Archive for the ‘Grisdale’ Category

When two young Bolton cotton weaver brothers came ashore in New York from the steamer Melbourne on the 15th of June 1863, perhaps they thought that they had stepped out of the frying pan into the fire. The American Civil War was still raging – Gettysburg was only a couple of weeks away – and New York was a toxic cauldron of racial and social violence and discontent. Irish and other gangs roamed the streets, illegal slave trafficking still flourished and large swathes of the population would, within the month, literally be up in arms against the war draft. Whether young John and Jonathan Grisdale were still in New York on July 13 when the New York City Draft Riots broke out we don’t know. Perhaps they were and had witnessed what New York historian Edward Robb Ellis called “the most brutal, tragic, and shameful episode in the entire history of New York City”. Or perhaps they had by then already reached their destination in the cotton mill towns of Pennsylvania, where they would undoubtedly meet up with their weaver uncle Doctor Grisdale, who had emigrated from Bolton, Lancashire, thirteen years earlier.

New York Draft Riots, 1863

Whatever the case, the two brothers soon headed south to start a new life. Both were married and had young children back in Bolton – who were to join them shortly – but for now they were on their own. Perhaps first staying for a time with uncle Doctor and his family in Upper Merion, Pennsylvania, they would soon have gone to look for work in the rapidly expanding cotton mills of Pennsylvania. Like their father and grandfather before them, both young men had already spent years in the hell-holes that were the Lancashire cotton and woollen mills.

Anybody who would like to get a flavour of the unimaginable squalor and poverty experienced at this time in the Lancashire mill towns would be well advised to read Frederick Engels’ “The Condition of the Working Class in England” published in 1845. Engels had visited Bolton on more than one occasion and made this comment:

Among the worst of these towns after Preston and Oldham is Bolton, eleven miles north-west of Manchester. It has, so far as I have been able to observe in my repeated visits, but one main street, a very dirty one, Deansgate, which serves as a market, and is even in the finest weather a dark, unattractive hole in spite of the fact that, except for the factories, its sides are formed by low one and two-storied houses. Here, as everywhere, the older part of the town is especially ruinous and miserable. A dark-coloured body of water, which leaves the beholder in doubt whether it is a brook or a long string of stagnant puddles, flows through the town and contributes its share to the total pollution of the air, by no means pure without it.

Child Labour in Bolton Cotton Mill

Such was the place in which these brothers had lived and worked. They would find that the conditions in Pennsylvania’s mills really weren’t much better. Indeed many of the mills had been founded or were run by their Lancastrian compatriots.

For those of you more interested in genealogy rather than social history, I will briefly outline the brothers’ family line. Jonathan Grisdale (1832) and John Grisdale (1836) were the fourth and fifth children of Bolton cotton weaver John Grisdale senior (born 1799) and his wife Mary Wellsby. John Grisdale senior’s and Doctor’s father was Thomas Grisdale, who was born in Matterdale in 1772, the eighth and penultimate child of Joseph Grisdale and Ann Temple. Sometime in the 1790s, Thomas moved to Bolton in Lancashire (then called Bolton Le Moors); he married an Elizabeth Crossley there in September 1796. Between 1799 and 1817 they had nine children in Bolton, including in 1799 John, the emigrant brothers’ father.

The family’s earlier history is relatively easy to trace back to the first half of the seventeenth century – in Matterdale of course. Back to another Thomas Grisdale, a farmer, born in 1654 in Ulcatrow in Matterdale. This early Thomas was one of 54 tenant farmers who fought the local lord Andrew Huddleston all the way to the House of Lords in 1690 (see: Walking to London for Justice). I will leave aside the question of who was this Thomas Grisdale’s father for the time being. Those of you who are interested in such minutiae are invited to contact me.

Despite their youth both men had already had years of work in the Bolton mills behind them. This was a period when a type of child factory slavery was still the order of the day. In the 1861 census John is found living in Queen Street in Farnworth, Bolton, with his new wife and daughter. He was already a “Cotton Power Loom Manager”, quite an achievement at the age of 25. John was obviously quite proud of this fact because in A History of Delaware County Pennsylvania and its People, edited by John W. Jordan and published in 1914, when John was possibly still alive, we read:

The Grisdale family of Clifton Heights, Delaware County, Pennsylvania, are of English origin, England having been the home of the family for many generations….  (John) was educated in the common schools of his native country, and obtained his first employment in a cotton mill. His rise in the business was rapid, and when only twenty-two years of age he was promoted to the position of manager.

John Grisdale junior had married local girl Catherine Taylor in 1860, and a daughter, Sarah Jane, followed a few months later. His elder brother Jonathan was also working in the Bolton mills in 1861, as a cotton power loom “overlooker”. He had married Sophia Bamber in 1854 and before he emigrated to America with his brother the couple had had three children: Mary (1856), Richard (1860) and James (1862).

Many Lancastrian cotton mill workers were to emigrate to America, and particularly to Pennsylvania, during this period. But perhaps it is not too far-fetched to imagine that it was the brothers’ uncle Doctor Grisdale who had encouraged them to take the plunge and join him in America?

With their experience and skills they soon found work. In the 1870 US census we find Jonathan, perhaps as we might have expected, living in Middletown Delaware and working as a “loom boss”.  John his younger brother, however, although not far away in Philadelphia, was by now working as a “grocer”! In the History of Delaware County Pennsylvania and its People, we read:

In 1863 he (John) immigrated to the United States and worked for two years at the machinist’s trade, later serving an apprenticeship and learning the trade of a mason and bricklayer. In 1883 he retired from active labor and has since lived a quiet life of ease.

Yet in 1880 he was certainly back in a cotton mill in Clifton Heights, Delaware County as a “loom boss” and is listed in the same place in the US censuses of both 1900 and 1910 as a real-estate agent! So perhaps he could turn his hand to anything?

John and his wife Catherine were to have three daughters: Sarah Jane, Mary Ann and Elizabeth. The report of John’s life continues:

The old school house of Clifton Heights was erected upon land sold by him to the borough. He has held several prominent political positions in the borough, having been a member of the council for eight years and for two years was treasurer. When the local fire department was organized he was one of the charter members and contributed his most earnest efforts to raising it to its present high plane of efficiency. He is at present inspector for the borough. Both he and his wife are members of the Methodist Episcopal Church.

His wife Catherine, we are told, was “a trained nurse” and “she is president of the Women’s Club and a strong advocate of woman’s political equality; she is the present efficient treasurer of the borough poor fund and active in promoting all good causes”.

John died in sometime after 1914 but before 1920.  As it seems that John only had daughters – which is no bad thing – his Grisdale name died with him.

Views of Norristown in 1881

With his brother Jonathan it was quite different. As I said earlier, he and his wife Sophia had had three children in England: Mary Ann (1856), Richard (1860) and James (1862). They arrived in America with Sophia aboard the steam-ship City of London on the 5th October 1863. Five more American-born children were to follow: Jonathan (1866), William Henry (1868), Thomas (1871), George (1874) and Sofia (1878).

As I have mentioned, by 1870 Jonathan and his family were living in Middletown, Delaware, where he was working as a “loom boss” in a cotton mill. By 1880 they had moved to nearby Norristown, Pennsylvania and Jonathan was still working in a cotton mill.

Norristown was incorporated in 1812 on the east bank of the Schuylkill River and expanded in 1853. It was named after early mill owner Charles Norris. When the Pennsylvania canal system connected Morristown with Philadelphia in 1826, the town prospered as a trade center. Mills began to emerge along the waterways.

