From St. Mary’s, Limerick to St. Mary’s, Ontario

My beloved hills and coulees of home beside the Milk River, Alberta Canada

When I was about eleven, my mother and I wandered to the top of a high hill and she told me a story about a dinosaur dragging his tail to make the river valley. When the dinosaur swished his tail from side to side, he created the coulees.

I imagine my third great grandfather, James William Smith walking with his mother, Alecia Jephson Smith, at about the same age along the Shannon River, in Limerick, Ireland. She told about the river monster, called Cata, with a horse’s mane, gleaming eyes, thick feet, nails of iron and a whale’s tail. In the monster’s attempt to flee Ireland, it carves out the route that the Shannon would flow down for centuries. James William was thinking about fleeing like Cata. James William remembered well the happy day the family of Nicholas and Alicia Smith had presented their daughter, his baby sister on March 20, 1819 at the Cathedral St. Mary, Limerick for baptism. Along with sisters, Johanna and Margaret, the newest babe, another girl was named Anna Maria, was carried up the majestic steps of a once royal palace, overlooking the River Shannon.

His parents, Nicholas Smith and Alicia Jephson wed on May 29, 1806. The wedding had also taken place at the beautiful St. Mary’s Cathedral in Limerick, Ireland. 13 years the couple were married and when James William was 11, Alicia Jephson Smith, his mother and the girls died. The son of Nicholas and Alicia, James William was motherless in Ireland in 1819. What what his life like in Ireland? That spring the Select Committee of the House of Commons inquired into the state of disease and condition of the poor in Ireland. Typhus epidemic continues. The Ribbonmen, a secret society of rural Irish Catholics formed in response to miserable conditions in which tenant farmers were evicted and wanted separation of Ireland from Great Britain. James William chose the path of his father and grandfather and at age 17 he joined the 34th Regiment British Army for Life! His enlistment says for life? How then did he come to Canada?. I have found no records. No immigration, until gave a clue. Of the hundreds of James Smith’s that immigrated out of Ireland there is one on the Ship Dalhouse Castle that embarked from Liverpool, England and arrived on August 21, 1829 at New York. On the passenger list were many Wilson’s. Could this be my James William? It’s a possibility, and the connection of travelling with Wilson’s is another possibility of how he would come to Canada and meet Mary Ann Wilson. James William Smith, my 3rd great grandfather had come to Canada by the year 1832, at age 24 when he wed my 3nd great grandmother Mary Ann Wilson, a very young bride at the age of 14, a descendent of the Mary Ann Bush, Rebecca Miller, and Garrett Miller, Loyalist family.

St. Mary’s, Ontario was first settled in the early 1840’s by settlers at the junction of the Thames River and Trout Creek. It’s first nickname was Little Falls, as the river cascaded over the limestone ledges and provided power for the towns mills. It soon became known for its limestone quarry and earned the nickname Stonetown, which the houses were built from. In 1844 the town of St. Mary’s had 120 people in it and was thriving having a grist mill, saw mill, 1 physician and surgeon, 2 asheries, 3 stores, 1 tavern, 1 shoemaker, 1 tailor, 1 cooper and 1 blacksmith. According to the 1860 census, James went by the name William Smith and was the blacksmith.

It is to the town of St. Mary’s Perth Ontario that my third great grandfather James William Smith set up housekeeping with Mary Ann Wilson. The Wilson’s were from Selby, Ontario where their name was associated with the Methodist religion, being preachers and Sunday school class leaders.

I have three theories about why these my third great grandparents choose this location. The brother of Laura Secord, Thomas Ingersoll, built the mills at “The Little Falls” of the Thames or St. Mary’s. These settlement formed around these mills built in 1841-43 and in exchange he received 337 acres from the Canada Company. The Canada Company was the brainchild of John Galt. In 1826 he purchased from the Canadian government 2.5 million acres of land for $295,000 or about 12 cents/acre. He had payments over 16 years and the company failed to provide the promised improvements. (Maybe why they went looking for greener pastures?) In published brochures to attract potential settlers the Canada Company said they would arrange for transportation, help settlers select land, provide equipment and seed for the first crop and assist in the construction of homes. Another theory of how James settled here was a Roman Catholic Bishop, Alexander Macdonell. He accepted the government promise of 200 acres in Upper Canada to every soldier who emigrated. He was the leader of the mainly Irish settlers. Or my third theory is James William Smith had fond memories of his early childhood at St. Mary’s Cathedral in Limerick, Ireland, and liked the name of St. Mary’s. What is fact is that James William and Mary Ann were amonst the first settlers in St. Mary’s, Mornington Township, Perth County, Ontario at that time still called Upper Canada. Seven of the nine children were born here.

By the late 1850’s the community was bustling when the Grand Trunk Railroad helped it grow to become a center for milling, grain-trading and manufacture for farm related products. My second great grandmother was born nearby in Mornington Township, Perth County on July 7, 1850 and must have enjoyed the first library opened in 1857. She grew up amongst a large family of Smith’s: John Nicholas 1834 through whom I have DNA matches, James William Jr. 1837, Sarah Jane 1839, Charles Wesley (Charlie) 1841, Levi (sp Levy on census) 1845, Manervia Ann 1847, my 2nd great grandmother Mary Elizabeth 1850, George 1854 and Lendley, 1858. Note the names of Mary Elizabeth’s siblings because they are about to repeated in the next generations.

By the census of 1860, James William Smith and family had made the decision to cross the Huron Lake and were found at Port Hope, Huron County, Michigan. He is listed as William, age 52, a blacksmith, wife Mary, children Charles 18, Livy 14 (Levy), Marianna 13, Mary E. 10, George 7 and Lindley 1, having been born in Michigan. The three oldest, John Nicolas, James William and Sarah Jane, are also on the census having married and were living close by.

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