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Podcast Episode 57- Women of the Talbot Settlement

Anne Storey was the youngest child of Mary and Andrew Storey. Anne was born in Ireland in 1791. As a young child she traveled in 1800 to Baltimore with her mother and three siblings, Robert, Walter, and Sarah. Nine years later, at the age of 18, Anne came with her mother, brother Walter, and other family members to Upper Canada, settling in Tyrconnell. She married Stephen Backus, who had come to Tyrconnell from Pennsylvania in 1810, on March 25, 1811. They doubtless would have known each other in their former home as Stephen’s sister Lydia had married Leslie Patterson, a brother to Anne’s mother Mary Storey. Anne’s aunt, Hannah Patterson, had married Stephen and Lydia’s brother Myron.  

Anne Storey and Stephen Backus had eleven children: 

-Andrew 1812-1885, married Mary Jane Hamilton, 12 children 

-Joseph 1814-1895, married Susan Moorehouse, 5 children 

-Thomas 1816-1913, married Cornelia Keyes (3 children), Elizabeth Pearce 

-Mary 1818-1887, married Joseph Moorehouse, 6 children 

-Olive 1821-1860, unmarried 

-Sarah Anne 1823-1884, unmarried 

-Stephen 1825-1914, married Elizabeth Burgess, no children 

-Robert 1827-1898, married Jane Pearce, 4 children 

-Henry Storey 1829-1844 

-Hannah 1831-1864, unmarried 

-Walter 1832-1860, unmarried 

Anne died on April 15, 1887, and is buried at St. Peter’s Cemetery, Tyrconnell. 

Born on March 25, 1842, Merinda Williams married Thomas Pearce, the son of William Pearce and Anne Moorhouse, on January 19, 1865, in Dunwich. The couple spent their first three years of marriage living in Tyrconnell before buying Merinda’s parents’ farm in Iona, the present-day Pearce Williams camp property. Thomas and Merinda had four children: 

-Harriet Alice 1873 

-Anna Elizabeth 1876 

-Samuel 1879 

-William Charles 1883 

Church was deeply important to Merinda and the family attended the Church of Christ Disciples in Iona. She also was devoted to keeping a diary, which chronicles her busy family and social life on the farm. In 1892 Thomas and Merinda built a new house. Merinda supported her neighbours in difficult times, often being called to care for the sick and helping to prepare the bodies of female neighbours for burial. She strongly opposed consumption of alcohol and would try to counsel anyone struggling with alcoholism. Merinda died in 1906. 

Catherine “Elizabeth” or “Lizzie” Backus was born on December 11, 1855, to Andrew and Mary Jane Backus. She grew up on her parents’ farm in Tyrconnell, the present Backus-Page House Museum site. She married Bamlet Ellis Sifton on January 14, 1888. Bamlet and others in Elgin County referred to her as “Mrs. Bam.” She and her husband farmed near Coyne’s Corners. Elizabeth was the first organist of the first Methodist church established in Tyrconnell and played the piano into her 90s. After Bamlet retired from farming the couple moved to Dutton. In an August 1947 article in the Dutton Advance featuring her reminiscences on her 93rd birthday, Catherine is described as “a gracious hostess and a most delightful person” who “weaves a spell of cheerful goodwill as, with a chuckle now and then, she tells of her experiences.” She died in 1954 and is buried in St. Peter’s Cemetery, Tyrconnell. 

Catherine McCallum McLachlin was one of ten children born to Alexander and Mrs. McCallum. Catherine was born in Scotland in 1825. She and her family emigrated to Canada in 1831, traveling on a sailing ship over nine difficult weeks before landing at Port Stanley. They lived in Port Stanley for several years before receiving a land grant from Colonel Talbot in Dunwich Township, which at that time was still densely forested. As her family and other early settlers worked to establish what eventually became the hamlet of Cowal, Catherine married James McBride of Dunwich. He died in 1854 and she later remarried Archibald McLachlin, who died in 1884. They lived in a log cabin near the Thames River, which is where their children were born and raised. In total Catherine had 12 children, all of whom spoke Gaelic at home before school age. At one time a black diphtheria outbreak in her home claimed the lives of six family members within a few weeks, including four of five young daughters. Catherine was an original member of Cowal Presbyterian Church, which was founded in 1856. Into her 90s she remained an avid reader of the newspaper and follower of current events and enjoyed sharing stories about her life as an early settler. She died just two months shy of her 97th birthday in November 1921, while being interviewed by a St. Thomas newspaper reporter about her life story. She is buried in Cowal Cemetery. 

Please note that the following biography contains quotes regarding Indigenous Peoples with terms that are not appropriate for modern use, but were common to the time period of the author.   

