Kingston, Ontario – Settlement And Early Days

The township of Kingston, with eighteen other townships surveyed and allotted in 1783 and the years immediately following, was included in the territorial division originally called the Mecklenburg District, in honour of Queen Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, this name, however, being in a few years changed to that of the “Midland District,” so called from its relatively central position. In more modern times it has been divided into the Counties of Frontenac, Lennox and Addington.

This wide area lay between the River Gananoque on the east and Trenton on the west, and was about fifty-six miles wide, extending northward 100 miles to the Madawaska River. It was bounded on the east by the counties of Leeds and Lanark. on the south by the River St. Lawrence and the Bay of Quinte, on the north by the Madawaska, and on the west by the county of Hastings. It includes a great variety of land and scenery, from the limestone ridge which has bestowed on Kingston so many substantial buildings and its sobriquet of “the Limestone City.” and the granite banks, clothed with cedar and :juniper, which border the St. Lawrence a little below it. to the rich pastoral country of fields, groves and orchards that lines the winding shores of the Bay of Quinte, and back to the sterner “land of grey rock and shaggy wood” through which the Madawaska pours its rapid, foam-flecked stream, and the Kingston and Pembroke Railway stretches the slender iron line that connects it with centres of civilization.

The beautiful environs of the Bay of Quinte are rich in early associations, and might well tempt us to linger among them. But it is with the county of Frontenac and the city of Kingston that we have now to do. The first perpetuates, as is but right, the name of old Fort Frontenac and the stalwart French Governor who founded and restored it. As a French Canadian writer, M. Tache, has remarked, it is the only place in Ontario, at least, which preserves in its name a memory of the brave French pioneers. It is indeed unfortunate and unfitting that the name of the heroic and ill-fated La Salle has not yet been similarly commemorated in connection with any part of his old Seigniory and the vicinity of his old fort, where not even a street has been named in his honour ! The name of Cataraqui—or Katarakoui, as it was originally spelt—signifying, according to what seems the correct rendering, “clay bank rising out of the water,” was early changed to that of its containing township, Kingstown (afterwards Kingston), doubtless in token of the monarchical principles of its Loyalist founders. The names of a number of these, whom we may call the “grey forefathers” of the town, are still preserved in the Crown Lands Department, in a Plan of Township No. G, in the District of Mecklenburg, surveyed in 1785. Among these we find the name of the famous Indian Chief, Joseph Brant, or Thayendinaga, afterwards associated mainly with Brantford, who came to Cataraqui in 1785, and lived there for a time, having originally settled in Sorel. Next to Brant’s allotment, on the west shore of the River Cataraqui, come the names, on the numbered lots, of Neil McLean, James Clark, Captain Crawford, Lieutenants Brown, Sovereign and Lawrence (afterwards Graton). To the west of the road dividing the settlement, a block of seven thousand acres seems to have been granted to Captain James McDonnell, from whom it seems to have been transferred to Robert Macaulay, while to the east of the road another block bears the name of John Macaulay. The island in the channel of the Cataraqui, now called Bell’s Island, was granted by Governor Haldimand to Neil McLean, a name long well-known in the place.

Southward from the old fort the first lot bears the name of Captain Grass ; the second, of the Rev. John Stuart, of whom more hereafter, while the third bears the name of Laurence Herkimer. Then follow less-known names : Samuel Hilton, Captain Hartman, Francis Lozion, Rockland, Brown, Moshier, Ellerbeck, Lieutenant Mower, Atkinson, Gallary, Captain McGarrow, Charles Pander, Robert Vanalstine, Richard Moorman, R. Gider, the last having his allotment bordering the “petite Cataraqui,” the small stream flowing into the lake to the westward of the city. Then again occur the names of John Stuart and Captain Grass, with Lieutenant Kotte, Captain Everett, Captain John Markham and Nicolas Herkimer, the last bordering on Collins’ Bay, the original name of which appears as Ponegog. Further west are the lots of Purdy, Captain William Johnston, William Fairfield, Robert Clark, James Clark, Sergeant John Taylor, and Captain Myers, the two latter becoming the first settlers in Sidney and Thurlow. James Robins, Sergeant Williams, Lieutenant Best, and John Rosen-bury, also appear on the list. One lot, No. 18, was left for the King’s Saw-mill, afterwards known as Booth’s Mills. Of these owners of lots, however, it is uncertain how many became bona-fide settlers, though the list undoubtedly includes those who did. In addition to those named, John Fralick, or Freeligh, formerly holding a commission in the army, is said to have been one of the first settlers in Kingston, and to have built the fourth house of the future town.

