Friday, March 10, 2017

Thomas Rixon: Ontario Farmer, Carpenter, and Transplanted Englishman

Thomas Rixon (1793-1876) remained throughout his adult life “a very ‘dandified’ Englishman, always appearing in his top hat, spats, gloves and cane and, although quite poor, always a ‘gentleman’.”1

This description, written by my grandmother about her great-grandfather, suggests that Thomas Rixon was something of a character. Given that he lived in a rural area near Lake Ontario’s Bay of Quinte and supported his family as a farmer and a carpenter, that top hat must have stood out.

If I had only had the usual census and church records to go by, I would have come to the conclusion that my three-times great-grandfather was a pretty ordinary guy, but the top hat was a good clue: Thomas has proved to be somewhat mysterious.

Shoreline near Brighton, Ontario  
The first time I looked for Thomas Rixon in the census on, I even had difficulty finding him because his name was misspelled two different ways (Rison and Rickson). But gradually, I have put together an overview of his life, with added details from a recently discovered article, written in 1984 by Fennell family historian Brian Harling.

Thomas was born in 1793 in Woolwich, Kent, England, a naval shipbuilding and military town on the Thames River near London. He was the son of William and Martha Rixon, one of eight children, four of whom lived to adulthood.2 He probably trained as a shipwright before immigrating to Canada.

Thomas may have traveled to Canada with his brother James (1796-1870). James settled in Milton, Halton County, southwest of Toronto, where he became a farmer and, with his wife Mary Davidson, raised six children.

According to Harling, the earliest record of Thomas Rixon’s presence in Canada was in April 1820 in a list, published in the Kingston Gazette, of people who had mail waiting at the post office.3

Thomas Rixon, shipwright, married Elizabeth (Betsey)Thompson (1804-1872) in October 1825 at the Anglican Church, Ameliasburgh Parish.4 Betsey’s family had come to Canada from Goshen, New York a few years before her birth and settled on Big Island, Sophiasburgh Township, Prince Edward County.5 According to an 1832 survey of Big Island, Thomas Rixon was on Lot 24 and Betsey’s brothers Hiram Thompson and William Maurice Thompson were nearby on lots 25 and 18.6  Big Island belonged to the Mohawk people of Tyendinaga at the time, so the Thompsons, the Rixons and many of their neighbours were squatters.

Why Thomas, who had grown up a city boy, ended up settling so far off the beaten track, and how he took to farming, is not known.

Most of the Rixon children were born in Sophiasburgh, and Harling found Thomas’ name in the Road Reports for Sophiasburgh Township between 1838 and 1846. Every year, all residents of rural municipalities were required to provide several days of labour, primarily road building and maintenance. By the time the census was taken in 1851, the Rixon family had moved to Cramahe Township in neighbouring Northumberland County. Thomas and his family were counted there in the 1851, 1861 and 1871 censuses.  

I am not sure whether Thomas and Betsey ever purchased their own farm, or whether they continued to rent. In the 1851 census, Thomas was listed on Concession 6, Lot 27, Cramahe. Harling noted that he was on Concession 8, Lot 12 in the 1850 census of Cramahe Township, and that he purchased a four-acre property – Concession 8, Lot 13 -- in 1852 and sold it in 1855. The 1861 census listed the family in a one-storey frame house.

It is clear Thomas did not get rich with farming or with carpentry, although he and Betsey had many mouths to feed. Fortunately, no one had much cash and farmers were usually self-sufficient. They grew their own food and they grew flax they wove into linen cloth. They sent their cow hides to the local tannery and some farmers even made their own boots and harnesses..7

The Rixons had eleven children, and, towards the ends of their lives, they raised two of their grandchildren, Samantha Rixon and Phineas Wellington Rixon. There is a family story that Thomas and Betsey had a twelfth child, Arthur Wellington Rixon. I have searched for him online, and I hired two local researchers to look for him, to no avail. I strongly suspect he never existed, and will write about this in a future post.

