Monday, January 2, 2017

The Baptist Pioneers of Vittoria

Vittoria Baptist Cemetery, Charlotteville, Norfolk, Ontario
Vittoria Baptist Cemetery is one of the oldest cemeteries in Norfolk County, Ontario.  Located east of the hamlet of Vittoria in Charlotteville Township, this still active cemetery contains a large number of early to mid 19th century gravestones.

Site of Charlotteville at Longpoint,
Watercolour by Elizabeth Simcoe,
Archives of Ontario
In the early 1800's, Vittoria was an important commercial centre, and the hub of what was known as the Long Point Settlement. From 1815 to 1825 it was also the capital of the London District. This came to an end when the Court House burned down in 1825 and the court and registry office were relocated to other communities.
Settlement on the north shore of Lake Erie near Turkey Point and Long Point began in 1793, although a few pioneers may have arrived earlier. In 1795, the Lieutenant Governor of Upper Canada, John Graves Simcoe, visited the region and was favourably impressed:
The country is thickly timbered, the chief trees being oak, beach, pine and walnut. Making our way through the forest, we reached the lake at a place which from the abundance of wild fowl is named Turkey Point. A ridge of cliffs of considerable height skirts the shore for some distance. Between this and Lake Erie is a wide and gently sloping beach. The long ridge of harbour sand [Long Point] encloses a safe and commodious harbour. The view from the high bank is magnificent. Altogether, the place presents a combination of natural beauty but seldom found.
In 1792, Simcoe had issued a proclamation "to such as are desirous to settle on the lands of the crown in the Province of Upper Canada" offering grants of land to any who would cultivate the land and would swear an oath of loyalty to the King. Many such immigrants came to the Long Point Settlement.

Vittoria Baptist Church
The settlement soon grew large enough to support a Baptist congregation. Vittoria Baptist Church was established in 1803. The original church was located on the cemetery site, however, a larger brick edifice was built in the hamlet and dedicated in 1852. This church was built in the Greek Revival style, consisting of a rectangular hall with gable and cupola. The building still stands and is protected under the Ontario Heritage Act. The congregation, however, disbanded in 2013.

Abigail Barber (1758-1804)

Abigail Barber
The monument to Abigail Barber is the oldest gravestone in Vittoria Baptist Cemetery. Abigail was born in Morris County, New Jersey, the daughter of Jacob Cosad (1724-1812) and Elizabeth Sutton. She married Samuel Barber (1753-1801) in 1777, and came to Upper Canada (now Ontario) in 1800 with ten of their twelve children. They settled in Townsend Township to the north of Charlotteville Township. The following year Samuel Barber disappeared on his way back from a trip to New Jersey, and is thought to have been murdered.

It is not clear why Abigail was buried at Vittoria Baptist. It is known that her daughter Jane (1784-1820) married William Smith (1777-1823), son of Abraham Smith of Charlotteville Township, about the time of Abigail's death, so it is quite possible that Abigail was living with her daughter when she died.

Solomon Austin (1744-1826)

Solomon Austin
According to family tradition Solomon Austin was born in Orange County, North Carolina. He was a Loyalist who enlisted in the Queen's Rangers during the American Revolution. At the Battle of the Horseshoe, Solomon heroically carried the regimental flag after the standard bearer was killed. The Queen's Rangers were commanded by John Simcoe who lauded Austin afterwards. Simcoe later became the Lieutenant Governor of Upper Canada. When Austin arrived in Upper Canada in 1794, Simcoe welcomed him warmly and granted him 600 acres.

Little of the above, however, has been verified by primary sources. The preponderance of evidence suggests that Austin was born in Baltimore Country, Maryland, and settled in Orange County in the early 1770's. At the start of the American Revolution he likely joined a local Loyalist militia unit. In his 1795 petition to receive land in Upper Canada, he states that he was taken prisoner at the Battle of Moore's Creek Bridge on 27 Feb 1776. Most of these prisoners were paroled shortly afterwards.

The Battle of the Horseshoe was a minor engagement fought by the Queen's Rangers on 6 Jun 1781 in Colleton County, South Carolina. Austin, however, does not appear on the rosters of the Queen's Rangers during this period. It is possible that he served as a scout for Simcoe. Austin's 1795 petition is annotated with the words, "This man was in action with the Governor [Simcoe] and obtained his verbal permission to go to Patterson's Creek." But if Simcoe was familiar with Austin due to his heroic actions at the Battle of the Horseshoe, why is there no mention of the battle in Austin's petitions?

