Sunday, May 14, 2017

Martha J. Rixon’s Short and Difficult Life

As a parent, I cannot imagine leaving my children behind and moving away forever, but that is what my great-great grandmother did. Martha Rixon left her two children with their grandparents in Ontario and went to live in Michigan. She must have had a good reason to do such a thing.1  

Martha (1834-1875) grew up in a large family in Sophiasburgh Township, Prince Edward County, Canada West. When she was a teenager, the family moved to Cramahe Township, near Brighton. Her father was a farmer and carpenter who had been born in England, and her mother’s family had come to Canada around 1800 from New York State. Martha had an older brother, two older sisters and five younger sisters. 

Martha J. Rixon, the 18-year-old daughter of Thomas and Elizabeth Rixon of Cramahe, Northumberland, Canada West, was listed in the 1851 census of Canada.2 Martha was also counted in the 1861 census, single and living with Thomas and Elizabeth Rickson.3 Two small children, Samantha, age six, and Willes (Phineas), age two, were also in the household.

Martha was not listed in the 1871 census of Canada, but Samantha and Phineas, listed as S., 16, and P., 12, were still living with their grandparents, Thomas and Elizabeth Rixon.4

After extensive research, it became clear that Arthur Wellington Rixon, the man who, according to a family story, was Martha’s husband and died of typhoid in 1859, probably never existed.5 Martha’s children, Samantha Rixon (1852-1928) and Phineas Rixon (c. 1859-1938) were born out of wedlock. The story about Arthur Wellington Rixon must have been concocted to hide the fact that Samantha and Phineas were illegitimate.

The identity of the children’s father (or fathers) remains a mystery. Both Samantha and Phineas indicated in their marriage records that their mother was Martha and their father’s name was Thomas.6 Phineas identified him as Thomas Rixon. Thomas might have been a first cousin from the Halton area, west of Toronto, however, there is no documentation to prove that he was ever in Cramahe. This Thomas Rixon (1834-1882) was the son of James and Mary Rixon. He married Margaret Hannah Wright in 1868 and they had five children. He became a minister in the Church of England in Arthur, Wellington County, Ontario.Could Thomas’ address in Arthur, Wellington County be a clue linking him to the fictional Arthur Wellington Rixon?

Martha and husband Moses Smith Perkins and three of his children.
Martha's brother, William John Rixon (1826-1918), was a farmer and a Methodist minister. He and his wife and children moved to Michigan in the late 1860s. Martha accompanied them, leaving the children with their grandparents in Cramahe, and she eventually married in Michigan.8

In those days, children conceived out of wedlock were not uncommon, but that did not make it socially acceptable. It is easy to imagine that Martha’s parents were upset with her for getting pregnant, not once, but twice, and that going to the U.S. with her brother must have seemed like a good option. She probably could not afford to raise her children, and perhaps they were happy living with their grandparents with aunts, uncles, cousins and friends nearby. 

Martha married Moses Smith Perkins in Muskegon, Michigan on August 18, 1870 at a “camp meeting,” according to Moses’ great-granddaughter Roberta Heoring.9 Moses was a fruit farmer and Methodist Episcopal minister.10 His first wife, Sarah, had died, leaving him with eight small children to raise. The 1870 U.S. census showed Martha, keeping house, age 36, born in Canada, right below the entry for M.S. Perkins, in Oceana, Muskegon, Michigan.11
Roberta, who has been working on the genealogy of her family since 1991, has Moses’ diary. In it, Moses noted Martha Jane Rixon’s date of birth – December 29, 1834 in Prince Edward County, Ontario – and the date of her death from a fever at age 39, October 1, 1875. She was buried in Michigan.

Roberta says, “The cemetery is now known as Sammis/Harmon/Eilers Cemetery … located on the corner of the Perkins farm…. I have been unable to find any death records for the early members of the family.… Moses remarried shortly after the death of Martha as he had young children. He later moved his children and wife to Junction City, Kansas.”12

So it seems that, after a relatively short and probably difficult life, Martha was buried in a rural cemetery with members of her husband’s extended family. As far as I know, none of her descendants knows anything about her.

Photo courtesy Roberta Heoring.

Sources and comments

1. It took me a long time to figure out who Samantha’s and Phineas’ mother was. I couldn’t figure out whether the Martha in the 1861 census was children’s mother or their aunt, but things became more clear after I hired professional genealogist Gabrielle Blaschuk to help. I have written a more complicated version of this story which explains how I reached these conclusions. If you would like to see that version of Martha’ story, contact me at

2. “1851 Census of Canada East, Canada West, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia,” database, (, accessed Dec. 24 2009), entry for Thomas Rixon, Cramahe, citing Year: 1851, Census&nbspPlace: Cramahe, Northumberland County, Canada West (Ontario), Schedule: B, Roll: C_11739, page 129, Line: 2.

3.1861 Census of Canada,” database, (, accessed May 8, 2017), entry for Thomas Rickson, Cramahe Township, Northumberland, Canada West, and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, citing Library and Archives Canada; Ottawa, Ontario, Canada; Census Returns For 1861; Roll: C-1055-1056.
In 1861 census, Martha was listed as age 21, which was undoubtedly an error. The 1851 census listed Thomas’ and Elizabeth’s nine children: William, 26 ; Catherine, 22; Rhoda, 20; Martha, 18, Ormacinda, 16; Kezia, 15; Phebe, 11; Mary, 9; Sarah, 5.  For Martha to be 21 in 1861, she would have to have been 11 at the time of the earlier census.
Names are another complication: Samantha was usually known by her nickname, Mattie, and her grandmother, Elizabeth Rixon (nee Thompson), was usually called Betsey.

