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John William Stein–Part 2– Exiles

September 20, 2011

Living like a refugee — “Exiles in a Foreign Land”

British Columbia, beyond the northwest boundary of the United States of America, was created out of a lust for gold. However, a great many of those attracted to this distant corner of the globe came as much to leave behind a former life, as to start a new one.

On November 19, 1883, John William Stein entered the offices of the Dominion Lands Department at New Westminster, British Columbia. The district was trying to attract settlers and a book was kept open for new immigrants to sign up for a piece of property. JW Stein signed into the Register for a section of land in the locality known as “Mud Bay,” declaring himself to be J Wm Stein, of Illinois in the United States. For profession, he wrote “Farmer.” His marital status he declared as “Single,” and as to the number of his family, he noted himself only. He did not indicate wanting employment, nor was he employed. He was looking to settle and farm and he chose a piece of land identified as the South West Quarter of Section 2, Township 2 , New Westminster District.

Normally a quarter section taken up by pre-emption should amount to 160 acres, but as District Lot 167 extended to the north bank of the Serpentine River, partly in the Southwest Quarter, Stein’s property, on the south side of the river was limited to about 120 acres.

Immigration Register Entry for JW Stein 1883

Mud Bay

Mud Bay was one of the first localities to attract settlement in New Westminster District, dating back to 1861. Two small rivers, the Nicomekl and the Serpentine, here emptied into Boundary Bay, on the Canadian side of the Canada-US border, northeast of Point Roberts.

On the flats around the bay lay an abundance of natural blue-joint grasslands, a magnet to those wanting to raise cattle. The US Army grazed horses and cows here as early as 1857, while encamped at Semiahmoo on escort duty with the Boundary Commission.

Throughout extensive bogs in the lowlands between the two rivers, a natural garden of berries and medicinal plants was frequented by native harvesters, the rivers teemed with trout and salmon, and in the shallow bay was laid a banquet of oysters.

The fertile valley was subject to inundations at various times of the year, and the earliest of settlers here chose portions of land that included a part of the hillsides, in order to best situate a homestead.

By the time John Stein arrived here in the 1883, the only available sections lay along the rivers, but dykes and ditches were dug—mostly by Chinese labourers– to improve the chances for successful horticulture.

On the uplands to the south of the valley lay vast tracts of the best timberland, providing employment in lumber camps for those farmers needing additional income, and a local market for their produce and livestock.

The district was served by a wagon road and by trading sloops which took farm produce by sea to Victoria. All in all, though, communications by road were difficult and to get almost anywhere took the best part of a day.

Apart from visitations with neighbours—at a distance of at least a quarter mile—social life was limited to occasional church services conducted by itinerant ministers—Presbyterian, Methodist, Anglican. At such times all denominations mingled together. A school was just opened at Mud Bay in 1883, but a church would not be built until 1885. Until then services were usually held in the home of William Woodward, who had a large frame house on the hillside. At Woodward’s was also located the Post Office.

Mud Bay Church of 1885 The first preacher at Mud Bay Church since it was built in 1885 was the Rev Alexander Dunn, who travelled on foot, on horseback and by canoe to reach the far-flung settlements of the Fraser Valley.

Mud Bay Church of 1885

Stein’s closest neighbour, across the Serpentine River, was Duncan Ross Brown, and next to him, on the upstream side, was Richard Stephen Yeomans. Downstream, Stein’s closest neighbours were Daniel Johnson and family, and next to them was Annie Marie Johnson, formerly of the Brownsville Hotel, who relocated here after the death of her husband, Robert Johnson. Further inland, up the Serpentine, was the homestead was of pioneer Abraham Huck, also a German-American. Others nearby were a mixed bunch of traditional pious family folk—like the McDougals and the Woodwards—and others who were more adapted to the country. Charles Hunt, was one who selected some land the same time as Stein, near the mouth of the Nicomekl, though he had been in the country since the time of the gold rush. Hunt had a native wife and lived by farming and coastal trading by sloop. There was a considerable amount of free-trading in those days with the American side. Bachelor Englishman Thomas Hookway also visited the immigration office around the same time as Stein, selecting land nearby, along the Nicomekl River.

