Thursday, May 29, 2014

John Clark, of Durham, England

John Clark
 For a man with such a common name, John Clark had several secrets, some of which remain mysteries today. 

The first mystery was, where and when he was born? According to family lore, my four-times great-grandfather was a butcher who had come to Canada from County Durham, England, but a search of the baptismal records of Durham for the late 1700s brought up more than a dozen John Clarks. Which one was he?

Fortunately, another descendant did some genealogy research about 100 years ago and he left a note in the family Bible: “John Clark, pork butcher, 9-6-1767.” I checked the parish records again, and there it was: John Clark, of Wingate Grange, was baptized at Kelloe parish church, County Durham, on 9 June, 1767. County Durham was later known for its coal mines, but the region was mostly farmland when John was born, and Wingate Grange was a farm.

John’s parents, Ralph Clark and Margaret Pearson, were married in nearby Kirk Merrington parish in 1746. Why the family moved to Kelloe, and whether Ralph was a small landowner or a tenant farmer, I do not know. John appears to have been the seventh of their nine children.  

Several years ago, my husband and I visited the city of Durham, where we walked the steep streets of old town and toured the ancient cathedral. We had to leave the city to find the churches and cemeteries where John Clark and his wife’s family members had been baptized, married and buried, so I arranged for retired genealogist Geoff Nicholson to drive us around. Not only did Geoff take us to all those out-of-the-way places without getting lost, he told us about the area’s history.   

Our first stop was the old church of St. Giles parish, on a hill above the Wear River, where John and Mary Mitchinson (also spelled Mitcheson), of Lanchester, Durham, were married on 10 June, 1794. The Marriage Bonds and Allegations of their union revealed a surprising fact: John was a widower when he married Mary. According to the Bishop’s Transcripts for Kelloe, a John Robson Clerk had married Eleanor House in 1785. If this was my John, he would have been just 18 years old. I have so far been unable to learn anything about Eleanor, including where and when she died.

St Giles parish church, Durham, England
In 1795, Mary Mitchinson gave birth to the couple’s only daughter, Mary Ann Clark. Sometime between then and 1798, the family left for a new life in Canada. 

But here’s the mystery: according to family stories, John Clark owned a freehold estate in Durham that was later sold by his grandson, Stanley Clark Bagg. I wondered whether this was just a myth, but I have found documents in Canada, including John Clark's 1825 will and other notarial records dating from the 1840s, that prove John did own property in Durham. 

But why did John leave England if he owned property there? And how did he acquire it? Was he a successful businessman who invested his profits in property? That is what he did in Montreal. 

Did he inherit the property from his parents? That seems unlikely, since his parents do not appear to have been wealthy, and he had an older brother, Robert, who would probably have inherited whatever there was. Or did he inherit from his first wife? Much more research is needed. 

Photo credits: Portrait of John Clark, private collection. It may have been painted after his death from a miniature. The artist was Sir Martin Archer Shee RA, (1769-1850), a British portrait painter. Photo of St. Giles parish church, Durham by Janice Hamilton  

Research remarks: I found the record of John’s birth in Kelloe parish in the Northumberland and Durham Baptisms, on 

The Bishops Transcripts were copies, made annually, of the original parish records. I found a record of the marriage of John Robson Clerk and Eleanor House in Kelloe parish in the Bishop Transcripts, on John did not usually use his middle name, but he is remembered as John R. Clark on a plaque in the Bagg family mausoleum in Montreal.

Prior to most marriages in England, banns were read and people could express their opposition to the union. Couples could bypass this step by paying a fee for a marriage license. A marriage allegation is a sworn statement in connection with the license application, in which the couple state there is no known reason for the marriage not to take place. The Durham Diocese, England, Calendar of Marriage Bonds and Allegations, 1494-1815, can be browsed on Ancestry, while has the records for the years 1692-1900. Both names and places are indexed.

John Clark's will can be found in the records of notary Henry Griffin, #5989, 29 Aug. 1825, on microfilm at the Bibliotheque et Archives nationales du Quebec in Montreal. 

In the future, I will write about John Clark's life in Montreal.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Polly Bagg Bush: a Surprise Sister

Until I started doing genealogy research a few years ago, I knew that my three-times great-grandfather Stanley Bagg had a brother Abner. Both were well known Montreal merchants in the first half of the 19th century. But I had no idea that Stanley and Abner had two sisters, Polly and Sophia, and a half-sister, Lucie. 

