Compiled by Robert Merrill Black, September 1982
George French was born about 1796 in England (1) probably in the southern county of Hampshire (2). The name of his parents is presently not known. Family tradition says that he was primarily a farmer, although in England he may have also exercised his later trades of shingle maker (3) and brick maker (4)
Nothing is known about his early life, although from this ability to sign his name, he seems to have been at least partially literate (5). The England of his youth and young manhood was caught in the grips of tremendous change, called by later historians the "Industrial Revolution".
At some point, perhaps in Hampshire about 1823, George French married for the first time. His wife was named Mary, and by her tradition reports, he had eight children. These were probably Thomas (6), Richard (7), Anne (8), George Jr (9), Robert (10), William (11), John (12), and Mary (13).
At some point, the Frenchs made their way to Liverpool, from which port they sailed to Canada in the spring of 1842. Their passage was thirteen weeks long, rendered difficult by icebergs and sickness amongst both crew and passengers. During this voyage, George French's wife Mary died and was buried at sea. Their baby Mary was nursed by a fellow passenger who had lost her own baby.
This passenger, who was to be George French's second wife, was born Rebecca Hobbs (14), on July , 1810 (15). She lived in Leeds, Yorkshire, for much of her life and may have been born there herself. The name of her parents is not known.
Rebecca Hobbs does not seem to have been literate, small wonder, in the city of Leeds. It was a noisy, grimy place, one of the earliest cities transformed by the Industrial Revolution. Life for the poor was not only hard, by precarious. Labourers did not need to know how to read and write, and little provision was made for them or for their children. It was not the choicest of places in which to live and bring up a family.
The poor have few choices, however and raise a family in Leeds she did. Rebecca married a man named Charles Croswell about 1828 (16), a labourer, it is thought who made bricks. By him Rebecca had at least eight children, Charles, John, William, Rebecca, Benjamin, Doretta (possibly Sarah), Cornelius and an infant who died at sea (17).
The Croswell's decided to join the thousands of their countrymen emigrating to Canada, in the hope of a better life. After much scrimping and saving, they acquired enough money to leave from the port of Liverpool in the spring of 1842.
On the long voyage, Rebecca lost her youngest child, and only three days from land, her husband. As a kindness, she offered to nurse the baby of George French, whose wife had just died as well.
Passing quarantine at Grosse Isle, near Quebec City, the ship would have then proceeded to Montreal to disembark its passengers. Both families seem to have proceeded together, by the barge and steamboat, to the bustling town of Dundas, Upper Canada
The marriage between widower French and the widow Croswell which eventually followed, about 1843 (18). was not, it seems, simply a marriage of convenience, but one of sympathy and affection. The newly-weds had a joint family of some 16 children of various ages, and all were probably in a weakened state,
It is believed that the Frenchs lived in the vicinity of Dundas for their first five years in Canada. Whether they rented land (19) or engaged in the building trades they later exercised is not known. It is highly probable that at least some members farmed in Beverly Township, for in later years John Croswell gave it as his place of residence (20) and Isaac French as his place of birth (21).
George and Rebecca together had a further eight children, for an eventual total of 24 between them. In this early period were born James.(March 10, 1844) (22), Frederick ( 1845) (23), and
Charlotte (23 September, 1846) (24). At that point, an attempt was made to secure cheap government land; Peel Township, Wellington County (then Waterloo county) was a clergy reserve opened to general settlement in 1845. While George French has been named as one of the earliest township settlers (25), it is probable that he did not take possession of his farm (Lot 15, concession XVI) until 1847 (26).
Sophia, the next child is thought to be the first French child born on the farm on July 25 1848 (27). Only a few days after birth, an intriguing event occurs. Perhaps totally unrelated to this family, it was reported in a Toronto newspaper:
An inquest was held at Mount Hope Mission House, in the township of Peel on Saturday, the 29th (1848), on the body of Georgina French, a mulatto girl aged 12 years, who was killed when a heavy basswood slab fell from the ceiling of her home (28). One can only speculate whether this information connects with this French family. She was perhaps related to the freed American slaves who were at the other end of the township, but the coincidence in names is striking. As well, the mention of basswood strikes a cord, for it was the wood as well as cedar which George French used to make shingles.
