Monday, October 21, 2013

The Mile End Tavern

On Oct. 17, 1810 in the afternoon, my great-great-great grandfather Stanley Bagg and his father, Phineas, visited the office of a Montreal notary to co-sign a lease for the Mile End Tavern with landlord John Clark. That lease was the first documented evidence of Stanley’s relationship with his future father-in-law.

Although it was not a mile from anywhere significant, the Mile End Tavern was in an excellent location for a drinking establishment, at the corner of St. Lawrence Street, the main road leading north from the city to Rivière des Prairies, and Ste. Catherine Road, which crossed the northern flank of Mount Royal.  

The Mile End Tavern was at the corner of St. Lawrence Blvd and Mount Royal Ave.
Phineas Bagg, who had moved from Massachusetts with his young family about 15 years earlier and operated a hotel in La Prairie for some years, had the experience to run the tavern. But the Mile End property was also a farm, and the lease stipulated that the tenants had to manure the pastures, protect the maple grove, and allow their cows and those belonging to the neighbouring sisters of the Hôtel Dieu to graze together.

Running a tavern and a farm must have kept father and son busy, but Stanley had greater ambitions. During the war of 1812, he and a business partner landed a dangerous contract from the British army to transport iron guns from Montreal to Kingston. Stanley used the profits from this and similar contracts to buy shares in a steamboat, and, being a horse enthusiast, to build a race track near the tavern.

Later, he obtained other army contracts, including the leveling of the Montreal citadel in 1819. In 1821, he and three partners were awarded a contract to excavate the Lachine Canal, a project that took more than four years and involved hiring hundreds of Irish immigrant labourers.

Meanwhile, in 1815, Stanley and Phineas had renewed the tavern lease but, in 1818, with Phineas in his late 60s, they closed the business and placed an ad in the newspaper asking anyone with an outstanding account with the tavern to settle it. A year later, Stanley Bagg and John Clark signed another notarized agreement: it was a marriage contract between Stanley and John’s only daughter, Mary Ann Clark. 

Durham House, home of Stanley Bagg and his wife, Mary Ann Clark, was on St. Lawrence Blvd, near present-day Prince Arthur Street. Photo courtesy Lucy Anglin Hunt.
Stanley and Mary Ann made an attractive couple. At 31, Stanley had broad shoulders, a straight nose and full lips, while Mary Ann, 24, was slim and dark-haired. As a wedding present, her father gave the couple a handsome two-storey stone house called Durham House, where their only child, Stanley Clark Bagg, was born a year later. The house was named after Durham County, England, where John Clark, a butcher by trade and an investor by aptitude, and his wife were born.

When Stanley and Mary Ann began their lives together in Montreal, the city was already 180 years old, but it was going through a period of rapid change. Stanley Bagg and John Clark took advantage of opportunities that came their way because of those changes, thus laying the foundations of the family’s future. 

Post updated with additional photo on May 7, 2015

Research remarks: Those of us who had ancestors in Quebec have a gold-mine of genealogical information at our finger-tips: notarial documents, housed at the Bibliothèque et Archives nationale du Québec (BANQ), the national library and archives of Quebec. Every time someone signed a lease, wrote a will, purchased a property or made a protest (usually because money was owed), a notary prepared the document.

Although these documents can be difficult to find (you have to know the name of the notary before you can even start searching the indexes), the results are often worth the trouble. For example, the Mile End Tavern lease, act # 2874 in the records of notary J.A. Gray, suggests that John Clark was a knowledgeable farmer who cared for the land and valued his relationship with the nuns next door.

Stanley Bagg’s military contracts, the agreement he signed with his business partners to build the Lachine Canal and his marriage contract were also notarial documents that reveal a great deal about his business activities and private life.

The BANQ website ( is not easy to use, even if you click on the English version. But if you know the name of a notary your ancestor used in the 19th century, try browsing the indexes at Not all notaries’ indexes have been digitized.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

An Economic Emigrant

Phineas Bagg had his back to the wall. He was deep in debt, with no money to repay his creditors. They had taken him to court and the judge had authorized them to split most of his farm between them. With few assets left, Phineas risked being sent to debtor’s jail. In post-revolutionary New England, that was often equivalent to a death sentence.

