Hamilton cemeteries in the age of wooden churches

St. Stephen's Anglican Church built in 1837.  Photo by @erskinec
St. Stephen’s Anglican Church built in 1837. Photo by @erskinec

When we look at today’s historic churches, we are often looking at a later building that is much larger than the original church. Not only are these buildings later, but they are made out of different building materials.

Death Comes Early in 19th Century Hamilton

Binkley Hallow Cemetery, Hamilton (Ont). Photo by @erskinec
Binkley Hallow Cemetery, Hamilton (Ont). Photo by @erskinec

In the early years of Hamilton, death was common and could come at any time.

Reverend John Miller took charge of Ancaster Church on August 8th, 1830 and kept a parish record from 1830 to 1838.
Scanning his entries, it is easy to discover how the young often had very short lives.

On May 22nd, 1831 Rev. Miller buried 6th month old Elias, the son of Andrew Todd and Sarah Ann Kirby.

David, son of Thomas and Margaret was born on Aug 27, 1830. Rev. Miller baptized David on Sept 20th, 1830, but one year later he was buried on Sept 23rd, 1831.

There is one story from the 1794 Annville, Pennsylvania tells how 150 on horseback and in carriages followed a young father riding a horse and cradling a small coffin in his arms

Locally, there was the story of William Notman who would a have a successful career in Canada politics.

William was born in Scotland (1805) and then moved to Dundas in 1821. In 1827, he setup a law practice in Ancaster and started to raise a family.

On Dec 11th, 1832 William’s wife, Maria, gave birth to a daughter named Maria. The baby was baptized by Rev. Miller on Dec 15th; on the same day that Rev. Miller buried Mrs Maria Notman, aged 28.

Rev. Miller noted that 250 people attended the service that Sunday.

One month later, William Notman’s 2nd daughter, Emily who was dead. Emily died on Jan 11th, 1833 at the age of two.

All in the Family – The 1803 Binkley Family Pioneer Cemetery in Hamilton (Ont)

The 1803 Binkley Pioneer Cemetery, Hamilton (Ont). Photo by @erskinec
The 1803 Binkley Pioneer Cemetery, Hamilton (Ont). Photo by @erskinec

Around 1801, the Binkley Family purchased 800 acres between the campus and Dundas. They set aside land for a church and school. They also set aside land for a family graveyard. The first people to be buried at the Binkley cemetery were David (b. 1752) and Margaret (b. 1750) Barringer in 1803.

Signs and omens – The Case of Abraham Lincoln

Signs and omens – The Case of Abraham Lincoln

Ancaster (Ont). Photo by @erskinec
Ancaster (Ont). Photo by @erskinec

I hope everyone had a happy Halloween. Here is the third and last story regarding signs and omens. This one comes from a respected journalist and close friend to Abraham Lincoln, Noah Brooks. The President died on April 15, 1865 at 7:22 in the morning.

A few months after Lincoln’s death, Brooks recounted the following story to Harper’s New Monthly Magazine in July 1865. Brooks claims to have retold the story as closely as possible to Lincoln’s own words.

Reporter and friend of Abraham Lincoln, Noah Brooks, re-told the following story in Lincoln’s own words. The story was published in Harper’s New Monthly Magazine in July 1865.

It was just after my election in 1860. . . . I was well tired out, and went home to rest, throwing myself down on a lounge in my chamber. Opposite where I lay was a bureau, with a swinging-glass upon it [and here he got up and placed furniture to illustrate the position] and, looking in that glass, I saw myself reflected, nearly at full length; but my face, I noticed, had two separate and distinct images, the tip of the nose of one being about three inches from the tip of the other.

I was a little bothered, perhaps startled, and got up and looked in the glass, but the illusion vanished. On lying down again I saw it a second time-plainer, if possible, than before; and then I noticed that one of the faces was a little paler, say five shades, than the other. I got up and the thing melted away, and I went off and, in the excitement of the hour, forgot all about it-nearly, but not quite, for the thing would once in a while come up, and give me a little pang, as though something uncomfortable had happened.

