The “John Hancock” of John Hodgkinson

In my last post, I shared my excitement over finding a birth record for my 3x-great-grandmother, Catherine Grentzinger, which was signed by her father, Peter, in 1828. Since ancestors’ signatures are so fascinating (to me, at least!) I decided to create a new category for this blog where I can tag posts that contain such images. In keeping with this theme, one of my favorite documents containing an ancestral signature is the land petition for my 5x-great-grandfather, John Hodgkinson, United Empire Loyalist. Before I present the document, though, let me offer a bit of an introduction to John Hodgkinson himself and provide some historical context.

John Hodgkinson of Clinton and Grantham, Upper Canada

John Hodgkinson was known as a United Empire Loyalist (UEL). This honorific was created by Lord Dorchester, the Governor of Quebec and Governor General of British North America, to recognize those who remained loyal to the principle of “Unity of the Empire” during the American Revolutionary War. John’s name appears with the surname variant “Hodgekins” on the roster of Butler’s Rangers, a Loyalist military unit that fought in the Revolutionary War.1 However, much of his early history is shrouded in uncertainty. There are plenty of family trees out there posted by people who claim to know his date and place of birth, date of death, and parents’ names, and maybe those people know something I don’t. I’m by no means the ultimate authority on the Hodgkinson family, and my research on this family is still a work in progress. However, I, personally, have yet to see convincing evidence for any of that information, so I prefer to focus on what I can state definitively at this point.

The earliest reference to John Hodgkinson’s family that I’ve found occurs in documents contained within the collection known as the Haldimand Papers. This collection consists of  correspondence and other documents of Sir Frederick Haldimand, who served as Governor of the Province of Quebec from 1778-1786. These papers include evidence of families of Loyalists who lived in refugee camps in Quebec and received public assistance from the Crown, after having fled from their homes in the American colonies when those colonies declared their independence. John Hodgkinson’s family was enumerated in one such refugee list, dated 24 March 1783. The list begins on page 111, and the Hodgkinsons appear several pages later, on page 125 (Figures 1a-b).2

Figure 1a: Return of distressed unincorporated Loyalists that are Victualed by the bounty of Government in the Province of Quebec, Agreeable to His Excellency the Commander in Chief’s orders, 24th March 1783, page 111.2John Hodgkinson column headings for Haldimand Papers p 125

Figure 1b: John Hodgkinson household in the document, “Return of distressed unincorporated Loyalists that are Victualed by the bounty of Government in the Province of Quebec, Agreeable to His Excellency the Commander in Chief’s orders, 24th March 1783,” page 125.

John Hodgkinson in Haldimand Papers p 125

This indicates that as of 24 March 1783, the family of Jno [sic] Hodgkinson included one woman, no men or male children, one female child over age 6 and one female child under age 6, for a total of 3 persons who were to receive one and one quarter rations per day. The Hodgkinson family was not noted to be attached to any particular corps, so from this document alone, it is not clear that John Hodgkinson was a member of Butler’s Rangers. John himself seems to be absent from this tally since no men were recorded with the family. However, this may be explained by the fact that Butler’s Rangers did not disband until June 1784 and this document was dated March 1783, several months prior to the signing of the Treaty of Paris on 3 September 1783, which ended the Revolutionary War. So at the time this document was created, John Hodgkinson was presumably still engaged in military service while his wife and two children resided in the refugee camp at Chambly, Quebec.

The reference to two female children in John Hodgkinson’s household is curious. Although his wife’s name was purported to be Mary Moore, nothing is known about her, so it’s possible that the couple did have two daughters who died young, although no daughters are commonly ascribed to them. However, John is known to have had two sons, Samuel and Francis, who are believed to be from this first marriage to Mary Moore. Therefore another possibility — perhaps more likely — is that the two children counted in the tally were boys who were misrecorded as girls. However, this same tally was reported in a similar document dated 24 July 1783 (Figure 2).3

Figure 2: John Hodgkinson household in the document, “Return of distressed unincorporated Loyalists that are Victualed by the bounty of Government in the Province of Quebec, Agreeable to His Excellency the Commander in Chief’s orders, 24th July 1783,” page 142.3John Hodgkinson in the Halimand Papers p 142

Perhaps the individual responsible for the tally cut corners and recopied the data from the list created in March, rather than re-counting everyone? The question of which “girls” were meant by the tally marks in the provision lists will have to remain a mystery. In any case, John Hodgkinson’s only children who have been identified by name are sons Samuel and Francis, who are presumed to come from his first marriage to Mary Moore, and son Robert, whose mother was John’s second wife, Sarah Spencer. Early vital records from Upper Canada are rather sparse, and no marriage or death records have been discovered for Samuel, Francis or Robert which name their parents. Nonetheless, we can be certain of their names and of the fact that John was their father because each of them received a land grant on the basis of this relationship.4

Free Land, You Say?

