I am fascinated by history… especially local history. No matter how much I read and no matter how much I think I know, there’s always something more that’s out there waiting to surprise me.
Yesterday, Art & I headed off to Fort Malden in the hopes of learning more about Private James Elliott. The museum has been beautifully refurbished and is well worth a visit. Unfortunately the second floor was closed. That’s where they have the Upper Canada Rebellion exhibit – a collection that quite possibly has more significance to Canadian history than the War of 1812, but I fear it might be blasphemous to suggest such a thing during this year of bicentennial celebrations. So we settled for viewing the War of 1812 exhibit on the first floor. Authentic artifacts from Col. William Caldwell, his sons, Chief Tecumseh, and Simon Girty (who, coincidentally, helped to free some of my Quick family ancestors from their Indian captors – a story for a future blog posting) have been carefully and tastefully displayed. We especially liked Simon Girty’s gnarly cane.
Although we had an opportunity to discuss James Elliott with the museum’s collections specialist, we did not manage to learn anything new about James Elliott. The museum’s file on the 34th Regiment is full of information, most of it from secondary sources, but James Elliott’s name did not stand out.
With some time on our hands before dinner at Ricardo’s (located at the back of the historic Amherstburg Echo building on Dalhousie Street), we decided to stroll through the Christ Church cemetery to see if we could find James Elliott’s tombstone, knowing full well that it was unlikely. We tried to read every tombstone this time, even the weather-worn ones, using shadows and our fingertips to detect small hints of detail. James Elliott was nowhere to be found, but what a surprise to find little Catharine Brett’s tombstone hidden behind a dense growth of English ivy!
From my research on Ancestry.ca and at the Marsh Collection, I know that Catharine was the second child of John and Ann Brett, born in the autumn of 1859 in Clinton, Iowa where her father worked as a shoemaker. Catharine’s name appears in the 1860 U.S. federal census alongside her older sister Cecelia and her parents. By September 1861, the family had returned to Amherstburg where Catharine’s little sister Jane was born on Sept. 9. Catharine was only 4 years old when she died on December 2, 1963 (source: Christ Church burial records). Her little sister Jane had lived a short life and had already predeceased her. No cause of death for either girl has been found.
The bleached-white tombstone is partially worn away and two of the names are misspelled – Britt instead of Brett and Anne instead of Ann – but her birth month appears to be identified as September (which adds to our information) and the month of her death is confirmed as December.
It’s very exciting when you find visible evidence (as opposed to documentary evidence) that your ancestors were here. I think this tombstone is likely the oldest Brett tombstone still standing in Essex County, older than John and Ann Brett’s tombstones in Rose Hill Cemetery. Plus it’s our one remaining link to historic Christ Church.