John Brett and his wife, Ann Elliott, are buried at Rose Hill Cemetery on the outskirts of Amherstburg, their plots located near the front of the cemetery on Alma Street.
John’s sun-bleached headstone is worn almost smooth by time and weather. It leans against a tree that grows at the head of the plot, as if it had been disgorged by the tree’s roots. Today it is nearly impossible to read the stone, but many years ago a close and patient examination revealed the following inscription:John Brett Died December 27, 1880 AE 55 years Birth in Ballisadare County of Sligo Ireland
Below this inscription is a verse that can no longer be deciphered. At the top of the stone is the Masonic symbol.
Ann Brett’s headstone is also worn nearly smooth and lies flat on the ground, knocked over many years ago and now embedded in the earth. It reads as follows:Ann Beloved wife of John Brett died Sept. 1, 1878 AE 46 years 1 month & 5 days She was a tender mother here And in her life the Lord did fear. We trust our loss will be her gain And that with Christ she’s gone to reign.
From these inscriptions, it is possible to suggest a birth year of 1825 for John Brett and an actual birth date of July 27, 1832 for Ann. (Although Ann’s death record lists her age as 48, making her birth year 1830, while the 1860 US census and the 1871 Ontario census suggest a birth year of 1834.)
The listing for Richard R. Brett in the Commemorative Biographical Record of the County of Essex, Ont., 1905, identifies 1826 as John Brett’s birth year. Although this may be correct, a mathematical calculation from the information given on his tombstone suggests that he was born in 1825, or if born in 1826 his date of birth was between December 28 and 31. Without official birth records or church records, it is impossible to pinpoint an accurate date. His death record does not provide a date of birth.
John Brett’s Arrival in Canada
The Commemorative Biographical Record states that John Brett came to Canada in early manhood. A search of ship passenger lists has not been very successful. Although ship captains were supposed to record the names of passengers, the practice was not universally implemented and women and children were not always listed. In a compilation of records of alien’s declarations entitled Philadelphia Naturalization Records, a John Brett is listed as arriving in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 1840. At 15 years of age, John Brett would indeed have been in early manhood. Women were not included in this particular listing.
It is difficult to know whether this John Brett is the right person. Although his sister Mary spent time in Philadelphia where three of her four sons lived, John Brett was never associated with that city in any written record.
We also know that John’s older sister Cecelia was with him on the voyage. Aunt Elaine (Brett) Cascadden always maintained that the two came over together, but Cecelia Rose’s death notice in the Essex Free Press (dated June 2, 1916), provides further information:
When 20 years of age she came to Canada with her brother, the late John Brett, of Amherstburg, and sister Mrs. Catharine Nelson, of Belleville, they settling near Ottawa.
Cecelia was born in 1821. The three siblings therefore came to Canada around 1841, about four years before the potato famine occurred. Cecelia was 20, John 15 or 16, and Catharine about 12 years old.
Given that the two sisters married men from the Ottawa area (Cecelia to Uriah Rose and Catharine to William Buell Nelson), it is more likely that John, Cecelia and Catharine arrived in Toronto (then called York), not Philadelphia.
Ann Elliott’s Arrival in Canada
Ann Elliott’s father, James Elliott, was a Private in the 34th Regiment of Foot, an infantry regiment of the British Army that was posted to Ireland in the mid-1820s. In 1833, the regiment was reassigned to Halifax, Nova Scotia. 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. When the regiment was transferred that year to Fort Malden, to help quell the Upper Canada Rebellion, James and Mary would have been traveling with 6-year-old Ann and 3-year-old Richard.
For more on James and Mary Elliott, please see the blog post In-Laws: James and Mary Elliott.
An unverified note in the Marsh Collection’s file on Richard Elliott (Ann’s brother) indicates that John Brett arrived in Toronto around 1845 and that he married in Toronto. No records confirming these facts have been found.
Based on the birth date of his oldest child, Cecelia (b. 3 April 1858), it is fair to suggest a marriage year of about 1857, if not earlier. John would have been about 31 years old and Ann about 25.
We know that John Brett was a shoemaker. He probably learned the trade in Ireland, as his brother George asks in his letter of Sept. 23, 1874 how John is circumstanced, “is it by the trade or otherwise.”
The Commemorative Biographical Record states the following:
He was a shoemaker and followed his calling in Toronto, State of Iowa, York Village, County of Haldimand, and later in Amherstburg, County of Essex, where he lived from 1865 until his death in 1880.
Between the time of his arrival in Canada and his first appearance in the census, John most likely plied his trade in Toronto, York Village and Haldimand County (which encompasses Cayuga, Caledonia, Dunnville and Hagersville).
