Sunday, November 18, 2012

The Roof Bosses of Atherington

St Mary's, Atherington, Devon

The North Devon parish of Atherington is one of five parishes that I collect information about in my role as a Online Parish Clerk (OPC). An OPC is a volunteer with an interest in the genealogy and history of a parish, and collects copies of original records, indexes or transcripts relating to that parish. The OPC undertakes to make such information available to enquirers for their own personal use. For more details about the OPC project click here, or visit my website to see what I have collected about Atherington, High Bickington, Tawstock, St Giles in the Wood, and Yarnscombe.

Atherington is one of my neglected parishes. Much of the information I typically provide (lookups of baptisms, marriages, burials) is available elsewhere, either through FamilySearch or Devon Heritage. As well, despite two visits to Devon in the last four years, I have not been able to get inside the church. The first time the church was locked and there was no indication as to where a key could be found. The second time the roof was being replaced, so even the churchyard was inaccessible. This is unfortunate, since everything I've read and seen about St Mary's, Atherington suggests that the inside is definitely worth seeing.

St Mary's contains a number of effigy monuments and chest tombs. A few photographs of these (including the one to the left) were recently uploaded to Wikipedia. The effigies and chest tombs were moved to St Mary's from nearby Umberleigh when the Chapel of the Holy Trinity was demolished about 1800.

St Mary's also contains unusual crocketed bench ends, a 15th century font, as well as some medieval glass. Also noteworthy is the rood screen and loft. The elaborately carved screen and loft date from the mid 16th century and were the work of two local craftsmen. The loft also has the distinction of being the only surviving rood loft in Devon.

One of St Mary's interesting features is the large number of late medieval oak roof bosses that adorn the wagon roofs in the nave, chancel and north aisle. The carvings depict fruit, foliage, animals and men, as well as mythological creatures, including several imps. A few years ago, I was sent a collection of photographs. Here are four of the best, beginning with an imp:

This roof boss features a dragon suckling its young. The boss may be a reference to a verse from the Book of Lamentations: “Even the sea monsters draw out the breast, they give suck to their young ones."

The foliate head or "green man" is a common roof boss motif in Devon churches. The green man is undoubtably of pagan origin and is commonly thought to represent fertility. Another interpretation, more in line with Christian teaching, is that the green man is a symbol of rebirth or resurrection.

Titivillus was the demon responsible for recording the idle chatter of the laity in church, to be later used as evidence for damnation. Titivillus is also the patron demon of scribes and is said to have entered the scriptoria of monasteries and caused errors in manuscripts as they were copied.

I'll be visiting North Devon again next summer, and hope that this time I'll finally have the opportunity to photograph the inside of St Mary's Atherington.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Homer Cemetery: Historical and Neglected

Gravestones obscured by fallen tree

Homer Cemetery is an inactive cemetery located in the shadow of the Garden City Skyway across the Welland Canal from St. Catharines. The cemetery is sometimes referred to as the Ten Mile Creek Burying Ground, although the actual creek was obliterated by the construction of the fourth Welland Canal in 1926.

From a historical standpoint, Homer is one of the most interesting cemeteries in the Niagara Peninsula. It is an old graveyard, and is the burial place of several of the first settlers west of the Niagara River. In the graveyard can be found several members of Butler's Rangers — Loyalists who fought for Great Britain against the Americans during the Revolutionary War. Also buried at Homer are numerous veterans of the War of 1812.

Despite its historical significance, Homer is a badly neglected cemetery. Most of the gravestones lie horizontally on the ground. Grass and earth have encroached on the stones to the point that many have almost disappeared. In the process of photographing the gravestones this past summer, I often had to carefully remove the grass and soil. Due to a lack of rain this summer, this was relatively easy, but it was still dusty and time-consuming work.

Two large trees have fallen at the back of the cemetery, obscuring a number of the gravestones, including that Mary Read (1764-1839), wife of George Read (1763-1834), a private in Butler’s Rangers. The trees apparently fell many years ago. Why no one has brought in a chainsaw and removed them is a mystery.

Homer Cemetery is located on land that was granted to George Read’s brother, William Read (1759-1831). In his 1795 petition requesting land on behalf on his wife and five children, William writes that he, “with the assistance of his neighbours has erected a church on his premises in which Divine Service had been performed by the Rev’d Mr. Addison. The log church stood until 1832 when it was destroyed by fire. A church of brick was built to replace it, but this was torn down in 1939 when the four-lane Queen Elizabeth Way was built.

By the 1930s the cemetery had become so overgrown that a fire was set to clear out the undergrowth. This had the unfortunate effect of cracking or descaling a number of the older stones. A stone cairn and commemorative plaque was also installed about this time.

The cemetery has been transcribed on a number of occasions, beginning with a partial transcription by Janet Carnochan in 1898. In 1928, W.G. Reive recorded most of the gravestones, and also noted that the cemetery was overgrown and poorly maintained. In 1984 and 1985, the Niagara Peninsula Branch of the Ontario Genealogical Society undertook a systematic transcription. A quarter century later this transcription is invaluable for locating individual stones and discerning faded inscriptions.

George Grass
In her 1898 transcription, Carnochan notes the gravestone of George Grass (1789-1813) who was killed on May 1813 during the Battle of Fort George. Grass is one of few “Canadian” soldiers who died during the War of 1812 whose graves are marked. Also mentioned are the gravestones of Solomon Secord (1756-1799), a Lieutenant in Butler’s Rangers; Jacob Ball (1777-1820) and his wife Elizabeth (1790-1892); Margaret Hare (1764-1851), whose first husband was Solomon Secord, and whose second was Peter Hare, who also was a Lieutenant in Butler’s Rangers. Finally Carnochan records the epitaph for the double stone to Francis Goring Parnall and Elizabeth Secord.

William Havens
Conspicuously absent from Carnochan’s account is the oldest gravestone in the cemetery, that of William Havens (1738-1800). The stone is incorporated into a much larger monument that documents the history of the Havens family, beginning with their emigration from Wales to Rhode Island in 1638. Unfortunately, the original stone for William’s wife, Lydia Masters (1742-1817) which was also incorporated into the monument, no longer exists.