Stein-homestead-Mud-Bay The Serpentine and Nicomekl rivers meander through an abundant and rich natural lowland.
The 1883 homestead of John William Stein, in Section 2 of Township 2, is outlined in green on this 19th century map. Settlers could choose a quarter of a square mile section: 160 acres.
Triple digit numbered lots indicate earlier pre-emptions of un-surveyed land.
Stein homestead, Mud Bay Settlement

The location of Mud Bay settlement and Stein’s homestead on a current BingMap is shown below. Note that the northward loop in the Nicomekl, called Hookway bend, shown above in Section 38, has been cut off. It can still be seen in satellite photos views. A similar cut-off was made on the Serpentine at the Horseshoe bend, downstream from Stein’s property.


JW Stein homestead location at Mud Bay, New Westminster District, 1883

The condition of Stein’s homestead in the present day is shown in the BingMap satellite photo below. The Serpentine is now fully diked and the tidal inflow from Mud Bay controlled by gates to prevent flooding. The southern strip, shown above 48 Ave, appears to be vestiges of the natural cranberry bog.

JW Stein homestead location at Mud Bay, New Westminster District –  BingMap satellite photo

A letter to hand

In late August of 1884, John Stein and Lillie Tombaugh were enjoying a first summer in their foreign refuge. On the rise up to the Woodward homestead nestled among the trees, a Sunday morning walk must have given considerable satisfaction to the settler. Looking out over the flats at the two rivers meandering along to the bay, there could be seen neat homesteads, fields ready for harvest, interspersed with the rich natural peat lands blooming with a bounty of berries. At Woodward’s on such a glorious Sunday, John Stein was handed a letter with a postmark from his former homeland, a world and a life away. Addressed in the handwriting of Abraham Cassel, his old Brethren friend, one can only wonder what a jumble of thoughts and emotions overwhelmed John William Stein and Lillie Tombaugh.

The letter from Abraham Cassel to John William Stein —

A dear friend, more than loved

April 9, 1884
Harleyville, Montgomery Co., Penna.

J. W. Stein
My dear friend, perhaps I might say ‘brother,’ but while I don’t know whether it would be proper nor acceptable, you will excuse me.
While I am about entirely ignorant of everything relating to your leaving Mt. Morris, I thought this long time of writing a frank and open-hearted letter to you for my own satisfaction but did not know your address until quite recently, and am not sure whether I have it correct now or not. The reason that I am so ignorant is, I have no correspondence at all with nobody at Mt. Morris nor its vicinity, and did not meet with anybody from there, and the papers never mentioned your name since the Church disowned you for ‘Infidelity.’ That is all the charge that was made public, except an article in a Chicago paper published about the first of August 1883 is all I know and that was very unsatisfactory to me.
I can truly say I did more than love you. I almost venerated you as a brother and Preacher and did not yet quite cast you off, for I can’t–even if you did to such extent make a shipwreck of the faith, you once labored so friendly to know (?) I still respect you as a man for your very honorable and gentlemanly dealing in all the business transaction of our life, or that we opportuned, especially in the purchase of the library . . .

[Transcription of this letter mostly dependent on that of George Heeter.]

Cassel goes on to ask some questions of Stein–some very personal–as to the reasons for his leaving and as to his present circumstances, how he is living, and so on.

Abraham H Cassel in his Library

John William Stein’s relief at receiving a kindly letter from an old friend—when it must have seemed to him that he had lost or spent every fraternal bond of his former existence— is evident in his reply to Cassel, penned Sunday September 7, 1884 at the homestead on the south bank of the Serpentine River.

John William Stein to Abraham Harley Cassel — Response to a very dear friend

Sept. 7th 1884
A. H. Cassel:
‘My Very Dear Friend’—
I am glad I can reciprocate that appellation and trust that we are even brothers in the great fundamentals of religion.
I have always loved you from our first acquaintance and feel thankful to know that there is at least one among the Brethren who remembers me kindly still.
The part of my life and course to which you refer as ‘mysterious’ to yourself, I must confess has often been mysterious to me as I have looked back upon the wholly inexplicable from the standpoint of the ruling principles and purposes of my former life, or should I say, previous life. But in answer to your frank, open inquiries I shall explain as best I can.

