My husband has hired people to log up (that is, to draw the chopped timbers into heaps for burning) and clear a space for building our house upon. He has also entered into an agreement with a young settler in our vicinity to complete it for a certain sum within and without, according to a given plan. We are, however, to call the “bee,” and provide every thing necessary for the entertainment of our worthy hive. Now you know that a “bee,” in American language, or rather phraseology, signifies those friendly meetings of neighbours who assemble at your summons to raise the walls of your house, shanty, barn, or any other building: this is termed a “raising bee.” Then there are logging-bees, husking-bees, chopping-bees, and quilting-bees. The nature of the work to be done gives the name to the bee. In the more populous and long-settled districts this practice is much discontinued, but it is highly useful, and almost indispensable to the new settlers in the remote townships, where the price of labour is proportionably high, and workmen difficult to be procured.
Imagine the situation of an emigrant with a wife and young family, the latter possibly too young and helpless to render him the least assistance in the important business of chopping, logging, and building, on their first coming out to take possession of a lot of wild land; how deplorable would their situation be, unless they could receive quick and ready help from those around them.
This laudable practice has grown out of necessity, and if it has its disadvantages, such for instance as being called upon at an inconvenient season for a return of help, by those who have formerly assisted you, yet it is so indispensable to you that the debt of gratitude ought to be cheerfully repaid. It is, in fact, regarded in the light of a debt of honour; you cannot be forced to attend a bee in return, but no one that can does refuse, unless from urgent reasons; and if you do not find it possible to attend in person you may send a substitute in a servant or in cattle, if you have a yoke.
In no situation, and under no other circumstance, does the equalizing system of America appear to such advantage as in meetings of this sort. All distinctions of rank, education, and wealth are for the time voluntarily laid aside. You will see the son of the educated gentleman and that of the poor artisan, the officer and the private soldier, the independent settler and the labourer who works out for hire, cheerfully uniting in one common cause. Each individual is actuated by the benevolent desire of affording help to the helpless, and exerting himself to raise a home for the homeless.
At present so small a portion of the forest is cleared on our lot, that I can give you little or no description of the spot on which we are located, otherwise than that it borders on a fine expanse of water, which forms one of the Otanabee chain of Small Lake. I hope, however, to give you a more minute description of our situation in my next letter.