During the two or three years following we find coming into prominence the names of men who took a leading part in the affairs of the infant Province, names long well-known or well-remembered in Kingston, and most of them still perpetuated by living representatives. The Rev. John Stuart, D.D., the first Anglican clergyman in Canada, and father of the Rev. George 0 ‘Kill Stuart—still well remembered as the venerable “old Archdeacon,” has already been mentioned as one of the first land-holders. And as regard.; the higher interests of the settlement, he was one of the most notable. He soon became the first teacher also, for, in the absence of any other educational provision, he opened a school for boys in the year following his arrival-1876, and, two years after, declares that he has “an excellent school for the children,” thus supplying a most urgent need. In 1785 he says of the growing village, that “Kingston increases fast ; there are already about fifty houses built in it, some of them very elegant. (sic) We have now, just at the door, a ship, a scow, and a sloop, besides a number at Sackett’s Harbour.” From which remarks we may gather that the young town, if not growing with the rapidity of new western towns of to-day, was at least making very respectable progress. The career of this remarkable early settler will be more fully given in connection with the development of religious and educational institutions in Kingston and its vicinity.

Another most notable pioneer settler was the Hon. Richard Cartwright, as he soon became by his appointment to the Legislative Council, the grandfather of our distinguished veteran statesman, the Right Hon. Sir Richard Cartwright, and exhibiting in his own career much of the force and ability which have made his descendants a power in the land. Mr. Cartwright, a native of Albany, N.Y., the son of an English father and a Dutch mother, was naturally endowed with studious and scholarly tastes, and was pursuing his studies with a view to entering the ministry of the Church, when the troublous times which befell forced him into a very different path. On the outbreak of the American Revolution, his loyalty to Great Britain brought him, with his parents, to Canada, where he filled for some time the office of Secretary to Colonel Butler of the King’s Rangers, attending him through two campaigns. Coming to Kingston, whither his father seems to have accompanied him, at the conclusion of the war, he engaged in business at first on Carleton Island, in partnership with his friend afterwards known as the Hon. Robert Hamilton, an accomplished gentleman of genial disposition and manner, who was long one of the leading men of the Province. One of his sons, George, gave his name, with some valuable property, to the city of Hamilton, and his youngest son, the late Hon. John Hamilton, became, like his father, a Senator, and was long President of the Lake and River Steamboat Company, as well as Chairman of the Board of Trustees of Queen’s University, a man esteemed and respected by all who knew him, not only for his high character and excellent judgment, but also for the benevolent and genial disposition expressed in his benignant face and courteous manner. Mr. Robert Hamilton, however, left Kingston at an early period to settle at Queenstown, now Queenston, near Niagara, thus severing his partnership and his business connection with Kingston.

Mr. Cartwright’s scholarly predilections, if, as we are told, they gave him a distaste for business, seem not to have unfitted him for considerable success therein, judging by his memoranda on exports and fiscal questions. And although he had never been greatly attracted by the profession of law, we find him soon, as will presently appear, acting as Chairman of the first Justices of Common Pleas, for the District of Mecklenburg. As one of the first members of the Legislative Council, he ably and faithfully served his Province in this capacity during the rest of his life, even when successive bereavements and his own failing health might well have excused him from public duty. In the published “Life and Letters” of this upright and high-minded man (edited by his grandson, the Rev. C. E. Cartwright, late chaplain of the Provincial penitentiary), may be found many admirable suggestions in regard both to the commercial interests of the country and to the system of legislation best adapted to its needs ; and also a manly protest against what he deemed unwise or inexpedient in the regime of Governor Simcoe, such as his fancy for fixing the seat of Government at the River Trancke (London), his too indiscriminate encouragement of American immigrants, and his disposition, in common with that of the Home authorities, to force the ecclesiastical institutions of the Established Church of England on a population nineteen-twentieths of whom belonged to other Communions, and to grant to the representatives of that Church in Canada the exclusive political advantages which had caused so much dissension in the Mother Country. In regard to one crying grievance, for example, Mr. Cartwright forcibly pointed out the defects of the Marriage Act, which he himself had introduced into the House of Representatives, promising that every effort would speedily be made to place this matter on a more just and liberal footing.

