In-Laws: James & Mary Elliott

The Elliott family figures dominantly in the Brett family history and provides some very interesting details about the family connection to Amherstburg.

From burial records for Christ Church (Anglican) in Amherstburg (available through the Marsh Collection), we know that James Elliott died on March 17, 1840, age 35. His birth year is therefore about 1805. From these records, we also know that he was born in Enniskillen, Co. Fermanagh, Ireland and was a Private in the 34th (Cumberland) Regiment of Foot in the British Army.

Co. Fermanagh is part of Northern Ireland, located in Ulster, not far from the Brett homeland in Co. Sligo.

The 34th Regiment of Foot was an infantry regiment in the British Army that was established in 1702. In 1824, the regiment was posted to Ireland for several years, but was moved to Halifax, Nova Scotia in 1833. James Elliott would have joined the 34th Regiment when it was stationed in Galway, Ireland. His eldest child, Ann, was born there on 27 July 1832 (see Ann’s death record for details). James and Mary Elliott, along with their infant daughter, would have made the voyage to Canada in 1833 along with the 1st Battalion of the 34th.

In Canada, the regiment was garrisoned at Halifax until 1838. James and Mary’s second child, Richard, was born there in August 1835.  When the regiment was ordered in 1838 to move from Halifax to Fort Malden in Amherstburg, Upper Canada, James and Mary would have been traveling with 6-year-old Ann and 3-year-old Richard.

Their youngest child, Catherine, was born in New Brunswick, possibly Saint John, in 1838 or 1840 (there is some inconsistency on this point). If Catherine was born in 1838, her mother may have given birth during the six-week trek from Halifax to Amherstburg. The 1901 census lists her birthdate as June 8, albeit in 1841. Given that census returns are frequently riddled with inaccuracies, it is possible that Catherine was born on June 8, during the march west, but in the year 1838, not 1841.

If, on the other hand, she was born in 1840, then it’s likely that her mother, now pregnant, headed back east after James’s death. Most of the census records (1871, 1881 and 1911) favour the 1840 birth year, but none of the records indicate a move to New Brunswick after James’ death. Efforts to locate Mary Elliott (nee Taylor) after her husband’s death have been unsuccessful.

The Rebellion

In late 1837, insurrections aimed at breaking the elitist form of colonial government began, first in Lower Canada (present-day Quebec) and shortly thereafter in Upper Canada (present-day Ontario). The self-styled “patriots” were unsuccessful in their initial attempts and escaped to the United States, where they rallied support from American sympathizers.

In Toronto, journalist William Lyon MacKenzie received most of the attention. The publisher of the Colonial Advocate was considered a radical for advocating a democratic system of government (resembling the American model) and for attacking aristocratic officials dubbed “The Family Compact” in his newspaper. Although the Upper Canada Rebellion of 1837-38 is most often associated with MacKenzie, much of the rebel threat occurred along the US-Canadian frontier, including four attacks along the Detroit River.

Fort Malden was abandoned and in a sad state of disrepair in late 1837. After the War of 1812, the British considered Fort Malden to be of little strategic consequence to the defence of Upper Canada. In May 1835, they decided to close the fort and the last troops left on Sept. 1, 1836. The town’s written history, Amherstburg 1796-1996: The New Town on the Garrison Grounds (page 27), provides the following description:

When rebellion broke out in Upper Canada in early December of 1837, Fort Malden was a dilapidated hulk. The deserted post’s ramparts were in disrepair and there were no cannon guarding its bastions. Not only were the existing structures in a sorry state, there was simply not enough room to house the assorted volunteer companies and Essex Militia which mustered in Amherstburg. Temporary housing was acquired in town, but the lack of adequate arms and supplies for the militia was not resolved before the first rebel strike.

Although various accounts of the rebellions found on the Internet state that the 34th Regiment was engaged in putting down rebellions at Pelee Island, Fighting Island and the Battle of Windsor, these accounts are exaggerated or erroneous.