I did leave Mt. Morris when my college property was very valuable and had every promise of becoming more so, etc. When everything promised the greater future success, but on this point I must say just here that I have sometimes almost despised money. I have never thought as much of it as I should have done, for I have let loose the chances of several fine fortunes in my life when something else didn’t just suit my notions and I had also educated my self to be almost indifferent to peoples opinions as I was of theirs more so that neither of these things had a very fast hold upon me. In other words neither wealth nor reputation constituted my duties and could easily be relinquished but there [s?] one thing on earth which I have always prized too highly and that was true personal friendship and especially domestic felicity.
For the latter I have from my boyhood cherished[?]. . .regard and let my heart reprove it perhaps more than upon God himself. It was hard for me to live without it. When I was a boy I was admired and almost worshipped by a fond father and mother and when I grew up and set my affections upon someone else for the portion of my life and love too intimately and was broken up when I did not realize that my was .[?]

But before I go too far, I will say that I often felt less about our college enterprises before I left. I loved the Brethren, loved the Church and laboured with a self-sacrificing spirit and life to further their interests. God knows the purity of my motives, the integrity of my purposes, but I was doing the work of two men—that of a college president-professor and that of a regular preacher. This was too much for my nervous excitable temperament.
Yet, I could endure it very well as long as I felt I could give satisfaction to the Church I loved so well. But here I realized disappointment. ‘Et Tu Brute’ thrust itself oft upon my heart. At the very time I was being heartlessly and unjustly abused by religious opponents of the Church.

The Brethren were continually censuring me for being engaged in a debate which I did not seek and which I cold not avoid without backing squarely down from an attack which they themselves did not approve. Many went so far as to abandon the papers because they published the debate and I felt myself to be a financial burden to the editors on every hand not withstanding the pittance I received for I laid down $500 of the amount I was to receive for the written debate because I felt it was a burden. All this was hard for one who has been suffering as I had in different ways. In connection with this I was being continually censured on account of the school.

When I was laboring to inculcate plain rules as a principal and control my students by persuasion and kindness if anything happened out of the way, any improper article of dress appeared, even before I was aware of it sometimes I was censured. The news of which reached my ears by gossip instead of by those who claimed to be offended. The Brethren didn’t come to me to find fault but criticized me to others, and instead of lending me their support as a rule, waited to see if I was going to make the school a success first, which we were doing from outside patronage mainly, only to be censured because we could not make outsiders and Methodists as plain as the Brethren wanted them all at once. In addition to this parties who had labored with me to build up the school, wanted me to sell them a portion of my college property at much less than it was worth. I could not understand whether I was in the way and they wanted these things out of my hands or whether they wished to speculate on my success. To give satisfaction I therefore consented to let some property go. That is a portion of this property I had accepted as an inducement to go. Yet this I wanted to get rid of all so I could serve the school as a hired teacher, if they wanted me, (for my salary was insufficient) but this was not satisfactory. So that I felt myself to be a slave. Yet I held to the school and made it a success. Others would always feel that they had made a fortune for me. If I gave it up they would find fault and I was thus out of a years time and money on account of it.

In addition to this, when I proposed the library acquisition and it was finally put on foot, Brethren said I was only begging money to add to the College to make myself rich and when I visited churches to introduce the matter and solicit assistance, some of the elders warned their flocks against my approach as though I had been a wolf or monster and some even greeted me upon the church ground with, ‘Stein, what are you here for?’ The result was that I cut off my visits and went home.
Yet when by special and private agencies we succeeded in getting the library and it was finally delivered to Mt. Morris, instead of congratulations and commendations for securing what I consider one of the richest prizes of a literary character to the Brethren and school at Mt. Morris, dissatisfaction was immediately expressed by those not interested and I felt [?] that I wished I had never seen the school nor launched the library.