Austin married Joanna Thomas, daughter of Owen Thomas who died in 1769. Austin's land in Orange County was adjacent to Owen Thomas's.

After the war Austin's property and chattels were seized by North Carolina. Austin remained in North Carolina until 1794 when he brought his family to Newark (Niagara on the Lake)  in Upper Canada. The following year he settled on Lynn Creek (formerly Patterson's Creek) in Norfolk County.

During the War of 1812, three of Austin's sons served with the 2nd Norfolk Militia. Elements of the 2nd Norfolk saw action at Lundy's Lane and Malcolm Mills.

Titus Finch (1756-1834)

Titus Finch 1756-1834
The Reverend Titus Finch was the first minister of Vittoria Baptist Church. According to a history of Vittoria Baptist Church written by Rev. George Watt, Finch arrived in Charlotteville in 1798, was baptised in 1804, and ordained in 1807.

In Pioneer Sketches of Long Point Settlement, published in 1898, author E. A. Owen claims that Finch was a British soldier who came to North American with his regiment during the Revolution. He further claims that Finch's wife, Nancy, was the widow of a friend of Finch's who died on the voyage. Robert Mutrie, author of The Long Point Settlers, calls this "a fanciful story." Finch was most likely born in the American colonies since he joined a Loyalist Corps: the Prince of Wales American Regiment.

In 1806 he signed a petition of Loyalist officers and soldiers who came from New Brunswick to Upper Canada requesting a grant of lands and their names be added to the United Empire list.

According to his gravestone, Titus Finch died on 14 Sep 1824 at the age of 78. His wife Nancy died exactly one year later at the age of 68. Mutrie provides evidence, however, that Titus did not die in 1824, but nearly a decade later on 12 Apr 1834.

At the start of the War of 1812 Titus Finch's son George was a private in the 2nd Flank Company of the 1st Regiment of Norfolk Militia. When the Flank Companies were dissolved he continued as a private with the Regiment. Titus's son Thomas was a sergeant in 1814 in the 1st Regiment, while his sons Titus and William were privates.

Abraham Smith (1727-1809)

Abraham Smith's story is best told through his own words as were recorded in his 1797 Upper Canada Land Petition:

That Your Petitioner is a native of the Province of New York in North America and having always been most Strongly attached to the Crown & Government of Great Britain Suffered much and lost by an act of Confiscation on account of his Loyalty a valuable Landed property in the said Province of New York Containing Eleven hundred & thirteen acres with a Saw Mill and other valuable Improvements thereon.

That Your Petitioner in the time of the late American Rebellion was taken up and Confined in the American Provost Guard for three weeks thirteen days, of which time Your Petitioner was loaded with heavy Irons and at another time though before that last Mentioned, Your Petitioner was Imprisoned for the space of three Months part of which time your Petitioner was confined on board a Prison Ship in the North River.

That the Charge Exhibited against your Petitioner and for which he Suffered as aforesaid, was Concealing and assisting Loyalists to proceed to Niagara.

That Your Petitioner arrived in this Province in the year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and eighty six, and brought with him a wife and Nine Children vizt Five Sons and four Daughters and since the arrival of your Petitioner in this Province, it has pleased Divine Providence to favour him with one Son and one Daughter more.
Abraham Smith was born about 1729. He married first, Hannah Finn, who died in 1767, and second, Rachel Decker (1750-1831). He settled in Minisink, Orange, New York in 1771. During the American Revolution, Abraham's property was confiscated and the family were forced to move to Sussex County, New Jersey. In his Land Petition, Abraham states that he arrived in Upper Canada in 1786. According to family tradition, he had to be smuggled out of New Jersey in a wooden box. Abraham initially settled in Bertie Township, Welland Country near Fort Erie. In 1794 he moved his family to the Long Point Settlement and settled on Young's Creek northwest of Vittoria.

Abraham Smith
In Pioneer Sketches of Long Point Settlement, Owen claims that Abraham's son, William "Uncle Billy" Smith was the first white settler in Norfolk Country. According to Owen, William came to Norfolk in 1786. The problem is that William's gravestone clearly states that he was born in 1777. It is highly unlikely that a nine-year-old would have left his family to "live amoung the Indians of Long Point" as Owen's claims.

Three of Abraham's six sons served during the War of 1812 with the 1st Norfolk Militia. Of his eleven children, eight of them are buried at Vittoria Baptist.    

