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How the Farrells found their way to Upper Canada

October 12, 2023

Family legends provide us with a feeling of knowing our forebears while they encourage discussion and continuing research. Here are some tales about our Farrell ancestors.

The Beginning: The Farrell legends tell us that James Farrell and Catherine Tansy, who was to become his wife, were both born in the same house overlooking the Shannon River in County Leitrim. However, they did not become acquainted until later years. Why James’ parents were in Ireland is still an unanswered question, for all other references point to Yorkshire, England, as their home area.

Leaving the Old Country: Daniel Parkinson, author of “Up To Rawdon,” clues us in on the next phase of our story. He thinks that James came at the age of 12 to Rawdon, Quebec, northeast of Montreal, with the family of John Mason and Catherine Hamilton who was a sister of James’ mother. (I have just found a half dozen DNA matches to this branch.)

It is believed that James returned to England about 1840 and brought his mother, Ann Hamilton Farrell, his sister, Sarah, her husband, Benjamin Cain, and his brother, John, to the New World.

In February, 1841, James married Catherine Tansy in St. Patrick’s Church at Rawdon. She had come to Rawdon with her parents, Peter Tansy and Mary Herbert, sometime after 1820, from Roscommon. Her early marriage to John Doherty came to a sudden end when he died accidentally early in 1840. James and Catherine’s first three sons John, Benjamin and Thomas, were baptized in St. Patrick’s Church, Rawdon.

Westward, Ho: Soon after, James and family left this area. The 1851 Census for Hastings County, begun in January, 1852, lists two more sons, Hamilton and William, in Enumeration District 19 (Huntingdon Township, I believe). The 1861 census tells us that these boys were born in Upper Canada; so, the family could have reached there by 1847 or 1848 when Hamilton was born and William was probably born there in 1850.

How long did the Farrells stay in Hastings County? Now, that was a question! Recently, we established that the next son, James Herbert, was born in 1854, also in Huntingdon Township. The first Farrell event recorded in the Huron district was the birth of my Grandpa Samuel in June, 1856, followed by three more children, Sarah, Thomas and Alicia.

A growing family; photo courtesy of Rose Addison

The Journey: Did the family gather what possessions they had accumulated and travel on foot overland until they eventually reached the Durham Road which they followed to Penetangore on Lake Huron? Or did they make their way by one of the more southerly settlers’ roads to the lake and sail north by a small boat?

Maybe, as is mentioned in a note written by Aunt Mary Pollock Farrell (Mrs. Thomas), they might even have reached the most southern area of Ontario near Chatham before heading up the lakeshore.

At any rate, along with them, came a prized possession - a white Clydesdale mare and her colt. Descendants of John say that he was fortunate enough to ride her but perhaps he shared the privilege. Offspring of this mare are known to have served in the stable of Samuel’s son, William, and grandson, Allan, until the mid 1900s. I would guess that there were descendants in other family barns as well.

Settling Down: Since finding a new abode was of paramount importance, James headed inland to view lots said to be available there. Meanwhile, Catherine heard of a lot on the Huron Township side of the Boundary, just south of the village, which offered some cleared land and a log dwelling. Since she was in charge of the purse, she immediately handed over $50 (or pounds?), all their savings, not worrying about the stretch of sand close to the lake.

Bob Farrell told me one day when we were touring, that if I were to drive back the farm lane that was formerly the Boundary, I would find an ancient lilac bush which once stood beside the cabin, an indication of where the still-thriving Farrell Family Farm had its humble beginning.


A sad detail: You may be wondering why I’ve listed the last son as Thomas when there was already a Thomas born in Rawdon. Clearing the bush to allow the planting of more crops, was always a need. In the early spring of 1860, all hands were occupied by this job. Unfortunately, a tree fell on young Thomas, age 14. Kincardine Cemetery records tell us that he died April 15. Before he succumbed to his injuries, he requested that the new baby, born March 29, be given his name.

I think this is Thomas, Samuel, William, Hamilton, James, Benjamin, and John Farrell, probably early 1870s; photo courtesy of Ruth Anne Hollands Robinson

Moving onward: Of the nine remaining siblings, only three left Huron Township. The rest established a dynasty, we might say, of farmers there.

In the mid ‘70s, William Fitzmaurice headed west again, stopping in Michigan long enough to marry and to learn the trade of blacksmithing. He spent some time in San Fransisco before setting up a shop in Petaluma. There, he became a very successful businessman, deeply involved in city politics and community activities, including fire-fighting, education and church.

James Herbert followed his brother to California where he, too, was a blacksmith, living in Haywards where he was involved in many land transactions. He married twice and I’m finding his descendants in my list of DNA matches.

Sarah, as well, headed for the West early in the 1880s supposedly to keep house for her brothers. There, she married William Wallace with whom she moved to the state of Washington. I have shadowy memories of seeing her at Grandma’s house.

Connections: The family members did not lose contact with one another. There are photos of young men together in California, snapshots of an older William in Huron Township, newspaper records of long visits made by William and Anastasia to Ontario, mention of a trip made by Thomas and Mary Ann to California.

The connection that brings the widest smile involves William’s fame in the wrestling world. In 1879, he was known statewide as a collar-and-arm wrestler and by 1883, he was state champion.

Watt’s story as told to Mum: Samuel and Margaret hosted family Christmas parties for the descendants of James and Catherine - the families of John, Ben, Alicia and Tommy. Watt (Ben’s grandson) tells this: James and William, the brothers in California, were well-known wrestlers. In fact, one of them held the world’s title at the age of 40. He died five days after winning the title.

Acknowledging this family prowess, the young men who were nephews of James and William, withdrew to the barn during these family get-togethers to wrestle. Included, were Uncle William and Uncle Henry (Samuel’s), Herb (John’s) and Harry Hamilton (Alicia’s). Harry was a giant of a man but very kind-hearted. Others were spectators. Watt always thought that they would kill one another.

An Author: Catherine Tansy was a writer of children’s stories which were at one time read on the BBC. Aunt Jen remembers her telling or reading a story entitled “Bella and the Bull” and … (Kay Hutching’s note).

More cousins: My DNA research has provided me with more information about Catherine Tansy. Her mother, Mary Herbert, was first married in County Roscommon, Ireland, to Thomas Mason with whom she had five children. Thus, Catherine had many step-first cousins. Her mother was likely in her 40s when Catherine was born.

I hope that “Up to Rawdon” will explain for me when and how all these folks arrived in Lower Canada. Like Catherine and James Farrell, the Mason siblings headed west from Rawdon but stopped for several generations in Montreal. In more recent years, I am finding them in Middlesex County and even on the Bruce Peninsula.
-- Updated October, 2023
Ruth Anne Hollands Robinson

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