Many of Jonathan’s sons, and indeed grandsons, were to follow him into the cotton and woollen mills of Norristown, where an untold number of his descendants still live to this day.

Jamison Mills, Norristown, 1883

In which Norristown cotton mill did Jonathan Grisdale work? It’s of course possible he worked in more than one. Let’s first ask where he lived in the town. In 1880 he was living around Main Street. Various city directories and (after his death in 1888) the 1900 census show that the family house was at 320 Hamilton Street “below West Main Street”, so right in the heart of the original town and very close to many of the town’s largest cotton mills straggling along the Schuylkill river. The nearest mills was probably Washington Woollen Mills near the Montgomery Cemetery, but Jonathan could easily have walked along the river to Bullock’s Mills, Simpson’s Mills, De Kalb Street Mills/Jamison’s Mills or even to the Ford Street Cotton and Woollen Mills.

While not perhaps quite on the scale of some of the Bolton cotton mills in which the Grisdale brothers might have previously worked, a couple of these Norristown factories were pretty large operations, as the drawing of the Jamison Mills factory clearly shows.

Jonathan’s brother John had just perhaps fared slightly better. He was after all deemed worthy of an entry in the Montgomery County history, which said that “in 1883 he retired from active labor and has since lived a quiet life of ease”. I am sure that with a bit of local research more can be discovered about both Jonathan and John Grisdale’s lives. Perhaps their descendants can add more? I hope so.

Jonathan Grisdale died in 1888 in Norristown at the age of just 56.

I will leave Norristown and Pennsylvania now and very briefly tell the tale of one other member of the same cotton weaver family who also came to America and founded his own little Grisdale tribe in and around Gaston County in North Carolina.

SS City of New York

SS City of New York

Jonathan and John Grisdale had an older brother called Thomas, born in 1821 in Bolton. He had married Maria Howarth in Bolton in 1841. Two sons followed: James in 1845 and John in 1846. It seems that shortly thereafter Thomas died. At first the two young boys lived with their mother Maria, but maybe it was too much for her, because by 1861 James was living with his uncle John (the American immigrant) and Catherine his wife. He is clearly listed as John’s nephew in the census. What became of James’s mother and brother is unknown but what we do know is that James also decided to make the voyage to Pennsylvania. He arrived in New York from Liverpool on the 21st December 1866 on the ship City of New York. Like his relatives before him he made his way to the Pennsylvania mills, because he too was of course a cotton weaver. James soon married Dealware-born Annie Cannon and by 1870 with their new son, also called John, they were living with James’ uncle John in Philadelphia, and James was back in a cotton mill. I hope you’re keeping up! (see here)

But, for whatever reason, sometime between 1871 and 1879 James and his growing family moved on; to live and work in and around Gaston, North Carolina.  I will probably have to return to explain James’ family in more detail at another time. But for now why did James move to North Carolina? Well, as we might expect, it had to do with cotton mills.

In addition to its rail connections, Gaston County was a prime location for water-powered cotton manufacturing on account of its many fast-flowing rivers and streams, its location in the midst of a cotton growing region, and the availability of cheap labor. By 1897 Gaston County had the largest number of cotton mills of any county in the state, twenty-two total, representing 10.6 percent of the state total of 207 cotton mills.

Mountain Island Cotton Mill

Mountain Island Cotton Mill

In 1880, James was living in Mountain Island Village, Gaston, North Carolina, and working as a “Superintendent in a Cotton Mill”.

A cotton mill, said by some authorities to be the first in Gaston County, was established on Mountain Island in 1848 by Thomas R. Tate and Henry Humphreys, owners of the Mount Hecla steam-powered mill near…. They hoped to take advantage of the less expensive water power from the Catawba River. The site at river’s edge featured a partially completed canal around the shoals that could be used for a mill race, and a steep island whose top now rises from the lake. Machinery was moved from the Mount Hecla mill by mule-drawn wagon and operations began in 1849. A village of brick houses grew around the mill. The mill and village were destroyed on July 15, 1916 in a flood caused by a hurricane.

Long Island Cotton Mill

Long Island Cotton Mill

By 1882, James had moved to the Long Island Cotton Mill in Catawba (which is now under Lake Norman). A letter to The Landmark newspaper dated 1882, tells us that the mill had been recently acquired by the Turner Brothers and that ‘James Grisdale, an Englishman of vast experience,’ had ‘the general supervision of the factory’.

By 1900, James and his family were in McAdenville, Gaston, North Carolina, still working in a cotton mill, almost certainly in the huge McAden Mills. McAden Mills claimed to be the first textile mill in the South to install electric lights. According to historian Billy Miller:

In 1884 Thomas Alva Edison came to McAdenville to oversee and help install the first electrical generator in the South…The lights hung from the ceiling of the mills and were spaced about thirty feet apart. People came from everywhere to gawk at the miraculous new lighting technology.

McAden’s Mill, McAdenville, North Carolina

The couple had at least seven children, either born in Pennsylvania or, later, in North Carolina: five boys and two girls. Many of their descendants still live around there to this day.

So this is my brief history of three Bolton cotton weavers who “went America”. As we (sometimes) say in England, “The boys done good”.

I guess that next I’ll have to write a bit about another Thomas, the brother of Doctor and John Grisdale, who went to India with the British army, married there, and then moved on to Australia – where he arrived in Melbourne from Bombay on the Strathfieldsaye  in November 1853. Maybe I might even write about the members of the family who stayed in Bolton. Or perhaps I should come more up-to-date and tell my own Grisdale family story? Let’s see.

McAden Mill

McAden Mill

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In a number of earlier articles I discussed the undoubted fact that the earliest Grisdales of Dowthwaite Head in Matterdale had originally came from a place called Grisdale in Cumberland. There are several Grisdales or Grisedales in Cumberland. My conjecture was and is that at some time prior to the later 1400s one or more people hailing from ‘Grisdale’ came to farm at Dowthwaite. I thought that this Grisdale was most likely the Grisedale Valley/Beck/Tarn area just south of Matterdale on the eastern slopes of Helvellyn. However, while this is still possible, I now think it much more likely that the Matterdale Grisdales originally hailed from present day Mungrisdale, which lies west of Penrith in the parish of Greystoke.

1576 Map of Grisdale/Mungrisdale

1576 Map of Grisdale/Mungrisdale

The present day parish of Mungrisdale is made up of eight hamlets –Mungrisdale, Bowscale, Mosedale, Heggle Lane, Haltcliffe Bridge,  Hutton Roof,  Murrah and Berrier. It is well known that Mungrisdale was once simply known at ‘Grisdale’ and was historically a part of the barony and parish of Greystoke. Going back to the thirteenth century we find repeated mentions of Grisdale in the Greystoke parish and manorial records. There is no doubt that this Grisdale is present-day Mungrisdale and not Grisedale near Helvellyn and Patterdale. Grisdale started to be called Mungrisdale sometime after 1600. In the Penrith museum you can see a chalice from the Grisdale chapel inscribed, ‘Mounge Grieesdell 1600’. It is generally believed that this means Mungo’s Grisdale, as the church in Mungrisdale is dedicated to the sixth-century Celtic St. Kentigern, often called Mungo.

