Garrett Miller vs Peter Sparling, A Court Case

The Scales of Justice? Wendy Harty 2021

I want my obit to read like my 6th great grandfather Garrett Miller’s reads. Wendy passed with a twinkle in her eye. She met all the vicissitudes and moved on. I want my pearlized green urn placed on the hilltop at Aden, beneath a bench to sit on for a tombstone, so others may sit quietly and enjoy the views. I do not want anyone to mourn but have thoughts of me dancing with the ancestors unmet but yet already known to me, because I know their stories! They’ll be waiting on the far side of the Jordan.

Sunnyside Cemetery, Aden, Alberta plot 37

I’ve been wanting to use the word vicissitude; it means a change in circumstances or fortune. Every story should have a beginning, a middle and an ending and this one also contains vicissitude! The story of Garrett and Elizabeth begins in Ireland. Although the Revolutionary War changed the lives of my 6th great grand parents it is their vicissitude of the court case that breaks my heart. But it is the ending where a writer of his obituary said Garrett had the twinkle in the eye, that through all this crisis and heartbreak, to know they preserved, and still found joy, let’s me share my feelings of hope.

Garrett Miller, my 6th great grandfather was born in Ireland in 1738 to German Palatines that fled from Germany in 1709. He grew up in the shadow of the Castle Courtmatrix, with a generation of cousins and a close knit German community all living on the estate of Sir Thomas Southwell. At the age of 14, Garrett heard the famous preacher Reverend John Wesley preach and had a conversion experience and became a Methodist. He married Catherine Switzer and the couple had four children: two girls who died in infancy Mary Ann and Katherine followed closely by two boys, Martin and Michael. At the age of 24, Catherine Switzer Miller died.

Sometime after Catherine died he left his children with relatives, and came to America with his brothers, Jacob and Peter. By 1773 Garrett Miller came to the Camden Valley, New York, and purchased a farm from Peter Sparling for 110 pounds which included a house, crop, stock and 188 acres of land. It is here he brought his second wife, a cousin of Catherine’s named Elizabeth Switzer and the couple began farming amongst the relatives that Peter and Margaret Switzer Embury had brought over from Ireland in 1760 and were granted the Wilson Patent.

Garrett signed an oath of allegiance to the Continental Congress in 1776, as the Revolutionary War Patriots demanded. Then he followed Justus Sherwood to Canada and joined the Loyalists at Halifax, Canada, becoming a Captain in the Queen’s Royal Rangers. He was wounded by a musket ball through his arm in a bloody encounter at Bennington, Vermont and taken prisoner. Garrett Miller escaped and he, with his family and brother-in-law, Philip Switzer and made their way to Sorel, Quebec on May 5, 1778. The Revolutionary War was still ongoing. This same year his property in Camden Valley was confiscated by the Rebels. In 1780, Garrett was sick in the hospital in Montreal and the next year was honorably discharged May 1, 1781. The family received rations at the refugee camp at Sorel, for the next two or three years. It is said for breakfast the choice was pork and peas, lunch was peas and pork and for supper a choice of peas or pork. They inhabited the canvas tent provided, with little protection from the winter. In 1783, The King of England said, “Due and generous attention ought to be shown to those who have relinquished their properties or possessions from motives of loyalty to me or attachment to Britain. He also granted the Land Boards of 200 acres of land without fees to the sons and daughters of the U.E. Loyalists. Garrett’s brother, Peter, left in 1784 on a flat bottomed boat called a bateaux, and a month later reached the Bay of Quinte. Here he lost no time, after reaching in a ballot box, for his lot number and established his farm, in a primeval forest. His other brother settled in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Garrett and Elizabeth stayed near Sorel, Quebec.

Many other Loyalists, being driven by persecution followed. They took the highway to Canada, which was a water route on the Richelieu River, across Onodago Lake, from the forests of New York they reached the St. Lawrence River and were cared for in the refugee camps. 150 miles west of Montreal, the land was unoccupied. There were a few huts at Kingston, Ontario, then wilderness again. In 1784, surveys were made. In Lower Canada or Quebec, portions were laid out and called parishes, and later when colonized, surveyed into townships. Upper Canada or Ontario was surveyed and numbered. Ernestown was settled by disbanded soldiers when the township opened up in 1784. Early settlers here were my Palatine ancestors from Ireland: Embury, Lawrence, Miller, and Switzer. It is here that Garrett and Elizabeth would find their final home on earth, but only after the court case.

