Category: Rixon

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.

The Rixon Family of Woolwich, Kent

My three-times grandfather Thomas Rixon (1793-1876) was born in Woolwich, England, moved to Canada as a young man and settled on a farm near Brighton, Ontario where he and his wife brought up their 11 children. I learned his name from notes my grandmother wrote on the back of a photo, but I knew nothing about his parents or siblings. 

A search for Thomas Rixon on brought up the names of five children born to William Rixon and Martha Rixon and baptized at St. Mary Magdalene Church, Woolwich.1 They were: Martha, bap. 17 July 1791; Thomas, bap. 13 November 1793; James, bap. 17 January 1796; Eliza, 8 April, 1798; Robert, bap. 4 January 1801. 

More research turned up the transcription of the gravestone of Wiiliam Rixon and Martha Rixon in Woolwich Churchyard. The monumental inscription reads: “Mrs Martha Rixon of this parish died 27 December 1817 aged 60 years. Mr William Rixon her husband died 3 November 1828 aged 81, and four of their children, viz Robert, William, Richard, Eliza.”

Several Public Member Trees on Ancestry say that the father, William Rixon, was baptized on 15 Jan. 1748 at Kingsclere, Hampshire, the son of John Rixon and Mary.3 I have not found proof that this was Thomas’s father, but the age at death fits. 

Identifying William’s wife Martha has been challenging. Most Rixon family trees on Ancestry say she was Martha Warden, but so far I have not found a record of this marriage.4 There is another possibility: a marriage between William Reekson and Martha Tyler, 29 March, 1784 at St. Mary Magdalene. According to, both the bride and the groom signed with a mark.5 Another public member tree on Ancestry suggests that William’s wife was Martha Yeomans, but this is most likely wrong.6

William’s occupation is unknown, but Woolwich, Kent, located on the Thames eight miles east of London, was home to the Royal Arsenal where military weapons were developed and tested, as well as a military academy and naval shipyard. The area around the dockyard, known as the Warren, consisted of workshops, warehouses, timber yards, barracks, and foundries. There were probably plenty of job opportunities in Woolwich, even if William was not in the military.7At the times of their deaths, William and Martha lived on Warren Lane, the town’s main road.8 The naval dockyards in Woolwich closed in 1869.

As for the Rixon children, there were probably eight of them: John b. 1787, Martha b. 1791, Thomas b. 1793; James b. 1796; Eliza b. 1798; and Robert b. 1801. There seem to have been two other children whose baptisms I have not found: William and Richard. 

John, Martha, Thomas and James lived to adulthood while the others probably died young. Thomas and James settled in Upper Canada, while Martha and John remained in Woolwich. John became a coal merchant. In 1878, James’s son Thomas went to England to visit John’s son Richard, hoping to get a donation for a church bell. Thomas was interested in family history and his notes9 shine a light on the family’s past.

John Rixon (1787-1863). The 1841 census of England and Wales gave his age as 54, suggesting he was born in 1787.10 According to nephew Thomas Rixon from Canada, John was born 24 January 1789. His baptism is not available on Ancestry.

John married Eleanor Farris on 13 July 1806 in Plumstead, the parish next to Woolwich, and they had three children. After Eleanor died, he married Ealey Farnfield on 29 May 1815 in Woolwich. John and Ealey had six children.

Thomas Rixon’s notes on John Rixon and Martha Hollingham

In 1824, when he put his son Richard into an apprenticeship as a stationer,11 John was identified as a coal merchant. According to the 1851 census, he was one of the high commissioners for taxes for the county of Kent. At that time, John was living at Rectory Place, Woolwich along with his wife, daughter Eliza, son John (a bookbinder and deputy registrar of births and deaths, district of Woolwich), daughter Harriet and a servant. John Rixon, gentleman, died 31 May 1863 and when his will was probated, his effects were less than 5,000 pounds.12

Martha Rixon (1791-1875). In the note about his cousins, Thomas Rixon mentioned that John had a sister Martha. Baptized 17 July, 1791 at St. Mary Magdalene, she married Thomas Hollingham on 28 June, 1818 at St. Nicholas parish, in Plumstead. The 1851 census found Thomas, a shipwright, and Martha living at 17 Warren Lane, Woolwich. Perhaps this was her parents’ former home. Martha died in 1875, age 84.

Thomas Rixon (1793-1876)  My direct ancestor was baptized at St. Mary Magdalene parish church on 13 November, 1793. He immigrated to Upper Canada as a young man and settled on a small piece of land in Sophiasburg Township, Price Edward County, on the shores of Lake Ontario. He married the girl next door, Elizabeth Thompson, in 1825 and they brought up 11 children. By 1861 the family had moved to Cramahe Township in neighbouring Northumberland County.

Thomas was counted in the 1851, 1861 and 1871 censuses, identifying himself either as a farmer or a carpenter. In 1861, the family lived in a modest single-story wood frame house.13 His wife and children were Methodists, but Thomas retained his Church of England faith. 

James Rixon (1795-1870) James was baptized in Woolwich on 17 January, 1796 and probably came to Canada around 1820. He settled near Milton, a fertile farming area between Toronto and Hamilton, Ontario. He married Mary Davidson around 1822 and they had nine children.14 He died 9 February, 1870, age 74, and is buried along with his wife and several other family members in the Bronte Pioneer Cemetery. 

Eliza (1798- ) Ancestry has a record of the baptism of Eliza, 8 April, 1798 and a burial record for Elizabeth Rixon, 5 July, 1799. This could be the Eliza listed on the family gravestone. There are questions or inconsistencies about the following three people: 

Robert Rixon There is a baptismal record for Robert Rison, parents William Rison and Martha Rison, on 4 January 1801, St. Mary Magdalene, Woolwich. A transcription of The National Burial Index for England and Wales15 includes the burial of Robert Rixon on 6 January, 1811, however, his age is not included.

