Wednesday, March 16, 2011

A little bit of history

In honour of St Patrick's day, I'm sharing the story of one of my links to Ireland - my great, great, great, great grandfather, John Johnston and his emigration to Canada.

Born about 1815 or 1817 in Ireland, John Johnston grew up likely on a 7 acre tenant-farm in the township of Drummal, near Castle Archdale in the parish of Derryvullen (Irvinestown) in the county of Fermanagh, Ireland with his father John, mother Catherine and his three older siblings, Elizabeth (b. approx 1811) Thomas (b. approx 1813) and Mathew (b. approx 1815), and one younger brother, Edward (b. approx 1820).

(image of an example house from the area and time – borrowed from another blogspot blog)

John grew up and married a woman named Sarah HUNTER (Church of Ireland Marriage License) in 1838 when he was about 20. He also was a farmer, likely on a plot on his father’s tenant-farmland. They started having children immediately, registering them in Derryvullen. By the time the Great Potato famine hit in 1845, they had Thomas (1837), William (1839), Catherine (1841), Margaret (1843) and were expecting baby Mary (1846). One can only imagine the plight of a rural farmer in Northern Ireland at this time with 5 children and a pregnant wife dependant on them.

1847 in Ireland was the height of the Great Famine, being referred to as the Black ’47. Starting in the first of the year, the suggestion to emigrate to “The Northern Colonies” was promoted in Ireland as a relief measure to the starving population and by June, John Johnston and his young family are among the 1 million families that would make the desperate voyage to North America. John secured passage for himself, his wife, his mother and 5 children from ages 6 months to 10 years on the brig “Progress” out of Londonderry – about 55 miles away or what would be about an hour and a half drive today over rocky, mountainous terrain of Northern Ireland.

(An example of a brig from this time - borrowed from here)

The Progress carried 138 passengers for 48 days and arrived in Saint John, New Brunswick, Canada on June 5, 1847 with 5 dead. The passengers progressed through the Partridge Island quarantine facility, but it’s currently unknown how long they stayed there, if any passengers were diseased or ill and if any perished after landing at the facility. It is likely a rather uneventful voyage as there is very little record of it. The luck of the Irish was with this particular vessel and family in the trying times of famine and disease.

We can find little about this family until we see John and Sarah in the 1861 census. They have made it up the Saint John River about 70 KM to Hampstead, New Brunswick (which would be about an hour drive today) and are farmers in the community. 15 years after the famine, John, now about 45 years old, lists only his wife and two oldest sons, Thomas and William, as living with them. William is listed as 20 years old and still attending school, while Thomas is cited as being deaf, dumb and idiotic or mentally incapable. This year Margaret married James Donald, being 18 years or slightly younger. The oldest daughter Catherine, and two youngest, Mary and Jane, are not present in this census. Mary and Jane are both found at a later date, but Catherine is still missing. Its unclear where Mary and Jane are, but its clear that they’re not living at home. Perhaps they are in a neighboring farm, assisting and learning with the farm’s matrons.

In 1871, we find William married with his own children, but also still responsible for his older brother Thomas and his two youngest sisters, all listed as living with him in the 1871 census. The family appears to be close knit throughout their lives.

I will continue researching this particular branch of my family, but I thought due to the holiday I'd share what I had discovered so far. Enjoy! (if you'd like to know my research sources etc, please drop me a line and I'd be happy to share).