It is unfortunate that Homer Cemetery is not better maintained. The Town of Niagara-on-the-Lake lists Homer Cemetery on its website as one of ten inactive cemeteries “that are cared for by our staff.” The care of cemeteries, however, must go beyond just cutting the grass. It must include preventing gravestones from disappearing altogether.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Hannah Jarvis (1763-1845)

Hamilton Family Burial Ground, Queenston, Ontario
The Hamilton Family Burial Ground is a small cemetery located in village of Queenston, halfway between Niagara Falls and Niagara-on-the-Lake. As would be expected, most of the gravestones commemorate members of the Hamilton family—a family of considerable influence and power during the early days of Upper Canada (Ontario). The graveyard is situated on the grounds of the Greek Revival mansion known as Willowbank, built by Alexander Hamilton around 1834. Willowbank is now a National Historic Site, and is also the home of the School of Restoration Arts.

The School of Restoration Arts offers a Diploma in Heritage Conversation, and is making the effort to restore and maintain the cemetery. A blog entry by one of the students describes repairs that were recently made to two of the gravestones. A number of other stones, however, still require attention.

Alexander Hamilton

One of these stones belongs to Alexander Hamilton, third son of the merchant Robert Hamilton. Alexander was born at Queenston in 1794. He served with distinction during the War of 1812, and afterwards held a variety of important positions including sheriff of the Niagara District. As sheriff, Hamilton was required to perform the hanging of a condemned prisoner when the executioner failed to show. Some sources claim that Hamilton was so affected by the hanging that his health failed, and that this resulted in his death in 1839.

Alexander Hamilton's widow, Hannah, continued to live at Willowbank until her own death in 1888. Hannah was the daughter of William Jarvis, provincial secretary and registrar of Upper Canada. Alexander's untimely death left Hannah with the task of managing the estate, and of raising their numerous children, one of whom was born after the death of his father.

Hannah Jarvis with
her daughters Maria
and Augusta
(James Earl Raise,
1791, oil on canvas,
Royal Ontario Museum)
Hannah received help from her widowed mother, Hannah Owens Peters, who had been living with her daughter at the time of Alexander's death. Born in Connecticut in 1763, and having spent several years in England, the elder Hannah became an influential member of the "aristocracy" of Upper Canada. A significant amount of correspondence written by and about Hannah has been deposited at Library and Archives Canada, the Archives of Ontario, and the University of Guelph, providing a fascinating glimpse into her life.

One such glimpse is given by a former slave. Although uncommon, slavery did exist during the early days of Upper Canada, and several were owned by the Jarvis family. The 1797 wedding of "Moses & Phoebe, Negro slaves of Mr. Secy. Jarvis" is recorded in the records of St Mark's Church in Niagara-on-the-Lake. Henry Lewis, who escaped and fled to New York, wrote a letter to his former owner in 1798.
The reason why I left your house is this. Your woman vexed me to so high a degree that is was far beyond the power of man to support it.
Different attitudes towards slavery was one the reasons why Hannah Jarvis was not impressed with John Graves Simcoe, the first Lieutenant Governor of Upper Canada. Simcoe took measures to limit slavery in Upper Canada; measures that ensured the eventual end of the institution. Hannah wrote that Simcoe, "by a piece of chicanery has freed all the Negroes by which he has rendered himself unpopular..." Hannah firmly believed that Simcoe's appointment as Lieutenant Governor was entirely due to his wife's money and influence, and frequently complained of "petticoat rule."

Hannah Jarvis was highly critically of Elizabeth Simcoe, the wife of the Lieutenant Governor, calling her a "little stuttering Vixon" and at one point referring to her as "a walking skeleton." Hannah was quick to notice Elizabeth Simcoe's absence at a ball celebrating the King's Birthday, suggesting that Mrs. Simcoe had been deliberately sick. Hannah seemed to blame Elizabeth Simcoe for just about everything. Writing about how a chest of linens had become mildewed, Hannah noted that "Mrs. Simcoe's things escaped."

For her part, Elizabeth Simcoe barely mentions Hannah Jarvis in her diary, although other members of Upper Canada society make frequent appearances.

In other letters, Hannah Jarvis complains about the difficulty of finding servants, since the best servants would frequently "take up land and work for themselves. She complains about a cook she was able to employ: "Nasty, Sulky, Ill Tempered Creature." She complains about the prevalence of disease: "Ague and Fever are so prevalent that whole Families are confined at once..." In letters to her family in England she complains about the high costs of goods in "this Grim country," and asks that shoes, fabric, castor oil, and other goods to be sent to her.

John Graves and Elizabeth Simcoe returned to England in 1796, but Hannah Jarvis remained in "this Grim country" for the rest of her life. After the death of William Jarvis in 1817, Hannah made lengthy visits to her daughters, and eventually moved in with her daughter Hannah and son-in-law Alexander Hamilton in Queenston. Alexander Hamilton's death in 1839 reduced the family to poverty, and forced the elder Hannah to take over the housekeeping at Willowbank. A woman who once had slaves and servants, spent the last few years of her life cooking, washing, ironing, and cleaning.

Hannah Owens Peters, wife of William Jarvis, was buried in the Hamilton Family Burial Ground in 1845.

Hannah Jarvis (1763-1845)

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Melancholy Tragedy: The Murders of Sarah and Annie Pethebridge

Broadmoor Criminal Lunatic Asylum
October of 1871 is perhaps best known as the month of the Great Chicago Fire, allegedly begun when Mrs. O'Leary's cow kicked over a lantern. But for the secluded North Devon village of Yarnscombe, October 1871 is the month when Jane Pethebridge murdered her two daughters.

Jane Pickard, oldest daughter of James Pickard (1813-1897) and Sarah May (1813-1876), was born in Fremington, Devon in 1839. In 1855, Jane married George Pethebridge, the son of Thomas Pethebridge (1816- ?) and Rebecca (1816-1872).  Sometime after their marriage, Jane and George moved to Aberavon, Glamorgan, Wales, where their daughter, Elizabeth, was born during the summer of 1858. George was badly injured in a mining accident, and the family returned to Fremington to live with Jane's parents. Unfortunately, George succumbed to his injuries during the summer of 1860.

For the next few years, Elizabeth was raised by her grandparents, as Jane had obtained a position with a family in London. Finally, in the summer of 1868, in Exeter, Jane married Richard Pethebridge, the younger brother of her first husband. Richard was born in Yarnscombe, Devon in 1837. He was a road labourer, and lived with Jane in a cottage in the village. Their daughter Annie was born a year later in the summer of 1869. Another daughter, Sarah, followed in the winter of 1871.

