Category: Cramahe ON

Thomas Rixon: Ontario Farmer, Carpenter, and Transplanted Englishman

Thomas Rixon (1793-1876) remained throughout his adult life “a very ‘dandified’ Englishman, always appearing in his top hat, spats, gloves and cane and, although quite poor, always a ‘gentleman’.”1 This description, written by my grandmother about her grandfather, suggests that Thomas Rixon was something of a character. Given that he lived in a rural area near Lake Ontario’s Bay of Quinte and supported his family as a farmer and a carpenter, that top hat must have stood out. If I had only had the usual census and church records to go by, I would have come to the conclusion that my three-times great-grandfather was a pretty ordinary guy, but the top hat was a good clue: Thomas has proved to be somewhat mysterious.

Shoreline near Brighton, Ontario

The first time I looked for Thomas Rixon in the census on, I even had difficulty finding him because his name was misspelled two different ways (Rison and Rickson). But gradually, I have put together an overview of his life, with added details from a recently discovered article, written in 1984 by Fennell family historian Brian Harling.

Thomas was born in 1793 in Woolwich, Kent, England, a naval shipbuilding and military town on the Thames River near London. He was the son of William and Martha Rixon, one of eight children, four of whom lived to adulthood.2 He probably trained as a shipwright before immigrating to Canada.

Thomas may have traveled to Canada with his brother James (1796-1870). James settled in Milton, Halton County, southwest of Toronto, where he became a farmer and, with his wife Mary Davidson, raised six children. According to Harling, the earliest record of Thomas Rixon’s presence in Canada was in April 1820 in a list, published in the Kingston Gazette, of people who had mail waiting at the post office.3

Thomas Rixon, shipwright, married Elizabeth (Betsey)Thompson (1804-1872) in October 1825 at the Anglican Church, Ameliasburgh Parish.4 Betsey’s family had come to Canada from Goshen, New York a few years before her birth and settled on Big Island, Sophiasburgh Township, Prince Edward County.5 According to an 1832 survey of Big Island, Thomas Rixon was on Lot 24 and Betsey’s brothers Hiram Thompson and William Maurice Thompson were nearby on lots 25 and 18.6  Big Island belonged to the Mohawk people of Tyendinaga at the time, so the Thompsons, the Rixons and many of their neighbours were squatters. Why Thomas, who had grown up a city boy, ended up settling so far off the beaten track, and how he took to farming, is not known.

Most of the Rixon children were born in Sophiasburgh, and Harling found Thomas’ name in the Road Reports for Sophiasburgh Township between 1838 and 1846. Every year, all residents of rural municipalities were required to provide several days of labour, primarily road building and maintenance. By the time the census was taken in 1851, the Rixon family had moved to Cramahe Township in neighbouring Northumberland County. Thomas and his family were counted there in the 1851, 1861 and 1871 censuses.  

I am not sure whether Thomas and Betsey ever purchased their own farm, or whether they continued to rent. In the 1851 census, Thomas was listed on Concession 6, Lot 27, Cramahe. Harling noted that he was on Concession 8, Lot 12 in the 1850 census of Cramahe Township, and that he purchased a four-acre property – Concession 8, Lot 13 — in 1852 and sold it in 1855. The 1861 census listed the family in a one-storey frame house.

It is clear Thomas did not get rich with farming or with carpentry, and he and Betsey had many mouths to feed. Fortunately, no one had much cash and farmers were usually self-sufficient. They grew their own food and they grew flax they wove into linen cloth. They sent their cow hides to the local tannery and some farmers even made their own boots and harnesses..7

The Rixons had eleven children, and, towards the ends of their lives, they raised two of their grandchildren, Samantha Rixon and Phineas Rixon. There is a family story that Thomas and Betsey had a twelfth child, Arthur Wellington Rixon. I have searched for him online, and I hired two local researchers to look for him, to no avail. I strongly suspect he never existed, and will write about this in a future post.

Thomas and Betsey’s other children were well documented:

  • William James Rixon b. 1826, m. Mary Jane Cardinell; Methodist preacher, died 1918, California
  • Henry James Rixon b. 1828, d. 1830
  • Catherine E. Rixon, b. 1829, m. Homer Platt, d. 1922, Brighton
  • Rhoda H.  Rixon, b. 1832, m. Jonathan Rolfe, d. 1907, Osceola, Michigan
  • Martha Jane Rixon, b. 1834, m. Moses Smith Perkins, d. Montague, Michigan, 1875
  • Ormacinda E. Rixon, b. 1836, m. Henry Ryan Fennell, d. 1913
  • Kezia Matilda Rixon, b. 1838, m. Charles Warner, d. 1910, Cramahe
  • Phoebe Ann Rixon, b. 1841, m. Marshall Dulmage, d. 1885, Brighton
  • Mary Lucy Rixon, b. 1843, m. Aaron Warner, d. 1924
  • James P. Rixon, b. 1845, d. 1848
  • Sarah L. Rixon, b. 1847, m. Amos Knapp, d. after 1920, Michigan
Grave of Elizabeth, wife of Thomas Rixon