In January 1838 there were no regular troops at Fort Malden. When a group of patriots attempted to seize Bois Blanc Island in the Detroit River, it was the local militia that responded, using rifles and muskets alone to fire on the schooner Anne, which had been hijacked by the patriots at Detroit. When the helmsman was wounded, the Anne drifted downstream and grounded at Elliott’s Point (named for Matthew Elliott, a founder of Amherstburg, but not a relative). The schooner was filled with stores of ammunition and three cannon, which were confiscated by the Essex Militia for use at Fort Malden.

According to Amherstburg 1796-1996: The New Town on the Garrison Grounds, the patriot attack at Bois Blanc spurred the British military commander in Upper Canada to move the 24th, 32nd and 83rd Regiments, plus a detachment of the Royal Artillery, to Fort Malden. The 34th Regiment was still garrisoned at Halifax.

The second rebel attack occurred on February 24, 1838 when a group of patriots crossed the frozen Detroit River and attempted to occupy Fighting Island. Lieutenant-Colonel Maitland of the 24th Regiment responded quickly and the rebels fled back to Michigan.

The third attack was perhaps the most spectacular. On February 26, a large patriot force (400-600) set off from Sandusky, Ohio, marching across the frozen surface of Lake Erie to occupy Pelee Island. The fleeing islanders arrived at Fort Malden to warn the garrison. Lt. Col. Maitland sent a force of about 400 on an overnight march along the lakeshore and across to the island on March 1. The 32nd and 83rd Regiments, militiamen, native scouts and a troop of militia cavalry participated in the routing of the patriots. The Battle of Pelee Island was the largest action fought in Essex County during the rebellion. The rebel losses included 11 dead, 40 wounded and 11 taken prisoner by the British.

The patriot rebels appeared to be deterred from further actions for many months. By June 1838, the British had once again withdrawn their garrison from Fort Malden. Intense lobbying by the local people, however, helped to convince the British that having an armed presence at the fort was critical. Five hundred soldiers of the 34th Regiment arrived at Fort Malden at the end of July 1838. James Elliott and his family were among these new arrivals.

According to Amherstburg 1796-1996 (page 29), the 34th Regiment was principally responsible for renovating the fort:

Prior to the Battle of Windsor, British military authorities gave Sir Richard Airey, commanding officer of the 34th Regiment, orders to improve facilities at Fort Malden. From July 1838 until his regiment left Fort Malden in 1840, Airey directed a massive building programme which completely revitalized the post.

The British constructed at least eight new buildings inside the fort. A great emphasis was placed on living quarters for the greatly expanded garrison. Contractors erected two 2-storey wooden frame barracks which accommodated 400 troops. Each of these buildings received a new cookhouse. The officers received a new brick barrack with eight rooms on the first floor for themselves and room on the second for their servants. The Royal Engineers supervised the construction of a new guardhouse just inside the fort’s gate, new prisoner cells and quarters for senior non-commissioned officers.

The fortifications of Fort Malden and Bois Blanc Island were much improved under Airey’s direction. Troops from the 34th deepened and widened the ditch surrounding the fort. They also added a nine-foot-high wooden palisade to the bottom of the ditch. Ramparts and bastions were repaired. Airey ensured that firing platforms and cannon were added to each of the fort’s bastions. On Bois Blanc the British built three blockhouses and a picket house. These fortifications on the island provided Fort Malden an outer line of defense from the west.

By the end of the rebellion and the departure of Airey’s troops, Fort Malden had been transformed from a derelict installation into a credible military post; yet the fort’s importance was only temporary and the coming years would see its denouement.

The final patriot attack along the Detroit River frontier occurred on December 4, 1838, when 400 rebels crossed from Detroit to Windsor and captured the garrison there. The Essex Militia led by Colonel John Prince held off the rebels between Windsor and Sandwich. The Illustrated Historical Atlas of the Counties of Essex & Kent reports that when news of the attack arrived at Fort Malden, 60 wagons of regulars and militia (10 men per wagon) were dispatched. It is probable that James Elliott was among them. By the time the 34th Regiment arrived at Windsor most of the insurgents had re-crossed to Detroit, except 26 who were taken prisoner.

