Private Instructions and Hints Regarding the Building of the House

[ Private Instructions and Hints Regarding the Building of the House ] John MacDonald

Contributor Role
Contributor Name
John MacDonald

Date: 1784/04/29

Publication Format


plaster palace stone
calf skin
sheep skin

St. John's Island
Prince Edward Island
Winter River
Nova Scotia

Source: Macdonald Family (St. Peter’s) Papers
Institution: Prince Edward Island Public Archives | Reference: Acc2664


This item is catalogued as Acc. 2664, no. 154.   A letter from London by John MacDonald, dated 29 April 1784, to his sister Nelly describes this book: "I send with this a little stitched book with a white paper cover marked No. 1 untitled Private Instructions & Hints regarding the building of the House, & procuring Materials, which are not to be shewn to any one" (PAROPEI Acc. 2664, no. 9, p. 2).   He wants to the house to be built at Tracadie on the plan of Mr. Callbeck's house (p. 1).

All uses of this image other than research or private study require written permission from the Public Archives and Records Office of Prince Edward Island.


Private Instructions & Hints

regarding the building of the

House, & procuring the 

Materials, which are not

to be shown to any one


General Observations &


Number 1--


1st Page

General Observations & Hints

In building the House much will

depend on taking Judicious Methods to carry on

the work of providing Materials & using them.