Elizabeth Rixon died on Sept. 13, 1872 at age 67, and was buried in Hilton United Church Cemetery, near Brighton. After her death, Thomas must have moved in with his daughter Kezia Warner because, at the time of his death on Dec. 12, 1876, his place of residence was at the Warner home, Concession 6, Lot 27, Cramahe. Thomas died at age 82 and is also buried in Hilton Cemetery.

Although Elizabeth’s gravestone is lying on the ground, it is still visible. Harling reported seeing Thomas’s gravestone next to it, broken and almost illegible, in 1984. Thirty years later, Thomas is still remembered.

Photo Credits: Janice Hamilton


  1. Note on the back of a photograph of Samantha Rixon, signed at the bottom with initials LMF.  LMF was my grandmother, Lillian May (Forrester) Hamilton. She probably wrote the note in the 1940s or early 1950s since she mentioned her granddaughters. My cousin Alison Hermon emailed me an image of the note about eight years ago. Not realizing that there were errors, I forwarded a transcript to a genealogist working on the Fennell family, and it is now posted in the Public Member Trees section of Ancestry.  My grandmother wrote correctly that Thomas was from Kent, but she added that he went to the U.S. before coming to Canada. He may have gone there with his brother for a time. She stated his family was of Huguenot descent, which is possible since there were many Huguenots in southeast England, however, I have no evidence to prove it. Lillian also stated Thomas was a member of the United Empire Loyalist Party. Although it seems clear he loved England, he is not on any list of Loyalists, and several of his children ended up moving to the United States.
  2. Janice Hamilton, “The Rixon Family of Woolwich, Kent,” Writing Up the Ancestors, Jan. 24, 2017,
  3. “Fennells & Smiths, 19th Century Northumberland County, Ontario, Canada. A genealogical newsletter. Quarterly/ vol. 3 no 1/November 1984,” p. 2.
    Professional genealogist Gabrielle Blaschuk found this article, written by Brian Harling, in the public library in Brighton, Ontario. She commented, “This is a priceless find, as I have confirmed that a number of records they have listed have, in the interim, disappeared and no one knows their whereabouts.”
  4. Ibid. p. 2
  5. Janice Hamilton, “A Confirmed Connection: the Thompson family of Goshen, N.Y. and Sophiasburgh, Ontario,” Writing Up the Ancestors, Nov. 4, 2015,
  6. C. Loral R. Wanamaker, “John Thompson to Upper Canada circa 1800. Settled first Sophiasburgh twp. Later family Lot #72 – 3 Concession in Township of Ameliasburgh, Prince Edward County, Ontario,” (manuscript); hand-drawn map, p. E1, 1981; private collection of Elmire L. Conklin.
  7. C. Sprague, “Early History of Big Island,” (manuscript), Quinte Branch, OGS, 1960.

Mattie Rixon and the Forrester Family

Samantha Rixon, or Mattie as she was known, (1856-1929) learned the importance of family early in life. When Mattie was a teenager, her mother moved away, leaving her and her younger brother, Phineas, to be brought up by their grandparents. Both children were probably illegitimate, and their father was not around.

The children grew up in Cramahe Township, Northumberland County, Ontario, a rural area near Brighton and Lake Ontario. Their grandfather, Thomas Rixon (1793-1876), who was originally from England, worked as a carpenter and farmer. Their grandmother, Betsey Thompson (c. 1804-c.1872), had already brought up 12 children, but she was still willing and able to care for her two grandchildren.

Around the time her grandparents died, Mattie moved in with her married aunt, Ormacinda Rixon Fennell. Once again, a family member had come to her assistance.

In 1879, Mattie married John McFarlane Forrester1, nicknamed Jack. He was the son of a Scottish-born farmer from Melrose, in Tyendinaga Township, Hastings County, Ontario. The couple settle up housekeeping in a log cabin on the Forrester family farm. A year later, Mattie gave birth to twins, a boy and a girl. The boy, named Arthur, did not survive, but Lillian May2, the baby girl who was one day to become my grandmother, was placed in a box behind the woodstove to keep warm.

Jack was one of seven children, and land in Ontario was becoming too expensive for him and his four brothers to buy farms of their own. The Forresters agreed the best the solution would be for everyone to leave Ontario and start over on the western prairies, which were opening up to settlers at the time. The Forrester brothers and their father bought adjoining 160-acre lots near Emerson, Manitoba, close to the American border.

