Posts Tagged ‘Peterborough County Ontario’

In my own Grisdale family line we find the usual array of professions: yeoman farmer, blacksmith and carpenter for example. But it has always intrigued me that my third great grandfather, William Grisdale, was a Dancing Master in and around Penrith for about sixty years. Luckily William’s teaching, his Balls and his dancing school were repeatedly reported in the Cumbrian press and thus we can get just a flavour of his life and the legacy he left.

We know that William was a Dancing Master because he is listed as such in the censuses of 1841, 1851 and 1861. He was by that time already quite old, having been born in Matterdale in 1785, the sixth and last child of Dockray blacksmith Wilfred Grisdale (1711-1795) and his second wife Ruth Slee (1759-1838). But even when he married Mary Charters in Penrith in 1815 when he was thirty he was already said to be a dancing master. As we will see he’d started this vocation even before that.

The English Dancing Master

The English Dancing Master

What was a ‘Dancing Master’?  Well as we might expect he/she was a teacher of dance. Wikipedia tells us something of the tradition:

The Dancing Master (first edition: The English Dancing Master) is a dancing manual containing the music and instructions for English Country Dance. It was published in several editions by John Playford and his successors from 1651 until c1728. The first edition contained 105 dances with single line melodies; subsequent editions introduced new songs and dances, while dropping others, and the work eventually encompassed three volumes. Dances from The Dancing Master were re-published in arrangements by Cecil Sharp in the early 20th century, and in these reconstructed forms remain popular among dancers today.

Another recent writer says:

For those of you not familiar with Playford’s The English Dancing Master (1651), it was the first collection of popular dance tunes published in the British Isles. It was published in London and sold to the English country dancing market… It was a big hit, and it remained in print through various editions until 1728. It’s not exactly traditional music. It was popular music intended for an urban audience.

The various editions were updated with the hits of the day—songs from popular plays and special music used by professional dancers. However, quite a lot of the material can be found in traditional circulation… English country dancing is first mentioned in the Elizabethan period. Some of the tunes were probably at least 100 years old when they were published. Many of the older tunes existed as songs rather than strictly dance tunes. Nowadays there are two styles of what is called “English country dancing” One is based on Playford tunes. Apparently the tunes are usually played in a style based on late 19th century classical music….

But the type of dancing William taught was more like this:

The other kind of English country dancing is the kind of dancing they do out in the country in England. This is true folk dancing, done to folk tunes played in folk style. It doesn’t really have anything to do with Playford, which has been upper-class stuff since the 17th century. John Playford (1623-1686) was a successful London music publisher. A royalist, he kept a low profile during the Commonwealth and came into political favour with the return of Charles II. He catered to the taste of the emerging bourgeois class which preferred country dancing to the more formal galliards and other formal dances popular with the nobility before the Civil War. His business was carried on by his son Henry. The actual title of the work was: The English Dancing Master, or, Plaine and easie Rules for the Dancing of Country Dances, with the Tune to each Dance.

From where had William acquired his love of dancing? How had he started to teach? To be honest I have no idea. None of his ancestors and, with one exception, none of his descendants or relatives had anything to do with dancing. William had moved from Matterdale to Penrith sometime prior to his marriage in 1815. The couple had at least nine children. Perhaps William at first followed his father’s profession as a blacksmith or maybe he worked as a carpenter as did many of his family? If he did he didn’t stay at it long before starting to teach dancing which was obviously the love of his life.

