Connecting Brett Siblings Revisited

Note: This post was updated on March 10, 2021 to replace the photo of Ada Brett and Brenton Kerr.

If you’ve spent any time digging into the past, you’ll know that factual details about people and events are easily twisted and tangled. Before technology, tall tales could easily grow out of simple stories. Today, technology allows us to build online family trees through the simple act of accepting unverified hints. This is one of the modern ways we casually distort history.

I am afraid that I have been complicit in distorting history by sharing a theory on this blog that has not withstood scrutiny on certain points. I’m referring to the blog entry titled Connecting Brett Siblings. When that post was published in April 2018, we were heading back to Ireland for another crack at learning more about the Bretts. My hope was that the post would attract critical examination by others and thus allow me to reconsider certain parts of it. It did just that.

It’s now time to revise my theory and replace it with one premised on the lives of three Bretts named Patrick.

NOTE: To differentiate between Bretts with the same first name, there is a practice of describing each by appending a relevant location, occupation or distinguishing characteristic, and/or providing their years of birth and death. For example, in the case of Henry Brett who emigrated to Canada in 1850 and settled near Alliston, Ontario, we generally refer to him as Henry Brett of Rosemont or Henry of Rosemont. He might also be identified as Henry Brett (1792-1877). The need for this convention will become apparent as you read further.

Patrick of Streamstown

In the summer of 1932, newlyweds Ada Brett and Brenton Kerr arrived in Ballymote, County Sligo, on a pilgrimage of sorts. As the great-great-granddaughter of Catherine Cuffe and Henry Brett of Rosemont, Ada was curious about her Brett ancestors, where they had lived, and whether other descendants continued to inhabit the area.

Ada Brett and Brenton Kerr on their wedding day, 1932. (Photo courtesy of Catherine Thompson.)
Ada Brett and Brenton Kerr on their wedding day, 1932. (Photo courtesy of Catherine Thompson.)

Through well-placed inquiries, the Kerrs were introduced to Henry Brett of Streamstream who told them all he knew about the Bretts: that they had lived near Achonry for many hundreds of years; that family lore placed three Bretts with William the Conqueror, at least one of whom had received land in Ireland for his service; and that a Jaspar Brett had lived just opposite the cathedral at one time (in the 16th century) but his house had entirely disappeared. Henry also told Ada and Brenton about the tomb of a man named John Brett.

“In the graveyard was the tomb of John Brett, who had been of some importance in Tubercurry. This man had nine sons, one of whom was Patrick, the grandfather of this Henry, himself. Two or three of these nine sons emigrated, who, we conjectured, must have been Henry, my great great grandfather and his brothers, who came to Canada. Henry’s memory did not go much beyond this, and apparently there are no family records.”

As both Ada and Brenton kept journals of their trip, we have the above description from Ada. For his part, Brenton wrote the following about Henry:

“Soon the husband arrived from the fields: a man of 45-50, rather fair with greenish eyes. He welcomed us and we set to work to match ancestors. He is son to John Brett who married a cousin, Celia Brett. John Brett was son to Patrick, who married a Craven. Patrick was son to John Brett who had a big grave in the old Achonry burying-ground. John Brett had nine sons, three of whom had emigrated ‘to America.’ We thought it likely that Ada’s g-g-grandfather, ‘Henery’, had been one of the three.”

We know that Henry Brett of Streamstown was the son of John and Cecelia Brett and the grandson of Eliza Craven and Patrick Brett of Streamstown – sometimes referred to as Patrick Brett of Tawnavoultry. When Henry’s father John lost his first wife in 1864, he married his cousin Cecelia, the youngest daughter of his paternal uncle, Christopher Brett, a man who coincidentally had nine daughters and one son (Charles Brett of Achonry). Henry of Streamstown was the oldest child of this union.

We believe that “Uncle Patt” and “Uncle Christy” referenced in the George Brett letters are Patrick Brett of Streamstown and his brother Christopher. George the letter writer provides sufficient details about the two men and their families to support the hypothesis that his father, Jasper Brett, husband of Celia Mowbray and ancestor of the Essex County Bretts, was also their brother. I propose to call this sibling grouping the Achonry-Streamstown Bretts.

Since 2018, I have assumed that the anecdotal evidence supplied by both Ada Brett and Brenton Kerr – i.e. that Henry Brett of Streamstown’s grandfather Patrick was the son of John Brett who had nine sons – is accurate. In the absence of any new facts on that matter, I continue to believe in its possibility. However, when it comes to the large Brett vault in the graveyard at Achonry Cathedral and its connection to the Achonry-Streamstown Bretts, there is a story involving another man named Patrick that has to be considered.

Patrick of Boston

The large family vault in the graveyard at Achonry Cathedral was erected by John Brett of Tobercurry (also spelled Tubbercurry) in memory of his father, John Brett (1765-1844). We know this because of the inscription:

Tomb of John Brett (1765-1844)

“Sacred to the memory of John Brett, late of Tubbercurry, who departed this life Sept. 6th 1844 aged 78. Also to the memory of Elen the beloved wife of John his son, departed this life Sept. 1st 1858 aged 43.”

John Brett of Tobercurry, the man who honoured his father and his wife with this large monument, was a merchant, banker and land agent for the Nolan, Irwin and Phibbs estates. He also held the lucrative leaseholds of the tolls and customs collected from local fairs and markets. Among other appointments, he served as a Poor Law Guardian as early as 1839 and throughout the Great Famine (granting relief to those in need), and he was named postmaster in Tobercurry in 1866. He was clearly a man of some influence. He was also known to follow the Roman Catholic faith.

The Landed Estates Database maintained by the National University of Ireland (Galway) provides the following description of John Brett of Tobercurry:

“The Brett family acted as land agents in the Tobercurry area dealing with land in the parishes of Achonry and Kilmacteige. John Brett, land agent, gave evidence before the Devon Commission on land holding in July 1844. From Griffith’s Valuation it would appear that John Brett leased property from the Wynne, Taaffe, Ormsby and Wingfield estates in the Baronies of Lyney and Corran. He was also leasing a house in the town of Tobercurry to the value of £16 15s from the Irwin estate. John and Henry Brett are recorded as owning over 1500 acres in county Sligo in the 1870s. In 1876 over 400 acres of the Brett estate was offered for sale in the Landed Estates Court including lands at Tullycusheenmore, barony of Leyny and houses in the town of Tobercurry. The family vault is in Achonry Graveyard where a John Brett was laid to rest in 1871.”

John’s older brother Henry Brett, mentioned above, was a civil engineer who initially worked as a surveyor before taking consecutive positions as county surveyor for Offaly, Mayo, Waterford and Wicklow. He is known to have assisted the tithe commissioners in the parish of Achonry, as well as Sir Richard Griffith in his valuation of Ireland. Referred to as Henry Brett C.E., he was the author of The Reclamation of the Waste Lands of Ireland, published in 1881.

The online Directory of Irish Architects 1720-1940 includes an extensive listing for Henry Brett C.E. In Dublin, he established a successful engineering firm in partnership with two of his sons. His house, called Rosemount – with a ‘u’ in contrast to Ontario’s Rosemont without a ‘u’ – was located in Booterstown, just south of Dublin. The significance of the name t has yet to be revealed.

Now, to get to the point. John Brett of Tobercurry and Henry Brett C.E. had a brother named Patrick. Following Patrick Brett of Boston’s death in April 1871, the Boston Pilot published an obituary that was reprinted in the Sligo Champion. In that obituary, the 54-year-old Patrick is described as “a truly good man” who “died fortified with the Sacraments of the Church, of which he was an exemplary member and practical follower of its teachings.” Resident in Boston for 17 years, he was also the secretary and stockholder to Waterbury Buckle Co.  Of prime importance is this statement in the obituary:

“The deceased was a native of Tobercurry, County Sligo, at which place he has a brother living, who is a large landed proprietor, and another brother who is County Surveyor for Limerick.”

Henry Brett C.E. does not appear to have been the county surveyor for Limerick, but he was a county surveyor of some repute and several appointments. Despite what appears to be a factual error, Patrick’s obituary clearly places him within the Tobercurry line of the Brett family, which appears to have been Catholic. It is a point of some importance that the Brett lines I have researched have generally been adherents to the Church of Ireland, with a few followers of Methodism.

It is also worth noting that Patrick’s obituary identifies his siblings by name and does not even hint at potential half-brothers. By the time of this Patrick’s death in 1871, Patrick of Streamstown had been dead for at least 24 years. We know he died before May 1847 because he is identified as deceased on two of his daughters’ marriage registrations. Thus, the two Patricks cannot be considered one and the same.

If Henry Brett of Streamstown was correct and John Brett of the large vault was his great grandfather, how do we explain two sons named Patrick and the difference in religion? We might hypothesize that the John Brett memorialized by the vault had two wives and two sets of children born decades apart. We might also speculate that some members of the family changed churches over time. Since there’s no evidence to support either hypothesis, it raises questions about John Brett (1765-1844) and his progeny that are currently difficult to sort out.

Achonry Cathedral, 2016

And yet, despite the uncertainties, it is clear that Achonry Cathedral was both the spiritual and terrestrial nexus for most of the Bretts, regardless of religion. In A Sligo Miscellany, John C. McTernan describes the old graveyard at the church as “the last resting place of a number of the leading Protestant and Catholic families of Upper Leyney” and specifically names the Bretts of Achonry and Tubbercurry.1 We also have evidence that many Bretts lived near the church. From Ada Brett Kerr’s notes, we know that a Jasper Brett had lived opposite the cathedral at one time, but that his house had entirely disappeared. From Brenton Kerr’s journal we know that Henry Brett of Streamstown lived just past the village of Achonry, at the first right turn. We also have the 1920 letter from Henry Brett of Streamstown to Emily Ermina (Minnie) Brett, granddaughter of George Brett of Mono, in which he noted the following:

“… if you are of the same family as I am, your father must be from the parish of Achonry. He lived near the Achonry Church. His father’s name was George. They emigrated to Canada about 70 or 75 years ago. If your family is of this statement, your father and my father were cousins.”

This statement clearly connects George Brett of Mono, mentioned again below, to the village of Achonry and the vicinity of the church before the family’s emigration to Canada in 1850.

It remains unclear whether the large family vault in the graveyard at Achonry Cathedral, erected by John of Tobercurry in memory of his father, is also a monument to John Brett who had nine sons. However, it is clear that the monument served as an important family marker, not only in the 19th century when it was erected, but also into the 20th century when Henry Brett of Streamstown claimed it as a significant symbol of his family heritage.

Mention of Henry of Streamstown leads me to the third Patrick of this theory. You will recall that Ada Brett Kerr had speculated that her great-great-grandfather, Henry of Rosemont, may have been one of the emigrant sons of John Brett with nine sons. Although we can’t be certain that he wasn’t the son of a John Brett, we are reasonably certain, based on what we know about the Tobercurry Bretts, that he was not a son of this John Brett (1760-1844). The existence of another Patrick Brett helps to confirm this.

Patrick of Cloonarara

When Henry Brett of Rosemont died in 1877, his brother Patrick, seemingly a bachelor, penned a letter to Henry’s son, George, which has provided us with some of the sticky bits we’ve needed to glue parts of this family puzzle together. He signed the letter “Uncle Pat.k Brett.”

Writing from Cloonarara, the very place in which a Henry Brett and a George Brett appear as landholders in the 1827 Tithe Applotments, Patrick of Cloonarara says, “I be striving still to earn a little with the chain.” This is a reference to his work as a surveyor, as chains were then used as the standard of measurement. The recurrence of surveying as an occupation among Bretts is striking. Henry Brett C.E., mentioned above, began his career as a surveyor. So too did Henry of Rosemont’s brother, James Brett of Mono (see James of Middlesex & James of Mono for more on this line of the family). The family lore that was handed down by descendants of Henry of Rosemont, and shared by his great-great-granddaughter Ervilla Bernice Brett, stated that three brothers, all surveyors, came to Canada and settled in and around Mono Township. We believe that James, George and Henry Brett are the three brothers, but only James is known to have pursued surveying after emigrating to Canada.

Patrick’s letter also mentions the death of his brother George and provides the following details about George’s son Henry, who seems to have remained in Ireland on his father’s farm: “Brother George’s son Henry lives in his father’s place, has a large and helpless family to support, has taken a new employment for the last year. A relieving officer for Coolaney district.” These details connect brothers Patrick of Cloonarara and George of Mono.

Patrick’s letter also appears to establish a strong connection between the Rosemont-Cloonarara line and Jasper Brett of the Achonry-Streamstown line. Patrick writes: “I may say I have no real friend in Ireland but George Brett son to Jasper Brett a man whom your Father loved dearly.” Although we are not entirely sure, we believe that they were cousins, not brothers as I had originally thought.

Based on everything we know about Patrick of Cloonarara and his siblings, we are able to construct the Rosemont-Cloonarara line of the Brett family, in order of birth, as follows:

  1. James of Mono (1780-1862) – Married Elizabeth Brown. Emigrated to Canada in 1829. Identified as a “civil engineer of the old school.” Settled on Lot 6, Concession 6, Mono Township. (See James of Middlesex & James of Mono)
  2. Margaret (1784-1866) – Married Allen Shaw. Emigrated to Canada in 1829. Lived in the Gore of Toronto in Peel County. According to the 1851 census, she was caring for two of brother George’s daughters, Mary and Ellen Brett, shortly after they arrived from Ireland. (See James of Middlesex & James of Mono)
  3. George of Mono (1785- ) – Married Jane Jackson. Although there is some uncertainty about George’s own emigration, we know that some members of his family emigrated to Canada in 1850 on The Royalist with his brother Henry (below). The family settled first near Tullamore in Peel County and later on the 2nd and 3rd concessions of West Mono.
  4. Henry of Rosemont (1792-1877) – Married Catherine Cuffe. Emigrated to Canada in 1850 on The Royalist with his entire family. Associated with Rosemont and Alliston. Settled on Lot 1 of Concession 6 in Tosorontio Township.
  5. Patrick of Cloonarara (Abt. 1795-Abt. 1877) – Bachelor. Surveyor. Remained in Cloonarara, County Sligo. Close friend and likely cousin to George Brett the letter writer.

As the Tobercurry line of the Brett family includes both a Henry and a Patrick, it seems highly unlikely that John Brett (1760-1844), their father, was the patriarch of the Rosemont-Cloonarara Bretts, which also included a Henry (Ada Brett Kerr’s ancestor) and a Patrick (Henry of Streamstown’s ancestor).