Robert Shearer (1772-1832) 

Robert Shearer was another late Loyalist. He was born in Sussex County, New Jersey in 1772, the son of John Shearer. John was a Loyalist who was jailed during the American Revolution and died in prison. Some details of this time were included in a certificate included in the Robert's 1797 Upper Canada Land Petition:
I Do hereby Certifie that in the late war between the Crown of Great Brittian and the States of America the beraer Robert Sherer was an Infant and that his father John Sheraer was a Loyalist and that on the acount of which he was prosecuted and Confined in prison and then he was Confined until his Death and his family So Distressed by that means that his widow was obliged to bind out her children of which the Bareier is one and the whole family ware all Ruined and Distressed among other people Certified by John Moore
Robert Shearer
Robert trained as a blacksmith, and in 1796, emigrated to Upper Canada and settled in Charlotteville Township, north of the hamlet of Vittoria. Three years later he married Rachel Smith (1778-1857) daughter of early pioneer Abraham Smith. Robert and Rachel had thirteen children, many of whom are buried at Vittoria. Robert appears as a Corporal on a roll of the Charlotteville Company of Militia dated 31st December 1799. During the War of 1812, Robert served as a private in the 1st Regiment Norfolk Militia.

Robert had a sister, Rachel Shearer (1775-1841), who remained in New Jersey, but after the death of her husband John Dolan (1783-1810) came to the Long Point Settlement with her son Michael (1803-1882) and her four daughters.

John Havens (1770-1806)

John Havens
The second oldest gravestone at Vittoria Baptist is that of John Havens who died in 1806. John, the son of William Havens (1738-1800) and Lydia Masters (1742-1817), was born in Gloucester County, New Jersey in 1769. He came with his parents to Upper Canada in 1787 and settled in Grantham Township in the Niagara Peninsula. John's request for land at the Long Point Settlement in 1793 was declined. Two years later he petitioned successfully for 200 acres. In his petition he stated that he had married into Abraham Smith's family. The 1795 report of Acting Surveyor General David W. Smith records that he was Abraham Smith's son-in-law.

John's wife was Charity Smith (1772-1831). His will, dated 28 Apr 1806, named four children: William, Abraham, Robert, and Hannah. A second daughter, Lydia, was born on 7 Jun 1806, almost a month after the death of her father. Charity later married Levi Churchill.

Oliver Mabee (1773-1854)

Oliver Mabee (1773-1854
and Mary Smith (1775-1844)

Oliver Mabee, the son of Frederick Mabee and Levinah Pelham (?-1823) was born in Dutchess County, New York on 10 Aug 1773.

Oliver's father remained loyal to the Crown during the American Revolution. In 1781, Frederick brought his family to British occupied New York City. In 1783 when the British evacuated New York City, Frederick and his family sailed as part of the "October Fleet" on the Sally to the Saint John River Valley in what is now New Brunswick.

Frederick settled first in the town of Carleton but later moved to Queensbury, York County on the Saint John River west of Fredericton. Not satisfied with the quality of the land, Frederick sold his property and moved his family to Upper Canada in 1792.

Frederick arrived at Long Point Bay in the spring of 1793, having overwintered at Quebec, and began to clear land on Turkey Point. Regrettably, he died the following year.

Oliver, who was nineteen when he arrived at the Long Point Settlement, married Mary Smith (1775-1844), another daughter of Abraham Smith. In Oliver's 1797 Upper Canada Land Petition he stated that he had received 200 acres of land, but was requesting an additional grant. The request was denied. During the War of 1812 he rose to the rank of Captain in the 1st Regiment, Norfolk Militia. After Mary’s death in 1844, Oliver married Rachel Shearer, the widow of Robert Shearer.

Map of Norfolk County, Ontario


Owen, E. A., Pioneer Sketches of Long Point Settlement, Toronto: William Briggs. 1898

Tasker, L. H., The United Empire Loyalist Settlement at Long Point, Lake Erie, Toronto: William Briggs, 1900

Mutrie, R. Robert, The Long Point Settlers, Ridgeway, Ontario: Log Cabin Publishing, 1992. 

Mutrie, R. Robert, The Long Point Settlers

Harold Austin Steiner, The Solomon Austin Story: The Early Years Revisited, Austin Families Association of America, 1997

Mabee, Dr. Oliver R., “The Ancestry and Hardships of Frederick Mabee,” Ontario Historical Society, Papers and Records, 1927, Vol. 24, p.439-442,

Charlton, John, M. P., "Some of the Norfolk Pioneers, Jonathan Austin, Esq. and His Father and Grandfather," The Simcoe Reformer, Thursday, August 9, 1900.