On Thursday, October 5, 1871, Jane sent her daughter Elizabeth to fetch some beer from her aunt, Mary Ann Pearce, who lived at East Orchard Farm about a mile away. On her way back, a neighbour, Emma Moon, the wife of Police Constable James Moon, called to Elizabeth and asked her if she knew that her mother had gone out. Mrs. Moon then urged Elizabeth to check on her step-sisters. When she got home, Elizabeth went upstairs to find the two girls on the bed. Thinking they were asleep, she tried to wake Annie but soon realized that neither child was breathing. Elizabeth ran back to her neighbour and told Mrs. Moon that her sisters were dead. Emma fetched her husband who after a quick examination of the crime scene set out after Jane. He caught up with her outside of Yarnscombe on the road to Barnstaple, brought her back to his house, and charged her with murder.

Later that evening PC Moon, accompanied by Charles Richard Jones, a surgeon from Great Torrington, examined the crime scene more closely. They discovered marks around the necks of both children, as well as a bruise on Annie's forehead. PC Moon also found two lengths of string, with which the two girls had apparently been strangled.

Newspaper coverage of the murders was extensive. Trewman's Exeter Flying Post refers to Jane as "crippled and paralysed" but states she ran from her house without the aid of her crutches intending to drown herself. PC Moon mentions that she had a walking stick when he arrested her. The reporter states that at her appearance before the magistrates in Great Torrington, Jane had "a somewhat forbidding countenance, and she betrayed no traces of compunction."

The North Devon Journal provides a more detailed picture. Annie’s birth had left Jane paralysed on her right side, and although her mother had partially recovered, it was Elizabeth who largely managed the household. Jane was also subject to seizures.

During the Victorian Era, there was a growing awareness of mental illness, and the possibility that a person might not be criminally responsible for their actions. This was especially the case when a mother murdered her child. To an educated person, the thought of a sane woman murdering a child was inconceivable. As a result, insanity became a foregone conclusion is these cases.

At the Devon Assizes a month later, the presiding judge, Baron Martin, instructed the Grand Jury to discharge Jane, after hearing medical evidence that she was "of unsound mind." The judge then directed that Jane "be detained during Her Majesty's pleasure."

Jane was sent to the Broadmoor Criminal Lunatic Asylum in Berkshire, where she died in 1881. At the time of the 1881 Census, her daughter Elizabeth was a domestic servant at a lodging house in Ventnor on the Isle of Wight. In the spring of 1882 she married Frank King. Together they raised a large family, although it is unlikely that Elizabeth's children ever knew about their step-aunts.


North Devon Journal, October 12, 1871
North Devon Journal, December 21, 1871
Trewman's Exeter Flying Post, October 11, 1871
Trewman's Exeter Flying Post
, December 20, 1871

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Ponsonby Pioneer

Ponsonby Pioneer Cemetery, Nichol, Wellington, Ontario
After three and a half days of "off-and-on" rain, we had a few hours of partially cloudy skies, so I took advantage of the good weather and visited Ponsonby Pioneer Cemetery in Wellington County north of Guelph, Ontario.

The Ponsonby Hotel
Ponsonby started as a stagecoach stop along the Gaxafraxa Settlement Road, leading north from Guelph into the wilderness known as the Queen's Bush. The settlement was originally named Thorpeville, after the first postmaster, John Thorpe. In 1863 the named was changed to Ponsonby. By this time Ponsonby was a thriving community with a hotel, wagonmaker, carpenter, butcher, blacksmith, and general store. Ponsonby today is a ghost town. The only remnants from its heyday are the hotel, which is now a private dwelling, and the cemetery.

In 1843 a 3/4 acre lot for a cemetery was purchased by Bethany Methodist Church. The cemetery remained active until about 1888. In the 20th century the cemetery became the victim of road widening. The existing gravestones were placed into a sloping concrete pad facing the road. In 1958, a cairn was erected on the site by the congregation of Bethany United Church, the successor to Bethany Methodist. 

Thomas HOWSE
The gravestones are for the most part in good condition, athough no longer in situ. The gravestone of Thomas Howse is particularly striking and bears a poetic epitaph: 

     He's gone! the loved and cherished one;
     Like some bright star he passed away.
     Death claimed his victim and he sank,
     Calm as the sun's expiring ray.

Thomas Howse was born on 20 Apr 1788 in Aynho, Northamptonshire, England. He emigrated to Canada with his wife Mary Churchley (1787- ?) and seven children in the 1830s, and settled in Pilkington Township west of Ponsonby. Thomas's family was one of several Aynho families that emigrated from England to the Ponsonby area.

Also at Ponsonby are the gravestones for Thomas's son George Howse (1819-1858), his daughter Elizabeth (1826-1878), his daughter Mary (1823-1855), Thomas's unmarried sister, Ann Howse (1788-1880), and two grandchildren.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Cove Pioneer Cemetery

Cove Pioneer Cemetery, Nassagaweya, Halton, Ontario
Cove Pioneer Cemetery is a small graveyard in Nassagaweya Township, east of Guelph, Ontario. According to The History of Eden Mills, a Methodist Chapel was built on this site in 1844, on land donated by William Martin. The chapel was constructed of cedar logs. 14 years later, in 1862, the chapel closed due to the difficulty of finding a minister. The building remained on the site until 1900 when it was moved to a neighbouring farm.

The oldest burial inscription is apparently dated 4 Jan 1846. The latest  inscription is that for George Martin (1838-1898), possibly a son of William Martin (? -1859) who is also buried at Cove. George Martin's gravestone also lists his wife, Frances James (1843-1878) and four children: Eleanor (1873-1873), Albert (1876-1876), Thomas (1870-1877), and Mary (1878-1878).

During the 20th century the 31 surviving gravestones were mounted onto a sloping concrete pad. Weathering, moss and lichen, unfortunately, have resulted in many of the gravestones becoming illegible.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Disappearing History: Virgil Methodist

In Disappearing History of Niagara: The Graveyards of a Frontier Township, David Hemmings writes:
With remarkably little in provincial government regulation to protect and honor the deceased of this area, many of the historic graveyards in the township are now in relatively poor condition and, over the years, gravestones have been vandalized and left to crumble and crack without proper attention. For those of us interested in finding evidence of ancestors buried here, or simply in the history of those who built the living fabric of this area, the continual erosion of gravestones and even whole graveyards is problematic.
One such graveyard is the Virgil Methodist Cemetery. This small cemetery is sometimes referred to as the Virgil United Church Cemetery, although only a few burials occurred here after the Methodists combined with the Presbyterians in 1925 to form the United Church of Canada. The church itself closed in 1965 when the congregation joined Grace United in Niagara-on-the-Lake, and was presumably demolished shortly thereafter.