This new theory based on three contemporaries named Patrick Brett upends the first theory I posed in Connecting Brett Siblings and establishes that there may be at least three sibling groups of relevance:

  • The Achonry-Streamstown Bretts;
  • The Rosemont-Cloonarara Bretts; and
  • The Tobercurry Bretts.

All three branches had some recorded interaction with each other. For example, when Christopher Brett’s daughter Eliza married James Hammond at Achonry Cathedral in 1849, the witnesses to the marriage were George of Mono’s son Jasper and Patrick of Streamstown’s son George. This detail helps to establish a close connection between the Rosemont-Cloonarara and Achonry-Streamstown Bretts. It also helps to explain why George the letter writer mentions George of Mono’s family in his letter of 16 June 1875. He writes,

“Uncle George’s family are all living in that quarter. You may see some of them are your way. I believe they are comfortable.”

The use of the word “uncle” to refer to an elder close cousin is not uncommon. My literal interpretation of this reference originally led me to conclude that George was a brother to Jasper, but further research into the Rosemont-Cloonarara line, as noted above, points instead to a cousin relationship. That relationship is confirmed in Henry of Streamstown’s letter to Minnie Brett in 1920, as noted above, in which he alludes to the cousin relationship between Patrick of Streamstown and George of Mono. Referring to his father John and Minnie’s father Jasper, he writes, “your father and my father were cousins.”

The connection to the Tobercurry Bretts is possibly less cordial. In his letter of 23 September 1874, George Brett writes the following:

“John of Tobercurry is no more this three years. His son rob[b]ed me of £200 after his Father’s death. I believe I will never have any chance of it. Many has came to a loss as well as me by them.”

Two hundred pounds in 1874 would be worth over £22,000 today, which is quite a substantial sum.

In a letter to Jasper Golden dated 13 July 1876, Reverend John Hamilton gave a similar account of the family:

“As for Tubbercurry John Brett is dead. His sons turned out bankrupt – so a blast came on that family. & we wonder for John Brett after the death of his wife gave himself up to bad unclean living.”

In A Sligo Miscellany, John McTernan notes that John Brett of Tobercurry was survived by his sons, Henry, William, and John Junior, the last of which followed in his father’s footsteps as a Poor Law Guardian, land agent and civil bill officer (also known as a process server).2

It will come as no surprise that a point of confusion with respect to men named John Brett arises in the written record. This is because John of Tobercurry (1807-1871), his son John Junior, and Patrick of Streamstown’s son John (1822-1907) all worked as process servers and land agents for the Phibbs estate. In his letter of 23 Feb 1876, George the letter writer notes that Uncle Christy’s daughter Celia is married to Uncle Patt’s son, “John the marauder.”  It’s not clear if this description is disparaging, referring as it does to raiding and plundering, or simply a colloquial term for the occupation.

An incident reported by the Sligo Champion in 1880, possibly related to unpaid rents, tells us something about the challenges process servers faced, although we can’t be certain which John Brett is being referenced, 30-year-old John Junior or 58-year-old John, son of Patrick:

“Not within living memory was there witnessed such a scene of wild excitement as that witnessed in Tubbercurry on Monday evening last, when about 2000 men rushed into Town after an escort which was protecting Phibbs and his process-server. During the day, there was an unusual stir in the Town, owing to the fact that Charles Phibbs J.P. of Doobeg House, had set off that morning at the head of sixty police to assist Brett the district process-server, in serving processes on his estate. A move such as this had been expected for the past week. About ten days ago Brett attempted to serve the processes but failed. Since then crowds of men and women kept vigil on the hillsides all day long, looking out for the process-server. At length it leaked out that he had applied for a strong escort and that the landlord himself was to take the field in command.”3

Another incident which took place in 1884 involved John Brett Junior, then residing at Streamstown, as the target of a Fenian murder conspiracy. According to John McTernan, the twelve conspirators were ultimately acquitted owing to the lack of credible witnesses.4

It seems extremely likely that all of these Bretts, regardless of religious affiliation, were related. But it is far less clear whether John Brett (1765-1844), the man memorialized by the large family vault, is in fact the John Brett who had nine sons.

Ballyglass Outrage, 1806

An additional complexity for the Achonry-Streamstown Bretts is raised by a court transcript dated 6 December 1806. In that case, Thomas Brennan, a local “thresher” (the term used for rural insurgents) was indicted and convicted on a charge of breaking and entering into the home of George Brett and carrying away three guns, one pistol, and other goods and chattels. Injured during the attack and too frail to attend court, George Brett sent his sons – George, Christopher and William – who testified as witnesses to the “outrage.” The interesting thing about the transcript is related to the gun possession. In the Crown’s opening statement, the Solicitor General says,

“The prosecutors in this case are young men of the name of Brett. They reside in the house of their father, not very far from this town; they are persons of decent and orderly character, and in consequence of their distinguished loyalty upon all occasions, they had been entrusted with arms for the protection of their persons and property.—To seize those arms, became an object to the banditti of miscreants, who now infest this country and within this fortnight, upon the day laid in the indictment, the habitation of this peaceable and innocent family was assailed by a numerous assemblage of those ruffians, among whom the prisoners [sic] at the bar was particularly active.”

Through the recorded testimony, we learn that two of the guns belonged to Christopher, while the pistol belonged to a brother named Patrick who was not present at the time. The young men initially refused to hand over the guns, but complied when the thugs threatened to set fire to the house. No mention of a wife or women in the house was made.

Many Brett researchers have been intrigued by the Outrage transcript, but the family has yet to be identified. The appearance of a Christopher Brett is of special interest as there appears to be but one Christopher Brett in Achonry at that time. The 1827 Tithe Applotment for Achonry listed Christopher Brett as occupying land in Castlecarrow (also known as Ballyglass), near other Bretts named Robert, William and George. Not far distant from Ballyglass, Patrick was listed as holding land in Townivoltry (Tawnivoultry), sometimes referred to as Streamstown.

One would think that legal gun possession, even at that point in time, would have been linked to age. As the birth years generally attributed to Patrick of Streamstown and Christopher of Achonry are only approximations, is it possible that they were actually a decade older, born in the 1780s, instead of the 1790s? Is it possible that Patrick and Christopher had already achieved the age of majority and were, in fact, the sons of frail George Brett? It’s another theory that’s shrouded in mystery for now.

If you have any thoughts or information that would help us refine our knowledge about the Bretts, please share them in the comment section below.


1 John C. McTernan, A Sligo Miscellany: A Chronicle of People, Places & Events of Other Days (Dublin: Avena, 2000), 233.

2 McTernan, A Sligo Miscellany, 198.

3 Richard Brett, Historical Notices of the Families of Brett of Ireland (Dublin: St. Columba’s College, 2007), 35.

4 John C. McTernan, “The Tubbercurry ‘Conspirators,’” The Corran Herald, no. 43 (2010/2011), 72.

Additional Sources

Letters & Journals

Ada Brett Kerr, The Irish Bretts, as transcribed in 2004 by her daughter Janet Morchain.

Brenton Kerr’s Journal, 1932.

George Brett Letters, 1874-1878.

Henry Brett to Emily Ermina (Minnie) Brett, 9 August 1920.

Patrick Brett to George Brett, 16 November 1877.

Web Resources

Early Bretts of Co. Sligo, Ireland:

Golden’s Ireland-America:

James of Middlesex & James of Mono

Robert George Brett has frequently been identified as the grandson of James Brett of Mono Township, but that assumption is simply not supported by the facts. This paper argues that Dr. Robert George Brett, second Lieutenant-Governor of Alberta, was the son of James Brett of Middlesex who may or may not have been related to James Brett of Mono.

Disentangling the various lines of the Brett family appears to be the work of a lifetime. One might even say it’s the work of many lifetimes, as numerous Brett descendants have worked and continue to work diligently on collecting, deciphering, speculating, and theorizing on family relationships of old.

The curious case of James Brett has been my most recent obsession. That’s probably because it’s not one single case but at least three.

The story begins at the end with the death of James Brett of Mono.

The name of R.H. Brett, eldest son of John Brett and Elizabeth Brown, appears on Lot 6, Concession 6 of Mono Township in this 1871 map of Simcoe County. Source: Ontario Historical County Maps Project,

James Brett of Mono (1780-1862)

When James Brett died in March of 1862, the Orangeville Sun introduced his obituary as follows:

With deep regret we have to chronicle in this issue the lamented death of James Brett, Esq., of Mono, which sad event took place on the 25th ult. The deceased was a native of Sligo, Ireland, where he was born in the year 1780, so that he was at the time of his death 82 years of age. In 1829, he emigrated to this country, and settled upon his farm in Mono, where by honest industry and untiring perseverance, he created for himself a pleasant home which was alike open to the rich and poor.

It’s a very flattering tribute that notes his “broad and comprehensive views,” his “very active interest in the welfare of the emigrant,” his pious devotion to the Church of England, and the “esteem and good will of all who knew him.” It doesn’t mention his wife Elizabeth Brown by name, but it says he was “kind as a husband and father, generous and obliging as a friend and neighbor.”

Although he was primarily a farmer in Canada – a “yeoman” in old English parlance – the death notice describes him as “James Brett, Esq.” The Wikipedia entry for “Esquire” says the abbreviation “Esq.” was originally appended to a man’s name as a term of respect, given to men of higher social status who at one time ranked next below that of Knight. As the Orangeville Sun saw fit to add “Esq.” to James Brett’s name, it would seem that he was known for something beyond his yeomanship.

The obituary for his daughter, Elizabeth Brett Martin (mother of Clara Brett Martin, the first female lawyer in the British Empire), adds to our knowledge about James Brett, Esq. Published in the Orangeville Sun on 24 Feb 1910, the obit says:

Mrs. Martin was a daughter of Squire James Brett, an Irish civil engineer of the old school, who practised his profession in the early development of York county.

While I’m not entirely sure what a “civil engineer of the old school” is, I am intrigued by the family legend that says three brothers who were land surveyors emigrated to Canada and settled in Mono Township. The three brothers were: James Brett of Mono, whose full given name may have been Richard James or Robert James, abbreviated as RJ in some correspondence; Henry Brett of Rosemont (1792-1877) who married Catherine Cuffe; and George Brett of Mono (1785- ) who married Jane Jackson.

Although I have not discovered any references to Henry or George as being surveyors or engineers, the three brothers appear to have had a brother Patrick who may have been a surveyor in County Sligo. After Henry of Rosemont’s death, “Patrick of Cloonarara” wrote a letter to Henry’s son George in which he said, “I be striving to earn a little with the chain.” This is a reference to his work as a surveyor, as chains were then used as the common instrument of measurement.

There is a brief biographical entry for James’ son, Robert Henry Brett, on the Early Bretts of Co. Sligo, Ireland website (an invaluable resource). That entry says that the family emigrated in the early 1800s when James took a position as surveyor in York County.

In addition to details related to his occupations, James of Mono’s obituary also provides confirmation of his year of emigration: 1829. His sister Margaret and her husband Allen Shaw seem to have emigrated at the same time. Margaret’s obituary published in the Christian Journal (22 June 1866) says:

SHAW – Mrs. Margaret was born in the parish of Achonry, County Sligo, Ireland and married Allen Shaw when she was 25. In 1829, she came to Canada with her husband, settling in the Gore of Toronto.

Although family legend says that the three brothers came to Canada, it does not explicitly say that they emigrated together. Indeed, we know that Henry of Rosemont and his family boarded The Royalist in May 1850 with Jasper Golden, a Sligo native who settled in Essex County and who is known as the prodigious chronicler of that voyage. Thanks to Jasper Golden’s journal, we know that two of George Brett and Jane Jackson’s children – Jasper and Catherine – were also on The Royalist. In her history of the George Brett family, Kate Brett Turnbull noted that George Brett and Jane Jackson, along with seven children, emigrated to Canada, settling first in Peel County and then later moving to Mono Township. Taken together, these facts support the conclusion that both brothers and their families emigrated to Canada in 1850, twenty-one years after their siblings James and Margaret.

When he arrived in Canada in 1829, James Brett had been married for 22 years and had at least seven children. Two of his children are of particular interest to this story: Robert Henry and James.

Robert Henry Brett (1815-1881)

The third child and eldest son of James Brett and Eliza Brown was 14 when his family emigrated to Canada. Although he was raised on the family farm on the 6th Concession (Lot 6) of Mono Township, Robert Henry – known professionally as R.H. or R. Henry – was living in Toronto as early as 1841 when he married Sarah Jane Richardson. An ad that appeared in the Western Herald during the first half of 1842 confirms that he had already established an import and wholesale merchandise business in his twenties.

This advertisement for R.H. Brett, general wholesale merchant, appeared in the Western Herald at least six times in 1842. A list appended below the ad included items for sale, including kegs of plug tobacco, bags of coffee and spices, casks of nails, bales of candle wicks, tierces (archaic term for casks) of assorted ink, and cases of combs and fancy goods.

In 1847, Brown’s Toronto City and Home District Directory listed R.H. Brett as a general wholesale merchant, now located at 34 King Street East. Only a few short years later, R. Henry made the leap to banker and launched The Banking House of R.H. Brett in 1855, which was renamed The Exchange Bank of Toronto in early 1856.

An illustration of the R.H. Brett Banking House, circa 1877, located across from the post office on Toronto Street. Source: Illustrated Toronto: Past and Present, compiled by J. Timperlake (Toronto: Peter A. Gross, 1877), opposite p. 161.

Demolished in 1957, the building in which R.H. Brett kept his banking house was then called York Chambers, one of many architecturally significant structures on the street. An article on the Torontoist website, provides the following description:

Toronto Street was once, ‘the finest street in Toronto,’ architectural historian Eric Arthur asserts in his seminal Toronto No Mean City. ‘It had all the charm of a street in some capital city in Europe. People unknowingly sensed its quality—businessmen were unhurried, motor cars hardly exceeded the pace of the carriages of half a century ago, and the buildings on both sides of the street had about them that dignified venerability that commands immediate respect.’”

An illustration of the building (shown above) and the following description of Brett’s Banking House can be found in Illustrated Toronto: Past and Present (1877):

Source: Illustrated Toronto: Past and Present, compiled by J. Timperlake (Toronto: Peter A. Gross, 1877), 365.

According to Hayseed Capitalists: Private Bankers in Ontario, a doctoral thesis by Stephen Edward Thorning, R.H. Brett and Co. was one of only a half dozen firms that could legitimately be called private bankers in the 1870s.