As I mentioned, there are dozens of newspaper reports telling of  William Grisdale the Dancing Master, they span several decades. Basically what William did was move from town to town teaching young people to dance. paid for by their parents, and then a Ball would be staged to show off the results. All the reports tell of the great success of these balls and how they were a great credit to Mr. Grisdale, who as he gets older is sometimes refers to as Professor Grisdale or, more often, ‘the patriarchal dancing master’. Here are just a few of my favourites:

Carlisle Journal 13 June 1851

BALL – The merry little village of Wreay was, on thursday evening week, the scene of much gaiety and pleasure. Mr. Wm. Grisdale upon whose head seventy years have shone, has been endeavouring for some time past to fashion the young limbs of  “fair maidens and buxom lads” of the village and surrounding neighbourhood to the graceful evolutions of the mazy dance, and his labours, which have been followed by most decided success, were brought to a close with a ball on the above evening. Rarely, if ever, has so gay and numerous an assemblage of plump, rosy-checked lasses and lish, hardy, light-hearted youths, been gathered together under the hospitable roof of  “old Sally” . The”kings and queens” discharged their duties with true dignity; and the “hornpipes, jigs, strathspeys, and reels,” in which cross-the-buckle, the double-shuffle and the “cut,”  were all rendered in first rate primitive style, reflect much credit upon both Mr. Grisdale and his pupils. The “bow dance,” however, was the great attraction of the evening, and in finery and gracefulness would succumb to few of our more posturing dances. The young ones having finished their spree, the older folk, inspired by the fire of early days, took possession of the floor, and kept up the pleasure of the ball until the grey mists of morning warned them to depart, which they did with hearts filled with joy.

Wreay, Cumberland

Wreay, Cumberland

Two years later on 16 December 1853 the same newspaper reported:

Dancing School Ball – Mr William Grisdale the patriarchal dancing master, held his ball at the house of Mr Thomas Furness, of Loangwathby… Mr Grisdale is upwards of 74 years of age (sic); yet, though his head is silverd o’ver by time he appears as “lish” and active as ever. He has taught dancing for upwards of half a century, and has always kept within a twenty mile circuit of Penrith, so that at the present time there are few middle aged women in the district who were not his pupils in early life . He has taught three generations. He taught the grandmothers of some of the young misses who were recently his pupils in Longwathby.

And then on 14 April 1854:

Old William Grisdale the patriarchal dancing master, has now a dancing school in Penrith Town head. He is teaching the fourth generation, having taught the great grandfathers and great grandmothers of some of his present pupils.

Naval cadets dancing a hornpipe

Naval cadets dancing a hornpipe

William was still a dancing master in 1861, aged 76, and might have continued somewhat longer. So it seems that William had brought ‘joy’ to four generations of his Cumbrian dancing pupils over a period of about sixty years. He had his fair share of tragedy too – two of his daughter died quite young – but he led a life doing what he wanted to do. Sometime in the 1860s William had to stop his teaching, possibly due too ill health, and the sad fact is that he had to enter Penrith’s workhouse where he died on 30 May 1866, his death only getting two lines in the Carlisle Journal that had followed him for decades. His wife Mary died two years later.

Just a few words on William’s family.  In the early nineteenth century his older brother Wilfred (b 1782) had moved to Carlisle and from there he emigrated with his family to Canada, just after William’s marriage, there to found a veritable Grisdale dynasty in Canada and the United States.

Another brother Gideon (b 1777) moved to London and became a jeweller; his daughter Elizabeth ‘Minnie’ Grisdale first became a ballet dancer at the Drury Lane Theatre in London before marrying a famous painter, moved to Boston and then returned as a widow to hawk fish in Falmouth! Perhaps Minnie had been influenced by her dancing uncle William?

Wilfred Grisdale, William's son

Wilfred Grisdale, William’s son

There is much to tell of William’s children. I’ll only highlight a couple of them. Their son Wilfred (1815-1893) was a carpenter. The family story is that Wilfred loved horses. The picture I have included here might suggest that. He married twice and had eleven children, one being my great grandmother Agnes Grisdale. Another son, also called William, emigrated to Australia in 1853 with his wife and child and there had many adventures.