Phineas hadn’t always been poor. He was probably born the eighth child of David Bagg and his wife Elizabeth Moseley in 1751. David was a yeoman, or farmer and landowner, in the town of Westfield, Massachusetts, in the fertile Connecticut River Valley.

After Elizabeth’s death in 1759, David moved to nearby Blandford and remarried; however, his second wife died within a year. Around 1764, David moved the family to Pittsfield, a growing but isolated community in the rugged Berkshire Hills of western Massachusetts.

When the American Revolution broke out in 1775, Phineas volunteered to fight, as did his father and most of his brothers. He marched with Pittsfield militia units and volunteered with the Continental Army.

He married Pamela Stanley, who was originally from Litchfield, Connecticut, in Pittsfield in 1780. Over the next decade, they had four children.

Phineas purchased a farm of about 100 acres in Pittsfield in 1777. Following local farming practices, he would have cleared a relatively small section of the property in order to grow Indian corn and wheat, as well as some vegetables and apples. New England farmers usually only grew enough crops to feed their families, with a little surplus to trade with local merchants for essential supplies such as sugar and nails. But after the War of the Revolution, merchants started demanding cash and many New England farmers fell into debt.

Although it is not clear how he got so deeply into debt, Phineas’s financial meltdown seems to have started around 1793, about the same time as his wife died. He mortgaged the farm to the Union Bank for $500. A year later, three creditors took him to court for debts totaling about 44 pounds and he was forced to give each of them several acres of the farm as repayment.

In 1795, ten additional creditors to whom he owed a total of $650, including substantial court costs, assessors’ fees and inflated travel expenses, won similar judgments. To repay them, Phineas lost another 62 acres of farmland, the barn and half his house. If he had not been able to pay off his debts this way, the court had commanded the sheriff to “take the body of said Bagg and him commit into our gaol” until his creditors were satisfied. 

                                       Phineas Bagg in his later years, a tavern-keeper in Montreal

Some time between 1795 and 1797, Phineas gave up. He and the children and Ruth Langworthy, a young woman with whom he later had a child, headed north along the Indian trails and military roads toward Lake Champlain and Lower Canada to start a new life.

Notes: I researched most of this article during a trip to the New England Historical Genealogy Society (NEHGS) in Boston a few years ago, scanning the microfilms of land records. Most of the BMD records for colonial Massachusetts are on the NEHGS website, Since then, these early New England land records have become available on, and the Massachusetts Town and Vital Records are now on Ancestry.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Glimpses of a Life

David and Margaret Forrester died almost 150 years ago, but their gravestone is as readable as if it had been carved yesterday. When I visited the Ontario cemetery where they were buried, I spotted David’s name right away, although I had to sweep away the previous autumn’s leaves to find Margaret’s.  Like the lives of many immigrant women at that time, her life was almost invisible; only a few key records in her native Scotland and some tantalizing stories about her experiences in Canada remain.
Margaret Drummond was baptized September 10, 1788 at Inverarity Parish Church, Forfarshire. Her father was the head gardener of an estate and Margaret, her sister and two brothers grew up in a cottage nearby.
She married David Forrester in June 1813. According to a family story, she married him after being jilted by another man and felt that David, a wheelwright, was beneath her.
The baptismal record of their only son, James Drummond Forrester, born in 1823 at Lochside in the town of Forfar, reveals that James was their third child; two others had died as infants.
Passenger records show the family arrived in New York on Aug. 5, 1833 aboard the “Chase”.  Family legend says they were rescued from a shipwreck en route, but different versions of the story say this happened near Cape Hatteras, New York and Nova Scotia, so the story needs further research.
They made their way to Upper Canada and, in 1834, David inquired about a lot in Belleville "as I am newly come to the country and wishing to have my family settled near the town so that I may work at my trade as a carpenter”.  In 1849, he obtained title to a 100-acre farm in Tyendinaga Township, near Belleville. The soil was rocky in places, marshy in others, but fertile enough for profitable farming. The Forresters eventually replaced their little log house with a two-storey red brick home.  

