History of Toronto King Street: St James' Church
The first Church of St. James, at York, was a plain structu...
King Street Digression Into Duke Street
On passing George Street, as we intimated a moment ago, we ...
From Berkeley Street To The Bridge And Across It
We now propose to pass rapidly down "the road to Quebec" as...
King Street From Yonge Street To Church Street
Where Yonge Street crosses King Street, forming at the pres...
Yonge Street From The Bay To Yorkville
The tourist of the present day, who, on one of our great la...
From Brock Street To The Old French Fort
Returning again to the front. The portion of the Common tha...
Yonge Street From Yorkville To Hogg's Hollow
Of long standing is the group of buildings on the right aft...
King Street From George Street To Caroline Street
We now retrace our steps to King Street, at its intersectio...
Queen Street From The College Avenue To Brock Street And Spadina Avenue
Pursuing our way now westward from the Avenue leading to th...
The Harbour: Its Marine 1815-1827
Soon after the close of the war with the United States in 1...
Queen Street Digression At Caroline Street History Of The Early Press
A little to the south of Britain Street, between it and Duc...
King Street: St James' Church Continued
It is beginning, perhaps, to be thought preposterous that w...
Yonge Street: Onward From Holland Landing To Penetanguishene
To render our narrative complete, we give in a few parting ...
The Valley Of The Don
I.--From the Bridge on the Kingston Road to Tyler's.
From The Garrison Back To The Place Of Beginning
We now enter again the modern Fort; passing back through th...
King Street: Digression Southwards At Church Street: Market Lane
Across Church Street from Clinkunbroomer's were the wooden ...
Yonge Street From Hogg's Hollow To Bond's Lake
Beyond the hollow, Mr. Humberstone's was passed on the west...
In French colonial documents of a very respectable antiquit...
The Harbour: Its Marine 1828-1863
The Canada's advertisement for the season of 1828 appears i...
The Harbour Its Marine 1800-1814
On the 15th of May, 1800, Governor Hunter arrives again in ...
Queen Street From George Street To Yonge Street
--MEMORIES OF THE OLD COURT HOUSE.
When we pass George Street we are in front of the park-lot originally
selected by Mr. Secretary Jarvis. It is now divided from south to north
by Jarvis street, a thoroughfare opened up through the property in the
time of Mr. Samuel Peters Jarvis, the Secretary's son. Among the
pleasant villas that now line this street on both sides, there is one
which still is the home of a Jarvis, the Sheriff of the County.
Besides filling the conspicuous post indicated by his title, Mr.
Secretary Jarvis was also the first Grand Master of the Masons in Upper
Canada. The archives of the first Masonic Lodges of York possess much
interest. Through the permission of Mr. Alfio de Grassi who has now the
custody of them, we are enabled to give the following extracts from a
letter of Mr. Secretary Jarvis, bearing the early date of March 28th,
1792:--"I am in possession of my sign manual from his Majesty," Mr.
Jarvis writes on the day just named, from Pimlico, to his relative
Munson Jarvis, at St. John, New Brunswick, "constituting me Secretary
and Registrar of the Province of Upper Canada, with power of appointing
my Deputies, and in every other respect a very full warrant. I am also"
he continues, "very much flattered to be enabled to inform you that the
Grand Lodge of England have within these very few days appointed Prince
Edward, who is now in Canada, Grand Master of Ancient Masons in Lower
Canada; and William Jarvis, Secretary and Registrar of Upper Canada,
Grand Master of Ancient Masons in that Province. However trivial it may
appear to you who are not a Mason, yet I assure you that it is one of
the most honourable appointments that they could have conferred. The
Duke of Athol is the Grand Master of Ancient Masons in England. Lord
Dorchester with his private Secretary, and the Secretary of the
Province, called on us yesterday," Mr. Jarvis proceeds to say, "and
found us in the utmost confusion, with half a dozen porters in the house
packing up. However his Lordship would come in, and sat down in a small
room which was reserved from the general bustle. He then took Mr. Peters
home with him to dine: hence we conclude a favourable omen in regard to
his consecration, which we hope is not far distant. Mrs. Jarvis," the
Secretary informs his relative, "leaves England in great spirits. I am
ordered my passage on board the transport with the Regiment, and to do
duty without pay for the passage only. This letter," he adds, "gets to
Halifax by favour of an intimate friend of Mr. Peters, Governor
Wentworth, who goes out to take possession of his Government. The ship
that I am allotted to is the Henneker, Captain Winter, a transport
with the Queen's Rangers on board."
The Prince Edward spoken of was afterwards Duke of Kent and father of
the present Queen. Lord Dorchester was the Governor-General of the
Province of Quebec before its division into Upper and Lower Canada. Mr.
Peters was in posse the Bishop of the new Province about to be
organized. It was a part of the original scheme, as shewn by the papers
of the first Governor of Upper Canada, that there should be an episcopal
see in Upper Canada, as there already was at Quebec in the lower
province. But this was not carried into effect until 1839, nearly half a
When Jarvis Street was opened up through the Secretary's park-lot, the
family residence of his son Mr. Samuel Peters Jarvis, a handsome
structure of the early brick era of York, in the line of the proposed
thoroughfare, was taken down. Its interior fittings of solid black
walnut were bought by Captain Carthew and transferred by him without
much alteration to a house which he put up on part of the Deer-park
property on Yonge Street.