It’s not much of a story I know, but I just love to think of William teaching country dancing to the good youngsters of Cumberland and Westmorland in the nineteenth century. Perhaps he even knew Levi Grisdale, the landlord of the local tavern called the General Lefebvre. Levi was much more famous, but he and William were related, both being descended from Joseph Grisdale and Agnes Dockray of Dowthwaite Head in Matterdale. I guess we’ll never know.

An Ohio local newspaper, the Marion Morning Star, published the rather breathless article below in March 1878. You’ll see that not much has changed with regard to what fascinates journalists.

Okanagan Elders

Okanagan Elders

‘Killed for Being a Sorceress’

Advices received from British Columbia report a singular murder there of an aged white woman by an Okanagan chief named Red Berry. The old woman was the widow of James Grisdale, one of the first white settlers in the Okanagan district. She was reputed to be wealthy, and was accounted a sorceress by the Indians around about. Several of Red Berry’s horses had died of a murrain, some weeks ago, and the medicine men of the Okanagans held that Mrs. Grisdale had afflicted them with disease. Red Berry at once started for her abode, and finding her on her knees at prayer, concluded that he had caught her in the very act of practicing her black art, and with one blow of a club he dashed her brains out. He then informed the white settlers nearby of what he had done, and asked them to reward him for ridding their flocks and herds of an evil spirit. He was arrested, and taken to the jail at Okanagan. Red Berry, beyond doubt, thought he was doing the community a meritorious service.

Map of Okanagan B. C.

Map of Okanagan B. C.

What a great, though sad, story!

But who were James Grisdale and his murdered ‘sorceress’ wife?

Okanagan is a mountainous area in present-day British Columbia, half way between Calgary and Vancouver. For centuries it was a land of native peoples, in this area the Okanagan tribal group. During the early decades of the nineteenth century European fur trappers and traders appeared, as did trading posts of the Hudson’s Bay Company. But it was gold that brought the first large numbers of whites to the region.

The first gold obtained by the Hudson’s Bay Company was brought to Fort Kamloops by a native in 1852. He was said to have found it while taking a drink of water from the lower Thompson River. Donald McLean, the Chief Trader at Fort Kamloops informed his superiors in Victoria and they decided to keep it secret so the fur trade would not be disrupted. The traders encouraged the natives to mine the gold and use it for trade at the forts.

Miners in Okanagan

Miners in Okanagan

The Native people quickly realized the value of gold and began to mine it using iron spoons obtained from the Hudson’s Bay Company. They did not have miner’s tools such as pans or rockers and only small amounts of gold were traded. Gold was then worth $17 an ounce, which was more than a Hudson’s Bay employee earned in a month. Nevertheless fewer than 4 ounces of gold were sold at Fort Kamloops in 1856. In 1857, many more miners rushed to the Thompson River area.

The arrival of white miners quickly led to conflict because the native people felt the gold was theirs since it originated from their lands. They also believed the mining activities would prevent the salmon from completing their migration up the Fraser and Thompson Rivers. Salmon was the main source of food for many of the tribes and they blamed the miners for the small salmon runs that year. Rumors of gold deposits quickly spread south and in the spring of 1858, over 30,000 miners, mostly American, rushed up from California to the Fraser and Thompson Rivers searching for gold. A few miners returned to Fort Victoria with over $150,000 worth of gold, a huge fortune in those days. Gold fever struck and the mad gold rush was on.

Fraser River Gold Rush

Fraser River Gold Rush


The gold rush never affected life in the Okanagan directly until gold was discovered in Rock Creek around 1859. By 1860, about 500 miners, mainly Americans who had abandoned their claims in Washington and Oregon had settled in the area. The Okanagan gold rush ended as quickly as it started. The gold rush had a significant impact on life in the Okanagan. The large influx of miners and their families resulted in a demand for goods and services that previously didn’t exist. The new market for goods and services drew merchants, farmers and ranchers interested in meeting that demand and who required land and more permanent settlements in order to do so. The demand for land required for agricultural development and permanent settlements meant that the aboriginal population had to be removed from the land that was needed.

