Happy May! The past few weeks have been really busy, and it seems like forever since I’ve had a chance to sit down and write. However, I’m seizing the day, and taking this opportunity to share a little bit more about my Canadian Loyalist ancestor, Robert Spencer (Sr.). Robert Spencer is a reasonably prominent individual in early Canadian history, being a Loyalist and all, and he has quite a number of proud descendants. So in sharing these records, I don’t mean to suggest that any of these discoveries are new — just that I find old documents like this to be especially cool.
As noted previously, Robert’s grandson, Adam Spencer, wrote his memoirs concerning his grandfather, and these recollections provide some wonderfully fertile ground for record-seeking. Adam recalled that his grandparents “settled on a farm of 200 acres at Schoharie beside the Mohawk,”1 and that
“….grandfather joined the British standard, as a member of a volunteer corps, which company were noted for their daring bravery. Robert’s action in joining the British incensed his neighbors, many of whom were in sympathy with the Rebels (as they were called), that in his absence the family was robbed, and sadly dispoiled of their goods….his farm at Schoharie was confiscated to the state….” 1
This particular bit of the story can be documented with a manuscript recently digitized by the New York Public Library, entitled, List of loyalists against whom judgments were given under the Confiscation Act, 1783 which was first compiled in 1802.2 This manuscript contains two references to Robert Spencer (Figure 1)
In both entries, Robert Spencer is reported to be from Canajohary (sic) in Tryon County. In the first entry at the top, he is reported to be a farmer, whereas in the second entry, he is recorded as a yeoman. The date of indictment, located in the next column, is recorded as “10th October 6th Indepen,” which is a reference to the 6th year of American independence, i.e. 1780. The judgement was signed on 15 July 1783 (Figure 2).2
The second entry for Robert Spencer, yeoman, indicates a different date of indictment, “14 June 5th Indepen” but with the same date of judgement, 15 July 1783 (Figure 3).2
How do we interpret these two different entries? That’s a good question. Robert Spencer was known to have a son, also named Robert Spencer, whose birth circa 1772 was recorded in the Dutch Reformed Church in Fonda, New York (Figure 3).3
The reason I say “circa” with reference to Robert’s birth is that the original record book seems to have been falling apart, so the original pages were apparently taped into a new notebook (shown above), but also recopied into yet another notebook (Figure 4), such that Ancestry offers three different “original” sources — with different dates — for the same event (Figures 4 and 5).4,5
In fact, if you’ll notice, Figures 5 and 3 are both clearly images of the same original, although the image in Figure 3 is a little nicer and more legible. However, Figure 3 was from “The Archives of the Reformed Church in America; New Brunswick, New Jersey; Reformed Church of Fonda, Baptisms, Marriages, Members, Consistory Minutes, 1758-1839,” whereas Figure 5 was from a collection with a slightly different title, “The Archives of the Reformed Church in America; New Brunswick, New Jersey; Fonda Church, Baptisms, Marriages, 1797-1872,” all of which just goes to show you how important it is to understand the original source and its history as much as possible.
In any case, these “different” sources make it clear that Robert Spencer, Jr., was born circa 1772, which would have made him about 8 years old in 1780 at the time of the first indictment, or 7 years old in 1779 at the time of the second indictment. Could it be, then, that Robert Spencer, farmer, and Robert Spencer, yeoman, are father and son? Might a boy have had property in his name, and thus be subject to having the property confiscated due to his family’s Loyalist sentiments? Might the two indictments be referring to two different parcels of land, both owned by the same Robert Spencer, presumably the father? Could this be evidence of two different adult Robert Spencers, both Loyalists and both living in Canajoharie? Evidence from later Canadian sources does not seem to favor this last theory, but clearly, I’m going to have to dig deeper into the social and legal history of that time and place in order to understand this document.
The next part of Robert Spencer Sr.’s land story, as told to us by his grandson Adam, is that,
“….at the close of the war, the British government gave to the sufferers land in Canada in lieu of their losses as well as a reward for their services. When Robert got his discharge from the army, he went direct to Niagara and wrote this family to join him there…. In a short time he drew 200 acres of land, situated at the summit of the Whirlpool, where the united family settled, and soon succeeded in making a comfortable home.” 6
Loyalist Land Petitions are available online via the Library and Archives of Canada site. There are several databases in which these records might be found, based on date and location. Robert Spencer’s land petition was found in the database, “Upper Canada Land Petitions (1763-1865),” which can be searched here. Robert’s petition (Figure 6) supports many of Adam’s recollections about his grandfather.