A large fragment of the offices attached to Mr. Jarvis's house was
utilized and absorbed in a private residence on the west side of Jarvis
Street, and the gravel drive to the door is yet to be traced in the less
luxuriant vegetation of certain portions of the adjoining flower
gardens. Mr. Secretary Jarvis died in 1818. He is described by those who
remember him, as possessing a handsome, portly presence. Col. Jarvis,
the first military commandant in Manitoba, is a grandson of the
Of Mr. McGill, first owner of the next park-lot, and of his personal
aspect, we have had occasion to speak in connection with the interior of
St. James' Church. Situated in fields at the southern extremity of a
stretch of forest, the comfortable and pleasantly-situated residence
erected by him for many years seemed a place of abode quite remote from
the town. It was still to be seen in 1870 in the heart of McGill Square,
and was long occupied by Mr. McCutcheon, a brother of the inheritor of
the bulk of Mr. McGill's property, who in accordance with his uncle's
will, and by authority of an Act of Parliament, assumed the name of
McGill, and became subsequently well known throughout Canada as the Hon.
(The founder of McGill College in Montreal was of a different family.
The late Capt. James McGill Strachan derived his name from the
marriage-connection of his father with the latter.)
In the Gazette and Oracle of Nov. 13th, 1803, we observe Mr. McGill,
of York, advertising as "agent for purchases" for pork and beef to be
supplied to the troops stationed "at Kingston, York, Fort George, Fort
Chippewa, Fort Erie, and Amherstburg." In 1818 he is Receiver-General,
and Auditor-General of land patents. He had formerly been an officer in
the Queen's Rangers, and his name repeatedly occurs in "Simcoe's
History" of the operations of that corps during the war of the American
From that work we learn that in 1779 he, with the commander himself of
the corps, then Lieut.-Col. Simcoe, fell into the hands of the
revolutionary authorities, and was treated with great harshness in the
common jail of Burlington, New Jersey; and when a plan was devised for
the Colonel's escape, Mr. McGill volunteered, in order to further its
success, to personate his commanding officer in bed, and to take the
consequences, while the latter was to make his way out.
The whole project was frustrated by the breaking of a false key in the
lock of a door which would have admitted the confined soldiers to a room
where "carbines and ammunition" were stored away. Lieut.-Col. Simcoe, it
is added in the history just named, afterwards offered Mr. McGill an
annuity, or to make him Quartermaster of Cavalry; the latter, we are
told, he accepted of, as his grandfather had been an officer in King
William's army; and "no man," Col. Simcoe himself notes, "ever executed
the office with greater integrity, courage and conduct."
The southern portion of Mr. McGill's park-lot has, in the course of
modern events, come to be assigned to religious uses. McGill Square,
which contained the old homestead and its surroundings, and which was at
one period intended, as its name indicates, to be an open public square,
was secured in 1870 by the Wesleyan Methodist body and made the site of
its principal place of worship and of various establishments connected
Immediately north, on the same property, the Roman Catholics had
previously built their principal place of worship and numerous
appurtenances, attracted possibly to the spot by the expectation that
McGill Square would continue for ever an open ornamental piece of
A little farther to the north a cross-street, leading from Yonge Street
eastward, bears the name of McGill. An intervening cross-street
preserves the name of Mr. Crookshank, who was Mr. McGill's
The name that appears on the original survey of York and its suburbs as
first occupant of the park-lot westward of Mr. McGill's, is that of Mr.
George Playter. This is the Captain Playter, senior, of whom we have
already spoken in our excursion up the valley of the Don. We have named
him also among the forms of a past age whom we ourselves remember often
seeing in the congregation assembled of old in the wooden St. James'.
Mr. Playter was an Englishman by birth, but had passed many of his early
years in Philadelphia, where for a time he attached himself to the
Society of Friends, having selected as a wife a member of that body. But
on the breaking out of the troubles that led to the independence of the
United States, his patriotic attachment to old far-off England compelled
him, in spite of the peaceful theories of the denomination to which he
had united himself, promptly to join the Royalist forces.
He used to give a somewhat humorous account of his sudden return to the
military creed of ordinary mundane men. "Lie there, Quaker!" cried he to
his cutaway, buttonless, formal coat, as he stripped it off and flung it
down, for the purpose of donning the soldier's habiliments. But some of
the Quaker observances were never relinquished in his family. We well
remember, in the old homestead on the Don, and afterwards at his
residence on Caroline Street, a silent mental thanksgiving before meals,
that always took place after every one had taken his seat at the table;
a brief pause was made, and all bent for a moment slightly forwards. The
act was solemn and impressive.
Old Mr. Playter was a man of sprightly and humorous temperament, and his
society was accordingly much enjoyed by those who knew him. A precise
attention to his dress and person rendered him an excellent type in
which to study the costume and style of the ordinary unofficial citizen
of a past generation. Colonel M. F. Whitehead, of Port Hope, in a letter
kindly expressive of his interest in these reminiscences of York,
incidentally furnished a little sketch that will not be out of place
here. "My visits to York, after I was articled to Mr. Ward, in 1819,"
Colonel Whitehead says, "were frequent. I usually lodged at old Mr.
Playter's, Mrs. Ward's father. [This was when he was still living at the
homestead on the Don.] The old gentleman often walked into town with me,
by Castle Frank; his three-cornered hat, silver knee-buckles, broad-toed
shoes and large buckles, were always carefully arranged."--To the
equipments, so well described by Colonel Whitehead, we add from our own
boyish recollection of Sunday sights, white stockings and a gold-headed
cane of a length unusual now.
