WITHIN REACH OF THE ST. LAWRENCE 65
settlers used, as substitutes, sage, sassafras, thyme, spicewood, hemlock, and a wild herb called the tea-plant. "Coffee" was made from peas, barley, acorns, and roots of the dandelion. Physicians were almost unknown, and these pioneers collected and dried medicinal herbs and stored them for time of need.
But they were far from being in a land of plenty. Three years after the arrival of the first group of settlers, the crops, owing to frost, were almost a total failure. The British Government was no longer doling out aid and famine stalked through the land. This period of scar-city reached its height in 1788. In that year money was sent to Montreal and Quebec for flour; but the answer came back: "We have none to spare." In some places along the lower St. Lawrence "corn-meal was meted out by the spoonful, wheat flour was unknown, and millet seed was ground as a substitute. Here and there in sheltered spots the wheat crop escaped the frost and ripened early. The starving inhabitants flocked to these fields, even before the wheat ripened, plucked the milk-heads, and boiled them into a kind of gruel. Half-starved children haunted the banks of the river, begging sea-biscuits from the passing boatmen .... Families existed for months on oat porridge; beef bones were boiled again and again; boiled bran was a luxury; ground-nuts and even the young buds of trees were eagerly devoured. Fortunately rabbits and pigeons were plentiful, and these saved many settlers from actual starvation."
Col. Burritt, the first settler north of the