Thomas and Betsey’s other children were well documented:
William James Rixon b. 1826, m. Mary Jane Cardinell; Methodist preacher, died 1918, California
Henry James Rixon b. 1828, d. 1830
Catherine E. Rixon, b. 1829, m. Homer Platt, d. 1922, Brighton
Rhoda H.  Rixon, b. 1832, m. Jonathan Rolfe, d. 1907, Osceola, Michigan
Martha Jane Rixon, b. 1834, m. Moses Smith Perkins, d. Montague, Michigan, 1875
Ormacinda E. Rixon, b. 1836, m. Henry Ryan Fennell, d. 1913
Kezia Matilda Rixon, b. 1838, m. Charles Warner, d. 1910, Cramahe
Phoebe Ann Rixon, b. 1841, m. Marshall Dulmage, d. 1885, Brighton
Mary Lucy Rixon, b. 1843, m. Aaron Warner, d. 1924
James P. Rixon, b. 1845, d. 1848
Sarah L. Rixon, b. 1847, m. Amos Knapp, d. after 1920, Michigan

Grave of Elizabeth, wife of Thomas Rixon
Elizabeth Rixon died on Sept. 13, 1872 at age 67, and was buried in Hilton United Church Cemetery, near Brighton. After her death, Thomas must have moved in with his daughter Kezia Warner because, at the time of his death on Dec. 12, 1876, his place of residence was at the Warner home, Concession 6, Lot 27, Cramahe. Thomas died at age 82 and is also buried in Hilton Cemetery.

Although Elizabeth’s gravestone is on the ground, it is still visible. Harling reported seeing Thomas’s gravestone next to it, broken and almost illegible, in 1984. Thirty years later, Thomas is still remembered.

Photo Credits: Janice Hamilton


1. Note on the back of a photograph of Samantha Rixon, signed at the bottom with initials LMF.  LMF was my grandmother, Lillian May (Forrester) Hamilton. She probably wrote the note in the 1940s or early 1950s since she mentioned her granddaughters. My cousin Alison Hermon emailed me an image of the note about eight years ago. Not realizing that there were errors, I forwarded a transcript to a genealogist working on the Fennell family, and it is now posted in the Public Member Trees section of Ancestry.  My grandmother wrote correctly that Thomas was from Kent, but she added that he went to the U.S. before coming to Canada. I have no confirmation of that. She stated his family was of Huguenot descent, which is possible since there were many Huguenots in southeast England, however, I have no evidence to prove it. Lillian also stated Thomas was a member of the United Empire Loyalist Party. Although it seems clear he loved England, he is not on any list of Loyalists, and several of his children ended up moving to the United States.

2. Janice Hamilton, “The Rixon Family of Woolwich, Kent,” Writing Up the Ancestors, Jan. 24, 2017,

3. “Fennells & Smiths, 19th Century Northumberland County, Ontario, Canada. A genealogical newsletter. Quarterly/ vol. 3 no 1/November 1984,” p. 2.
Professional genealogist Gabrielle Blaschuk found this article, written by Brian Harling, in the public library in Brighton, Ontario. She commented, “This is a priceless find, as I have confirmed that a number of records they have listed have, in the interim, disappeared and no one knows their whereabouts.”

4. Ibid. p. 2

5. Janice Hamilton, “A Confirmed Connection: the Thompson family of Goshen, N.Y. and Sophiasburgh, Ontario,” Writing Up the Ancestors, Nov. 4, 2015,

6. C. Loral R. Wanamaker, “John Thompson to Upper Canada circa 1800. Settled first Sophiasburgh twp. Later family Lot #72 – 3 Concession in Township of Ameliasburgh, Prince Edward County, Ontario,” (manuscript); hand-drawn map, p. E1, 1981; private collection of Elmire L. Conklin.

7. C. Sprague, “Early History of Big Island,” (manuscript), Quinte Branch, OGS, 1960.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Who was Walter Glendinning?

click on the photo to enlarge it        jh photo
        There is a plaque in St. Andrews Presbyterian Church cemetery, Scarborough Ontario commemorating the community’s pioneer settlers David Thompson and his wife Mary Glendinning, and Walter Glendinning. 

David and Mary are still well remembered in Scarborough, but Walter Glendinning is not. I wondered whether he was Mary’s brother -- and my three-times great-grandfather. 

Many of Scarborough’s early settlers came from Westerkirk, Dumfriesshire, or from other areas of lowland Scotland. Many of them were related to, or friends of, the Thompsons, and likely immigrated to Canada thanks to the pioneer couple’s encouragement. Mary’s brother James Glendinning immigrated to Streetsville, Ontario and her brother William settled in New Brunswick.

