Stewart Family Celebrates 200 Years in Cavan

Photo supplied.
More than 80 members of the Stewart family came to celebrate their family history, some travelling a few kilometers while others came across the country. The family tree was so extensive that it travelled across the interior walls of the barn at Dave and Susan Stewart’s home where the festivities were held. Visitors poured over copies of original documents including a ship passenger list from 1823, the original Petition for Crown Land signed by Samuel Stewart where he seeks the 200-acre parcel on which the family settled, a map of St. John’s Ida Cemetery indicating where ancestors were buried and old maps of Cavan Township indicating the owners of each lot circa 1861.

They have the documents to prove it- the Stewart family has lived in Cavan since 1823.  Samuel arrived in Quebec City with his wife, adult son Andrew and three children under twelve on a ship called the Telegraph on July 19th, 1823.  The Ship list for this seventh voyage of the ship indicates the Stewarts were five of 204 passengers on board for this journey, and indicates that for the Stewart family trip, the fare was two British pounds.  Getting to Quebec would have taken approximately six weeks in cramped conditions on a ship which likely departed from Belfast.  From Montreal, the family would have travelled by a small, open boat to Kingston, then by steamboat to Cobourg, by land to Rice Lake and then up the Otonabee River to Cavan.

The Stewart family came from the Townland of Largy, also known as Forthenry, in County Cavan, Ireland.  In the year prior to their emigration, a poor potato crop paired with limited employment opportunities had sparked famine conditions in parts of the country. Flax weaving was the main industry in this area and Samuel was a weaver.    The family surmises that the Stewarts emigrated due to financial difficulties as Ireland was in a state of depression.  The mechanization of the weaving process weakened the Stewart family prospects.  Before this mechanization, flax weaving was a cottage industry that often involved the whole family, who grew, harvested and spun the crop into threads that were woven into a brown cloth on handlooms in the family home.

Over time, family farms in Ireland were shrinking due to the tradition of dividing the land amongst the male offspring with each generation. In British North America, land was either free or very inexpensive, and British government was actively enticing people to relocate with generous settlement plans.  The Stewart family arrived in Cavan the same year as the first Peter Robinson group, which settled in the Peterborough area that July.

The first official step for the would-be settler was to take the oath of allegiance before an official.  Evidence of this oath in hand, for a nominal fee the applicant would be granted a “location ticket” conveying full title to the land.  Records show that the Stewart family took possession of a 200 acre parcel that fronts on Sharpe Line, bringing the population in the township to a total 725 souls. Richard Staples was among them, having arrived the year before.

It’s no coincidence that the family settled in Cavan, as here they joined like-minded settlers. The family was Protestant, and Samuel and Andrew were members of the Protestant fraternal association Orange Order, which was based in Northern Ireland.  In 1833, Cavan was described as a township “fully settled, nearly all Protestant Irish”.

While Andrew died at a young age, their younger son William went on to father ten children.  The family quickly expanded, including familiar local names such as Wilson, Stinson and McImoyle.  Many of their descendants remain in the area.

More than 80 people came to celebrate their family connections, travelling a few kilometers or across the country.  The family tree was so extensive that it travelled across the interior walls of the barn at Dave and Susan Stewart’s home where the festivities were held.

They were celebrating the foresight, sacrifice and perseverance of their ancestors whose trials are well-documented in works such as Susanna Moodie’s Roughing it in the Bush, our local chronicle This Green and Pleasant Land and historical archives.  Not all who arrived succeeded.   Bargains for properties for unpaid taxes were available during this period.  Properties had been abandoned by their owners, who found it just too difficult to continue the back-breaking labour required in the land of potential.

The Stewart clan was celebrating their ancestors’ efforts to recognize that potential and seize it to build a future for their family.  They, like all of us, owe a debt of gratitude to these inspiring settlers.  KG

Tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

Comments are closed.