The prospect of cheap land was a significant attraction for immigrants to the New World, and a seigneurial system for distributing land had been in place in the Province of Quebec (which originally included what is now southern Ontario) since 1627. When the British Loyalists from the new United States arrived in Quebec as refugees, they were unhappy with these French laws and cultural institutions, and the result was the Constitutional Act of 1791, which divided the Province of Quebec into Upper Canada (presently southern Ontario) and Lower Canada (presently southern Quebec). Lower Canada retained the French institutions, while Upper Canada practiced English Common Law. To encourage settlement of Upper Canada, and also to reward Loyalists and compensate them for lands lost in the U.S., each Loyalist and each daughter or son of a Loyalist was entitled to a free grant of land. The size of these grants varied from 100 acres to a head-of-household, to as much as 5,000 acres for a field officer.5 A grant of 200 acres was typical for a private like John Hodgkinson.

Library and Archives Canada offers several databases pertaining to Canadian land records. For researching Loyalist ancestors, the first place to search is in “Land Petitions of Upper Canada (1763-1865).”  However, “Land Boards of Upper Canada (1765-1804)” should also be checked, along with  “Land Petitions of Lower Canada (1764-1841)” since some early Loyalist petitions might be found in these collections instead. “Land Boards” refers to the system of granting land that was in place in Upper Canada between 1789-1794, when each individual district (Hesse, Nassau, Mecklenburg, and Lunenburg) had its own administrative board to oversee land matters. A map of these four original districts is here. In 1794, an Executive Council was created as a centralized authority for granting land, and the Land Boards were abolished. It is these petitions to the Land Committee of the Executive Council that comprise the first collection.

Although there’s some variation in the information provided in any given land petition, all of them intended to verify the petitioner’s identity and justify his claim to free land. Samuel Hodgkinson’s petition illustrates this process of identifying the petitioner and justifying his entitlement. He was the oldest of John’s sons, and he petitioned for land in 1806 (Figure 3a).6

Figure 3a: Extract from Land Petition of Samuel Hodgkinson, 16 August 1806 6Samuel Hodgkinson Land Petition page 1

The writing is a little difficult to read in this image, so the transcription of the document is as follows:

“To the Honorable Alex. Grant Esqr. President
Administering the Government of the Province of
Upper Canada &c. &c.,
In Council
The Petition of Saml. Hodgkinson of the Township
of Grantham, shoemaker, Humbly Sheweth —
That Your Petitioner is the Son
of John Hodgkinson of Grantham
is on the U.E. List and has never received any
Land or order for land from the Crown
Wherefore your Petitioner prays
Your Honor may be pleased to grant him two
hundred acres of the west land [sic] of the Crown, and
your Petitioner as in duty bound will ever
pray — Samuel Hodgkinson
Township of Grantham
16th August 1806”

Samuel’s petition includes several pages of affidavits confirming both his identity, and that of his father. My favorite of these is shown here (Figure 3b), written by Rev. Robert Addison, a prominent Anglican missionary who built the first church in Upper Canada, St. Mark’s in Newark (now Niagara-on-the-Lake).

Figure 3b: Affidavit of Rev. Robert Addison from the Land Petition of Samuel Hodgkinson.7Samuel Hodgkinson Land Petition page 3

Transcription:

“Niagara, 29th Sept. 1803

This is to certify that John Hodgkinson, the father of Saml. Hodgkinson the Bearer, has the name of an industrious and honest Man, and I believe that he deserves it — I have always understood that he belonged to Sir John Johnson’s Corps of Royal Yorkers and I think he is on the U.E. List. He lives about 6 miles from me, and I have known something of the Man this 8 or 10 years. — Robt Addison”

We can perhaps forgive Rev. Addison’s confusion over the particular provincial regiment with which John Hodgkinson served since Sir John Johnson’s Royal Regiment of New York fought alongside Butler’s Rangers in many of the same battles.