                If you understand Mr. Callbeck

has agreed to restore Lot 35 to General Maitland

then you may safely take upon you to cut on that

Lot whatever timber for the Frame, Logs, Joists

and Couples for the roof &c: may be necessary,

and I should hope you may find them somewhere

about Winter River or where we used to make

Boards on the little river that falls into the head

of the Bay -- But if Mr Callbeck has determined to

refuse restoring the Lot, I am sure I will not

desire that or any other favor to be asked of him

in my name, on the contrary I shall break off

every connection & Intercourse with him -- 

                But in that case you may try

what you can make of Mr. Lawson: perhaps he 

will permit you to take off his Lot on the side of

the River what may be sufficient -- If this will

not do I know not how you will manage it

unless you may think proper to take it off Lot 21,

for I know Mr. Clarke will have no objection

to let me have what I want -- in this case to float

it round in good weather -- You will need some advice now &

then, nor do I know to whom on the Island I would

recommend you to apply for any: Perhaps Mr Lawson

or Mr Burns or any other yourself knows, may give


2nd page

you some useful hints -- 

               I know not who your principal

carpenter may be -- I hear Richardson is dead, and 

I am ignorant who else, that is capable, is on the 

Island, but you will endeavour to get a good one

-- I should imagine one good Carpenter should be 

engaged from first to last for the work by the day

or by the Month, making the best bargain you can,

but so as not to put it in his power to impose on 

you by bad work or by losing time, for you should

reserve a Right to yourself to discharge him

from any farther work or wages when you

think proper -- Another point you should guard 

against is not to permit ^him    to run you into any

Expences without your Consent -- 

               Some principal one being

engaged in this Manner, I think you had better

employ all other hands from time to time only

as you want them -- 

                       When your Carpenter shall 

have marked the proper trees to be cut, I should

think some of the french would be good hands

for assisting him to cut, square, float & bring 

them to the spot, & also for helping him to make

the frame, lay the Joists ^&Logs & bind the roof couples

-- one or two of them would be enough at a 

time, for a number of them create confusion and

Idleness only -- your own bullocks & any common 

hired man may draw the timber to the water

side, & up from the shore to the spot -- 

     At the same time that you hire 

the Carpenter you will need to think of the best

way to get boards, claps boards, or feather edged boards

3rd page

and shingles -- I should think you would need 

from six to ten thousand feet of boards of different

length & thickness -- from ten to twelve thousand 

shingles, & I cannot guess how much clap boards

or feather edged boards & Lathing -- Pictou 

is the only place I can think of where you 

might get their materials -- and

               I suppose you will have to

send some one there to order them according to

the sort, length & thickness, which the Carpenter

will give you after consulting with him, & 

to hire a vessel for bringing them to you at once

when they are ready, but not till then, for I

fancy You will not get them just as you call

for them, but only sometime after Commissioning

them -- so great Cheats are they that they will 

endeavour to throw some sad stuff on your hands,

but you should give directions that none be

received but according to Agreement -- 

               It will be some time after agreeing

for them before the Boards &c: will be ready to be

sent for, and therefore You would need to sett about

them at the same time that you send to cut the

Frame logs & roof &c:---

                At the same time also you

would need to get the cellar dug, which three or

four hands will do in a few days -- Then there will

be the stones to get, thereafter the Mason, & one

to work mortar for him will be sufficient -- see 

that the Mason binds the wall well with proper stones

& that he packs it well with smaller stones, & only

uses the mortar, where it may be proper without filling

the spaces between the stone with mortar alone -- 


4th page

               If you proceed to build the

chimney, which after all I fancy will be the 

most advisable, care should be taken to use

good stones only for it -- The stones at the back

of the chimney should be placed with their 

ends to the fire -- The stones at the cheeks

& on the out side to the lobby should be as

well fitted as can easily be -- 

               When you shall have got the

cellar dug, the stones collected, & the timber

of the frame, Logs, & couples, brought to the

spot, as well as the Boards, clapboards,

shingles & Laths, the greatest part of your 

troubles will be over, & the Most uncertain

part of the Expence too --

               After this period you

will only have the Mason & his Man,

building the Cellar & Chimneys & making Mortar,

& your principal Carpenter, & one or two

other rough Carpenters of the french, or some

such to make the frame, lay the joists and

flooring, to put up the roof -- to shingle,

to put on the clap boards &c: and it will be

lucky indeed if you can cover it fully before

December -- 

               Once you get it made wind & 

water tight, you May be going on with finishing

it on the Inn side as easily as you can, only 

if possible keep it a going -- 

5th page

              From the Idea I have I should think

geting Boards, shingles, & clap boards, so quickly 

as you could wish, will be the most difficult

parts of the materials, besides the Expence &

distance from Pictou -- But there is no help

for it -- 

               After all, from six to ten thousand

feet of Boards is not a very great Quantity.

If you find a difficulty of getting them from

Pictou, what if you would get a parcel of

the french to saw them for you at the Winter 

River, if there is wood there & that Mr Callbeck

restores Lot 35 -- If the wood is good & if the

french would undertake it, four good sawyers

would not be long sawing ten thousand feet,

-- There would be this Advantage in it that

the Boards might be sawed of the exact length

& thickness that the Carpenter would order,

so that there would be less waste & refuse

stuff than by geting them from Pictou, And

as they would be near at hand it might be

very little dearer upon the whole than those

from Pictou would be with freight & refuse stuff.

               If you cannot get them in

this manner perhaps the french at Malpec

would engage to deliver you the Boards at a 

certain price the thousand feet at Tracady:

They have wood there, & also Schooners for carrying

them to your place, and perhaps they would also


6th page

undertake for the shingles, clap Boards & Laths,

or that you might get them made at the

Winter River -- or it would be an ease

if you had only shingles to get from Pictou -- 

or in case you could not get the french at

Malpec to do it, perhaps you could get them

or some others to make the Boards shingles

clap Boards & Laths on Mr Clarks Lot 21

where there are plenty of the best timber

& he would not begrudge me any thing

for we have been hand in glove this while

               Whatever time you get the

Boards, it would be right to lay them in a 

covered airy place, at least as much so as

possible, to dry & season until you have

occasion to use them -- But particularly

the Boards & Posts for the doors, windows

& the chair high boxing of the Rooms ought

as soon as possible to be got & laid in a 

drying place --- 

               I should like that, as soon

as your other hurry would permit, some twenty

or thirty thick logs, from Eight to twelve feet

long of the best black Birch, & half that

number of the best large white poplar, and the

like of beech & maple were cut, & by degrees

brought to a seasoning place, for we will

by & bye find use for them for chairs & other

uses; & it will be fine to have seasoned to our hands

7th page

               Lime should be burt from 

Oyster shells -- It makes very good whitening

& Plaister for the roof of the Rooms -- 

[words crossed out] But plaister palace stone will

be the best of any: There is none of it on

the Island, but there is plenty in Nova =

=Scotia, particularly at the gut of Canso

tho it will not be worth your while to

send there for the same, unless you get it 

very accidentally -- 

                Some glue may be wanted:

