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A tale of two Isaac Gilberts

In my last post, I showed you a sample of the fascinating papers of the Honourable David William Smith[1], Upper Canada’s first Surveyor General, in anticipation of a lecture at the Ontario Genealogical Society Conference 2014. The conference and the talk are now history themselves.

Letter to Surveyor General D.W. Smith from Secretary to the Executive Council John Small, 23 Feb. 1802, explaining the two Isaac Gilberts.

Letter to Surveyor General D.W. Smith from Secretary to the Executive Council John Small, 23 Feb. 1802, explaining the two Isaac Gilberts. (David William Smith Papers, S128 A7-4, p 373, Marilyn and Charles Baillie Special Collections Centre, Toronto Reference Library)

As part of the presentation, I showed sample images from Smith’s various official roles as well as some personal documents. His service as a military officer/administrator for the 5th Regiment of Foot at Detroit and Fort Niagara, and his work as Surveyor General and member of the District Land Boards generated records of the widest interest—because they contain the most names. But beyond names, these documents let us see the process, the problems encountered in settling Upper Canada, and how the various players reacted and interacted. Smith’s land documents are an important complement to the Crown Lands record group at the Archives of Ontario.

I was very pleased to hear from audience member Nancy Cutway after my lecture, that I’d selected a sample document that shed some light on her family. (See the image at right. Click on it to zoom in.)

It is one of a number of reports written to David William Smith or commissioned by him, in his capacity as Surveyor General, that attempted to differentiate between grantees with the same or similar names.[2]

Here’s what Nancy wrote. (It appears with her permission.)

MY Isaac Gilbert is the second one, Sgt from the Queen’s Rangers, who settled in Norfolk Co. But that confusion explains the erroneous information about him in E.A. Owen’s book Pioneer Sketches of Long Point Settlement (1898).

Owen’s chapter on Isaac says (p. 261): “Isaac Gilbert was the son of an English emigrant who settled in the colony of New Jersey somewhere about the middle of last century. He was born in 1743, presumably in England. There are no records in the Gilbert family that throw any light on the history of the family previous to the settlement in Woodhouse; but, according to a family tradition, Isaac enlisted in the British navy during the War of the Revolution, and was promoted to some minor official position.”

… all of which is wrong. And I could never figure out why! From there forward it is more correct: Owens knew that MY Isaac—a native of Connecticut, great-grandson of Matthew Gilbert who was one of the “seven pillars” who established New Haven Colony in about 1630, and I have church records proving that descent—settled after the Revolution first in St. John NB (along with the rest of the Queen’s Rangers) and then came to Upper Canada. (Since these men had served under John Graves Simcoe, they moved almost en masse from St. John to Upper Canada when they learned of his appointment as Governor. Land records from New Brunswick and UE claims from Upper Canada bear this out. Despite Owens saying that Isaac did not receive a loyalist grant in Upper Canada, I have a copy of several documents, since he received that 400 acres referred to in your document, plus later wrote about another 300 acres, and could he swap some to make the properties contiguous.)

And Owens did have the family descendancy info more or less correct, as compared with documentation from other Gilbert researchers, including one who provided a copy of Isaac and Mary Gilbert’s family bible entries.

Your [D.W. Smith] document has now illuminated E.A. Owen’s confusion, and eased mine. Now I wonder how many other errors exist in Owen’s book which could be explained by some of those documents you mentioned which clarify individuals with similar names.

It is great to know that even in 1803, civil servants got confused.

My choice of that particular document was accidental, but I’m glad I could bring Nancy Cutway and her Isaac together! If you’d like to connect with Nancy about her Isaac Gilbert—or the other one, please comment below.


Notes

[1] The David William Smith papers are designated S126, in the Marilyn and Charles Baillie Special Collections Centre at the Toronto Reference Library.

[2] A few other reports I noted are: B6-1 page 59–60 A letter about two Mary Links and two Elizabeth Empeys, B6-1 pages 63–77 Twenty-five pages each with two or three cases of duplicate names, and A7-3 pages 209-210 Forename confusion about Willet or William Carey.

4 comments to A tale of two Isaac Gilberts

  • Pat Jeffs

    Hi Jane

    Here’s another pair of duplicate names from the era:
    (1) Samuel Arnold who married Dorothy Storring who was a daughter of a Loyalist and received a grant in Durham County (marriage at St James’ Cathedral 1 Jan 1806)
    (2) Samuel Arnold, brother of Colonel John Arnold and nephew of John Willson, who had lot 37, Conc 1, Vaughan and died 1837. Married to Sarah Ann probably in the US. She lived long enough for two censuses. Lot 37 may also have been a grant but I didn’t find it. His brother Bowley (my direct line) lived on the Markham side and did get a grant.

    Kindest regards
    Pat

  • Robert Todd

    Jane, – I have two other duplicates to track down. Coincidently, they are Josiah Gilberts, both settled near Fredericton N. B. From the N. B. library I have a file submitted by Mrs. Carol Nye who references Josiah the Loyalist with the King’s American Regiment who had “two brothers who went to Canada with him, Isaac and Caleb”. There is also another Josiah, with the Guides and Pioneers. The first Josiah may be related to Nancy Cutway’s Isaac.

    I am trying to differentiate the descendants so as to determine my Gilbert ancestor correctly, and all paths so far have led to dead ends. Any help would be appreciated.

    Regards, Robert

    • Jane E. MacNamara

      Hi Robert. DW Smith, in his capacity as Surveyor General of Upper Canada, spent a lot of time sorting out duplicate names. Perhaps you could find equivalent New Brunswick records?
      Jane

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