The first mention of John Brett in a census occurs in the U.S. federal census for 1860. He is listed as a shoemaker living in Clinton, Iowa, with his wife Ann and two children – 2-year-old Cecelia and 6-month-old Catharine, both born in Clinton. A young shoemaker named James Rogers and a 65-year-old woman named Mary Noonen, possibly Ann’s mother, were also residing with the young family.
The facts suggest that John and Ann moved the family from Clinton, Iowa to Amherstburg much earlier than 1865 (as indicated in the Commemorative Biographical Record). Their daughter Cecelia’s obituary states that she was born in Clinton, Iowa (1858), but moved to Amherstburg at the age of 4. The best evidence that the family had moved by September 1861 comes in the form of a church record from Christ Church in Amherstburg, which lists the birth of daughter Jane on Sept. 9, 1861.
In the 1871 census for Amherstburg, John Brett is once again listed as a shoemaker.
In consecutive issues of the Amherstburg Echo in late 1874, ads for the American Shoe Store on Dalhousie Street, “next door to the Customs House” (now Gordon House), list Brett and Elliott as proprietors. John Brett and his brother-in-law, Richard Elliott, were partners in this venture until John’s death in 1880.
John Brett’s political career appears to have begun in 1875 when, as the Essex Record for 8 January 1875 shows, he was elected councillor for the town of Amherstburg. (The Essex Record was Windsor’s weekly newspaper at the time, providing good coverage of county news including the annual election results.) Election results for 1876 make no mention of John Brett (Essex Record, Dec. 31, 1875). It is not clear whether he chose not to run for office in 1876 or was defeated and therefore not mentioned).
The election results for 1877 show that John Brett was elected deputy reeve of Amherstburg and thus also became a county councillor. The following year, the Record for January 3, 1878 reported that Brett, the incumbent, was nominated for the position of deputy reeve, along with three other candidates. On January 10, 1878, the Record reported that John Brett was defeated by Mr. Crimmins. The defeat brought to an end John Brett’s political career. The death of his wife in 1878 and his own failing health probably contributed to his decision not to run in 1879 and 1880.
With six children between the ages of 7 and 15 still at home, John Brett must have found life to be particularly difficult when Ann died of consumption (now called tuberculosis) in 1878. His own health would take a turn shortly thereafter. In December 1880, at the age of 54, John died of paralysis, perhaps the result of a stroke.
John Brett & Ann Elliott’s Children
John Brett and Ann Elliott had nine children, the first two born in Clinton, Iowa, and the remainder born in Amherstburg.
Cecelia Mary Brett
Born on 3 April 1858 in Clinton, Iowa, Cecelia was to prove herself exceedingly capable of handling family crises.
At the age of 19, she married Eccles James Gott on 19 March 1878. Less than six months later, her mother, Ann Elliott, died of consumption. Two years later, in December 1880, her father passed away, leaving six children under the age of 18. Celia, now the mother of one with another on the way, took in at least four of her siblings: John Elliott, 17, who was identified as a person of “unsound mind” in the 1881 census; William James, 16; George Meuberry, 13; and Elizabeth Ann, 10. The youngest sibling, Minnie Maud, 9, was not identified in the 1881 census as living with the Gotts, but it is likely that Celia also cared for Minnie as she appears in the 1891, 1901 and 1911 census returns as a member of the Gott family.
Cecelia went on to have five children: Charles, Edith, John, Eccles James, and Stanley. The youngest, Stanley George, was born in 1888, just four years before his father died prematurely of cirrhosis of the kidney, a condition he had endured for twelve years. In 1892, Celia was left to raise five children ranging in age from four to twelve.
Notable among Celia’s children was her son, Eccles James Gott, named after his father. Eccles Gott was the Conservative MP for Essex South in 1925, 1926 and 1930. He ran unsuccessfully in 1935. The entry for Eccles James Gott in Men of Achievement: Essex County, 1927 provides a good account of how his mother influenced his life.
Based on an entry in the 1860 US federal census, we know that Catharine was born in December 1859 in Clinton, Iowa. An entry in the Christ Church records, however, records her death on 2 December 1863 in Amherstburg. She did not live beyond her fourth birthday.
According to Christ Church records, Jane was born on 9 September 1861 in Amherstburg. She was baptized on 29 May 1862 and may have lived longer but did not live beyond infancy.
John Elliott Brett
Born on 15 April 1863, John Elliott Brett was identified as a person of “unsound mind” in the 1881 census. Aunt Elaine (Brett) Cascadden said that he died young, but no official record of his death has yet been found. He was 15 when his mother died and 17 on the death of his father. He then went to live with his sister, Cecelia Gott.
