In September, 1773, the ship “Hector,” arrived on the shores of Pictou, Nova Scotia, carrying close to 200 starving and sick passengers from Scotland with dreams of a better life. Eighteen people, mostly children, died on that voyage. One baby was born. This historic landing established Pictou as the “Birthplace of New Scotland.”
Because the immigrants arrived too late to grow crops for the winter and the promises by the investors of ample staples were lies, food for the winter was scarce.
They lived that first year in log huts scattered among the evergreens, barely scrounging enough to eat, their minds terrified of mean faeries who had followed them from the old country and fierce bears inhabiting the dark woods. The Mi’qmak natives showed them how to hunt moose and make moccasins to keep their feet from freezing. Many had no warm clothing. One of the passengers, my great great great grandfather, Colin MacKenzie, settled with his family on the shores of the East River, lived to be 103 years old, had many children and grandchildren, and became a successful farmer.
I grew up along the East River in Pictou County, Nova Scotia, hearing tales of these people of the “Hector,” and have always been fascinated by them. When I visited the replica of the Hector in 2008, I lay down on one of the wretched bunks to imagine the suffering of almost 200 Highland Scots making that rough crossing, burying their dead children at sea, drinking polluted water and moldy oatcakes in order to survive, and there began my formal research.