The recent death of the late Stewart Ruttan of Adolphustown has suggested that some notes in reference to the Ruttan families would be of interest in these columns. They have been one of the large and well known families in this and the adjoining counties ever since the first settlement of the Province by the U.E. Loyalists. For some of the important facts herein contained the writer is indebted to an excellent sketch supplied to the Picton times by Mrs. Portland Benson some time ago.
The Ruttans are of French lineage, and trace their family history back to an early period when the French protestants, or Huguenots, suffered terrible persecutions, and some of them martyrdom, for conscience sake. The Ruttans being driven from their native land, escaped into Holland, where they amassed a large fortune. Next they, with thousands of others, known as the Palatines, sought refuge in England, and afterward emigrated to America, which it is said, they reached about 1734 and settled in Westchester county, New York, while it was yet a British colony. They owned a large farm of 10,000 acres on Manhattan Island, on which a part of the city of New York now stands.
When the American Revolution broke out they espoused the British cause and became active volunteers in the ranks. William Ruttan was a Lieutenant and Peter a Captain in the company in which they enrolled. At the end of that long and terrible war they met with the same ill fortune as the others of their loyal comrades - their properties were confiscated and they were compelled to find refuge in the then wilds of Upper Canada, to find safety and protection under the British flag. They were among those who sailed out of New York harbor, in the fall of 1783, in several small sailing vessels, escorted by a British armed ship. William spent that long and dreary winter in their thin tents at Sorel, and early next Spring toiled up against the rapids and rapid currents of the St. Lawrence - a weary month’s voyage, landing at Adolphustown on the 16th day of June, 1784. Peter, it is said, was detailed by the British (who still held New York city), to accompany Chief Brant and the Mohawks to Canada, which they reached after many unpleasant experiences along the route. Arriving in Canada Brant peeled from a birch tree a bit of bark and on it wrote his certificate of services rendered by Capt. Ruttan. This was presented to the government later on, and in return he was granted that tract of land in Adolphustown which terminates at Ruttan’s Point, and which, as has already been stated in the columns of the Beaver, has been retained continuously in the hands of the Ruttan family ever since. If we are correctly informed, some members of the fifth generation of that family are now resident upon it.
William was assigned a farm upon the front of the township near the Bay of Quinte shore, where he lived, reared his family and died. The property has now passed out of the hands of the family and is owned, we believe by Mr. David W. Allison ex - M.P.
In the old record of the Crown Lands Department, now in Toronto, there is a list of the names of those to whom the original land grants were made in Adolphustown. William Ruttan is put down for lot 18 of the first concession, and Capt. Peter Ruttan for lots 19, 20, and 21 of the second concession.
In the list of the families residing in the township, found in the Town Meeting records of 1794, William Ruttan is put down as having then a family of five persons, one man, two adult females, and two boy. Peter Ruttan jr. had one man, one woman and one girl; Peter Ruttan sr., one man, one woman and three boys: Jacob Ruttan, one man, one woman, two boys, two girls. In the same record, the name of Capt. Peter Ruttan appears fro the last time in 1820, and for himself alone. William Ruttan’s name appears in 1822 - the last year of which there was any record of that kind - with a family of six - two men, two women and two boys - but whether that was the original William or not, we do not know.
SOME CANADIAN HISTORY
According to Mrs. Benson’s sketch, which is no doubt correct, William Ruttan reared a large a family, five sons and one daughter. The latter married Mr. Hugh C. Thompson, at one time editor and proprietor of the Upper Canada Herald, and a prominent man in Kingston for years. He was at one time, we believe, a member of an early Upper Canada Legislature, representing Kingston. Peter W., the oldest son of that family, was said to have been one of the first, if not the very first white male child born in Adolphustown. We have heard the late Col. Samuel Dorland lay claim to that same distinction, however. Peter W. married Miss Fanny Roblin, also a native of Adolphustown; he purchased 400 acres of land of John S. Cartwright, near Northport, Prince Edward county, where he lived and died. He was the father of our former townsman, Dr. A. Ruttan, of Mrs. M. Benson, formerly of Newburgh, of Mr. David Ruttan, now one of the oldest residents of Picton, and of several other children.
Another well-known member of that family was Henry Ruttan. He became a prominent resident of Northumberland county, and was elected to represent it in the Legislature, which he did for years. He became at one time Speaker of the House, and was appointed sheriff of Northumberland and Durham, an office he held until the time of his death. He was also at one time President of the Upper Canada Agricultural Association, and was the inventor of some important systems of heating and ventilation, which were much introduce and were popular fifty years. ago. He was a well-known public speaker and writer in his day, and some of his well written sketches of the early schools, amusements, joys and difficulties of his boyhood days are much quoted yet and furnish some interesting reading of the state of society and things in this county during the early years of the past century.
Of Capt. Peter Ruttan and his descendants we have not been so well informed. Where he lived was much more isolated from the other settlements, and his after history, and that of his family, were not so well known. He has, however, a large number of very respectable descendants in this and the adjoining counties today.
SOME EARLY EXPERIENCES
Mrs. Benson writes: “In 1790 when the Rev. Wm. Losee, the first itinerant Methodist preacher who came to Canada, reached Adolphustown, he was attracted by the large house of Wm. Ruttan, and there took up his residence. David Ruttan, of Picton, says he always understood that the first Methodist society in Upper Canada was formed at his grandfather’s house. William Ruttan became a class leader. He had been very fond of his violin and was an expert player. Mr. Losee, like all the Methodists at that time, considered such music a snare of the devil. He told Mr. Ruttan that as he had become a class leader he must do away with the violin. He said he would sell it to a negro in the settlement who had long desired to possess a fiddle. Mr. Losee urged it would do as much harm with him as where it was. They argued the case for a length of time and it ended in Mr. Ruttan taking the rich old instrument and tucking it under the forestick of the great old fire place and it was thus destroyed. “
Mr. Ruttan used to take a flaming pine knot in hand and together with his wife, set out, following a blazed path through the forest, and walking sometimes three miles to a neighbor’s house to hold a prayer meeting. The people along the line, when they saw the torch of their class-leader coming, would fall in rank, all bearing torches.
The subscription list for the erection of the old Methodist church in Adolphustown - the first of its kind in Upper Canada - bearing date of Feb. 3 1792, is still in existence. The names of both the Ruttan brothers are on it, with twenty others, and they were among the largest subscribers - William for £10 and Peter for £4. William’s was the third highest on the list. That old church was five or six miles off his residence, and mostly through the woods at that, in those days. He was, however, with his devoted wife, Margaret Steele, among the leading members, and no doubt they led the way many a dark night through the forest with pine knot blazing torches, which also served the double purpose of keeping the howling wolves and other wild beasts at bay. They lived in heroic and historic days.