Stanstead, 1815 — a portrait in words

In our previous post we looked at a charming lithograph of Kilborn’s Mills, Stanstead, Lower Canada, as seen from Derby, Vermont, based on an 1827 watercolor by Lt. Col. Joseph Bouchette, the surveyor general of Lower Canada. This was a place and a view that Jonathan M. Clark would have easily recognized as a teenaged lad of 15 or 16 years of age.

I first saw a version of that image as a black and white engraving in Bouchette’s book The British Dominions of North America […], Vol. 1, published in London in 1831. I’ll have more to say about The British Dominions in future posts.

Bouchette’s earlier book

Bouchette also wrote an earlier book—focused on Lower Canada—entitled A Topographical Description of the Province of Lower Canada, with Remarks upon Upper Canada, and on the relative connexion of both provinces with the United States of America, published in London in 1815. Here’s the title page of that earlier book:

Click to open larger image in new window.

Bouchette, Joseph, A Topographical Description of the Province of Lower Canada, with Remarks upon Upper Canada, and on the relative connexion of both provinces with the United States of America, London, 1815. Title page. (GoogleBooks)

When Bouchette signed the preface of this book in November, 1815, the War of 1812 had been over for about six months. The United States and the United Kingdom had, essentially, fought to a draw; expectations were that trade and international relations would soon begin to rebound between the two nations. Bouchette had been in government service in Upper and Lower Canada for 23 years and he knew the territory well. As a proud son of the provinces, it was his aim to show the reader—and, in particular, the British crown, government, and merchants—the many virtues of these British North American provinces, and the rewards that would ensue with proper investment in, and cultivation of, the natural and human resources there. In the author’s words,

[t]he interior of Lower Canada being so little known beyond the limits of the province, a be­lief that a detailed account of it would not only be useful by shewing its present state, but by bringing it under more general notice, might possibly assist in the developement of its vast resources, has led to the construction of a To­pographical Map[1] upon a large scale, and to the publication of the following Book to illustrate the same more fully.

A Topographical Description, pages xi-xii

Stanstead in 1815

Here is Bouchette’s description of Stanstead Township, Lower Canada, circa 1815. I have broken Bouchette’s original block of text into paragraphs for ease of reading, and added a few notes in square brackets2:

STANSTEAD, on the eastern side of Lake Memphremagog, in the county of Richelieu, stretches along the province line until it is bounded by Barnston on the east, and Hatley on the north. This certainly obtains a superiority over all the new townships on this frontier, both in the advantages of its locality, the excellence of its soil, and the quality of its tim­ber. There are many large swells of land, some of them of considerable elevation, that are clothed with oak, pine, and nearly all of the best sorts of hard woods; in the low parts there is great abundance of common timber. Besides Lake Memphremagog and Lake Scas­winepus, it is watered by numerous streams that flow into them, and turn several mills of both sorts.3

The southerly half of this township, that was granted in the year 1800 to Isaac Ogden, Esq. is well settled and in a very thriving state of cultivation, producing every species of grain peculiar to the province; the wheat su­perior in quality to most other parts of it; many excellent situations and congenial soil offer op­portunities to promote the growth of hemp and flax to almost any extent.

The northerly half is not so well settled as the opposite one, but for no other reason than having been granted only in the year 1810, as the land is good, and fit for every species of agriculture. It is the property of Sir R. S. Milnes, Bart. being a por­tion of 48,000 acres granted to him by the crown, as a special mark of his Majesty’s ap­probation and royal favour for the many import­ant services rendered by him to the province; during the period of his being its lieutenant­ governor; at present it is greatly inferior to the other half in the number of its population, yet as it holds forth almost every strong inducement for such persons as may be desirous of settling upon new lands, its improvement is likely to be rapid. The remainder of Sir R. Milne’s grant is located in [the townships of] Compton and Barn­ston.

In the south-east part of the township [of Stanstead] is the village of Stanstead, which though small has some good houses in it; the main stage road from Quebec into the states of Ver­mont, New Hampshire, &c. passes through it, from which, as bringing a continual influx of strangers, some little consequence is derived. From hence the same road leads to Derby in Vermont; at that place the communication to almost every part of the United States is easy.

The settlements along the border of the beauti­ful Lake Memphremagog are most delightfully situated, and in a very forward and promising state of improvement. The houses dispersed over them are well built, and surrounded by neat well-stocked gardens, fine young orchards, and every requisite comfort of rustic life; their appearance conveys to the traveller a very favourable opinion of the content and happiness of their owners. In the township there are se­veral manufactories of pot and pearl ashes; The aggregate population exceeds 2500 souls.

A Topographical Description, pages 263-265

Given his official position, and the nature of books like this, Bouchette’s descriptions tend to be enthusiastic and optimistic, sort of an early-1800s version of the brochures a modern-day Chamber of Commerce or Convention and Tourism Bureau might print or put online to promote development and business in your state, county or city. That said, Bouchette was a trained surveyor and civil servant; his observations are some of the best we have for information on the early decades of English-speaking settlement in the Eastern Townships of Lower Canada.

Jonathan M. Clark was about 3 or 4 years old when Bouchette wrote A Topographical Description; he was about 30 years old when Bouchette published his second book, The British Dominions of North America […], Vol. 1. in 1831. That was the year JMC left Lower Canada (or, possibly, Vermont) for New York state and, eventually, Wisconsin. What happened between 1811/12 and 1831? More to come…


  1. Why, yes, I will be searching for a good, public domain, copy of Bouchette’s Topographical Map. That would make a nice companion to the 1815 Topographical Description, wouldn’t it?

    UPDATE, October 23, 2020: Woo hoo! I found it, and it’s amazing. Bouchette’s original 1815 map was published in a large-format atlas and covered 10 sheets. The full map when assembled is over ten feet long and almost five feet high. It covers all of of Lower Canada and adjacent parts of the USA and the detail shows the old French seigneuries and what appear to be all the individual grants of land in the townships. Oh boy!

  2. To get your bearings for this description of Stanstead and environs, you may want to look at this map of the province from 1802 (click on the map to enlarge) and read our Monday: Map Day! – part 1 and Monday: Map Day! – part 2 essays on the political and physical geography of Lower Canada in the early 1800s.

  3. (added October 23, 2020): “mills of both sorts” presumably refers to mills for grinding grain (wheat, maize, rye, etc.) into flour and sawmills for turning timber into lumber.

4 thoughts on “Stanstead, 1815 — a portrait in words

    • Yes, I think we can calculate the population density. I just need to wade through the references and find the area of Stanstead township and divide by 2,500.

      Most of the Eastern Townships were rectangular and of a standard dimension (N number of miles on a side), but the exact number escapes me at the moment. Stanstead township’s area will be a bit more complicated to calculate than some, because its western border is the irregular shoreline of Lake Memphremagog, and there are other lakes within the township, too. Let me see what I can find out.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. Pingback: Monday: Map Day! | Clark House Historian

  2. Pingback: Monday: Map Day! | Clark House Historian

Comments are closed.