In 1788, Lord Dorchester, Governor-General of Canada, whose headquarters were at Montreal, issued a proclamation by which he gave notice of forming new districts. Western Canada was at that time formed into four districts. The name of Nassau was given to the district between the River Trent on the east and to a line extending from Long Point north, for the western boundary, which included the Niagara Peninsula. To the District of Nassau was appointed a Judge, Sheriff and other officers, and at once the new settlers emerged from a marshalllike law, which they had never liked, to all the rights of Civil law, as administered in a Court of Common Pleas. Honorable Robert Hamilton of Queenston was first Judge of the District of Nassau, and was looked upon by the pioneers with great respect, for the many good qualities which he possessed. The punishments for committing crime were various. Hanging was the penalty for certain crimes, including felony; but by far the most common punishment was banishment to the United States, which was much dreaded. Whipping on the bare back and imprisonment were meted out to criminals, but the new settlers were, with few exceptions, a law-abiding people. On July 8th, 179/, Colonel John Graves Simcoe was appointed Lieutenant-Governor of Upper Canada. In 1795 Governor Simcoe named the Captial of Upper Canada, Newark (now Niagara Village), after Newark, New Jersey, with which he had been acquainted during the Revolutionary War. Let us review briefly the history of this little Capital. Up to this time (1795) the place had been variously called Lennox, Nassau, Buttersburg, and West Niagara. The name ‘Niagara’ being generally used of the Fort across the River. During the American Revolution, Fort Niagara on the American side of the Niagara River was held by the English troops, and the sight of the Village of Niagara served as a general camping place for troops, who under various leaders, made excursions into the settlements of the Americans. Colonel John Butler, with his Rangers, Captain Joseph Brant, (Thayendanegea), the chosen leader of the Six Nation Indians, with Sir John Johnson, and other prominent persons, made Niagara their headquarters for a long time during the days of the Revolution. During this time only a few log houses were built where Niagara now stands. The Officers quarters and buildings for other purposes being within the Fort on the opposite side of the River. For those who visit this historic spot from time to time, it is well to remember that Fort Niagara is now situated on American soil, near the River and can be plainly seen from the Canadian side.; while Fort Missassaga and Fort George are on the Canadian side. At the close of the Revolution in 1784, Butlers Rangers, 444 in number, were disbanded here and many of the erected houses given them. When Governor Simcoe in 1792. made Newark the Captial of Upper Canada the little Village promised to be one of the future large cities of Upper Canada. Vessels from Lower Canada brought their cargoes here, which served as the general depot for the goods which were carried from this point and Queenston around the Niagara Falls to Lake Erie. Business was brisk and settlers from forty and fifty miles inland made it their headquarters for procuring their supplies. The first parliament of Upper Canada was called on the 18th of September, 1792, by Governor Simcoe at Newark, and continued in session until October 15th of the same year. Grimsby Village has the honor of sending a member, Mr. Pettitt, to the first Parliament of Upper Canada. His Excellency, Governor Simcoe, predicted that the Village of Grimsby would, in a few years, become a county town, as it had many natural advantages. This place, unfortunately, like Newark, was not destined to become a large town or city. There is a great deal of controversy as to where the first Parliament of Upper Canada was held. Navy Hall, the residence of Governor Simcoe, is considered the most likely place. There is but one of the buildings which comprised Navy Hall still standing, and this sadly neglected. Goldwin Smith said that it deserved to be venerated by Ontario as much as Rome venerated the hut of Romulus. Chief Justice Powell says that this first session of Parliament met in a canvass house. While it is true that Governor Simcoe purchased the canvass houses used by Banks and Solander in Captain Cook’s voyage, 1768-1771, and