Overlanders Crossing A Swamp

Overlanders Crossing A Swamp

Most of miners didn’t say long, the next major influx came in 1862 when a group of about 150 settlers ‘travelled from Ontario to the BC interior, led by brothers Thomas and Robert McMicking of Stamford Township, Welland County, Ontario’. ‘They went in groups by ship and American railway to Fort Garry [Winnipeg]. Leaving there in early June 1862, equipped with Red River carts and a few horses, they reached Fort Edmonton on July 21 and traded their carts for pack horses. With the help of Indian guides they crossed the Rockies. All but 6 survived the perilous descent of the Fraser River by raft to Fort George [Prince George]. Most went on to the Cariboo goldfields, and many, including the McMickings, had successful careers in BC. The only woman Overlander, Catherine O’Hare Schubert, took her 3 children with her and gave birth to her fourth only hours after arriving at Kamloops in October.’

Overlanders' Cart at Red River

Overlanders’ Cart at Red River

There are several fascinating first-hand accounts of this long and perilous trip of the ‘Overlanders of 1862’; I commend them to you.

So did James Grisdale, who was ‘one of the first white settlers in the Okanagan district,’ arrive there as a miner or later as a ‘settler’ with the Overlanders? The fact that when Mrs Grisdale was clubbed to death in1878 she was referred to as an ‘aged white woman’ and as ‘the old woman’ might argue for an earlier mining arrival, as does the fact that ‘she was reputed to be wealthy’. You didn’t get wealthy as an early farm settler in British Columbia! Maybe James had been one of the lucky few miners who had ‘returned to Fort Victoria with over $150,000 worth of gold’? While this is possible, I tend to think that James was more likely one of the 1862 Overlanders, which I think would probably still qualify him as ‘one of the first white settlers’. The main reasons for this belief are as follows:

First, there were only two large Grisdale families established in North America before 1862 (there is one small caveat). These were the Grisdale family which arrived in Quebec in about 1824 (see here) and the family of Wilfred Grisdale that arrived in Peterborough County, Ontario in 1816/17 (see here). Regarding the first group, I know what became of them and their descendants and there was no ‘James’ who could fit the bill. Regarding the second family, there is indeed one James Grisdale who just might be our man: James Grisdale (born 1830) was the son of Wilfred Grisdale and Mary Maloney, and the grandson of the immigrant Wilfred Grisdale (born 1782). It might be that this James died young (possibly in Peterborough in 1857), or, before he appeared in any records, he might have set out to the West. Being born in 1830 he would have been both old and young enough to have participated in the arduous trek of 1862, which we are told consisted mostly of young farmers. He would also have been old enough to be a gold rush miner in 1858 or somewhat earlier. A problem with this putative identification is that he died before his wife was slain in 1878 and thus he would have been either in his thirties or forties. Does this square with his wife being an ‘old woman’ in 1878?

The second fact that might argue for James having been one of the 1862 Overlanders is that they were mostly, we are told, young farmers from Ontario. The Grisdales were farmers and Welland County was precisely where some of the family had ended up. For example Gideon Grisdale (the uncle of our putative James) had moved to Welland County in the 1820s to help build the first Welland Canal (see here); another uncle called James was also in Welland by 1861 with his family. So maybe ‘our’ James had joined the Overlanders in 1862 while visiting them?

Okanagan Indians

Okanagan Indians

Yet the fact remains that I can’t positively identify which James Grisdale was the early settler in British Columbia and whose wife was clubbed to death by Chief Red Berry.

I mentioned one caveat. There were a few other people named Grisdale in North American before 1862 who don’t seem to have belonged to the two families I have highlighted. Their appearance in the records is so fleeting that nothing much can be established about them or their origins. In Illinois there was an ‘English-born’ miner William R. Grisdale who fought in the Civil War and was later on involved in the murder of several black miners in Indiana. I’ll return to him at a later date. Then also in Illinois there is a family in 1855 headed by a G. Grisdale; who he was I can only guess. There are a few other mentions of early Grisdales in the United States.