1747 Map of Grisdale/Mungrisdale

1747 Map of Grisdale/Mungrisdale

Maps of the area tell the same story, i.e. that Mungrisdale was originally known as Grisdale and continued to be so long after 1600. I include a map engraved by Augustinus Ryther in 1576 included in Christopher Saxton’s Westmorlandiae et Cumberlandiae Comitatus. Here we see ‘Grisedalle chap’ (i.e. chapel). Maps continue to show Mungrisdale as Grisdale at least until the mid 1700s. The second map from 1747 shows ‘Grisdale Chap(el)’, ‘Grisdale’ and ‘Grisdale Beck’.

There are two reasons I now believe that it is from this Grisdale that the Matterdale Grisdales derived their name. First, (Mun)grisdale has always been part of the barony and parish of Greystoke (the earliest records of this are from the thirteenth century). Matterdale too was part of the same barony, whereas Grisedale near Patterdale never was. As the barons of Greystoke were the lords and owners of Matterdale (including Dowthwaite) it was no doubt one of them (or less likely one of their vassals) who originally granted the ‘free’ tenancy of Dowthwaite Head Farm to one of their men from Grisdale. Second, while we know that (Mun)grisdale was a small hamlet, it was a significant enough settlement not only to have an early chapel but also significant enough to be mentioned as the place of birth, death and origin of many families recorded in the registers of Greystoke and to be included in the early manorial records of Greystoke. On the other hand it doesn’t seem that the Grisedale on the slopes of Helvellyn was ever more than a ‘chase’ or private hunting ground.

Mungrisdale Church - St. Kentigern's

Mungrisdale Church – St. Kentigern’s

For the time being I can’t prove this conjecture, but the evidence seems persuasive to me.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

mungrisdale

Some of the Grisdales I write about have left no known descendants. Others have hundreds, even thousands. One of this latter group is Wilfred Grisdale (b. 1782 in Matterdale). He was an early pioneer settler in Canada. His numerous family were to spread throughout Ontario, into neighbouring Michigan and beyond. I wrote about Wilfred’s family’s arrival in Canada in 1816/7 in an earlier article, as I did about some of his descendants who moved to Thorold/Welland County in Ontario. Here I will tell of those who moved to Michigan. It might take several articles to do the subject justice. Here I’ll stick to the bare facts.

Jenny Hill, Matterdale. Where Wilfred Grisdale the Canadian settler was born and raised

Jenny Hill, Matterdale. Where Wilfred Grisdale the Canadian settler was born and raised

We can begin with Wilfred’s third child, who was also called Wilfred. He was born in Carlisle in Cumberland in 1807 and baptized at Saint Mary’s Church on 30 June. He arrived in Canada with his family aged about nine or ten. With his siblings Wilfred spent the rest of his childhood in North Monaghan in the now County of Peterborough in Ontario.  In about 1829 he married the Irish-born Catholic Mary Maloney and the couple started to farm in Douro , only a few miles southwest on the other side of the emerging town of Peterborough. One significance of Wilfred marrying Mary Maloney was that, as was and is usual, he would have had to promise to bring up their children as Catholics. This the couple did and hence many of their descendants are Catholic to this day. The Grisdales had been Anglicans since the Protestant Reformation in England in the early sixteenth century. At least nine children followed over the next fourteen years: James (1830), Margaret (1834), Wilfred (1836), Edward 91839), John (1840), Catharine (1841), twins Ann and Mary (1843) and Ruth 1844.

In 1861 we find the family still in Douro. Twenty-three year old Wilfred (or Wilford as he is often now called in an Americanisation of his name) has become head of the family; father Wilfred having died in about 1844. He is farming 100 acres of wheat, peas, oats, potatoes and turnips. With him are his mother Mary, his brother John and his sister Ann. Sister Ruth is living nearby. Mary’s children James, Edward, and Mary had in the meantime died and daughter Catherine was living elsewhere. The farm was estimated to be worth $1,700.

Early Ontario Settlers

Early Ontario Settlers

The Douro farming community was predominantly Irish and Roman Catholic. The Grisdales’ neighbours included dozens of mother Mary’s Maloney family and many families with whom the Grisdales would soon marry, such as the Griegs, Tobins, Torpeys, O’Briens and McCues. The family in fact soon started to marry. In about 1864/5 Wilfred married Eliza Tobin, Ann married John Torpey, Ruth married John Grieg and soon John married Ellen O’Brien. Catherine would marry London-born James William Couchman and move to Saginaw, Michigan.

For reasons that I for one do not know, the family decided to sell up in Canada and in 1877 moved to Deerfield Township in Isabella County in Michigan. The move involved siblings Wilfred, John and Ann (Torpey), their mother Mary, plus Wilfred wife’s mother, and all their many Canadian-born children. Sister Ruth had earlier moved with her husband John Grieg and their family to nearby Midland County, Michigan, while sister Margaret (Prendergast) would also move with her family to Union Township.

So in total all of Wilfred Grisdale and Mary Maloney’s children had made the move to Michigan.

It might have been that they had heard about the opportunities to claim new ‘homesteading’ plots from Wilfred the Immigrant’s other son James (1812-1884). James with his wife Jane Green and their children had already moved to the Bay City area of Michigan in about 1869 from Welland County in Ontario (where other members of the family had moved to too).

Deerfield Township 1879

Deerfield Township 1879

With the money made from selling their Canadian farm Wilfred and his brother John bought plots of virgin land in the new Deerfield Township in Isabella County. We can see where they were from an 1879 plot plan of Deerfield (Click on the image and you can enlarge it. Wilfred’s (Wilford’s) plot is on the right two-thirds of the way up. John’s smaller plot is a little to the southwest). Unfortunately John was to die on 3 August 1880, aged only 40. He left behind a wife and several children who soon moved back to Peterborough County in Ontario.

Wilfred built a house there; a picture of which is shown below.

So it is this Wilfred Grisdale and his wife Eliza Tobin who are the ancestors of the Grisdales of Deerfield/Isabella County/Mount Pleasant. Wilfred, son of Wilfred, son of Canadian settler Wilfred Grisdale. And, just to confuse you more, the Canadian settler Wilfred’s father was also called Wilfred! He was an eighteenth-century Blacksmith in Matterdale. Wilfred like his father and grandfather was a farmer. He and his wife Eliza had twelve children of whom nine were still alive in 1900 and 1910: Jane (1865-1944), John (1865 – ), Wilfred Joseph (1870-1949), Mary (1872- ), Martin Joseph (1880-1955), Catherine (1882- ), Francis Joseph (1887-1952), Stephen (1889-1911) and Arthur Joseph (1894-1957).

Wilfred Grisdale's house in Deerfield

Wilfred Grisdale’s house in Deerfield

Wilfred died of chronic hepatitis in January 1900 and is buried in the Mount Pleasant Catholic Cemetery. His wife, Eliza Tobin died in 1916.

Here I’ll leave things for now. I might write later about the experiences of some of these early Michigan immigrants.

When two young Bolton cotton weaver brothers came ashore in New York from the steamer Melbourne on the 15th of June 1863, perhaps they thought that they had stepped out of the frying pan into the fire. The American Civil War was still raging – Gettysburg was only a couple of weeks away – and New York was a toxic cauldron of racial and social violence and discontent. Irish and other gangs roamed the streets, illegal slave trafficking still flourished and large swathes of the population would, within the month, literally be up in arms against the war draft. Whether young John and Jonathan Grisdale were still in New York on July 13 when the New York City Draft Riots broke out we don’t know. Perhaps they were and had witnessed what New York historian Edward Robb Ellis called “the most brutal, tragic, and shameful episode in the entire history of New York City”. Or perhaps they had by then already reached their destination in the cotton mill towns of Pennsylvania, where they would undoubtedly meet up with their weaver uncle Doctor Grisdale, who had emigrated from Bolton, Lancashire, thirteen years earlier.