that these were set up in Newark, it is very unlikely that they were used by Parliament when Navy Hall was available and much more suitable. These canvass houses were set up at York, now Toronto, in 1796, and were used there for a time as the home for Parliament, until a building could be secured, as the removal to York was hurriedly made. Dr. Duncan Campbell Scott claims that the first Parliament was held in Free Masons Hall, while the Canadian Law Times for 1913 states that the later sessions of this Parliament, 1793-1796, were held in additions to the barracks of Butlers Rangers. The form of government for the Provinces was moulded on that of Britain :A Governor-General and for each Province, a Lieutenant-Governor; and Executive Council; a Legislative Council and a Legislative Assembly corresponding generally to the Crown; the Cabinet of Ministers; the House of Lords, and the House of Commons. The Province was divided into nineteen Counties, from which sixteen members of the Legislative Assembly were to be elected by the people. The Legislative Council consisted of not fewer than seven members who, as well as the members of the Executive Council, were appointed by the Crown. The general election for the first Legislative Assembly took place in August, 1792, and Parliament met on the 17th of September. The constituencies had then a population which has been placed at about 25,000. The member of First Durham, York and First Lincoln, 1792-1796, was Nathaniel Pettitt of Grimsby. The first Ontario Parliament held five sessions within the four years of its full term at Newark. Copies of these early sessions of the Legislature were ordered to be printed. These disappeared at an early date, as is evident from the fact that no copies were known to be in existence in 1855, when the manuscript copies in London, England, were copied by Mr. Mayer for the Canadian Government. But there is a break in London, the journals of the Legislative Assembly for the years 1794, 1795, 1796, 1797, 1809, 1813 and 1815 being missing. In explanation, it is suggested that if copies were sent from Canada to London in the usual course for these years that the vessels carrying them may have been captured by French men-of-war. It is also suggested that these copies may have reached London and have been lost by the authorites there. For this reason the copies which we have, should be the more highly treasured by Canadians and more especially by those of Ontario. All references made in this chapter to these early sessions are taken from copies of the records in London, England, and may be considered reliable. The first Parliament being in session on the seventeenth of September, 1791, his Excellency made the following speech to the Legislative Council and House of Assembly: “I have summoned you together under the authority of an Act of Parliament of Great Britain passed in the last year, which has established the British Constitution and all the fbrms which secure and maintain it in this distant country. The wisdom and beneficience of our Most Gracious Sovereign and the British Parliament have been eminently proved, not only in imparting to us the same form of government, but in securing the benefit of the provisions which guard this memorable Act so that the blessings of our invaluable constitution thus protected and amplified, we hope will be extended to the remotest posterity. The great and momentous trusts and duties, which have been committed to the representatives of this Province in a degree infinitely beyond whatever, till this period have distinguished in any other Colony have originated from the British nation upon a just consideration of the energy and hazzard with which the inhabitants have so conspicuously supported and defended the British Constitution. The natural advantages of the Province of Upper Canada are inferior to none on this side of the Atlantic; there can be no separate interest throughout its whole extent. The British form of Government has prepared the way for its speedy colonization and I trust that your fostering care will improve the favorable situation, and that a numerous and agricultural people will speedily take possession of a soil and climate which, under the British laws and munificence with which His Majesty has granted the lands of the Crown, offer such manifest and peculiar encouragements.- The House adjourned till ten o’clock tomorrow morning.
