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.
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:
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.
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 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.
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.