Wednesday, May 4, 2016

William Bennett (about 1806-1890), Revisited, Part One: Ireland to Lower Canada to Michigan, USA.

Climbing My Family Tree: Map of Ireland, 1830
Map of Ireland, 1830
Click to make bigger.

William Bennett is one of my second great-grandfathers on my father's side. In this post, I will tell you about his life, and the historical context in which he lives, to the extent that I currently know it. I’m hoping that someone who reads this who might know more about him than I do can help me fill in the blanks, fix the mistakes, and/or point me in the direction of how to find out more. I’m also writing this post as a partial replacement of a prior post on both William and his wife (this time I’m going to write about his wife in a separate post) in order to add in some more details that I’ve found, and to correct some things I got wrong in the last post on him.

Before I start, I ask any Canadian readers for their forgiveness of any errors I commit in Canadian history. I found out that my ancestor was involved (in a minor way) in a part of pre-Canadian history of which I knew nothing about – which likely means the rest of my family-readers don’t know much about it either. So I knew I had to explain it in the post, succinctly, if possible. That’s when I discovered that there are entire books, multiple academic articles, and various magazine articles and blog posts, written on the Rebellions of 1837 and 1838, some of which contradict each other. This is where my attack of perfectionism kicked in (perfectionism is a leading cause of getting nothing done), and I finally had to decide to just stop reading the articles and books because this is only going to take up a few paragraphs in my post on William’s life. So if I screw anything up, I’m sorry. (I’m open to correction on the historical bits too, since I like to learn and it will probably help me in further research on  William and other ancestors living in that area and timeframe.)


Climbing My Family tree: Map of Ireland with provinces and counties named
Map of Ireland with provinces and counties named
Click to make bigger.

William Bennett was born in about 1806 in Ireland, according to several censuses in Canada and the United States. I don’t know where he is from in Ireland, for certain. His obituary states that he was born in the northern part of Ireland about 1808. I’m not entirely sure that is correct. I have a theory about that I will discuss in my second post this month on William Bennett (William Bennett, Revisited, Part Two: Weighing Direct Evidence, Circumstantial Evidence, Scientific Evidence, and Historical Context in Consideration of a Hypothesis.). His obituary also states that he came to Canada as a young man. I now think that he moved there in 1830 (this will also be discussed in Part Two), although I haven’t been able to find him on any ships lists yet.

While William left Ireland well before the Great Famine, he would have been leaving behind an Ireland that was in the midst of an almost two-decade depression following the end of the Napoleonic wars. This economic depression was exacerbated by a series of natural catastrophes. In 1816-1818, bad weather destroyed grain and potato crops, and smallpox and typhus killed over 50,000 people in Ireland. The potato failed again in the province of Munster (a southern province) in 1821, and people starved to death in counties Cork and Claire. After further crop failures in 1825-1830, famine was averted only by the importation of large amounts of Indian corn meal from America. Emigration out of the country was on the rise.

Climbing My Family Tree:Illustration of Travel in Steerage, 1851
 Illustration of travel in steerage
from the Illustrated London News, May 10, 1851; in the public domain
Click to make bigger.

Initially, many of those moving to North America went to British North America, rather than the United States, because the cost of passage to the States was prohibitively high. The initial wave those emigrating from Ireland to the British colonies in North America was largely constituted of artisans, shopkeepers, professionals, and better off farmers from Ulster (a province in the north of Ireland) who were people who could better afford the passage fares; but by the 1830s, this had begun to change. Despite the continuing high fares, more and more of those leaving were from the laboring classes, the poorest, who somehow managed to scrape up the money for the passage. Similarly, the religious make-up of those leaving was changing and more and more Catholics were now leaving, some assisted by such programs as that briefly implemented by the British government in 1823-25, which provided free passage and land grants to over 2,500 Catholic smallholders, primarily from north Cork. The biggest single spur to such emigration came in 1827 when the government repealed all restrictions on emigration; between 1828 and 1837, almost 400,000 Irish people left for North America. Up to 1832, about half of the emigrants still came from Ulster (the north), but after that date the three southern provinces contributed the majority. 

