John Cockburn – First Reeve of Puslinch
Narrated by John Cockburn
Spirit Walk at Crown Cemetery, 2011.
John Cockburn was my great grandfather. The Cockburns are from Scotland and the name appears in
Scottish records as far back as 1296. Cockburns have held high positions in the church, in government
and in the military throughout history. This tradition of public service was to continue with my great
grandfather, John, when he immigrated to Canada.
My John Cockburn was born in humble but respectable circumstances in a little village south of
Edinburgh in 1799. Like most Scots, he had the advantage of some education which later enabled him
to take a leadership role among the pioneers of Puslinch.
He married Janet Tod and they had nine children, four of whom were born before they left Scotland. I
am descended from Hugh, the fifth child and their first child born in Canada. John outlived three of his
children and his first wife Janet. He remarried late in life to a widow, Jennie Fraser, and spent his last
years in Morriston, not far from the farm where he had pioneered.
John and Janet and their four small children came to Canada in 1834. They travelled with John’s brother
Hugh and his family, along with seven other Scottish families, on the Alfred of Alloway. At that time,
quite often several families or neighbours travelled together when they were immigrating to Canada.
Eight year old Sandy Fleming was in this party and later recalled the nine week voyage: "we were scarce
of water. The food was mostly fat pork and black bread with one bowl of oatmeal porridge in the
morning. Then an epidemic of dysentery began to affect one after another…The older folk feared we
would never reach Canada".
When they arrived at Quebec, they were first quarantined at Grosse Isle because of a cholera epidemic
that was raging in Canada that year. When they were allowed to leave there, they travelled from
Quebec City to Kingston in flat-bottomed boats guided by men with pike poles and pulled through the
rapids by horses walking alongside the riverbank. (The men carried axes to cut the ropes and save the
horses if the boats ran afoul on the rocks.) From Kingston to Hamilton they were on a regular sailing
vessel, and from there they walked through the forests to Puslinch.
John settled on Lots 17 and 18, Rear Concession 8 and built a log cabin. They lived there for the next
twelve years, adding on to it as the family grew. The land was completely forested, and the first years
were hard, but by 1842, eight years after arriving, the family had managed to clear forty acres. They
continued to prosper, and John was able to build a new stone house for the family on Lot 18 in 1847.
From the time of his arrival in Puslinch, John took an active part in community affairs. In 1836 he was
chairman of the first of many town meetings. These town meetings were lively affairs held in the barn
at Flynn’s Hotel on Brock Road, and John controlled the meetings by standing on the swing beam above
the heads of the unruly crowd below, which gave him the advantage. All township business was
conducted at these annual meetings, and it’s said that "every bushwhacker was expected to air his
grievances", so a firm hand was needed to get through the proceedings.
John joined the Militia in 1842 as an ensign in the 11th Regiment of Gore.
In 1846 Puslinch joined the District of Wellington and John became a councillor. In 1848 he was elected
Reeve of Puslinch’s first township council. He represented the township in the County Council for many
years as well. In 1851 he was chairman of the finance committee of the newly formed Wellington
He was Reeve from 1848 to 1855, then again from 1859 to 1865. The Cockburns helped establish the
Puslinch Agricultural Society, (forerunner to the Aberfoyle Agricultural Society) and John was its
President in 1853 and 1861. His seeds, grain and cattle won many prizes at both Puslinch and Waterloo
He served twelve years as elder at Duff’s Church, and was deeply interested in the affairs of the church
and the welfare of this congregation.
John Cockbun died in 1868. I’d like to say that he is not only ‘first Reeve of Puslinch" as is inscribed on
his tombstone, but also a founding father of Puslinch township.
(taken from The Cockburn Family of Puslinch by Perry Cockburn and "Stirton" in "The McPhatter Letters",
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