R.H. Brett laid the foundation of his lengthy banking career in a grocery and dry goods business, and over time began acting as a general agent and commodity broker. In the late l850s, he established a private bank under the style of The Exchange Bank of Toronto. Despite the title, it was a proprietorship. Brett claimed to have $140,000 of capital in the business. His contacts as an importer and merchant allowed him to build up an impressive list of correspondents, which included Duncan, Sherman & Co. of New York and Allan & Gillespie, the Liverpool merchants and exporters. Brett’s office, offering a full range of deposit, discounting, exchange and insurance services, seems to be the only one of its kind in Toronto, and had more in common with the small town banks than with the other members of Toronto’s financial community. Indeed, in the 1860s Brett operated an office in Orangeville, though this seems to have been for insurance only. As Brett’s Banking House, he continued to operate a full-service bank in Toronto into the 1870s. He specifically advertised for the business of immigrants to Canada, a line of business that offered profits on foreign exchange, commissions on drafts, and short-term deposits.

Stephen Edward Thorning, Hayseed Capitalists: Private Bankers in Ontario (Doctoral Thesis: McMaster University, 1994), 123-124.

According to an entry on, Brett’s Banking House also took the initiative to print one, two, five and ten dollar notes. Without further research I can’t say how paper currency was regulated in the mid-19th century, but it appears that R.H. met with some opposition from the Canadian government and his notes were never put into circulation. Today they are collector’s items.

It seems that the first iteration of Brett’s Banking House closed in May 1858, after the currency crisis, but this did not dissuade R.H. from pursuing the business. He may have taken a brief hiatus and returned to Mono Township, as he and his wife appeared in the 1861 census living in a two-story frame house beside his parents who were living in a two-story log house. As all of his children were born in Toronto in the 1860s, it is probable that he continued (or resumed) running a private banking firm in the early 1860s. By 1873, he was operating the Banking and Exchange Office of R. Henry Brett at 11 Toronto Street and living at 10 Wellesley Street.

Advertisement in the Toronto City Directory, 1873, opposite p. 81.

When he died on July 25, 1881, R.H. Brett was a well-known banker. His sister Elizabeth Brett Martin’s obituary said as much:

Mrs. Martin’s brothers, James Brett and R.H. Brett, were a well-known banking firm on Toronto street when the commercial life of the city was in a formative stage.

A notice that appeared in The Globe on July 25, 1881 provided the following information:

DECEASED—Mr. R. H. Brett, a well-known private banker of this city, also an old resident, died at his residence on Monday evening. He was much respected and esteemed by all his acquaintances. His funeral takes place this afternoon.

R.H. Brett’s wife, Sarah Jane Richardson, was remarkable in her own right. Known for her charitable work, she acted in executive capacities for several organizations, including the Industrial House of Refuge, the Anti-Slavery Society, the YWCA and its Relief Society.

James Brett the Bookkeeper (1820- )

Robert Henry Brett’s brother James has, until recently, been a bit of a mystery. That he existed was known, but many people, including this writer, have adopted the belief, unsubstantiated, that he was the father of Robert George Brett, esteemed doctor in Banff and second Lieutenant Governor of Alberta.

James Brett is certainly elusive, but he is not the father of Dr. Robert George Brett. I’ve come to this conclusion for a number of reasons, beginning with James Brett’s appearance in various business directories.

In Brown’s Toronto General Directory for 1856, James Brett was listed as a bookkeeper at Brett’s Banking House. The directory also listed home addresses: James lived on the east side of Mutual Street and his brother on the north side of Wellesley Street.

Entries for James Brett and R.H. Brett appeared in Brown’s Toronto General Directory in 1856.

Just above R.H. Brett’s entry in The Canada Directory of 1857, James Brett was listed as a cashier with an address of 68 Queen Street, but no additional details. The term “cashier” is certainly applicable to banking and usually referred to the chief operating officer (general manager) of the bank .

The last directory entry I’ve found appeared in the Toronto City Directory for 1867-68 and listed James Brett as a bookkeeper at 8 King Street East, with his residence at 110 Queen Street East. As Brett’s Banking House was situated at 11 Toronto Street, perhaps this entry suggests a parting of the ways for the two brothers.

I have been entirely unsuccessful at finding this particular James Brett in census data. Unlike his brother, he does not appear in the Mono Township census for 1861, and I’ve had no luck locating him in the 1871 census for Toronto or in a graveyard. But I have found another James Brett who helps to tie up some loose ends.

James Brett of Middlesex (1821-c1895)

In the section above I mentioned the unsubstantiated belief that James Brett, brother of R.H. Brett, must be the father of Robert George Brett, esteemed doctor and second Lieutenant Governor of Alberta. A number of recent discoveries have pointed me towards a different conclusion.

Dr. Robert George Brett, undated.

Robert George Brett is very well documented. He was not only an esteemed physician and surgeon, but also a successful business tycoon who developed the hot springs at Banff, Alberta, into an elegant private hospital and hotel operation. The Dictionary of Canadian Biography (DCB) includes a lengthy entry for Robert George Brett which says his Irish parents emigrated to Canada in 1846 and settled in London, Ontario, later moving to Strathroy in Middlesex County.

At the beginning of this post, I noted that James Brett of Mono, along with his wife Elizabeth Brown and a gaggle of children, emigrated to Canada in 1829. That fact is well documented. According to the DCB, James Brett of Middlesex, so-called to avoid confusion, emigrated to Canada some 17 years later. Searching for confirmation of this fact, I found James of Middlesex and his wife, Catherine Mallon, in the 1861 census for Adelaide Township with a recorded emigration date of 1848. Emigration dates separated by nearly 20 years was the first clue that James Brett of Middlesex and James Brett the bookkeeper are not the same man.

Like James the bookkeeper, James of Middlesex was born about 1821. As he and his wife both indicated to the 1861 census-taker that they emigrated in 1848, it is likely that they married in Ireland. Confirmation of their marriage has not yet been found, but census data shows a fairly consistent residency in southwestern Ontario.

In 1851, James Brett and Catherine Mallon, both born in Ireland, were living in Adelaide Township with 1-year-old Robert George. Their next-door neighbours were Robert and Eleanor Mallon (spelled Mallan), probably Catherine’s brother and his family judging from their ages. In the agricultural component of the 1851 census, a James Britt appears on 100 acres described as the west half of Lot 15 in the 4th Concession of Adelaide Township. By 1861, the family had grown with the addition of William, Letitia, and Emmaretta.

By 1871 the family had moved to Strathroy, then a small town, in Middlesex County. The DCB entry for Robert George Brett says: “They moved into town when Brett was ten years of age so that he could attend the Strathroy Grammar School.” In the 1871 edition of Lovell’s Canadian Dominion Directory, James Brett is listed as a grocer.

In 1874, Robert George, by then a doctor, established a medical practice in Arkona, a neighbouring town in Lambton County. Seemingly not averse to starting fresh, James and Catherine moved to Arkona. This is confirmed by the 1881 census.

By 1891, James and Catherine had followed their daughter Emmaretta and her husband, Dr. Andrew McDiarmid, to Winnipeg, Manitoba. As records show that Catherine, but not James, emigrated to the United States with Dr. and Mrs. McDiarmid in 1896, it is fair to assume that James died between 1891 and 1896. A search for his death registration or burial information has so far been unsuccessful. However, we know that Catherine Mallon died in Chicago on 30 April 1912. Her death registration lists her parents as Robert Mallon and Catherine Stinson.


When some pieces of the family history puzzle don’t fit, there’s no use trying to force them. As frustrating as it may seem, your best course of action is to stop and consider the picture from a fresh perspective. I believe I’ve done that by sorting out two different family lines and, in the process, removing Robert George Brett from the pedigree chart descending from James Brett of Mono. I’d be happier and more confident in my conclusion if I could find a marriage registration for James Brett and Catherine Mallon in the online records now available at If it were available, there’s a good chance it would list their parents’ names.

For now, I’ll leave this here and hope that others are as curious as I am.

[Updated July 3, 2022 to explain the term “cashier” used in reference to James Brett.]

In Search of Mowbrays

In 1812, Jasper Brett of Sligo married Celia Mowberry. We know this because an index to the marriage bonds for the Diocese of Killala-Achonry was available when a group of diligent researchers decided to compile a list of early Brett marriages. Celia’s surname was spelled MOWBERRY.

If you search for Mowberrys in County Sligo, you’ll probably come up empty-handed. At least that’s my experience. Strictly speaking, the name is not historically known to belong to Sligo, or so I’ve been told. To complicate matters, it enjoys a vast array of spellings: Mobry, Moberry, Moobrey, Mobrey, Mulberry, Mobray, Moubray, etc.

The name persisted for a time, sprouting on two limbs of our family tree with a few different spellings.

On September 23, 1874, George Brett of Cornabbey (the letter writer) wrote the following to his brother John of Amherstburg:

“I now have to let you (k)now that my family was 3 boys & 3 girls. But with regret I must state that poor Mooberry is no more. Died on the 14th of Augt. 66 at the age of 22. You may guess how I feel at writing his name. He was the best young man in the county for a Father. He held at the time of his death 228 acres in Mayo but I gave it up after his death.”

The Irish Civil Registration Deaths Index also records this lad’s name as MOOBERRY.

Square tombstone monument
George Meuberry Brett’s tombstone at Rose Hill Cemetery, Amherstburg, Ontario.

In Amherstburg, John Brett and Ann Elliott also gave a nod to his mother’s family name when they called their sixth child George MEUBERRY Brett. Born in 1867, the year of Canada’s confederation, George M. Brett started working with the Michigan Central Railway at the age of 16 and spent 54 years as a railwayman. When his son George Rondeau Brett was born in 1904, George’s name was recorded as George MOEBRY Brett on the birth registration. When he died, there was again some difficulty with his middle name, which was recorded as MOEBREY on the official death registration. George Meuberry Brett is buried at Rose Hill Cemetery outside Amherstburg, beside his parents. The stone mason wisely opted for an abbreviated George M. Brett.

One generation later, the name continued to be honoured. George Brett of Cornabbey’s daughter Celia married Henry Hamilton in May of 1870. They named their eldest son Mowbray William Hamilton (1875-1936) and he, in turn, named one of his sons Mowbray William Hamilton (1910-1965). The Hamilton family’s spelling of MOWBRAY is, to my mind, the most accurate spelling of the name and the spelling that came down to the family from its Scottish roots.

According to Mowbrays and Mulberrys in Ireland by Thomas L. Mowbray, the name Mowbray had no traction in Ireland until the plantation period of the 1600s. He writes: “From all the evidence it would seem that the Mowbrays who came to Northern Ireland were from Scotland, and most certainly the County Donegal family at Moneymore were.”

As Celia Mowbray has not been located in any records other than the parish marriage records for Killala-Achonry, it’s not yet clear if she came from Donegal. But it’s striking to me that 39 of the 43 Mowbrays listed in Griffith’s Valuations (property valuations conducted between 1847 and 1864) lived in the Drumhome Parish of County Donegal, about 80 kilometres (50 miles) from Achonry Parish in Sligo. It’s also interesting that the only two Mowbrays who appear in the Irish Flax Growers list for 1796 lived in Drumhome, Donegal – a James Mooberry and a John Moobery (spelled Mowbray when viewed in the online index instead of the digitized index).

Despite the puzzling origins of Mowbray, Celia’s first name was handed down to at least eight female descendants. The longer version of the name – Cecelia – was bestowed at least seven more times. Fifteen tributes to Celia and four to Mowbray are a fitting memorial to someone who has in all official respects managed to elude the historic record.

Connecting Brett Siblings

CAUTION: This post has been updated based on new findings and collaborative research with others. Please use with caution and consult the updated post Connecting Brett Siblings Revisited.

So … we’re off to Ireland soon (thanks to Arthur’s eclectic connections to various digitization projects around the world). This time we will be staying in Ballymote. If you’ve read other parts of this blog (which is admittedly stagnant from time to time), you will recall that George Brett (the letter writer) dated his letters to his brother John (my ancestor) from Ballymote. The ruins of Ballymote Castle, which was a key location for the Co. Sligo Bretts in the 1600s, will be within walking distance.

Before we leave, I thought I should review my last set of conclusions (tenuous as some of them may be) about the Bretts who immigrated to Canada and settled in various parts of Ontario. As I have never shared my conclusions on this blog, I think it’s time to do so – both for posterity and for critical examination by others.

A couple of years ago I immersed myself in every piece of evidence I had ever collected in an attempt to connect the various Ontario Brett families. It has always distressed me that the Bretts of Essex County appear to exist all alone – without sufficient connection to any of the other early Brett families. Drawing on my experience with logic and deduction (learned primarily by studying for the LSAT and obsessing over Sudoku puzzles for many years), I decided to record the outcome of my reasoning and was pleasantly surprised with the results. Here is what I wrote …

Making clear connections between various lines of the Sligo Bretts has been difficult due to the lack of official records. Using correspondence and anecdotal information, it may be possible to tenuously, and in some cases almost definitively, connect siblings.

Fact #1

Patrick Brett and Eliza Craven of Achonry. Patrick was the son of a John Brett with 9 sons, according to information of Mrs. Ada Brett Kerr on a visit to Sligo in 1932 to Henry Brett of Streamstown, Achonry. (Source: Bill McGee’s “Early Bretts of Co. Sligo, Ireland”)


Although some researchers have identified the oldest patriarch as being a George Brett (source unknown), this small piece of information from Ada Brett Kerr suggests that John Brett with 9 sons is a useful starting point.

The passage does not eliminate the possibility that John Brett also had daughters.


1) The patriarch of this family is John Brett, a man who had 9 sons.

2) Patrick Brett (born c. 1790s) was one of John Brett’s 9 sons.

Fact #2

On August 9, 1920 Henry Brett of Streamstown, Achonry, Ballymote, County Sligo wrote to Miss Minnie Brett in Toronto, the youngest daughter of Jasper Brett and Elizabeth Jenkins. 

“… If you are of the same family as I am, your father must be from the parish of Achonry. He lived near the Achonry Church. His father’s name was George. They emigrated to Canada about 70 or 75 years ago. If your family is of this statement, your father and my father were cousins.” (Source: Letter to Emily Ermina (Minnie) Brett, shared by Marna Gariepy)


We know that Minnie Brett’s parents immigrated in 1850 on the Royalist, 70 years prior to the date of Henry Brett’s letter. Her father Jasper (1822-1885) was the eldest son of George Brett (b. 1785) and Jane Jackson.

We know that Henry of Streamstown(1866-1947) was the eldest son of John (1822-1907) and Cecelia Brett. John was the eldest son of Patrick Brett and Eliza Craven of Achonry.