Samuel Hodgkinson’s land petition was ultimately successful, as indicated by the final page of his petition (Figure 3c).8

Figure 3c: Saml. Hodkinson, Petition & Certificate, Read in Council 16 June 1808.Samuel Hodgkinon Land Petition page 5

In addition to a number of signatures of approval of the petition, it was noted, “The Name of John Hodgkinson of the Home District is on the U.E. List. It does not appear by the Council Books that the Petitioner has received any order for land. SUE [Son of a United Empire Loyalist].”

Since John Hodgkinson was recognized as a United Empire Loyalist, I found it a bit curious that he apparently made no petition for land in his own name. Broad wildcard searches in all three of the databases mentioned previously (both Land Board records and Land Petitions) for first name “J*” (to turn up any matches for John, Jon, or first initial J) and surname “Ho*” or “Hu*” (to turn up matches for any variants such as Hotchkinson, Hodgekins, Hutchinson, etc.) produced only one petition for land which he made in the name of his wife, Sarah Spencer.9 Sarah was the daughter of another United Empire Loyalist, Robert Spencer, and his wife, Catherine Sternberg, and as such she was entitled to her own land grant of 200 acres. John’s petition appears below (Figure 4).

Figure 4: The Land Petition of John Hodgkinson, 27 April 1797.9John Hodgkinson Petition 1797 p 1

A transcription of the text is as follows:

“To His Honor Peter Russell, Esquire, Administering the Government of Upper Canada
&c. &c. &c. In Council
The Petition of John Hodgkinson of Clinton
Humbly shews
That your petitioner is married
to Sarah the daughter of Robert Spencer
a Loyalist U.E. who having never recei-
ved the King’s bounty, to persons of her
description; your Petitioner humbly
prays your Honor would be pleased
to grant him 200 acres of land in
his wife’s behalf and your Petitioner
as in duty bound will ever pray
27 April 1797 John Hogkisson [sic]”

Certainly, John would have been entitled to 200 acres of land in his own name in addition to the 200 entitlement for his wife, and it’s probable that he settled on some land in Grantham as early as 1784 when Butler’s Rangers disbanded. In his site, Niagara Settlers Land Records, Robert Mutrie describes Grantham Township with a quote from the Illustrated Historical Atlas of the Counties of Lincoln and Welland, Ont. Toronto: H.R. Page & Co., 1876:

“The Township was first settled during the year 1784, when members of Butler’s Rangers who were discharged during that year, commenced to clear up land to make homes in the township. Many of those who received land from the Government considered it worth little, or nothing and bartered away their sites for mere trifles, and those who look over the map of Grantham which was made about 1784, or the year after, will notice the large tracts of land which some persons owned, and which, in many instances, were bought for sums almost too low to be called a price.”10

It’s likely, then, that John Hodgkinson’s land petition in 1797 represents a request for additional land to supplement the lands already granted. In a future post, I’d like to share some of the maps I’ve found which indicate where the Hodgkinsons’ land was located. For now, let’s take another look at that signature.

The Real Deal?

Although this document contains the signature of John Hodgkinson, was it actually signed by the man himself? Brenda Dougall Merriman, CGRS, CGL noted, “If the petitioner was educated, he may indeed have written the whole document himself. If an agent wrote the petition on his behalf, this fact is not necessarily stated. Therefore you cannot conclude a signature is truly that of the petitioner unless the body of the petition indicates so, or unless it is compared with other evidence.”11 I’m no handwriting expert, but it appears to me that the handwriting in the body of the text differs from the handwriting in the signature, especially when comparing the letter formation in the signature with John’s name as it appears at the top of the document. The name is even spelled differently in the signature — “Hogkisson,” rather than “Hodgkinson,” although I’ve also seen documents written in the same handwriting throughout which nonetheless include variant spellings of the same surname. The different handwritings may suggest that an agent wrote the body of the petition, but John himself signed it. However, as Merriman noted, it’s impossible to state this definitively on the basis of one document. Perhaps further research will turn up additional examples of John’s signature and we can know for certain whether this was really his. In the meantime, I’ll optimistically hope this is the case, and that this really is the signature of my 5x-great-grandfather, written in his own hand on a document from the 18th century.