According to a common custom prevalent at an early time, Mr. Playter set
apart on his estate on the Don a family burial-plot, where his own
remains and those of several members of his family and their descendants
were deposited. Mr. George Playter, son of Captain George Playter, was
some time Deputy Sheriff of the Home District; and Mr. Eli Playter,
another son, represented for some sessions in the Provincial Parliament
the North Riding of York. A daughter, who died unmarried in 1832, Miss
Hannah Playter, "Aunt Hannah," as she was styled in the family, is
pleasantly remembered as well for the genuine kindness of her character,
as also for the persistency with which, like her father, she carried
forward into a new and changed generation, and retained to the last, the
costume and manners of the reign of King George the Third.
Immediately in front of the extreme westerly portion of the park lot
which we are now passing, and on the south side of the present Queen
Street in that direction, was situated an early Court House of York,
associated in the memories of most of the early people with their first
acquaintance with forensic pleadings and law proceedings.
This building was a notable object in its day. In an old plan of the
town we observe it conspicuously delineated in the locality
mentioned--the other public buildings of the place, viz., the
Commissariat Stores, the Government House, the Council Chamber (at the
present north-west corner of York and Wellington Streets), the District
School, St. James's Church, and the Parliament House (by the Little
Don), being marked in the same distinguished manner. It was a plain
two-storey frame building, erected in the first instance as an ordinary
place of abode by Mr. Montgomery, father of the Montgomerys, once of the
neighbourhood of Eglinton, on Yonge Street. It stood in a space defined
by the present line of Yonge Street on the west, by nearly the present
line of Victoria Street on the east, by Queen Street on the north and by
Richmond Street on the south. Though situated nearer Queen Street than
Richmond Street, it faced the latter, and was approached from the
latter.--It was Mr. Montgomery who obtained by legal process the opening
of Queen Street in the rear of his property. In consequence of the
ravine of which we have had occasion so often to speak, the allowance
for this street as laid down in the first plans of York had been closed
up by authority from Yonge Street to Caroline Street.
It was seriously proposed in 1800 to close up Queen Street to the
westward also from Yonge Street "so far as the Common," that is, the
Garrison Reserve, on the ground that such street was wholly unnecessary,
there being in that direction already one highway into the town, namely,
Richmond Street, situated only ten rods to the south. In 1800 the
southern termination of Yonge Street was where we are now passing, at
the corner of Montgomery's lot. At this point the farmers' waggons from
the north turned off to the eastward, proceeding as far as Toronto
Street, down which they wended their way to Richmond Street, and so on
to Church Street and King Street, finally reaching the Market Place.
Of the opening of Yonge Street through a range of building lots which in
1800 blocked the way from Queen Street southwards, we shall speak
hereafter in the excursion which we propose to make through Yonge Street
from south to north, the moment we have finished recording our
collections and recollections in relation to Queen Street.
Memories of the Old Court House.
In the old Court House, situated as we have described, we received our
first boyish impressions of the solemnities and forms observed in Courts
of Law. In paying a visit of curiosity subsequently to the singular
series of Law Courts which are to be found ranged along one side of
Westminster Hall in London--each one of them in succession entered
through the heavy folds of lofty mysterious-looking curtains, each one
of them crowded with earnest pleaders and anxious suitors, each one of
them provided with a judge elevated in solitary majesty on high, each
one of them seeming to the passing stranger more like a scene in a drama
than a prosaic reality--we could not but revert in memory to the old
upper chamber at York where the remote shadows of such things were for
the first time encountered.
It was startling to remember of a sudden that our early Upper Canadian
Judges, our early Upper Canadian Barristers, came fresh from these
Westminster Hall Courts! What a contrast must have been presented to
these men in the rude wilds to which they found themselves transported.
Riding the Circuit in the Home, Midland, Eastern and Western Districts
at the beginning of the present century was no trivial undertaking.
Accommodation for man and horse was for the most part scant and
comfortless. Locomotion by land and water was perilous and slow, and
racking to the frame. The apartments procurable for the purposes of the
Court were of the humblest kind.
Our pioneer jurisconsults in their several degrees, however, like our
pioneers generally, unofficial as well as official, did their duty. They
quietly initiated in the country, customs of gravity and order which
have now become traditional; and we see the result in the decent dignity
which surrounds, at the present day, the administration of justice in
Canada in the Courts of every grade.
Prior to the occupation of Mr. Montgomery's house as the Court House at
York, the Court of King's Bench held its sessions in a portion of the
Government Buildings at the east end of the town, destroyed in the war
of 1813. On June 25, 1812, the Sheriff, John Beikie, advertises in the
Gazette that "a Court of General Quarter Sessions of the Peace for the
Home District will be holden at the Government Buildings in the town of
York on Tuesday, the fourteenth day of July now next ensuing, at the
hour of ten o'clock in the forenoon, of which all Justices of the
Peace, Coroners, Gaolers, High Constables, Constables and Bailiffs are
desired to take notice, and that they be then and there present with
their Rolls, Records, and other Memoranda to do and perform those things
which by reason of their respective offices shall be to be done."
It is with the Court Room in the Government Buildings that the Judge,
Sheriff and Crown Counsel were familiar, who were engulfed in Lake
Ontario in 1805. The story of the total loss of the government schooner
Speedy, Captain Thomas Paxton, is widely known. In that ill-fated vessel
suddenly went down in a gale in the dead of night, along with its
commander and crew, Judge Cochrane, Solicitor-General Gray, Mr. Angus
McDonell, Sheriff of York, Mr. Fishe, the High Bailiff, an Indian
prisoner about to be tried at Presqu'Isle for murder, two interpreters,
Cowan and Ruggles, several witnesses, and Mr. Herchmer, a merchant of
York; in all thirty-nine persons, of whom no trace was ever afterwards
The weather was threatening, the season of the year stormy (7th
October), and the schooner was suspected not to be sea-worthy. But the
orders of the Governor, General Peter Hunter, were peremptory. Mr.