New York Draft Riots, 1863

Whatever the case, the two brothers soon headed south to start a new life. Both were married and had young children back in Bolton – who were to join them shortly – but for now they were on their own. Perhaps first staying for a time with uncle Doctor and his family in Upper Merion, Pennsylvania, they would soon have gone to look for work in the rapidly expanding cotton mills of Pennsylvania. Like their father and grandfather before them, both young men had already spent years in the hell-holes that were the Lancashire cotton and woollen mills.

Anybody who would like to get a flavour of the unimaginable squalor and poverty experienced at this time in the Lancashire mill towns would be well advised to read Frederick Engels’ “The Condition of the Working Class in England” published in 1845. Engels had visited Bolton on more than one occasion and made this comment:

Among the worst of these towns after Preston and Oldham is Bolton, eleven miles north-west of Manchester. It has, so far as I have been able to observe in my repeated visits, but one main street, a very dirty one, Deansgate, which serves as a market, and is even in the finest weather a dark, unattractive hole in spite of the fact that, except for the factories, its sides are formed by low one and two-storied houses. Here, as everywhere, the older part of the town is especially ruinous and miserable. A dark-coloured body of water, which leaves the beholder in doubt whether it is a brook or a long string of stagnant puddles, flows through the town and contributes its share to the total pollution of the air, by no means pure without it.

Child Labour in Bolton Cotton Mill

Such was the place in which these brothers had lived and worked. They would find that the conditions in Pennsylvania’s mills really weren’t much better. Indeed many of the mills had been founded or were run by their Lancastrian compatriots.

For those of you more interested in genealogy rather than social history, I will briefly outline the brothers’ family line. Jonathan Grisdale (1832) and John Grisdale (1836) were the fourth and fifth children of Bolton cotton weaver John Grisdale senior (born 1799) and his wife Mary Wellsby. John Grisdale senior’s and Doctor’s father was Thomas Grisdale, who was born in Matterdale in 1772, the eighth and penultimate child of Joseph Grisdale and Ann Temple. Sometime in the 1790s, Thomas moved to Bolton in Lancashire (then called Bolton Le Moors); he married an Elizabeth Crossley there in September 1796. Between 1799 and 1817 they had nine children in Bolton, including in 1799 John, the emigrant brothers’ father.

The family’s earlier history is relatively easy to trace back to the first half of the seventeenth century – in Matterdale of course. Back to another Thomas Grisdale, a farmer, born in 1654 in Ulcatrow in Matterdale. This early Thomas was one of 54 tenant farmers who fought the local lord Andrew Huddleston all the way to the House of Lords in 1690 (see: Walking to London for Justice). I will leave aside the question of who was this Thomas Grisdale’s father for the time being. Those of you who are interested in such minutiae are invited to contact me.

Despite their youth both men had already had years of work in the Bolton mills behind them. This was a period when a type of child factory slavery was still the order of the day. In the 1861 census John is found living in Queen Street in Farnworth, Bolton, with his new wife and daughter. He was already a “Cotton Power Loom Manager”, quite an achievement at the age of 25. John was obviously quite proud of this fact because in A History of Delaware County Pennsylvania and its People, edited by John W. Jordan and published in 1914, when John was possibly still alive, we read:

The Grisdale family of Clifton Heights, Delaware County, Pennsylvania, are of English origin, England having been the home of the family for many generations….  (John) was educated in the common schools of his native country, and obtained his first employment in a cotton mill. His rise in the business was rapid, and when only twenty-two years of age he was promoted to the position of manager.

John Grisdale junior had married local girl Catherine Taylor in 1860, and a daughter, Sarah Jane, followed a few months later. His elder brother Jonathan was also working in the Bolton mills in 1861, as a cotton power loom “overlooker”. He had married Sophia Bamber in 1854 and before he emigrated to America with his brother the couple had had three children: Mary (1856), Richard (1860) and James (1862).

Many Lancastrian cotton mill workers were to emigrate to America, and particularly to Pennsylvania, during this period. But perhaps it is not too far-fetched to imagine that it was the brothers’ uncle Doctor Grisdale who had encouraged them to take the plunge and join him in America?

With their experience and skills they soon found work. In the 1870 US census we find Jonathan, perhaps as we might have expected, living in Middletown Delaware and working as a “loom boss”.  John his younger brother, however, although not far away in Philadelphia, was by now working as a “grocer”! In the History of Delaware County Pennsylvania and its People, we read:

In 1863 he (John) immigrated to the United States and worked for two years at the machinist’s trade, later serving an apprenticeship and learning the trade of a mason and bricklayer. In 1883 he retired from active labor and has since lived a quiet life of ease.

Yet in 1880 he was certainly back in a cotton mill in Clifton Heights, Delaware County as a “loom boss” and is listed in the same place in the US censuses of both 1900 and 1910 as a real-estate agent! So perhaps he could turn his hand to anything?

John and his wife Catherine were to have three daughters: Sarah Jane, Mary Ann and Elizabeth. The report of John’s life continues:

The old school house of Clifton Heights was erected upon land sold by him to the borough. He has held several prominent political positions in the borough, having been a member of the council for eight years and for two years was treasurer. When the local fire department was organized he was one of the charter members and contributed his most earnest efforts to raising it to its present high plane of efficiency. He is at present inspector for the borough. Both he and his wife are members of the Methodist Episcopal Church.

His wife Catherine, we are told, was “a trained nurse” and “she is president of the Women’s Club and a strong advocate of woman’s political equality; she is the present efficient treasurer of the borough poor fund and active in promoting all good causes”.

John died in sometime after 1914 but before 1920.  As it seems that John only had daughters – which is no bad thing – his Grisdale name died with him.

Views of Norristown in 1881

With his brother Jonathan it was quite different. As I said earlier, he and his wife Sophia had had three children in England: Mary Ann (1856), Richard (1860) and James (1862). They arrived in America with Sophia aboard the steam-ship City of London on the 5th October 1863. Five more American-born children were to follow: Jonathan (1866), William Henry (1868), Thomas (1871), George (1874) and Sofia (1878).

As I have mentioned, by 1870 Jonathan and his family were living in Middletown, Delaware, where he was working as a “loom boss” in a cotton mill. By 1880 they had moved to nearby Norristown, Pennsylvania and Jonathan was still working in a cotton mill.

Norristown was incorporated in 1812 on the east bank of the Schuylkill River and expanded in 1853. It was named after early mill owner Charles Norris. When the Pennsylvania canal system connected Morristown with Philadelphia in 1826, the town prospered as a trade center. Mills began to emerge along the waterways.

Many of Jonathan’s sons, and indeed grandsons, were to follow him into the cotton and woollen mills of Norristown, where an untold number of his descendants still live to this day.

