Tag: immigrants to Upper Canada

Robert Stobo Jr: Phantom Ancestor

Robert Stobo Jr. is more a phantom ancestor than a brick wall. There does not seem to be a church record of his baptism and apparently he did not marry. He is thought to have died at sea in 1836, so there is no official death record either. Yet there are indications that he not only existed, but that he was a successful timber merchant in Upper Canada.  According to “The Stobo Family: Scarborough, 1824 –“ Robert Stobo Jr. was born in Lanarkshire, Scotland on 3 Feb. 1798, the fifth of the nine children of Robert Stobo (1764-1834 ) and Elizabeth Hamilton (c. 1763-1834).1 All the other children’s baptismal records have survived, but Robert’s is nowhere to be found.

The Stobo parents and several of their children, who were by then young adults, immigrated to Scarborough Township, Upper Canada in 1824.2 In subsequent years, many families from Lanarkshire followed them, but the Stobos led the way.3 Six years later, their oldest daughter, Elizabeth, her husband Robert Hamilton and their children stayed with the Stobo family for several months following their arrival in Scarborough.

Robert Jr. was mentioned in a letter that brother-in-law Robert Hamilton wrote to relatives in Scotland in 1830. Hamilton wrote, “Robert Stobo wished to inform his brother James that he has ? the iron plough that it is doing very well and will be of great use on the farm.”6 (James Stobo, Robert’s older brother, had remained in Scotland.) 

Scarborough Bluffs and Lake Ontario, jh photo

As early settlers, the Stobos were able to acquire a prime piece of real estate near the Scarborough Bluffs overlooking Lake Ontario. In 1826, Robert Stobo purchased two neighbouring lots near the water: Concession B Lot 22 and Concession C Lot 22. Robert Stobo purchased another lot from the government, Concession B Lot 21, in 1834.5 (It is not clear whether this was Robert senior or junior.)

Prior to the arrival of these Scottish settlers, Scarborough’s land had never been cleared, and its forests produced immense quantities of square timbers, shingles and firewood. The Stobo farm was near the water, facilitating transportation, and historian David Boyle wrote that Robert Stobo became a prominent timber merchant.7 Given that Robert Sr. was 60 years of age when he immigrated, it was likely the son who went into the timber business.

grave of Robert Sr. and Elizabeth Stobo, jh photo

Perhaps it was the timber business that sent Robert Jr. on a trip back to Scotland a few years later. According to a letter dated 9 March, 1836 from William McCowan in Lesmahagow, Lanarkshire to his nephew Robert McCowan in Scarborough, Robert Stobo Jr. was probably lost at sea. He wrote, “Your father had wrote 7 [letters] in which number there was one to him [Hugh Wilson] which was to have come with Stobbo, the fate of whom with ship and all in it has not been heard of.” 8

The parents had both died prior to Robert Jr.’s disappearance. There was a terrible cholera outbreak in Scarborough Township in 18349 and it killed both Robert Sr. and wife within days of each other. He died on 12 Aug. 1834, age 70, and she followed on 15 Aug., age 71.10

Despite the loss of their parents and brother, John Stobo (1811-1889), Jean Stobo Glendinning (1807-1893) and Elizabeth Stobo Hamilton (1790-1853) remained in Scarborough and prospered on the rich farmland. The township remained primarily rural for more than a century and Isaac, son of John Stobo and Frances Chester, is said to have shot the township’s last black bear, in the winter of 1885, on the Scarborough Bluffs, Concession B Lot 210.11 For the most part, I’m proud of my Scarborough ancestors, but this was not a story I wanted to read.

See also:

For a map that shows the location of the Stobo properties, see http://www.mccowan.org/historic.htm

Janice Hamilton, “The Stobos of Lanarkshire,” https://www.writinguptheancestors.ca/2016/12/the-stobos-of-lanarkshire.html, posted Jan. 12, 2017.

Janice Hamilton, “From Lesmahagow to Scarborough,” https://www.writinguptheancestors.ca/2013/12/from-lesmahagow-to-scarborough.html, posted Dec. 13, 2013, revised Dec. 27, 2016.