In taking the firm stand he maintained against the views of the Governor and some of his advisers, he exposed himself to misrepresentation in England, and even to imputations on his loyalty, which he keenly felt, but he had the courage of his convictions, and held what he deemed the right course undaunted, and the history of the country soon proved, only too completely, the clearness of his insight and the wisdom of his counsels. His inflexible adherence to duty, unshaken probity, disinterested public spirit, and firm grasp of important questions, justly made him one of the leading men of his time and Province, and had his lot been cast in a wider sphere, there can be little doubt that he would have attained a still higher and wider reputation. Familiar as we are to-day with the principle of heredity, it is not surprising that the two sons who survived him should respectively have exemplified some of his leading characteristics in the ministry of the Church and the profession of law, nor that one of his grandsons should to-day be one of the most distinguished of our Canadian statesmen, while the others have honourably filled important positions in the Province. The Napanee Mills, long called by his name, remain in evidence of his enterprise and business activity.

Another settler of note was Mr. Robert Macaulay, possibly the Lieutenant Macaulay who is mentioned by Parkman as writing to Horatio Gates concerning the capture of Fort Frontenac, in which engagement he may possibly have served. During the revolutionary war he had settled on Carleton Island, in Lake Ontario, not far from Kingston, then a British military station, where he carried on the business of supplying the Commissariat and garrison with provisions. On the cession of Carleton Island to the American Republic, Mr. Macaulay transferred his business to Kingston, where he was one of the original land-holders. He had built for himself a comfortable dwelling-house on the island, and this he enterprisingly rafted over to “Kingstown” and rebuilt at the corner of Princess and Ontario Streets, where, clap-boa rded and painted, and in good preservation, it still stands as one of the surviving relics of pioneer days. We know less of his history than of that of Mr. Cartwright, but his two sons—the Hon. John Macaulay, of Kingston, and the Rev. William Macaulay, of Picton—were long known and respected as leading men in their respective vocations, the former filling, for a number of years, the post of Surveyor-General of the Province. The substantial stone house which he built on King Street is still occupied by his descendants.

Captain John Joseph Herkimer, or Herchmer, had served in Butler’s Rangers during the border warfare, in which the company was so actively engaged, and, having left his family home in the new republic, where “Herchmer’s County” still perpetuates the name, he, also, early settled in Kingston. His grandson, the Rev. William Herchmer, was for many years the popular and esteemed assistant minister of St. George’s Church, and his descendants also are still to be found in Kingston.

The name of Forsyth, too, has been long respected in the city, the grandfather of Mr. John R. Forsyth, now residing in England, having been one of the early pioneers and leading citizens. The Hon. Thomas Markland, John Kirby, John Cummings, and others not now represented by living descendants, were most estimable and public-spirited men, helpful in all that concerned the best interests of the town. Other early settlers in the place, of whom less is known, were Peter Smith, John Ferguson, Messrs. Lyons, Pousett, McDonnell, Boyman, Cook, Taylor, Smyth, DeNyke, Alcott, Cuthbertson, and Captain Murney, whose name is perpetuated in Murney Tower, erected on what was his land, and whose descendants afterwards settled in Belleville.

