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