Mary’s brother Walter (1770 - ?) married Elizabeth Park in 1794. The couple had nine children, most of whose baptismal records can be found in the old parish registers of the Church of Scotland in Westerkirk. There is evidence from marriage, death and census records that at least six of these people lived in Scarborough.

The children of Walter and Elizabeth were:
James Glendinning, b. 1796 Westerkirk, m. Eliza Jane Wilkinson, farmer Scarborough, concession II, lot 23; d. 1861, Scarborough. (St Andrews Cemetery)
Janet Glendinning, b. 1798  Westerkirk, no further info.
Andrew Glendinning, b. 1800 Westerkirk, no further info.
William Glendinning, b. 1802 Westerkirk, m. Elizabeth Borthwick, farmed with brother Archibald, concession I, lot 29, Scarborough.
Archibald Glendinning, b. 1804, m. Jean Stobo, 1834; Scarborough farmer, concession I, lot 29; store owner, postmaster, community volunteer, d. 1883, Scarborough. (St. Andrews Cemetery)
John Glendinning, b. 1807, Westerkirk, m. Margaret Whiteside, Scarborough, farmer lot 35, concession 5, d. 1855. My direct ancestor. (St Andrews Cemetery)
Walter Glendinning, b. 1809, Westerkirk, no further info.
Isabel Glendinning, b. 1814, Westerkirk, d. 1832, Scarborough, age 17. (St Andrews Cemetery)
Margaret Glendinning, b. 1819, Westerkirk, m. Andrew Bertram, Toronto, 1839, farmer, lived in Scarborough and Innisfil, Simcoe. I do not have other information about her.

Before I started researching this family, I wondered whether just the younger generation immigrated, or whether Walter and Elizabeth also came to Canada. Assuming that the family immigrated together in the mid-1820s, the youngest of the children would have been quite small, so it seems unlikely that the parents would have stayed behind in Scotland.

It usually took settlers several years of farming rented property before they had enough money to buy their own land. Members of the Glendinning family bought their first land in 1829, so they had probably been in Canada for a few years at that time.

The Ontario land records show that William Glendinning purchased part of Concession I Lot 29 and half of Concession I Lot 30 in 1829. Meanwhile, Archibald Glendinning purchased the other half of Concession I Lot 30 in 1829 and, much later, in 1861, he purchased Concession I Lot 28. My direct ancestor John Glendinning purchased Concession V Lots 34 and 35 in 1850. There is no record of Walter Glendinning buying land, so perhaps he lived on a rented farm, or perhaps he lived with one of his sons.

The 1837 directory of the City of Toronto and the Home District listed five Glendinnings in Scarborough. Walter was listed on Concession 1, lot 28, however, it is not clear whether this was Walter the father or the son. The directory only listed household heads and there was no census taken in these early years of settlement.

There was also a mention of a Walter Glendinning in the records of St. Andrews Presbyterian Church, dated July 1, 1837, suspending him from the sacrament.

The main problem is that I have not found death records for Walter Glendinning the father, or for his wife Elizabeth Park. If they were buried in St. Andrews Presbyterian Church Cemetery in Scarborough, their grave has disappeared. If they died before the children left Scotland, they probably could not afford a gravestone.

As for Walter the son, he may have died young in Scotland, he may have accompanied the family to Scarborough, or he may have moved elsewhere.

In the meantime, my tentative conclusion to the question, who was Walter Glendinning the pioneer, is that it was Walter, the father and grandfather of so many of the community’s settlers, and my direct ancestor. 

See also: The Glendinnings of Scarborough,
Notes and Footnotes

The basic genealogy of this family is thanks to Ian Glendinning of Aberdeen, Scotland, who has put together an extensive family tree of the Glendinnings from Westerkirk

George Walton, City of Toronto and the Home District Commercial Directory and Register with almanac and calendar for 1837;

St. Andrews Presbyterian Cemetery (Bendale), Scarborough, Ontario. A genealogical reference listing. Ontario Genealogical Society, Toronto Branch. 1988 and 1993. (There are two Walter Glendinnings included in the transcriptions of gravestones at St. Andrews Cemetery, but neither of them is Walter senior. They are: Walter Glendinning, son of James and Eliza; and Walter Glendinning, d. 1892, and his wife Isabella Robertson; he was born 1849 in Scarborough, son of Archibald.) 

Thanks for assistance to Rick Scholfield, archivist at the Scarborough Archives.