3) If Minnie and Henry’s fathers (Jasper and John) were cousins, then their fathers, Patrick and George, were brothers.

4) Patriarch John Brett had 9 sons, including…

George (b. 1785 m. Jane Jackson)
Patrick (b. 1790s m. Eliza Craven)

 Fact #3

 Uncle George’s family are all living in that quarter. You may see some of them are your way. I believe they are comfortable.” (Source: George Brett letter, June 16, 1875)


This statement appears in the George Brett letters. George (1825-1880) was the eldest son of Jasper Brett and Celia Meuberry. He was a successful cattle farmer who never left Ireland. He was writing to his brother John (1825-1880), the patriarch of the Essex County Bretts.

This statement follows a reference to the letter-writer’s sister Jane and her husband Thomas Clark(e) who settled in the Ottawa Valley. George Brett and Jane Jackson settled in Mono Township. “Living in that quarter” could refer generally to the area lying north of Toronto.


5) It is probable that “Uncle George” is George Brett of Mono. If true, then George Brett of Mono and Jasper Brett (father of George the letter writer and John Brett of Essex County) are brothers.

6) Patriarch John Brett had 9 sons, including…

George (b. 1785 m. Jane Jackson in 1817)
Jasper (b. early 1790s m. Celia Meuberry in 1812) – TENTATIVE
Patrick (b. late 1790s m. Eliza Craven before 1822)

Fact #4

“As for Patt the Boy he is not in America but home. He came home this time six years with £60 and remained until he spend this, most of it in drinking & sporting, then went off again to the states, and remained there with uncle Christy’s son in law at Brickmaking until he made up sixty more & started for home again…” (Source: George Brett letter, September 23, 1874)


“Patt the Boy” is Jasper Brett’s youngest son, brother of George the letter-writer and John Brett of Essex County. Their sister Mary and her husband William Sadler/Sadlur lived at times in Philadelphia, PA, where Patt the Boy took up residence off and on, working for Uncle Christy’s son-in-law at brickmaking.

We know that Christopher Brett (b. 1799) married Elizabeth Allen in 1817 (Killala/Achonry DMB) and had 10 daughters and 4 sons. Their daughter Elizabeth married James Hammond, who ran a successful brickmaking business in Pennsylvania. James Hammond is “uncle Christy’s son in law”. (Source: Jackie Norris)

Other mentions of Uncle Christy’s family include:

  • Patt the Boy “went to live with Charles Brett of Aconry and stopt there until he fell in fashion with his servant girl and was going to get married to her but was prevented by uncle Patt’s two sons.” (Source: George Brett letter, September 23, 1874)

Note: Charles Brett of Achonry is Christopher Brett and Elizabeth Allen’s youngest son. Charles and Patt the Boy are cousins. (Source: Jackie Norris)

Patrick of Streamstown had three sons (John, George and Henry). The important point is that George refers to him as “uncle Patt”.

  • “I have to let you know that Charles of Aconry’s first wife died, leaving two children, boy and a girl. He got married again to John Allen of Rathbarrons youngest daughter and got two hundred pounds with her.” (Source: George Brett letter, February 23, 1876)

Note: We know that Charles of Achonry married Anne Brett, daughter of Thomas Brett of Kilmacshalgan. When she died he married Kate Allen of Rathbarron. (Source: Jackie Norris)

  • “Uncle Christy’s Mary is still living an old maid. Celia is married to uncle Patt’s son John the marauder.” (Source: George Brett letter, February 23, 1876)

Note: Christopher Brett and Elizabeth Allen did have a daughter, Mary, who appeared not to marry, and a daughter Celia who married her cousin, John Brett (1822-1907), eldest son of Patrick Brett and Eliza Craven.


7) This is strong epistolary evidence in support of the claim that Christopher Brett (b. 1799 m. Elizabeth Allen), Patrick Brett (b. 1790s m. Eliza Craven) and Jasper Brett (b. early 1790s m. Celia Meuberry) were brothers.                        

8) In Fact #2 above, we established that Patrick and George were brothers. Adding in this new information, we can conclude that Patriarch John Brett had 9 sons, including…

George (b. 1785 m. Jane Jackson in 1817)
Jasper (b. early 1790s m. Celia Meuberry in 1812)
Patrick (b. late 1790s m. Eliza Craven before 1822)
Christopher (b. 1799 m. Elizabeth Allen in 1817)

Fact #5

Patrick of Cloonarara, Sligo writes to George Brett (1835-1905) after his father’s death. George’s father was Henry Brett (1791/2-1877), who married Catherine Cuffe and settled in Mono Township, like George Brett and Jane Jackson:

…I have no real friend in Ireland but George Brett, son to Jasper Brett, a man whom your Father loved dearly. G. Brett lives in opulence on a large farm near Ballinacarrow and has two other large farms and possesses of an immense stock of cattle of all kinds.” (Source: Patrick Brett letter, November 16, 1877, shared by Bonnie McKenzie Hollender)


The George Brett referenced here is clearly the letter-writer George Brett, son of Jasper who most likely passed away before George Brett’s letter-writing began in 1874. Although Jasper is not referred to as an uncle, it is possible that he and Henry were brothers. More research is needed on this point.


9) Patriarch John Brett had 9 sons, including…

George (b. 1785 m. Jane Jackson in 1817)
Jasper (b. early 1790s m. Celia Meuberry in 1812)
Patrick (b. late 1790s m. Eliza Craven before 1822)
Christopher (b. 1799 m. Elizabeth Allen in 1817)
Henry (b. 1791/2 m Catherine Cuffe in 1828) – TENTATIVE                            

Fact #6

Margaret Brett (1784-1866) married Allan Shaw in 1809 (Killala/Achonry DMB), immigrated to Canada in 1829 (obit) and housed two daughters of George Brett and Jane Jackson in her home as of 1851 (census) – Mary and Ellen. (Source: Marna Gariepy’s Henry of Streamstown family tree on Ancestry)


Born one year apart and early in the birth order, Margaret and George are probably siblings. More research is needed on this point.


10) Patriarch John Brett had 9 sons and possible 1 daughter, including…

Margaret (b. 1784 m. Allan Shaw in 1809) – TENTATIVE
George (b. 1785 m. Jane Jackson in 1817)
Jasper (b. early 1790s m. Celia Meuberry in 1812)
Patrick (b. late 1790s m. Eliza Craven before 1822)
Christopher (b. 1799 m. Elizabeth Allen in 1817)
Henry (b. 1791/2 m Catherine Cuffe in 1828) – TENTATIVE



The Bretts and Ballymote Castle

Finding the Bretts in Ireland wasn’t quite as difficult as I had thought it would be. In fact, some of the family history was right under our noses for several days before curiosity got the best of us.

One day we stopped in Ballymote to pick up food supplies. Although Guinness is the national drink of Ireland, Art bravely wrinkled his little Scottish nose at every offer of the ale. Consequently, in Ballymote, he was on the hunt for a “good” beer (sold by the bottle in grocery stores), while I was deployed to find Battenberg cakes and Kerrygold cheese.

As we exited the store with a 6-pack of dubious samples, I spotted this directional sign to Ballymote Castle and realized it was the umpteenth sign for the castle I’d seen that day. Surely it was worth a peek. The ale would have to wait!


In my very first blog post about the Bretts (“Doire Uan: Wood of the Lambs”), I shared some information about our Norman origins, how the Bretts arrived in Ireland following the Norman Invasion (probably in the 13th century) and were later identified as “Palesmen” – people who lived in the territory called “The Pale”, stretching from Dublin to Dundalk. According to the history books, the Bretts arrived in Sligo in 1610 with their relatives, the Taaffes, who became the largest landlords in Co. Sligo by 1633-35.

The Taaffes became the Barons of Ballymote and Viscounts of Corran and are known to have owned Ballymote Castle from 1610 to 1652, when they surrendered it to Oliver Cromwell’s forces. A plaque affixed to a pole on the castle grounds confirms these facts.


Caught up in the religious and political tensions of the time, many of the “Old English” lords discovered that allegiance to the Crown wasn’t always sufficient protection against land seizure. The Taaffes held onto the castle throughout the rebellions of the 1640s and the land confiscations that followed. However, after King Charles I was put to death and the Puritans under Oliver Cromwell took charge in 1649, the Taaffes lost their lands for a time. During the Restoration under King Charles II in the 1660s, Theobald Taaffe was named the Earl of Carlingford and the family’s lands were restored.

Where do the Bretts fit into this story?

Jasper Brett arrived in Sligo with their relatives, the Taaffes, and built a fortified dwelling at Rathdoony, about 3.5 kilometres above Ballymote. The ruins of the fortified dwelling, called Derroon or “Doire Uan”, have been identified and might form the focus of an interesting adventure for a future trip.

It is likely that the Bretts, like the Taaffes, lost their property as part of Cromwell’s retaliation against those loyal to the king. However, they didn’t go far. After the Restoration, the Bretts and others are reported to have managed the Taaffee lands until they were sold in the 1750s, and the 19th century graves of our Brett ancestors are close by, in Achonry.

Ballymote Castle is an enduring artifact of our Brett ancestry. Its gates are locked but you can walk around the grounds and read a few interpretive plaques.


The main plaque says the castle was built in 1300 by Richard de Burgo, the “Red Earl” of Ulster. It also notes that the castle would become the staging ground, 300 years later, for an Irish army under Red Hugh O’Donnell.

“Though it was probably the strongest castle in Connacht, Ballymote was captured by the O’Connors in 1317 and from then on changed hands many times between the English and the Irish. In 1598 it was sold for £400 and 300 cows to Red Hugh O’Donnell and it was from here that he assembled his army for the ill-fated Battle of Kinsale.”

The Battle of Kinsale (1601-1602) ultimately secured England’s conquest of Gaelic Ireland. Following their defeat at Kinsale, the Gaelic chieftains of the north (Hugh O’Neill, Richard Tyrell and Hugh O’Donnell) fled to Spain, leaving Ulster undefended against the British scheme to settle it with protestant sympathizers.

Only eight years after the Battle of Kinsale, the Taaffes purchased – or came to acquire – Ballymote Castle. Here’s what it looks like today …







Ancestral Grave Hunting • Ireland • September 2016

It took 36 years and one failed attempt to finally realize my teenage dream of visiting Ireland, but I’ve finally done it. On August 31, my intrepid husband and I set off for Toronto and flew with Aer Lingus non-stop to Dublin. Four days later we rented a car and headed off to Co. Sligo, the ancestral home of the Essex County Bretts.


Armed with a small stack of research notes and a list of key places of importance to Brett family history, I set my expectations quite low. To my way of thinking, it was unrealistic to expect evidence of our ancestors to still exist 150 years or so later. Boy, was I wrong!

With a full Irish breakfast in our bellies, we set out on Tuesday, September 6 to find the ancestral graveyards. Reasoning that the most recent death of interest might have the best shot at discovery, we headed off to Coolaney in search of Rathbarron Church and the grave of George Brett, the letter writer, who died in 1899.

Family History Refresher

To help with recollection, here is the condensed backgrounder:

Our confirmed first-level ancestors were Jasper Brett and Celia Meuberry, who obtained a marriage licence in 1812 from the Diocese of Killala and Achonry. Their oldest son George (the letter writer) remained in Ireland and was reported to have a large cattle farm. Another son, Patrick, flirted with emigration to the U.S. but ultimately settled back in Ireland. Eldest daughter Mary emigrated to Philadelphia. The remaining four children emigrated to Canada. Our ancestor, John, came to Canada as a young man in the early 1840s, before the potato famine of 1845. He made the voyage with his sisters Cecelia and Catharine. Sister Jane appears to have immigrated to Canada earlier and settled in the Ottawa Valley where her three siblings initially joined her. Now back to the graveyards…

Rathbarron Church (United Dioceses of Tuam, Killala & Achonry)

How excited were we to find Rathbarron Church, an active church with a well-populated graveyard! The ground that day was wet with morning dew and our feet were quickly soaked. Art started on one side of the graveyard and I on the other. Eventually we met in the middle but neither of us could report any success. As we stood at a family plot pondering the unusual trees surrounding the site, Arthur spotted the name Brett on the stone right in front of us. Very difficult to read today, the inscription has been recorded in a series of volumes available at the Sligo County Library. Many thanks to Bill McGee as well for making the Brett family inscriptions available at

George Brett’s Tombstone Inscription

“In Memory of Isabella Brett of Cornabbey died 23rd April 1887. Also George Brett 12th May 1899. Catherine their daughter died 2nd Jan 1917, Robert, their son of Thornhill died 14th June 1918. He that believeth in me though he were dead yet shall he live.”


The stone is set within a family plot with a stone border and appears to contain six plots. A second headstone in the plot is for George and Isabella’s son John and says: “Sacred to the Memory of John Brett of Cornabbey 13 Dec 1925, 65 years. Dearly beloved husband of Jeanie M. Brett.”

Having found George Brett and being delighted with our success, we lingered a while for photos (because everything is scenic in Ireland!) and then embarked on our search for Achonry Cathedral.


Achonry Cathedral

Signage in Ireland is simple and plentiful. When GPS fails, you can generally count on a visual scan of the environment to set you on the right course.


So it was with Achonry Cathedral.

Achonry Cathedral is a de-commissioned church with three adjoining graveyards and an old stone arch from a previous church building.


The newest yard was easy to navigate and contains at least seven Brett headstones, all within close proximity of each other, including Henry of Streamstown (1866-1947).


In a 1932 account written by Ada Brett Kerr, which some readers of this blog may be familiar with, she reports on her visit with Henry of Streamstown. She writes:

“A Jasper Brett had lived just opposite the cathedral, but his house had entirely disappeared. In the graveyard was the tomb of John Brett, who had been of some importance in Tobercurry. This man had nine sons, one of whom was Patrick, the grandfather of this Henry himself. Two or three of these nine sons emigrated, who, we conjectured, must have been Henry, my great great grandfather and his brothers, who came to Canada.”

Ada refers here to Henry of Rosemont, her great-great grandfather from whom a number of other Ontario Bretts are descended.

She also refers to John Brett of Tobercurry, a man with nine sons.

John Brett of Tobercurry (1765-1844)

Although I have not been able to prove conclusively that John Brett of Tobercurry is our Jasper’s father, I believe the circumstantial evidence is convincing. George Brett, the letter writer, refers in three different letters to “Uncle Patt” and clearly identifies Uncle Patt’s son John, who is Henry of Streamstown’s father. In 1932 Henry confirmed to Ada Brett Kerr that his grandfather Patrick was a son of John Brett of Tobercurry. If Patrick is an uncle to George, then, strictly speaking, Patrick is the brother of our ancestor Jasper. By extension, Jasper is also one of the nine sons of John Brett of Tobercurry.