Sources:

Featured image: Extract from Smyth, David William. “A Map of the Province of Upper Canada, describing all the new settlements, townships, &c. with the countries adjacent, from Quebec to Lake Huron. (1st ed.) Compiled, at the request of His Excellency Major General John G. Simcoe, First Lieutenant Governor, by David William Smyth Esqr., Surveyor General. London, published by W. Faden, Geographer to His Majesty and to H.R.H. the Prince of Wales, Charing Cross, April 12th 1800. Accompanied with a topographical Description. Price 10s. & 6d,” David Rumsey Map Collection, http://www.davidrumsey.com/maps3638.html : 8 September 2018), Licensed for reuse under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.

1 Van Deusen, A.H. “Butler’s Rangers.” The New York Genealogical and Biographical Record 31(1900). Online archives. FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:3Q9M-CSVT-6RJM?cat=161380 : 5 September 2018), images 374-377 of 690. Image 375.

2 “British Library, formerly British Museum, Additional Manuscripts 21804-21834, Haldimand Paper,” citing John Hodgkinson in, “Return of distressed unincorporated Loyalists that are Victualed by the bounty of Government in the Province of Quebec, Agreeable to His Excellency the Commander in Chief’s orders, 24th March 1783,” LAC reel H-1654, Returns of Loyalists in Canada, n.d., 1778-1787, MG 21, 21826, B-166, accessed as browsable images, Héritage (http://heritage.canadiana.ca : 3 September 2018), images 730-748 out of 1240. Images 730 and 745.

3 “British Library, formerly British Museum, Additional Manuscripts 21804-21834, Haldimand Paper,” citing John Hodgkinson in, “Return of distressed unincorporated Loyalists that are Victualed by the bounty of Government in the Province of Quebec, Agreeable to His Excellency the Commander in Chief’s orders, 24th July 1783,” p. 142, LAC reel H-1654, Returns of Loyalists in Canada, n.d., 1778-1787, MG 21, 21826, B-166, accessed as browsable images, Héritage (http://heritage.canadiana.ca : 3 September 2018), images 749-764 out of 1240. Image 762.

“Upper Canada Land Petitions (1763-1865),” 1806, no. 18, Land Petition of Samuel Hodgkinson, Vol. 226, Bundle H-9, Reference RG 1 L3, Microfilm C-2046, Government of Canada, Library and Archives of Canada, accessed as browsable images  (http://www.collectionscanada.gc.ca : 4 September 2018), Microfilm C-2046 > images 329-334 out of 1042; and

“Upper Canada Land Petitions (1763-1865),” 1815, no. 77, Land Petition of Francis Hodgkinson, Vol. 227, Bundle H-10, Reference RG 1 L3, Microfilm C-2046, Government of Canada, Library and Archives of Canada, accessed as browsable images, (http://www.collectionscanada.gc.ca : 4 September 2018), Microfilm C-2046 > images 1109-1111 out of 1042; and

“Upper Canada Land Petitions (1763-1865),” 1815, no. 78, Land Petition of Robert Hodgkinson, Vol. 227, Bundle H-10, Reference RG 1 L3, Microfilm C-2046, Government of Canada, Library and Archives of Canada, accessed as browsable images (http://www.collectionscanada.gc.ca : 4 September 2018), Microfilm C-2046 > images 112-114 out of 1042.

5 “Ontario Land Records (National Institute),” FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org : 5 September 2018), section 6, “Loyalist Land Grants.”

6 Land Petition of Samuel Hodgkinson, image 330.

7 Land Petition of Samuel Hodgkinson, image 332.

8 Land Petition of Samuel Hodgkinson, image 334.

9 “Upper Canada Land Petitions (1763-1865),” 1797, no. 32, Land Petition of John Hodgkinson, Vol. 224, Bundle H-3, Reference RG 1 L3, Microfilm C-2043, Government of Canada, Library and Archives of Canada (http://www.collectionscanada.gc.ca : 6 September 2018), accessed as browsable images, Microfilm C-2043 > images 766 and 767 out of 990.

10 Mutrie, Robert. “Grantham Township, Lincoln County,” Niagara Settlers Land Records, (https://sites.google.com/site/niagarasettlers2/grantham-township-abstracts : 6 September 2018).