Weekes, of whom we have heard before, escaped the fate that befel so
many connected with his profession, by deciding to make the journey to
Presqu'Isle on horseback. (For the seat in the House rendered vacant by
the sudden removal of Mr. McDonell, Mr. Weekes was the successful
The name of the Indian who was on his way to be tried was Ogetonicut.
His brother, Whistling Duck, had been killed by a white man, and he took
his revenge on John Sharp, another white man. The deed was done at Ball
Point on Lake Scugog, where John Sharp was in charge of a trading-post
for furs belonging to the Messrs. Farewell. The Governor had promised,
so it was alleged, that the slayer of Whistling Duck should be punished.
But a twelvemonth had elapsed and nothing had been done. The whole
tribe, the Muskrat branch of the Chippewas, with their Chief
Wabbekisheco at their head, came up in canoes to York on this occasion,
starting from the mouth of Annis's creek, near Port Oshawa, and
encamping at Gibraltar Point on the peninsula in front of York. A guard
of soldiers went over to assist in the arrest of Ogetonicut, who, it
appears, had arrived with the rest. The Chief Wabbekisheco, took the
culprit by the shoulder and delivered him up. He was lodged in the jail
During the summer it was proved by means of a survey that the spot where
Sharp had been killed was within the District of Newcastle. It was held
necessary, therefore, that the trial should take place in that District.
Sellick's, at the Carrying Place, was to have been the scene of the
investigation, and thither the Speedy was bound when she foundered.
Mr. Justice Cochrane was a most estimable character personally, and a
man of distinguished ability. He was only in his 28th year, and had been
Chief Justice of Prince Edward Island before his arrival in Upper
Canada. He was a native of Halifax, in Nova Scotia, but had studied law
in Lincoln's Inn, and was called to the Bar in England.
In the old Court House, near which we are now passing, were assigned to
convicted culprits, with unflinching severity and in a no inconsiderable
number of instances, all the penalties enjoined in the criminal code of
the day--the lash, the pillory, the stocks, the gallows. We have
conversed with an old inhabitant of Toronto, who had not only here heard
the penalty of branding ordered by the Judge, but had actually seen it
in open court inflicted, the iron being heated in the great wood-stove
that warmed the room, and the culprit made to stretch out his hand and
have burnt thereon the initial letter of the offence committed.
Here cases came up repeatedly, arising out of the system of slavery
which at the beginning was received in Canada, apparently as an
inevitable part and parcel of the social arrangements of a colony on
On the first of March, 1811, we have it on the record, "William Jarvis,
of the Town of York, Esq. (this is the Secretary again), informed the
Court that a negro boy and girl, his slaves, had the evening before been
committed to prison for having stolen gold and silver out of his desk in
his dwelling-house, and escaped from their said master; and prayed that
the Court would order that the said prisoners, with one Coachly, a free
negro, also committed to prison on suspicion of having advised and aided
the said boy and girl in eloping with their master's property."
Thereupon it was "Ordered,--That the said negro boy, named Henry,
commonly called Prince, be re-committed to prison, and there safely kept
till delivered according to law, and that the girl do return to her said
master; and Coachly be discharged."
At the date just mentioned Slavery was being gradually extinguished by
an Act of the Provincial Legislature of Upper Canada, passed at Newark
in 1793, which forbade the further introduction of slaves, and ordered
that all slave children born after the 9th of July in that year should
be free on attaining the age of twenty-five.
Most gentlemen, from the Administrator of the Government downwards,
possessed some slaves. Peter Russell, in 1806, was anxious to dispose of
two of his, and thus advertised in the Gazette and Oracle, mentioning
his prices:--"To be sold: a Black Woman named Peggy, aged forty years,
and a Black Boy, her son, named Jupiter, aged about fifteen years, both
of them the property of the subscriber. The woman is a tolerable cook
and washerwoman, and perfectly understands making soap and candles. The
boy is tall and strong for his age, and has been employed in the country
business, but brought up principally as a house servant. They are each
of them servants for life. The price of the woman is one hundred and
fifty dollars. For the boy two hundred dollars, payable in three years,
with interest from the day of sale, and to be secured by bond, &c. But
one-fourth less will be taken for ready money. York, Feb. 19th, 1806.
According to our ideas at the present moment, such an advertisement as
this is shocking enough. But we must judge the words and deeds of men by
the spirit of the age in which they lived and moved.
Similar notices were common a century since in the English newspapers.
It is in fact asserted that at that period there were probably more
slaves in England than in Virginia. In the London Public Advertiser,
of March 28th, 1769, we have, for example, the following: "To be sold, a
Black Girl, the property of J. B----, eleven years of age, who is
extremely handy, works at her needle tolerably, and speaks English
perfectly well; is of an excellent temper, and willing disposition.
Enquire of Mr. Owen, at the Angel Inn, behind St. Clement's Church, in
the Strand." And again, in the Edinburgh Evening Courant of April
18th, 1768, we have, "A Black Boy to sell. To be sold a Black Boy with
long hair, stout made and well limbed; is good tempered; can dress hair,
and take care of a horse indifferently. He has been in Britain near
three years. Any person that inclines to purchase him may have him for
L40. He belongs to Captain Abercrombie, at Brighton. This advertisement
not to be repeated."
