Lennox and Addington Historical Society

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The John Patterson Family of Napanee
Shadows of a Struggle to Survive

In 1994, an archaeological assessment was commissioned on a property on the east side of what used to be called the 'old Sheffield Road' in Napanee. The site is on the 'Park Lots', extra-large lots created at the direction of John Solomon Cartwright in 1831. Cartwright hoped to attract well-heeled settlers who would prefer a large lot with a river view on which to build a gentleman's country home. The house of Allen Macpherson (the nearest thing to local gentry in the 1830's) was already in existence on one of these lots.

In fact, the Park Lots were not attractive to the gentry, perhaps because proximity to the river (although scenic) was associated with fevers in the 19th century. The lots remained unsold, and in the 1840's Macpherson complained several times to the Cartwrights about undesirable squatters moving in, building shanties and selling the timber.

A search of the records showed that the first occupant of the site in question was one John Patterson, who obtained the land from the Cartwright Estate on October 4th, 1853 (although the family did not register the deed until 1870).

On the 1861 census, John Patterson is described as a labourer, born in Ireland, age 34, living in a log house on four acres. His family consisted of his wife, Elizabeth (Betsey) Paterson, age 33, and children Elizabeth, 17; Robert, 18; William, 11; John Jr., 9; Alexander, 5; and a baby, Richard, age 1. The whole family attended the Church of England. The family had one horse, one cow and three pigs.

Like most working-class families of the period, the Pattersons probably had little education, and relied on vague memories and links to events to determine how old they were. Ten years later, in 1871, John Patterson gave his age as 60, which is likely closer to the truth, but his wife was described as 59, which is unlikely, given the ages of her children. In 1871, still at home were John Jr., 18; Alexander, 13; Richard, now 10 years old; and the newest member of the household, Ida Ellen Patterson, age 6.

Daughter, Elizabeth Patterson had married Lewis Abrams of Napanee in 1866. The oldest son, Robert Patterson had moved out, and subsequently married Clara Brooks in 1873. Neither remained in Napanee. It is not known what happened to the other son, William Patterson.

From the marriages, we learned that John Patterson's wife Betsey was born Elizabeth Glasner. The burial records for old St. Mary Magdalene's church are at the Diocese of Ontario Archives, (Kingston). The records show a William Glasner of Napanee, "formerly of Jersey County, Nova Scotia, interred Feb. 5th, 1857, age 86 years". It seems likely that William Glasner was John Patterson's father-in-law. Another early entry is the burial of "Phoebe Patterson, of Napanee Village, 9 months old". As there is no other Napanee Patterson family at this time, and since we know that John Patterson was Church of England, it is reasonable to suppose that this is a little daughter who did not survive infancy.

In February of 1868, John Patterson petitioned the Napanee Town Council for financial assistance. The petition reads:

"Your petitioner humbly states that he is totally blind and unable to labour to sustain himself and family. Your petitioner humbly prays that you will grant a small sum to enable him to get to the hospital in Kingston as he is told successful operations have been performed in like cases...."

There is no record of the answer to his request, but in May, John Patterson approached Town Council again, and this time he was allowed an allowance of $1.00 a week for four weeks.

On the 1881 census, Betsey Patterson is listed as a widow, so John died between 1871 and 1881, although we have found no record of his death. In 1873, John Patterson Sr. had sold one acre of his property and subdivided the remaining 3 acres among the sons remaining at home, John Jr., Alexander and Richard. However, the deeds were not registered until 1879, which may be a clue as to the year of his death.

Remaining at home with their mother in 1881 were John Jr., a carpenter; Alexander, a tinsmith; and Ida, age 16. John Jr. was described as the "head of the household". Richard was not in Napanee, but a Thomas Patterson, age 37, cabinet maker, had moved in with the family. One might hypothesize that son, Richard, has gone to see if there are better opportunities elsewhere, while 'Uncle Thomas' is visiting to help out. The 1881 census can be interpreted as showing two buildings on the property, one of which was unoccupied. Presumably, the original log house was no longer habitable.

Thus, the working-class Patterson Family was associated with this property for close to 30 years, from the mid 1850's to the early 1880's.

Archaeological finds from test pits at the property were analyzed by material culture specialist, Randy Johnston of London Ontario, who was not provided with any information about the Pattersons. He concluded that the site was first settled by a labour-class, European family between 1850 and 1860, with some items which might date from the 1870's. The location of the artifacts seemed to indicate that the oldest structure (the log house) was close to the road, with the second structure behind it. Most finds dated from the 1850's or 1860's, but we know that the Patterson's were still there in the early '80's. The lack of materials from the late 1870's and 1880's might be the result of unlucky distribution of the test holes. -- Or lack of finds may indicate that the family only occupied the new structure a short time. It cannot have been a substantial building, as no evidence, no stone foundations or brick rubble, remain. Likely, it was a small wooden cabin of some kind, built without a basement.

There is no doubt that the humble artifacts found at the site are those disgarded by the Patterson family, as the the dates fit, and Randy Johnston quite vividly describes them as "typical of the rural poor". The absence of certain materials, for example, glasswares, are indicative of the poverty of the family. Likely, as father John's health failed, Betsey had a struggle coping. The lack of materials from the 1880's may be evidence of the family's failing fortunes. What trials Betsey Patterson had to face. Did she try to keep the family on the property her husband had laboured to own? It is easy to imagine that her sons would be convinced that they could do better somewhere else.

If Betsey hoped to remain where she and her husband had worked together to raise their children, she was disappointed. In the 1880's, the family left the tiny homestead and moved on, where to, we do not know.

With special thanks to Nick Adams, Archaeologist,
Box 150, 5 Main Street,
Newboro, Ontario K0G 1P0

October, 1999

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