4.1871 Census of Canada,” database, (, accessed May 8, 2017), entry for Thomas Rixon, Cramahe, Ontario, citing Library and Archives Canada, Census of Canada, 1871, Cramahe, Northumberland East, Ontario; Roll: C-9984; Page: 34.

5. Janice Hamilton, “The Ancestor Who Did Not Exist”,, April 11, 2017,

6. “Ontario, Canada Marriages, 1857-1924,” database,, (http://www.ancestry,ca, accessed Nov. 24, 2008), entry for Samantha Rixon, 1879, Shannonville, citing “Registrations of Marriages, 1869-1922, MS932, Archives of Ontario, Toronto, Ontario, Canada.”
“Ontario, Canada, Marriages, 1801-1928, 1933-1934,” database, (, accessed May 10, 2017), entry for Phenas Rixon, 1883, Northumberland, Ontario, citing Select Marriages. Archives of Ontario, Toronto; Registrations of Marriages, 1869-1928; Series: MS932; Reel: 47.

7. Find a Grave, entry for Thomas Rixon,, accessed May 11, 2017.

8. William Rixon, labourer, his wife Mary Cardinell and three children were listed in Oceana, Muskegon, Michigan in the 1870 U.S. census. William later moved to California, and that is where he died.

9. Roberta Heorman, “Re: Martha Rixon/Moses Smith Perkins,” email message to Gabrielle Blaschuk, Jan. 2, 2017, forwarded to the author, May 4, 2017. 

10. Roberta Heorman, “Michigan Biographical Sketches,”, accessed May 11, 2017.

11. Martha’s name is not indexed on Ancestry, but it is visible in the image of the census page.
1870 United States Federal Census, Oceana, Muskegon, Michigan; Roll: M593_692; Page: 349A; Image: 417246; Family History Library Film: 552191, M.S. Perkins; digital image, (, accessed May 9, 2017), citing National Archives and Records Administration, 1870 U.S. census, population schedules. NARA microfilm publication M593.

12. Roberta Heorman, “Re: Martha Rixon wife of Moses Smith Perkins”, email to the author, May 11, 2017.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Part of Bagg Family Fonds Now Online

Many people have old family treasures such as letters and albums in the attic. In my family, a collection of 200-year-old business records made their way from the attic to a Montreal museum, and now some them have been digitized and placed online for everyone to explore. Part of the Bagg Family Fonds housed at the McCord Museum, these newly digitized images include records from the store where the workmen who built the Lachine Canal in the early 1820s bought their bread and rum.

The project to digitize these and other documents was financed by Library and Archives Canada to mark the 150th anniversary of Canadian Confederation and Montreal's 375th anniversary. The McCord Museum in Montreal is posting some 75 000 images from its collection of textual archives to its website (

The website provides an introduction to the Bagg family and to the scope of the Bagg Family Fonds (P70):  At the bottom of this page are links to four sets of digitized documents: the Laprairie Brewery (1821-1832), the workmen’s store in Lachine (1822-1823), a child’s scrapbook and a young woman’s autograph book that probably dates from around the turn of the century.

My three-times great-grandfather Stanley Bagg was one of the four main contractors in charge of building the Lachine Canal in Montreal in the 1820s. He also ran the store that supplied the workers with bread, tea, sugar, pork and occasionally fish, eggs and butter, although rum and beer seem to have been the most popular items. Some pages list the names of the customers, the items they purchased and the prices they were charged.

Other images record cash payments related to the canal construction, including planks, nails, wheelbarrows, hay (probably for the horses), blasting powder and wages for day labourers.
Another set of records is related to the brewery owned by Stanley’s brother, Abner Bagg. The LaPrairie Brewery account books list expenses such as barley, charcoal, transportation costs and wages. Both the store and the brewery records contain many names of suppliers and customers.

Both of these collections provide a window into life in Montreal some 200 years ago. For example, Quebec historian Donald Fyson used these records as a basis for his thesis, “Eating in the city [electronic resource]: diet and provisioning in early nineteenth-century Montreal” MontrĂ©al: McGill University, 1989.

No one really knows who had the foresight to save these records, or how they ended up at the McCord. According to one of my cousins, these account books were found in the basement of the Redpath Museum at McGill University, but no one knows who put them there in the first place. Clare Fellowes, daughter of Evelyn (Bagg) Davis, gave an additional gift of textual documents to the museum in 2002 and 2003.

Documents in the Bagg Family Fonds that have not been digitized includes copies of letters that Stanley and Abner wrote to each other and to business colleagues, and a ledger belonging to butcher John Clark, Stanley Bagg’s father-in-law. Documents related to another generation of the family date from the final decades of the 19th century when the Baggs were property owners and real estate developers. This includes a ledger showing property sales, and letters between the Bagg siblings as they discussed and sometimes disagreed about business decisions. There are also personal documents such as a list of wedding presents, recipes and several albums of family photos, taken in the early 1900s by my grandmother, Gwendolyn Bagg. More recently, the late Joan Shackell, a descendant of Abner Bagg, donated a number of items related to her line of the family.

Members of the public can visit the archives at the McCord Museum to consult the Bagg Family Fonds and other collections, but they must make an appointment weeks in advance. It is encouraging to see that some of these documents are now available online.  

(This article is also posted on

See also:
Janice Hamilton, “Abner Bagg, Black Sheep of the Family?” Writing Up the Ancestors, April 9, 2015,

Janice Hamilton, “Stanley Bagg and the Lachine Canal, Part 2: Rocks and Water,” Writing Up the Ancestors, March 13, 2015,