Alice Patterson (1843-1920) was an accomplished and well-known resident of Dunwich Township. While her biography was shaped by significant historical events and individuals, she also contributed to the telling of local history, and much of our understanding of life in the early Talbot settlement is the result of her efforts.  

Alice was the granddaughter of Colonel Leslie Patterson, a native of Fermanagh County, Ireland. He and a group of relatives landed and settled at Tyrconnell on July 14, 1809, becoming the first families to establish their homesteads in that community. Leslie Patterson eventually became a Captain of the Middlesex Regiment during the War of 1812, a magistrate, and later a Colonel. He acted as Postmaster for Tyrconnell and operated the post office from his home, “Sunnyside,” the oldest remaining home in Dunwich. He died in 1852 at the age of 78.  

Alice was the eldest daughter of Joseph Patterson and the former Elizabeth Matthews of Warwickshire, England. She was born at Sunnyside and spent her life as a central figure of both the St. Peter’s Church and Tyrconnell communities. Alice lived at Sunnyside until her death in June 1920, after D. M. Littlejohn and his wife took over the farm in 1915. Her obituary, published in the June 17, 1920, edition of the Dutton Advance, reflected:  

“To St. Peter’s parish Miss Patterson was unique in her life and influence, beloved by all, devoted to her church, yet so full of that strong affection that in many respects she was also the unconscious leader. In connection with the W. A., she was one of the oldest members, and no missionary undertaking of the parish was ever set on foot without her interest and help. She was wonderfully well read and informed, and her education was remarkable… Her life of self-denial and devotion to the service of others gave her much time for reading, and her education so started was directed in such a course of general and religious reading that made her one of the best-informed minds of the neighbourhood…” The Tyrconnell Women’s Institute Tweedsmuir history volume also reflected: “Miss Alice Patterson, a very gracious person to all fortunate to have known her, was the last of the family. She had a happy part in the old home with the Littlejohn family until her death in 1920.” 

Alice kept a diary between December 25, 1862, and February 9, 1888, from the age of 19 to age 45. In it, she captures the everyday activities of a working farm and early settlement community, carefully noting every trip to the post office and its results as well as the details of Sunday services at St. Peter’s. The chronicle makes very clear the central role played by family, community, and social networks, with many prominent early Dunwich names making an appearance at Sunnyside over the years. Particularly in the winter these visits were reflected on with joy and appreciation. Alice’s notes on what would have been the mundane occurrences of daily life are interesting to view through the lens of modern convenience: “Aunt Fanny salted the bacon,” “Mr. Duncan took grist to the mill and went to Wallacetown with some cheese,” “Mrs. ___ came in the evening to pick currants, staid (sic) the night,” “Began to cut the wheat. The new self-binder works excellently.” She even made sure to record on July 23, 1883, that the family had enjoyed their first dish of raspberries for the season. 

Amidst these everyday observances, lines about working in the garden, making dresses, who was at church and everyone’s health, is a remarkably valuable insight into local and national history in the making. Her description of New Year’s Day 1863 reads like a roll call of Tyrconnell founders: “Stephen and Hannah Backus called and invited Grandmama, Mary, and myself to dinner. Joshua Bobier called and promised to return to dinner. John Duncan called. Went to dinner at the Backus’s… afternoon J. Bobier entertained us with an account of his travels, having just returned from the exhibition in England.” Later that month, Andrew Backus, brother of Stephen and first owner of the home that is now the Backus-Page House Museum, stopped by Sunnyside with some medicine. Alice also captures some noteworthy moments in local history, such as the June 27, 1883, entry that notes the marriage that day at St. Peter’s of James Sifton (John James) and Amelia Bobier, the union that produced First World War Victoria Cross recipient Lance-Sergeant Ellis Wellwood Sifton. On July 26, 1883, Alice writes “Mr. D. took the three boys to St. Thomas to see Jumbo, Barnum’s big elephant.” Her entries also capture events and themes concerning national history more broadly, as they begin before Confederation. On January 13, 1863, she reflects: “Went to the Church Society meeting. The deputation consisted of Mr. Jamieson of Walpole Island… Mr. Jamieson gave us a very interesting [account] of his experiences among the Indians of Walpole Island, showing the capabilities of the Red Men and the injustices they have suffered from the Whites…” 

We made the decision to keep Alice’s quotes intact, not to offend, but to keep with the traditions of storytelling as she wrote in her diary.  We ask that you respectfully call people today as they wish to be called. 

All told, Alice Patterson was a remarkable eyewitness of life in early rural Dunwich Township, and her diary provides a fascinating account of daily life in the community. It is of interest to note that her volume joins the work of the local Women’s Institute Tweedsmuir histories as being among the most robust and sound historical records. 

With all this said, our local history is largely told from a female perspective. We are so appreciative of the women who helped pave the way for our community. It is because of them that we have excellent glimpses into the history of the settlement. We hope you enjoyed this episode!