intersection lies a priest’s bounty’. If he were to die then the message could still be decoded and the priest’s possession found but such a message relied on a fundamental knowledge of the logic used by the Knights Templar, the ancient rune and the oak tree markers used by Falkner to measure.
Chapter 6 Clan
The Clan Macleod, like many other clans of Scotland had been displaced by the reforms imposed upon them by the government. In an effort to make a better life many clan members decided to journey to the new world and start a life there. Not an easy decision as there would be many hardships to endure in a new untamed and unknown place. Spurred on the Reverend Alexander MacDonell, a young couple, Angus and Catherine MacLeod made the brave decision to travel. The MacLeods became one of the first listed passengers aboard the ship MacDonald. The voyage was difficult. Many times did the deck of the ship freeze up with thick ice, food was rationed and scarce and prayers could be heard through the wailing winds and cracks of the wooden hull of the ship. The physical presence of the priest and his prayers kept the passengers and crew in check.
Upon arrival in Falkner’s Landing, the MacLeods were allowed refuge in a small room of a wooden house. There were no chairs or furniture of any kind except for a sleeping area with furs on the floor. No windows or doors were apart of this house. Material hung from open windows and doors gave little resistance to the fierce howling winter winds. A small hearth provided some heat but it was not enough to raise the spirits of the newcomers. Food continued to be limited. There were 540 new mouths to feed. Hunting parties were formed in addition to other groups which formed builders, blacksmiths, weavers, potters, gardeners and cooks. Spurred on by stubborn determination and the encouraging words of the priest, the community banded together and survived the long winter months.
One of the tasks the priest wished to see completed was the building of a church. The people of Falkner’s Landing rallied behind his call and their church was ready in the early spring of 1787. It was also at this time that the priest had decided to move further into the undiscovered territory of what the Scottish migrants would soon call Glengarry my home. Land grants for the migrants were discussed at several meetings with John Johnson and his agent Montgomery Falkner with land being available along the north bank of the St. Lawrence River and lots measured out inland towards the Ottawa River. The priest had taken to travel throughout the territory by sleigh in the winter and canoe in the spring. The rivers became the most efficient means of travel. The priest was able to survey the land and with the aid of many United Empire Loyalists like John Johnson, new communities were formed for the migrant Scottish clansmen in Glengarry. One of the most sought after sites for the priest was atop a hill looking out over the land, a place he would name St. Raphael after his saint and parish of many years ago. It was here the Blue Chapel was built and the priest’s new parish established.
Angus and Catherine MacLeod made the move with the priest as did many of the new arrivals from 1786. A significant amount of land was granted to the Clan MacLeod further to the north of St. Raphael in areas of Glengarry named by the migrants by their Scottish heritage. Dunvegan named for the castle and Clan MacLeod stronghold was one such area. Another to the northeast was Lochiel and this is where Angus MacLeod spent the spring of 1787 clearing land and building a home for his wife and himself. Lots of land were 200 acre strips aligned north to south throughout Glengarry. As such there were vast distances between families and obtaining supplies was very difficult. The British Crown allowed some families to share a cow and provided a meagre amount of seed for crops as well as a few tools such as saws to clear land. In return the Crown laid claim to all white pine trees on the lands as these were tall strong trees which were used for ship-building. Basic supplies, however, were hard to obtain. Candles, matches, blankets, buckets were as hard to get as food. Highlanders soon learned to provide potash for soap-making as wood was burned and they would sell or trade the potash for supplies. This was no easy time for these settlers but they endured. In fact they seemed to step up to the challenge banding together, providing comfort in community and song and soon there were announcements of women with child, as was the case for Angus and Catherine MacLeod.
But all was not as promising as this story may sound. Despite overcoming many hardships of that first spring and summer by sheer determination and a resilience possessed by the new highlander settlers there were darker forces at work. Unknown to the settlers their priest’s ambitions were soon to turn ruinous.
Chapter 7 Starve
“The Starving Time” was the nickname for the time just after the year 1787. The earliest settlers into the Glengarry bushland relied heavily upon British army rations and meagre supplies. The axe and “bush fiddle” (a cross cut saw) were the only tools given to these early pioneers. Everything they did relied on good old human strength and resolve. To make shelter trees were cut down and logs rolled together to build three walled huts. The south side of each hut was left open and a campfire occupied this area. Bark from the logs was peeled off and used for roofing which was held down by large stones. Small stools, stones and stumps of trees were the only furniture. Trees and stones were plentiful on the land. It took years to clear a small area for farming and the soil was punctuated with stone and rock that had to be painstakingly removed for crops. As the people became more familiar with their surroundings four walled cabins were constructed and deer skin used over the entryway and windows. Still not much protection from the cold of winter and the insects of summer. Dangers from wild animals were always a concern. Proper chimneys located at one side were made of sticks and stones set in a mud and clay packing material and used for heating and cooking. Eventually roofs were fashioned with splits of hollowed basswood trees. Unfortunately many of these cabins burnt to the ground over the years but this seemed to stimulate growth and further development in the design and construction of larger log houses.
