Wednesday, December 28, 2016

The Stobos of Lanarkshire

This story is slightly complicated because of the similar names: generation one was Robert Stobo and his wife Elizabeth Hamilton; generation two was Elizabeth Stobo and her husband Robert Hamilton.

The story of my two-times great-grandgrandparents’ move from Scotland to Canada is legendary in my branch of the Hamilton family. Robert Hamilton (1789-1875), a weaver from Lesmahagow, Lanarkshire, moved to Glasgow with his wife, Elizabeth Stobo (1790-1853), and children to earn money for the move to North America. They boarded a ship bound for New York in the spring of 1830, and reinvented themselves as farmers in Scarborough Township, Upper Canada.

Avondale Parish Church. jh photo
In 2012, my husband and I visited Lesmahagow, about 20 miles south of Glasgow. We looked for my Hamilton ancestor’s grave in Lesmahagow parish cemetery, gazed at the sheep grazing on the rolling hillsides and breathed in the cool Scottish air. From Lesmahagow, we drove to Avondale Parish Church in nearby Strathaven, where Elizabeth Stobo was baptized in 1790, “lawful daughter of Robert in Braehead.” We also visited Stonehouse parish, where Elizabeth and Robert were married in 1816.

All I knew about Elizabeth’s background was her place of birth and her parents’ names, Robert Stobo and Elizabeth Hamilton. Recently, I delved into the Stobo family tree and came up with a few surprises, notably that Elizabeth’s father led the way to Canada when he was 60 years old, and that several of her siblings also immigrated.

Robert Stobo was probably born in Avondale parish on July 16, 1764, the son of James Stobo in Braehead. When he married Elizabeth Hamilton in 1789, the marriage proclamations were read at both Avondale Parish Church and at Dalserf Parish Church, the bride’s parish. 

Robert and Elizabeth moved several times during their child-rearing years, although they did not leave a relatively small area in southern Lanarkshire. Their children’s baptismal records show they lived in Braehead in Avondale parish, Dalserf parish, and Auchren in Lesmahagow parish. According to a reference letter from their minister that they brought with them to Canada, they also lived in Stonehouse parish for about nine years before leaving Scotland. 

Old St. Ninian's Kirkyard, Stonehaven. jh photo
The minister who baptized Robert’s daughter Janet in 1792 usually noted each father’s occupation in the parish register. On the page where Janet was listed were a labourer, a shoemaker, a servant and a weaver. Unfortunately, the minister did not mention Janet’s father’s occupation. Robert may have been a tenant farmer, or he may have worked in the lime kilns around Braehead. Lime was quarried in the region and burned in kilns before it could be used to improve soil for agriculture, or in mortar for building. 

Meanwhile, the early years of the 19th century were difficult ones. The Scottish economy was experiencing a recession, the weather was poor and, if Robert was a farm labourer, wages were low.  Many families in lowlands Scotland, especially in Lanarkshire and Renfrewshire, were dependent on charity for survival. The government began offering assistance with travel costs to people who wanted to relocate to Canada. Perhaps Robert decided to take them up on the offer. The Stobo family left Lanarkshire in the spring of 1824.

The Stobos were one of the first families from Lanarkshire to arrive in Scarborough Township, settling on a piece of land near the Scarborough Bluffs overlooking Lake Ontario. Daughter Elizabeth and her family followed them to Scarborough six years later. 

Lesmahagow area, Lanarkshire. Google Map.
Robert Stobo was 60 when he started his new life in Canada, and his wife was 61. Several of their children were already adults, so some family members remained in Scotland while others left. According to “The Stobo Family: Scarborough, 1824 –“  (see note below) their children were: 

Elizabeth, b. 25 June 1790; m. Robt Hamilton 15 April 1816, Stonehouse; d. 15 April, 1853, Scarborough. They had six children, the youngest of whom, James Hamilton, was my great-grandfather.
Janet b. 3 March, 1792, m. Coppy, d. 30 April 1816.  Her birth in Braehead, Avondale parish, is included on Scotland’s People, but I have not confirmed her marriage or her death.
Barbara, christened 14 March 1794, Dalserf parish; m. Borwick. The marriage information comes from The Stobo Family manuscript. Two genealogy entries on say Barbara married Thomas Borwick, 22 October 1832, Scarborough Township.    
James, b. 7 Feb. 1896, m. Jean Muir, Scotland. His date of birth is confirmed in Lesmahagow parish on Scotland’s People. lists James Stobo m. Jean Muir, June 1827, Culter, Lanark.
Robert, b. 3 Feb 1798, according to The Stobo Family manuscript, however, I have not found a church record of his baptism. According to The Stobo Family manuscript and a letter from William McCowan in Lesmahagow to his nephew Robert McCowan in Scarborough, dated 9 March, 1836, Robert Stobo jr. was probably lost at sea.  
Helen, b. 6 February 1800, m. 1. James Stobo of Bog, m. 2. Neil McNeil. Her baptism in Lesmahagow is listed on Scotland’s People. Her marriage, 6 April 1823, to James Stobo, Stonehouse, and her marriage to Neil McNeil, 1 Sept. 1839, Stonehouse, are listed on According to The Stobo Family, she had four sons, three whom remained in Scotland.
Margaret, b. 10 May 1805; m. Adam Carmichael. While her birth is recorded in the old parish records of Lesmahagow, I did not find a marriage record. The Stobo Family manuscript says she and Adam had several children. More research is needed.
Jean (Jane) b. 10 July 1807, Lesmahagow; m. 25 April 1834 Archibald Glendinning, Scarborough; d. 2 Sept, 1893, Scarborough. Archibald was a well-known farmer and merchant in Scarborough, and they had a large family.
John, b. 18 May 1811, Lesmahagow; m. 12 July 1836, Scarborough, Frances Chester; d. 16 May 1889, Scarborough. John was a farmer and had a large family. 

