Permit me – though it was published some time ago – to draw attention to an important historical work entitled “Pioneer Life on the Bay of Quinte” which I am informed was mainly compiled by Mr. W.H. Robertson and which contains in one volume over 1,000 pages devoted to brief histories and genealogical tables of more than 300 prominent families residing by the beautiful bay whose name is derived from that of an old Indian village, Kente, at one time situated in Prince Edward County. The list includes such well-known names as Aylesworth, Barker, Conger, Demorest, Dorland, Finkle, Gildersleeve, Grass, Hagerman, Ham, Howell, Huff, Langmuir, Leader, Mowat, Ogden, Ponton, Prinyer, Rathbun, VanAlstine, Wallbridge and Wright, obviously chiefly descendants of United Empire Loyalists.
Beside valuable genealogical matter, copious notes add to the general knowledge of local history. In the case of William Demorest, for instance, it is stated that he came to Canada in 1790 [sic] by way of the Mohawk Valley, a popular route in those days, of U.E. Loyalists, and that he crossed Lake Ontario in a small sailing craft to Adolphustown, whence he removed in 1784 [sic] to Prince Edward County, where he purchased two lots in Sophiasburgh, round which soon sprung up the village of Demorestville. It is further stated that a detailed history of Mr. Demorest’s life would be the history of the settlement of Sophiasburgh. A similar statement may be made of many another pioneer in that part of the province. Mrs. Demorest’s mode of migration is particularly interesting on account of its adding, if ever so little, to certain material which is being collected for the purpose of compiling a history of the routes by which the U.E. Loyalists came to Canada. By an old document in my possession, Mr. Demorest deeded a corner lot in Demorestville to my grandfather. In this is the interesting signature of the said party of the first part in bold handwriting – “Guilliame Demorest.” Also, I have the original minutes of the Committee on Quarantine against the outbreak of cholera in 1832, of which my grandfather was secretary at Demorestville, where he resided for a short time previous to locating at Picton to practice law.
Every page of this well-written book contains valuable matter, interesting in itself, or on account of association. The name of Conger brings to mind the historical white church near Picton, then Hallowell, erected in 1809, the oldest Methodist church in Ontario in which services continue to be held. Nearby is Conger’s Grove, with its remnant of a sawmill erected by the U.E. Loyalist pioneer, David Conger in 1787 and the ruin of a grist mill built a little later to obviated the difficulty in having corn ground, the nearest mill being at Napanee, 24 miles distant.
Finkle and Gildersleeve – with these names is inseparably associated the most interesting history of early shipbuilding and navigation on Lake Ontario and the Bay of Quinte. At Finkle’s Point, Bath, Henry Finkle, son of the U.E. Loyalist, Dr. Finkle, constructed amongst other well-known steamers, “The Queen Charlotte” and the “Sir James Kempt.” In this locality he erected also the first frame house in Upper Canada, which was noted as being imposing in appearance, and in which Judge Hagerman occasionally held court. It is claimed that, the first court held in the province was held there. Recently I tried to locate an old table owned by a relative, and which was used in that building at that time.
Henry Gildersleeve, who settled at Bath in 1816, was the father of navigation on the Bay of Quinte. Through his wife, Sarah Finkle, the Gildersleeves are U.E. Loyalists. Prominent in the family is H.H. Gildersleeve, a popular manager of navigation on the Great Lakes, and whose mother was a descendant of the distinguished U.E. Loyalist, Colonel Herchemer Herkimer. Amongst the steamers built by the Gildersleeve Co., is the “North King,” at one time called “The greyhound of the St. Lawrence.”
The progenitor of the Grass family in Ontario was Captain Michael Grass, known as the first citizen of the Bay of Quinte, and founder of the City of Kingston. He was chiefly instrumental in settling the U.E. Loyalists on the Bay of Quinte, having become acquainted with that district as a prisoner there when Kingston, then Cataraqui, was a French settlement. Captain Grass also advised the establishment of the Province of Upper Canada, and may have been more or less instrumental in having Governor Simcoe, who was anxious to be the first governor of the province – mainly on account of his interest in the Loyalists – appointed to that position. The other day in Montreal a member of the Royal Society of Canada claimed that the province of Upper Canada was organized there. In this work it is stated that this province was established by governor Simcoe at Kingston. The market site, and that of the Court House in Kingston, as well as Macdonald Park, were presented by Captain Grass to the city. Last year I saw in an original document in western Ontario a reference to one of two park lots in Kingston as having been the property of Sir John Johnson, which suggested that the history of the Johnsons after their arrival in Canada, of which so little is generally known, might be collected, and an interesting volume compiled.