With that logic in mind, we went in search of John of Tobercurry’s tomb in the second and much older graveyard. In a repeat of the Rathbarron Church experience, we searched the entire yard and met in the middle, directly in front of a very large tomb situated close to the church. This old graveyard contains a large number of broken stones, many of them cracked off at the ground. The stones that remain are extremely weathered and virtually impossible to read. The ground was wet and spongy on the day of our visit…and treacherous! In no time we were wet to our knees from wading through high grass, carefully finding a firm foothold before taking the next step. Perhaps the iron gate was locked for a good reason. Nonetheless, Intrepid Art’s long legs were over the stone wall separating the two graveyards in a jiffy. I followed suit with far less grace.

Thank goodness for Arthur’s eagle eyes. As we puzzled over how we had missed the grave, Art glanced over at the large tomb, now overgrown with ivy and blackberries, and caught a hint of the word “Brett”. Sure enough it was John Brett of Tobercurry’s grave. The face is nearly impossible to read, but we know from existing cemetery inscription records that it says:

“Sacred to the Memory of John Brett, late of Tubbercurry who departed this life September 6, 1844, aged 79 years. Also to the memory of Ellen, the beloved wife of John, his son, departed this life September 1, 1858, aged 43 years. May they Rest in Peace.”


The headstone for Patrick’s son John (1822-1907) and his wife Cecelia Brett (1838-1913) stands just a few feet away. The genealogical theorist in me thinks it would make perfect sense if Patrick and his wife Eliza Craven were buried somewhere nearby. It also wouldn’t surprise me to learn that Jasper Brett and Celia Meuberry are among their neighbours.

I think it’s very interesting that Henry of Streamstown told Ada Brett Kerr that a man named Jasper Brett had lived across from the Achonry church but that the house had completely disappeared. It’s hard to say what “across from the church” means because the church is at the end of a dead-end road. But there is a farm property along the lane leading to the church and these very curious occupants.


I hope to share more information about the Bretts in Ireland in a future post.

If you have questions or information you’d like to share, please feel free to leave a comment.

Brothers and Eldest Sons

Although I’ve collected all kinds of family history tidbits (and tucked most of them safely away on, I’m often drawn back to the tidbits in a renewed effort to find meaning. For me, it’s not enough simply to collect the facts; I’m always trying to read between the lines for the untold stories.

In this post, I’m looking at Richard Ruddy Brett (1869-1937) and his older brother, William James Brett (1864-1943). R.R. went by the name “Bert” for most of his adult life. More predictably, his brother was known as “Bill”.

(Aside: If anyone ever explained to me how Richard Ruddy came to be called Bert, I must have quickly forgotten. I do have many memories, however, of town elders telling me about my great-grandfather, Bert Brett, walking through town whistling. Apparently it was his thing! Unfortunately I don’t have any anecdotal asides to offer in the rest of this post, just some facts.)

John Alexander Brett

John Alexander Brett
John Alexander Brett (1892-1918)

A while back I wrote a post called 2nd Generation: John Brett & Ann Elliott. Near the end of that post I listed their children and provided a few details on each. Under William James Brett, I mentioned that he and his wife Etta had four children. John Alexander Brett was their second-born and eldest son, born on 24 February 1892 in Ruthven and killed in action near the end of World War I.

When I was looking through the new batch of photos I received from Sandy, I was amazed to find this photo of John Alexander Brett. On the reverse it says: “John Brett – 241st Regiment – Killed Sept 1918 – Buried in France”.

At age 24, John enlisted with the Canadian Expeditionary Force on 9 September 1916. The 241st Battalion was based in Windsor and the unit was known as the Canadian Scottish Borderers (a precursor to the Essex and Kent Scottish), hence the kilt and the sporran. The battalion had one commanding officer, Lt.-Col. W.L. McGregor (or at least that’s what Wikipedia says).

It would appear that John was overseas for the next two years. At the time of his death on 27 September 1918, he was a Private in the 15th Battalion of the 1st Central Ontario Regiment, which fought in France and Flanders (Belgium).

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.

Ruddy Brett

Ruddy Brett in cadet uniform
Ruddy Brett in cadet uniform

John Alexander Brett’s cousin Ruddy also enlisted. Bert Brett’s second-born and oldest son was an18-year-old drug clerk when he signed his enlistment papers on 1 July 1915. Ruddy was planning to become a pharmacist, a goal he accomplished after the war was over, and had been working at a local drug store.

In this photo, also received as part of Sandy’s collection, Ruddy is wearing military gear, probably his cadet uniform from high school. By September 1916, just about the time that his cousin John was enlisting, Ruddy was stationed in France with the 13th Canadian Field Ambulance, which was assigned to the 4th Canadian Division. Soldiers in that division were at the Battle of the Somme, Vimy Ridge and Passchendaele. As a medic, Ruddy probably worked near some of the worst battles that the 4th Division fought. He stayed in France until the Armistice in 1919.

To refresh your memory about Ruddy, re-read my post called 4th Generation: Richard Ruddy Brett Jr.

Bert and Bill

IOOF Centennial Lodge, Windsor, May 12, 1927 - Bert Brett sitting on the far left and William Brett on the middle right
IOOF Centennial Lodge, Windsor, May 12, 1927 – Bert Brett sitting on the far left and William Brett on the middle right

Brothers Bert and Bill must have shared a great deal of anxiety and sorrow about their second-born and oldest sons. Although Bill lived in Windsor and worked in Detroit for many years, I believe the brothers also kept in touch and shared something else – a club.

The brothers were both members of the charitable organization known as the Independent Order of Odd Fellows or IOOF. Bert originally joined Rose Lodge No. 28 in Amherstburg around 1891, then moved to Enterprize Lodge No. 218 in Essex when he and William H. Auld purchased the Essex Free Press in 1896. He was elected as Grand Master in 1907 and was the oldest living Grand Master in Ontario at the time of his death.

According to Bill’s obituary, he joined Rose Lodge No. 28 in Amherstburg around 1886, then joined Centennial Lodge No. 463 in Windsor upon its founding in 1919. At his death, he was a Past Grand Patriarch of the Grand Encampment of Ontario and one of the oldest Oddfellows in the district.

This IOOF photo from 1927, shows the two brothers seated in the front row, Bert on the far left and Bill on the middle right. The names and number of years of service for each person is listed on the reverse. Bert is listed as having 36 and Bill with 41 years of service. You can certainly tell that they’re brothers!

The R.R. Brett Children

It’s been over a year since I posted to this blog. The first rule of social networking is to post often. Since I’ve broken that cardinal rule, it wouldn’t surprise me at all if I find out that I’m writing this simply for my own edification.

In any case, it’s good to have something new to report. Thanks to Sandy Cascadden, I now have many additional photos of the Brett children to share. In her teens and early twenties, Aunt Elaine kept a few scrapbooks containing photos dating from 1912 to 1916. Although the names associated with most of the faces are unknown to me at this time, many of those faces appear over and over again. Some of them are certainly from the Roberts family, and others likely from the Brett-Elliott family.

Elaine, Ruddy, Ken and Lillian figure prominently. Photos of Marwood and Jack, however, are scarce. Below you’ll find the best group shots.

Elaine, Ruddy and Kenneth
Elaine, Ruddy and Kenneth – 1900

The first photo dates from 1900. At first glance, you think it’s a picture of three little girls. Look at those curls!

According to information found on the back of the photo, Elaine is 5, Ruddy (on the right) is 3 1/2, and Kenneth (sitting on the left) is 2.

A further note explains the dog: “Shep come as a puppy when Rud was 1 year old. Died when he was 14 years old. Took us to school each day and then went back home.”

Kenneth, Elaine, Ruddy and Lillian circa 1903
Kenneth, Elaine, Ruddy and Lillian circa 1903

R.R. Brett Family - 1907
R.R. Brett Family – Summer 1907
Left to right: R.R. Brett (38), Jack (2), Marwood (5), Elaine (12), Lillian (6), Ruddy (10), Frances (42), Kenneth (9)

Bert and Frances with their three youngest - Lillian, Marwood and Jack - circa 1912.
Bert and Frances with their three youngest – Lillian, Marwood and Jack – circa 1912.

Ruddy, Elaine, Kenneth, Lillian, Marwood and Jack, circa 1915
Ruddy, Elaine, Kenneth, Lillian, Marwood and Jack, circa 1915

Elaine, Ken, Lillian, Marwood and Jack in 1915, after Ruddy enlisted
Elaine, Ken, Lillian, Marwood and Jack in 1915, after Ruddy enlisted

4th Generation: Richard Ruddy Brett Jr.

Ruddy Brett - 1921 Graduation
Ruddy Brett – 1921 Graduation

Ruddy Brett was the eldest son of Richard Ruddy Brett and Frances Lillian Roberts, born on December 25, 1896. To differentiate himself from his father he signed his name “R.R. Brett Jr.”

Like all of the Brett children, Ruddy progressed through the Essex school system, often with honours (as newspaper reports of the day show), and graduated from high school around 1914. He immediately went to work as an apprentice druggist with T.B.S. Tweedale, both at the Essex and Windsor locations, but his workplace education was about to be interrupted.

On July 1, 1915, Ruddy enlisted as a Private with the Canadian Overseas Expeditionary Force. According to the September 3, 1915 edition of his father’s newspaper, the Essex Free Press, Ruddy shipped out on August 7, 1915 and arrived at Plymouth, England on August 18. A year later, on Sept. 8, 1916, the newspaper reports that Ruddy is stationed in France with the 13th Canadian Field Ambulance, a unit that was newly established in August 1916.

Parts of a letter dated October 23, 1916 were reproduced in the November 17th edition of the Free Press that year. The 13th Canadian Field Ambulance unit was assigned to the 4th Canadian Division, which fought at the Battle of the Somme from July to mid-November 1916, claiming over 24,000 Canadian lives and securing the Canadian unit’s reputation as a formidable assault force. Ruddy was working as one of two night dispensers, administering tetanus shots to one patient after another – “500 or 600 come in in three hours,” he wrote. Although he reports being three or four miles away from the firing line, he was witness to the muddy conditions that the soldiers had to endure:

The weather here is rotten, the mud in the trenches waist deep. Men got stuck fast, and could not get out till morning. Yesterday it turned cold and froze, now it is raining again. I tell you, the men that come in here are in an awful state, mud all over. The face is hardened with mud. You cannot remove it or you are liable to take skin and all.

He also writes about “the rum”, how it saves lives and keeps thousands from pneumonia:

It keeps them warm for a few minutes anyway, and a man cannot possibly get warm in wet clothes and mud to the knees, feet wet, week in and week out, and yet some men try to stop the only thing that gives them a little warmth.

Ruddy remained in France until the Armistice in 1919 and probably worked with the medics near some of the worst battles that the 4th Division fought. These would have included Vimy Ridge and Passchendaele.

At the end of the war, a report in the Free Press for January 17, 1919 says that Ruddy, now 22, had been promoted to Sergeant and was at Namur, Belgium with the 4th Division, marching towards the Rhine.

After the war, Ruddy enrolled at the Ontario College of Pharmacy and graduated in 1921.

On September 14, 1922 he married Berniece Beech of Leamington. In 1928, a daughter named Betty Lou joined the family.

After his father’s death in October 1937, Ruddy worked at the Essex Free Press, sometimes listed as the assistant publisher.

Ruddy Brett died at the age of 43 in a tragic turn of events. On August 16, 1940, he was a passenger in a car driven by Lee Shanyfelt. The two men and Shanyfelt’s wife had driven from Essex to Belle River collecting subscriptions for the North Essex Baseball League. From a newspaper clipping that came from the Windsor Star, it appears that Ruddy started to experience chest pains and asked Shanyfelt to take him back to Essex. Driving down the Belle River Road, Shanyfelt failed to stop at Highway 2 and hit a car full of soldiers. One man was fatally injured. Although Ruddy climbed out of the car and sat on the running board for a time, he collapsed just seconds before Dr. Dupuis of Belle River arrived at his side.

The clipping that appeared in the Essex Free Press is attached here.

The Essex Free Press: A History

The Essex Free Press as it existed in 1890-95. R.R. Brett and W.H. Auld purchased the business from Mr. Ed Lovelace in 1896. None of the men in the photo have been identified as Brett or Auld.

The Early Days

The history of newspaper publishing in Essex dates back to 1879. According to available records, we know that the first paper published in the settlement that would officially become Essex Centre on January 1, 1884 was The Essex Centre Chronicle. Publisher Robert Fair printed and distributed the first four-page issue in May 1879.

According to his memoirs, John Milne, an industrious pioneer, constructed a two-storey building around 16 Talbot Street in 1878 and persuaded Robert Fair of Leamington to install a printing press and all the machinery needed to publish a newspaper. The Talbot Street office would be the location of the town’s newspaper through numerous changes in editorial leadership and ownership over the next 65 years.

A photo of the Essex Industrial Works, published in the March 5, 1892 edition of the Toronto Mail, shows a prominent sign on the side of the building that says “Essex Free Press”. Given the logistical difficulties involved in moving printing presses, it is unlikely that Milne moved the operation to his factory (but not impossible). It is more likely that Milne used the walls of his buildings merely as advertising. Another photo from 1890-95 clearly shows the Free Press operating at 16 Talbot Street, but other Milne enterprises are advertised on the face of that building.

Fair’s tenure at the Chronicle was short-lived. By the end of 1879 he had sold the newspaper to Milne, who changed the newspaper’s format to an 8-page, 5-column paper.

In July 1882 Milne sold the paper to John Curran, its editor, who continued as owner until 1884 when he sold to A.E. Lovelace.

A second newspaper called The Advance was founded in 1882 by John Stafford. In early 1885, Stafford and George Laing bought The Chronicle from Mr. Lovelace and amalgamated the two newspapers into one, The Argus.

By the end of 1885, ownership of the newspaper had changed yet again, this time assumed by a joint stock company with Dr. James Brien as chief stockholder. The name was changed to The Essex Liberal.

In August 1886, management passed to J.M. Kennedy, and then to J.E. Johnson of Leamington in 1888, who sold it a year or two later to Henry and Frank Walters. The Walters carried on until 1892 and changed the name to the Essex Free Press around 1889, a name suggesting an independence from all political affiliations.

The Walters subsequently sold to Ed J. Lovelace, who then sold to Richard Ruddy (“Bert”) Brett and William H. Auld on June 1, 1896.