There may have been another Robert Rixon in Woolwich at that time. Ancestry has Robert Rixon’s marriage by licence to Sarah Mortimer, who signed the record with an X, on 1 October, 1811. Robert and Sarah had three children. Ancestry also shows a man named Robert Rixon died at age 37 in the poor house, Woolwich, 5 January, 1821;16 he would have been born around 1784. It is also possible that Robert was the first son and died very young and that later another son was given the same name.

William Rixon William is listed on the family grave, but with no birth or death dates. One of the member-submitted Rixon family trees on Ancestry gives his birthdate as 6 Nov. 1785, however, I have not seen an official source for this date. There is a burial record in Woolwich in 1813 for a William Rixon, age 43, but he would have been too old to be William’s and Martha’s son.17

Richard Rixon was buried in St. Mary Magdalene cemetery on 9 October 1796,but I have not found a baptism record for him and there was no indication whether the deceased was a child. With a smallpox epidemic in London that year, there were more than 30 burials in Woolwich churchyard in September and a similar number in October. 

photo credits:
courtesy Janet Clark

Notes and footnotes:

The name Rixon was not uncommon in southeast England. It was sometimes spelled Rison, Rixson, Rickson or Rixen.  I have not included the source of every fact in this article; if I have not noted otherwise, I found all the baptism, marriage and death dates and census information on Ancestry. I examined all available document images.  

  1. St Mary Magdalene, Woolwich, Composite register: baptisms, burials, Jan 1779-Dec 1799, London, England, “Church of England Baptisms, Marriages and Burials, 1538-1812”, database, ( accessed 21 January 2017), entry for Thomas Rixon; citing “Church of England Parish Registers, 1538-1812. London, England: London Metropolitan Archives”.  
  2. “A transcription of Vol’s 4 & 5 of Leland. L. Duncan’s manuscript notebook of Monumental Inscriptions for Woolwich typed up by Margaret Broomfield; Monumental Inscriptions Woolwich Churchyard M.I.s #s 451-903,”  # 607, accessed Jan. 20, 2017,
  3. England & Wales, Christening Index, 1530-1980 database, ( accessed 21 January 2017), entry for William Rixon; citing Genealogical Society of Utah, “British Isles Vital Records Index, 2nd Edition” Salt Lake City, Utah. 
  4. I discovered a hint that someone named Martha Warden may have been in Woolwich in the 1780s: a Martha Warden married William Atkinson at Saint Martin in the Fields, Westminster, on 13 June 1780, and a William Atkinson was buried less than a month later, on 18 July 1780, at St. Mary Magdalene, Woolwich. Perhaps Martha’s first husband brought her from central London to Woolwich.
  5. A search of for William Rixon (with the soundex box ticked), marriage, Kent, 1780-1790, returned this result; accessed Jan. 22, 2017.
  6. Ancestry has an index to a marriage record of William Rixon, of Wateringbury, bachelor, and Martha Yeomans, married in Maidenstone, Kent in 1801. Given that my Rixons had all their children prior to 1801, it seems doubtful that Martha Yeomans was related.
  7. See Greenwich Royal Museums, Port Cities London, See also
  8. London, England, Church of England Deaths and Burials, 1813-1980”, database, (, accessed 20 January 2017), entry for William Rixon; citing “Board of Guardian Records, 1834-1906 and Church of England Parish Registers, 1813-1906. London Metropolitan Archives, London”.
  9. “Public Member Trees”, database, ( accessed 23 January 2017), entry for Thomas Rixon (1834-1882); undocumented family tree submitted by Janet Clark.
  10. “1841 England, Wales and Scotland Census Image”,, citing The National Archives, London, England.
  11. “London, England, Freedom of the City Admission Papers, 1681-1930”, database, ( accessed 8 Jan 2016, entry for Richard Rixon; citing “Freedom admissions papers, 1681– 1930. London, England: London Metropolitan Archives.”
  12. “England & Wales, National Probate Calendar (Index of Wills and Administrations), 1858-1966, 1973-1995,” database, (, accessed 8 January, 2017), entry for John Rixon 1863; citing “Principal Probate Registry. Calendar of the Grants of Probate and Letters of Administration made in the Probate Registries of the High Court of Justice in England. London, England.”
  13. Census Returns For 1861; Roll: C-1055-1056, Library and Archives Canada; Ottawa, Ontario, Canada”; ( and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, accessed 20 January 2017), entry for Thomas Rickson; citing “1861 Census of Canada.”
  14. Year: 1851; Census Place: Trafalgar, Halton County, Canada West (Ontario); Schedule: A; Roll: C_11726; Page: 150; Line: 32. digital image, (, accessed 10 January, 2017), entry for James Rixon; citing “1851 Census of Canada East, Canada West, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia.”
  15. Woolwich and District Family History Society, “National Burial Index for England and Wales Transcription”, database, (, accessed 23 January 2017), entry for Robert Rixon. 
  16. “London, England, Church of England Deaths and Burials, 1813-1980”, database,  (, accessed 22 January 2017,) entry for Robert Rixon; citing “Board of Guardian Records, 1834-1906 and Church of England Parish Registers, 1813-1906. London Metropolitan Archives, London”.
  17. Ancestry shows records at St. Mary Magdalene Parish Church, Woolwich, of a William Rixon, who drowned in 1813. His wife, Ann, was pregnant at the time and the baby, named William John, was born in March, 1814, son of the late seaman. According to the church record, this William was 43 when he died.