Jamison Mills, Norristown, 1883

In which Norristown cotton mill did Jonathan Grisdale work? It’s of course possible he worked in more than one. Let’s first ask where he lived in the town. In 1880 he was living around Main Street. Various city directories and (after his death in 1888) the 1900 census show that the family house was at 320 Hamilton Street “below West Main Street”, so right in the heart of the original town and very close to many of the town’s largest cotton mills straggling along the Schuylkill river. The nearest mills was probably Washington Woollen Mills near the Montgomery Cemetery, but Jonathan could easily have walked along the river to Bullock’s Mills, Simpson’s Mills, De Kalb Street Mills/Jamison’s Mills or even to the Ford Street Cotton and Woollen Mills.

While not perhaps quite on the scale of some of the Bolton cotton mills in which the Grisdale brothers might have previously worked, a couple of these Norristown factories were pretty large operations, as the drawing of the Jamison Mills factory clearly shows.

Jonathan’s brother John had just perhaps fared slightly better. He was after all deemed worthy of an entry in the Montgomery County history, which said that “in 1883 he retired from active labor and has since lived a quiet life of ease”. I am sure that with a bit of local research more can be discovered about both Jonathan and John Grisdale’s lives. Perhaps their descendants can add more? I hope so.

Jonathan Grisdale died in 1888 in Norristown at the age of just 56.

I will leave Norristown and Pennsylvania now and very briefly tell the tale of one other member of the same cotton weaver family who also came to America and founded his own little Grisdale tribe in and around Gaston County in North Carolina.

SS City of New York

SS City of New York

Jonathan and John Grisdale had an older brother called Thomas, born in 1821 in Bolton. He had married Maria Howarth in Bolton in 1841. Two sons followed: James in 1845 and John in 1846. It seems that shortly thereafter Thomas died. At first the two young boys lived with their mother Maria, but maybe it was too much for her, because by 1861 James was living with his uncle John (the American immigrant) and Catherine his wife. He is clearly listed as John’s nephew in the census. What became of James’s mother and brother is unknown but what we do know is that James also decided to make the voyage to Pennsylvania. He arrived in New York from Liverpool on the 21st December 1866 on the ship City of New York. Like his relatives before him he made his way to the Pennsylvania mills, because he too was of course a cotton weaver. James soon married Dealware-born Annie Cannon and by 1870 with their new son, also called John, they were living with James’ uncle John in Philadelphia, and James was back in a cotton mill. I hope you’re keeping up! (see here)

But, for whatever reason, sometime between 1871 and 1879 James and his growing family moved on; to live and work in and around Gaston, North Carolina.  I will probably have to return to explain James’ family in more detail at another time. But for now why did James move to North Carolina? Well, as we might expect, it had to do with cotton mills.

In addition to its rail connections, Gaston County was a prime location for water-powered cotton manufacturing on account of its many fast-flowing rivers and streams, its location in the midst of a cotton growing region, and the availability of cheap labor. By 1897 Gaston County had the largest number of cotton mills of any county in the state, twenty-two total, representing 10.6 percent of the state total of 207 cotton mills.

Mountain Island Cotton Mill

Mountain Island Cotton Mill

In 1880, James was living in Mountain Island Village, Gaston, North Carolina, and working as a “Superintendent in a Cotton Mill”.

A cotton mill, said by some authorities to be the first in Gaston County, was established on Mountain Island in 1848 by Thomas R. Tate and Henry Humphreys, owners of the Mount Hecla steam-powered mill near…. They hoped to take advantage of the less expensive water power from the Catawba River. The site at river’s edge featured a partially completed canal around the shoals that could be used for a mill race, and a steep island whose top now rises from the lake. Machinery was moved from the Mount Hecla mill by mule-drawn wagon and operations began in 1849. A village of brick houses grew around the mill. The mill and village were destroyed on July 15, 1916 in a flood caused by a hurricane.

Long Island Cotton Mill

Long Island Cotton Mill

By 1882, James had moved to the Long Island Cotton Mill in Catawba (which is now under Lake Norman). A letter to The Landmark newspaper dated 1882, tells us that the mill had been recently acquired by the Turner Brothers and that ‘James Grisdale, an Englishman of vast experience,’ had ‘the general supervision of the factory’.

By 1900, James and his family were in McAdenville, Gaston, North Carolina, still working in a cotton mill, almost certainly in the huge McAden Mills. McAden Mills claimed to be the first textile mill in the South to install electric lights. According to historian Billy Miller:

In 1884 Thomas Alva Edison came to McAdenville to oversee and help install the first electrical generator in the South…The lights hung from the ceiling of the mills and were spaced about thirty feet apart. People came from everywhere to gawk at the miraculous new lighting technology.

McAden’s Mill, McAdenville, North Carolina

The couple had at least seven children, either born in Pennsylvania or, later, in North Carolina: five boys and two girls. Many of their descendants still live around there to this day.

So this is my brief history of three Bolton cotton weavers who “went America”. As we (sometimes) say in England, “The boys done good”.

I guess that next I’ll have to write a bit about another Thomas, the brother of Doctor and John Grisdale, who went to India with the British army, married there, and then moved on to Australia – where he arrived in Melbourne from Bombay on the Strathfieldsaye  in November 1853. Maybe I might even write about the members of the family who stayed in Bolton. Or perhaps I should come more up-to-date and tell my own Grisdale family story? Let’s see.

McAden Mill

McAden Mill

At eight o’clock on a fine tuesday morning in late May 1805, a young London lawyer called John Campbell climbed on top of a stage-coach outside the White Horse tavern in Fetter Lane. John, who would later become the Lord High Chancellor of Great Britain, was accompanying his close friend and legal colleague John Grisdale to Cambridge. Grisdale was to be admitted as a fellow of the university having achieved high academic distinction there on his graduation three years earlier. He had in fact been the Second Wrangler in mathematics; an honour later awarded to physicists James Clerk Maxwell, Lord Kelvin and economist Alfred Marshall.

Christ’s College, Cambridge

John Campbell was somewhat in awe of his brilliant friend and he wrote to his father about their “pleasant excursion” to Cambridge shortly after his return to his chambers in London. The letter gives us a real flavour of young John Grisdale’s world, so I will quote from it at some length.

The weather was delightful. I cannot describe to you how much I was exhilarated by once more breathing the fresh air and viewing the green fields. It is now near a year and a half since I entered with Tidd, and during that time I had been only one day absent from the office, when I had gone down to the House of Commons. I am of opinion with Dr. Johnson that human life has few things to offer better than travelling at a good pace in a post-chaise, or upon a stage-coach. We took the same road as the celebrated Mr. John Gilpin, through Islington and Edmonton to Ware. We observed his adventures recorded upon several sign-posts as we passed along. About a quarter before three we came in sight of King’s College Chapel. I was very much struck with this noble building, one of the most perfect specimens of Gothic architecture extant. In a few minutes we were in the streets of Cambridge—narrow, crooked and dirty.

John Grisdale was obviously expected because Campbell continues:

 As soon as we alighted we walked up to Christ’s College, where there was a numerous party of Grisdale’s friends drawn up to receive him. He introduced me to the circle, and from that moment till my departure I met with every kind of attention and politeness.

After dining with a Mr. Kaye, “a young man scarcely of age, who had been at once a senior wrangler and first medallist (the highest mathematical and classical honours), and who in consequence had been immediately elected a fellow”, the pair took a stroll along the “grand promenade belonging to Clare Hall” where they found “crowds of townsmen and ladies”. After another supper they adjourned to their lodgings: Campbell to an inn but John Grisdale to the rooms of a famous jockey which Campbell found highly amusing:

Nothing that I saw amused me more than the manner in which they were fitted up. Not a book was to be seen in them. The walls were hung round with portraits of Eclipse, Hambletonian, and other famous racers. From each side of the looking-glass depended a fox’s brush. Behind the door were several hunting caps and (upon my honour) ten different whips, which the bedmaker assured us were not half the number this gentleman possessed.