Virgil Methodist Church

A plaque at the front of the cemetery tells how the hamlet of Virgil was once known as Lawrenceville, named after George Lawrence, a member of Butler's Rangers during the Revolutionary War, and an early Methodist leader. In 1840, Lawrence donated land for a meeting house and cemetery. The plaque also states:
In this graveyard is a stone reading "George Lawrence, born March 26th, 1757, died Aug. 5th, 1848, aged 91 years."
Ironically, George Lawrence's gravestone is one of the stones in poor condition. Whether from erosion or vandalism, this broken stone is no longer readable, and because it lies horizontally, has become encroached with grass and earth.

Several transcriptions of the cemetery are in existence. Janet Carnochan's 1902 work Inscriptions and Graves in the Niagara Peninsula describes Lawrence's gravestone and mentions the surnames of a few others buried in the graveyard. W.G. Reive's 1927 transcription is more complete, although he describes the graveyard as "much neglected."  W.M. Willis in 1962 remarked how the churchyard was "badly neglected" and the stones "hard to read." The most detailed transcription is that produced in 1984 as part of the Ontario Genealogical Society project to transcribe all cemeteries in the province.

When I recently photographed the graveyard for the CanadaGenWeb Cemetery Project, I was able to find and photograph all but two of stones listed in the OGS Transcription. One of the missing stones is that of Esther Cain, wife of Barnabas Cain, a local "hero" of the War of 1812 whose stone was listed as missing by Reive in 1927.

Both Willis and the OGS transcription record a gravestone where the only information visible was the name Alphord. I did not have high hopes of finding this stone, however, not only was Alphord's stone extant, but more of the inscription was visible. Further non-invasive cleaning revealed the following:

Son of
Joseph & Jane
[died] Oct. 2, 1843

Alphord CORNICK, was the son of Joseph CORNICK and Jane LAWRENCE. Jane was the granddaughter of George LAWRENCE (1757-1848). In the late 1840s, Joseph and Jane moved to Caledonia in Haldimand County. Jane died in 1851 and was buried at St Paul's Anglican Cemetery in Caledonia. After her death, Joseph CORNICK apparently married her sister Sarah LAWRENCE (1832- ?).

Friday, June 8, 2012

Howitt Memorial Cemetery

Howitt Monument, Howitt Memorial Cemetery
Howitt Memorial Cemetery is a well-kept cemetery in Puslinch Township southwest of Guelph, Ontario, located on the southwest corner of Laird Road West and Sideroad 10.

Howitt Memorial Church
Until 1983, a small church stood beside the cemetery, although regular services had not been held there since 1929. The stone church was built in 1886, replacing a wooden church that built on the property of John Howitt in 1843. From 1843 until 1925, the church served a Methodist congregation. In 1925 the Methodists merged with the Presbyterians and the Congregationists to form the United Church of Canada. Four years later, however, the members of Howitt Memorial decided to join the congregation of  Norfolk United in Guelph, and the church was closed.

Dominating the cemetery is the monument to John HOWITT (1805-1881). John was born in Derbyshire and came to Upper Canada (now Ontario) in 1834. Shortly after his arrival he purchased 500 acres in Guelph Township known as "The Grange" and 800 acres in Puslinch Township including the land now occupied by the cemetery. He married twice and had 22 children, 13 of whom are commemorated on his monument. Other Howitt children are buried nearby. Despite being a Methodist, John was known as "Quaker" Howitt due to his pacifist beliefs. He was said to be the largest landowner in Wellington County, and was a breeder of purebred shorthorn cattle.

John KIRKLAND (1804-1857)
Most of the gravestones in the cemetery date from the second half of the 19th century. The oldest stone is that of Frank HEATH (1835-1848). Frank was most likely the son of Edmond Field HEATH (? - 1871), a veteran of the Battle of Waterloo. Another important early stone is that of John KIRKLAND (1804-1857) and his wife Sarah ATTENBOROUGH (1802-1858). The stone is now broken (although still quite readable), however, a photograph of the intact stone from the 1960s survives.

"Gone Home"
In the process of photographing and indexing all the stones at Howitt Cemetery for the CanadaGebWeb Cemetery Project, it became clear that I had possibly missed a stone. As part of the process of indexing the photographs, I cross-check against published transcriptions, in this case a 1985 transcription published by the Wellington Branch of the Ontario Genealogical Society (OGS). According to the transcription, a gravestone to Hannah EVANS (? -1877), daughter of James and Sarah EVANS, should be found beside the monument to her parents, which is located at the treeline bordering the west side of the cemetery.

While I didn't find Hannah's gravestone (although I did find a base for one), I did find two other monuments not listed in the 1985 transcription. The first was a fragment of a gravestone bearing an epitaph that implores the reader "Weep not" because "I am not dead but sleeping here." The second turned out to be a footstone. The stone was almost completely buried by soil and leaf litter. Using plastic tools and my hands (never use metal tools around gravestones) I uncovered a footstone with the words "Father" and "Gone home" and an engraving of a winged crown.

Unknown, Died Oct., 8, 1881
There is also one gravestone which I photographed that wasn't listed in the transcription. The gravestone is broken, so no name is visible, however, the date and age of death is quite clear. Unfortunately, a check of Ontario death registrations using did not reveal any likely candidates. So not only do I not know why this gravestone wasn't included in the OGS transcription, I also do not whose gravestone it is.

The caretakers of Howitt Memorial have done a good job of protecting the older gravestones. While many of these gravestones are no longer vertical, and some are broken, concrete pads have been poured and the gravestones laid on top. This has prevented grass from encroaching on the stones, and made my job of photographing them much easier.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

The Daughters of Laura Secord

Gravestone of Hannah Cartwright Secord (1817-1877)
I've written previously about the importance of distinguishing between family history and family mythology. One recurring myth in Canadian genealogy is to claim descent from Laura Secord (1775-1868), the heroine of the War of 1812. As the 200th anniversary of the start of the war approaches, there is renewed interest in Laura Secord, and as result, claims of descent. While it is certainly possible to be one of the over 500 descendants of Laura, it is highly unlikely that your last name will be Secord. You would most likely be descended from her daughters, four of whom lived in Guelph, Ontario.