As the document states, the petitioner, Robert Spencer Sr.,
“Respectfully Shews —
That your petitioner served His Majesty last War in Colonel Butler’s late Corps of Rangers, and as only received 100 acres of land, which he has cultivated and improved — That your Petitioner brought in his family from the States in the Year 1785, which then consisted of a Wife and Six Children — That your Petitioner lost his wife four years ago, but hopes your Honor will be pleased to consider him as having served His Majesty during the late War, and having a large family to provide for will be pleased to grant him his residue as a reduced soldier, and such further grant for
himselfhis family, as your Honor may think proper, and your petitioner will as in duty bound ever pray — Robert [his mark, X] Spencer
Niagara, 27th Jany ’97”
This wonderful document verifies Robert’s service in Butler’s Rangers, which was the “volunteer corps” alluded to by Adam Spencer. It also verifies the year of the family’s arrival in Upper Canada, the number of his children, the date of his wife Catherine’s death, and their place of residence in the Niagara district.
The file also contains evidence that Robert’s petition was successful. A second page states that,
“The Petition of Robert Spencer — 143 [was] rec’d 27th Jany 1797 [at the Executive Council Office] Read [in Council] on 11 Mar 1797. Ordered 200 acres to complete his Military Lands and 350 acres family lands if not granted before.” 7
Although a period map showing Robert Spencer’s land grants is not available online, the Niagara Settlers site offers a database in which one can search for settlers’ names on early maps. According to their database, Robert Spencer’s land grants are shown on two maps:
“On an undated map of Township No. 2—Stamford (Mount Dorchester) in the Surveyor General’s Office, probably drawn in the mid to late 1780’s, Robert Spencer was named on Lots 16 and 17 Concession 2 from the Niagara River a short distance north of Niagara Falls. The lot was later renumbered.
On a map of the Township of Stamford by Surveyor Thos. Ridout, dated December 22, 1813, Robert Spencer was named on Lots 74 and 119 Stamford Twp.”
The site offers links to versions of these two maps, which were redrawn in 1983 by Maggie Parnall from her publication, The Mini Atlas of Early Settlers in the District of Niagara, which is currently out of print. The undated Stamford map is found here, and the 1813 map is found here.
As you can see from those maps, the location of Robert Spencer’s land is consistent with Adam Spencer’s recollection that his grandfather’s lands were “situated at the summit of the Whirlpool.” Note that these particular maps are oriented “upside down” with South at the top of the compass rose, but it’s clear that Robert’s lands were pretty much opposite the bend in the river where the whirlpool is located. If you examine the modern map at that location, you can see that this land is more or less where the Whirlpool Golf Course is located now (Figure 8).
Someday I look forward to tracing the property records more thoroughly so I can understand how the lands granted to my ancestor from the British Crown became a golf course, but that’s another research project for another day.
1 Spencer, Adam. “OId Time Experiences In the Bush and On the Farm”. Canadian Friends Historical Association 19 (March 1977): p. 5-6, transcribed from “At Rest: Adam Spencer Called Home,” Norwich Gazette, 29 August 1889, p. 3, col. 5.
2 List of loyalists against whom judgments were given under the Confiscation Act, 1783, compiled 1802; Image 25, entries for Robert Spencer, farmer, of Canajohary, Tryon County, and Robert Spencer, yeoman, of Canajohary, Tryon County, accessed on 10 May 2017; Thomas Addis Emmet collection; Manuscripts and Archives Division, The New York Public Library, New York, NY.
3 Ancestry.com, U.S., Dutch Reformed Church Records in Selected States, 1639-1989 (Provo, UT, USA, Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2014), Ancestry.com, The Archives of the Reformed Church in America; New Brunswick, New Jersey; Reformed Church of Fonda, Baptisms, Marriages, Members, Consistory Minutes, 1758-1839, record for Robert Spenser, accessed on 10 May 2017.
4 Ancestry.com, U.S., Dutch Reformed Church Records in Selected States, 1639-1989 (Provo, UT, USA, Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2014), Ancestry.com, The Archives of the Reformed Church in America; New Brunswick, New Jersey; Fonda Church, Baptisms, Marriages, 1797-1872. Record for Robert Spenser, accessed on 10 May 2017.
5 Ancestry.com, U.S., Dutch Reformed Church Records in Selected States, 1639-1989 (Provo, UT, USA, Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2014), Ancestry.com, The Archives of the Reformed Church in America; New Brunswick, New Jersey; Fonda Church, Baptisms, Marriages, 1797-1872. Record for Robert Spencer, accessed on 10 May 2017.
6 Spencer, Adam, “OId Time Experiences In the Bush and On the Farm,” Canadian Friends Historical Association 19 (March 1977): p. 6, transcribed from “At Rest: Adam Spencer Called Home,” Norwich Gazette, 29 August 1889, p. 3, col. 5.
7“Upper Canada Land Petitions (1763-1865)”, Government of Canada, Library and Archives of Canada (http://www.bac-lac.gc.ca/eng/Pages/home.aspx), Niagara, 1797, Land Petition for Robert Spencer, Volume 449, Bundle S-2, Petition 143, Reference RG 1 L3, Microfilm C-2806, digital images 994- 997.
© Julie Roberts Szczepankiewicz 2017