When I went home I told my wife about it, and a few days after I tried the experiment again, when [with a laugh], sure enough, the thing came again; but I never succeeded in bringing the ghost back after that, though I once tried very industriously to show it to my wife, who was worried about it somewhat. She thought it was “a sign” that I was to be elected to a second term of office, and that the paleness of one of the faces was an omen that I should not see life through the last term.

Signs & Omens – The Tale of Sailing Ship Troy

Binkley 1803 Cemetery, Hamilton (Ont). Photo by @erskinec
Binkley 1803 Cemetery, Hamilton (Ont). Photo by @erskinec

In earlier times, people often believed that death could be foretold by signs or warnings. I don’t have any local tales, but here is one from New York State that I recently read in a book that was published in 1975.

Lake Champlain is a very stormy body of water, particularly late in the shipping season. There once was a sailing ship called the Troy and it was carrying a cargo of iron ore from Port Henry to Westport.

It was late November 1825, the winds suddenly picked up and the water became very rough. The ore shifted and the ship went under, taking all hands.

Typical for those earlier days, the crew was largely extended family and when the weather turned bad, family friends gathered on the pier hoping for the ship’s safe return.

At home, the mother and sisters sat around the fireplace; waiting with dry clothes and warm food for the boys.

Suddenly, women heard the men arriving home. There were sounds of front door opening and the stomping of the feet.

Everyone rushed to the door but no one was there.

The mother and daughters realized that this was a sign that the boys were not coming home.

A few days later, personal items from the crew began to appear on shore, but no bodies were ever found.

In the cemetery of Westport there is a stone maker that lists the missing crew members:

“Sacred to the Memory of Capt Jacob Halstead AE 25 years and his brother George Halstead AE 13 years Sons of John & Phebe Halstead who were lost together with three others the rest of the crew of the Schooner Troy in a gale of wind off Westport Nov 23, 1825”

The original story was published in the 1906 book entitled: History of Westport, Essex County by Caroline Royce.

As a side note; in 1999 a sonar scan of Lake Champlain located the Schooner Troy in about 300 feet of water. The ship is nearly intact and appears to be well-preserved. It is one of the few surviving examples of a sailing canal ship.

Dying Can Be a Pickle

Binkley Hallow Graveyard, Hamilton (Ont) . Photo by @erskinec
Binkley Hallow 1854 Graveyard, Hamilton (Ont) . Photo by @erskinec

This week the Globe and Mail noted that Oct 21st was the anniversary of the death of Lord Nelson at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805. Before the American Civil War embalming was rarely done and funerals had to be performed very quickly.

In the case of Lord Nelson, he died on a ship far from home and in a warm climate, what to do? There is a folktale that says they packed Lord Nelson and shipped him back to England in a keg of rum.

Unlike Lord Nelson, the challenge for some farm families was what do you do when it is the middle of winter and the ground is frozen solid?

I don’t have any local Hamilton stories, but according to one 19th century tale, when someone died in the winter, the body would be tied to a cooling board and hang in the barn until the spring thaw.

A cooling board is a panel of wood, like a wooden door, that was used to place the dead until the coffin was completed. Given the small size of 19th century homes and communities, sick beds would be needed for visitors staying over for the funeral.

Sir Allan MacNab buried at the family cemetery called Inchbuie, located at Dundurn Castle,Hamilton Ontario

The former family cemetery for the MacNab at Inchbuie
The former family cemetery for the MacNab at Inchbuie

Sir Allan MacNab was buried with: his son (Robert MacNab); his parents (Allan and Anne MacNab); his first wife (Elizabeth Brooke MacNab); his second wife (Mary Stuart MacNab); his brother (David Archibald MacNab); two of his brother’s children; and MacNab’s daughter (Minnie MacNab Daly).