The poet sings--
"Slaves cannot breathe in England: if their lungs
Receive our air, that moment they are free;
They touch our country and their shackles fall."
But this was not true until Lord Mansfield, in 1772, uttered his famous
judgment in the case of James Somerset, a slave brought over by a Mr.
Stewart from Jamaica. Cowper's lines are in reality a versification of a
portion of Lord Mansfield's words. A plea had been set up that
villeinage had never been abolished by law in England; ergo, the
possession of slaves was not illegal. But Lord Mansfield ruled:
"Villeinage has ceased in England, and it cannot be revived. The air of
England," he said, " has long been too pure for a slave, and every man
is free who breathes it. Every man who comes into England," Lord
Mansfield continued, "is entitled to the protection of English law,
whatever oppression he may heretofore have suffered, and whatever may be
the colour of his skin: Quamvis ille niger, quamvis tu candidus esses.
Let the negro be discharged." But this is a digression.
Peter Russell's Peggy had been giving him uneasiness a few years
previous to the advertisement copied above. She had been absenting
herself without leave. Of this we are apprised in an advertisement dated
York, September 2nd, 1803. It runs as follows: "The subscriber's black
servant Peggy, not having his permission to absent herself from his
service, the public are hereby cautioned from employing or harbouring
her without the owner's leave. Whoever will do so after this notice may
expect to be treated as the law directs. Peter Russell."
In the papers published at Niagara advertisements similar to those just
given are to be seen. In the Niagara Herald of January 2nd, 1802, we
have, "For sale: A negro man slave, 18 years of age, stout and healthy;
has had the small pox and is capable of service either in the house or
out-doors. The terms will be made easy to the purchaser, and cash or new
lands received in payment. Enquire of the printer." And again in the
Herald of January 18th: "For sale: the negro man and woman, the
property of Mrs. Widow Clement. They have been bred to the business of a
farm; will be sold on highly advantageous terms for cash or lands. Apply
to Mrs. Clement."
Cash and lands were plainly beginning to be regarded as less precarious
property than human chattels. In 1797 purchasers, however, were still
advertising. In the Gazette and Oracle of October 11th, in that year,
we read; "Wanted to purchase, a negro girl from seven to twelve years of
age, of good disposition. For fuller particulars apply to the
subscribers, W. and J. Crooks, West Niagara, Oct. 4th." At York, in
1800, the Gazette announces as "to be sold"--"A healthy strong negro
woman, about thirty years of age; understands cooking, laundry and the
taking care of poultry. N.B.--She can dress ladies' hair. Enquire of the
Printers. York, Dec 20, 1800."
In respect to the following notice some explanation is needed. We
presume the "Indian slave" spoken of must have been only part Indian.
The detention of a native as a slave, if legal, would have been
difficult. Mr. Charles Field, of Niagara, on the 28th of August, 1802,
gave notice in the Herald: "All persons are forbidden harbouring,
employing, or concealing my Indian slave Sal, as I am determined to
prosecute any offender to the extremity of the law; and persons who may
suffer her to remain in or upon their premises for the space of
half-an-hour, without my written consent, will be taken as offending,
and dealt with accordingly."
In the early volumes of the Quebec Gazette these slave advertisements
are common. A rough wood-cut of a black figure running frequently
precedes them. It appropriately illustrates the following one: "Run away
from the subscriber on Tuesday, the 25th ult., a negro man, named
Drummond, near six feet high, walks heavily; had on when he went away a
dark coloured cloth coat and leather breeches. Whoever takes up and
secures the said negro, so that his master may have him again, shall
have Four Dollars reward, and all reasonable charges paid by John
McCord. Speaks very bad English and next to no French." Another reads
thus: "To be sold, a healthy Negro Boy, about fifteen years of age, well
qualified to wait on a gentleman as a Body Servant. For further
particulars inquire of the Printers."
Mr. Sol.-General Gray, lost in the Speedy, manumitted by his will,
dated August 27th, 1803, and discharged from the state of slavery in
which, as that document speaks, "she now is," his "faithful black woman
servant, Dorinda," and gave her and her children their freedom; and that
they might not want, directed that L1200 should be invested and the
interest applied to their maintenance. To his black servants, Simon and
John Baker, he gave, besides their freedom, 200 acres of land each, and
pecuniary legacies. The Simon here named went down with his master in
the Speedy; but John long survived. He used to state that his mother
Dorinda, was a native of Guinea, and to describe Governor Hunter as a
rough old warrior, who carried snuff in an outside pocket, whence he
took it in handfuls, to the great disfigurement of his ruffled
shirt-bosoms. His death was announced in the public papers by telegram
from Cornwall, Ontario, bearing date January 17, 1871. "A coloured man,"
it said, "named John Baker, who attained his 105th year on the 25th
ult., died here to-day. He came here as a chattel of the late Colonel
Gray, in 1792, having seen service in the Revolutionary war.
Subsequently he served throughout the war of 1812. He was wounded at
Lundy's Lane, and has drawn a pension for fifty-seven years." Mr. Gray,
it may be added, was a native of our Canadian town of Cornwall. His
place of abode in York was in what is now Wellington Street, on the lot
immediately to the west of the old "Council Chamber" (subsequently the
residence of Chief Justice Draper.)