John Campbell as Lord High Chancellor

The next day was the day of the election, and, says Campbell “considerable anxiety prevailed”. But the fellows unanimously elected Grisdale to a fellowship and after he had taken an oath with the Vice-Chancellor the revels began. John Campbell tells his father: “Dinner was given in the hall. I was taken to the fellows’ table, and was asked to sit next the master. As soon as the cloth was removed we all retired to what is called the combination room, where there was such a drinking bout as I have seldom witnessed. ‘Alma Mater lay dissolved in port.’ Each man must have had above two bottles. Of course those who remained to the last were most excessively tipsy. There was afterwards a supper given by Grisdale, the particulars of which I am not at all able to describe. By some means or other I got safe home to my inn, but several of the fellows continued reeling through the streets for a great part of the night.”

Later on Campbell comments:

You can scarcely form an idea of the sumptuous manner I fed and soaked at Christ’s, and it seemed to be their common mode of life. This being a small college, the men belonging to it form but one society, and at every meal they are feasting with each other. If they dine in the hall, one of them regularly gives wine and fruit after dinner at his rooms. It is impossible they should spend less than £300 or £400 a year. How different from St. Andrews, where the whole expense of the session may be defrayed for £10 or £15! But I scarcely ventured to whisper that I had been at a Scots university.

The next day, no doubt nursing hangovers, the two young men occupied themselves with sight-seeing, Grisdale being Campbell’s guide to Cambridge. Campbell wrote:  “From breakfasting in one place, dining in another, and supping at a third, I mixed with all the classes of which the University is composed.” But the one thing that most gave him cause for thought was a visit to the county goal. They went to visit a friend, and possibly former tutor, of Grisdale’s called Dr. Fisher, who was a fellow of Christ’s College where Grisdale had studied. He was, says Campbell, a “senior doctor at Doctors’ Commons, often sits there as a judge, and is intimately acquainted with Sir William Scott, Lord Eldon, Lord Ellenborough, and all the leading men of the day”. “Do not suppose, however”, says Campbell, “it (his imprisonment) was for housebreaking or any such enormity.” Fisher had been imprisoned for debt. He had provided a guarantee for his brother whose business had failed. Goals In England were at the time sink-holes of squalor, disease and brutality; but not if you had money or a “name”.

We went to drink wine with Dr. Fisher…. We had here a proof of how much there is in a name. There was nothing to tell that we were not in a well-furnished private house.

The latter part of the friends’ stay “was somewhat clouded” when news arrived of the death of John Grisdale’s Cambridge tutor, the very eminent Dr William Paley – a man to whom I will return. Dr Paley’s son also worked as a lawyer in London, indeed in the same chambers as John Campbell:

Young Paley, I believe I have told you, is in Tidd’s office. On Monday night I parted with him in the highest spirits, and it was shocking to think of the news to be brought to him by Tuesday’s post. Besides I was uneasy to think of the inconvenience Tidd might be suffering, being thus deprived of the man he chiefly relied upon in my absence.

So after a visit of some delight, though tinged with sadness, on Sunday morning Grisdale and Campbell set off “upon the top of a coach” on their return journey to London. They arrived at the Blue Boar Inn in Holborn at five in the afternoon.

And for seven years this is the last we hear of the brilliant scholar and promising young lawyer John Grisdale; a man who his friend John Campbell, the future Lord High Chancellor, had told his father proudly, “had been second wrangler about three years ago, and had thus acquired no mean fame in the University. To take such a degree requires reading that in Scotland we have hardly any notion of. If there are greater instances of idleness in English seminaries, there are likewise more astonishing proofs of application”.

So who was John Grisdale? How had a member of this Cumberland family risen to such heights?

Carlisle Cathedral – Where John’s father was Chancellor

John was born in Carlisle, Cumberland, in 1780. He was the son of the Rev. Dr. Browne Grisdale, the “Chancellor of the Diocese of Carlisle, and Chairman of the Cumberland Quarter Sessions”. He was also the nephew of the Rev. Benjamin Grisdale who was captured by the Americans at the Siege of Yorktown, about whom I wrote recently.  His father’s story is also of great interest but I will leave it for another time. Browne Grisdale, like most of the Cumberland Grisdales who were to go to University, studied at Queen’s College, Oxford. John went to Christ’s College, Cambridge and won the second highest prize in mathematics. John had first entered Trinity college in 1799 but switched the following year to Christ’s. His decision to move to Christ’s was probably connected with Dr William Paley. Paley had graduated from Christ’s in 1763 as “senior wrangler”, became a tutor at Christ’s and since 1782 had been Archdeacon of Carlisle Cathedral and a colleague and friend of John’s father Browne Grisdale.

John had attended Carlisle Grammar School where we are told “he gave promise of extraordinary attainments in literature, his mind was stored with much acquired knowledge, and he possessed a judgement clear and comprehensive, which enabled him to select the most useful parts of science; while his superior taste led him to choose for the objects of his imitation the most pure compositions in ancient and modern literature”.

 While at the Grammar-school at Carlisle, his compositions were admired for possessing force, elegance and beauty, far beyond his years; and his friends could not help expecting anxiously, that powers of mind so highly gifted, with application so steady, and a demeanor at once gentle and manly, might achieve a distinguished situation in the learned profession which he had chosen.

As the writer of John’s obituary would later say, his life had opened “most auspiciously”. “His friends beheld with joy the dawn of uncommon talents. There seemed nothing in literature too difficult for his attainment; his application was unwearied; and he was not merely a student by profession; he brought to literature an ardent and noble mind, fraught with all the enthusiasm of a poet; and all the subtleness of a critic.”

Lincoln’s Inn

When John Grisdale graduated as second wrangler in 1802 he found a position in chambers at Lincoln’s Inn, one of the London Inns of Court. From the little we know his life was progressing nicely. We have heard a little about (part) of the life he led from his visit to Cambridge to receive his fellowship in 1805.

But unfortunately John’s great promise did not have time to flower. In The Cumberland Pacquet and Ware’s Whitehaven Advertiser, on Tuesday, 11th February, 1812, local Cumbrians read of John’s death: “The 29th ult. at his chambers in the Temple, London, aged 31, after a short illness, John GRISDALE, Esq. only surviving son of the Rev. Browne GRISDALE, D.D, Chancellor of the diocese of Carlisle. At Cambridge he obtained very high academic honours; and in his profession was much distinguished.”

Slightly later the London-based Monthly Magazine, Volume 33, published John’s obituary, almost a eulogy, from which I have been quoting. Coming to John untimely death the author continues:

Alas! how false are our hopes!

Not only his parents and relatives must deeply lament a fate so lively distressing, but the numerous acquaintances which his superior understanding and excellent qualities had procured him, must deplore a stroke which has cut short the career of one who, had he lived, it is no exaggeration to say would have been one of the brightest ornaments of the nineteenth century.

When a sap, who has attained celebrity in science, fails, we lament his departure, but we regret his loss the less because he has perhaps left a monument behind him, which will not speedily perish; but, when a young man of promising talents… is cut off in the very prime of life, it is truly lamentable…

John Grisdale was buried on February 7th 1812 at the Church of Saint Dunstan in the West in the City of London. His address being given as Elm Court, North Vault.