William would have left Ireland in search of a better life for himself than he could have look forward to there. William’s family would likely have encouraged him to leave, both because it would mean one less mouth to feed at home, and, in the hope that he would be able to send money back to help support the home folk.  He would have traveled to Montréal in steerage in the returning ships that brought Canadian timber to Ireland; steerage was below decks, crowded, dark and uncomfortable, and he would have been required to provide all his own food for the 6-to-8 week voyage. William emigrated Lower Canada, eventually settling in the Seigniory of Beauharnois in the southwestern portion of Lower Canada (now Quebec), below Montréal. [The seigneurial system was left over from when that area belonged to New France. A seigneur was granted, or bought, large tracts of land from the King along the St. Lawrence River, and recruited settlers, or habitants, to come and live on the land, clear their lots, and upkeep the road that crossed it. They paid the seigneur rent as a portion of their income and in the form of food and produce, worked three days a year without pay, paid a tithe to support the local church and priest, and paid a tax if they sold their lots. They were considered co-owners of the land with the seigneur even if they bought their lot. The seigneur built roads, a milk, and oven, and periodically held the court to settle disputes. The system was supported by the Catholic Church because it received land grants from the seigneur which gave the church the right to collect rents from their tenants.] Many of the Irish immigrants who arrived  in this timeframe were poor and unhealthy, and accommodating them until they became well enough to work placed severe short-term strains on the Seigniory’s resources.

In moving to the Seigniory of Beauharnois, William probably would have first found work as a farm laborer helping on someone else’s farm for pay or perhaps joined with family in working the land on their own farm. In British North America, those who went inland to Montréal and beyond at that time were amongst the early pioneers in the country. Farmers were on the front lines of clearing and civilizing the country. When a farmer obtained land, it was not what we think of as a farm, but rather, uncleared forest land. The farmer had to cut down the trees and pull up the stumps before being able to plow up the land and plant; but the logging brought in extra income because the trees, once cut down, could be sold to the timber companies and ships back to the home countries.

Climbing My Family Tree: Map of Beauharnois Twp, Huntingdon County, Canada East, 1861
Map of Beauharnois Twp, Huntingdon County, Canada East, 1861
Click to make bigger.

In moving to the Beauharnois area, William moved into an area that was largely populated by Scots who had emigrated there over the course of the past 20 years; a settlement of Irish was started in 1830. The influx of Scots and Irish from the British Isles had made the original settlers of French origin a minority in what they considered their homeland. This fed into the growing tensions between the British province government and a reform/revolutionary movement in Upper Canada (now Ontario) and Lower Canada (now Québec) called the Patriotes who, encouraged by the American Revolution, were seeking concessions towards a more representative government from the British.  The reform movement was supported by the local French-speaking populace, while largely, the English-speaking Scots and Irish supported the home country, or the British government (in spite of the concurrent reform movement in Ireland at the time).

Life was hard in Lower Canada in the 1830s. For approximately four years in a row, there were bad crop failures and ongoing outbreaks of cholera. This added stress was exploited by the reformers in their speeches and written tracts. In 1837 and 1838 there were uprisings in Upper and Lower Canada, which were quashed by the British militia augmented by the Scots and local militia. Nearly all men between 18 and 60 were in the local militia. William Bennett served as a private in the Beauharnois Loyal Volunteers, during the uprising of 1838 in the Beauharnois Battalion, first company, Georgetown (as did the father of his future wife).  He was paid one shilling a day (or about $.20 a day). This means that he fought on the side of the British, not that the local militia did a lot of fighting during this time but they did aid the British forces and the Glengarry Scots unit which was brought in from Upper Canada for the fight on the British side. He served under Capt. Henry Wright.

The next time I find William in any records, he and Margaret McFarlane, his wife, and my second great-grandmother, are a couple; she is of Scots origin, not Irish. As William was approximately 12 years older than Margaret it is possible that he was married before (the reported age gap between the two varies a bit in the censuses). I don’t know. I do know that they were together at least as of 1844, as their oldest daughter, Mary Jane, was born in the unified province of Canada, on December 20, 1844. However, they did not or were unable to marry until ten months after their third child and first son, Thomas, was baptized on January 21, 1849.
Climbing My Family Tree: Baptismal Record of Thomas Bennett, 21 January 1849
Baptismal Record of Thomas Bennett, 21 January 1849
found at, from the
Drouin Collection, Montreal, Quebec, Canada
Click to make bigger.

Transcription of birth/baptismal record, Thomas Bennett:

On the Twenty-first day of January, one thousand eight hundred and forty-nine we the undersigned first baptized Thomas born ten months before the lawful marriage of William Bennett farmer and Margaret McFarlane of this parish: the sponsors were James McAndrews and Anne Abbott, the former of whom as well as the father signed with us. (Signed) William Bennett.