Laura and James had six daughters and one son. Charles Badeau SECORD (1809-1872) was three years old at the time of his mother's famous trek to warn the British of an American attack. Charles and his wife Margaret ROBBINS (1813-1872) had three children, two of whom had no issue. Laura's grandson, Charles Forsyth SECORD 1834-1899), had numerous children, however, he and his family emigrated to Nebraska. One of his sons became a missionary in Guatemala, and apparently the only descendants of Laura to still carry the Secord name were born in that country.

Laura and James's oldest daughter, Mary Lawrence SECORD, was about 16 when her mother went for her twenty mile walk in June of 1813. In 1816 she married William TRUMBLE, assistant surgeon of the 37th Regiment of Foot, and accompanied him when he was posted to Jamaica. A letter written by a descendant living in Norway describes that when William died in 1822, Mary returned to Canada with her two small daughters. A few years later her father-in-law died, and Mary took her family to Ireland in order to claim an inheritance. According to the letter's author, Mary had to fight off the advances of an amorous sea captain on this voyage. One of Mary's granddaughter's married a Norwegian Army officer, which explains the Norway connection.

The next oldest daughter, Charlotte, was two years younger that Mary. Charlotte never married, died in 1880, and is buried in Woodlawn Cemetery in Guelph, Ontario. No grave marker survives.

Gravestone of Harriet
Hopkins Secord

Harriet Hopkins SECORD was ten years old in 1813. In 1824 she married David William SMITH and had two daughters and a son. David practiced law in St. Catharines and was a heavy drinker. When he died in 1842, Harriet and her daughters lived with her mother in Chippewa, Ontario. Her son went to live with his father's parents and eventually settled in Wisconsin. After her mother's death, Harriet and her daughters joined her sisters in Guelph. Harriet died in 1892 and was buried in Woodlawn Cemetery, Guelph. Neither of her daughters married.

Appolonia SECORD was just a toddler when the War of 1812 began. Unfortunately she contracted tuberculosis and died in Queenston at the age of 19.

Gravestone of Laura Ann
Secord (1815-1852)
Laura Ann SECORD was born eight months after the war ended. She married John POORE of Guelph in 1833 and had two sons, one who died in infancy and the other who settled in Manitoba. After John's death in 1842, Laura married Dr. William CLARKE (1810-1887), who was a magistrate, and later a member of Parliament and the Mayor of Guelph. They had three children: a son and daughter who died in infancy, and a daughter Laura Secord CLARKE who died unmarried in 1936. Laura Ann died in 1852 is buried at Woodlawn Cemetery, Guelph.

The youngest daughter of Laura SECORD was Hannah Cartwright SECORD (1817-1877). Hannah married twice and had children from both marriages. Hannah first married Howley WILLIAMS (1809-1844). She later married Edward CARTHEW (1808-1879). All three are buried at Woodlawn Cemetery in Guelph. Unfortunately, Hannah's and Edward's gravestones are located underneath a lilac bush and are lying flat on the ground. When I photographed the gravestones several years ago it was necessary to cut back the lilac, and then dig away the grass and soil that had almost completely obscured Hannah's gravestone.

Unlike her sisters, Hannah had numerous children and grandchildren. Those claiming descent from Laura Secord in Canada are therefore more than likely to be Hannah's descendants.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Virgil Baptist Graveyard

Virgil Baptist Graveyard, Niagara-on-the-Lake

I took advantage of the long weekend and the warm Spring weather, and visited a couple of cemeteries near Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario. One was the Virgil Baptist graveyard which I wanted to photograph for the CanadaGenWeb Cemetery Project.

Virgil Baptist Cemetery, in the small community of Virgil, is hidden behind a cedar hedge just to the northwest of the junction of Niagara Stone Road and Four Mile Creek Road. A church building was located here from 1831 until the late 1930s. The congregation originally consisted of escaped slaves who had fled to Canada, however, white settlers in the vicinity also became members.

Most of the gravestones are in good condition. Many have been laid flat on the ground, so in some cases it was necessary to carefully remove the grass and soil which was encroaching around the edges. There were also quite a few fallen branches to move aside. Only one monument appears in need of major repair. A large tree had tilted the base of the monument to James BROOKER (1843-1913) causing the rest of the monument to fall over.

When I later cross-referenced my photographs against the Ontario Genealogical Society transcription I discovered a problem. There were four stones listed in the transcription that I had not photographed. These four stones are also referenced by W.G. Reive in his Cemeteries and Graves in the Niagara District. When Reive visited the Virgil Baptist graveyard in 1927, he described it as being "in a wretched condition and many stones mentioned by Miss Carnochan in her visitation of twenty-five years ago have disappeared." Janet Carnochan, however, in Inscriptions and Graves in the Niagara Peninsula, published by the Niagara Historical Society, only recorded the inscriptions for two stones, both of which I photographed.

Reive also mentions looking unsuccessfully for the monument to Barnabas CAIN who fought at the Battle of Lundy's Lane during the War of 1812. David Hemmings in his recent Disappearing History of Niagara also states that Barnabas CAIN was buried at Virgil Baptist. Carnochan, however, mentions "Barney Cain" under the heading for the nearby Virgil Methodist graveyard, so it seems likely that he was buried there and not at Virgil Baptist.

A return visit to Virgil Baptist will be needed later this Spring in order to locate (if possible) the four missing gravestones, and to retake some of the photographs. A visit to photograph the Virgil Methodist cemetery is also likely.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Francis Goring (1755-1842)

The French Castle at Fort Niagara
During the American Revolutionary War, many colonists who remained loyal to the Great Britain fled to other parts of British North America. Loyalist refugees from the Mohawk Valley area of New York, and from the East Branch of the Upper Susquehanna River in Pennsylvania, often made their way to Fort Niagara, located at the mouth of the Niagara River. It was here in 1778 that 15-year-old Lucy Secord met 23-year-old Francis Goring.