The Frenches and Croswells lived together on the farm until about this time, clearing and working it. It is a very flat land, fine and productive, with clay beds suitable for brickmaking, at the concession road. By 1850, George French was about 54, but he seems to have become somewhat weak and unable to farm. His sons and stepsons did much of the hard farm work, while he concentrated on making bricks and shingles.
The French-Croswell clan became very friendly with their neighbours in Concession XVII, the Larmers , newly arrived from Ireland, and eventually became united to them in marriage. Charles Croswell, Rebecca French's oldest son, married Christina Larmer on 14, February, 1850, in St John's Church, Elora (29). Although the trek to Elora was tedious, it was the major town in the area
Perhaps because of a positive feeling towards St. John's rector, John W. Marsh, the Frenches made a trip there on the 3 November 1850, to have Charlotte and Sophia baptized, as well as their new baby Benjamin (30). He was born 30 August, 1850 and his name suggests that Rebecca's son Benjamin Croswell had died. The French family was not enthusiastically Anglican, although they had probably always been such. Since no further references to either French or Croswell can be found in the registers of St. John's Church, after John Croswell's marriage 6 June, 1851, to Sarah Larmer (31), and since the Wellington County Atlas identifies George French as a Methodist, it is likely that the switch was made to that denomination in the early 1850's. Unfortunately, Elora Methodis records were lost in a fire in 1910 (32).
The 1851 census for Peel Township does not show the French or Croswell family (33). John Croswell gave his address as Beverly Township and the County Atlas says the next surviving child (34), Isaac was born in that same township (35) in 1852 (36). (A girl, Phoebe, is said to have been born in 1851, but lived only a few weeks). A search of the Beverly Township census, and areas adjacent, ahs failed to locate this clan (37). Whether they lived elsewhere for a short time, or were visiting friends, cannot at present be determined..
The computerized Lands Index at the Ontario Archives records a George French applying for Canada Company lands far away in Logan Township Perth County, in April 1852, and for the same land again in Feb 1856 (38). This man is not in the census of that area, he does not appear to have lived there long, if at all.
Around 1853, Richard French acquired land across from the French farm, which eventually passed to the Croswells (39). The intermarriage of the Croswells with the Larmer's contineud as Rebecca Croswell married Robert Larmer, and Cornelius Croswel l married Catherine Larmer (40). Rebecca Larmer may have died in childbirth, for in the 1861 census of Peel, Robert Larmer is married to Mary (French?) (41).
The last French child, Henry was born about 1856 (42), when Rebecca was 46, and George 60. These children grew up in great poverty, but they were fed and clothed and well tended . Rebecca French seems to have been a home body, who enjoyed the duties of wife, mother and grandmother, and who taught her children and stepchildren to be quiet, unassuming and respectful of other people. At least the younger children were sent to school, and it is thought that most of the brood of 24 could read. No doubt all were taught to contribute to the well being of the family.
The large size of this clan makes if difficult to trace its gradual scattering. A number of the older French boys are thought to have gone to the United States; no trace has been found to Thomas or Richard French. George Jr., seems to have gone to Hamilton, where he was living in 1871 (43). Robert married a woman names Henrietta, and is listed as an innkeeper in the 1861 Peel Township census (44). William was apprenticed to a nearby stonemason, and exercised that trade in the Parry Sound area, where he died in 1914 (45).
The 1861 census of Peel Township, lists the French family as Church of England, although by then most of them considered themselves Methodists. The Croswells and Larmers are nearby, suggesting that the clan continued to be close and caring; it was an easy enough thing to get cheaper land far away.
George French does not appear on the 1861 agricultural census, but he must have raised enough grain and livestock to feed his family. The clay pits had been dug and were long in operation by this time, but no mention of the enterprise is to be found in the census. Instead, he is identified as a shingle-maker, a sedentary enough occupation for a 65 year old man with a young family. This seems to reflect the story that he was in failing health for much of his later life.