Margaret Drummond Forrester died April 20, 1869, a year after her husband passed away. She was 81. They were both buried in Gilead St. Andrews United Church Cemetery, a few miles from their farm. About 10 years later, their son and his family moved to Manitoba.   
Shaded by a stand of tall maple trees, Gilead St Andrews is on a quiet rural road. The older gravestones, including that of the Forresters, must have fallen over at some point and someone has lined them up and secured them together.  With the couple’s descendants now spread from Manitoba to California and Montreal, it is comforting to know that someone is looking after their grave.

Notes on sources: This article is a good example of why it is important to keep track of your sources as you go along. I wrote it recently, based on research I did several years ago. The information comes from a variety of sources, including Family Search, Scotland’s People and New York passenger records on Ancestry, but I will have to revisit all these sites for the proper references. Darn!
The family stories came from notes my grandmother made. She loved telling these stories, but my own research suggests that accurate details were not her strong point. Her stories have to be taken with a grain of salt, but they are still fun.
The information on land records in Belleville and Tyendinaga was given to me by a cousin. She found these documents at the Ontario Archives, but did not write down the full references at the time, so I will have to go there.
I found the location of the Forresters’ grave on a site that lists Hastings County burials of people born before 1800, The best part of the research process, of course, was visiting that cemetery and Inverarity parish church. There is a new public garden in Forfar, Scotland, built in memory of Margaret’s brothers, James and Thomas Drummond, both of whom were botanist explorers. A return trip to Forfar to see that garden will be a pleasure.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Help from the grave?

I have been lucky in that a few members of previous generations of my family jotted notes on the backs of photographs, saved letters or personal documents, or wrote to the appropriate parish in England, inquiring about the births, deaths and marriages of earlier generations. My genealogy research has been fairly easy, thanks entirely to their efforts. 

But sometimes I wonder whether my ancestors are helping me in more direct ways. We were wandering around a cemetery in Durham, England after a long day of sightseeing, and it was cold and wet. We really just wanted to go back to our hotel. Suddenly our guide said, "What did you say your family's name was?" He had spotted the name Mitcheson on a gravestone that we had all walked past just a few minutes before. It was so worn that it was almost illegible. I joked at the time that the ancestors were standing next to the grave, yelling and waving to get our attention.

It was the grave of my four-times and five-times great grandparents, Joseph Mitcheson and Margaret Philipson. Two of their children later left England, Mary coming to Montreal and Robert emigrating to Philadelphia. Mary's grandson and Robert's daughter got married, which is why Joseph and Margaret do double-duty in my family tree.

Mitcheson grave, Whickham Parish Church, County Durham, England

Most of my ancestors left the U.K. around the the beginning of the 19th century, although the colonial  families all arrived in New England in the 1600s. Here are some of the families I am researching: 

Hamilton (Lesmahagow, Scotland; Scarborough, Ontario; Saskatoon, Saskatchewan and Winnipeg, Manitoba)
Forrester (Forfar, Scotland; Melrose, Ontario and Emerson, Manitoba)
Drummond (Inverarity, Scotland and Melrose, Ontario)
MacFarlane (near Dunkeld, Scotland and Melrose, Ontario)
Bagg (Springfield, Westfield and Pittsfield, Massachusetts and Montreal, Quebec) 
Moseley (Westfield, Massachusetts)
Stanley (Hartford, Connecticut)
Phelps (Westfield, Massachusetts)
Burt (Springfield, Massachusetts)
Mitcheson (Durham, England and Philadelphia)
Smithers (London, England, Montreal and Brooklyn)
Workman (Ballymachash, Ireland and Montreal)
Mulholland (Ireland and Montreal)
Smith (MacDuff, Scotland, Toronto and Montreal)

Of course, I have several brick walls -- people of special interest, for one reason or another, about whom I am having difficulty finding information. They include: 
Martha Bagnall Shearman (1826-1897, Waterford, Ireland, Brooklyn and Montreal)
Pamela Stanley (1760-c1793, Litchfield, Connecticut and Pittsfield, Massachusetts)
John Clark (1767-1827, Durham, England and Montreal)
Mary Frances McGregor (c1792-1862, Port of Menteith, Scotland and Philadelphia)