It was close to first Christmas in 1787 when the son of Angus and Catherine MacLeod was born. On a historical note, until the 1860s the modern calendar was sped up as the older Julian calendar was 11 days slow. This meant each year had two Hallowe’ens, two Christmases and two New Years, all 11 days apart. Catherine’s labour was difficult and the MacLeods sought spiritual intervention and prayed along side the priest for the safe delivery of their child. Near second Christmas both their son Henry and Catherine were in a struggle to live. Catherine passed due to the complications of childbirth leaving Angus to bring up Henry alone. Angus MacLeod was overwhelmed by the struggle to survive combined with raising his son. Crops were meagre and the winter months were unbearable. The isolation of the bush, hardships of living and heavy labour to build and farm caused many to crack up and die young but Angus MacLeod was determined to go on. Soon the settlers realized in order to survive they needed to fight the forces of nature with community support. Bees, gatherings of people from all around the area, came together to help with the work of building, clearing land, farming, cooking and child-raising. The strength of this young yet determined community kept Angus and Henry MacLeod alive for the years to come. Working hard against forces that seemed to threaten existence these early pioneers pressed forward.
A source of strength for the MacLeods and other settlers was the church and the priest Reverend Alexander MacDonell knew this well. Churches were rare, prized and active places of worship and social activity. The priest established the first site in St. Raphael known as the Blue Chapel. A feature that stood out was the large celtic cross that perched prominently on the roof overseeing the surrounding lands. The cross appeared at first glance to be of religious significance but when examined more closely the cross more resembled a regal sword. This combination of attributes, cross and sword, were the most meaningful staples of the priest’s existence. But there was also something unsettling about this chapel and cross. Some force seemed to act against all the early pioneers who were trying to establish themselves in the Glengarry bush. And mysterious forces and superstitions were abundant amongst the settlers of Glengarry.
Chapter 8 Bochkin
As if “The Starving Time” was not bad enough for the settlers of the Glengarry bush, accounts of witchcraft, deathlights and other omens and spells frequently gave rise to minor panics among the people. Some, in an attempt to survive these years were rumoured to have made a pact with the devil himself. It was not uncommon to hear about this despite the action and word of the priest to curtail such fears. Signing the devil’s register in trade for survival … despite the priest’s efforts! Some stories were just that – stories. Stories used to keep young children in bed at night or in line during the day. But there were strange unaccountable events that did occur and these occurrences shook the very foundations of pioneer life.
It was May 18, 1780. The day dawned bright with promise. But slowly a black darkness creep in and covered all the sky for most of the day. “The Day of Darkness” as such it was named. Was it another sign of forces that worked against the highlanders of Glengarry? The blackness of the sky lifted as the sun set but the blackness instilled in one’s heart remained. Many thought that this was the sign of judgment day and prayers were heard all throughout the communities of Glengarry. The priest had been of little comfort this day as he scurried about minding his own affairs instead of comforting the people. Reverend Alexander MacDonell knew of the omen of the black sky, although in heresay alone, from his readings on the sword of the Clan MacLeod.
The curse of the sword was at work in Glengarry. For years the sword of the Clan MacLeod had remained in Scotland at Dunvegan castle, the ancestral home of the Clan MacLeod. The sword and its magical abilities of prosperity, long life and wealth was well known to the highlanders and the priest in addition to the magical properties of other artefacts kept at Dunvegan Castle. To remove such magical artefacts including the sword of the MacLeods, the Fairy Flag, the Horn of Sir Rory Mor or the Dunvegan Cup would be to desecrate and insult the offerers of such magical items, that being the fairies of Scotland. Great rewards awaiting those having these gifts. Great curses awaiting those who might abuse their powers. The priest took his chances when he stole the sword and brought it to Glengarry. With only the greatest of wishes for his people and not for personal gain the sword would protect and ensure the future history of the newcomers. Or so the priest thought. It seems the curse was among Glengarry.
Deathlights foretold the death of those who saw them. Sometimes called corpse candles, dead man’s lanterns and will’o’wisps these mysterious eerie greenish lights would float above the ground. Possibly believed to be flares of phosphorescent methane gas or bursts of static electricity or maybe the glow of worm grubs deathlights were a prominent superstition of the time. Also the blood stoppers which were referred to in many prayers as well as incantations in efforts to avoid such terrible deadly entities. The devil may have been the worst of all the superstitious beliefs, brought on mainly by the good and evil battles portrayed by the church itself. The priest would refer to the white devil tempter giving a person the right to do wrong. Or the spotted devil, a chiseller, having a grab what you can attitude. Or the enemy of mankind, the black devil. By far the worst of the lot. Believes held that upon becoming “softened up” by the other devils the black devil would appear in bodily form as a “Familiar”, also known as a bochkin. A demon or goblin in the form of a man, woman, child, black dog or other animal form such as a weasel, snake, rat or hare. A deal with devil and a Familiar to protect you made you hard to kill unless shot with a silver bullet, drowned or burned.
Children’s stories or real enough the bochkin would report any good-doing back to his terrible master. On “The Day of Darkness” many settlers seeing the priest was of no comfort believed he had the protection of a Familiar. Cries came out to burn the priest. But there was another test that ultimately proved the priest’s innocence. The priest and three of his closest followers were marched down to a swampy bog. There each was dragged through the swamp. It was believed that demons could not be drowned or burned and when people were suspected they were subjected to water or fire. The demon Familiar would leave the person and vanish. Some say the demon would float above and be taken back by the devil. Whether demonized or not, the person freed from the Familiar or an innocent would usually drown or be burnt to death. Luckily survival for the priest and two of his closest followers meant they sank in the swampy waters but did not drown. The third follower’s fate was much different. A banshay cry of death screamed from the water as the Familiar exited the body of Montgomery Falkner, the last man to hold the cursed sword of the Clan MacLeod.
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