So James Grisdale and his wife remain a bit of a mystery.

Okanagan Valley Today

Okanagan Valley Today

I’m not an expert on native American/Canadian Indians, but in Okanagan B. C. they were, as elsewhere, subjected to violence and disappropriation. Regarding the Okanagan gold miners:

A company of about 300 miners travelling north along the west side of Okanagan Lake destroyed the winter provisions of an unattended Okanagan Indian village. The following day they ambushed and massacred a group of unarmed Indians. These acts demonstrated the miner’s hostile attitude towards the Indians. The conflict increased as the population of miners mushroomed and by July of 1858 there were over 8,000 miners on a 60 kilometre stretch of the Fraser River.

James Douglas, the governor of the colony, feared a war between the feuding parties, especially after the Cayuse Indians defeated the US troops in Oregon. Throughout the summer, trouble brewed at Hill’s Bar and Boston Bar on the Fraser River. At Boston Bar there was fighting involving over 140 miners, where reportedly 7 Indians were killed. The miners viewed the Indians as obstacles while the Indians viewed the gold as theirs since it came from their lands. Also, the traditional Indian food supplies of game, salmon and berries were being taken by the miners.

A vigilante force of 167 armed miners who were led by Captain Snyder went up the Fraser river ready to fight Indians to quell the unrest, but the tension had eased by the time they reached the confluence of the Thompson and Fraser Rivers. Governor Douglas heard about the skirmishes and travelled to the area with some troops. His fact-finding mission blamed the miners for the problems since the armed miners had driven the Indians from the river, which prevented them from gathering food and mining gold. The Indians stated that the miners interfered with their village sites, took their salmon and were disrespectful of their families. Chiefs from many areas expressed their concern to Governor Douglas who gave stern warnings to the American miners; he also claimed all the gold within the Fraser and Thompson Rivers for the British Crown.

In order to prevent the Americans from expanding their borders and to enforce British law, Douglas declared the mainland a British colony. This action ended the Hudson’s Bay Company Charter and any control it had over the region. In November of 1858 British Columbia was officially declared a colony and Douglas was named Governor. He could now regulate law and order to protect British interests on the mainland and on Vancouver Island.

The gold miners were the forerunners of white settlement in British Columbia. The settlers, unlike the miners they followed, came to stay. But like the miners, the settlers had little respect or tolerance for the Indian peoples. The conflict was clear. The First Nations had the land and the settlers wanted it for farming, ranching and business. The Shuswap traditionally migrated to different areas of their territory as the seasons changed, thus the settlers believed that they were not making use of their land. More changes were forced on the Shuswap as overwhelming numbers of settlers arrived and took over the land.

The ownership of the land remains an unresolved dispute between the Shuswap and the present levels of government to this day.

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.

As throughout much of its history, Britain at the end of the Napoleonic Wars was an unforgiving and brutal place for ordinary people trying to make a living.  Quite a number chose to emigrate to the New World, to find a better life. The life they found wasn’t always easy, it was often hard in the extreme, but their courage and fortitude often paid off, at least for their descendants. This is the story of one Matterdale man and his family who did just this: Wilfred Grisdale.

The area of North Monaghan in Ontario as Wilfred Grisdale might have first seen it

In the early nineteenth century much of Upper Canada was still a land of virgin forest and lakes. Of course there were natives Indians but in much of Ontario, for example, many of the forests had no settlements. When there was any path at all it was just, as early pioneer Charles Fothergill put it in 1817, “a windy way through the forest made by the Indians”.

One small piece of this vast land became the Township of North Monaghan, which is situated in the southwest corner of what is now known as Peterborough County.

