William Applegarth 1764-1839

William Applegarth (Burlington Public Library)

William Applegarth, farmer, teacher and miller, was the eldest of the Applegarth brothers who came to Canada. Born at Staindrop, County of Durham, England in 1764, he emigrated to Canada in 1791, becoming the second settler in East Flamborough Township, establishing himself on the south side of the Indian trail that was eventually to become Plains Road. He is said to have changed the name of the area from the original one of Burlington Plains to Aldershot1.

Applegarth found early employment as a school master at the Head of the Lake, teaching a small class of children from Hamilton’s “First Families”, at a log cabin school located on a corner of Barton and Wellington Streets, south of Woodland Park. Parents paid a small fee each quarter, so William Applegarth’s “scanty salary was supplemented by his ‘boarding around’ after the fashion of the day.”2

Appointed Returning Officer for the electoral district of West York, Lincoln, and Haldimand in 1808, his term of office was not without controversy. An election during the year saw Richard Beasley as one of the two successful candidates, but the results were protested on the grounds that the Returning Officer, William Applegarth had prematurely closed the polls. Beasley was unseated and in the Spring 1809 by-election, the seat was taken by John Willson. Beasley presumably had run again, for he, along with Applegarth and Richard Hatt unsuccessfully protested Willson’s election on “election irregularities and Willson’s ineligibility as a Teacher and Preacher according to the Faith of Religious Worship called Methodism” as grounds for overturning his election.3

Watercolour painting of the Applegarth mill (1896)

William Applegarth received a Crown Grant of land in East Flamborough4, possibly through his first wife, Martha Cooley, U. E. The property, which became known as ‘Oaklands’, stretched from east of the present La Salle Park Road, to west of the Towers Plaza, and down to the Bay Front. It was here that in 1809 he built the first grist mill in the area, in partnership with his brother John. The mill was located on the banks of the Grindstone Creek — the area later became known as Hidden Valley. The mill buildings were destroyed by fire in 1812, rebuilt, burned again in 1823, and rebuilt again. The complex stood for many years, the mill stream was a popular fishing spot for the plentiful supply of salmon it held, and when the mill buildings eventually fell into disuse, the ruins were a popular picnic spot for young people of the area.

Applegarth was active in the civic and social affairs of the community. In 1804, he served as a Justice of the Peace, and was listed as an Ensign in the Second York Regiment under the command of Lieut. Col. Richard Beasley.5 He reportedly opened the first store in the Town of Hamilton following the War of 18126, possibly as an outlet for the surplus flour from his Flamborough mill. He was appointed one of the three building commissioners for the Burlington Canal project from 1823 – 1832 — the first such project undertaken by the authorities at York7 and at the incorporation of the Desjardins Canal Company on 30 January 1826, he was appointed a Director. He was a Trustee for the Common School on Concession 1 of East Flamborough Township8, and in the same year was appointed to the Grand Jury of the Gore Assizes.

During these years of community involvement, William Applegarth still managed his interest in the Hidden Valley mill. According to hand written notes, the reminiscences of S. H. Ghent of the Surrogate Court, Hamilton:

Applegarth brought an action against a man named Rhymal to the King’s Bench in 1827, for obstructing the stream of water to his mill. Many years after the building of the Applegarth mill, Rhymal also built a mill, and a dam further upstream, the consequence of which, the water in the creek was sometimes kept back when wanted by Applegarth, and at other times was allowed to come down in a much greater quantity than necessary and with greater impetuosity than it naturally flowed and the Plaintiff sustained damage upon both these grounds of complaint. While Rhymal was filling his pond the water in the stream ceased to flow in the usual quantity to the mill of Applegarth which stopped his mill, but when Rhymal let the water off, it flowed in such quantity as to overflow and injure Applegarth’s dam by carrying away the soil and ground of which it was composed. At the trial it appeared that the damage suffered by the Plaintiff was very little or nothing. The Jury found the verdict for the defendant but Mr. Applegarth got a new trial — Judge Sherwood was of the opinion that the prior occupancy of the water by Applegarth gave him a right to the uninterrupted flow of the stream.9

Applegarth was a devout Anglican and regularly attended services, first at St. John’s Ancaster, and during the 1830s at Christ Church, Hamilton. It appears that he was married twice, his first wife, Martha Cooley was from the Loyalist family who settled in the Ancaster – Beverly Township area, his second wife was Martha Burns, by whom he had a daughter named Sarah.10 William Applegarth died 1839 and was buried in the church yard of St. Matthew-on-the-Plain, Martha Burns died 23 January 1857 and is buried in the same Aldershot cemetery.

Pencil sketch by J. R. Seavy, from “Wentworth Landmarks”
  1. Hoey, Hope: Spectator, September 22, 1951
  2. Campbell, Marjorie Freeman: A Mountain and a City, The Story of Hamilton Pg. 18. McClelland and Stewart Limited, Toronto, 1966.
  3. Edit. T. Melville Bailey: Dictionary of Hamilton Biography Volume 1. Pg. 212. W. L. Griffin Limited, Hamilton, 1981.
  4. William Applegarth’s property (Lot 6, Broken Front Concession, Lot 6, Concession 1) totalling 300 acres, was not registered until 2 December 1833.
  5. Wentworth Historical Society Journal and Transactions Volume 4. Pg. 17. The Griffin & Kidner Co. Ltd., Printers. Hamilton, 1905.
  6. Ibid. Pg. 25.
  7. Johnston, Charles M. : The Head of the Lake. A History of Wentworth County Pg. 123. Wentworth County Council 1967.
  8. Known as the Applegarth School, it was built in the area of St. Matthew-on-the-Plain cemetery c.1828-1831.
  9. Reminiscences of S. H. Ghent – Waterdown-East Flamborough Heritage Society Archives.
  10. Sarah Applegarth, daughter of William Applegarth and Martha Burns, born 20 August 1815. She married Dr. Wells of Hamilton and lived on Main Street West. Following his death in 1835, she remained a widow for a number of years before remarrying Alexander Brown Jr., 29 April 1842 and moved to Waterdown. As a result of her marriage, half of Oaklands estate was given to her and c.1851, the family moved to the Brown’s Wharf area in Aldershot.

Originally published in Heritage Happenings, April 1988.

© The Waterdown-East Flamborough Heritage Society 1988, 2021.


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