11 Merriman, Brenda Dougall, CGRS, CGL. “Loyalist Petitions for Land Grants: Part Two.” Global Genealogy (http://globalgenealogy.com/globalgazette/gazbm/gazbm059.htm : 8 September 2018).

© Julie Roberts Szczepankiewicz 2018

Robert Spencer and the Theft of the “Katy”

Have you ever heard of the sloop Katy?  I hadn’t, either. Unless you’re something of a military history fan, or particularly knowledgeable about the American Revolution, you might not have. So this is a cautionary tale, if you will, a reminder about the need for careful evaluation of historical evidence as we search for our ancestors.

As mentioned previously, one of my 6x-great-grandfathers was Robert Spencer, United Empire Loyalist. I’ve been having a grand old time lately, digging up documents for him from the website of the Library and Archives Canada, since they have so many great collections for those of us with Loyalist ancestors. Land petitions? Check. Haldimand Papers? Check. So I came to this database, Carlton Papers: Loyalists and British Soldiers, 1772-1784, and did a search for “Spencer” to see if they had anything for Robert Spencer. Sure enough, they did!

Figure 1: Search result for Robert Spencer in Carlton Papers database.Robert Spencer in index

I knew that Robert Spencer had served with Butler’s Rangers, a British military regiment best known for their participation in battles in central New York and Pennsylvania. Since the document referenced here was created in New York and was dated 1783, prior to the disbandment of the Rangers in 1784, it seemed likely to pertain to my ancestor. Intrigued, I requested a copy from the archive, which is shown in Figure 2.

Figure 2: Letter from Wm. (?) Thomas Buchanan, Compiler, to Major Upham, regarding the theft of the sloop Katty (sic) and of naval stores from Eagle.1

robert-spencer-katy-theft.jpg

The transcription of the text is as follows:

“Wm. (?) Thomas Buchanan, Compiler, to Major Upham, and agreeable to his request, sends him the names of those persons, who carried off on the night of the 3rd March, from along side the ship Eagle then laying ashore upon the Battery Rocks, the sloop Katty having on board 115 puncheons & 5 small casks Jamaican Rum, also the Sails, Guns, Water Casks, and other materials belonging to the Eagle, which were by them landed at Elizabeth Town in New Jersey.

New York 22 September 1783

William Crain

Thomas Quigby

William Williamson

Meline Miller

Moses Hetfield

Robert Spencer

Samuel Heryman

John Hanyon”1

Since this document was indexed in a database of Loyalists and British soldiers, my initial interpretation was that the these must have been British soldiers who captured an American ship. I began to search the internet, as any good historian does in the 21st century, to see what I could find that might help me understand this. The first reference to the sloop Katy that I found seemed to confirm this suspicion:  she was a sloop in the Continental Navy, originally chartered by the Rhode Island general assembly.  But wait, what’s this about being “destroyed by her own crew in 1779”? That doesn’t fit with a capture by Robert Spencer et al. in 1783.

Further internet searching produced more interesting results. In the book, Elizabeth: First Capital of New Jersey, by Jean-Rae Turner and Richard T. Koles, the incident with the Katy is mentioned:

“On March 3, 1783, Major William Crane, later a general, captured the armed ship Eagle and the sloop Katy within pistol shot of the Battery in New York City. The Eagle had to be left because she was grounded. The Katy was brought to Elizabethtown where the cargo and vessel were sold at auction. Crane was elevated to brigadier general for this action.” 2

The book Cyclopedia of New Jersey Biography, Memorial and Biographical further clarifies the parties on each side in this conflict. General Crane is described as a “Patriot Soldier, Useful Citizen”3 and the events of 3 March 1783 are also described:

“General William Crane was born in 1748 in Elizabethtown, New Jersey….He had been advanced to the rank of major, and in 1783, led an enterprise of which he left the following report:

‘I have the pleasure to inform you of the capture of the sloop, Katy, of twelve double-fortified twelve-pounders, containing one hundred and seventeen puncheons of Jamaica spirits, lying at the time of capture within pistol shot of the grand battery of New York and alongside of the ship Eagle of twenty-four guns, which we also took but were obliged to leave, as she lay aground. The captains and crews of both the vessels were brought up to us in the sloop to this place, where we have them secure. This was performed on the night of the third of March by six townsmen under the command of Captain Quigley and myself, without the firing of a musket by any of our party.'” 4