Lucy Secord was the daughter of Peter Secord, one of three brothers who settled on the East Branch of the Upper Susquehanna River in 1773, but were forced to abandon their farms during the war. The date of Lucy and her family's arrival at Fort Niagara is uncertain. It is known that Peter Secord was a member of Butler's Rangers, a Loyalist Regiment, but was discharged in 1778 because of his age. In 1780, Peter Secord became the first settler west of the Niagara River.

Francis Goring, on the other hand, was born in Westminster, England, and was baptised at St Martin in the Fields on 7 Sep 1755. His father, Abraham Goring, was a bookseller. In 1776, Francis, an indentured apprentice, left England for Quebec, arriving on the 30th of June. He was then unexpectedly sent to Fort Niagara which he reached on the 26th of August. In a letter written soon after his arrival he describes his situation:
There are no pleasures or prospects to direct the mind, being confined by the woods in one side and the water on the other. Our whole place consist of a fort and four houses and about five hundred men, therefore I leave you to judge how agreeable it must be to one who has accustomed to much pleasure.
From 1780 to 1781, Francis was briefly a partner in a trading firm at Fort Niagara. He likely married Lucy Secord during this period.

After the war, Francis received a grant of land on the west side of the Niagara River and took up farming. He tutored the children of his neighbours, and opened the first school house in the district in 1792. He was a land agent for many years, and was secretery to Robert Hamilton, a member of the Legislative Council of Upper Canada. Francis and Lucy raised ten children, however, Lucy sadly died during the Winter of 1801. Francis never remarried.

Francis was a highly literate person, and much of what we know about him comes from his surviving letters and journals. The journals contain records of his accounts, the crops he planted and harvested, the animals he butchered or sold, lists of his students, visits of dignitaries, but very little about his family. The 1792 marriage of Lucy's cousin David Secord is mentioned, as is the funeral of her cousin Peter. Of his own family only the births of his son Arthur and daughter Mary Ann are recorded:
Friday, August 10, 1792—My wife delivered of a Son at about half-past nine in the evening.

May 26, 1794—My wife delivered of a Daughter at about 11 o'clock at night.
The weather is frequently mentioned. A drought in the spring of 1791 resulted in a fire that caused considerable damage:
May 11, 1791—Considerable damage done in this settlement by the woods catching fire. Mrs. Guthrie's House and fence burnt and most of the fence by the river. Peter Secord's fence burnt and many others.

May 12, 1791 - A remarkable dry spring. But one day's rain between the 13th April and 12th May—29 days drought—Mostly hot days and frosty nights.—Rained 24th in the Morning.
Journal entry for Sunday, July 1, 1792
Francis's entry for Sunday, July 1, 1792 is perhaps the oldest surviving description of a tornado in Canada:
A violent hurricane happened this day about 2 & 3 o'clock in the afternoon which began at the little lake at the head of Lake Ontario which drove which such violence towards Fort Erie as left hardly a tree standing for two miles in width. The heaviest part fell among the Short Hills, between the Fifteen and Thirty Mile Creeks. In some places, for near five miles wide, there is not so much as a sapling, but what is torn up by the roots, whole trees carried a considerable distance, some fifty trees a foot and a half thick twisted like a [?] — every house disroofed and many blown down, in some places the hail was as large as a man's fist, in other places there was neither hail or rain. The woods now is rendered impassable 'til roads can be cut through, forty men were three days cutting so as to get out five families and their cattle, the whole way it went was as a whirl wind, the trees falling different ways. There is no appearance by the woods that such a storm has ever happen'd in this country before, what is very remarkable we hear of no lives being lost except those of Cattle.
Francis died in 1842 at the age of 87. He was buried at Homer Cemetery in Niagara Township, however, no grave marker remains.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

The Diaries of Sophia Stevens

A footnote to the suicide of Thomas Stevens (1782-1832) are the diaries of his wife, Sophia Le Marchant (1798-1860). In 2009, five volumes of the diaries were deposited at the North Devon Record Office in Barnstaple. Last summer when I visited Barnstaple, I had the opportunity to view the diaries. My interest was in any references to Baron Rolle of Stevenstone (1751-1842). Thomas Stevens was the first cousin once removed of John Rolle, and had it not been for his death, was the most likely successor to the vast Rolle estates.

I was not prepared for how small the diaries were. Each volume only measures about three inches by five inches. The writing inside was even tinier. Unfortunately, I had forgotten my reading glasses. I decided to photograph the months of August and September 1831 with my Nikon D40X and hope for the best.

The diary records the trivia of the life of the landed gentry. In the summer of 1831 Thomas and Sophia were living at Cross in the parish of Little Torrington, Devon. Names of dinner guests figure prominently, as do comments about the weather.

The photo at left shows the entries for Sunday, August 14th to Saturday, August 20th. The only significant event during this week was the 9th birthday of Sophia STEVENS (1822-1892) on Sunday. Sophia was the oldest of Thomas and Sophia's two daughters. Elsewhere in August and September are references to young Sophia being unwell and unable to take her music lesson, and a reference to her riding with her parents. Sophia's sister, Louisa Annie STEVENS (1828-1868) is not mentioned, although her cousin Louisa MOORE (1823-1856) was apparently a frequent visitor. Louisa was the daughter of John MOORE-STEVENS (1784-1865), Vicar of Otterton and Archdeacon of Exeter.

The diaries do record a visit to the Misses Rolle of Hudscott. Lord Rolle had two unmarried sisters, Anne (1755-1842) and Lucilla (1757-1851), who lived at Hudscott in the parish of Chittlehampton, Devon.

The diaries are definitely worth a second look and I'll be sure to bring my reading glasses next time.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

The Criminal Career of Alice Dobb

Broadmoor Criminal Lunatic Asylum

Alice Dobb was not a particularly nice person. In fact, this notorious grandmother's criminal career lasted several years and only ended with her incarceration at the Broadmoor Criminal Lunatic Asylum.

Alice, the daughter of William Adams and Mary Garnsey, was baptised at St Peter's, Tawstock on 11 Aug 1806. She was the third of six children.

Alice married William Dobb at Tawstock on 19 May 1827. Their first child, John, was born in 1828, and was followed by Anna, Elizabeth, Henry, Mary, Martha and William. All seven children were born in Tawstock. Her son Henry died at the age of three, but the other six grew to adulthood.

