French Connections – Some Little Known Incidents of Early History

Last Heritage Paper looked at the very first group of refugees to enter this area of Ontario, and how their presence at Niagara resulted in the very swift surveying of land and establishment of townships. This paper will cover the history of another group of refugees who requested help from the British Government, and who were offered settlement in Southern Ontario to begin a new life. This group of people failed in their attempts at establishing themselves in a new land — if they had been successful, the history of East Flamborough may have been very different.

During the period of French history known as the French Revolition and the Reign of Terror (1789-1799), thousands of supporters of the French royal family, the Bourbons, left France and went to England. The nobility and the clergy were particular objects of the hatred of the revolutionists, and many thousands were guillotined during the course of the revolution. The Bishop of Québec, hearing of the desperate plight of the clergy, requested permission of the British Government to bring many of the exiled priests to Canada, where they were much needed. This request suggested to the government the idea of sending these people, known as Emigrés, to Canada as colonists, where they would be able to begin life anew and not be a drain on the charity of the British Government.

As a result, in 1792, three clergymen and a naval officer came to Canada. They were well received by Bishop Hubert and by Lieutenant-Governor Simcoe, and a township was provisionally set aside for them near the head of Lake Ontario. On August 31, 1793, L’Abbé Phillipe Jean Louis des Jardins and Le Chevalier Lecorne formally asked for a township for themselves and the many French exiles who had fled England.

The Land Board at Newark (Niagara-on-the-Lake) favoured their application and reserved for them, in case they came, the Township of East Flamborough. This reservation lasted for nearly a year — for just when all arrangements had been set in place, the Bourbon party gained new life and the republic established by the revolutionists appeared to be near its end.

The exiles hoped to return to their estates, businesses and churches, and England being nearer home than Canada, the idea of becoming colonists or ministering to their fellow countrymen in Canada was abandoned. When it became apparent that the Emigrés would not take up their land grants, the order setting apart a township for them was rescinded, and the Land Board, on June 14, 1794, made the first grant in East Flamborough of 3,400 acres to Lieutenant Alexander McDonell, or McDonnell — in the Returns of persons at Niagara, 30 November, 1783, Lt. McDonell is listed as being of 21 years of age and a Loyalist in Captain John McDonnell’s Company of the Corps of Rangers.

Although the Emigrés never did emigrate, L’Abbé des Jardins later tried to arrange a settlement for them at Oswego. He later became a director of the Ursuline convent in Québec, and he died in 1833, aged 80. Had his plans reached fulfillment, East Flamborough might have been a French-speaking settlement in Southern Ontario.

One other small note of interest is that Ebenezer Griffin’s father-in-law, William Kent Esquire of Stoney Creek, provides the township with a further connection to the attempts of trying to settle the French Emigrés in Canada. Mr. Kent was a brother-in-law of Count Joseph de Puisaye, another refugee from the French Revolution who tired, with the assistance of the British Government, to settle a number of Protestant Emigrés in a colony on Yonge Street, in the townships of Markham, Vaughan, Whitchurch, and King. When Count Puisaye came to Canada in 1798, he was accompanied by William Kent, and he inherited the Count’s considerable property in the Niagara Peninsula at his death.

References:

“Census of Niagara 1783”
Transcribed from photostats of the originals in the British Museum. Recopied from the Ontario Register and reprinted for the U.E.L. Dominion Convention in 1975 and republished by the U.E.L. Association of Canada, Hamilton Branch, 1978.

“Wentworth Bygones”. The Papers and Records of the Head of the Lake Historical Society, Volume No. 9. Walsh Printing Service, Hamilton, 1971.

“Canada and its Provinces”, Volume 17, The Province of Ontario. Edit. Adam Shortt. Glasgow, Brook and Company, Toronto, 1914.

Originally published in Heritage Happenings, February 1984.

© The Waterdown-East Flamborough Heritage Society 1984, 2020

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