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- ?).

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