Sometime between 1841 and 1851, William and Alice moved to neighbouring parish of Fremington and took up occupancy of Brynsworthy Farm. Joining them at Brynsworthy were Alice's widowed father, William Adams, and a farm labourer from Tawstock named James Ridge. In 1852, James, the son of Thomas Ridge and Miriam, married Alice's daughter Elizabeth.

Then tragedy struck. Alice's husband died in December 1853, shortly after the death of her father.

Alice's first brush with the law came in 1855. Samuel May of Fremington had noticed that various articles had been disappearing from his locked barn. He "at length resolved to set a watch for the purpose of detecting the mysterious visitor." The culprit turned out to be his neighbour, Alice Dobb, who after using a key she had somehow acquired to unlock the barn, stumbled over the legs of one of Samuel May's labourers. A search of Alice's home recovered no stolen goods, so Alice was charged and convicted under the Vagrant Act, and sentenced to two months imprisonment. According to report in the North Devon Journal, Alice explained her actions by stating that she "must be mazed or mad or something." The article goes on to say:

The woman brought into those circumstances of shame is the mother of six children, pressed by no necessity to the commission of such an act as was clearly contemplated, and is moreover in a good farming business, occupying an estate of some 60 or 70 acres. The two sons of the wretched woman were present to witness the disgrace of their unhappy mother and their own, and some time after she had been committed, the eldest son (a nice respectable young man about 26 years of age, who had returned from service upon his father’s death to assist his widowed mother) came into Court, to try when it was too late to obtain a reversal of the sentence. He represented that his mother had been subject to fits of insanity, and they had been obliged to have a person, at times, to look after her. Considering that circumstance, which appeared not to have been thought of before, Mr. May would not now have pressed the charge to the consequence which could not then be re-called. The poor young man wept as be stood there, stunned by the ignominy his unhappy parent had brought upon herself and her family.
Alice served her sentence and by 1861 was living in Tawstock with her daughter, Elizabeth, and her husband, James Ridge. In 1862, she was charged with stealing turnips from Peter Joce of Tawstock. Apparently she tried to convince Mr. Joce to not press charges as "she could not bear the thought of coming before the gentlemen." Alice, however, was convicted and sentenced to one month imprisonment.

More serious crimes were uncovered a few months later, when Alice was charged with stealing a skein of worsted. During the police investigation, a pistol which Alice had stolen from a Barnstaple shop a few weeks earlier was also recovered, resulting in a second charge. 24 yards of stolen alpaca were also recovered, and a third charge was laid. For these crimes Alice was sentenced to six months. The report in the North Devon Journal also alluded to the fact that Alice was suspected in a number of arsons.

Two years later, Alice was in trouble again, having stolen a quantify of muslin, lace, and cotton from Eliza Dalling of Barnstaple. The lawyer representing Alice stated "he could offer evidence that the prisoner was not in a sound state of mind, and that she had been confined in a Lunatic Asylum, in which place she would now be confined had her family the means to pay for her." The Recorder of Barnstaple, however, felt that he had no choice but to sentence her to 12 months.

Alice served her 12 months in the Barnstaple's gaol, and then returned to Tawstock to live with her daughter and son-in-law. Early one February morning in 1866, Alice decided to prepare some potatoes for the family's breakfast; potatoes seasoned with arsenic. Alice left the potatoes for Elizabeth to fry claiming that she wanted to see if her "old house was blown down." James, Elizabeth and three of their children immediately became sick after eating the potatoes. When James later testified before the magistrates, he stated that after vomiting he felt well enough to chase after his mother-in-law, but as soon as he caught up to her she blurted, "'Tisn't me, 'tis the potatoes have done it."

The doctor and the police were summoned. The doctor, Joseph Harper, successfully treated the family with emetics although they remained quite sick for several days. The doctor also discovered a few white crystals in the bowl the potatoes had been in. A chemist later identified the crystals as arsenic. The police tracked Alice to the neighbouring parish of Newton Tracy where she was arrested.

In describing Alice, the North Devon Journal used words such as "notorious" and "monomaniac." The newspaper noted that Alice's behaviour when she appeared before the magistrates was "very erratic." She claimed she was ill or that she was blind. When informed that she was remanded for eight days, she exclaimed, "I shan't last eight days longer." Alice claimed that it had been a case of accidental poisoning, and that she had been poisoned herself, however the evidence clearly pointed to Alice having attempted to kill her daughter and her family.

During his testimony at Alice's trial, James Ridge stated that Alice had been in the Exminster Asylum once. He further stated, "I have known the prisoner come down stairs and smash the window, and sometimes try to come down naked. I have seen her running about like a deranged person. At the best of times she never can sit down like a same woman."

One of the witnesses for the defence was Michael Cooke, a surgeon of Barnstaple, and a nephew of my ggg-grandfather. Cooke stated that as the surgeon of the Barnstaple gaol he had seen Alice on a number of occasions. In his opinion Alice "was disordered in her mind." The judge and jury concurred and Alice was found "not guilty on the ground of insanity" and "confined during Her Majesty's pleasure."

Alice was sent to the newly opened Broadmoor Criminal Lunatic Asylum in Berkshire, and is listed there in the 1871 Census. Alice died at the age of 71 during the winter of 1878. James and Elizabeth Ridge recovered completely and were still living in Tawstock in 1901.


Exeter and Plymouth Gazette, July 22, 1864
Exeter and Plymouth Gazette, March 16, 1866
North Devon Journal, July 19,1855
North Devon Journal, February 13, 1862
North Devon Journal, June 12, 1862
North Devon Journal, February 15, 1866
North Devon Journal, February 22, 1866
North Devon Journal, March 1, 1866
North Devon Journal, March 16, 1866
Trewman's Exeter Flying Post, February 14, 1866
Trewman's Exeter Flying Post, February 21, 1866

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Deluged in Blood

I've written previously about the suicide of Thomas STEVENS (1782-1832), whose mother was first cousin to the Right Honourable John Lord Rolle of Stevenstone. An account of his death in The Annual Register describes how he cut his own throat and died in the arms of his wife, "deluged in blood flowing in torrents."