I discovered Sophia Bagg when I ran across the record of her 1811 marriage to Gabriel Roy, a landowner and politician in the Montreal-area parish of St. Laurent. When Roy died in 1848, aged 77, Sophia became a rich woman. 

Sophia made out two wills.  She wrote the first in 1818, a document to ensure that her sister Polly Bagg, wife of William Bush, and Polly’s daughter, Sophia, would have some financial security. 

Sophia’s sister Polly? Who was she?

I discovered that Polly lived in West Haven. At first, I thought it was in Connecticut, but eventually it became clear that that she and her husband were farmers in West Haven, Vermont, a rural area not far from the southern tip of Lake Champlain. 

In 1856, Sophia made a second and more detailed will in which she split the bulk of her estate between the Catholic church, her brother Abner’s widow and children, and Polly’s children: Phineas Bagg Bush, William Bush and Ann Bush. 

This second will did not mention Polly or Sophia Bush, so I assumed that both Polly and her oldest daughter had died. I have since discovered that Sophia and Gabriel Roy, who had no children of their own, adopted the girl and brought her to St. Laurent. The sad story of Mary Sophia Roy Bush, her marriage to the seigneur of Milles-Îles (around Saint-Eustache, north of Montreal), and of her daughter, Marguerite Virginie Lambert Dumont, is for another time. 

Dame Sophia Bagg veuve (widow) Gabriel Roy died in 1860. Present at the inventory of her estate the following year were Phineas Bagg Bush, farmer, of Patoka, Illinois, representing himself and his sister Pamilla Ann Bush, wife of John W. York, of Cornwallis, Oregon, Methodist preacher. Also present was William Stanley Bush, of Johnsburgh New York, Baptist minister. (Johnsburgh appears to be on the western side of Lake Champlain.)

More than a year ago, I did a quick search for Phineas Bagg Bush. He was named after his grandfather, Phineas Bagg, a farmer from Pittsfield, Massachusetts who had brought his children  Polly, Stanley, Sophia and Abner Bagg to Canada around 1795. I found an 1850 U.S. census record for Phineas Bush, farmer, 28, living with Mary Bush, 52 (Polly is a nickname for Mary) and William Bush, 53, farmer, in Clinton County, Illinois. It is not surprising they had moved to Illinois; this was a time when the midwest was welcoming many new settlers, including New Englanders.

Recently I went back to that record on Ancestry and found something new: a link to I clicked on it, and up came a photo of the gravestone of Phineas B. Bush, 1820-1867. Two more clicks away, there was Polly Bush’s grave. According to date of birth calculated from age, Polly Bagg Bush was born April 22, 1785 and died Jan 9, 1856. She is buried near her son in a rural graveyard in southern Illinois.

Research notes: I still have research to do on all these people. For example, there should be notarized adoption documents for Sophia Roy Bush, and I have yet to find church or census records for the family in Vermont. Without Sophia’s will, I would not have a clue about their existence.

In Quebec, most wills were made by notaries and can be found in the Bibliothèque et Archives nationales du Québec. The three documents I used here are in the files of L.H. Latour, 15 aout 1818, #1456; J.A. Labadie, 18 mai, 1856, #14278; and Leo Labadie, 28 January, 1861, #6248.

According to, Phineas B. Bush was born Dec. 20, 1820 and died Jan. 4, 1867. He is buried in Harrison Cemetery, Marion County, Illinois. I followed up on his wife Louise in city directories and discovered that she was still alive in Chattanooga, Tennessee in 1910.

For the story of how the Bagg family came to Canada from Massachusetts, see

When Sophia Bagg married Gabriel Roy on Nov. 25, 1811, the parish priest made a mistake in the record: he gave her mother’s name as Emily. Actually, the mother of Sophia, Polly, Stanley and Abner Bagg was Pamela Stanley, originally of Litchfield, Connecticut.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Mary Mitcheson Clark

A portrait of my four-times great-grandmother Mary Mitcheson shows a plain but pleasant looking woman with dark eyes, rosy cheeks and a frilly cap. The wife of Montreal butcher and landowner John Clark, she held a book in her hand and had rings on her fingers that suggest a certain level of refinement. 

Mary was born at Stowe House, in the tiny village of Cornsay, County Durham, in northeast England, to Joseph Mitchinson (an earlier spelling of the family name) and his wife, Margaret Phillipson. She was baptized in 1776 at Whickham parish church, her mother’s parish.  Mary had five younger siblings: Robert (born in 1779), Margaret (1781), William (1783), Elizabeth (1785) and Jane (1793).

