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A closer look at Timothy Rogers, 'father of Newmarket'

In this week's Remember This?, History Hound Richard MacLeod shares the story of the pioneer who brought several of his fellow Quakers from Vermont to settle along Yonge in 1801
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Timothy Rogers is considered by many to be the father of Newmarket’s founding and establishment.  

Many of you have likely heard stories of Rogers’ arrival in Newmarket, bringing Quaker settlers to Yonge Street, but how much do we know about the man? In this article, I want to fill out the picture somewhat and provide you with an idea of the man himself.

In May 2001, we were in preparation for the bicentennial of the arrival of Timothy Rogers and Friends, who had trekked from Vermont and Pennsylvania, and the founding of Newmarket. Both the local Friends and the town were busy searching through old journals, letters and texts to find out more about our past, and perhaps to bring some of it to life. 

I was given a copy of the Canadian Friends Historical Association's recent publication, The Journal of Timothy Rogers, to aid in my preparations in association with my uncle, George Luesby. This is what I learned.

On, or about, the first of May 1801, a man named Timothy Rogers arrived from Vergennes, Vermont with about 20 families to settle the dense, virgin forest that was Newmarket. My ancestors, the Lundys, were part of that group. Between 1801 and 1803, another 24 families followed from Vermont and Pennsylvania, clearing and settling land up Yonge Street in the former towns of Whitchurch and King, which was what our area was called then.

An 1880 edition of the Newmarket Era included an historical article that gave Rogers an interesting place in our history: "The first white man known to have slept at Newmarket was Timothy Rogers, who in the year 1800, while on a prospecting tour between Toronto and Lake Simcoe... camped for a time upon a hill about where the North York Registry Office now is and fed his horse upon the rushes that grew on the lowlands nearby."

While this article tells us Rogers was in Newmarket in 1800, scouting land for a new settlement a year before arriving with the 27 families that eventually settled the area, it tells us nothing about the man and what moved him to leave his wife and 11 children in Vergennes, Vermont and seek new land in what was then a backwater in a strange land.

I have discovered what a true 18th-century pioneer, visionary and entrepreneur Rogers really was. He was born May 22, 1756 to Mary Huntley and Timothy Rogers Sr. in Lyme, Connecticut. No one seems to know what became of Rogers' parents. In his journal, he states he lived with a variety of people until he was about six years old.

His uncle, John Huntley, upon hearing that the young Timothy was on his own, rescued him and took him to live in Nine Miles, New York. However, John was so poor he found he could not care for Timothy as well as his own family, so Rogers was again "put out" to live with strangers.

Rogers had very little formal education. At 14, he attended school just long enough to learn to spell and begin to read. Later he learned to write and cipher (count).  After just a few weeks of education, young Rogers set out to live his life. He became an astute businessman, settled at least eight farms and established two communities in Canada, wrote a journal of his life and corresponded extensively in his business and personal life.

In 1776, at the age of 19, Rogers married Sarah Wilde, who came from a Baptist background. He seemed interested in trying out several religious denominations before settling on Quakerism, with its simple manner of speech and dress. Eventually, he joined the local Quaker meetings and became a member, as did his wife and children.

By 1777, Rogers, with Sarah and their first young son, moved to Danby, Vermont, where he attempted to settle during the Revolutionary war. Being a Quaker, he was exempted from fighting in the military. 

Rogers had purchased land in Danby to farm. Three more Rogers children were born on this farm, and in 1782, Rogers took his family to settle another tract of land in Ferrisburg, Vermont.  

Rogers was also employed by several Friends from New York to take care of their Vermont land, where resettlement had pushed up land prices. About a year later, Rogers moved again, 30 miles into the wilderness of Vermont where he cleared the land for his farm and worked as a millwright in partnership with Friend Richard Burling. 

In 1795, Rogers made his first visit to Canada with Friend Joshua Evens, where he travelled 2,200 miles and visited Friends in Quebec and Nova Scotia. 

It seems after this visit he began to think of moving to Canada, and he put this "concern" before the Quaker Meeting for Business shortly after his return. However, it was not well received and he "gave up my prospect and concluded to not move from our Meeting at present."

While Rogers was visiting Canada and entertaining thoughts of moving west, the issue of slavery, with all its moral, financial and practical implications, was front and centre in the United States. 

When the topic of slaves being "set at liberty" came up between Rogers and a Friend, in keeping with Quaker attitudes, he is said to have indicated he would hire a few slaves to help them out. This generous statement resulted in two slaves running away to the Rogers' farm, where Rogers agreed to let them work until their masters came for them. However, when the angry master showed up at the Rogers homestead, the frightened slaves ran into the woods and would not come out. Rogers was eventually sued for $500 per slave and charged with "aiding and assisting" their escape. 

In his journal, Rogers resignedly states "but I had this satisfaction, that I had meant to do all the good I could towards freeing all slaves. So, I concluded to not value interest with freedom, and bought them both for seven hundred dollars, that pinched me very much to pay, and then gave them their freedom."

The year 1797 was a difficult one for Rogers. In his journal, he speaks of "very many trials, some things so singular in my family that I think not best to mention but can say that I never had experienced anything near equal to what now came."  

One day while he was praying, he felt that his true calling was “to make ready and go immediately to the westward, that the Lord would make way for me to settle in the wilderness, where no others were settled. And that both me and my children might settle there and build a Meeting of Friends in that place.

So, at 44, with a wife unwilling to move and five children, some of whom were already married and settled in Vergennes, on April 24, 1800, he started out to scout land. When Rogers first made his way up the Aboriginal trail named after Secretary of War Sir George Yonge, Yonge Street was barely a muddy bush trail blazed through the wilderness. 

The future Newmarket was a wild, untracked forest of maple, ash and pine, and home to wildlife, including scavenging bears and wolf packs. The story goes that one late spring evening, Rogers waded through a marshy river with his horse. 

As he climbed the hill that would one day house the registry office, he decided to camp for the night under some maple trees close to the juicy reeds of the marsh. His horse fed on the reeds, and Timothy Rogers gained distinction for being the "first white man known to have slept at Newmarket."

He would return the next year with several families, including my ancestors, titles in hand and the rest is history. He never really settled in Newmarket, although most of his family did, as he went on to settle other Ontario locals and organize the various Quaker meeting houses into a cohesive unit

And know you know the story of Timothy Rogers before he became our Timothy Rogers.

Sources: Excerpts from The Journal of Timothy Rogers, Canadian Friends Historical Association, 2000; The History of Newmarket by Ethel Trewhella; The Newmarket Era and Toronto Star; Stories of Newmarket – An Old Ontario Town by Robert Terence Carter; Who Was Timothy Rogers by Heather Anne Lambert, Connect Communications

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NewmarketToday.ca brings you this weekly feature about our town's history in partnership with Richard MacLeod, the History Hound, a local historian for more than 40 years. He conducts heritage lectures and walking tours of local interest, as well as leads local oral history interviews. You can contact the History Hound on Facebook or by email at thehistoryhound@rogers.com.




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About the Author: Richard MacLeod

Newmarket resident Richard MacLeod — the History Hound — has been a local historian for more than 40 years
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