R.R. Brett & W.H. Auld, Publishers

Richard Ruddy Brett

Richard Ruddy Brett made his way into the newspaper business when he was only 15. In 1884 he had already received a second-class teaching certificate but was too young to teach, so he went to work as an apprentice printer at the Western Herald in Amherstburg. Three years later he received his full teacher’s certificate and left the Western Herald to work as a teacher, first in Harrietsville in Elgin County, followed by a one-year appointment at the Webb schoolhouse in Colchester South.

Brett left teaching in 1890 to join the staff of the Amherstburg Echo. Owned by William Douglas Balfour and John Allan Auld, the Echo was an important newspaper in Essex County, with prominent politicians at its helm. Balfour and Auld were both only 21 years old in 1874 when they left their jobs at a St. Catharines newspaper to found the Echo. Balfour had some experience in writing and Auld in printing. By 1878 Balfour was elected Reeve of the town. In 1882 he became the Liberal member of the Ontario Legislature for South Essex, a seat he held until his death in 1896. Auld was also politically inclined, serving as Reeve of Amherstburg from 1886 to 1896, and then winning the provincial by-election for South Essex after Balfour’s death. Auld retained the seat until 1908.

R.R. Brett’s formative years at the Echo prepared him well for a life as a newspaper publisher (and politician). In 1893, R.R. Brett and William H. Auld (brother of Balfour’s business partner John A. Auld) learned that the Essex Free Press was for sale. Like his brother, William Auld was a printer. He had formerly partnered with H.J. Pettypiece, a reporter who had learned the trade at the Amherstburg Echo, to purchase the Forest Free Press. Auld and Pettypiece eventually dissolved their business arrangement, paving the way for Brett and Auld to form a new partnership. In June 1896, ownership of the Essex Free Press passed to Brett and Auld. This partnership faired better than any other in the volatile history of newspapers in Essex and lasted until Mr. Auld’s death in 1932. At that point in time, R.R. Brett bought Auld’s interest in the business and his son, Kenneth E. Brett, joined him in the business.

Before Mr. Auld’s death, Ken Brett worked in the office of the Essex Canning and Preserving Company (later bought by Stokely-Van Camp). Although he never held public office, he followed in his father’s footsteps in many ways. He attended council meetings with his father, a councillor at the time, and assumed the task of looking after the town expenditures. He continued in these duties on a voluntary basis until being appointed Clerk and Assistant Treasurer in 1933, succeeding his father who had been Clerk since 1916.

When R.R. Brett passed away on October 5, 1937, he left the entire business to his son Ken. In a letter Ken wrote to his brother Marwood a week after their father’s death, he reproduced some of the will:

I give, devise and bequeath unto my son, Kenneth Elliott Brett, my business known as the Essex Free Press, together with the lands and premises occupied by the said business and all machinery, type and equipment of the said business, including all stock of paper and other chattels, together with all accounts and notes receivable and all monies and bank accounts belonging to the said business, for his own use absolutely forever; subject to the payment by the said Kenneth Elliott Brett of all the debts of the said business.

The will gave the residue of R.R. Brett’s estate to his wife, Frances Lillian Brett, and appointed his wife and son Ken as the executors.

K.E. Brett, Publisher

A fire consumed the original Free Press building on Talbot Street on January 19, 1943.

Kenneth Elliott Brett owned the Essex Free Press for over 40 years – from October 1937 until January 31, 1979. Although he lived through the war years and must have reported on many local, provincial, national and international developments, one of his biggest challenges came in January 1943 when a fire destroyed the Free Press building.

According to a report that appeared in the Free Press on Friday, January 22, 1943, the fire started at 2:45 p.m. on Tuesday, January 19.

Mr. Hunter had been in the back room about five minutes earlier and had lighted a gas fire under the metal pot in order to cast some cuts for this week’s issue when on going back to see if the metal was hot enough to pour, he was met with a burst of flame as he opened the door, however, in the meantime Bruce Beam and John Dodson, of Hicks Furniture, next door, had noticed the fire and turned in the fire alarm. We doubt if there was ever a fire fought in town under worse atmospheric conditions the day being extremely cold.

This editorial appeared in the July 20, 1979 edition of the Essex Free Press. K.E. Brett had passed away just a few days earlier on July 14.

The letterpress survived the blaze and was moved to the backroom of the town’s bowling alley where the paper was published until construction of the current office on Centre Street was completed in the mid 1940s.

At the Centre Street location, production of the paper progressed from “hot type” set on Linotype machines, to “cold type” produced on Compugraphic phototypesetting machines. A busy commercial printing operation ran alongside the weekly newspaper, producing business stationery, flyers, posters, signs, small books and an assortment of ephemera.

Ken Brett and his wife, Gertha, ran the Free Press operation until Ken was over 80 years old.

W.R. Brett & G.W. Ramsay, Publishers

On February 1, 1979, two longtime employees of the Essex Free Press joined together to purchase the paper. K.E. Brett’s nephew, Wilber R. Brett, and commercial printer Garth W. Ramsay took over the operation and continued to build the business, transitioning from Compugraphics to Apple computers in the late 1990s.

Both men were civic-minded. Ramsay served on the Essex Public Utilities Commission for many consecutive years, while Brett served on town council, first as a Councillor from 1970 to 1974, as Deputy Reeve from 1974 to 1976, as Mayor from 1976 to 1980 and once again as Reeve from 1985 to 1999. When the amalgamated Town of Essex was formed in 1999 (joining Essex, Colchester North, Colchester South and Harrow), Brett was elected as Councillor for two consecutive terms and retired from politics in 2003.

In the year 2000, after 21 years of partnership, Garth Ramsay sold his shares in the business to Brett. By the time he retired in 2004, Wilber Brett had earned the singular distinction of being the only Brett publisher to work in every production mode – hot type, cold type, and digital.

L.A. Brett, Publisher

On January 1, 2004, with nearly 50 years of newspaper experience under his belt, Wilber Brett sold the Essex Free Press to his daughter, Laurie Brett. That, of course, is me.

With the help of a very talented and hard-working staff, we transitioned the paper from paste-up to digital layout, added full colour to our advertising options, and streamlined our pre-press production. To much acclaim, we launched several new publications, including the quarterly newspaper Crafter’s News, an annual tourist guide called Discover Essex, and the quarterly magazine Spotlight on Essex County. We also built (and rebuilt) the Free Press website and created websites for the Fun Fest Guide and Discover Essex. In 2007, we were honoured to win the Ontario Community Newspapers Association’s Best Newspapers Award in the Heritage category for a spread on the 1907 explosion at the Essex Railway Station.

Working for his uncle, K.E. Brett, Wilber Brett watches as the 8-page weekly edition of the Essex Free Press rolls off the press.

My father continued to work in the business, labeling newspapers every Tuesday afternoon and delivering them to post offices and newsstands on Wednesday morning. His knowledge of the business was vast and he readily shared it with me as I transitioned from law librarian and educator to newspaper publisher and commercial printer. In mid-2009 my dad became ill and passed away in November of that year.

As the fourth-generation owner of the Essex Free Press, I can tell you that it has never been easy to be a publisher of a community weekly newspaper. It’s not hard to find editorial content; it’s generally abundant and overflowing. The harder task is to find enough advertising and other revenues to cover your costs. It’s the same struggle that I believe scared off many of the early Essex newspaper publishers and a persistent problem that continues to challenge the industry. In 2006 the Ontario Community Newspapers Association reported that the Essex Free Press was the third oldest family-owned community newspaper in the province and was among only 25 community newspapers in Ontario that continued to be family owned and operated. Large media operations had by that time purchased many of the oldest community weeklies or launched competing newspapers in key markets. The tide had already turned in favour of corporate ownership.

In May 2011, the Essex Free Press was purchased by London Publishing, a new media company that had recently purchased a controlling interest in the Essex Voice, a competing newspaper. Nearly 115 years after Brett & Auld purchased the Essex Free Press from Ed Lovelace, the family legacy has come to an end. The merged operations, however, continue to publish a weekly newspaper called The Essex Free Press, a name that is now over 123 years old.

New Information: Catharine Brett (1859-1863)

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 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.

New Information: Jane Brett

UPDATED JULY 3, 2022 (to correct details about Robert George Brett’s lineage)

You might recall one of my earlier blog posts about Jasper Brett and Celia Mowberry, my “first generation” ancestors from Co. Sligo, Ireland. We don’t know very much about Jasper and Celia but we do know that they had at least seven children: George, Jane, Cecelia, John (my ancestor), Catharine, Mary and Patrick. About Jane I wrote:

What little we know about Jane is found in George Brett’s letter of June 16, 1875. In that letter, George asks about Jane and her husband Thomas Clark, who George appears to know. George writes to John: You said you expected to pay Jane & Thos Clark a visit this summer. If so ask them to write to me & let me (k)now how they are going on & how many in family they have. I suppose age is beginning to pray a little on Tom for he is older than I am.” There is no clue in the letters to tell us where Jane and Thomas Clark live, but they are most certainly in North America and are probably close in age to George.

It bothered me that I couldn’t find Jane anywhere in the census data. Searching for common names like “Jane”, “Thomas” and “Clark” is like looking for a needle in a haystack on, but I decided to hunt and peck my way towards success. And I did it! Here is what I found…

1861 Census – Montague, Lanark County, Canada West

Jane Brett’s Birth Date

According to the 1901 census for Onslow, Quebec, Jane was born on June 10. To my knowledge, this is the only documentation on the day and month of her birth.

The year of Jane’s birth is somewhat more elusive. The 1861 census for Lanark County, Canada West, reports her age as 45, which means her birth year was 1816. But the 1871 census for Pontiac South, Quebec, reports her birth year as 1821, the 1891 census as 1818, and the 1901 census as 1823. There are two factors that have lead me to the conclusion that she was actually born in 1819 or 1820.

First, her tombstone at St. Luke’s Anglican Church Cemetery at Eardley, Quebec gives her birth year as 1819. Unfortunately the tombstone does not appear on CanadaGenWeb’s Cemetery Project website, but a clear photograph of it appears in John Finnegan’s book on early life in the Ottawa Valley called Tallying the Tales of the Old-timers. Thomas Clarke’s tombstone, on the other hand, does appear online and I conjecture that the inscription for Jane appears on a different face of the same monument as it simply says “His Beloved Wife Jane Brett 1819-1906.

The second factor to consider is the passenger list for the Britannia which gives Jane’s age as 22 in 1842, thus yielding a birth year of 1820.

Thomas Clarke’s Birth Date

In the absence of church records, it is often quite difficult to pinpoint an ancestor’s birth date. Census returns for 1861 and 1871 give a birth year of 1811 for Thomas Clarke, but the 1881 census provides a birth year of 1806. A different source, the 1842 passenger list for the Britannia, records his age as 27 which, if accurate, would mean that his birth year was 1815. However, his tombstone records his date of death as November 23, 1885 and his age as 76. From these details we get a birth year of 1809, which most closely aligns with George Brett’s letter of June 16, 1875 in which he says: ” I suppose age is beginning to pray a little on Tom for he is older than I am.” As George Brett was born in 1811 and seems to have known Thomas Clarke fairly well, it is fair to conclude that Thomas was most likely born in 1809, just as his tombstone suggests.

Marriage & Emigration

The 1901 census entry for their son Uriah, living in Onslow, Pontiac South, Quebec, gives his parents’ year of emigration as 1833, but this seems to be incorrect.

According to the 1861 census for Lanark County, Canada West, Thomas Clarke and Jane Brett were married in 1838. This notation in the census appears to be the only recorded mention of their marriage. Although many marriages were recorded by the Killala-Achonry diocese of the Church of Ireland and survive today, Thomas Clarke and Jane Brett’s marriage is not among them.

The next time we see the couple, they appear on the passenger list for the Britannia, a barque that sailed out of Westport, Co. Mayo, Ireland on May 21, 1842, bound for Quebec and arriving there on July 6, 1842 after a six-week journey. Thomas Clarke is recorded as being a 27-year-old labourer and Jane as a 22-year-old “matron”, which seems to have been a term applied to all married women on the ship. Thomas and Jane travelled alone. She was pregnant and gave birth to their first child, George, only a few weeks after they arrived in Canada.

Lanark County Settlement

You might recall that Jane’s sisters, Cecelia and Catharine, emigrated to Canada with their brother John around 1841 and married men from eastern Ontario. Both were married in Johnstown, which today sits at the foot of the Ogdensburg-Prescott International Bridge. Cecelia married James Uriah Rose on June 15, 1847 and Catharine married William Buell Nelson on January 1, 1849. The connection to eastern Ontario (which I’ve broadly called the Ottawa area in previous posts) was always a mystery until I found Thomas and Jane Clark in the 1861 census for Montague Township, Lanark County, Canada West, then a rural community near modern-day Smiths Falls. With this new information, it seems safe to conclude that Thomas and Jane Clarke came to Canada on the heels of her siblings and settled near them in Lanark County for an extended period of time, arriving in 1842 and remaining there until 1868.

During their 26 years in Lanark County, Thomas and Jane had seven children: George (1842), John (1845), William (1848), Uriah (1853), Thomas (1854), Catherine (1857), Jasper (1859), and Joseph (1864).

It is probable that Thomas Clarke’s land holdings were diverse during this time. In the 1851 census for Beckwith Township in Lanark County, Canada West (Ontario) a Thomas Clark appears to be farming on Concession 3, Lot 10. At the same time, in the 1851 census for Bristol, Ottawa County, Canada East (Quebec), a Thomas Clark owns 100 acres on Concession 4, Lot 3.

Migration to Onslow Township, Pontiac, Quebec

By 1871, the Clarks had moved about 100 kilometres northwest, leaving  Montague Township in Canada West for Onslow Township in Canada East. This region of Quebec fronts on the scenic Ottawa River across from Arnprior. A land grant of 50 acres in Bristol, Pontiac County was made to a Thomas Clarke on January 31, 1868.

Thomas continued to farm. A note in the 1871 census says: “This man’s produce belongs to Ontario.” What this means is not entirely clear to me, but I suspect it has something to do with having property in both provinces, living in one but trading in the other.

Tall Tales

The Thomas Clarke and Jane Brett story has a colourful side. In Finnegan’s book Tallying the Tales of the Old-timers, there is a chapter called “After the Beer was in the Tubs, All the Labels Came Off.” The chapter is based on a lengthy interview with Carl and Howard Clark about growing up in the Ottawa Valley. As great-grandsons of Thomas and Jane Clarke, Carl and Howard relayed the following details:

  • Tom Clark eloped to Canada with “Lady Jane Brett” whose brother was the first lieutenant-governor of Alberta.
  • Tom belonged to the Royal Ulster Constabulary and was known to be the tallest man in the regiment.
  • Being of nobility, Jane’s parents chased Tom out of Ireland.