For the district of Prince Edward and Adolphustown, one Philip Dorland was elected to this Parliament. He was a Quaker and discovered after being elected that it would be necessary for him to take the oath, before he could vote in Parliament. From religious scruples he asked Parliament to be relieved from taking the oath by affirming in place of the oath. It was ordered that the Speaker direct a new writ to be issued for the said county and district, and a new election was held and Philip Dorland was not allowed to sit in Parliament. Friday, the zest September, 1792_, prayers by the Rev. Addison, appointed chaplain. Mr. Jones moved for leave to bring in a Bill to establish trials by jury. Leave was given. The committee appointed to regulate and assess the urns to be paid as salaries to the several officers employed by the House reported that they had gone into the consideration of the sums to be paid to the said officer as salaries, and allowed :To the Clerk of the House ninety-one pounds five shillings, Quebec currency, per annum. To the Sergeant-at Arms of the House forty-five pounds twelve shillings and six pence, Quebec currency, per annum. To the Door-keeper of the House ten pounds, Quebec currency, per annum. September the 25th, 1791, a Bill to encourage the destroying of wolves was read the first time. Thursday, the 23rd of September, a Bill to authorize town meetings was read the second time. Read the third time a Bill to establish trials by jury in the Province of Upper Canada. A bill to regulate the toll to be taken in mills was read the first time. Tuesday, the 15th June, the House in committee, Mr. Spencer in the chair went into the consideration of the Bill to prevent the further introduction of Slaves and to limit the term of contract for servitude within this Province. It may not be generally known to the people of the County of Lincoln that slavery to a certain extent existed here, but such is the case. When Great Britain took Canada from the French they found slavery existing which had been introduced about the beginning of the eighteenth century. About the year 1784 a census of the slaves was taken in Lower Canada, and the number at that time was found to be 304. Some of the U.E. Loyalists who came to Canada after the Revolution owned slaves and brought them with them, and it was looked upon as legal to hold them. Slavery was abolished by an Act of Parliament July the ninth, 1793. The following is a copy from the Gazette of Newark: “For salea Negro slave, eighteen years of age, stout and healthy, has had the smallpox, and is capable of service either in house or out doors. The terms will be made easy for the purchaser and cash received in payment. Inquire of the printer.-
“Indian Slave.- All persons are forbidden harboring, employing or concealing my Indian slave called, Sal, as I am determined to prosecute any offender to the utmost extent of the law, and persons who may suffer her to remain on their premises for the space of half an hour without my consent will be taken as offending and dealt with according to law.” Signed Charles Fields. The last session of the first Parliament of Upper Canada was held at Newark in 1796. This was the last Parliament held at this historic point. Events were transpiring which made the removal of the Capital necessary. At this time Fort Niagara on the east side of the river, which, until this time had been held by the English, was given up to the Americans. Governor Simcoe considered that the Capital was too near an American fort and moved it to a temporary one at Little York, known as Muddy York, now Toronto, receiving its name ‘York’ in honor of Frederick, Duke of York. After many years when it had grown to be a city, it resumed its old Indian name, ‘Toronto.’ During the second session of the second Parliament in 1798, Upper Canada was again divided, this time into eight districts of twenty-three Counties and 158 Townships. From the division which was made at this time the Townships of Clinton, Grimsby, Saltfleet, Barton, Ancaster, Glanford, Binbrook, Gainsboro, and Caistor, formed the first riding of the County of Lincoln. The Townships of Niagara, Grantham and Louth formed the second Riding. The Townships of Stamford, Thorold and Pelham formed the third Riding, and the fourth Riding was made up of the Townships of Berne, Willoughby, Crowland, Humberstone, and Wainfleet.Various changes have since been made by joining some of the Townships to other Counties. About this time the Governor-General, Lord Dorchster, who was the King’s chief representative instructed Lieutenant-Governor Simcoe to take up his residence in York, while Simcoe favored the forks of the Thames, now London, as the Captial. In a letter to the Colonial Secretary he suggested that the temporary Government buildings at York be sold and the Capital removed to London, which he claimed was its proper place. It is said that Lord Dorchester favored Kingston, and Simcoe favored London, and that they compromised by agreeing on Toronto. There is not much honor for Toronto if this claim is correct, but the events which followed would lead us to believe that such is not the case. Dorchester gave Simcoe his instructions which were opposed by the Lieutenant-Governor, who was conscientious in his belief that London was the proper place for the capital. It is also supposed that some jealousy existed between these two representatives of the King in Canada. Dorchester had his way, however, and York, the temporary Capital, became the permanent one and we believe rightly so. However, as a result, no doubt, of this friction, Canada lost two splendid Administrators, as both Dorchester and Simcoe were recalled by the Home Government, in the same year, Lord Dorchester having served for two terms from 1776 to 1796.