The town-plot of Kingston, first laid out in 1783, was confined to a small area in what is now its eastern quarter. For the first decade of its existence it did not grow beyond the dimensions of a small village. The old traditions of Fort Frontenac, and the few log huts which still existed near the fort, had continued to make it to some extent a resting point between the upper lakes and Montreal. A certain “Mother Cook” is described as keeping a primitive hostelry in a low, flat hut with but two rooms, for the entertainment of passing travellers. As early as 1782-3, the Government, in preparation for the settlement of the Loyalists, had arranged to erect a gristmill at a picturesque point on the Cataraqui River, five miles from the fort, early and still known as “Kingston Mills,” where a snowy water-fall dashed over rough granite crags into the deep, thickly-wooded gorge below, and where the first locks of the Rideau Canal now rear their solid walls of masonry, and the windings of the narrow river frame in a brief but charming glimpse of the distant city for the travellers who glide swiftly over the Grand Trunk Railway bridge that now spans the chasm.

This point was selected as possessing the most central water-power accessible to the settlers who were to occupy the adjacent lake-front and shores of the Bay of Quinte ; and all the material required for its construction was supplied by Government, the mill-house of roughly squared timber being built by men taken from the newly arrived band of soldier-settlers. The original mill, at which the surrounding settlers, from Cornwall to the Bay of Quinte, could have their grist ground free of toll, was still standing in 1836. Previous to its completion they had to resort to the primitive mortar and pestle, or to such hand-mills as Government could supply or their ingenuity devise.

Another mill, however, was shortly after erected for the Government by the same builder, Mr. Robert Clark, at the Falls of the Napanee River, for the accommodation of the settlers to westward, who, in the absence of ordinary means of conveyance, must have found the journey to Cataraqui inconvenient enough. The original name of Appenea, which, in the language of the Mississauga Indians, signifies flour, is found attached to the place before the mills were built in 1785, therefore it cannot, as some supposed, have been derived from the mills, but may possibly have been suggested by the white foam of the waterfall.

The worthy mill-wright was an Englishman who had been Sergeant-Major in the Eighth, or King’s Own, Regiment, and later clerk and military storekeeper on Carleton Island. Thence he went to Catara qui to build the “Kingston Mills,” removing, in 1785, to Napanee, to construct and superintend the new mill. On his appointment to the post of barrack master at Fort Niagara, not long after, the direction of this mill was transferred to Surveyor Collins, and about 1792 it became the property of the Hon. Richard Cartwright, who rebuilt and improved it. Mr. Clark’s third son, born at Cataraqui, or Kingston, in 1783, was baptised there by the Rev. John Stuart, and was, so far as can now be ascertained, the first white child born of English parents in Western Canada. He lived to a good old age, as the late Colonel John Clark, of Port Dalhousie, first President of the Ontario Historical Society, and has left behind most interesting “Memoirs” of the early years of the Province. Among other things, he tells us that “the grain chiefly brought to be ground was Indian corn ; but as the clearances increased, a small toll was exacted to pay for the daily expense of the mill ; but this was a mere trifle compared with the advantages derived by the settlers from avoiding the loss of time involved in going to Kingston.” From the record of an old account book used by Mr. Robert Clark, we find, inter alia, that in 1787 nails and butter each cost one shilling per pound; rum, two shillings per quart, and three quires of writing paper, five shillings sterling. We learn, also, from other sources, that in the same year the price of the four-pound loaf was fixed by the Court of Quarter Sessions at nine-pence ; and it must be remembered that the value of money was then relatively much higher than it is now.

