Fire and Wood Don’t Mix – Early Hamilton Wooden Churches

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

In years before Hamilton became a city, fire was a constant danger and resulted in the loss of many early buildings. This lead to bylaws being pass around 1846 that encouraged stone or brick construction.

Rare Today, Common Then – Hamilton Wooden Churches

St. Stephen's Anglican Church built in yr1837.  Photo by @erskinec
St. Stephen’s Anglican Church built in yr1837. Photo by @erskinec

Prior to the late 1840s and early 1850s, almost all buildings were constructed of wood. Allan MacNab’s Dundurn Castle (1833-35) and maybe James Durand’s Belle Vue (1805) were the rare examples of stone or brick buildings in the Hamilton.

The Age of Wooden Churches

The Age of Wooden Churches

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

By the 1820s and early 1830s, the several communities of faith became large enough to support the building of church and graveyard. These early churches were small and made of wood. They were typically surrounded by a small plot of land.

For example, the first church in the future town of Hamilton was the First Methodist Church that was built one acre of land purchased from Robert Hamilton in 1824.

The Private Cemetery of the George Hamilton?

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

Another example of a possible family cemetery is that of Dr. William Case 1776-1848). Dr. Case was Hamilton’s first Doctor and practiced medicine from 1809 to his death on March 29, 1848.

The death of Dr. Case posed a bit of problem for his family and friends because he never attended Church and as a result, he could not be buried in any of the local Church cemeteries.

George Hamilton (1788-1836) and he had been a close friend to Dr. Case. As a result, it was decided that Dr. Case could be buried in a private cemetery, located where the then Cherry Street came to an end at the foot of the Mountain. The Cherry Street was later renamed Ferguson Avenue and Dr. Case remains were removed to the Hamilton Cemetery in December 1950 as the result of the Claremont Access being reconstructed.

To date, I have seen no reference to family cemetery on the former George Hamilton estate, but there must have been something since George Hamilton died in 1836. I have also seen no references of George Hamilton’s remains being relocated to the then York Cemetery, now Hamilton Cemetery, which opened in 1847.

Hamilton Graves speak to Us

Jane Ann who died on Feb 23, 1848 at the age of 3 years, Binkley Pioneer Cemetery, Hamilton (Ont). Photo by @erskinec
Jane Ann who died on Feb 23, 1848 at the age of 3 years, Binkley Pioneer Cemetery, Hamilton (Ont). Photo by @erskinec

A grave is a statement about place and family. A grave say that we have roots in this landscape and these are the people who care about me, both in life and in death.

For Hamilton pioneers, the farm cemetery was a physical expression of those values.

In the Binkley 1805 Cemetery, there is statement about a young girl named Jane Ann, who briefly lived and then died on Feb 23, 1848. On the tombstone her family wrote:

“This lovely child, so young and fair,
Called home early by death,
She came to sleep like a flower,
In Paradise the last hour.”

Cemeteries anchor the historic imagination

Hamilton Cemetery is the Oldest Public Cemetery in Canada. Photo by @erskinec
Hamilton Cemetery is the Oldest Public Cemetery in Canada. Photo by @erskinec

“Cemeteries are key elements in the creation of memories, heritage, and attitudes towards the dead and the dying.” Deathscapes, Memory, Heritage and Place in Cemetery by Katherine Cook(2011), M.A. Thesis.

Death Just Keeps Coming in early 19th Century Hamilton

St. Luke's Anglican Cemetery, Burlington (Ont). Photo by @erskinec
St. Luke’s Anglican Cemetery, Burlington (Ont). Photo by @erskinec

Death Just Keeps Coming in early 19th Century Hamilton

In Reverend John Miller parish records, notes that on Feb 13th, 1831, he preached at funeral of Andrew Land (1820-1831), aged 11. Andrew was the son of Abel and Louisa Land. The Land family was one of the original pioneer settler families in Hamilton. Unfortunately, I cannot located the cause of death.

A few years later (1834), Robert Allan, only son of Allan MacNab died in a hunting accident, also at the age of 11.

So, even if you survived the first few years of life, death could still catch up to you. As Rev. Miller noted in his parish records:

Jan 15th, 1832 – Mary Anne, daughter of Robert and Helen Berrie died at the age of 8.

July 15th, 1832 – Caroline Hill died at the age of 9.

Oct 18th, 1832 – son of Joseph Blew died at the age 10.

Unfortunately, in most cases we don’t know the cause of death. Whether it was an accident or an illness.

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.

MacNab’s Family Cemetery, Hamilton (Ont).

MacNab's Family Cemetery at Dundurn Castle
MacNab’s Family Cemetery at Dundurn Castle

Like many Hamilton farming families, Allan MacNab had to create his own family cemetery. In the years before his death in 1862, MacNab’s Inchbuie cemetery would have held his first wife Elizabeth, who died in 1825; his only son Robert, who 1834; his second wife Mary, who died in 1846; plus his brother David and two of children.

After 1862, MacNab’s daughter Minnie was also buried at this location.

In 1901, the City of Hamilton purchased the Dundurn Castle property, except for Inchbuie. The photo show Inchbuie in 1901 within today’s landscape. At the time of photo, MacNab and his family would still have been located in the tomb.

As a result of a dispute over the land, Allan MacNab and his wife Mary were re-buried at Holy Sepulchre Cemetery because they were Catholics. Other members of the family were re-burried in the Hamilton Cemetery.

MacNab Family Cemetery, Hamilton (Ont). Photo by @erskinec
MacNab Family Cemetery, Hamilton (Ont). Photo by @erskinec

The source of the 1901 image is the Flickr account of the Hamilton Public Library, Special Collections, while the details regarding dispute over grave locations is from book entitled the Hamiltonians by Margaret Houghton.