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George Robert Cragg

Extracted from The Craggs of Gerald: Source:331. Georgina Fandrey (nee: Cragg), consultant Myrtle Hurst (nee: Cragg), “The Craggs of Gerald.”

George was born on the Wells farm at Greenbank, Ontario to Isaac Cragg and Hannah (smith) Cragg, on November 25, 1866.

At the time of his birth there were six half sister: Mary 29, Agnes 26, Margaret 25, Jane 23, Annie 21, and Emma 14; also two full sisters, Hannah 7 and Frances 2 and one brother, Richard 6. The first family had all left home.

The family work was farming, carpenter work and some logging which have rise to a saw mill built by Isaac and one Mr. Chippendale.

When George was 2, his half sister Emma married cousin Timothy E. Cragg. They set up housekeeping in a cabin supplied by grandfather Wells. At this time the family was doing well. The saw mill brought in good money and crops were good. There was an endless stream of visitors to eat, drink, talk and listen to Isaac read from the English papers or some entertaining book.

Two more girls were born: Clarissa in 1869 and Sarah in 1871. George remembered them fondly. Clarissa , whom he called Clarcy, was his favorite and Sarah he referred to as his baby sister.

George remembered his father carrying him on his shoulders and then bending over until he slid off into a giggling heap on the ground. When George was 6, his father gave him his first jack-knife and taught him and Richard to play mumble peg but Richard did not like to lose so whenever George won, there was a quarrel and George would wander off to play with his little sisters.

When he had the mumps, his father sat with him and gently bathed the swelling to ease the misery. Whenever he was hurt he ran to Isaac whose gentle hands always seemed ready to soothe all pain.

Isaac's health started to fail about this time. He had severe pain in the 'innards'. There was no doubt that he was a hard drinker which may have been the cause – at least I don't suppose it helped. Troubles piles upon troubles. Isaac was a very poor businessman. He was generous to a fault, feeding all and sundry – sometimes for weeks.

He took in at least two abused children and two orphaned children, one of whom was called Hetty. He lent money sometimes with promissory note, many with only a hand shake or a man's word. He paid fines for several of his relatives.

This was the man who, some said, drank up 2 farms and cheated a family out of their inheritance – mismanagement yes – but viciousness – no! However, his fortunes dwindled until he was completely broke and heavily in debt.

He knew time was running out for him. His sons were too young to take over the responsibility of the family. He appealed to his son-in-law, who was also his brother David's son, to take on the task of helping Hannah to raise the young family. Timothy E. was very fond of Isaac who had taken him in when he lost his money to an unscrupulous partner. He had worked at the saw mill for 2 years to be near Emma waiting for her to reach the age of 16 when Isaac would allow her to marry.

Timothy and Emma, with many misgivings, took on the responsibility. This was not an easy decision for so young a couple, but the arrangement allowed Isaac a degree of peace in his last days.

When Isaac died, George was inconsolable. He hid in the barn and cried until he was literally sick. His mother found him and they cried together until he fell asleep and was carried off to bed, a broken hearted lad of 8 years old.

Life was quite different now. Timothy was a very religious man, a strict Methodist. The stream of visitors still came but not the jolly, rollicking lot George loved. He was an easy-going lad, much like his father and he chafed at the rigid discipline though he loved Timothy dearly and trusted him implicitly. Only once was George soundly whipped and that was for whistling on Sunday. That was an abrupt end to the happy discovery of his whistle.

Isaac had always wanted his children to be educated and was on of the organizers of the school in Greenbank. George was an eager student and Isaac and Hanna taught him to read before he went to school. Both boys attended the first Greenbank school, a small one-room, shed-like structure with hand made benches and desks. As the boys got older, they attended only in winter and were a little on the wild side. At times it was utter chaos until a teacher of a different ilk arrived.

I think his name was McCafferty. The first day he took over in no uncertain terms. Placing his hands flat on the desk top and wide spread, he cleared the desk in one leap and grasping the miscreants by the rear commenced to apply the rules and regulations with a firm hand. From then on he had only to place his hands in the position suggesting a repeat performance and sweet peace reigned supreme. Under this teacher, George advanced quickly especially in mathematics.