We ourselves, we remember, used to gaze, in former days, with some
curiosity at the pure negress, Amy Pompadour, here in York, knowing that
she had once been legally made a present of by Miss Elizabeth Russell to
Mrs. Captain Denison.
But enough of the subject of Canadian slavery, to which we have been
The old Court House, when abandoned by the law authorities for the new
buildings on King Street, was afterwards occasionally employed for
religious purposes. By an advertisement in the Advocate, in March,
1834, we learn that the adherents of David Willson, of Whitchurch,
sometimes made use of it. It is there announced that "the Children of
Peace will hold Worship in the Old Court House of York, on Sunday, the
16th instant, at Eleven and Three." Subsequently it became for a time
the House of Industry or Poor House of the town.
Besides the legal cases tried and the judgments pronounced within the
homely walls of the Old Court House, interest would attach to the
curious scenes--could they be recovered and described--which there
occurred, arising sometimes from the primitive rusticity of juries, and
sometimes from their imperfect mastery of the English language, many of
them being, as the German settlers of Markham and Vaughan were
indiscriminately called, Dutchmen. Peter Ernest, appearing in court with
the verdict of a jury of which he was foreman, began to preface the same
with a number of peculiar German-English expressions which moved Chief
Justice Powell to cut him short by the remark that he would have to
commit him if he swore:--when Ernest observed that the perplexities
through which he and the jury had been endeavouring to find their way,
were enough to make better men than they were express themselves in an
unusual way.--The verdict, pure and simple, was demanded. Ernest then
announced that the verdict which he had to deliver was, that half of the
jury were for "guilty" and half for "not guilty." That is, the Judge
observed, you would have the prisoner half-hanged, or the half of him
hanged. To which Peter replied, that would be as his Lordship
pleased.--It was a case of homicide. Being sent back, they agreed to
Odd passages, too, between pertinacious counsel and nettled judges
sometimes occurred, as when Mr. H. J. Boulton, fresh from the Inner
Temple, sat down at the peremptory order of the Chief Justice, but
added, "I will sit down, my Lord, but I shall instantly stand up again."
Chief Justice Powell, when on the Bench, had a humorous way
occasionally, of indicating by a kind of quiet by-play, by a gentle
shake of the head, a series of little nods, or movements of the eye or
eyebrow, his estimate of an outre hypothesis or an ad captandum
argument. This was now and then disconcerting to advocates anxious to
figure, for the moment, in the eyes of a simple-minded jury, as oracles
of extra authority.
Nights, likewise, there would be to be described, passed by juries in
the diminutive jury-room, either through perplexity fairly arising out
of the evidence, or through the dogged obstinacy of an individual.
Once, as we have heard from a sufferer on the occasion, Colonel Duggan
was the means of keeping a jury locked up for a night here, he being the
sole dissentient on a particular point. That night, however, was
converted into one of memorable festivity, our informant said, a
tolerable supply of provisions and comforts having been conveyed in
through the window, sent for from the homes of those of the jury who
were residents of York. The recusant Colonel was refused a moment's rest
throughout the live-long night. During twelve long hours pranks and
sounds were indulged in that would have puzzled a foreigner taking
notes of Canadian Court House usages.
When 10 o'clock a.m. of the next day arrived, and the Court
re-assembled, Colonel Duggan suddenly and obligingly effected the
release of himself and his tormentors by consenting to make the
necessary modification in his opinion.
Of one characteristic scene we have a record in the books of the Court
itself. On the 12th of January, 1813, as a duly impanelled jury were
retiring to their room to consider of their verdict, a remark was
addressed to one of their number, namely, Samuel Jackson, by a certain
Simeon Morton, who had been a witness for the defence: the remark, as
the record notes, was in these words, to wit, "Mind your eye!" to which
the said Jackson replied "Never fear!" The Crier of the Court, John
Bazell, duly made affidavit of this illicit transaction. Accordingly, on
the appearance in court of the jury, for the purpose of rendering their
verdict, Mr. Baldwin, attorney for the prosecution, moved that the said
Jackson be taken into custody: and the Judge gave order "that Samuel
Jackson do immediately enter into recognizances, himself in L50, and two
sureties in L25 each, for his appearance on the Saturday following at
the Office of the Clerk of the Peace, which," as the record somewhat
inelegantly adds, "he done." He duly appeared on the Saturday indicated,
and, pleading ignorance, was discharged.
In the Court House in 1822 was tried a curious case in respect of a
horse claimed by two parties, Major Heward, of York, and General
Wadsworth, commandant of the United States Garrison at Fort Niagara.
Major Heward had reared a sorrel colt on his farm east of the Don; and
when it was three years old it was stolen. Nothing came of the offer of
reward for its recovery until a twelvemonth after the theft, when a
young horse was brought by a stranger to Major Heward, at York, and
instantly recognized by him as his lost property. Some of the major's
neighbours likewise had no doubt of the identity of the animal, which,
moreover, when taken to the farm entered of his own accord the stable,
and the stall, the missing colt used to occupy, and, when let out into
the adjoining pasture, greeted in a friendly way a former mate, and ran
to drink at the customary watering place. Shortly after, two citizens of
the United States, Kelsey and Bond, make their appearance at York and
claim the horse which they find on Major Heward's farm, as the property
of General Wadsworth, commandant at Fort Niagara. Kelsey swore that he
had reared the animal; that he had docked him with his own hands when
only a few hours old; and that he had sold him about a year ago to
General Wadsworth. Bond also swore positively that this was the horse
which Kelsey had reared, and that he himself had broken him in, prior to
the sale to General Wadsworth. It was alleged by these persons that a
man named Docksteader had stolen the horse from General Wadsworth at
Fort Niagara and had conveyed him across to the Canadian side.