On June 10, 1794, Mary Mitchinson, age 21 (or so she said,) of Lanchester, married John Clark at St Giles parish church, on the outskirts of the city of Durham. The following year, she gave birth to a daughter. Mary Ann Clark was baptized in Lanchester, the rural parish in which Mary’s father had grown up.  

At some point over the next few years, Mary, John and their little girl left England. The first evidence I have found of their presence in Montreal is a deed showing they had purchased a property on de La Gauchetière Street in 1799. A few years later, Mary gave birth to a son, John F. Clark. He died in June 1806, aged eight months. 

Mary may have enjoyed a level of financial independence unusual for a woman at that time. When she turned 21, she inherited 50 pounds from her grandfather. When her father died in 1821, he left her 100 pounds, specifying in his will that it was for her use alone; usually a woman’s property automatically became her husband’s. And when they sold the de La Gauchetière property in 1810, both John Clark and Mary Mitcheson signed the deed of sale, so they must have been co-owners of the property. 

In 1819, daughter Mary Ann married Stanley Bagg, an American-born merchant who had rented an inn known as the Mile End Tavern from John Clark. The following year, the Clarks’ only grandchild, Stanley Clark Bagg, was born. By this time, the young Bagg family was living at Durham House, on St. Lawrence Street, while the Clark couple lived up the road at Mile End Lodge.  

John Clark died in 1827, at age 60. He left Mile End Lodge and another property, the Clark Cottage Farm, which was further north on St. Lawrence Street, to Mary. He willed his other properties to his daughter and to his young grandson. A clause in his will ensured that Mary Ann would give her mother 1,000 bundles of good timothy hay every year. Perhaps Mary continued to raise some cattle and needed the hay to feed them over the winter.

Mile End Lodge
But Mary must have found Mile End Lodge too big, so about a year after John’s death, she moved to a smaller house known as Clark Cottage or Mitcheson Cottage. It can still be identified today at the northwest corner of Bagg Street and Clark Street in Montreal’s Plateau district.

As a widow for almost 30 years, Mary seems to have been active in running her properties. In 1844, Stanley Clark Bagg, by then a notary, looked after a lease for his grandmother and, on at least one occasion, she placed a rental notice in the local newspaper for Mile End Lodge. 

Mary Ann died in 1835, Stanley in 1853. Mary outlived them both, dying on January 15, 1856, age 80. She is buried with her husband, daughter, son-in-law, grandson and other family members in the Bagg family mausoleum at Mount Royal Cemetery. 

Edited May 29, 2014 to correct Mary's place of residence at the time of her marriage.

Photo credits: Mary Mitcheson Clark, private collection                                                                        
Mile End Lodge, painting by John Hugh Ross, copyright Stewart Museum.

edited June 3, 2014 to correct date of marriage.

Research remarks: Regular readers of this blog may find the name Mitcheson rings a bell. That is because Mary’s brother Robert immigrated to Philadelphia around 1817. His daughter Catharine Mitcheson married her first cousin once removed, Stanley Clark Bagg, in 1844. 

I did a lot of research on the Mitcheson family when I first started doing genealogy five years ago. I found most of the baptism and marriage records on, but I had help getting started: a cousin had done some research in the 1970s, and another descendant wrote to the minister of Lanchester parish in 1918. The minister sent him records for the Mitcheson family going back to the early 1700s, but Mary’s name was not included since she was baptized at Whickham. 

There is a note in the Bagg family Bible indicating that Mary was born at Stowe House. I had no idea where that was, but when I hired a local retired genealogist to take us to Lanchester, Whickham and some other parish churches around Durham a few years ago, he took us to Cornsay. We were not sure which house it was, but now I see online that Stow House has been renovated and made into vacation rental cottages. 

The following newspaper clipping can be found in the Bagg Fonds at the McCord Museum in Montreal: “Mile End Lodge: two-storey stone house near St. Lawrence Toll Gate, with stable, garden, use of well; within half an hour's walk of post office; rent moderate. Apply to Mrs. Clark, Mitche­son Cottage, near the premises, or to S.C. Bagg, Fairmount Villa. Feb. 3, 1853.” 

Notarial records of deeds, wills, leases and so on can be found at the Bibliothèque et Archives nationales du Québec, The deed of sale I mentioned in the article was #2876 in the records of notary J.A. Gray, dated 18 October, 1810.

Most Durham wills are kept at the archives of the University of Durham, but I ordered Joseph Mitcheson's will online from the National Archives in London.