The early judicial history of the Province is admittedly obscure, but the new settlements seem to have been governed at first by “martial law,” which simply meant English civil law administered by the resident commanding officer. In 1788, however, some legal machinery seems to have been instituted, and the first officials appointed for the District of Mecklenburg were three Justices of the Court of Common Pleas, namely, the Rev. John Stuart, Neil McLean, and James Clark. The clergyman naturally declined the proffered honour, and it appears that Mr. Cartwright was soon appointed in his place, as he is recorded Chairman of the Quarter Sessions on almost all occasions during the following decade. The Court of Common Pleas, of which these three gentlemen were officials, had civil jurisdiction, while the Justices individually and in Quarter Session, had jurisdiction in criminal cases. In the earliest extant record of the meeting, at Kingston, of this Court of Quarter-Sessions, the names of the magistrates present are given as Richard Cartwright, Neil McLean, Richard Porter, and Archibald McDonnell, the last name being included among the thirteen appointed at the same period as Justices of the Peace, viz., Robert Clark, Ephraim Washburn, George Singleton, Robert Kerr, Peter Vanalstine, Nicholas Hagarman, Daniel Wright, Archibald McDonell, Joseph Sherwood, William Marsh, John William Meyers, Stephen Gilbert and William Bowen. The Sheriff was William Bedford Crawford ; the Clerk of the Court, Peter Clark, and the coroners, John Howard and Michael Magnin. The first recorded jury, sworn in 1789 to try a case of assault and battery, were George Galloway, John Wartman, Barnabas Day, Robert Graham, Peter Wartman, Solomon Orser, Arthur Orser, John Ferris, Gilbert Orser, Malcolm Knight, George Murdoff (Murdoch?), and William Bell.

When, in 1792. the districts were re-constituted, and that of Mecklenburg became known as the “Midland District,” it was provided that the Court of Quarter-Sessions should be held alternately at Kingston and Adolphustown, the former possessing both a courthouse and a gaol, while the latter had only a courthouse. Previous to its erection, the Court had to find quarters where it best could, and John Cole, the son of a Loyalist refugee, used to relate that it sometimes met at his father’s farm-house, when the Grand Jury was wont to retire to the barn for consultation.

The functions of these Courts were of a very varied character, extending from sumptuary and police regulations to the trial of civil contentions and criminal offences, although in the last connection they did not possess the power of inflicting capital punishment. The first recorded Court of “Oyer and Terminer,” or what we should now term a Court of Assize*, met in 1789, and was probably that which passed the first capital sentence in Ontario, on a poor man who was tried and convicted for stealing a watch—a crime of which he was, too late, proved innocent. In this tragic story, as it comes down to us, we are told that a doctor named Connor, of Ernestown, appealed in Court against this rigorous sentence, but appealed in vain. This first execution in Upper Canada is said to have taken place at a spot on the farm of Captain Grass, which long retained the name of Gallows Point, in memory of the gruesome incident. Other instances of the severe character of the laws of those days are recorded in sentences of thirty and even forty lashes for petty larceny, sometimes with imprisonment or a sitting in the stocks in addition. Inequalities of punishment were even more glaring than they sometimes are in our own days, for, in 1814, a man who had committed assault with intent to murder received two months’ imprisonment and a fine of three pounds, while two others were sentenced to be hanged, one for uttering a forged receipt, and the other for stealing a cow! These severe sentences were given in the Higher Court of Assize. In the Quarter-Sessions punishments were not generally so severe, though both the whipping-post and the stocks were in use for minor offences. These two archaic instruments of justice are believed to have stood in the original market-place, somewhere about the present Haymarket, and held their place till about 1824, when the pillory at least seems to have fallen into disuse.

During the first decades of the nineteenth century the Justices of the Peace in Quarter-Session, being then the only municipal authority, enacted regulations concerning the paving, good order and cleanliness of the streets, the rates of ferriage (to Point Frederick and Wolfe Island), the provision for a market-place, precautions for the preventing of fires, extending even to the proper isolation of stove-pipes within dwellings ; also the rules to be observed by the holders of tavern licenses, the ordinary sale of intoxicating liquors being strictly prohibited during Sunday or after ten at night in winter and nine in summer. It also appears, from the earliest records of the Court, that the authorities of those days were not disposed to overlook any offence against the dignity of the law, for these show that as early as 1789 two Grand Jurors were fined thirty shillings each for absenting themselves from duty, and that two Petit Jurors were fined twenty shillings each for the same offence.

The Story Of Old Kingston:The Founding Of Fort FrontenacFort Frontenac Under The French RegimeThe Fall Of Fort FrontenacThe Coming Of The LoyalstsSettlement And Early DaysA Naval And Military Centre And First Seat Of Provincial GovernmentThe Cloud Of WarTo ArmsNaval Expeditions From KingstonAfter The WarRead More Articles About: The Story Of Old Kingston