It is possible that they had to wait years for a traveling pastor or priest to come through the area, or for a pastor to start a church in their area, as there were not enough clergy to go around on the frontier. While people could gather to worship God without an official from the church, things like marriages and baptisms were usually delayed, without disgrace, until an ordained pastor or priest came through the area. [There is another possibility as well, which I will discuss in my next post on William Bennett  (Part Two.)]

William and Margaret had 13 children. I know about the existence of Irish naming patterns and Scottish naming patterns (patterns of naming the children by gender and birth order after particular ancestors), and I know that the two patterns are not quite the same. What I wonder now is, with an Irish father and a Scottish mother, whose naming pattern prevails?   If I knew which naming pattern applied I could learn a lot of ancestors’ names – although, an Irish genea-blogger friend warned me that the naming patterns were not always followed.

William and Margaret’s children were as follows:  Mary Jane (20 December 1844 in North Georgetown in the County of Beauharnois, Canada East, married John Young on 12 July 1870, and died 15 July 1923 in Brown City MI); Charlotte Marguerite (born June 1846 in Canada East, married Charles Gray on 19 October 1873, married Joseph Bone on 20 November 1897 in Clark, Washington, and died 16 February 1916 in Portland OR); Thomas (abt 1849 in or near Ormstown, Canada East, married Margaret Cody, and died on 24 June 1934 in Reed City MI); Elizabeth (born about February 1852 in Canada East, married William Henry Lewis in Osceola, MI, and died 23 September 1914); Janet “Jennie” (born 9 July 1854 in Beauharnois County, Canada East, married James S. Richardson in Imlay City, MI, and died 28 March 1832 in Flint MI);  Dorothy (born about 1855, married Robert Watson on 25 December 1875 in Saginaw MI and died in Battle Ground WA  on 31 December 1927); Andrew (born 26 November 1856 - died 30 January 1920 in Brown City MI; he 
married Anna Gregor on 10 April 1885; Sarah (born 24 March 1859 - death date unknown), William (born 6 July 1861 in Canada, married Teresa Tracy on 6 July 1884 in Osceola MI and died after 1940), John Edward (born 1 September 1865, married Emma Masters on 28 October 1889 in Mt. Clemons MI and died in Maple Valley MI on 2 March 1935); Lucretia (2 April 1868 in Canada, married William H. Baker on 27 September 1885 in Burnside MI, and died 14 June 1942 possibly in WI as she was buried there); and James (born in April 1871 in MI, married Martha Wengert on 27 January 1892, and died in 1958.)

In the early years of their marriage, the couple continued to live in the Beauharnois Seigniory. I found William and Margaret and his first four children in the 1851 Canada East census, for Beauharnois, in the French version, which indicates that he was living in an area that was considered French-speaking. It indicates that William was Irish, a farmer, Catholic, lived outside of the city limits, would be 38 on his next birthday, and that the family lived in a one-story brick house. It shows him living with his wife, Margaret McFarlane, and his first four children: Mary Jane, Margaret, Thomas, and Elizabeth. By 1854, William owned 20 arpents of land (somewhat less than 20 acres by our measurement) in North Georgetown in the Seigniory of Beauharnois, in the Third Concession, old lot #p22, according to an English transcription of the Cadastre Abrege for 1854 for North Georgetown. He had been sufficiently successful since emigrating to be able to buy his own land; that had to feel good.

Climbing My Family Tree: Lapeer County, Michigan map
Lapeer County, Michigan
Click to make bigger

In or about 1869, after the births of all of their children except James, the family immigrated the United States, moving to Lapeer County in Michigan. They may have been attracted by the excellent farming in the land that had already been logged by the Michigan timber companies, and may have been enticed to move there by entreaties from extended family already there as both the Scots and the Irish tended to move in family groups – although I’m not yet sure who may have already been in the area, I do know that they lived down the street from Margaret’s brother’s family (Andrew) at the time of the 1870 census, in Burnside Township, Lapeer County, Michigan. The 1870 census indicated William (50) and Margaret (44) lived with seven of their children at that time. William and 22-year-old son Thomas showed their employment as "farm laborer" while the youngest six children were at home: Andrew (14), Sarah (12), William (10), Janet (8), John (6) and Lucretia (2). The 1880 census showed that William (64) and Margaret (53) lived with five of their children. William was listed as a farmer and Margaret is keeping house. Their son William (18) was at home, as was their daughter Janet (16). The youngest children attended school: John (14), Lucretia (10), and James (7 – born after they arrived in the United States).

