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1854 Letters to William Henry Beatty

Often when we read of early settlers in Canada, we are told of where and when they were born and when they came to Canada. There might be a few words about the business that they established here or the farm that they cleared. But we are left wondering about what their life was like in their mother country, why they came to Canada and what hardships they endured on their voyage and when they arrived.

Now and then we are lucky enough to stumble on a detailed account that one of these settlers has left for posterity. James Beatty, the father of William Henry Beatty and the father-in-law of Charlotte Louisa (Worts) Beatty, left just such an account. Written in September, 1854, the account takes the form of a series of letters written to his son William Henry who was soon to turn 21. 

When I wrote my Lawyers, Families and Businesses, the story of the law firm that W. H. Beatty founded, I knew that his father James had been a prominent merchant in Toronto. But I did not know the details of his very eventful and difficult life. 

James wrote the letters because he wanted his son to appreciate the "difficulties and troubles" he had been forced to overcome, the "ingratitude of the world, the treacherous and infamous conduct of deceitful friends". Armed with this knowledge, James hoped that his son would "place no confidence in man" and be able to "guard off rocks and quicksand". 

James tells of his troubled farming family in Cookstown, County Tyrone, Ireland. His father had died when he, the youngest of five, was 13 and for the next 11 years he worked hard on the farm. But then one of his sisters married and moved to Belfast. He walked the 33 miles to visit her and met her uncle who manufactured muslins and linens. He soon moved to Belfast and learned the manufacture of such cloth. For the next 12 years he acted as a travelling seller of wholesale dry goods throughout Ireland. What money he made went to support not only his mother but a widowed sister and her 4 children. 

In 1830 he decided to go to Canada. Initially his thought was that he would simply go for a time to sell dry goods there. He used his savings of 250 pounds and credit for an additional 200 pounds to buy dry goods for sale in Canada. His goods were sold in less than a month on Montreal, but with the cost of his return passage he made little profit. But what he had learned was that there was a market in Canada for such goods, if they could be better adapted to the climate. 

In 1831 he set out again, this time with 1600 pounds of dry goods for sale in the colony. His second voyage was dreadful. The old ship took in water and then went aground. Luckily his goods had been placed on the top of the other cargo and arrived in good condition. This trip he decided to go to muddy York (Toronto). This was to become his home. He set up shop on Church Street in the same building as William Lyon Mackenzie. He moved his widowed sister and her children to Toronto as well. 

The next year he married an Irish woman just arrived in Montreal and started his family. Perhaps because it is a tale of "sorrow, trouble and distress", he says almost nothing in the letters about his marriage and his children.  Or perhaps he was confident that his son knew this part of the story.  

The letters end in 1839 when he had to close his business. The rebellion of 1837 hurt his business badly and it never recovered. 


By C. Ian Kyer. C. Ian Kyer is a trained historian turned lawyer who is slowly morphing back into an historian. He became a partner at the Fasken firm which is the successor to Beatty & Chadwick, the Gooderham & Worts family law firm.


1854 Letters to William Henry Beatty from his father James Beatty (father-in-law of Charlotte Louisa (Worts) Beatty)

Now and then we are lucky enough to stumble on a detailed account that a settler has left for posterity. James Beatty, the father of William Henry Beatty and the father-in-law of Charlotte Louisa (Worts) Beatty, left just such an account. Written in September, 1854, the account takes the form of a series of letters written to his son William Henry...describing his very eventful and difficult life.


Owner/SourceGG
DateJun 2019
Linked toWilliam Henry Beatty; Charlotte Louisa Worts

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