Dr William Paley

What type of man John would have been and whether he would have put his talents in the service of the mass of the people, as had his teacher and mentor Dr William Paley, we can never know. When Dr Paley’s name was mentioned to King George the third he shouted “Pigeon Paley? Not sound, not sound”. One can’t get higher praise than that! But why Pigeon Paley? In Paley’s book titled Principles of Moral and Political Philosophy he had included a fable of the pigeons:

If you should see a flock of pigeons in a field of corn; and if (instead of each picking where and what it liked, taking just as much as it wanted, and no more) you should see ninety-nine of them gathering all they got, into a heap; reserving nothing for themselves, but the chaff and the refuse; keeping this heap for one, and that the weakest, perhaps worst, pigeon of the flock; sitting round, and looking on, all the winter, whilst this one was devouring, throwing about, and wasting it; and if a pigeon more hardy or hungry than the rest, touched a grain of the hoard, all the others instantly flying upon it, and tearing it to pieces; if you should see this, you would see nothing more than what is every day practised and established among men. Among men, you see the ninety-and-nine toiling and scraping together a heap of superfluities for one (and this one too, oftentimes the feeblest and worst of the whole set, a child, a woman, a madman, or a fool); getting nothing for themselves all the while, but a little of the coarsest of the provision, which their own industry produces; looking quietly on, while they see the fruits of all their labour spent or spoiled; and if one of the number take or touch a particle of the hoard, the others joining against him, and hanging him for the theft.

I wonder whether those involved in the Occupy movement know when they chant their slogan “We are the 99%” that William Paley had said the same thing over two hundred years ago?

Saint Dunstan in the West, Fleet Street – where John Grisdale is buried

My recent article about William Booker and his family, who were early New Zealand settlers, has caused a small flurry of interest from some of his descendants in New Zealand. They have also provided me not only with a lot of information about some of his descendants but also more about how the family came to New Zealand.

Mary Booker

I had suggested that the reason William and Jemima Booker had emigrated with their children in 1856 was probably connected with of their daughter Mary Booker. I wrote:

 The answer I think must be connected with the couple’s first daughter, Mary Booker, who had been born in Saint Pancras, London in 1833. Somehow Mary had made her way to Melbourne in Australia where she arrived on the 5 October 1853 on the Statesman. She met and married George Ishmael Clarke there in 1854. The couple like many others had joined the Victoria Gold Rush and worked in the “diggings”, but George had quickly contracted a chest infection and before he died he had asked Mary, who was pregnant, to go to his parents (Ishmael and Mary Clarke), who were living in Nelson in New Zealand, to have their baby. After George’s death this Mary did and their child, George William Ishmael Clarke, was born in Nelson in April 1855. So I don’t think it beyond the realms of reason to think that it was perhaps Mary who had written to her family in London and encouraged them to join her down-under?

It turns out that this was indeed the case. Mary’s descendants have provided me with the text of a very poignant letter written by her to her parents on February 10th 1855, after she had moved to New Zealand following the death of her husband in Australia:

 I write these few lines hoping they will find you well. I am glad to say they leave me well at present (considering the circumstances in which I am placed) I have written one letter to you but as yet have received no answer which makes me feel very anxious. After my arrival in Melbourne I became acquainted with George Ishmael Clarke, and was married and then proceded to the diggings, but we have not been there about three weeks when he caught a severe cold which settled on his lungs and soon terminated in death. He was a kind and faithful husband to me the short time that we were permitted to enjoy each other’s society which was not for more than five months and only two out of them he was in the health. It was his wish that I should come to his parents here in Nelson who are very kind and affectionate towards me. Before the bearer arrives with this letter I expected to be confined the latter in of April, and I thank the Gracious Providence I am places along with kind and affectionate hearts who respect and honour me on account of their dear son and my husband who died at the age of 24 years. I hope and trust that this letter will find you in good health and that you will write as soon as possible. I have sent this letter by care of the bearer a friend of Mrs Clarke on board the ship Monsoon for London who has kindly promised to call upon you on his arrival. Give my love and plenty of kisses to my dear brothers and sisters. I will enclose a piece of my husband’s hair and a piece of mine. The darkest is his. I must now conclude with my dearest wishes for your welfare and should we not meet again on this earth I hope and trust we shall have a happy meeting where parting is not known and death can never sever. I will wish you good bye my dear parents and no more at present. Your affectionate daughter. Mary Booker.

In addition:

 The Booker Family…  arrived in New Zealand aboard the ship Cresswell in October 1856. New son-in-law, Jock Fraser, (he & Mary were married in March 1856) stood surety for William, Jemima and their seven children.

 Finally:

 George Ishmael Clarke was the first born to Mary Booker on 10 April 1855 at Nelson, after being widowed at the Goldfields in Australia. When she came to Nelson at her husband’s wishes, Mary lived with Ishmael and Betsy (nee Steeden) her in-laws until the baby was born and for the first year or so of George Ishmael’s life. It appears that the Clarke’s were neighbours of Jock Fraser in Nelson, and so not surprising Jock and Mary became acquainted and were married at Nelson on 27 March 1856. 

George Ishmael Clarke Jnr

In 1816 Gideon Grisdale was only about twelve when he arrived with his family in Canada. The family were early settlers in North Monaghan, Ontario and I told something of their journey from Cumberland and their early years in Canada in a previous article. This is a brief story about Gideon (and later about his son who was also called Gideon) after he moved to help build a canal.

Gideon Grisdale Senior

Gideon was born in Carlisle, Cumberland, England in 1804, he had been named Gideon after his father Wilfred’s brother.   

Building the Welland Canal

While some of Gideon’s family remained in and around Peterborough County for a long time after the family’s arrival in 1816, he, together with his brother James, soon sought work elsewhere. It was probably in the late 1820s or maybe the early 1830s, when Gideon was in his early or mid twenties, when he moved to Allanburg in Welland County, near Niagara and the American border. Allanburg was at first a shanty town which had sprung up to house the mostly English and Irish workers who had arrived to build the first Welland Canal linking Lake Erie with Lake Ontario. A village was later laid out in 1832 by Samuel Keefer and originally named Allanburgh to honour two men: William Allan, a Toronto banker who was vice-president of the Canal Company, and John Vanderburgh, the first settler. On November 30, 1824, approximately 200 people gathered near Allanburg to witness the sod-turning for the construction of the canal.

The construction of the Canal was beset with challenges and underwent several revisions of its route, but a mere five years after incorporation, on November 30, 1829, the first vessels passed up the completed canal from Port Dalhousie to Lake Erie.

It is highly probable that it was to find work as a labourer on the canal that Gideon trekked from the forests and lakes of Peterborough County all the way to Allanburg. Besides to work on the canal there was no other reason to go there. Gideon probably first lived in the shanty town.

The life of the canal builders was hard. We are told that “undoubtedly the most challenging part of the entire project was digging through the earlier miscalculated 18-metre height of land between Allanburg and Port Robinson”.

This involved excavating a cut of more than 3.2 kilometres in length, at times to a depth of 21 metres from which over 760,000 cubic metres of earth were removed.

The construction was very labour-intensive, with from 250 to 600 men being employed at one time, at a wage of 63 cents a day.