Farming in Manitoba was quite different from life in Ontario. The Forrester farm in Ontario had been fairly small and hilly, and the family had raised mixed crops and livestock. Now they were farming grain on the vast, flat prairies. Winters were longer and much colder, but the soil, subject to periodic flooding by the Red River, was fertile. And although two of Jack’s brothers moved to nearby Winnipeg to pursue careers there, those who remained in Emerson could count on each other to help with the farm work and enjoy social get-togethers.

Mattie and Jack raised six children: Lillian May, Arthur Wellington, John MacFarlane, William Drummond, Lulu Elda and Jessie Jean.3 According to her nephew Charles Reid Forrester, Mattie was devoted to her family.  In a memoir, he wrote: “Aunt Mattie … had been a school teacher in Ontario whose whole life was now devoted to caring for her family, milking cows and making butter, raising poultry, sewing, gardening and the thousand and one tasks incidental to running a farm home.

Samantha (Rixon) Forrester

“There was something special about Aunt Mattie’s bread, fresh from the oven, with its nutty flavor! Long years after she was gone, the rich aroma of her newly baked loaves greeted me one day as I opened the doors of her old cupboard, bringing back memories of those days when we were privileged to accept her kindness, while turning her house topsy-turvy in our games of hide and seek, hide the thimble, robbers, train, and whatever came to mind.” 4

One year the whole family visited California on a trip paid for by one of the Forrester brothers who was a successful real estate developer. When Jack and Mattie decided to retire from farming around 1911, they moved west again, this time to Los Angeles, where they bought a tiny house. Several other family members, including Mattie’s son Bill, also moved to California, but Mattie did miss her grandchildren in Canada. In 1928, she wrote to 13-year-old grandson Jimmy Hamilton (my future father), “When I think of you boys growing so much since I came here I feel a bit sorry I’ll never see you again as little boys. I watch your cousins here and make comparisons, but I know you will be my boy at all times, will you not?”

That letter also made it clear that Mattie knew how lucky she had been to be surrounded by family all her life. She told Jimmy, “I am too old to sleep more than 6 hours so up I get and go out beside the gas heater where I am now and read or write or sew for unfortunate kiddies who have not a mother or grandma.”

Mattie died in Los Angeles on May 15, 1929, aged 72, just a few months after she lost her husband.5


I knew nothing about Mattie, not even her name, until a few years ago. Then, a distant cousin sent me a copy of a photo of Mattie with a note on the back, written by my grandmother, Lillian Hamilton. That note turned out to have incorrect information, saying that her father had died and giving his name as Arthur Wellington Rixon. (See the two links below.)

Other details of Mattie’s adult life on the farm in Manitoba come from a privately published book written by her nephew Charles Reid Forrester. I found the letter she wrote to my father in his photo album.

This story was corrected and updated Dec. 2, 2018

See also:

Janice Hamilton, “The Ancestor Who Did Not Exist,” Writing Up the Ancestors, April 11, 2017,

Janice Hamilton, “Martha J. Rixon’s Short and Difficult Life,” Writing Up the Ancestors, May 14, 2017,


  1. “Ontario Marriages, 1869-1927,” index and images, FamilySearch ( : accessed 8 June 2015), John Mcfarlane Forrester and Samantha Rixon, 26 Jul 1879; citing registration, Shannonville, Hastings, Ontario, Canada, Archives of Ontario, Toronto; FHL microfilm.
  2. “Canada Births and Baptisms, 1661-1959,” index, FamilySearch ( : accessed 8 June 2015), Samantha L. Rixon in entry for Lilian May Forrester, 11 Oct 1880; citing Tyendinaga, Hastings, Ontario, 11 Oct 1880, reference 520; FHL microfilm 1,845,398.
  3. “1901 Census of Canada”, Manchester, Provencher, Manitoba; Page: 3; Family No: 25, ( accessed 8 June 2015), entry for Samantha Forrester; citing Library and Archives Canada. Census of Canada, 1901. Ottawa, Ontario, Canada: Library and Archives Canada, 2004. Series RG31-C-1. Statistics Canada Fonds. Microfilm reels: T-6428 to T-6556.
  4. Charles R. Forrester, “My World in Story, Verse and Song”, printed by Friesen Printers, Altona, Manitoba, 1979.
  5. “California, Death Index, 1905-1939”, database, ( accessed 8 June, 2015), entry for Samantha Forrester; citing California Department of Health and Welfare, California Vital Records-Vitalsearch ( The Vitalsearch Company Worldwide, Inc., Pleasanton, California.