The age of 14 in those days was considered suitable for a young lad to leave he home nest. George launched out first on a farm near Uxbridge where he stayed for two years. He often spoke of seeding broadcast from a bag slung over his shoulder – step-dip-swing in steady rhythm which slowed drastically as the day wore on. He hoed corn, potatoes and vegetables, pulled weeks and mowed hay with a scythe and cradle. He did not thrash by flail. I seem to remember they had a horse powered machine and later a McCormack reaper.

In the second year at Uxbridge when he was 15, he got typhoid fever. He was taken to Greenbank for his mother's care. His recovery was a bit impeded by his little sister, Sarah, sneaking food to him. When she was caught at it the doctor was sent for, post haste. She was forbidden to bring him 'pieces' but could give him lumps of sugar and an occasional soda biscuit. She delighted in searching the sugar barrel for gorgeous lumps for George.

The rest of 1881, he did light work around home. He went back to Uxbridge in the spring. He made frequent visits home where he was a general favourite because of hi easy-going cheerfulness, often rambunctiousness.

Timothy and Emma had two little boys, Blake and Wessy, with whom he romped around causing quite a din. He always had some little treat for them and he delighted in having them search through his pockets to find the treat which may be a bit of rock candy, a willow whistle or a little carving. He loved to whittle little objects with his precious jack-knife. Many years later he did the same thing for his grandchildren.

About 1885, or thereabouts, he started working as a carpenter, a trade he had learned at home. Two others worked with him, Wright and Gibson. The three decided to go into business together with the agreement that they all had to agree on any project.

They spent the winter in the woods at Minden to earn enough money to start a small business at Bob Caygeon on Lake Scugog. They did quite well the first year. George stayed with his sister Frances and her husband Levis Parish at Port Perry much of the time. Ann added attraction there was that his adored mother had come to live there too.

Around this time he met a little French girl, Margaret Montroy who was working near Uxbridge. Her father, John Montroy had a cooper shop near Greenbank. George went to see Margaret at every excuse, fully aware that there was some tough competition. He would take horse and 'rig' to take her to visit her father or to visit his mother. As most people who met mother Hannah, Margaret came to love her dearly. Many times she would fill the old lady's pipe which she declared up and down dale, helped her asthma. Whether they believed that or not is beside the point. They saw no harm in going along with the idea

On lonely trips in winter George ran into many tight circumstances: a wild cat perched on a snowbank beside the trail, just should high, just missed clawing his face. He avoided bears and wolves. He always carried a stout stick and at times a gun. Sometimes he would borrow John Montroy's horse. The wise old nag would limp fit to be ready for the glue factory going away from home but the limp magically disappeared when headed for home.

By the end of 1866 George and Margaret became engaged. His mother gave him a tiny ring to seal the bargain. He then took off to spend the winter at Minden once again. He stayed at his grandfather Smith's home. It was there he came in contact with the Free Methodists, or "Holy Rollers" as they called them. He loved the happy, snappy hymns they sang with gusto. He sang a rather mean bass himself and joined in with alacrity.

In March of 1887 he was back at Port Perry. His brother Richard was about to be married to Abigail Bell. Just what the trouble between Abbie and Margaret was, I don't know, but Margaret was not invited to the wedding, consequently George refused to attend. He took his mother to the church but did not go in.

When he returned from Minden in spring of 1887 he found that his partners had disregarded their agreement and bought new stock and equipment and had run heavily into debt.

George was very depressed and a little angry. He talked to his mother and Levi Parish who advised him to go to see Timothy Cragg who had proven his business acumen by handling the sorry mess of Isaac's affairs. With a heavy heart George arrived at his old home at Greenbank. Timothy's advice was long and florid but also wise and sincere. He said since the partners had disregarded their agreement George was in no way bound to sink his winter's earnings into the business and that he should not be a soft as his own father had been, to be a bit tough, keep his money and leave the business.

George decided to follow Timothy's advice and leave the area altogether but there was another problem. Would his Maggie go with him? She agreed to go to him when he had settled on a place for a home.

So he set out, first to Toronto where he got lodging in Cabbage town where he worked as a carpenter.

At that time there was a call for workers in the Michigan woods at good wages and paid passage in and out if they stayed the winter. George signed up and sailed for Saginaw. He was granted a small company house and he sent for Maggie. They were married in Saginaw on May 8, 1888.

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