I am not the first person to be quizzed about the truthfulness of these statements. Bill McGee’s assessment is particularly helpful in sorting out truth from fiction. I will assist in setting the record straight by offering the following points:

  • The Bretts were not members of the nobility. Like most of their neighbours, they leased and farmed small plots of land in rural Sligo. It’s anyone’s guess how Jane came to be widely known as “Lady Jane”. If Thomas Clarke enjoyed a fanciful story as much as his descendants, it is possible that the moniker started as form of endearment that naturally led to narrative embellishment.
  • Tom and Jane may have eloped but they were not chased out of Ireland. They married in 1838 but did not leave Ireland until 1842. When they did leave Ireland, it was at a time of mass departure by people seeking better economic opportunities. In addition, they appear to have followed closely behind her siblings who initially settled in eastern Ontario.
  • Tom could not have been a member of the Royal Ulster Constabulary as it was only established in 1922. But he may have been a member of the Royal Irish Constabulary. A Thomas Clarke appears in the service records for Galway in 1835. If there is some truth to this fact, then he was most likely the tallest man in his regiment.
  • Jane Brett was not a sister to Robert George Brett, the second Lieutenant Governor of Alberta. Robert George Brett was born in 1851, the son of James Brett and Catherine Mallon. As already noted above, Jane Brett was born in 1819 or 1820, at least a generation before Robert George Brett. The connection between Robert George Brett’s branch of the Brett family and other Ontario Bretts is only tenuous (see James of Middlesex & James of Mono).

Loose Ends

After Thomas Clarke died in 1885, Jane lived with her sons Uriah and Joseph and her daughter Kate. She appears in the 1891 census as a widow of 73 and appears again in the 1901 census, still living with Uriah.

I have been unable to find the death records for Thomas and Jane Clark, but we know from her tombstone that she died in 1906 and is buried at St. Luke’s Anglican Church Cemetery at Eardley, Quebec.

In-Laws: Eli & Maria Roberts

I have a lot of fun dwelling “on” the past but sometimes I wish I could dwell “in” the past. This is especially the case where Eli Roberts and Maria Quance are concerned. I wish I could go back to 1979 and resume my place at Aunt Elaine’s dining room table, pen in hand and many more pages of notes to write. I’d certainly have more questions for her about the Bretts, but this time I would also ask more probing questions about her mother’s side of the family. (Why is it still so easy to overlook the female side?) Other than basic information, like names and birthdates, my notes from that era provide almost no details that would help me to paint a memorable picture of the Eli Roberts family. Thankfully, has been helpful in fleshing out some of the facts, but it can’t tell the stories that Aunt Elaine could have.

In any case, here’s what I know…

Born on September 17, 1865 near Pontiac, Michigan, Frances Lillian Roberts, my great-grandmother, was the daughter of Eli Roberts and Maria Quance. According to Aunt Elaine, her name was pronounced Mar-i-a (phonetically represented in the only graphic I could think to include in this post), not Mar-e-a. This was considered an important point of distinction.

From various accounts, it is clear that both Eli Roberts and Maria Quance were natives of New York State. The 1901 and 1911 census returns for the town of Essex show that Maria Roberts, residing at that time in the R.R. Brett household, was born on January 1, 1822. Her obituary published on January 5, 1912 in the Essex Free Press, states that she was born in Oneida County, New York, and had five brothers and two sisters. She was pre-deceased by all of them and died on December 28, 1911 at the age of 89 years, 11 months, and 28 days.

In the 1970s, Aunt Elaine recalled clearly that Eli Roberts was born on October 22. The Michigan vital records for Oakland County show his year of birth to be 1818 but no record confirming his day of birth has been located. Maria’s obituary reports her husband’s year of death as 1885.

From Maria Roberts’ obituary we know that she was married in 1846 to Eli Roberts. This information is confirmed by the Oakland County vital records, which further indicate that they were married in New York State. Their first four children were born in Rome, New York.

In 1855, Eli and Maria moved to Pontiac, Michigan, where they resided until they moved to Charlotte, Michigan in 1876. Eli was a farmer. By the time of his death in 1885, they had moved back to Pontiac.

From 1893 until a few years before her death, Maria Roberts lived both in Amherstburg and Essex in the R.R. Brett home. At the time of her death, however, she was residing with her daughter, Mrs. Isaac N. Jackson (Etta/Henrietta) of Jackson, Michigan. Her death certificate identifies the cause of death as cerebral hemorrhage.

The children born to Eli and Maria Roberts and their place of residence upon Maria’s death were as follows:

Sarah – Born about 1848 in Rome, NY. Married George Landers; named her two daughters after her sisters, Addie and Effie. Predeceased her mother and died in Charlotte, Michigan.

Elizabeth “Libbie” – Born about 1849 in Rome, NY. Married Frank L. Woodford. Predeceased her mother and died in Chicago, Illinois.

Emma – Born about 1851 in Rome, NY. Married Richard F. Lalonge of Amherstburg. Was residing in Amherstburg when her mother died.

Henry V. – Born about 1853 in Rome, NY. Living in Tacoma, Washington when his mother died.

Georgiana Estelle – Born about 1855 in Pontiac, Michigan. Married Orlo Blodgett in 1877 and had 3 children, Eva, Earl (a dentist), and Estella. Died May 29, 1909 in Eaton Rapids, Michigan.

Adeline “Addie” – Born about 1858 in Pontiac, Michigan. Predeceased her mother.

Henrietta “Etta” or “Effie” – Born about 1860 in Pontiac, Michigan. Married Isaac N. Jackson. Died on 31 Jan 1931 in Jackson, Mich.

George A. – Born about 1862 in Pontiac, Michigan. Living in Warren, Indiana when his mother died.

Frances Lillian – Sometimes called “Frankie.” Born 17 Sept 1865 in Pontiac, Michigan. Married R.R. Brett and was living in Essex when her mother died.

Although I know very little about the Roberts, I did collect one story about Earl Blodgett from Aunt Fran (Brett) Knipe. They both lived in and around Tacoma, Washington. In an email exchange about family history, Aunt Fran wrote in the spring of 2001:

I had forgotten about the relatives in Tacoma. Aunt Elaine had told me about them when I first came out here, but I didn’t look them up until I got a toothache nearly fifty years ago. Earl Blodgett was a Dentist in Tacoma and a nephew of Grandma Brett. He extracted my aching tooth, packed the cavity with gauze and got so carried away talking about “Aunt Frankie”, he forgot to remove the gauze. It was several days and much pain later that I removed it myself and it began to feel better and heal. He also passed the time by proudly showing me his collection of extracted teeth that had some peculiarity about them. It was pretty gross, and not exactly what I wanted to be looking at right at that time. When my Mom came out here for a visit, she called the Blodgetts (I believe that was an order from Aunt Elaine) and met them for lunch and they spent the afternoon together.

3rd Generation: Richard Ruddy Brett & Frances Lillian Roberts

If you search the name “Brett” in the digitized newspaper archive of the Essex Free Press, you’ll get 8,756 matches between 1895 and 1968. It’s a daunting result and one that makes research particularly ponderous. But it’s also a testament to the Brett family’s dedication to preserving living history, including their own. As the owner of the Essex Free Press from 1896 until his death in 1937 (partnering with William H. Auld from 1896 to Auld’s death in 1932), Richard Ruddy Brett left a legacy of influential dealings in business, politics and the community (see also Commemorative Biographical Record entry). Indeed, his obituary in The Amherstburg Echo had this to say:

He had been a noted Oddfellow, municipal officer, parliamentary candidate, president of several organizations, secretary-manager of many enterprises, and was in every way not only a useful, hardworking and industrious citizen but will be classed in history as one of the makers of Essex County…

Richard Ruddy Brett

Born in Amherstburg on April 17, 1869, Richard Ruddy was the youngest son and the seventh child of nine to be born to John and Ann Brett. His mother died when he was only 9 years old and his father passed away two years later. The census returns for 1881 show R.R. Brett at age 11 living with Richard Elliott, his mother’s brother who, at the time, had two very young children and resided in Amherstburg. The 1891 census shows R.R. Brett at the age of 22 still residing with Richard and Eliza Elliott and pursuing the occupation of printer.

It is safe to say that R.R., later known as “Bert”, was a very promising student. Writing Brett’s obituary in the Amherstburg Echo, Arthur W. Marsh said, “[h]e was always clever.” R.R. Brett attended the public schools in Amherstburg and, in 1884, at the age of 15, received a second-class teacher’s certificate. Being too young to teach, he became an apprentice at the Western Herald, published in Amherstburg, where he worked for three years learning the printer’s trade. In 1887 he attended the model school in Ingersoll and received his full teacher’s certificate, after which he taught for two years near Harrietsville in Elgin County, followed by a one-year appointment to the Webb schoolhouse in Colchester South.

Although Brett left the Webb schoolhouse in 1890 to join the staff of the Amherstburg Echo, the school would play an amusing role in his later political life. A.W. Marsh recounts the following:

Old men are living there yet who remember the boy who taught their school; but at that time politics of a certain brand were high there and later in years when Mr. Brett was interested in Liberal politics he ventured to address a meeting among his old friends at the Webb schoolhouse, and was escorted from the place because of his alleged political heresy.

Brett joined the staff of the Echo when its president, the Hon. William Douglas Balfour, was immersed in political life. Arthur Marsh reported that Brett became steeped in Liberal doctrines at the Echo and followed the fortunes of Mr. Balfour (MPP for South Essex from 1882 until his death in 1896) both at home and in Toronto, where for some time he acted as Balfour’s private secretary. The impression Balfour made on R.R. Brett was clearly strong, and there is no better support for this assertion than the fact that Brett made tribute to Balfour by naming his youngest child and son Douglas Balfour Brett.

The Essex Free Press as it appeared in 1890-95 at its Talbot Street location. R.R. Brett and W.H. Auld purchased the business from Mr. Ed Lovelace in 1896. None of the men in the photo has been identified as Brett or Auld.

In 1893, it became known to R.R. Brett and William H. Auld (brother of Balfour’s business partner John A. Auld) that the Essex Free Press was for sale. Like his brother, William Auld was a printer. He had formerly partnered with H.J. Pettypiece, a reporter who had learned the trade at the Amherstburg Echo, to purchase the Forest Free Press. Auld and Pettypiece eventually dissolved their business arrangement, paving the way for Brett and Auld to form a new partnership. In June 1896, ownership of the Essex Free Press passed to Brett and Auld. This partnership faired better than any other in the volatile history of newspapers in Essex and lasted until Mr. Auld’s death in 1932. At that point in time, R.R. Brett became sole proprietor of the paper until his death in 1937.

By all accounts Richard Ruddy Brett was an industrious man. In his obituary in the Amherstburg Echo, Marsh reported as follows:

To show the industry of the man, he not only managed the editorial department of the Free Press, but after Mr. Balfour’s sudden death in 1896 he assisted Mr. Auld in the management of The Amherstburg Echo until A.W. Marsh, its present publisher, came on the scene. He worked at Essex daytimes and at Amherstburg far into the night during a whole year…

 While Mr. Brett was interested in fraternal and political matters, his first and lasting love was for newspaper work, of which he made a known success. He had a keen mind, was deeply read, and a writer of plain English. His scent for news was best described by a woman writer of note many years ago who said ‘Bert Brett always reminds me of a thoroughbred bird dog on the scent, and every time you see him go by you know he is going to flush a flock of interesting news items.’”

During 41 years of reporting on events in Essex, R.R. Brett witnessed many significant events, including the nitroglycerine explosion in August 1907 that killed two railway workers and shattered virtually every pane of glass in town. He reported on the departure of young men heading off to war in 1914 and those who failed to make it home. He also reported on the stock market crash and the troubles that ensued in the town’s finances during the 1930s. Writing was an everyday part of his life and he even wrote a partial travelogue of his trip to the Pacific coast.


On June 14, 1893, R.R. Brett married Frances Lillian Roberts of Pontiac, Michigan. Although we can’t be certain how they met, we know that her older sister Emma had married Richard F. Lalonge of Amherstburg and was living in that town as early as 1881 (based on the 1881 census return). R.R. Brett was probably introduced to Frances during one of her visits to town.

Frances Lillian Roberts

Richard Ruddy was 24 and Frances 27 on the day of their wedding. Four news clippings recording the event were carefully preserved by their daughter, Elaine (Brett) Cascadden. Transposed in the 1970s before the era of photocopiers, these reports lack sources. They are, however, reproduced below for reasons of posterity. It is likely that the last two clippings derive from The Amherstburg Echo.

Brett – Roberts — At the residence of the bride’s brother-in-law, in Charlotte, Michigan, on Wednesday, June 14th, by Rev. W.H. Martin, rector of Grace Church, Mr. R.R. Brett, local editor of The Amherstburg Echo, to Miss Frances L. Roberts, of Charlotte, Michigan.

Mr. Brett of the Echo staff, Amherstburg, was married last Thursday in Charlotte, Michigan, to Miss Roberts. The Post extends congratulations to this rising young journalist.

On Tuesday evening, R.R. Brett, of The Echo staff, accompanied by W.T. Wilkinson, left here for Charlotte, Michigan, to participate in a wedding ceremony in that town on Wednesday, the former as groom and the latter as groomsman. The ceremony was performed at the residence of Orlo Blodgett, brother-in-law of the bride, at noon, by Rev. M.H. Martin, Rector of Grace Church, Charlotte. The bride was Miss Frances L. Roberts, who has visited here on several occasions and is well acquainted in town, and she was assisted by her sister, Henrietta, of Lansing. After the nuptial knot had been tied, the assembly, composed only of the relatives and a few of the bride’s most intimate friends partook of a repast and at 3 o’clock the newly married couple left by M.C.R., arriving at Windsor at 8 o’clock and driving down here the same evening, and to the residence of Mrs. E.J. Gott, sister of the groom. A few of the relatives and friends of the couple were present and sat down to a sumptuous repast. The newly-wedded pair will reside in John A. Auld’s house in Dalhousie Street and will be home to their friends after June 20th.