In consequence of the positive evidence of these two men the jury gave
their verdict in favour of General Wadsworth's claim, with damages to
the amount of L50. It was nevertheless generally held that Kelsey and
Bond's minute narrative of the colt's early history was a fiction; and
that Docksteader, the man who transferred the animal from the United
States side of the river to Canadian soil, had also had something to do
with the transfer of the same animal from Canada to the United States a
The subject of this story survived to the year 1851, and was recognized
and known among all old inhabitants as "Major Heward's famous horse
Within the Court House on Richmond Street took place in 1818 the
celebrated trial of a number of prisoners brought down from the Red
River Settlement on charges of "high treason, murder, robbery, and
conspiracy," as preferred against them by Lord Selkirk, the founder of
the Settlement. When our neighbourhood was itself in fact nothing more
than a collection of small isolated clearings, rough-hewn out of the
wild, "the Selkirk Settlement" and the "North West" were household terms
among us for remote regions in a condition of infinite savagery, in
comparison with which we, as we prided ourselves, were denizens of a
paradise of high refinement and civilization. Now that the Red River
district has attained the dignity of a province and become a member of
our Canadian Confederation, the trial referred to, arising out of the
very birth-throes of Manitoba, has acquired a fresh interest.
The Earl of Selkirk, the fifth of that title, was a nobleman of
enlightened and cultivated mind. He was the author of several literary
productions esteemed in their day; amongst them, of a treatise on
Emigration, which is spoken of by contemporaries as an exhaustive,
standard work on the subject. For practically testing his theories,
however, Lord Selkirk appears to have desired a field exclusively his
own. Instead of directing his fellow-countrymen to one or other of the
numerous prosperous settlements already in process of formation at
easily accessible and very eligible spots along the St. Lawrence and the
Lakes Ontario, Erie and Huron, he induced a considerable body of them to
find their way to a point in the far interior of our northern continent,
where civilization had as yet made no sensible inroad; to a locality so
situated that if a colony could contrive to subsist there, it must
apparently of necessity remain for a very long period dismally isolated.
In 1803, Bishop Macdonell asked him, what could have induced a man of
his high rank and great fortune, possessing the esteem and confidence of
the Government and of every public man in Britain, to embark in an
enterprise so romantic; and the reply given was, that, in his opinion,
the situation of Great Britain, and indeed of all Europe, was at that
moment so very critical and eventful, that a man would like to have a
more solid footing to stand upon, than anything that Europe could offer.
The tract of land secured by Lord Selkirk for emigration purposes was a
part of the territory held by the Hudson's Bay Company, and was
approached from Europe not so readily by the St. Lawrence route as by
Hudson's Strait and Hudson's Bay. The site of the actual settlement was
half-a-mile north of the confluence of the Assiniboine and Red Rivers,
streams that unitedly flow northward into Lake Winnipeg, which
communicates directly at its northern extremity with Nelson River, whose
outlet is at Port Nelson or Fort York on Hudson's Bay. The population of
the Settlement in the beginning of 1813 was 100. Mr. Miles Macdonell,
formerly a captain in the Queen's Rangers, appointed by the Hudson's Bay
Company first Governor of the District of Assiniboia, was made by the
Earl of Selkirk superintendent of affairs at Kildonan. The rising
village was called Kildonan, from the name of the parish in the county
of Sutherland whence the majority of the settlers had emigrated.
The Montreal North West Company of Fur Traders was a rival of the
Hudson's Bay Company. Whilst the latter traded for the most part in the
regions watered by the rivers flowing into Hudson's Bay, the former
claimed for their operations the area drained by the streams running
into Lake Superior.
The North West Company of Montreal looked with no kindly eye on the
settlement of Kildonan. An agricultural colony, in close proximity to
their hunting grounds, seemed a dangerous innovation, tending to injure
the local fur trade. Accordingly it was resolved to break up the infant
colony. The Indians were told that they would assuredly be made "poor
and miserable" by the new-comers if they were allowed to proceed with
their improvements; because these would cause the buffalo to disappear.
The colonists themselves were informed of the better prospects open to
them in the Canadian settlements and were promised pecuniary help if
they would decide to move. At the same time, the peril to which they
were exposed from the alleged ill-will of the Indians was enlarged upon.
Moreover, attacks with fire-arms were made on the houses of the
colonists, and acts of pillage committed. The result was that in 1815,
the inhabitants of Kildonan dispersed, proceeding, some of them, in the
direction of Canada, and some of them northwards, purposing to make
their way to Port Nelson, and to find, if possible, a conveyance thence
back to the shores of old Scotland. Those, however, who took the
northern route proceeded only as far as the northern end of Lake
Winnipeg, establishing themselves for a time at Jack River House. They
were then induced to return to their former settlement, by Mr. Colin
Robertson, an agent of the Hudson's Bay Company, who assured them that a
number of Highlanders were coming, via Hudson's Bay, to take up land at
Kildonan. This proved to be the fact; and, in 1816, the revived colony
consisted of more than 200 persons. On annoyance being offered to the
settlement by the North West Company's agent, Mr. Duncan Cameron, who
occupied a post called Fort Gibraltar, about half a mile off, Mr. Colin
Robertson, with the aid of his Highlandmen, seized that establishment,
and recovered two field-pieces and thirty stand of arms that had been
taken from Kildonan the preceding year. Cameron himself was also made a
prisoner. (Miles Macdonell, Governor of Assiniboia, had been captured by
the said Cameron in the preceding year, and sent to Montreal.) A strong
feeling was aroused among the half-breeds, far and near, who were in the
interest of the North West Company. In the spring of 1816, Mr. Semple,
the Governor of the Hudson's Bay Company, appeared in person at the Red
River, having been apprized of the growing troubles. During an angry
conference on the 18th of June, with a band of seventy men, headed by
Cuthbert, Grant, Lacerte, Fraser, Hoole, and Thomas McKay, half-breed
employes of the North West Company, he was violently assaulted; and in
the melee he was killed, together with five of his officers and sixteen
of his people. Out of these events sprang the memorable trials that took
place in the York Court House in 1818.