But this does not altogether acc’t for my course. While yet in Missouri we took Sister D. M. Tombaugh (not then a member) into our family with a view of assisting to educate her, while she was to be a help to my wife. The arrangement was entirely reciprocal. She was glad to be with us and we were glad because we thought very much of her, in other words, she was a special favorite with us. She was always ready to render such assistance as would lighten the burdens of my life and always sympathized fully with my labors and trials. My wife said sometimes that she felt she would not live long and that Sister D. would take her place. Different things were said and done which drew the bond of friendship and sympathy closer and made it stronger between us. She always had a word of encouragement in hours of depression and a hand to help in season of emergency. In other words, while I was her friend and benefactor, she because an essential element—almost of my work and life.
Such assistance I had always needed and appreciated, for just here I will say that, though my wife was always a woman of the highest and strictest moral virtue and integrity, as pure as she could be and true as possible, one of Earth’s best and truest spirits, one that I always loved devotedly, it is also true that I was always at a loss to know whether she loved me. During all our married life I had never received one solitary token of affection, not the slightest caress that had seemed to come voluntary and uninvited. I know she respected and admired me. She honored my judgement, etc. She was careful and considerate—one of the best women that ever lived, but I did not know that she loved me, her nature was so different than mine and in my hours of greatest trial and depression, only one kind friend whispered words of consolation and comfort to me and that was Sister D. Here I need not say I learned to love her and she in turn loved me.
That love we struggled to control but everything only intensified it rather than abated it. My wife knew it. We both confessed it and I proposed separation in order to prevent evil growing out of a bond which it was impossible for us to buck. But my wife did not think it best for her to leave our family. She did not think either of us could endure the trial of separation in a crisis when we needed each other’s sympathy and assistance so much and often said she wished it could be so that it would be right for us to separate and myself and Sister D. to be one.
Some letters were received and Sister D.’s family meddled into her plans just at this period trying to prevail upon her to quit school and marry a young man whom she said she did not love and could not marry. Eventually we planned for me to quit school at Mt Morris and go elsewhere. That is, she and myself did, which plans her folks did not think prudent, and so between one perplexity and another and the daily pressure of class work she began to fail, had a short spell of partial lunacy which we [?] quietly, without the knowledge even of her two sisters who were at school.
About the same time I had a sudden attack which came very near taking me off. Some of the Sisters were meddling with us and I think some of the Brethren were whispering it around that we thought too much of each other. All this made a fearful crisis in the midst of double work. Some whispered that we were too intimate when our regards were the purest and highest character disdaining anything of an immoral or criminal nature. This made us all desperate. I said, ‘do what we will, suffer as we may, henceforth we are to be stigmatized and looked upon as vile.’ This was too much for myself but when I considered her purity and innocence it was [?] in the extreme. I could not see why life or reputation should be staked upon such such injustice in such a dilemma. I planned a foreign trip as an alternative but as it drew near, the cause which suggest it so early became insufferable. In the meantime my mind had been delving with Deist [?] books on infidel problems.
We considered the Christian persuasion which was tearing out our heart strings and dooming us either to the asylum or [?] grace with unjust shame upon two innocent names to be most unholy, un-Godlike, unnatural and why should we go down under such a burden crushed by those we labor in vain to please was so repulsive, so inexplicable that I proposed elopement. She accepted the proposal. My wife was willing if we would assume all responsibility. And this we left Mt. Morris, not because we were ashamed of each other, but because we respected our several families, the Church, the school and parties interested and wished to retire without hurting others. That is all.

Had it not been that Mrs. Stein’s church views and relatives prevented the civil law from having its course, myself and D. had long since been married, but because we thought there was not justice for us between the interference of Church and state we consented to leave our native land and are exiles on a foreign shore for the sake of a reciprocal love which we were unable to overcome.
Before taking this step both of us were thoroughly tempted to suicide. Had we been clear on the questions of the future state, such might have been our end but did not wish to be guilty of some unnatural crime. If Christianity is not of God. We stand today in God’s sight as true man and wife by consent of all who have a right to interfere. If Christianity is right which I hope is true, then according to Christ’s law I have sinned, have forfeited my former relations forever and we both stand as criminal sinners in God’s sight. As such we trust in God’s mercy. If we have sinned against God and ourselves and others when all …[????]… shall we continue to do each other injury by forsaking one another. Is it not our privilege to be husband and wife? She is no one else’s wife, yet I have broken the marriage covenant.
Mrs. Stein is free and I am no longer her husband by Christ’s law without a ratification of our former treaty. Am I then to abandon her to shame and insults because we have loved each other? Is this love we labored in vain to control a crime against high Heaven? We can not feel so. We want to do right and so far feel that we should make the best of our [?] and help each other to the grave.