William James Brett
Born on 18 November 1864, “Bill” Brett lost his mother at age 14 and his father at 16. After his parents died, he and at least four other siblings went to live with his sister, Cecelia Gott.
On 5 June 1888, Bill married Etta May Pulford of Ruthven. He worked as a clerk in a grocery store and later in sales for the National Biscuit Co. of Detroit for 36 years.
By the 1891 census Bill and Etta were living in Amherstburg, but moved to Windsor some time before 1901. They remained in Windsor thereafter. Bill became very involved with the Oddfellows
Bill and Etta had four children: Ada Leah Brett (b. 1889, d. 1933, married Royal Moore); John Alexander (see below); Josephine Brett (b. 16 July 1893, married Stafford Payne); and William Alfred Pulford Brett (b. 3 September 1910, became a doctor, was living in Cobourg at the time of Bill’s death).
Bill’s son John Alexander Brett was born on 24 February 1892 in Ruthven. On 9 September 1916, at the age of 24, he joined the Canadian Expeditionary Force, Serial No. 1045296. He was a Private in the 15th Battalion of the 1st Central Ontario Regiment which operated in France and Flanders (Belgium) during World War One. When the village of Sains-les-Marquion in France was captured on 27 September 1918, John A. was there. His military burial record says that he was killed in action: “This soldier was instantly killed by an heavy enemy shell, during operations in the vicinity of Keith Wood.”
On the following day, the 3rd Canadian Infantry Brigade established a new cemetery, the Sains-Les-Marquion British Cemetery. It contains 255 WWI burials. John Alexander Brett is buried in Plot 1, Row B, Grave #24.
George Meuberry Brett
Born on 19 February 1867, George M. Brett was 11 when his mother died and 13 when he lost his father. He was among the siblings that went to live with their older sister, Cecelia Gott.
By 1891, George had moved out and was boarding in the Sinasac home in Anderdon Township. He is listed as a telephone operator. On 18 July 1900, the day of his marriage to Nellie Grant Lock, George was employed in Welland, Ontario, as a railway station agent. Over the course of his career, George worked for the Michigan Central Railway Co. as an agent in Welland and moved to Essex by 1911.
George and Nellie had one son, George Brett, born in 1904, who became a lawyer and practiced in Leamington.
For more on George Meuberry Brett, see his obituary.
Richard Ruddy Brett
My great-grandfather, Richard Ruddy Brett, was born on 17 April 1869 in Amherstburg. He was named after Richard Ruddy, his aunt Catherine Elliott’s husband who passed away young, probably in 1868 or 1869, just before R.R. Brett was born.
R.R. Brett was 9 when his mother died and 11 when his father died. Unlike the rest of his siblings who went to live with their eldest sister Cecelia, R.R. was taken in by his uncle, Richard Elliott, who at that time had one daughter (see 1881 census). The Elliott family would grow to five children by 1891.
As an adult, Richard Ruddy Brett was generally called “Bert”. Although he started out as a teacher, by the 1890s he was working as a printer at the Amherstburg Echo. In 1896 he purchased the Essex Free Press with a partner, W.H. Auld. Together they ran the newspaper and commercial printing operation until Auld’s death in 1932.
In 1893, Richard Ruddy Brett married Frances Lillian Roberts. They had seven children, one of whom died in infancy.
Watch for a future posting dedicated specifically to Richard Ruddy Brett and Frances Lillian Roberts.
Elizabeth Ann Brett
Elizabeth Brett or “Lizzie” was born in March of 1870, either on March 15 (1901 census) or March 24 (Christ Church birth record). In the 1871 census she is identified as “Ann Jane” but this changes to “Elizabeth Ann” in subsequent records.
Lizzie was 7 when her mother died and 10 when her father died. She was among the siblings that went to live with their older sister, Cecelia Gott.
Elizabeth did not marry until she was 36 years old. On 22 August 1906 she married Benjamin Drake, then 55, and moved to Detroit. In 1909, her only son, John Francis Drake (“Jack”), was born. He would predecease her in 1929 at the age of 20 (see her obituary).
Minnie Maud Brett
The youngest member of the family was born on 18 September 1871. She was 7 years old when her mother died and 9 when her father died. Although the 1881 census return for Eccles J. and Cecelia Gott does not list Minnie, it is likely that she was among the siblings who went to live with them. In the census returns for 1891, 1901 and 1911 she appears as a member of Cecelia’s household. In addition, her obituary says that she made her home with her eldest sister ever since the death of her parents.
Minnie Brett was a lifelong employee of Bell Canada. She went to work for Bell in 1889, first as an operator, and in 1901 was appointed local manager, a position she held until her health began to fail and she accepted early retirement in May 1927.
Minnie Brett was well known in Amherstburg and is remembered to this day for her work with Bell Telephone.