This makes it clear that the sloop Katy and the Eagle were both British ships, having been captured by a party of Americans, including one Robert Spencer, who was clearly not my ancestor. A little more digging finished the job: both the Katy and the Eagle are named in a list of Loyalist ships, and and there is evidence for the New Jersey Robert Spencer in Ancestry’s database, New Jersey, Compiled Census and Census Substitutes Index, 1643-1890, living in Trenton township, Hunterdon County, New Jersey in 1741.5

So why was this Robert Spencer named in a Canadian database of Loyalists and Britsh soldiers? In defense of the Library and Archives of Canada site, they did specify in their description of the records,

“The series includes a variety of documents about loyalist soldiers and civilian refugees (both white and black people) but also about people who were on Manhattan Island or the adjacent mainland dominated by the British during the American Revolution, as well as many British and German soldiers who settled in Canada later and also some rebels (emphasis mine).”

What amazes me about this particular story is not that there were two Robert Spencers — I’ve come to expect that — but that there were also two sloops called Katy, one American and one British. It nicely illustrates the importance of digging deeper to understand documents in their proper historical context, and not be lured into the trap of seeing only what we expect to find.

Sources

“Carlton Papers — Loyalists and British Soldiers, 1772-1784”, Government of Canada, Library and Archives of Canada (http://www.bac-lac.gc.ca/eng/Pages/home.aspx), New York, 1783, citing Robert Spencer, document page number 9183, MG 23 B1, Microfilm M-365, item number 206.

Turner, Jean-Rae, and Richard T. Koles. Elizabeth: First Capital of New Jersey, Charleston, South Carolina: Arcadia Publishing, 2003, p. 47. Google Books, https://books.google.com, accessed 29 June 2017.

Cyclopedia of New Jersey Biography, Memorial and Biographical: With the Assistance of the Following Advisory Committee : Joseph Fulford Folsom, Chairman ; Hiram Edmund Deats ; Charles Tiebout Cowenhoven ; Alfred M. Heston ; David Demarest Zabriskie ; John Stillwell Applegate ; Frank John Urquhart ; John Albert Blair ; George Mason La Monte ; Carlton P. Hoagland, Volume 1. New York: American Historical Society, Inc., 1921, p. 116. Google Books, https://books.google.com,  accessed 29 June 2017.

4 Ibid.

Ancestry.com. New Jersey, Compiled Census and Census Substitutes Index, 1643-1890 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 1999, citing Robert Spencer in New Jersey Early Census Index, Trenton, Hunterdon, New Jersey, 1741, p. 50, accessed 29 June 2017.

Featured Image:  Continental Sloop Providence (1775-1779), (originally the sloop Katy before she was renamed), U.S. Naval Historical Center Photograph. Painting in oils by W. Nowland Van Powell, licensed under CC0 1.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

© Julie Roberts Szczepankiewicz 2017

The Robert Spencers of Canajoharie and Stamford, Upper Canada

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,”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)

Robert Spencer indictment & judgment closeup page marked
Figure 1:  Entries for Robert Spencer in the List of Loyalists against whom judgements were given under the Confiscation Act, 1783.2

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

judgement
Figure 2: Excerpt from manuscript showing indictment and judgement dates for Robert Spencer, farmer (line 1).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

Judgement 2
Figure 3:  Excerpt from manuscript showing indictment and judgement dates for Robert Spencer, yeoman (blocked out in red).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

Robert Spencer Jr birth 1772
Figure 3:  Birth record for Robert Spencer, son of Robert Spenser (sic) and Catrina Sternberg, born 10 August 1772 baptized 30 August 1772.3

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

Robert Spencer Jr birth 2
Figure 4: Birth record for Robert Spenser (sic) son of Robert Spenser and Catrina Sternberg, born 10 August 1770, baptized 30 August 1772.4
Robert Spencer Jr birth 3
Figure 5:  Birth record for Robert Spenser (sic), son of Robert Spencer and Catrina Sternberg, born 10 August 1773, baptized 30 August 1773.5

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.

Robert Spencer Land Petition page 3 cropped
Figure 6: First page of Robert Spencer, Sr.’s petition for land, dated 1797.7

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 himself his 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

Robert Spencer Land Petition page 2 crop
Figure 7:  Second page of Robert Spencer, Sr.’s petition for land, dated 1797.7

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).