We love Mrs. Stein and my dear children as we have secured 40 acres of the best land for each of my children. Always expect to do all in a father’s power for them. I had proposed to leave them a good home in the West last year where I could visit my children and they us and see after their business without even interrupting our old friends about our troubles, but to see D. L. Miller and Mr. S. Newcomer from the unjust charge of having been cognizant of our plans and course and I had to make it public. [?] published some prejudicial lies all over the country caused me the desertion of friends who were not prepared to understand our case and the loss of $1,000 to $1,500 in breaking up and moving to a foreign government but we are doing well again. We are on 160 acres of our own on which we make an honest and honorable living. I do not attempt to preach. We have Presbyterians, Methodists and Episcopals preaching regularly. We attend all as we have opportunity. We belong to no sect. We have tried to give up infidelity. We try to put our trust in Jesus as a divine Saviour, at least as a teach sent from God trusting that what we do not know and understand God will forgive. We believe Christianity the best and safest religion for man. Greg’s Christendom [?] is a pretty clear exposition of our views of Bible inspiration. We can not be Sectarians any more. Talmage [?] and Spurgeon often preach to us at home….

[This partial transcription of Stein’s letter is mostly dependent on that of George Heeter.]

A New Road and a Batch of Rhubarb Wine

Not much is recorded of the Stein’s years at Mud Bay, yet it is clear they were comfortable in their adopted community. In 1885 it was reported that JW Stein was granted money to improve the ‘Stein Road.’ Roads in the Municipality were typically built by the adjacent property owner for access to his property from an existing road, and as land was developed roads were connected and of service to all. It is possible Stein Road was the portion of present 48 Avenue on the southern perimeter of his quarter section.

In 1886, according to GF Treleaven in The Surrey Story, John W Stein took some samples of his rhubarb wine to share with municipal councillors and requested a licence to sell the wine to the public.

Proved up, 1888 — JW Stein’s title to land on the Serpentine River

In 1888, after having lived on the Mud Bay homestead five years, and having improved the land into a valuable farm, JW Stein was granted title to his property by the Dominion government.

JW Stein Crown Grant of Land by the Dominion of Canada, 1888

Church Ties

Although half a continent, in the first place, and a gulf of judgement in the other lay between them, the Brethren Church and the Stein family continued to take an interest in each other. Church records show that Sister Sarah Stein was refused permission to seek a divorce from her husband, JW Stein. Still, in 1887, the Council considered a request by JW Stein to be received into membership. A committee was appointed “to write him and instruct him to separate from his present companion.”

By 1888, it would appear that the patience of Stein’s daughters had run out over the treatment of their father, absent now seven years, and of their mother, held in perpetual limbo, and they decided they did not care to be Brethren anymore, prompting the council of the church to resolve that—

“Sister Glennie and Mabel Stein having expressed a desire to withdraw from the church, it was decided to make every effort to regain them.”

As Mabel was still living nearby, a visitation was made to persuade her to remain with the Church. As for her sister, in September—

“The clerk was instructed to write a letter to Sis. Glennie Stein, now in California, and to ascertain her feelings in regard to being in fellowship with the church so that in case she desires to retain her membership, a letter of membership may be sent to her.”

Some months later, the matter was still under discussion.

“Quarterly Council, Dec. 8, 1888

The clerk, having been instructed to write to Sis Glennie Stein to ascertain if she desired a church letter, read a letter received from her, thanking the church for the interest shown in her behalf, yet not considering it advisable to retain her church membership. The clerk was instructed to write her again, endeavouring if possible, to have her remain in fellowship with the church.”

By March of 1889, receiving no reply to their latest entreaties, the Council deferred the matter. By this time Glennie Stein had left California to be with her father in British Columbia. The council redoubled its efforts to persuade Mabel to remain with the church.

At length, the council was resigned that Glennie and Mabel were not coming back.

Council Meeting Minutes, September 14, 1889

“Sis Glennie Stein, having requested to withdraw from the church sometime ago, and seemingly, persisting in her decision, was disowned in accordance with her desire. Clerk is to notify her of action of the church. Sis. Mabel Stein was dismissed on account of a violation of her baptismal vows, and to be notified of the action of the church.”

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