Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Talbot Times Tidbit - Iona, Elgin County Ontario - 1862

A Band of Gypsies in Iona – 1862 - page 12 to 21 – Southwold Tweedsmuir Histories

Credit for this article - Elgin County Archives

Surnames: Lumley, Mills, Taylor, Williams, Burwell

Many years ago, if my memory serves me rightly, in November, 1862, a band of gypsies came through our county; said to hail from Missouri; and had fled from the United States on account of the approaching Civil War. The inhabitants of Grove Farm, (the home of Samuel Williams, Mrs. Lumley's father, situated on the town line between Iona and Burwell's Corners), were startled one cold bleak afternoon to see a procession of cove red wagons coming over the hills from Iona. We thought it was the wrong time of year for Barnum's show, but it looked like it. Well, we stood out on the veranda watching them loom up the last hill, when behold they turned in Mr. Hannibal Burwell's woods opposite our lane.

There were something over a hundred all told, men women and children, and there seemed to be about as many dogs and half as many horses. They started pitching their tents and everyone was yelling and the dogs barking, and we were almost scared out of our wits. In a little while some of the men came and wanted straw for their beds and hay for their horses. Of course, father let them have everything they wanted, for I guess he thought if he didn't we might all be murdered before morning.

The hen coop was locked that night for the first time in its life and the stable, too, for we were afraid the chickens would all be stolen and we might be all murdered before morning. Next day several of the women came to buy provisions, 2 cents worth of potatoes, 5 cents worth of butter, 1 cent worth of vinegar and so on. Mother, kind old soul, who wasn't of the stingy sort, gave them five times as much as they should have had. Of course, they all wanted to tell her fortune, but she didn't want to hear it.

To our great relief, we soon found out that they were a peaceable, well behaved bunch, dressed well and had lots of money. There were then three hotels in Iona and they did nothing all winter but go to town and treat and trade horses. Their money was all ten dollar gold pieces and the people said John Mills, one of the hotel keepers, got rich that winter.

The Free Will Baptist held a quarterly meeting in Iona in February. On Sunday we had a roast turkey for dinner and about twenty people to help eat it and among the number was Elder William Taylor who had given out in the morning service that he would preach to the gypsies at 2 o 'clock. He was a talented man and could say more in 20 minutes than any other man could in 40. So after dinner we all went down to the encampment and he got up in a wagon and preached. They spread blankets on the ground for the people to stand on. There was one woman, they said, was over a hundred years old and she stayed in a tent. They had a blood hound that weighed over a hundred pounds and they always kept him chained and his bark at night, echoing through the woods, was enough to frighten Old Nick.

Christmas Day they brought two geese for us to roast. The feathers were off but the down left on. I presume it would be more digestible. On New Year's Day one of the girl s came dressed in purple and white silk and had dinner with us. Some of the boys played the violin very nicely; two of them came in one evening and we heard lots of music. I remember one of those pieces was ''Annie Laurie."

In the spring when the roads were settled and dry they packed up and traveled.
(From the Diary of Mrs. Dama Lumley, of Iona.)

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