The Earl of Selkirk being desirous of witnessing the progress made by
his emigrants at Red River, paid a visit to this continent in the autumn
of 1815. On arriving at New York he heard of the dispersion at Kildonan,
and the destruction of property there. He proceeded at once to Montreal
and York to consult with the authorities. The news next reached him that
his colony had been re-established, at least partially. He immediately
despatched a trusty messenger, one Lagimoniere, with assurances that he
himself would speedily be with them, bringing proper means of
protection. But Lagimoniere was waylaid and never reached his
It happened, about this time, in consequence of the peace just
established with the United States, that the De Meuron, Watteville and
Glengarry Fencible Regiments were disbanded in the country. About eighty
men of the De Meuron, with four of the late officers, twenty of the
Watteville, and a few of the Glengarry, with one of their officers,
agreed to accompany Lord Selkirk to the Red River. On reaching the
Sault, the tidings met the party of the second dispersion of the colony,
and of the slaughter of Governor Semple and his officers. The whole band
at once pushed on to Fort William, where were assembled many of the
partners of the North West Company, with Mr. McGillivray, their
principal Agent. Here were also some of the persons who had been made
prisoners at Kildonan.
Armed simply with a commission of a Justice of the Peace, Lord Selkirk
then and there, at his encampment opposite Fort William across the
Kaministigoia, issued his warrant for the arrest of Mr. McGillivray.
It is duly served and Mr. McGillivray submits. Two partners who came
over with him as bail are also instantly arrested. The prisoners had
been previously liberated and information was procured from them.
Warrants were then issued for the arrest of the remainder of the
partners, who were found in the Fort. Some resistance was now offered.
The gate of the Fort was partially closed by force; but a party of
twenty-five men instantly rushed up from the boats and cleared the way
into the Fort. At the signal of a bugle-call more men came over from
the encampment, and their approach put an end to the struggle. The
arrests were then completed, and the remaining partners were marched
down to the boats. "At the time this resistance to the warrant was
attempted there were," our authority informs us, "about 200 Canadians,
i. e., French, in the employment of the Company, in and about the
Fort, together with 60 or 70 Iroquois Indians, also in the Company's
The Earl of Selkirk was plainly a man not to be trifled with; a chief
who, in the olden time, would have been equal to the roughest emergency.
The prisoners brought down from Fort William, and after the lapse of
nearly two years placed at the Bar in the Old Court House of York, were
arraigned as follows: "Paul Brown and F. F. Boucher, for the murder of
Robert Semple, Esq., on the 18th of June, 1816; John Siveright,
Alexander McKenzie, Hugh McGillis, John McDonald, John McLaughlin and
Simon Fraser, as accessories to the same crime; Cooper and Bennerman,
for taking, on the third of April, 1815, with force and arms, eight
pieces of cannon and one howitzer, the property of the Right Hon.
Thomas, Earl of Selkirk, from his dwelling house, and putting in bodily
fear of their lives certain persons found therein." The cannons were
further described as being two of them brass field-pieces, two of them
brass swivels, four of them iron swivels.--In each case the verdict was
The Judges were Chief Justice Powell, Mr. Justice Campbell, Mr. Justice
Boulton, and Associate Justice W. Allan, Esq. The counsel for the Crown
were Mr. Attorney-General Robinson and Mr. Solicitor-General Boulton.
The counsel for the prisoners were Samuel Sherwood, Livius P. Sherwood,
and W. W. Baldwin, Esq.
The juries in the three trials were not quite identical. Those that
served on one or other of them are as follows:--George Bond, Joseph
Harrison, Wm. Harrison, Joseph Shepperd, Peter Lawrence, Joshua Leach,
John McDougall, jun., Wm. Moore, Alexander Montgomery, Peter Whitney,
Jonathan Hale, Michael Whitmore, Harbour Stimpson, John Wilson, John
Hough, Richard Herring.
The Earl of Selkirk was not present at the trials. He had proceeded to
New York, on his way to Great Britain. He probably anticipated the
verdicts that were rendered. The North-West Company influence in Upper
and Lower Canada was very strong.
At a subsequent Court of Oyer and Terminer held at York, a true bill
against the Earl and nineteen others was found by the Grand Jury, for
"conspiracy to ruin the trade of the North-West Company." Mr. Wm. Smith,
Under-Sheriff of the Western District, obtained a verdict of L500
damages for having been seized and confined by the said Earl when
endeavouring to serve a warrant on him in Fort William; and Daniel
McKenzie, a retired partner of the North-West Company, obtained a
verdict of L1,500 damages for alleged false imprisonment by the Earl in
the same Fort.--Two years later, namely, in 1820, Lord Selkirk died at
Pau, in the South of France.
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