The latest history of the township, published in 1990 by the North Monaghan Historical Research Committee and titled A History and Story of North Monaghan Township 1817-1989, says this:

Prior to 1817,  few humans had set foot on the Township soil or gazed from the Otanabee river at its heavily forested shores.

Although “a few tracks were testimony to the presence of Indian hunting parties in the past”.

But in 1817 the surveyor Samuel Wilmot had already completed the first survey of the area, the land being divided into lots to which early settlers would stakes claims. One of the very first 11 settlers in North Monaghan was a certain Wilfred Grisdale. In 1817, he staked a claim to Lot 4 (East ½) of concession number twelve.

Wilfred and his family are the founders of a veritable Grisdale dynasty in Canada and the United States.

Jenny Hill Farm, Matterdale. Wilfred Grisdale was (probably) born and raised here

Wilfred Grisdale was born in Matterdale in Cumberland in 1782, probably at Jenny Hill Farm. He was the fourth child of the old blacksmith in Dockray, Matterdale: also called Wilfred Grisdale, and his second wife Ruth Slee. Wilfred Senior had been born in 1711 to Joseph Grisdale and Agnes Dockray. He had married Ann Brownrigg in 1733 but the couple had no children. But when Ann died in 1775, Wilfred wasted no time in marrying again. He married a young Ruth Slee (48 years his junior) in 1776, at the age of 65. But children soon followed, six in all: Gideon, Charlotte, Bilhah, Wilfred, Joseph and William. It is this second Wilfred that is the centre of this story.

Wilfred was to marry Jane Bell in the village church of Hutton in the Forest near Carlisle, the Cumberland county town, on the 6th November 1803, aged 21. The family settled in Carlisle itself and seven children followed, all baptized in Saint Mary’s Church, Carlisle: Gideon (1804), Ann (1805), Wilfred (1807), Ruth (1809), James (1812), Jane (1810) and Joseph (1816).

I wrote about Wilfred’s brother Gideon and his ballet dancer daughter in my last article. For parochial interest, his brother William was my 3rd great grandfather.

In 1816, or in early 1817, Wilfred emigrated with his whole family to Canada to start a new life.

We don’t know the precise reasons for the family’s decision or which ship they travelled on to the “New World”, but the Carlisle newspapers of the time were full of advertisements trying to attract people to move to North America offering the prospect of land grants and assistance with the passage. Perhaps Wilfred was attracted by one of these?

Whatever the truth, Wilfred and his family arrived in North Monaghan in Upper Canada in 1817, perhaps following the route taken in 1825 by Peter Robinson who brought many Irish settlers to the area. Robinson had “sailed from Liverpool to New York and proceeded from thence to Toronto by way of Niagara”. Only later were more direct and less “roundabout” routes to Toronto available.

The settlers from the “Old Country” came by boat as far as Cobourg. From there some found their way by ox cart to Rice Lake and then by smaller boats to spots along the Otanabee River. Others walked, carrying their possessions, north through the forest by way of Port Hope.

Once there, there were two methods of staking a land claim:

By lot or by following the surveyors trails until a lot of land which pleased them was found. Taking note of the number and concession from the marked posts of the surveyors, they returned to Port Hope to make the required application to the land agent in order to secure their lot. During this expedition visit, one or more nights had to be spent in the forest.

Where having kindled a fire, they lay down to sleep beneath the branches of a group of trees, wearied and fatigued, and worse, perhaps wet and torn with the mishaps of the journey.

A Pioneer Settler House in Canada

Wilfred had to stake his claim. “The first requisite to procure land in those days was to take an oath of allegiance, on which a certificate was issued as evidence of the fact.” Usually no payment was needed due to the unsettled nature of the area. Once he had staked his claim in North Monaghan in 1817, the hard work began for Wilfred and his wife and young family: clearing the forest, building a rude wooden hut or “shanty” before the onset of winter and trying to grow or procure enough to survive.

