Tuesday, October 2, 2007

The Fenian Raids 1866-1870

A Fenian Soldier

The Fenian Brotherhood started in Ireland to promote armed rebellion against British rule there and quickly spread to the United States where it met with sympathy from state and federal politicians. As the rebellion in Ireland failed to develop, the American wing began to see British North America as a potential object of attack. The Frontier Police force in Canada was soon re-organized to deal with this new threat and began collecting information on both sides of the border relating to the activities of the Fenians.

Despite dreams of large scale invasions, the Fenians never mounted more than small border raids, the largest being at Fort Erie in June of 1866.
One thousand men crossed the Niagara River and moved inland until they ran into a body of militia. After a short skirmish at Ridgeway the militia retreated. Within a day, news of approaching militia and British regulars convinced the invaders to retreat over the border again.

Field Marshal Garnet Wolseley, who served in Canada for nine years, assessed the country's military preparedness at that time: "The Canadians are a splendid race of men and they make first rate soldiers; but officers accustomed to command, or who were even instructed in the art of commanding were then few." Nevertheless, the Canadians took up their positions at the border and waited.

Due in some part to the unifying effect the Fenian threat had on their Canadian subjects, the British passed the British North America Act in 1867, creating the Dominion of Canada. Shortly after the new nation was established, the British government began to withdraw the Regular garrisons at Kingston and Quebec. Clearly the Dominion of Canada was expected to provide for its own defense. Accordingly, Canada passed the first Militia Act in 1868, under which an administrative system was established to train and organize a 40,000-member militia force.

John David Hillman’s obituary in the Rodney newspaper refers to his service in 1870. I am still working on finding out what militia company he served with.

The effects of the Fenian raids were profound. They provided the impetus to create the Canadian union in 1867. Also, the response by Canadians to recruitment speaks of a change in the views of Canadians. By the 1860’s many Canadian families like the Hillman’s were second or third generation. Their focus and energies was in Ontario not England or Scotland. I tend to view the Fenian raids and one step towards a Canadian nationalism that became evident by the time of Vimy Ridge in 1917.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

John David Hillman

John David Hillman was born to John Hillman and Isabella May on June 1, 1850 in Mosa township. He married Hannah McKay sometime before 1880. He eventually took over the family farm in Clachan.

Hannah’s family is deserving of some further research. Her mother’s maiden name was Shoemaker. The family’s take on this is that she came from Pennsylvania Dutch background; however, I have read a reference to her mother being a Mormon. He father was from Scotland.

All together they had 9 children Henry(1880), William Wallace(1883), Martha(1886), Olive(1889), Ida(1890), Jennie(1893), Mildred(1897), Hazel(1900), Bruce(1904).

As a young man he served in one of the Elgin militia units during the Fenian raids. That would probably have been in 1870 since the Elgin units were stationed in either Windsor or Sarnia in that year. The Fenian raids were an event that can be very frustrating for the family historian. Little documentation remains on the identity of members of the militia units that took part. The best we can hope for is for is for some of the pay lists of militia units to survive. Nevertheless, the Fenian raids represent the first direct military threat to the Canadas since the War of 1812. The turnout for the militia rosters was remarkable. It would be interesting to know how many of the young men were born in Canada. John David, and his brothers and sisters, were the first generation born in Canada in this family. I would suspect that his first motivation was not Empire but protecting his family, and what they had built in Aldborough. Historians like to place the birth of Canadian nationalism to the battle of Vimy Ridge. I am not so sure of that. I suspect that at least in my family a Canadian view begins with John David’s generation. Most of the early settlers in Aldborough Township were highland Scots who were difficult to sway towards any pro-empire adventures. I think that their attention was mostly inward, towards their land and their families.

John David like his parents was a member of the Plains Baptist Church.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

To Aldborough

John Hillman married Isabella May probably in Mosa Township. She was born in Scotland May 22, 1822, and died in Aldborough Township, September 17, 1906. Her family seems to emigrated from Scotland to Port Stanley, and from there to Euphemia Township in Lambton County. They had twelve children; Daniel(1841), George(1942), Hugh(1844), Mary(1846), William James(1848), John David(1850), Isabella(1853), Susan(1855), Margaret(1857), Christie(1859), Harriet(1860), Nathaniel(1865).
In 1851 John Hillman purchased 125 acres in north Aldborough Township at concession 2 lot 2 almost on the corner called Clachan. Purcell cemetery where most of the early settlers were buried is almost directly across the road from the farm. Yet another log house was built. By the end of the century the frame house that my father remembers as part of the home farm was built. I suspect one reason for the move was a desire for more land - as even then 50 acres was not enough to live on.

At that period the Hillman family were Baptists. They were also farmers to the core. It was not until my father’s generation after the Second World War that the young men in the Hillman family left the farm to find jobs in the city.

A New Life

The first mention of John Hillman is in the 1878 Middlesex County Atlas. He is shown to have owned 50 acres in Mosa Township purchased in 1831. We can infer from that that he arrived in Upper Canada in either 1830 or 1831. Mosa Township is just west of Glencoe, and the largest village at that time was Newbury. John Hillman occupied Lot 13 of Concession 5.

In the 1830’s this area was a part of the Talbot Settlement.

In the 1830’s one has to picture forests and little else in that area. John Hillman would have had to build a log house, and clear land for crops. His was a true pioneering spirit as I can imagine that it was not an easy life.

Monday, September 10, 2007

The Beginings in Canada

This family of Hillmans originally came from Westbury in the county of Wiltshire, England. I am still working on the exact year that John Hillman emigrated to Canada; however a short history of the 1830’s in that part of England is relevant to the reasons for that emigration.

In the mid 1830's Wiltshire was in the grip of a severe economic depression Crops were poor from 1828-1830. In 1830, riots swept Southeast England. Labourers protested the introduction of new threshing machines, which jeopardized their livelihood. They fired rocks, smashed the machines and sent threatening letters to farmers. They invented a Captain Swing as their leader, and he became a figure of fear to the landed gentry. On 21st of November 1830 riots started in Wiltshire. Along with many other farms in the county, machines in Downton, Whiteparish and West Dean were destroyed. The harsh government response saw 153 men tried and deported to Australia. Their protests crushed, the remaining labourers were thoroughly demoralized.

To parish officials, it began to look as if no end was in sight. Something had to be done.
Someone came up with the idea that the poor could be sent to the colonies. On March 15, 1835 the parish power brokers met to discuss the issue. On March 20th, Reverend Clark received a circular from the Poor Law Commissioners stating how money could be borrowed to pay for emigration. In early May of 1835, the first group of people left for Canada. They probably caught the weekly wagon from Salisbury to Southampton from where they caught a sailing vessel to Portsmouth to be placed on the American ship Louisa. They stayed at the Quebec Hotel. The receipts indicate passage was paid for 25 people. They bought things for the voyage such as 200 pounds of pork, chamber pots, stockings, tobacco, blankets, kettles and other provisions for life in the new world.

Our original ancestor who came over was named John Hillman. He was born on the 6th of September, 1819. His parents were George Hillman and Susanna Browne. He had four brothers, James, William, Reuben, and Nathaniel(who was born in Canada) and a sister Elizabeth. I am sill working on exactly what year he came over, and whether, which seems likely that he was the first followed by the rest of his family. Certainly by the 1850’s all of the family was in south-western Ontario. He settled first in Zora township in the Talbot Settlement.