Far less melodramatic, and probably far more accurate, is this account from Trewman's Exeter Flying Post:
Trewman's Exeter Flying Post, Thursday, 19 Jan 1832

     It is with feelings of grief to which we are at loss for words to give utterance that we announce the death of this gentleman. Educated for the Bar, he early displayed talents of a superior order, and having been selected by Mr. Courtenay, Recorder of this city, on several occasions, in his unavoidable absence, to officiate as his deputy, his services were thought so highly of, that on the resignation of that gentleman, in 1820, was invited by the Chamber to fill the situation in his stead. How he has performed the duties of it is known to the whole city. Indefatigable in the prosecution of these, he was ever at hand to advise and direct, and his instructions to the different Grand Juries, were marked by sound sense, a thorough knowledge of the state of society and its best interests, as well as of the law. The melancholy event by which the public are deprived of the services of such a man, is no subject for comment; that such a mind should have given way under, unquestionably, great mental excitement, is one of those circumstances that must remain inscrutable to human understanding, and should teach us all how weak and dependent, even at the best, we are. As a country gentleman, Mr. Stevens had ever taken an active part in the business of the district in which he resided, and long held the commission of Major, in the North Devon Regiment of Yeoman Calvary, in which situation, as in all others, he was beloved and respected. The deceased was 49 years of age, a remarkably affectionate husband, and tender father; a good and considerate landlord, and kind master. Possessed of feelings like these, late events in his neighbourhood had much distressed him, and threats towards one who designed nothing but good, preyed upon his mind. He had been subject to walk in his sleep, and it is imagined that having in this way quitted his bed, under apprehensions that the conspirators were attacking his mansion-house, and the servants (at that hour,) not instantly answering his call, he first fired a loaded pistol in the direction of the shrubbery, and with a razor cut his throat. This sad event, as will been seen by the evidence, took place at his seat,—Cross, near Torrington, about half-past one o'clock, on the morning of Saturday last, the 14th inst. On the same day, an inquest was taken before Francis Kingdon, Esq., Coroner,—when
     Edmund Herring Caddy, Esq., of Great Torrington, Surgeon, was the first witness examined:—Saw the deceased on Thursday last, at Great Torrington, his spirits appeared very low and dejected; saw him again on Friday, between the hours of 4 and 5 in the afternoon, he appeared still more dejected in mind and very low in spirits—he stated that he had not slept for several nights, and that his mind had been much harrassed; advised deceased to put his feet in warm water and go to bed, and that he would send him some medicine; deceased complained of a pain in his head, and said that his stomach was in a disordered state from bile; was again send for between the hours of 1 and 2 o'clock on Saturday morning when he found him dead, deceased was lying on his back in his dressing-room which was covered with blood, an open razor on his bowels, and a pistol on the floor; on examining the body found a large wound on the throat extending from ear to ear, which had divided the carotid arteries and the windpipe, the wound extended back to the vertebrae; of the neck, which must have caused immediate death, and which the cause of the death of the deceased; found no other wound on the body, nor any marks of violence; has no doubt that the deceased died by his own act; the symptoms under which the deceased has labored very frequently produces delirium and temporary derangement of mind.
     Thomas Sandford, a servant to the deceased; have observed my master has failed in his appetite for some time past, and that on Friday he appeared quite melancholy, that he was continually passing from room to room, and was so weak that he could scarcely walk upright; remarked to the servants the state in which my master was in; my master retired to his bed about 5 o'clock in the evening; about half-past 1 my master's bell rang continually which awoke me; wend down in my small clothes and Mary Elsworthy who had answered the bell called "he is killed, he is killed;" saw nothing more until Mr. Caddy arrived, who examined the body; is quite sure that no person could come into the house as he had himself secured the house, and is of opinion died by his own act.
     John Upstone, heard my master's bell ring about half-past 1 on Saturday morning; struck a light and went down to my master's dressing-room, and entered it with Mary Elsworthy the maid servant; saw the deceased lying on the floor covered with blood; his throat was cut from ear to ear; lifted him up with the assistance of Mary Elsworthy; saw no sign of life left but heard on laying him down again a rattle in the throat of deceased three times; saw a razor on the upper part of the thigh which was covered with blood; washed the body after Mr. Caddy, which was covered with blood; washed the body after Mr. Caddy, surgeon, had examined it; there is no possibility of any person entering the room of the deceased by the window; has no doubt deceased died by his own act; there was also a pistol lying on the floor, but did not examine it.
     The evidence being gone through, and the Coroner having summed up, the Jury delivered their verdict, That the deceased labouring under a grievous disease of body, and being delirious and out of his mind, had inflicted on himself a mortal wound of which he died.
     Mr. Stevens has left a widow, and two daughters, of tender years, who with numerous relatives, and still more numerous friends, mourn this great bereavement.
Thomas married Sophia LE MARCHANT (1798-1860), daughter of Joshua LE MARCHANT (1763- ?) and Sarah Susannah GLUBB, at Sidmouth, Devon on 14 May 1821. Thomas and Sophia had two daughters. Sophia (1822-1892) and Louisa Annie (1828-1868).

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

A Gruesome Death

Trewman's Exeter Flying Post

For most of my English research purposes, the two most useful newspapers are the
North Devon Journal and Trewman's Exeter Flying Post. In my last post I wrote about how scans of the North Devon Journal are now available through the British Newspaper Archive. Another newspaper resource is British Newspapers 1800-1900, the result of a partnership of the British Library with Gale, a part of Cengage Learning. Until recently access was only available to institutions, however, individuals can now purpose a 24-hour pass for £6.99, or a seven-day pass for £9.99. And so, for the last seven days, I've been reading Trewman's Exeter Flying Post.

In previous posts, I've written about some accidental deaths in the parish of Merton, Devon, and recently reported on the accidental death of my distant relative, Mary Jane BULLEID (1828-1838). Both the North Devon Journal and Trewman's Exeter Flying Post frequently reported on inquests "on the body" of victims of misadventure. Perhaps the most gruesome in its details is this report from the Thursday, March 25, 1841 edition of Trewman's Exeter Flying Post:
FATAL ACCIDENT.—On the 16th inst. as a boy named Oliver, about 12 years old, in the service of Mrs. Petherbridge, of Pill, in the parish of Tawstock, was going with a horse and cart, in passing a gateway the horse started, and the cart being upset on the unfortunate boy, his head was crushed in such a manner that the brains literally protruded through the fissures caused in the bone of the skull. An inquest was taken on the body, and a verdict of Accidental Death returned.
The most likely candidate for the victim is Henry OLIVER, son of John OLIVER and Ann SALTERN, who was baptised at Tawstock, Devon on 29 Mar 1829.