George French then seems to have started to slow down considerably. He seems to have left the management of his household in the capable hands of his wife, and to have taken an increasing interest in politics. The County Atlas of 1906 says, "He was Methodist, and a very strong Conservative, taking a great interest in the affairs of the party." (47)
French seems never to have purchased the land upon which he lived, a fact which caused considerable difficulty for his family when he died. A date for this event is not forthcoming, in spite of extensive research; family tradition places it in 1867. The place of his burial is not known. By that time, Frederick was his oldest son at home, and it was to him that the patent devolved , on 14 October 1867. (48)
The timing of what then happened is not certain. James seems to have acquired land on the road between Alma and Elora (49). Frederick ran the farm for a few years, then lived near Elora, then in Michigan, then moved to Croft Township, Parry Sound District, then to Saskatchewan (50). Isaac appears in the 1871 census of Peel Twp. as living with his mother and brother Henry on the farm. He in fact retained it, where he died in 1923. (51). Henry French married Rosie Welch and moved to Michigan (52).
In the 1870's a number of the French-Croswell clan decided to move together into the new lands that were being opened up in "New Ontario", the Muskoka and Parry Sound areas. They settled in Croft and Hagerman Townships, between the villages of Dunchurch and Ahmic Harbour.
Rebecca French seems to have continued to contribute to her family's emotional well-being. She is shown in the 1881 census of Peel Township with Isaac French's family, while James French and his family were back nearby. (53). Isaac was a canny and prosperous farmer, raising fine horses and making enough money from it to erect the large brick house which still stands on the farm. (1982).
By the 1880's, however, Rebecca was aging as well, and craved the peace impossible to find in a household of young children. At the invitation of Her granddaughter Doretta (Mrs Ted Taylor), she decided to move to be with here Parry Sound family. By 1885, the Croswells and Frenches were well established. John Croswell was a brickmaker, and postmaster of the new town of Ahmic Harbour (54), and his brother Charles was a blacksmith (55). Soon, they were joined by William French, as a stonemason (56), and Frederick French (57). Benjamin and James French lived there for a time as well. (58)
Probably accompanied by James family, then, Rebecca French moved to Croft Township about 1885, settling into her own small cabin on the Taylor farm. She was the oldest person in the community, it seems, and everyone called her "Granny French". Being well loved is only partial compensation for having no contemporaries, however, and one can imagine some of her
feelings about it. Still, she escaped a crowded, dirty ugly city and came to a fresh, clean country, and now was surrounded by peace and relative comfort. When she died June 3 1890, at Ahmic Harbour (59), she was surrounded by love. Her family was scattered, it is true, but she knew she had helped to five them a chance they could never have had in England.
George and Rebecca French were people who did not cave in, in the face of adversity. They took risks by leaving England, and made the best of the consequences of the act. The each lost a mate they loved, but found love again in each other. They worked hard to give 24 children a good life. All in all, they flourished as circumstances best permitted. To them their descendants owe much. May they rest in peace.
1. Calculated from the 1861 census, Peel Township, Reel C-1084, page 98.
2. Wellington County Historical Atlas, 1906. Most of the facts in this article are wrong, but Hampshire is as good a place as any! The section on George and Rebecca is on page 28 and says, for example, that he died in 1873; Rebecca is listed as a widow in the 1871 census of Peel (Reel C-625, page 32). It says they came to Canada in 1847. James was born 10 March, 1844 in Ontario (his death certificate, 1927, Saskatchewan). Rebecca is said to have died in 1887,; see note 59.
3. 1861 Census, q.v.
4. Family tradition, clay pits are still visible, 1982.
5. His only known signature is a witness ot John Croswell's wedding at St. John's Church, Elora, registers, 1851.
6.Thomas applied with George French for land (lot 20, ConXVI) in Peel Township in December, 1845. Letter from J. Mezaks, Senior Archivist, Government Records Section, Ontario Archives, 29 August, 1969.
7. Richard bought land across from George French in 1853. Abstract index to Deeds, Peel Township, Wellington County, microfilm at the Ontario ARchives.