Whirlpool golf course
Figure 8: Whirlpool Golf Course, Niagara Falls, Ontario, courtesy of Google Maps.

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.

 

Sources:

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.

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.

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.

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.

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

Niagara River Stories

Rivers seem to run through my blood.  I was born in Western New York, and my first home was on Grand Island, in the middle of the Niagara River.  I have no memory of living there, because we moved to Omaha, Nebraska before I turned three, and then to Cincinnati, Ohio when I was four, but we would often return to Buffalo to visit family, and eventually moved back to Western New York when I was ten.  Even as a child I was impressed by how the narrow, muddy Ohio River just couldn’t compare to the blue depths of the mighty Niagara.

My Dad grew up on the Island, surrounded by the River.  His family moved there from Buffalo when he was about eight. As a teenager, he and his brother Peter played the dangerous game of going down to the water’s edge in winter and jumping from ice floe to ice floe to see how far out they could get, away from the shore.  As a young man, he would borrow Peter’s boat to court my mother, who lived on the other side of the river in North Tonawanda.  And at the age of forty-three, he survived a plane crash into the Niagara, when the water was only thirty-eight degrees and he had to save the pilot’s life and start swimming to shore while hypothermia was setting in.  But that’s another story for another day.

The Niagara River has been a part of my family history since the late 1700s, when my Loyalist ancestors, Robert and Catherine (née Sternberg) Spencer were granted land overlooking the Niagara River in what is now Niagara Falls, Ontario, in gratitude for Robert’s service in Butler’s Rangers during the American Revolutionary War. Before the war, another river featured prominently in their lives — the Mohawk River in what is now Central New York State.  How do I know this? I’m blessed to know a surprising amount about the lives of these ancestors, thanks to the memoirs written by their grandson, Adam Spencer, which were published after his death as a series of newspaper articles in the Norwich Gazette in 1889.  At present, I have a transcript of these articles published in 1977 in the newsletter of the Canadian Friends Historical Association (Adam Spencer was a member of the Religious Society of Friends, also known as Quakers.)1 A transcript isn’t as good as the actual newspaper articles on microfilm, of course, so that’s on my to-do list for needed documents, but this is what I’ve got right now.

canadian-quakers-newsletter1

Most of these memoirs concern the life of Adam Spencer himself, not surprisingly, and my direct line goes through his aunt, Sarah Spencer, who married John Hodgkinson, rather than through him.  So the parts that are most interesting to me are the parts about his grandparents, Robert and Catherine Spencer.  I’ll let Adam tell their story in his own words:

adam-spencer-memoirs-p-1

adam-spencer-memoirs-p-22

I have my doubts about the historical accuracy of certain parts of Adam’s story, particularly regarding Robert Spencer’s birth in Ireland, but that, too, is another story for another day.  Today what impresses me is all the lush detail presented in this passage — so many glimpses into the lives of these ancestors who lived so long ago. I like the image (historically accurate?) of Catherine as a girl of about 10, maybe, rowing across the Mohawk to travel to different parts of her parents’ farm in an era when many girls her age might be stitching samplers.  I can picture her and her young husband Robert as newlyweds, hosting the log-rolling bee to clear the land of timber as they set up their new farm near her parents along the Mohawk.  I honor her courage in packing up her six children and traveling to Montreal to wait out the war, hoping and praying for her husband’s safety. I imagine her affectionate smile as she bundled the child up in warm clothing before climbing into the rowboat on that fateful day as they attempted to cross the river to Fort Niagara.  I like to think that maybe she was watching over her 5x-great-grandsons, my Dad and his brother, keeping them safe when they were jumping from floe to floe in the river in the 1950s.  And maybe she was watching over Dad again on the day his plane crashed, when he was  rescued from the frigid waters of the Niagara before he lost consciousness.

It’s just one river, but it has so many stories to tell.

Sources:

1Spencer, Adam.  “OId Time Experiences In the Bush and On the Farm”.  Canadian Friends Historical Association 19 (March 1977):  p. 1.

2Ibid, p. 7-8.

Cover photo:  Sailboat on the Niagara River in front of Old Fort Niagara, courtesy of MaxPixel.FreeGreatPicture.com, is in the public domain.

© Julie Roberts Szczepankiewicz 2017