Garrett Miller, listed on the 1785 Location List as a Settler at Sorel, Quebec in the Muster Roll as family 78. He started a new farm close to Sorel, Quebec at Trois Rivers or Three Rivers, in 1784. After division of the land by surveyors and random drawing of lots, with a few tools and modest supplies issued to them by the King, proceeded to deforest the properties. A crude hut was constructed to hold the family of Garret and Elizabeth and family of six children, including Martin, Michael, Rebecca, Peter, Agnes, and William, ranging in ages from 16 to 1 with Elizabeth pregnant with a son they would name Garrett Jr. born in 1786. Then would begin the labor intensive clearing of the trees, the building of a better log house and cultivation of the virgin soil. With faith, extreme hardship, primitive tools and what must have great determination the Miller’s started over. Garrett was 46.

His neighbor was Peter Sparling, the same man he had bought the farm from before the Revolutionary War started in Camden Valley. When the Garrett Miller family fled New York, they lost all their paperwork. I can only imagine the haste Elizabeth with 2 small children left the farm when the Patriots forced her out. Garrett had escaped from prison, and the farm was taken by the Continental Congress as a punishment for their beliefs. It was Garrett’s word against Peter Sparling and Peter Sparling said Garrett had never paid him. Peter Sparling had the original paperwork of a judgement bond, of the sale for 110 pounds, which he produced and was dated, December 31, 1774. In court Peter sued Garrett Miller, who said he had paid. Garrett also declared he had cleared an additional 12 -15 acres and that all his things were destroyed and his wife driven away by the Americans. However with no papers, Peter Sparling holding possession of the bond and finding the thrifty Garrett was recovering secured an order from court and sold him out. Garrett and Elizabeth lost The value of the property was less than the 110 pounds and he was still in debt, without home or livelihood, in 1795. Two more children were born Elizabeth and John. This was a great hardship and Garrett resolved to move to the wild country of Mississquoi, about 40 miles south of Montreal. The family with 9 children moved to the Bay of Quinte, where Garrett’s brother, Peter lived. In 1796 the family moved to Ernestown, Ontario and started over. Garrett was 58, Elizabeth 42. Here, Elizabeth’s parents Peter and Anna Maria Switzer would also be found living out their aged years, at Switzerville, until they both died, well up in their 80’s, in 1816.

Garrett built a 12 x 18 foot log cabin with an axe, a cross cut saw and an auger. It was a humble abode, built by piling logs one atop the other, then notched and pegged together with holes made by the auger. Then the logs were chinked and covered with mud plaster. A cross legged table made of hand sawn boards, tree stumps for stools, a mattress made of green pine boughs, completed the furnishings The Government gave them a plough and seeds, turnip seeds. It was good seed on good soil. In winter they felled the trees and in summer burned the brush. From the ashes they made potash of commercial value. When Bishop Ashbury crossed the St. Lawrence River and visited the Canadian Methodist societies he found a thrifty, sober, and godly people in the huge forests, with cattle plump and crops abundant. They grew rye and the cattle fattened on it. Soon a profitable cattle trade aided material resources. The maple tree or sugar bush must have been a wonder to the lips of the children. The first mill was 150 miles away down the river. The government built it at Kingston and the pioneers came with their grist 70 miles in all directions, some carrying it on their backs. Unfortunately drink was the curse of the settlements. With work bees erecting barns or chopping down whole sections of forests there could be excesses. The Methodist preachers brought change and an end to the alcohol. It is here at the farm many noted that Garrett and Elizabeth welcomed the Methodist circuit riders with a lodging place as the preacher traveled from one settlement to another. Just as his father, Adam Miller, and Elizabeth’s grandfather, Philip Guier, in Ireland had welcomed the preaching of the gospel, they contributed with lodging and food. Imagine the quarterly camp meetings. On either side of the lake they rowed. In those early days, they would have heard the Methodist hymns and praying people on the shore. Convened on a Friday night they lasted Saturday into Sunday.

Garrett and Elizabeth Miller’s grandson, Calvin Wooster Miller erected a home on this land, then his son Peter Egerton Ryerson Miller added to it, and in 1991 was still occupied by Peter and Dorothy Miller. The 401 highway now runs through this farm. At the next town, Peter Switzer and Christopher Switzer, brother’s of Elizabeth raised large families and made up such a large portion of the community it was given their name of Switzerville.

Garrett Miller died and is buried in the Fourth Line Fellows Cemetery in Ernestown Township, Ontario, Lot 16 in August, 1823 at age 84. They had been married for 54 years. Elizabeth Betsey Switzer Miller would follow him 14 years later in March of 1837. I like to think this first generation of Canadian Irish-Palatines rapidly acquired the culture. They did acquire a social standing and business prosperity, made Godly homes and had Christian fellowship.

I’m looking forward to dancing among those I haven’t met but through these stories I know.

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