The Children of James & Mary Elliott

Wives and children accompanied soldiers on their postings and lived in the barracks during this time. From July 1838 to James Elliott’s death on March 17, 1840, the barracks at Fort Malden (possibly the one remaining barracks building open to visitors today) would have been home to James and Mary Elliott and their three children:

Ann Elliott

Born 27 July 1832 in Galway, Ireland, Ann would have been about a year old when her parents embarked on their voyage to Canada. She would have turned 6 during the wholesale movement of the 34th Regiment from Halifax to Fort Malden. She was not yet 8 when her father died of unknown causes. Ann does not appear in the records again until July 1860 (US federal census return) when, at age 28, she is married to John Brett and living in Clinton, Iowa, with two children – Cecelia, 2, and 6-month-old Catherine who would not live beyond her third birthday. Also living with them is a 65-year-old woman by the name of Mary Noonen. It is possible that Ann’s mother, Mary Taylor, remarried after her father’s death. Based on the Iowa census information, this Mary would have been born in 1895 and would have been 10 years older than James.

The Elliott file in the Marsh Collection in Amherstburg contains a note on the Bretts, stating that John Brett married Ann Elliott in Toronto, but no record confirming this has been found. It is likely that they married in the early to mid-1850s. By 1857 they had moved to Clinton, Iowa, where they remained for about five years.

Ann Elliott died at the age of 48 of consumption (tuberculosis). Her husband John Brett died two years later at the age of 54, leaving several young children. Watch for a future posting dedicated specifically to John Brett and Ann Elliott.

Richard Elliott

Born in Halifax, Nova Scotia, on Aug 22, 1835 (source: 1901 census) or possibly Aug 15, 1835 (source: Obituary, A’burg Echo), Richard Elliott worked as a shoemaker for much of his life, partnering with his brother-in-law John Brett as proprietors of the American Shoe Store, Dalhousie Street, Amherstburg. In 1896, Richard Elliot became the caretaker of the custom building, a position he held until his death on 23 May 1905.

According to the obituaries that appeared in the Amherstburg Echo and the Essex Free Press, Richard Elliott took an early interest in military affairs and was color-sergeant in the Essex Rifles, a company of volunteers that were called up during the Fenian Raid of 1866. He received a veteran’s medal and a deed for a grant of 160 acres in New Ontario.

Richard was married twice. His first wife, Elizabeth McGuire, died in 1873, within a year of their marriage. At the age of 40, he married Eliza Haynes, 20, of Amherstburg, originally of Coventry, England. Together they had five children: Mary Eliza (1878-1942), Richard William (1881-1942), James H. (1883-1935), Eva (b. 1887), and George Walter (b. 1891).

When his sister Ann passed away in 1878, followed by her husband John only two years later, Richard Elliott took his nephew, Richard Ruddy Brett, my great-grandfather, into his family and raised him alongside his own children. R.R. Brett appears in the Richard Elliott household in both the 1881 and 1891 census records.

Catherine Elliott

Catherine was born in New Brunswick in 1838 or 1840. There is some inconsistency on this point; the 1901 census lists her birthdate as June 8, 1841, which is too late in time after her father’s death, while the 1911 census records her birth date as Nov. 1840. The early censuses, 1871 and 1881, both show her birth year as 1840, while the 1891 census lists it as 1838.

In any case, Catherine was the youngest of the siblings.

In his obituary (Amherstburg Echo), Richard Elliott is reported to have lived in Toronto and Haldimand County in his youth before moving to Iowa in the late 1850s and then to Amherstburg in 1861. Given her youth, Catherine likely accompanied her siblings as they moved around, but the facts show that she put down roots in Haldimand County (Brantford) at an early age and made it her permanent home. At the time of the 1871 census, Catherine was about 31 years old, living in Haldimand County, and widowed with three young children, Eva 10, Joseph 8, and Richard 3 (identified in the earlier censuses as Robert, but then as Richard by 1891). Richard Elliott’s obituary identifies Catherine as “Mrs. Richard Ruddy, of Brantford.”