A well-known member of another prominent family was Judge Christopher Hagerman, won of Nicholas Hagerman, U.E., who had studied law before leaving New York, and who was one of the first lawyers to practice in the province. The son followed in the father’s footsteps, and amongst those who studied law in Christopher Hagerman’s office in Kingston, was my grandfather, Samuel Merrill, jr., who was one of the first law students called to the Bar after the incorporation of the Upper Canada Law Society in 1822. I have his worn and tattered barrister’s gown and a letter from Marshall S. Bidwell, requesting the return of his own gown in time for the Johnstown Assizes, my grandfather having borrowed it as a model for his own. Closely connected with the Hagermans is the Robinson family. In Toronto there is a very young child, little John Beverley Robinson, whose ancestry I am tracing back to his lineal ancestor, the Rev. John Robinson, who in 1609 migrated with his congregation from England to Holland, and whose son, Isaac, emigrated to America in 1625.
From the Ham family is descended one of the most popular men in Canada today, Mr. George H. Ham of the Canadian pacific railway, Montreal, a member of the United Empire Loyalists’ Association of Canada. Another member of this association, the Hon. Hector Mansfield Howell, of Winnipeg, is a descendant of John Howell, who served in the Revolutionary war with Sir John Johnson, received a commission in Butler’s Rangers and after the war, came to Kingston, eventually settling in Prince Edward County. His confiscated estate became the site of the City of Rome, N.Y. Sir Allen Aylesworth, Toronto, is another distinguished member.
More than the usual amount of space is devoted to the U.E. Loyalist families of Solomon and Paul Huff, sons of the Huguenot, Wm. Huff. Both Solomon and Paul served in the Revolutionary War. In 1791 in Paul Huff’s house the first Methodist class in Upper Canada was formed. I have a copy of the document by which he deeded part of his farm at Hay Bay for the site of the first Methodist church in the province, which building is still standing in good repair. The first Quarter Sessions in the Midland District were held in Paul Huff’s barn and several subsequent sessions were held in the Methodist Church. Solomon Huff subscribed generously toward the erection of this church. One of his descendants, C.C. James, C.M.G., F.R.S.C., has substantially supplemented, by various valuable compilations, that part of Dr. Caniff’s “Settlement of Upper Canada” which relates to Adolphustown. By the way, I have reliable authority for stating that considerable data for this widely known volume were supplied to Dr. Canniff by the late Dr. Curlette.
Considerable might be written on the Prinyer family of Prinyer’s Cove (formerly Macdonell’s), North Marysburgh. In 1784 the Township of North Marysburgh was settled by Loyalists under Colonel Macdonald, and my great-great grandfather, Lieut.-Col. Daniel Wright. In a reference to Colonel Macdonell in this book his name is misspelled Macdonald. I have his signature with that of Lt.-Colonel Wright in an old deed of Washburn property. The Prinyers were connected with Colonel Macdonell, as well as with Lafayette. Captain Prinyer, the pioneer father of the late John Prinyer of Prinyer’s Cove, well-known for his genial hospitality, married a niece of Colonel Macdonell. One of her sisters was the mother of the late Sir George Kirkpatrick, another the mother of Judge Fisher. Colonel was a kinsman of the Macdonell who fell with Brock in the defense of Canada at Queenston Heights. On my last visit to Prinyer’s Cove in 1904, I saw again Colonel Macdonell’s clock, which was made in Scotland, and which is now the property of Miss Prinyer and still keeps correct time, although it is over 150 years old; also the dispatch box which her grandfather, Captain Prinyer, carried during the war o 1812 on his night rides to Colonel Wilkins. Recently I saw another grandfather’s clock at the Lundy homestead, Lundy’s Lane, and was informed that it had kept correct time for 200 years and was good for as many years more.
Thus one might ramble on and on with extracts and supplementary notes. Collecting historical data and tracing ancestry is interesting as well as important work. Recently, at the annual meeting of the Royal Society of Canada, the Hon. Justice Longley remarked that if the society columns of the press, instead of noting how Mrs. Smith’s guests were gowned, would tell the story of their ancestors, we should more easily obtain the history of the settlement of the country.
Certain persons make of their ancestors a vainglorious show. Others who are unreliable, trade for a time on the integrity of theirs. An illustrious ancestor should rather be an incentive to greater excellence in action, thought and character to his descendants remote the interests of the community in which they live.