See also:
From Lesmahagow to Scarborough,, posted Dec. 13, 2013, revised Dec. 27, 2016

The Missing Gravestone of Robert Hamilton and Janet Renwick,
posted Oct. 28, 2015, revised Dec. 27, 2016 

Notes and sources
 “The Stobo Family: Scarborough, 1824 –“  is a typed family tree manuscript by Stobo descendant Margaret Oke. It can be found in the Ontario Genealogical Society collection housed at the Toronto Reference Library. Mrs. Oke said the references used were family recollections, family bibles and census records in the National Archives (now Library and Archives Canada.) This document was originally prepared by Miss Ethel Glendenning (1880-1976), who was a United Church missionary in India for many years. Miss Glendenning gave it to Miss Marjorie Paterson (1901-1980), and Mrs. Oke transcribed it in 1986. I have used this tree as a starting point, checking the names and dates it gives with other sources including the Scotland’s People website,, and

The Stobo Family says Robert senior’s date of birth was 16 July 1764. Scotland’s People lists two Robert Stobos born in Avondale in 1764: one is the above individual, son of James, and the other was born 5 October 1764, son of Robert, but both index listings lead to the same image: son of James, born in July. The Stobo Family manuscript has proved accurate in all the dates I was able to verify, so the July date is probably correct.

I have not been able to find any information on Robert’s wife Elizabeth. The name Hamilton was very common in Lanarkshire.

This article is also posted on

Friday, December 16, 2016

The Glendinnings of Scarborough

Mary Glendinning (1768-1847), wife of David Thomson (1763-1834), was known as the Mother of Scarborough, Ontario.1 When the couple settled there in 1799, they were the first permanent European residents of the future Toronto suburb. David, a stone mason as well as a farmer, was often away working, leaving Mary at home to do the household chores and raise their 11 children.2

In addition to her role as mother to her own children and symbolic mother of this pioneer farming community, Mary was also aunt to my two-times great-grandfather, John Glendinning, and his siblings, and that family eventually followed Mary from Scotland to Scarborough.

Mary and David Thomson came to Upper Canada in 1796.3 At first they lived in Newark (now Niagara-on-the-Lake) with David's brother Archibald. In 1797, they moved to York, as Toronto was then known, where David had a contract to build Governor Simcoe's new government houses, while  Mary took in sewing. But York was in a marshy area near Lake Ontario and Mary complained it was damp and unhealthy, so the family took the old trail used by the native people east from the town until they found a spot they liked near Highland Creek, Scarborough Township. There, they began clearing trees, built a log house and planted crops.

Thomson Memorial in St. Andrews Presbyterian Church Cemetery (see Note 1 below)
The Thomsons were originally from Westerkirk parish, Dumfriesshire, in the southwest of Scotland. They must have written enthusiastic letters to their relatives back home, telling them of the fertile farmland available in Upper Canada. For people like the Glendinnings, who had been tenant farmers and labourers for generations and had no hope of ever owning land in Scotland, immigration offered a unique chance to own property.

Very few immigrants were able to join the Thomsons until after the Napoleonic Wars (1799-1815) ended. This series of international conflicts made it very difficult for civilians to cross the Atlantic. When peace came, not only did travel become easier, but an economic depression in Great Britain pushed more people to take a chance on starting new lives abroad.4

Mary’s sisters Lilas and Jane and her brother John remained in Scotland, but her brother James Glendinning and his family settled in Streetsville, in Upper Canada, and brother William went to New Brunswick.5 Another brother, Walter Glendinning (b. 1770), and his wife, Elizabeth Park, probably immigrated to Scarborough, probably around 1820 .6 Their children – Mary’s nieces and nephews – unquestionably immigrated, since there are records of their births in Dumfriesshire and their marriages and deaths in Scarborough.