I forgot to order some in proper time, but

you know glue May be made by boiling

calf or sheep skins, as I have often seen

in the highlands -- I believe glue may also

be made of fish & probably the french

may teach you the secret -- 

               I believe it would be a 

good way to get certain parts of your

work, & as much as possible thereof, done

by the Job at a certain sum, by which

much misspent time & Imposition would

be avoided, & you would have little farther

trouble with that part, only to see that

it be right done & by agreement -- 

              Thus I believe it is

common enough on the Island to get a

cellar dug so many feet deep, wide & long

at a certain rate -- 


8th page

                After the stones are gathered

you might also make an Agreement with the

mason to build the cellar wall of such

& such thickness & sufficiency & height

for a certain sum, himself or you furnishing

the man to work the mortar -- 

               You might also make an

Agreement with one to cut, square, lead

float & bring the frame to the spot

yourself furnishing the Bullocks to drain 

it, to finish & to put up the frame

at a certain price -- But in regard to

the frame care should be taken that it be

well supported here & there at the distance

of a very few feet with proper posts or

perpendicular timber for to enable it to

bear weight without yielding -- The

dimensions of the timbers length & width

should also be mentioned, & a general clause

in every such Agreement specifying that

every thing be quit sufficient -- 

               Boards, clapboards, and

shingles are likewise bought or sawed

at a certain price per thousand feet, &

when  ^they are to be brought home, if in a boat

you might agree by the voyage or load

              But there are other certain

Jobs about it that cannot easily be done by

the Piece, & for them there is no other way but daily hire

9th page

                But in every agreement by

the lump or piece let the party always be

tied down to execute it properly, & let the

manner in which it is to be executed be

described as well as possible which probably

will be a bar against Imposition or slights

worth -- If any of our people or of the 

others in the neighbourhood will prove

disobliging to you on that or any other

occasion, keep an Account of it, till it

please God we meet, for it is improbable

any one can have a worse opinion of their

Justice honor gratitude & regularily than

I have of theirs -- I have experienced it all

at their hands, and since no superior motives

will operate on them, & that any other

method on my part is thrown away on

them, I am determined, if I am to live among

them, to lay aside my farther method &

Regards, & to deal out that Measure to

each, which he gives me -- whatever

they may think perhaps it may soon be

in my power to oblige them more than

they are aware of beyond the Bounds of 

Lot 36 on each side, or to punish them

with very little trouble to myself, if they

continue disobliging to you or attempt to 

impose on you on this occasion, & you May


10th page

take your own way of acquainting any of 

them with this at any time you see it

necessary --

               I believe there goes out as 

much Nails, paint, & Glass, by this ship

directed to you as May be enough, which

will prove a considerable saving to what

buying them there would prove.

               I am sensible that cash goods

& Provisions will be Articles which would

prove very convenient & even necessary 

on an occasion of this sort [...]


13 page

     What is in this and in the

other paper is all that Occurrs to

me on the subject, & is all that is

in my power to do -- I confess I

will be uneasy until I hear from 

you whether you will be able to 

goe to work & to proceed, for It

runs much in my head that you

will have too much difficulty 

to be able to do any thing -- I only 

give you the Powers in case you see

you may be able to do any thing, in 

which case it is a very eligible thing.


                In all events do not fatigue 

or fret yourself under any difficulty

that may occur in carrying it on -- 

if you think you may attempt it, do so

but do not over walk yourself, or

be too early or late out, & by no 

means in damp or wet weather, &

keep your mind perfectly ^easy -- Whatever

happens do not let it hurt your

spirits or health -- 

Winter River is in Lot 34.
Plaster stone is gypsum. Antoine Beaumé's A manual of chemistry, translated by J.A. (1786), defines "gypsum, or plaster stone": "Those called gypsa, alabaster, and plaster stones, are calcareous selenites formed by nature" (69).
Untranscribed is a section on payment.