The work was very heavy and difficult, accomplished by human brawn helped only by crude tools and animals. The earth was loosened by pick and shovel, moved from the excavation site by wheelbarrow and then loaded onto ox-drawn carts, or wagons pulled by horses.

If the banks were too steep for the animals to climb, mud had to be shovelled into sacks and with much struggling carried to the surface upon men’s backs.

The work was not without danger. Unstable soil, some sources even describe quicksand, was encountered in many places. Rock had to be drilled by hand and then blown apart by gunpowder. The company once boasted that there had only been three deaths “in a considerable period of time.”

Disease also took a heavy toll. Due to the conditions of moving huge quantities of wet earth, many labourers fell ill with fever. Cholera, likewise, was a grave problem.

Even the work animals suffered. Numerous oxen were killed sliding down the steep banks that became slippery after heavy rains, and many horses died from injury and infection.

Work continued on a southern extension, which was finished in 1833. In the same year Gideon married  Mary Ann Green (called Ann). Two children followed: Gideon Junior in 1834 and Robert John in 1837, both born in Allanburg itself. We next find the family in the 1850 Canadian census in Thorold, in which Gideon is listed as a labourer. Whether he was still labouring on building canals we don’t know, although the second Welland Canal which had been started in 1841 was still not fully completed.

In 1860 Gideon was to be found back in Duoro Peterborough County. He was widowed and living with his farmer nephew Wilfred McCue. How long he stayed in Duoro isn’t known, it’s also unclear how long he had lived in a house his son had bought and sold to him in Allanburg. The Thorold records contain information regarding the purchase of some land and a house in Allanburg, right next to the canal, in 1857 and 1860:

On 20 Jul 1857 (Reg 22 Jul 1857) John Harper et ux sold to Gideon Grisdale ½ acre upon which is erected and known as All Nations House in the Village of Allanburg in Allanburg in Lot 119 Thorold Twp. For £300.

Three years later Gideon Junior sold this to his father:

On 16 Jun 1860 (Reg 26 Jun 1860) Gideon Grisdale Jr. sold to Gideon Grisdale Sr. ½ acre in the Village of Allanburg in Lot 119 Thorold Twp. for £300.

So it seems that Gideon’s son Gideon Junior had by the age of 23 been able to buy land and a house which he sold three years later to his father for the same amount he had paid.

This piece of land had an interesting history. Originally it was part of William Hamilton Merritt’s large plot called “Lot 119”. Part of this land he sold to Captain Ogden Creighton, whose widow Eleanor Creighton sold it to John Harper in 1854. It was from this John Harper that Gideon Grisdale Junior bought the land and house before selling it to his father.

An early survey map of the first and second Welland Canal in Allanburg drawn in the 1860s clearly shows a John Harper’s Tavern on the canal as well as a Lock Tender’s House, both in Lot 119.

In any case by 1881 at the latest Gideon Senior was back in Thorold and continued to live there, possibly (but by no means certainly) in All Nations’ House in Allanburg, until his death from diarrhea in September 1889. This is his obituary:

Welland Tribune, September 27, 1889, p. 4.
Gideon Grisdale, Sr., aged 86 years, died at the residence of his niece, Mrs. Tewsley, Low Banks, on Sunday. His body was interred here on Tuesday. Mr. Grisdale has resided in this section about fifty years and for a long time lived at Allanburgh. He served twenty years as locktender, and was employed on the first Welland Canal that was excavated. Deceased was father of Messrs. Robert Grisdale of this place and Gideon Grisdale of the Ontario police, Niagara Falls.

Gideon Grisdale Junior

Turning now to Gideon Junior, from his birth in 1834 until his death sometime after 1891 but before 1901, Gideon Junior lived in and around Allanburg and later in Port Robinson, in Welland. The censuses always refer to him as a “carpenter”. His work very probably was also connected to the canal; he might also have been a lock keeper on the canal.

Gideon Grisdale Junior married Margaret Bell in 1856 in Niagara, Canada. They were to have four children: William (1857), Margaret Ann (1859), Alexander Latimer (1861) and Gideon Chatfield (1863).

Perhaps we will never know much more about Gideon Junior’s life, unless his descendants have kept stories or have documents, but as we have seen he had done well enough by 1857 to buy land and a house.

Yet there was one incident where we know that he was present and that was the “Battle of Fort Erie” on June 2nd, 1866. This was a small side event in what have become known as the Fenian Raids.

When the American Civil War ended, the “Fenian Brotherhood, who were based in the United States” started to raid “British army forts, customs posts and other targets in Canada to bring pressure on Britain to withdraw from Ireland”.

Canadian Militia during the Fenian Raids

While these raids, which lasted from 1866 to 1871, were perhaps not of great import in the larger scheme of things, they were to be of great significance to the development of Canada’s own national identity. I will not recount the history of the raids as there are many excellent telling of the events. Suffice it to say that usually a mixture of Regular British/Canadian troops and locally raised Canadian militia generally saw off the Irish raiders. Except that is for a defeat on the 2nd June, 1866 at the “Battle of Ridgeway”.

Before news of this rare Canadian defeat became known orders were given for the tugboat W T Cobb to embark. Gideon Grisdale was a Sergeant in the volunteer Welland Field Battery and he was aboard the Cobb. One history of what happened puts it as follows:

In response to the Fenian occupation of the township of Fort Erie, Ontario on the night of June 1, 1866, militia units throughout the Niagara Peninsula had been mobilized or put on alert. At Port Colborne a detachment of 51 gunners and N.C.O.s, British Royal Artillery bombardier Sergeant James McCracken and 3 officers (Captain Richard S. King M.D., Lieutenants A.K. Schofield and Charles Nimmo [Nemmo]) taken under command by Lieutenant-Colonel John Dennis, boarded a tugboat, the W.T. Robb carrying the Dunville Naval Brigade, consisting of 19 men and 3 officers (Captain Lachlan McCallum, Lieutenant Walter T. Robb, Second Lieutenant Angus Macdonald) (a total of 71 men and 8 officers) and steamed east to the Niagara River, then scouted downriver as far as Black Creek. The Welland Field Battery did not have its four Armstrong guns with it, and were only half armed with Enfield muzzle-loading rifles while the other half with obsolete smooth-bore “Victoria” carbines that had a limited range of approximately 300 yards at best.

The Fenians apparently gone, Dennis turned back upriver to secure the village of Fort Erie and deny them an easy escape route. Dennis and a company of the Welland Field Battery, landed without difficulty, rounding up a number of stragglers. But when John O’Neill returned with the bulk of his force from his victory at Ridgeway, the volunteers – expecting to encounter only scattered bands of defeated Fenians under close pursuit – were unable to resist them. A fierce firelight followed, in which the militia soldiers and sailors were swept off the shores by the better-armed Fenians and most of the Canadians who had landed were captured. While his men were making their stand, Dennis ran away on foot and hid in a house, shedding his uniform and shaving off his luxurious sideburn whiskers. He would later be court-martialled for deserting his men but he was acquitted by two of the three officers serving on the tribunal.

The “Battle” of Fort Erie 1866

Gideon Grisdale had been involved in this fight and was one of those captured. (Some histories have mistranscribed his name as Griswold). They were released by the Fenians a few days later.

The last thing we know about Gideon Junior before his death in Port Robinson in October 1892 is that in 1891 he was living with his wife Margaret in Niagara Falls Town in Welland County. He was it seems by then a member of the “Ontario Police”!  How this came about is a mystery.