The fourth Parliament of Upper Canada held at York in 1805 is the one in which Smithvillc has a special interest as one of its early inhabitants, Solomon Hill, grandfather of John W. and of Alvin Hill of Smithville, was elected to this Parliament in a campaign in which he was opposed by seven other candidates. He was a son-in-law of Richard Griffin, Smithville’s first citizen. Colonel Robert Nelles of Grimsby was also a successful candidate in this election. We shall consider briefly the election of these men and the available history of Colonel Nelles at this time. A complete record of the life of his Colleague, Solomon Hill, is contained in another chapter.
It was the days of open voting, the ballot being introduced in Ontario in 1874. Colonel Charles Clark in ‘Sixty Years of Upper Canada’ writes regarding open voting. ‘At a Polling booth I had seen men driven from the building with broken heads and bruised bodies, because it was known that their votes if recorded would be contrary to the local majority. I have known men sworn as special constables using their authority to force back again and again from the poles, voters of an opposite party, and I had heard some twenty men who, while taking the oath as special constables, and saying that they would keep the peace toward all Her Majesty’s Subjects, interpolate the words, Except the dd Grits. ‘
These conditions may not have existed in the time of Mr. Hill and Colonel Nelles. One thing is certain, and that is that these early eiections were exciting times compared with those of our own day. Feel- ings ran high and whiskey ran freely, fights were frequent and a few were fatal. Election in 1804 was held four days and each candidate was required to pay a Guinea each morning at the opening of the polls. As Mr. Hill was successful in this election in 1804, Smithville has the honor of sending a member to the fourth Parliament of Upper Canada at Little York, now Toronto.
In 1780 Henry Nelles and two of his sons from Palestine on the Mohawk River, N.Y., journeyed from Fort Niagara (then Newark) westward along the lake beach in search of a place for a home, stopping over night at the mouth of the Forty Mile Creek, and he said to his sons: “This land is good, and this is far enough west; nobody will settle beyond this in our day.” He, however, subsequently settled on the Grand River where the village of York now stands. Captain Robert Nelles, son of Henry Nelles, settled on Lot Number Eleven, Concession 1, in 1783; his brother Abraham (afterwards Legislative Councillor) in 1784, and William Nelles in 1787. Robert Nelles was a person of strong will, great endurance, was a valiant warrior and was often employed in carrying despatches of a confidential character and under difficult circumstances during the American Revolution. On one occasion the 14th of February, 1780, he and four Indians were so driven and surrounded by a superior force of Continentals that they could only escape by swimming the Oswego River near its mouth. Nelles and one Indian only made good the opposite shore and escaped, though the bullets whizzed about their heads. Their clothes were in a few minutes frozen on them and no means of drying them except the heat of their bodies, until they got to Fort Niagara. Nelles lived at Grimsby, to a good old age, having filled several places of position and trust. Such were the men that Smithville and Grimsby sent to the fourth Parliament on the first day of February, in the year 1805 to represent the constituences of West York, First Lincoln and Haldimand. Abraham Nelles, Esq., was the Returning Officer. There were nineteen members elected to this Parliament. In reading the proceedings of this Parliament, we note the broader outlook and larger activities of the Province, schools, roads, jails, revenues, etc., were problems which were confronting the young Province. We find Mr. Nelles and Mr. Hill very frequently voting on the same side, for or against the Bills proposed. We find a delegation with some sixty one signers asking that the minmum amount of liquor which the Distillers could sell be reduced from three gallons to one. This petition was signed by two innkeepers and three others. Some of the names appear to be familiar ones.
Another petition regarding Provincial Highways was signed by John Pettitt, Levi Lewis, Richard Griffin, Wm. Kennedy, and fifteen others. Familiar names in Smithville and Grimsby in those days. It would appear that the Hon. Mr. Biggs is not the first man to confront the problem of Provincial Highways.
We find that at the opening of the fourth session of this fourth Parliament on Tuesday, January 26th, 1808, Joseph Willcocks, Esquire, was sworn as the new member for York, First Lincoln and Haldimand, in the seat of Solomon Hill, who had passed over into the Great Beyond where the Great Law-Giver rules and reigns.