Saturday, February 16, 2008

Who Knew? One of our Ancestors was an American Founding Father

To most, Pierce Butler was a soldier, wealthy plantation owner, statesman, and one of 39 men (George Washington being the first) to sign the U.S. Constitution.

To us, he's "Uncle Pierce", whether he likes it or not.

It's believed that Pierce's sister was Judith Butler, who eloped with Thomas Tennant, stonemason. It was their son, Thomas, who brought his family to Canada in 1820. The Butlers disinherited Judith for marrying a Tennant. Pierce's story is no less interesting.

The Butler family bought a commission for Pierce in the British army; in those days officers were often hifalutin' muckety-mucks whose families literally payed for their rank.

Pierce travelled to America in the mid 1700's, and was responsible for quieting the growing anti-British feeling in the colonies.

Then Pierce make a quick 180. He left the British Army, started a plantation, and made a fortune. Throughout his life he was a staunch supporter of slavery.  He's said to have drafted the "Fugitive Slave Clause" of the U.S. Constitution.

By the late 1700's he sided with the revolutionaries against the British. He was a member of the Continental Congress, a powerful statesmen, and became one of the "framers" of the U.S. Constitution. Among the other 38 signatories are Washington, Benjamin Franklin, and Alexander Hamilton.

Ben & Letitia Hawkes

Ben Hawkes and Letitia Cooper were Pat's father's parents, born- respectively- in Gret Offley and Cookham, relatively small towns north of London.

Many of us had occasion to wear the family Christening robe which began with Letitia's family: she herself was Christened in it in 1868.

Ben was a tailor, a one-time militia member, avid cyclist, and one-time cellist in a black-face band. He started and lost a tailoring business in Letchworth. Bankruptcy in those days carried an unbearable stigma: soon after he left England and brought his family to Canada. It’s believed his son, Bob was about 12 when they came, which would suggest c. 1911. It's not certain how he raised money for the journey.

In Toronto, Ben worked awhile for Tip Top Tailors. The undated photo (right) is a Tip Top worker, reproduced from the archives of Ontario.

Pat tells us that one day while Ben was driving he suffered a heart attack, pulled his car to the side of the street, and died.

At some point, presumably after Ben’s death, Letitia came to Vancouver to stay with Bob, Phyllis and family. It was an unhappy time; before long she returned to Toronto, with her grandson Doug in tow. She died in 1940, at the age of 72.

Ben & Letitia are buried at Mount Pleasant Cemetery, Toronto.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Meet Thomas Tennant

For our purpose, Thomas Tennant (1755-1821) was Hal’s grandfather’s grandfather’s father. We have no photograph of him: photography wouldn’t be invented until more than a decade after his death.

It was Thomas who chose, at the age of 66, to leave everything he knew, to gather his wife, their ten children and two servants, to take up pioneering in Canada’s Ottawa Valley.

Until then, Thomas had been an administrator at Ballintemple, the estate of the Butler family near Aghade (a-HAYD) parish, a few miles outside the town of Tullow in County Carlow, Ireland.

Thomas, family & servants were among the 402 settlers who sailed on the vessel Commerce from Greenock, Scotland on Wednesday, June 21st, 1820, and arrived in Quebec on Saturday, August 5th.

There were no railways. The Lanark settlers had to haul their possessions overland by wagon, and by barge for weeks before arriving at the Prescott Military settlement. From there, Thomas and sons took a stage to Perth. From Perth, Thomas and sons would hike north some 20 miles to find the land they wished to claim as part of the settler’s program. Then, given a starter kit of supplies, they had to quickly build a log shelter on their new property before winter set in.

Robert D. Tennant’s original history suggests that Thomas was heartbroken over his decision to move his family to “this wilderness”. On February 7th, 1821, barely six months after first setting foot in Canada, Thomas died following a short illness.

He’s buried in a spot he had chosen himself, in what would become the Tennant Family Burying Ground, at a small, sandy clearing in the woods within view of his homestead.