According to Ian Glendinning, compiler of the online Glendinning family tree (, Walter and Elizabeth Glendinning’s children were:
James, b. Westerkirk, 1796; m. Eliza Jane Wilkinson; d. Scarborough, 1861
Janet b. Westerkirk, 1798
Andrew, b. Westerkirk, 1800
William, b. Westerkirk, 1802; m. Elizabeth Borthwick, 1830; d. Scarborough, 1842
Archibald, b. Westerkirk, 1804; m. Jean Stobo, 1834; d. Scarborough, 1883
John, b. Westerkirk, 1807; m Margaret Whiteside, 1833; d. Scarborough, 1855
Walter, b. Westerkirk, 1809
Isabel, b. Westerkirk, 1814; d. Scarborough, 1832
Margaret, b. c. 1819, Scotland; m. Andrew Bertram; d. before 1861

When the Thomsons arrived in Scarborough in 1799, the government granted land to settlers for free, although people had to improve the land before they received title to it. Many of the people who received land in Scarborough’s early days were Loyalists, but few of them actually lived there or cleared the land for farming. Most of the early property owners rented out and eventually sold the land at a profit to later immigrants, like the Glendinnings. The Glendinnings would have rented until they could afford to purchase their farms.

A Toronto directory published in 18377  showed five Glendinning households in Scarborough: Walter on Concession I lot 28; Archibald and William both on Concession I lot 29 (the brothers shared the farm and Archibald had additional business interests, including the first store in the area); John on Concession V, lot 35; and James on Concession II, lot 23. 

Ontario land title records8 confirm that members of the Glendinning family did eventually buy their farms. In 1829, William Glendinning and Archibald Glendinning purchased Concession I lots 29 and 30 from John Richardson. In 1850, John Glendinning bought lots 34 and 35 on Concession V from Thomas Street and, in 1861, Archibald Glendinning bought Concession I lot 28 from Kings College. Finally, they achieved their dreams of land ownership.

See Also:
The Glendinnings of Westerkirk”,, Dec. 3, 2016,

“Isabella Hamilton the North-West Rebellion,”, Nov. 8, 2013,
(Isabella (Glendenning) Hamilton, daughter of John Glendinning and Margaret Whiteside, was my great-grandmother.)

Notes and Sources
1. There is a monument, erected in 1921, in St. Andrews Presbyterian Church Cemetery, Scarborough, “to the memory of Mary Thomson, the Mother of Scarborough, who died the 8th of Nov. 1847, aged 80 years.” The inscription recounts some of the hardships Mary experienced living in the wilderness, and it notes that, “as her husband, she lived and died respected, leaving behind her about 100 descendants.”

The inscription across the bottom of the monument reads, “Erected to the memory of David Thomson and his wife Mary Glendinning by the descendants of David, Andrew and Archibald Thomson and Walter Glendinning, the pioneer settlers of Scarborough. May the memory of their immortal courage inspire us in the difficult paths of life.” I assume the Walter Glendinning mentioned in this inscription was Mary’s brother (and my three-times great-grandfather). Source: St. Andrews Presbyterian Church Cemetery (Bendale), Scarborough, Ontario. Transcribed by the Ontario Genealogical Society, Toronto Branch, 1988 and 1993.

2. Robert R. Bonis, ed. A History of Scarborough, Scarborough: Scarborough Public Library, 1968; PDF, This book includes a chapter on the early pioneers of Scarborough, including the Thomsons.

3. David Thomson’s brother Archibald was the first member of the Thomson family to come to North America, settling in New York State in 1773. He remained loyal to the British during the American Revolution and moved to Canada after the war, eventually settling in Scarborough. David’s other brother, Andrew, also immigrated to Canada and lived on the farm next to David and Mary.
4. Peter Aitchison and Andrew Cassell, The Lowland Clearances: Scotland’s Silent Revolution, 1760-1830, East Linton, Scotland: Tuckwell Press Ltd, 2003. This book describes the wave of emigration from the lowlands of Scotland because the landlords wanted to clear the tenant farmers off the land, enclose the fields with fences and raise cattle.  This was not exactly the situation in Dumfriesshire, however, the book puts the family’s decision to leave their homeland into historical context.

5. The home page of Ian Glendinning’s family tree is
Mary Glendinning, # 51, and her brother Walter, # 52, are fourth generation,; Walter’s children, who immigrated to Upper Canada and married there, are the fifth generation on this tree.

6.  History of Toronto and the County of York Ontario, Volume II, Toronto: C. Blackett Robinson, publisher, 1885, p. 270.   This book states that Archibald Glendinning (Walter’s son, b. 1804) arrived in 1820, and other later publications repeat that date, but there is no evidence it is accurate and not just someone’s guess.

I have not yet found death records for father Walter Glendinning or his wife Elizabeth, so I cannot confirm that they came to Upper Canada, but it is very likely they did so since their children were very young in 1820, when the family is said to have arrived. Also, Walter had a son Walter (b, 1809), so it is not clear whether the Walter Glendinning listed in an 1837 directory of the Toronto area was the father or the son.

7. George Walton, The City of Toronto and the Home District Directory and Register with Almanack and Calendar for 1837, Toronto, U.C., printed by T. Dalton and W. J. Coates, p. 128;

8. This information was provided by the Scarborough Historical Society archivist from microfilm of the Ontario land records.