The name “Richard Ruddy” was passed on to my great-grandfather, Richard Ruddy Brett, and to three successive generations. But its origins date back to about 1860 when Catherine Elliott married Richard Ruddy. He died young, probably in 1868 or 1869, just before R.R. Brett was born on April 17, 1869. In naming her next child Richard Ruddy, Ann Elliott was paying tribute to her sister’s late husband.

Unanswered Questions

Although we know quite a bit about James Elliott, we know very little about his wife, Mary. She is identified by her maiden name, Taylor, in some notes located in the Elliott folder at the Marsh Collection. After her husband’s early death at the age of 35, Mary was left to raise three young children on her own and she may have remarried a man named Noonen, but we have no records to confirm this.

We also don’t know how James died, whether it was health or work related. A review of military records may yield more information.

We are fortunate, however, to have records and artifacts from the 34th Regiment on display at Fort Malden National Historic Site. As the last regiment to populate the fort, the 34th is well remembered to this day.

4 thoughts on “In-Laws: James & Mary Elliott”

  1. I have been active with the Royal Scots Light Company in London Ontario and have just completed the 200 commemoration of the Battle of Longwoods. I promote the involvement of the Western (Caldwell) Ranges as William Caldwell was a 6 great grandfather. An other grandfather was Michael Conroy (a bugler) of the 34th who was a pensioner at Fort Malden, who’s daughter Margaret married Basil Dufour
    Have a look at the web page

    1. Hi Marvin.
      Thank you for directing us to your website.On another family line (the Quicks of Colchester), I’ve been reading Phillip Hoffman’s “Simon Girty: Turncoat Hero” which references Capt. William Caldwell on many occasions. I’m fascinated by the fact that so many notable figures who appear in the history books about the Revolutionary War, the Indian Wars, and the War of 1812 ultimately made their homes in and helped to settle Essex County. We’ve not done enough here to commemorate our beginnings. Excellent work on your end!

  2. Hi Laurie

    My great-grandfather, Joseph Ruddy, was one of Richard Ruddy and Catherine Elliott’s children. The name Richard Ruddy was passed down the next three generations in my family too, including my grandfather and uncle, so I’ve read your Richard Ruddy Brett posts with great interest, intrigued by who Richard Ruddy was.

    Although the 1851 Ontario census (taken in 1852) puts 24 year old Richard Ruddy in Walpole Haldimand and born in Upper Canada, it seems more likely that our Richard Ruddy was born in Ireland, as recorded in the 1861 census. Perhaps he was the Richard Ruddy who left Ireland from Belfast in June 1851 aged 22, a famine migrant on the “coffin ship” Esmeralda, stopping first at Liverpool and arriving in New York about 6 weeks later. Based on my DNA matches, some of his family (uncles James and Dynes) remained in Seagoe northern Armagh, suffering the famine and rent increases, while uncle Samuel went to Quebec as a British Soldier with his wife, and was settled with a family in Halton Ontario by 1851. By 1861 they even had an English servant. A number of the largely protestant Ruddy’s from northern Armagh served in the British Army, but the Irish records for this period are so sketchy it’s difficult to see exactly where Richard fitted in.

    Certainly by the 1861 Canadian census, he and Catherine Elliott were living in tiny York Village, Seneca, Haldimand County, Ontario, on the banks of the busy Grand River. This is where Catherine’s brother Richard Elliott spent some time “in his youth”, and her sister Anne Elliott’s husband John Brett sold shoes, before they all moved to Iowa around 1857. York seems like an obscure place for the Elliott’s to pitch up after the death of their father James in 1840, but there were three other Elliott families of Irish protestant extraction farming in Seneca at the time – maybe one or more were relatives. Despite being just 19 when her siblings set off for the US, it seems that Catherine was already married with two young children, Elizabeth and Fanny J. Over the next few years she had two more children, John and Emma (Eva?), but lost all except Eva to scarlet fever in 1860.