8. Mrs. Anne Barrett, born about 1829, is the guardian of Mary French, 10, in the 1851 census of Pilkington Township, page 37, nos 33, and 36. Reel C-11756. It is only conjecture that she was a daughter of George French.
9. He was a sponsor at the 1850 baptism of Charlotte, Sophia and Benjamin. He appears in the Wellington County Marriage Register, 26 February 1848, married to Jane Shortreed of Peel. His age is 26, residence Peel Twp., born 'Aylmer , England', son of George and _____French. I can find no Aylmer in the Gazeteers of Britain. (Microfilm MS-248, reel 17, Ontario, Archives.)
10 Robert appears in the 1851 census of Pilkington, p. 36 no. 17, aged 17 years and in the 1861 census of Peel twp., p.59, aged 27, married to Henriette, aged 26, children Timothy 6, George 4, Henriette 2. He is an innkeeper.
11. 1861 census of Peel, with George French family. He is buried in Ahmic Harbour cemetery, born 25 January 1837, died 11 July, 1914. (His wife Oliver Catherine, died 23 DEcember, 1919, aged 79.)
12. 1861 census with George French family. Grey County Marriage Register, MS-248, Reel 6, Ontario ARchives, p.56. John French, 23, residing in Normanby Township, born in England, son of George and Mary French, married Eliza Jane Vickers, 17, Normanby, b. Canada, daughter of John and Mary Ann Vickers, 3 March, 1862, Alexander Stewart Regular Baptist Church.
13. 1851 census Pilkington Twp., see note 8.
14. The County Atlas gives her maiden name p.28.
15. Calculated from her tombstone in Ahmic Harbour Cemetery: Rebecca French, Beloved wife of George French, died June 3, 1890, age 79 years, 10 months and 28 days.
16. Some relatives have their eldest son Charles, born in 1826. While this is possible, the 1861 census of Peel Township gives his age as 33.
17. Family Tradition
18. This record has not yet been located. It presumably happened in the Aglican church in the Dundas area.
19. To date, no French or Croswell name has been found in the Abstract Index to Deeds for Beverly and Flamborough Townships.
20. See note 31.
21. Wellington County Historical Atlas, 1906, page 28.
22. This is the date given on his death certificate. He died on his 83rd birthday, March 10, 1927, Strasbourg, Saskatchewan. Death certificate from Division of Vital Statistics, Regina. Informant was his son James French, Strasbourg. (James Sr's Father's name is given as George Henry French).
23. Calculated from the 1861 census, Peel Township.
24. Baptismal register, St. John the Evangelist (Anglican), Elora, Ontario.
25. "Of the early white settlers...are found the names of ... the Day family, George French, and others." A. A. Bylerly, The Beginning of things to Wellington and Waterloo Counties, Guelph, 1935. Section of Peel Township, p 64.
26. Cf Historical Atlas, section on Peel Twp., "John Farrelly, George French, and others (settled) in 1847.
27. Baptismal register, St. John's Elora.
28. British Colonist, Toronto, 8 August, 1848, Wm. D. Reid, Death Notices of Ontario. Lambertville, N,J,: Hunterdon House, 1980, page 279
29. Marriage register, St. John's Elora, Elora, Feb 14, 1850, by license, Charles Croswell (sic), bachelor, of Twp of Peel, to Christina Larmer, spinster, of the same place. John W. March Rector. Witnesses Thomas Larmer, Rebecca Croswell (sic) (signs with an X as does Charles.
30. Baptismal register, op.cit.
31. Marriage register, op cit. Elora, June 26, 1851, after due publication of banns, John Crosswell (sic), bachelor , of Township of Beverley in the Co. of Waterloo. Her the witnesses are George French and Thomas Gordon. John signs his name 'John Croswell' (one 's'), and Sarah marks with an X.