We are lucky to have a book written by a Peterborough County man in 1867, called A Sketch of The Early Settlement and Subsequent Progress of the Town of Peterborough and Each Township in the County of Peterborough. This man was Dr Thomas W Poole and he had both experienced much of what he described or, for the very early settlement years, he had relied on first-hand accounts from the surviving first settlers. He writes:

The first settlers… encountered difficulties and privations of which we, in after time, can have but a faint conception. Unaccustomed as many of them were to the new scenes in which they found themselves placed; with scant provisions, and separated by long wastes of wood water from their fellow-kind, their situation, with their wives and little ones must have been at times appalling; and by less indomitable spirits, would have been relinquished in despair.

Wilfred Grisdale was one of these settlers and was, indeed, with his wife and “little ones”. Dr Poole continues the story:

During the first few years, great difficulties were often felt in procuring the necessary provisions with which to support life. These had to be brought all the way from Port Hope or Cobourg, in the most laborious manner, and in the total absence of even the most ordinary roads; the only guide being the “blaze” upon the trees through the interminable forest, in which they seems entombed. Under these circumstances, it is not to be wondered at that whole families were often for weeks without tasting bread, and that the herbs and succulent roots of the rich woods were often called into requisition to lengthen out their scanty fare.

But as Dr Poole tells us from the testimony of the settlers themselves:

Gradually the blue smoke from the settler’s shanty, and the tiny opening in the forest, began to appear here and there, at intervals, often of miles between… But the number of shanty fires gradually grew larger, as giant trunk and tender sapling groaned and fell beneath the sturdy strokes of the settler’s axe, then the huge heaps appeared, rolled together by united effort. The flames crackled and roared.

Far away into the gloom of the dark forest shot the gleam of the evening fires, which told that a conqueror had come, and that civilization and the luxuries of comfort and refinement were on the way to cheer and enliven these rude fastnesses of nature, and bid them smile with a new growth and a more prolific harvest. The first rude shanty gave way to a substantial and comfortable mansion. Flocks and herds increased; and as time progressed and the population grew, the rude wilderness became a comparative garden.

Mercifully during the first hard years in Canada all of the Grisdale children survived. Wilfred and Jane even had one more child called Maria born in North Monaghan in about 1822 – the first Grisdale of this family to be born on North American soil.

We can only hope that Wilfred and his wife were able to enjoy the fruits of their labour in the manner evoked by Dr Poole:

Well may the veteran pioneer pause now in the evening of his days and look around on the wonders wrought by time and industry. Proudly may he point to the spot where he first reclined beneath the spreading trees, wet with the morning dew, during that first visit to his future farm, and contrast the scene with the present, with its broad acres and cultivated fields, its neat farm houses and thriftly barns, which he expects soon to leave a rich heritage to his children.

I hope so.

The Grave of Maria Grisdale in Thorold, Ontario. Maria was the first and only Canadian born child of Wilfred Grisdale

We don’t know when Wilfred and his wife Jane died but we do know that his children soon started to move to, and settle in, other parts of Ontario (Upper Canada) as well as across the border into Michigan.

I won’t go into the marriages and children of Wilfred and Jane’s own children here because it would involve writing a book. For those who are interested, please refer to my own family tree on, mentioned in the “About” page of this blog.

What, however, is clear is that there are alive today in Canada and the United States literally hundreds and probably thousands of Grisdales (and others) who owe their existence to the decision of Wilfred and his wife Jane to leave Cumberland, where the family had lived for centuries, and to make the hazardous voyage to Canada to start a new life.

I hope some of Wilfred and Jane’s Canadian or American descendants will write some of the fascinating stories of their children.


North Monaghan Historical Research Committee, 1990,  A History and Story of North Monaghan Township 1817-1989.

Thomas W. Poole M.D, Peterborough Review, Peterborough, 1867, A Sketch of The Early Settlement and Subsequent Progress of the Town of Peterborough and Each Township in the County of Peterborough.