    In 1861 Richard is listed as an Inn Keeper with a 2 storey timber frame house (relatively substantial for Seneca at that time) in which his family, a “labouress” and 4 labourers were boarding. Richard’s gravestone is in St John’s cemetery in York Village – a “native of Co. Armagh, Ireland”, he died in York 8 Dec 1866 aged 37, the same year his son Richard (or Robert) was born. In the Calendonia Grand River Sachem (the local paper), Richard Ruddy’s death notice refers to him as a Hotel Keeper dying after a “short and painful illness”. Further down the same page is a notice for an AGM being held at “RUDDY’S HOTEL, YORK”, so it presumably had some sort of meeting space. Contemporary adverts show that these Hotels sold liquor and cigars and provided meals as well as accommodation, so I imagine a kind of saloon.

    Although the river was generally in decline at this time thanks to the new Buffalo railroad, Ruddy’s Hotel was one of four in York Village serving local traffic and industry (some mills and some mining), including the stone Barber Hotel/Enniskillen Lodge (with an upstairs ballroom) rebuilt after a fire in 1862 and still standing today. Besides the masonic square and compasses, there’s a discrete inscription on the side of Richard’s headstone to Francis James Ruddy, who died earlier that year aged just 11 months, also announced in the Calendonia Grand River Sachem (April 1866). The Enniskillen Lodge only received its Masonic charter in January 1867, so Richard’s headstone may have been one of its very first acts.

    The first Fenian raid in June 1866 must have been a hugely significant local event. It occurred just 30 miles away near Buffalo and pitched the unprepared volunteer Caledonia and York militias into the middle of combat with 1000 battle-hardened Irish separatists from the US. York put up 3 officers and 44 men, maybe 10% of its population at the time. They get special mentions in reports for bravery despite the chaos of the encounter. The Battles of Ridgeway and Port Erie claimed a few York Rifles lives and some injuries, but it’s thought that more succumbed to disease afterwards. If founding Lodge-member Richard was among them, he had inadvertently helped bring about modern unified Canada.

    Catherine remained in York for many years after Richard’s death, although perhaps not as a landlady in her own right, which might have proved legally difficult at that time. Perhaps Ruddy’s Hotel was renamed the York Hotel that you can see on the map of York Village in 1879. Catherine was still in York in 1881, with her two eldest surviving children (Eva and Joseph, now both teachers), 14 year old Richard at school and infant Florence Ethel – born when Catherine was almost 40, some 11 years after Richard’s death. Interestingly, Florence’s later marriage and death records both record Richard Ruddy as her father, in spite of his early death. By 1891, Eva had married and moved to Toronto and the rest of the family had moved to Brantford, a short distance up river, where Joseph had landed a job as a book-keeper for a prominent local business and started his own family. Catherine and her children lived with them, and later on just down the road, cared for by her grand-daughter Eva (my formidable great aunt) until Catherine’s death in 1917.

    Catherine is buried in Brantford along with her son Richard and Joseph’s first wife Emily – both of whom died in their mid 20’s in the early 1890’s. After 5 years as a widower, Joseph married his boss’s daughter and went on to become one of Brantford’s prominent aldermen and “Captains of Industry”. Perhaps he knew his cousin Richard Ruddy Brett in Amhertzburg personally.

    1. Hello Gavin.

      Thank you for this wonderful description of Richard Ruddy, Catherine Elliott and their extended family. I’ve often been confused about references to John Brett’s time in Haldimand County and had not uncovered any further details. Your explanation helps to paint a much fuller picture for me.

      It’s amazing that Richard Ruddy’s name has been so well memorialized. I will be sure to pass this information on to my uncle and my cousin, both named Richard Ruddy Brett.

      As my first ancestor of the name Richard Ruddy Brett was raised in the home of Richard Elliott (after his parents died), I have no doubt that he was well aware of Richard Ruddy, Catherine Elliott, and their children. As a newspaper publisher he was quite adept at tracking local families and he frequently reported on the comings and goings of his own extended family. He may have noted visits from Elliott family members in The Essex Free Press. If I come across any references, I’ll be sure to send you the links as the newspaper has been digitized and is available online at Unfortunately the system seems to be down today, but you might like to search for mention of Joseph Ruddy when the system comes back up.

      Thank you again!


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