32. Letter from the United Church Minister in 1969.
33. Ontario Archives, searched three times each.
34. Note 31.
35. Historical Atlas, 1906, p.28
36. Calculated from the census.
37. 1851 census searched for Glanford, Ancaster, West Flamborough, Beverly, Galt, Preston, Waterloo Twp., Wilmot, Wellesley, Woolwich, Eramosa, Nichol, Pilkington, Peel, Maryborough, Mornington, Ellice, Logan, Hibbert, Downie, and Blanchard Townships, Significantly, the following 1851 census returns have not survived: Dundas town, East Flamborough, Puslinch, Guelph, and Erin townships and Guelph town. A stab was made at searching Hamilton census, but it was too massive an undertaking.
38. Ontario Archives, Toronto.
39. Abstract Index to Deeds, Peel Twp., microfilm at Ontario Archives.
40. Papers provided by Croswell relatives (Miss Myrtle Croswell, granddaughter of Cornelius, in San Diego; Mrs Lottie King, granddaughter of John, Esterhazy, Saskatchewan.
41. The Mary Larmer shown as Robert Larmer's wife in the 1861 census, with the French family, suggests this.
42. Calculated from the census of 1861, 1871, 1881.
43. From an 1871 city directory for Hamilton. Reference misplaced.
44. See note 10.
45. The baptismal register of St. John's Church, Elora makes reference to Mark Cockrill, mason and stonecutter, lot 32, con XIV, Peel, in 1848. William French's tombstone is in Ahmic Harbour Cemetery, as printed in 'These Our Ancestors Were': Districts of Parry Sound and Muskoka: Records of those buried..in the District of Parry Sound. Parry Sound, 1974, page 141. The stone evidently does not cary the date 11 July, just July 1914. The precise date is not on file with the Register General, Toronto, but is pencilled in on the circuite records for the Magnetewan Circuit, Methodist Chruch, in the United Chruch Archives, Toronto.
46. His daughter Sophia (Moore) was always an enthusiastic Methodist. It was a common thing to give one denomination, while belonging to a different one - or none. It exasperated the census takers, and one can often find little comments they made, written at the end of their section.
47. Historical Atlas, p. 28.
48. Computerized lands index, Toronto (Ontario Archives). It is the first record entered in the Abstract Index to Deeds for Lot 15, Con XVI.
49. Historical Atlas, map of Pilkington Twp., Lot 12, Con 1.
50. Information from descendants.
51. Tombstone, Elora Cemetery, and Historical Atlas. His posterity paid for the inclusion of the entry of George French in the 1906 Atlas. One only wished that his memory, or sources of information had been better.
52. Historical Atlas.
53. 1881 census, Peel Twp., Reel C-13259, section E-4, pages 25-26.
54. This fact is recorded in the first mention of Ahmic Harbour Directory for 1885, page 5. (Ahmic Harbour is not mentioned in Lovell's 1882 Directory.)
55. Ibid., and Ontario Gazeteer and Directory, 1892-92, Toronto: Might's Directory Co., page 390.
57. Information from descentents.
59. Tombstone in Ahmic Harbour Cemetery, cf. not 45b
Account from the Parry Sound North Star, November 28, 1990 - John Macfie
The parents, Charles and Rebecca Croswell, embarked with eight children. During the ocean trip their infant child passed away and was buried at sea. Then three days short of arriving in Canada the father died of 'ship's fever'. Mrs Croswell was by now nursing the infant child of fellow emigrant, George French, whose wife had also succumbed to the voyage.
This practical arrangement led, once all had become settled in Ontario, to the marriage of the widower Franch and the widow Croswell. Their combined surviving offspring now totalled 15, to which in the next 15 years they were to add eight more of their own. Thus did a Yorkshire lass born Rebecca Hobbs in 1810, come to mother no fewer than 24 children in a long and eventful life. In 1885 she moved north to spend her remaining five years in a cottage on the farm of her granddaughter Doretta Taylor, between Dunchurch and Ahmic Harbour, where she was known affectionately to one and all as 'Granny French'.
From the Croswell Family History:
Rebecca Hobbs Croswell married George French about 1843 and moved to
Peel county, Ontario. As a young man James Croswell lived with his grandmother,
"Granny French" and rafted logs on Georgian Bay, Lake Huron. She had more
"French" children, named James, Frederick, Charlotte, Sophia, Benjamin,
Phoebe, Isaac and Henry.