JOHN CORNISH, my father, and Mary Taylor, my mother, were born and married in Devonshire, England, as near as I can ascertain. One daughter, Mary Jane, was born there. From there they moved to Ontario, Canada, where three sons were born: William, John, and Richard. I was the third child.
I was born in the Township of Usborne, County of Huron, Province of Ontario, Canada, the 17th day of October, 1854.
The country was practically new, partially settled, and the land was heavily timbered with beech, maple, oak, ash, bass-wood, elm, hickory, hemlock, cedar, etc. Only a few had more than one to five acres of land cleared of trees, and the stumps remained for a few years before the land was perfectly cleared. The people who moved into that part of Ontario were from Devonshire, and this was called the Devonshire settlement.
All the houses were log shanties, mostly low, consisting of a sitting room, a kitchen, a dining room, bedroom, and pantry, all in one room.
My mother died when I was about three years of age. My sister Mary went to live with one family, my brother William with another, and I was bound out, according to the laws of Ontario, to a man by the name of John Vail, until I should become twenty-one years old. I was to be fed, clothed, and given a common school education, such as in those days country schools afforded, and when of age I was to receive two hundred dollars.
Richard, the baby, was cared for by another family until father married a young Irish Catholic woman, and they soon moved to the United States, taking Richard with them, and located in Michigan.
While playing with a neighbor's child one day, I said something that caused my playmate to ask, "Who said so?" "Why," I answered, "mother." "Ah," said he, "she isn't your mother; your mother is dead, long ago." That day, when opportunity presented itself, and mother was sitting in a chair, I knelt down in front of her, my arms on her lap, looked up in her face, and asked (in the Devonshire way of speaking), "Mother, Jack Havens said you bcant my mother. You be, bcant you?"
She looked down into my face, paused a moment, tears in her eyes, and said, "No, my child; no, I am not your mother." She then told me all about my mother's death, and how I came there. She was a good woman and was kind to me, but I could not truthfully say that of Mr. Vail. Some time later Mr. and Mrs. Vail went to my grandfather's, taking me with them. There were two young girls there; one of them was my sister Mary, I was informed, and the other my youngest aunt, Elizabeth Taylor.
Some months later we visited a family by the name of Bailey, who lived in another direction from my grandfather's place, about four miles from Mr. Vail's, in an opposite direction. Mr. Bailey was their local minister. I had seen him at church. In this visit to Mr. Bailey's I saw my brother William, who was living with the family. I did not remember meeting him before, and we did not meet again for many years.
At the age of six or seven I was able to do some farm chores. If I did not do them to suit Mr. Vail, I would usually get a whipping.
A log church had been built on Mr. Vail's farm, not far from the corner where the village was built later. In this Bible Christian church they had Sunday school, preaching, and class meetings, to which I was sent. One day mother
took me to a church service to be christened, or baptized.
I did not know the letters of the alphabet, but mother taught me verses from the Bible to repeat at Sunday school each Sunday, one of which comes vividly to my mind, in spite of the years that have drifted between, and which reads as follows: "And Jesus, when he was baptized, went up straightway out of the water."—Matthew 3: 16.
They now began to teach me the letters, such as were on the oven door. The stoves in those days had the elevated oven, with the name of the manufacturer on the door of the oven, i. c., "Anderson Co., London, Ontario," which is my best recollection of it now.
John would say in his Devonshire way, "Janny, come 'ere! Stand hup to the hoven door hand zay the ha, b, c's." I stood hup! He would say "Ha."
"Ha," I repeated.
Then, "Hen," and I repeated it. "D." "D."
And so on, repeating all the letters on the door. Perhaps a week later, I would have to stand "hup" to the "hoven door" again.
"That?" I could not remember.
"D, for dunce!" he exclaimed impatiently, at the same time slapping me on the side of my face, and again on the other side. This was repeated from time to time, until I got sick of it and fairly hated the sight of that old oven door!
When the Sunday school started, I had a chance to see other children, and with them I obtained a better opportunity.
to learn all of the letters. The teacher had a large card on which was printed the alphabet in large capitals, and also the common letters. He was kind to us, and we soon got to know the letters and figures.
After the log "church in the wildwood" had been built, the Sunday school established, and everything had been going nicely for a year, they had a Sunday school anniversary and entertainment, at which time the company who gathered were entertained with songs, recitations, and speeches. It was at this gathering that I recited four verses which mother had taught me for this occasion.
This meeting was held out in Mr. Hunter's woods. A little bower was made, the front part open and facing the people who came from far and near, and who sat on long logs that had been cut down and drawn there for that purpose. In this little bower were the Sunday school officers, and children who were to recite, sing, or take part in the entertainment. A small stand or table was placed at the center of the opening, facing the people. When I was called, I remember coming up to the stand, but I could not see all of the people, as my head reached only to the top of the table, so the superintendent lifted me upon the table, where I recited the four verses. An old lady by the name of Middleton, being pleased with the recitation, presented me with a fine Bible with marginal references, such as was not common in those days. This I prized.
A log schoolhouse was erected about one and one half miles distant. I was sent during the summer months, but not regularly. That summer, from the teaching of the Sunday school and the day school, I learned all of the letters in the alphabet, and the figures, and learned to put letters together to form small words, but I had great difficulty in later years to overcome the Devonshire dialect.When I was about eight years of age, mother began to fail in health and was ailing nearly all the time. She was not able to do all of her housework, and I had to assist her. I once overheard mother say to a lady visitor, "I'd rather have
him than ten girls; yes, I would!" I knew they were talking about me, and it made me feel very glad
Mother taught me much about God, who made the world and all that is in it, and that he was all over, and that there was not a place where God was not.
She also taught me to be good and love Him, to join the church and attend meetings and the Sunday school, and not do any bad things nor say any bad words; that when we died, we would go right up to heaven, in a home beyond the sky, where God is with all the holy angels. But if we were not members of the church, and did not worship God, we would go down to hell, where all the wicked people go, and stay with the Devil and his wicked angels, and at the resurrection all would be judged and sent back again, from whence they never could return.
Then I asked, "Did my own mother belong to the church?"
"Well, then, is she in hell?"
This brought much sorrow to me, and it was on my mind for many days.
One time an uncle of mine, whom I had not seen before, came to see me, and before he left he gave me a shilling. Some days after I said, "John, Uncle George Taylor gave me a shilling."
"Did he? Well, you will have to give it to me. You are bound out to me, and anything you get that way is mine." I reluctantly gave the shilling to him.
Mr. Vail was a very good hunter and a "crack shot." He used to hunt deer and other game that roamed the forest and through the country at that time.