Janice Hamilton, “The Glendinnings of Scarborough,” https://www.writinguptheancestors.ca/2016/12/the-glendinnings-of-scarborough.html, posted Dec. 16, 2016.

Notes and Sources:

When my husband and I visited Scarborough in the autumn of 2016, I wanted to get as close as possible to the area where the Stobos owned their land. The Stobos’ neighbour, Jonathan Gates, who settled in the area around 1815, owned Gates Tavern on the Kingston Road and there was a ravine between the properties known as Gates Gulley. We walked part of the way down to the lake on a public trail through the ravine, and we stopped at a small neighbourhood park to get a view of the bluffs. Later, we visited the archives of the Scarborough Historical Society, which houses a wealth of information about the community and its early residents.

  1. “The Stobo Family: Scarborough, 1824 –“ is a family tree manuscript transcribed by descendant Margaret Oke. It can be found in the Ontario Genealogical Society collection housed at the Toronto Reference Library.
  2. The Stobos had a reference letter from the minister of Stonehouse Parish Church, Lanarkshire that  introduced them to their new Presbyterian church community in Canada. Dated 1 Aug., 1824, the letter is transcribed in “The Stobo Family: Scarborough, 1824 –“.   
  3. Barbara Myrvold, The people of Scarborough: A History, Scarborough Public Library Board: 1997, http://www.virtualreferencelibrary.ca/detail.jsp?Entt=RDMDC-238353&R=DC-238353&searchPageType=vrlp.59. 
  4. Letter from Robert Hamilton, Scarborough, May 27, 1830, to his father in Lesmahagow. R.H. Martin Collection. A distant cousin sent me a transcription of a poor photocopy of this letter, which is not to say that I didn’t appreciate it, but to explain why a word is missing.  
  5. This information was provided to me by the Scarborough Historical Society archivist from microfilm of the Ontario land records.
  6. Robert Hamilton, Ibid.
  7. David Boyle, editor, The Township of Scarboro, 1796-1896, printed for the Executive Committee by William Briggs, Toronto, 1896. p. 133. https://archive.org/details/townshipofscarbo00boyluoft
  8. This letter was quoted in a private email to me from D.B. McCowan, 31 Dec. 2013. 
  9. M. Jane Fairburn, Along the Shore: Rediscovering Toronto’s Waterfront Heritage, Toronto: ECW Press, 2013, p. 49,  https://books.google.ca/books?id=nT-DAAAAQBAJ&pg=PA44&dq=Township+of+Scarboro&hl=en&sa=X&redir_esc=y#v=onepage&q=Township%20of%20Scarboro&f=false Also, http://www.mccowan.org/cholera.htm.
  10. St. Andrews Presbyterian Cemetery (Bendale), Scarborough, Ontario. A genealogical reference listing. Ontario Genealogical Society, Toronto Branch. 1988 and 1993. M.I. #26.11
  11. Boyle, Ibid, p. 238.

The Glendinning Family 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 (http://www.glendinning.name/index.html), 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 1837showed 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:

Janice Hamilton, “The Glendinnings of Westerkirk”, Writinguptheancestors.blogspot.ca, Dec. 3, 2016, https://www.writinguptheancestors.ca/2016/12/the-glendinnings-of-westerkirk.html

Janice Hamilton, “Isabella Hamilton the North-West Rebellion,” Writinguptheancestors.blogspot.ca, Nov. 8, 2013, https://www.writinguptheancestors.ca/2013/11/isabella-hamilton-and-north-west_8.html
(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, http://static.torontopubliclibrary.ca/da/pdfs/281086.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 http://www.glendinning.name/index.html
    Mary Glendinning, # 51, and her brother Walter, # 52, are fourth generation, http://www.glendinning.name/ancestry/glenfam/pafg04.htm; 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.  https://archive.org/details/historyoftoronto02mulvuoft  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; http://static.torontopubliclibrary.ca/da/pdfs/706129.pdf
  8. This information was provided by the Scarborough Historical Society archivist from microfilm of the Ontario land records.