On May 6th, 2018, descendants of John Blackburn(3) and Mary Mains gathered at Arnold Cemetery in Chatham Township, Ontario to witness the unveiling of a monument placed there to honor settlement by the couple in that township in 1796. More than 125 people attended the mini-reunion, coming from all over Ontario and with several visitors from the United States as well. The monument was installed thanks to the generosity of the Blackburn Family Association as the group continues its efforts to mark Blackburn history. Local press coverage, both before and after the event, highlighted the efforts of the Association.
The weather was perfect for the event and many brought lawn chairs so that they could spend a little time amongst their deceased ancestors and their living cousins. Kevin Howley represented the Blackburn Family Association and provided an overview of the Association’s work and the early history of the Blackburns. The BFA also presented Arnold Cemetery with a check for $1000 to thank them for providing the cemetery lot and their efforts to make this happen. Cemetery trustee (and Blackburn cousin) Jim Arnold helped Howley with the unveiling, with great applause from the crowd.
Among those in attendance was Dorothy Blackburn, widow of Harry, and several of her children and grandchildren. Harry and Dorothy raised their children on the original Blackburn land and her son Mark still farms the property. Mark’s son Steven just built his house where the original Blackburn homestead was located. [Harry Abraham Blackburn(7), Harry Russell Blackburn(6), Abraham Blackburn(5), Isaac Blackburn(4), John Blackburn(3), Anthony Blackburn(2)]
Before Howley and Arnold lifted the tarp covering the headstone, Carolyn Cameron provided the crowd with an overview of the pioneers’ earliest years in the township. Carolyn’s delivery style and the information she provided kept everyone focused. Carolyn’s remarks follow:
My sister, brother and I are 9th generation descendants of John and Rachel Blackburn who first left Ireland to settle in Pennsylvania in 1736, thus making us7th generation descendants of the John and Mary Blackburn we are celebrating today. John, Mary and their eight children, Anthony, Joseph, Robert, William, James, Leonard, Isaac and daughter Rachel, left Pennsylvania and settled in Chatham Township in 1796.
The Blackburns were drawn to this part of Ontario as part of the rush of settlers to all parts of Canada who received priority for land becauseof their service to the British during the American Revolution. Living on the western Pennsylvania frontier, John had served in the British Army during the American Revolution in Major Patrick Cunningham’s Regiment “Little River Militia,” 96th Brigade, 14 June to 13 December 1780.
Like many others, John Blackburn “squatted” on the land on which he wished to settle on the north side of the Thames River east of the town site of Chatham. His petition for a grant of land was made at Niagara on the 8th of July 1797. In his petition he stated that he had arrived in Upper Canada the previous fall – November 5, 1796. With the petition was a certificate that certified that John Blackburn and his oldest son Anthony (a teenager) had taken the Oath of Allegiance and were enrolled in the Kent Militia of the River Thames. As a result of this petition, which was received on July 8, 1797 and confirmed on July 24, it was recommended that he be granted 200 acres.
The grant of land was made as recommended and John received 201 acres, Lot 11, 2nd Concession of Chatham Township. There is no doubt that this was the lot on which the family had been living, clearing and improving since their arrival. He actually received the Patent to his 201 acres of land May 14, 1803, after carrying out the necessary settlement duties. In making his petition for the land grant, no mention was made of his service during the war, claiming merely as a settler and affirming his loyalty to the crown by enlisting in the local militia. It was compulsory at that time that every man from ages 16 to 60 had to join the militia. In 1808 he decided to seek an additional 300 acre grant from the government, petitioning this time as a United Empire Loyalist and a military claimant. On March 22, 1808 he was granted the additional 300 acres (this land was on the south side of the Thames River, between the present Louisville and Kent Bridge) and he also received the right to bear the UEL (United Empire Loyalist) initials after his name.
One would wonder why at the age of 55 he would take on all the hardships and difficulties he would face. Before 1812 his oldest son Anthony had returned to the US and his other older sons, Joseph, Robert and James had married and established their own homes. However, it is likely that with the help of his remaining younger sons at home he continued the back-breaking work of clearing the land.
The War of 1812 disrupted all the settlements along the lakes and rivers of Upper Canada. Men over the age of 60 were not required to report for active service and there is no record of John Blackburn having served actively with the Kent County Militia.
By 1820 John was in possession of a total of 701 acres of land. (201 acres in Lot 11, Concession 2, Chatham Township, 200 acres in the adjoining Lot 10 which he had purchased from Alex Harrow, and the 300 acres granted to him in Harwich Township, Lot 22, concession 1, East side of Communications Road.) About this time, it was found that the early surveys had not been completely accurate due to the windings of the Thames River which formed the southern boundary of Chatham Township. Years spent improving lands which, according to the new survey did not belong to him, prompted him to prepare a petition to correct this situation but it appears that he did not receive any response to his petition.
