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Stories of Newmarket's first settlers preserved in burying ground (9 photos)

In this week's Remember This?, History Hound Richard MacLeod takes you to Pioneer Burying Ground, the final resting place of some of Newmarket's earliest settlers

The Pioneer Burying Ground on Eagle Street is the final resting place of some of our earliest settlers. The story is as much a story of the people who are buried there as it is one of a heritage site. 

The first official map of the Village of Newmarket in 1862 shows that the Boultons owned a large block of land along the north side of Eagle to the western incorporation line (Yonge Street) and north to Timothy Street. 

Mr. E. Hunter and Alfred Boultbee owned two sizeable parcels of land along Boulton Street. During the 1880s, J.C. Hogaboom acquired the entire block of land.

The Beman and Boulton families were closely linked with early Newmarket. James Boulton, a barrister, was a son of D’Arcy Boulton, who had been appointed solicitor-general in 1805 and attorney-general in 1814 and is best known for donating his residence in Toronto, known as The Grange, to the city and it is now part of the Art Gallery of Ontario. His first wife, Susan was the daughter of Elisha Beman and Esther (Sayre) Robinson, another prominent local family. 

Canon Ramsay penned a letter on Dec. 2, 1864 to the local newspaper stating that the burying ground was to be given to the Church of England and Scotland, but for some reason never was officially given.

The land had been fenced off, and Church sexton and grave digger had held the key for some time, so it was generally accepted that the Church had legal title. Strangely, no claim had ever been made.  

Ramsay complained that the fence needed repair, there was no repair fund, and scarcely anyone was paying the small fee that had been imposed as the church was not legally in any position to affix such fees. Over time, the fence got worse, complaints were frequent.

In a letter in response to the complaints, it is stated that the Church decided to legally hand over the grounds to St. Paul’s Anglican Church, but that it should be open to all denominations.

In the official bequeath of the land, it is stated that all the fees paid for a 999-year lease will be tied to the upkeep of the property. “Furthermore, as these fees are legally a Parson’s Free Hold, all fees will be released, and if more land should be needed, I will gladly set apart a portion of my Glebe Land for the purpose.  I also officially suggest that the grounds be called the PEOPLE’S BURYING GROUND.”

Canon Ramsay was interred in this old burying ground but later his remains were removed to the Newmarket Cemetery. Whatever its origins, it had now become synonymous with the Anglican Church at Newmarket. 

At the same time, it was to serve the people of the hamlet until the larger cemetery was incorporated at the north end of the village in 1869.

Unfortunately, the burial ground remained a general wilderness of brambles, desecrated by vandals, becoming an eyesore. It belonged to the entire community due to its historic association with the beginning of Newmarket. Restoration was undertaken over the years but were often suspended due to a lack of funds.

It is always sad to witness the destruction of our early landmarks. Cemeteries such as this, with its headstones bearing the carved names of our pioneer settlers, merit the respect of the citizens who have inherited the fruits of their labours. And they are of considerable educational value. Here, within the boundaries of the Town of Newmarket is a record of the families who founded the hamlet and their descendants.

In this burying ground lie the remains of the pioneer men and women who played an important part in the opening of this area of Upper Canada. There are epitaphs of some who served in the War of 1812. One of these was William Roe, whose family is buried there. 

Lying flat on the ground, one could find a splendid example of the stonecutter’s handiwork bearing the following inscription: “In memory of Esther, widow of Christopher Robinson, and mother of Sir John Beverly Robinson, Bart., C.B., late Chief Justice of Upper Canada, who died at Newmarket, July 22, 1827, aged 60 years.”

Also, one will find mention of Esther Robinson’s daughter, and also Elisha Beman, second husband of Esther, widow of Christopher Robinson, who died in 1820, aged 60 years. The stone was erected in 1875 by the Hon. W.B. Robinson as part of his will. 

The boundaries of their burial plot were marked by well-chiselled marble posts, and as late as 1931 the monument had not been defaced. It was three feet in height, two feet two inches in width, and once rose from a marble base that was placed on a rough-hewn granite base.

There is also the gravestone of the Chief Factor of the North West Company, John McDonald, who built the post at Rocky Mountain House. According to the inscription, his wife, Mary, died Jan. 15, 1828, aged 58 years, and he a month later, Feb. 17, 1828.  

Because McDonald had befriended her husband, Sir John Franklin, on his trips to the north, Lady Franklin sent this stone from England to mark the last resting place of her husband’s friend. 

Although the stone was sent shortly after McDonald’s death in 1828, it was long neglected, and it wasn’t until 1874 that J.B. Caldwell discovered this grave and the stone and drew it to the attention of Alexander Muir. He at once organized a monument-raising bee and the stone was properly set up at the Factor’s grave.

During McDonald’s last sickness, tradition claims that he was cared for at the hotel on Eagle Street, and died there. His stone confirms his last wish that he be interred in the English Church Burying Ground at Newmarket.  

Another name once prominent in Upper Canada, and to whom Newmarket stands obligated, is that of Dr. Christopher Beswick, an Englishman and clever army surgeon who had first emigrated to America before coming to Upper Canada.  

For many years he was the only doctor north of Oak Ridges. Dr. Beswick enjoyed a high reputation as a physician and surgeon among the early settlers, sharing with them the hardships and privations of pioneers.

He died March 28, 1839, aged 118 years and had lived alone in his house on Eagle. Dr. Beswick generously endowed the Church of England at Newmarket with a gift of 45 acres of land. 

There is also the epitaph of Lt.-Col. Carthew of Her Majesty’s 64th Regiment, 1878, who opposed William Lyon Mackenzie at the meeting in Newmarket in 1837.

Other than family names, there are only a few details of those resting in this burying ground. There is John Dawson, an English squire, who with his party, moved from York in 1830 to take up land on Yonge Street, where he united many couples when parsons were scarce and the law permitted civil marriages. 

Also there is Archie Bell of Scotland, 1840 and Nathaniel Gamble, 1856, and family.  And the five children of William McMaster, evidence of one of the frequent epidemics that hit Newmarket. Ann (Laughton) Roe was the wife of Walter Roe, of Detroit fame in the War of 1812.  

Barwick is a name of aristocratic flavour and of a hospitality current with the Cawthras and the Mulocks. Another stone bears the name Irving, of which the Hon. Aemilius Irving had a historic connection with Canada, the British Army and General Wolfe.  

Other names that are part of the list: Townley, Gill, Turnbull, May, Pulford, Sproxton, Hardy, Phelp, McIntyre, Allen, Darton, Lindner, Boultbee, Calkins, Blackstone, McArthur, Fowler, Kinmount, Ware, Nicol, Arksey, Malloy, Richardson, Simpson, Price, Burkitt, Torrance, Maguire, Ritchie, Brodie, Hamilton, Patchell, Homer, Smyth, and West. 

As I mentioned in my article on the history of St. Paul’s, a decision was made to construct one large monument to those buried there, embedding all those stones that could be rescued into one large one. The extent of the burials and the actual locations of the graves would seem to be lost but when you visit, you can just feel the presence of our pioneer stock.

Sources: The History of Newmarket by Ethel Trewhella; Will of Elisha Beman; Traditions of Newmarket; J. Ross Robertson, Landmarks of Toronto; The Newmarket Era; Stories of Newmarket – An Old Ontario Town by Robert Terence Carter

************************ 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 at    



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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