They lived in Burnside Township of Lapeer County Michigan, until William’s death at 84, on 27 December 1890. William was buried in the Dean Hill Cemetery, in Lapeer County, Michigan. His obituary appeared in the Imlay City Times on January 8, 1891:

Died at his home south-west of Deanville, Mr. William Bennett, Sr., on Dec. 29, 1890. Mr. Bennett was born in the northern part of Ireland about 1808. He emigrated to Montreal, Canada, while quite young, where he remained until 1869, when he moved to his farm near Deanville. He has raised a family of 12 children, all of whom have left and established homes of their own except the youngest, who still remains with his mother on the homestead. He was respected by his neighbors as an honest upright man and will be missed, for he always had a pleasant word for everybody.

I love that they said, “He was respected by his neighbors as an honest upright man and will be missed, for he always had a pleasant word for everybody.” He sounds like such a nice man. That is a great way to be remembered!

Please also  read William Bennett (1806-1890) Revisited, Part Two: Weighing Direct Evidence, Circumstantial Evidence, Scientific Evidence, and Historical Context in Consideration of a Hypothesis.

Climbing My Family Tree: Gravestone William Bennett, Deanville Cemetery MI
Gravestone William Bennett, Deanville Cemetery MI
found at Memorial #14863074, taken by Jack Vander-Schrier.
Used with permission.
Click to make bigger

I’d really like to find out more about William’s early years: where he was born, is family of origin, how they got to Canada and when, when he and Margaret met, how they lived, etc.

I’d also like to find out more of how they lived in Canada and when and why they decided to move on to Michigan. I’d love to know how they made the trip. (There’s a reference in their grandson’s book about his ancestors arriving in Michigan in a sleigh.)

I’d also like to find out more of how they lived after they got to Michigan, where the farm homestead was, what it looked like, etc.

And I’d really love to see pictures of any or all of them!

If you have any information about William Bennett or his family that you would like to share with me, or any corrections to make to anything I have written herein, please feel free to either leave a comment below, or contact me at the email address listed under the “contact me” tab above.


Much thanks to Judy Wilcox for her help with information regarding Martha Wengert, James Bennett, and the Wengert family and James and Martha's family, and the links for William Bennett and Martha Wengert, and her encouraging emails. (I’m related to her husband twice!) Quebec, Vital and Church Records (Drouin Collection), 1621-1967 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations Inc., 200 - Original data: Gabriel Drouin, comp. Drouin Collection. Montreal, Quebec, Canada: Institut Généalogique Drouin; 1851 Census of Canada East, Canada West, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia; U.S. Federal Census for 1870, and 1880; Imlay City Times, January 8, 1891;; ;;  "From Ireland and Québec 1822-1839" by Mary Haslam (from The Canadian Journal of Irish Studies, Vol. 33, No. 1, Ireland and Québec/L’Irlande et le Quebec (Spring 2007), pp. 75-81;  “Irish Radicalism and the Roman Catholic Church in Québec and Ireland, 1833-1834: O’Callaghan and O’Connell Compared” by Maureen Slattery (in the CCHA, Historical Studies, 63 (1997), pp. 29-58; The Patriots and the People – the Rebellion of 1837 in Rural Lower Canada by Allan Greer (University of Toronto press, 1993); The History of Huntingdon and the Seigniories of Beauharnois and Chateauguay, From Their First Settlement to the Year 1838 and Revised to the 1900s by Robert Sellar, (150th anniversary edition, the Gleaner, Huntingdon, Québec, June 1975; originally published by Huntingdon, Québec, the Huntingdon Gleaner Incorporated. 1888.);  Transcribed militia pay lists for companies in the Beauharnois Battalion during the Rebellion of 1838, ; transcription of the Cadastre Abrege for 1854, ; Canada in 1849 – Pictures of Canadian Life; or. The Emigrant Churchman, by a Pioneer of the Wilderness, edited by the Rev. H. Christmas, M.A., F.R.S., F.S.A. (Richard Bentley, London, publisher in ordinary to Her Majesty, 1850);;;;

No comments:

Post a Comment

Hello! Thanks for stopping by and choosing to leave a message. I read every message and I usually reply via the comment thread. [I recently discovered that I've been having technical difficulties with receiving notification of comments for the last year (2019 through Jan 2020). I think I've fixed that now. I hope. My apologies if you were caught up in that. I think I"ve caught up with, and replied to, all the comments now. EDIT: I continue to have problems. I will respond as soon as I find out there's been a comment.]