John Blackburn passed away November 24, 1828. At the time that my mother did the research on our Blackburn ancestors she found no record of his burial or whether his wife Mary survived him or not. It is probable that he was buried in the Arnold Cemetery but no records were available for these early burials.
In his will dated August 20th, 1822, John Blackburn bequeathed 300 acres of land more or less lying in the Township of Harwich to be equally divided between his children Anthony, Joseph, Robert, James and Rachel. He bequeathed the remainder of his lands to his two sons, namely, Leonard and Isaac to be divided equally among them. William was not mentioned in the will.
As noted earlier, his eldest son Anthony returned to the United States to the family lands in Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania. His grandfather, Anthony(2), had died there in 1802 leaving his grandmother a widow so perhaps he returned to assist her. He married Hester McGrew, a local girl whom he would have known as a teenager before he left for Canada and they were the parents of 11 children. None of Anthony’s descendants returned to live in Canada.
The second son, Joseph, received 25 acres of land as a result of his service with the Kent Militia in the War of 1812-14 (Lot 12, Concession 4, Chatham Township.) His place of residence, however, was on Lot 12, Concession 1 of Chatham Township. The 1851 Census indicates that his wife, Mary, probably died between 1851 and 1861 as the next Census listed Joseph Blackburn as a widower living with his daughter Rebecca, their only known child.
The third son, Robert, was twice married. Robert also returned to his birthplace in Westmoreland County, probably with his brother. With his first wife, identified only as Mary, he had five children, the first two of whom were born in Westmoreland County. But Robert was back in Chatham Township before the start of the War of 1812. His second wife, Rachel McCurty, was 21 years younger than he was and they had four children. Robert owned and lived on the rear part of Lot 12, Concession 1. He bought 100 acres from his father, part of Lot 11, Concession 2. Robert petitioned for a grant of land as the son of a UEL on July 9, 1833 at Sandwich, Essex County. He died less than the years after receiving this grant, location unknown. [Carolyn Elizabeth Davis(9), Donna Melva Maxine Blackburn(8), Coleman Leslie Blackburn(7), Edward Blackburn(6), Anthony Blackburn(5), Robert Blackburn(4), John Blackburn(3), Anthony Blackburn(2)] and [James Stanley Arnold(10), Donald Clayton Arnold(9), Harold Wilfred Arnold(8), Lemuel R. Arnold(7), Margaret Blackburn(6), Anthony Blackburn(5), Robert Blackburn(4), John Blackburn(3), Anthony Blackburn(2)]
Little is known of the fourth son, William, who is not mentioned in his will. There are some reports that he returned to the United States and his parents may have lost track of him. It is also possible that he died as a young man before the writing of his father’s will.
The fifth son, James is shown on the Kent Militia Rolls in 1815, 1817 and 1820. He married Barbara Traxler circa 1808-09. They were the parents of 11 children. James inherited approximately 1/5 of his father’s lands in Harwich Township, part of John’s military grant of 300 acres. They made their home in several places around the county, spending the last decades in Camden Township. James did not petition for a grant of land as the son of a UEL as his brothers and sister did.
The sixth son, Leonard, served in the Kent Militia in 1817 and 1820. He married Elizabeth Hazlett around 1818 and they had six children. By terms of his father’s will, he inherited the east half of Lot 10, Concession 2 in Chatham Township. As the son of a UEL, on July 9, 1833 he petitioned for a grant of 200 acres and by an Order of Canada dated November 24, 1836, it is thought he received a warrant for Lot 10, Concession 2.
Seventh son Isaac lived on the west half of Lot 10, Concession 2 which had been left to him by his father. Isaac married Mary Hazlett and they had seven children. Isaac served in the Kent Militia 1820, 1823 and 1829. In 1836, as the son of a UEL, he petitioned for a grant of 200 acres which was passed by an Order of Council on November 24, 1836.
Rachel, the only daughter, married Peter French. They had nine known children. In addition to the 60 acres Rachel inherited in Harwich Township in her father’s will, she also petitioned as the daughter of a UEL on January 14, 1834 and received a grant of 200 acres by Order of Council dated October 28, 1835. Rachel died in 1851 and her headstone still survives right here in Arnold Cemetery. [Kevin Richard Howley(10), Alan Thomas Howley(9), Pauline Elizabeth Ritchie(8), Robert James Ritchie(7), Sarah Ann French(6), Anslum Guthrie French(5), Rachel Blackburn(4), John Blackburn(3), Anthony Blackburn(2)]