Messrs. W.T. Wilkinson and R.R. Brett left town so mysteriously last Tuesday evening that their friends cided something was up. Their thoughts proved correct, as Mr. Brett was married in Charlotte, Michigan, on Wednesday, to Miss Frances L. Roberts, an estimable young lady of that town, and also favourably known in Amherstburg, in both of which places she has many friends. Mr. Wilkinson supported “Bert” through the trying ordeal, and Miss Etta Roberts, a sister of the bride, was bridesmaid. The ceremony was performed at the residence of the bride’s brother-in-law by the Rev. M.H. Martin. The young couple came to Amherstburg on the same day and will settle down here. “Bert’s” many friends wish the newly married pair a long and happy married life.

R.R. Brett’s Political Involvement

Following in the footsteps of his father, John Brett, and his mentors, William D. Balfour and John A. Auld, Richard Ruddy Brett embarked upon a political career when he was only 30 years old. As a three-year resident of Essex, he ran for town council in 1899 and was elected. He was one of 17 candidates for six positions on council. Dr. James Brien was the successful candidate for mayor.

As council was elected annually at that time (in the first week of January), Brett ran again in 1900 and was re-elected.

Unlike our local electoral system today, elections for County Council were held separate and apart from municipal elections. In 1901, R.R. Brett did not run for municipal council, opting instead to run for a two-year term on County Council. He was elected in District #2 (which included the Town of Essex and the townships of Colchester North and Colchester South) for three consecutive terms – 1901-1902, 1903-1904, and 1905-1906. In 1904 he was elected as Warden, the top position on County Council.

In 1906, R.R. Brett was appointed as Clerk of the Town of Essex. In 1923, upon W.D. Beaman’s death, he was also appointed as Treasurer.

In 1911, R.R. Brett made an attempt at provincial politics, running as the Liberal candidate against Conservative incumbent Dr. Charles N. Anderson of Leamington (see Essex Free Press, December 8, 1911). The results published on December 15, 1911 show that Brett lost by only 121 votes, besting his opponent in the communities he knew best – Amherstburg, Malden, Colchester South, Colchester North and Essex.

Community Involvement

R.R. Brett was well-connected in fraternal and community circles. At the time of his death he had been a freemason for almost 50 years, joining the Amherstburg Lodge in the late 1800s and working his way up to Master Mason as a member of the Essex Lodge. He was also a Master Workman with the Ancient Order of United Workmen, a fraternal organization established after the U.S. Civil War to provide social and financial support to its members, and a member of the Knights of the Maccabees, an organization founded in London, Ontario, which provided low-cost insurance to its members.

Brett was also an active member of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows, being elected as Grand Master in 1907 and being the oldest living Grand Master in Ontario at the time of his death. He was also a charter member of the Essex Rotary Club, founded in February 1935, secretary of the Essex County Fair Board, and secretary of the Essex County Children’s Aid Society when it was first formed.

 The Brett Children

Richard Ruddy Brett and Frances Lillian Roberts had seven children, the first two born in Amherstburg and the rest in Essex.

Helen Henrietta – Birth: 28 March 1894, named after her aunt Etta (Roberts). Death: 9 September 1894 at five months old. Cause of death: Cholera infantum (gastroenteritis).

Frances Elaine – Birth: 29 July 1895. Death: 22 July 1998, just shy of her 103rd birthday! Marriage: 5 September 1931 to Arol Glenn Cascadden.

Richard Ruddy – Birth: 25 December 1896. Death: 16 August 1940. Marriage: 14 September 1922 to Berniece Gertrude Beech.

Kenneth Elliott – Birth: 1 August 1898. Death: 14 July 1979. Marriage: 24 April 1941 to Gertha Stowe.

Lillian Ann Maria – Birth: 27 August 1901. Death: 25 July 1988. Marriage: 14 June 1927 to William Earl Hannan.

Marwood Roberts – Birth: 25 November 1902. Death: 13 January 1989. Marriages: (1) 14 September 1937 to Gertrude Connelly; (2) 15 June 1963 to Willma Hayes.

Douglas Balfour – Birth: 8 July 1905. Death: 9 September 1965. Marriage: 26 March 1932 to Dora Elaine Allen.

Watch for a future blog posting to provide more details about the Brett children.

Deaths of R.R. Brett and Frances L. Roberts

Richard Ruddy Brett died on 5 October 1937 from a cerebral thrombosis (see death certificate). It was described in the Essex Free Press as a bloodclot at the base of his brain. He was 68 years old.

His wife died on 1 December 1945 of a coronary thrombosis (see obituary). She was 80 years old.

New Information: James & Mary Elliott

Dress and forage uniforms of the 34th Regiment of Foot as they appear today in the barracks at Fort Malden.

After a long and drawn out winter closure, Fort Malden finally opened for the tourist season on May 1. I arrived bright and early on May 2 with hopes of speaking to someone at the museum about Private James Elliott, a solider in the 34th Regiment of the British Army and Ann (Elliott) Brett’s father. Alas, the museum was closed to visitors on Wednesday without explanation, but visitors could still participate in a guided tour. And so I did.

You might recall that James Elliott came to Canada around 1833 with the 1st Battalion of the 34th Regiment of Foot. He was accompanied by his wife Mary and their infant daughter Ann. The regiment was garrisoned at Halifax until 1838 when the Rebellion of Upper Canada broke out. Five hundred soldiers of the 34th were deployed to Fort Malden in June, arriving by the end of July, including James Elliott and his growing family. He died there in 1840 at the age of 35, cause of death unknown. From records available at the museum I had hoped to find out why he died and what happened to his wife and children upon his death.

My tour guide, dressed in the simple green militia uniform of Caldwell’s Western Rangers, was very helpful in painting a picture of life at the fort. Only six percent of soldiers were allowed to bring their wives and children to Canada. On the day of departure, they would have arrived at the dock, where an officer would have randomly selected those soldiers who could take their families with them. James Elliott was one of the successful soldiers.

At Fort Malden, soldiers lived in very close quarters. The barracks could hold 64 adults in the space of three rooms, with four adults per double bunk. Wives would bunk with their husbands, but children would have to sleep anywhere they could find some space. Food was rationed over two meals — oatmeal gruel with peas or salt for breakfast, and meat stew (with or without vegetables depending on availability) for dinner. The British government provided only two meals a day. Men received one pound of meat per day, women one-half a pound and children one-quarter of a pound. Soldiers paid a fee (deducted from their pay) for laundry service. If the wife of a soldier could get hired to do laundry, she would be paid more than her husband and could recoup the laundry fee and have a few cents left over. Children were allowed to stay in the barracks until the age of 14. At that point, boys had to join the army or leave the fort. Girls had to marry a soldier or leave the fort.

A musket tag at the Fort Malden barracks bears the name of James Elliott, Private in the 34th Regiment of Foot.

When I told the tour guide my skeletal story of James and Mary Elliott, she went looking for his name tag in the barracks. Imagine our surprise when she actually found it. Both a bunk and a musket contain modern tags with the name “James Elliott” and his military number – 1198. The names and numbers were taken directly from the payroll records for the 34th Regiment for July 1838, just after the battalion arrived at the fort. Plus we found a tag for a James Gott #1267, who may have been the grandfather of Eccles James Gott, husband of Cecelia Mary Brett (oldest child of John and Ann Brett).

So I asked, what would happen to wives and children living in the barracks when a soldier died. Did the army support the family for a time or offer to send them home? Nope! A woman would have 48 hours to marry another soldier or she and her children would be turfed. Given the close living quarters of the barracks, I’m sure there was no shortage of soldiers willing to marry a widow and raise her children.But did Mary Elliott remarry under such circumstances or did they drum her and her young children out of the fort? It’s a research project for another day.

After a brief stop at the Marsh Collection to review the death records for Christ Church, I headed over to the churchyard on Ramsay Street, hoping to find any family gravestone, but without high expectations of finding James Elliott’s. What a surprise to find such a beautifully tended garden and a thoughtfully curated set of gravestones. None of the names were familiar, but I do know that time is not kind to gravestones and sometimes you simply have to trust that the records are accurate and that your ancestor is indeed buried somewhere in the vicinity.

The churchyard of Christ Church, Amherstburg

If you have a chance to visit Fort Malden this year, either for the Bicentennial of the War of 1812 or for any other reason, be sure to visit the barracks. Turn right as you enter and head straight to the end of the building. James Elliott’s bunk is the last one in the corner and his musket and uniform hang nearby at the same end of the room.

The Christ Church churchyard is open to the public. From Fort Malden, head towards Navy Park Yard, turn left at Richmond, then right on Ramsay. Follow Ramsay until you see the church on your left. It’s a beautiful, peaceful place.

2nd Generation: John Brett & Ann Elliott

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 & Ann Brett - Tombstones - Rose Hill Cemetery

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
December 27, 1880
AE 55 years
Birth in Ballisadare
County of Sligo

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:

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.”

American Shoe Store - Brett & Elliott proprietors

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.

Political Aspirations

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.

Early Deaths

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.

Catharine Brett

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.

Jane Brett

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.

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.

1st Generation: Jasper Brett & Celia Meuberry (Mowberry)

When the Harper government announced the end of the long-form census in Canada a few years ago, historians and genealogists were among those who vocally opposed such a move. Their arguments ultimately fell on deaf ears. It’s fair to suggest that none of the Members of Parliament who voted in favour of scrapping the long-form census had ever experienced the frustration of tracing ancestors in Ireland. Had they done so they would have learned some important lessons about collecting and preserving history.

The facts surrounding the destruction of official 19th century census returns in Ireland are a bit muddled, but all we really need to know is that they no longer exist. The returns from 1821-91 were destroyed at different points in time, the last two sets (1881 and 1891) meeting their fate as recently as 1918. Whether their destruction was occasioned by a literal bureaucratic interpretation of the law at the time or by the heartless destruction of Irish history that some have suggested, the fact is that they simply no longer exist and Irish descendants are left with few clues to go on in trying to make proper family connections.

Fortunately, we do have a few.

Births and Marriages

 Aunt Elaine (Brett) Cascadden (God bless her!) always maintained that John Brett’s father was named Jasper and his mother was a Meuberry. Confirmation of this information is found in a listing of the marriage license bonds issued in 1812 for the Diocese of Killala and Achonry, Co. Sligo. Jasper Brett and Celia Mowberry acquired a marriage licence in that year. Although there is no official documentation connecting Jasper Brett and Celia Mowberry to their children (for example, birth registrations), we know that both of their names were passed down, Jasper to Edward George Jasper Brett four generations later, Cecelia for several successive generations of daughters, and Mooberry or Meuberry to John Brett’s son, George Meuberry.

Determining the birth years of Jasper Brett and Celia Mowberry is an exercise in estimation. We have no official documentation (birth or death records) that would confirm these dates, so we have to estimate. If we assume that they married in early adulthood, as most people of that era did, then we can assume that both Jasper and Celia were born around 1790, making them about 22 years old on the day of their wedding.

Unfortunately, I’ve had no luck locating death records for either Jasper or Celia, but I am willing to speculate that they had both passed away by 1874, the date on which their son George began corresponding with his brother John, our great-great-grandfather. (Be sure to read the George Brett letters included here. They are an excellent source of information.). There is no mention of Jasper or Celia anywhere in the five letters that were passed down to Aunt Elaine, which, given the thoroughness of George’s accounting of people, supports my speculation.


George Brett’s letters to John are very helpful for identifying family members (which I’ll get to shortly), and equally helpful for identifying property that the family owned. An inquiry made to the County Sligo Heritage and Genealogy Society many years ago also proved to be helpful. From an entry in the Tithe Applotment Book for 1825, we know that a Jasper Brett held land in the townland of Moymlough. (The Tithe Applotment Book listed property valuations for taxation purposes. Landholders paid taxes to the Church of Ireland, the established church until 1869.)

From his letters, we know that Jasper’s son George, a livestock farmer, moved from the townland of Mumlaugh (Moymlough) to the townland of Cornabby, Balinacarrow, Ballymote in 1861. The 1858 Griffith Valuations lists George Brett as the lessee of 68 acres of land in the townland of Moymlough, Parish of Killoran. He appears to have retained the leasehold on the land in Moymlough when he moved to Cornabby. From his letters, we know that, as of 1874, George held 64 acres of land in Ballymote, the 68 acres in Moymlough, and a large farm in County Mayo.

The practice of male primogeniture, whereby the firstborn male inherited the land and estate of his father to the exclusion of younger siblings, was widespread in Ireland. Evidence suggests that George Brett, as the eldest sibling, may have inherited his father’s property – probably the 68 acres in Moymlough. According to his letter of Feb. 23, 1876, George refused his younger brother Patt’s request that he hand over Moymlough.


The fact that all of George’s siblings but one immigrated to North America is not unique in Irish history. About 3.5 million people left Ireland between 1815 and 1855. Without much of an industrial base, Ireland provided few jobs for younger siblings in its agrarian countryside.

To make matters worse, the rural population subsisted primarily on a single crop – the potato. When a fungus started to destroy the crop and subsequently brought on several years of famine (1845-1852), the exodus to the New World intensified.

The Commemorative Biographical Record entry for Jasper’s grandson, Richard Ruddy Brett, states that his father, John Brett, came to Canada in early manhood. A search of ship passenger lists has not been very fruitful. 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 (Rose) was with him on the voyage. Aunt Elaine 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, before the Great Famine hit. Given that the two sisters married men from the Ottawa area (Cecelia married Uriah Rose of the Ottawa area and subsequently moved to Essex County, while Catharine married William Buell Nelson and lived in the Belleville area), it is more likely that John, Cecelia and Catharine arrived in Toronto (then called York), not Philadelphia.

It is unknown when Jane and Mary left Ireland or where they arrived.

Jasper & Celia’s Children:

Jasper Brett and Celia Meuberry had seven children, all them born in Co. Sligo. At the time of George Brett’s correspondence, he asked repeatedly about all of his siblings in Canada and provided information on those who remained behind. From these letters and additional research into specific siblings, we know the following:


Born about 1812. Died 12 May 1899 (Tobercurry, Co. Sligo). Buried in Rathbarron Church of Ireland Cemetery, Coolaney. Married a woman named Isabella (born about 1816; died 23 Apr 1887).

Recently, I was fortunate to receive an interesting scrap of information about George Brett. A genealogist who is researching the family line of Henry Brett of Rosemont, Ontario, shared part of a letter written in November 1877 by Henry’s brother Patrick (from Cloonarara, Sligo) to Henry’s son after his death.

There are scarce any of the old neighbours to be had that lived in your time; they are nearly all gone and a young race sprung up in their place. Sure it is nothing but the course of nature. I may say I have no real friend in Ireland but George Brett, Son to Jasper Brett a man whom your Father loved dearly. G Brett lives in opulence on a large farm near Ballinacarrow and has two other large farms and possesses of an immense Stock of Cattle of all kinds.

George was married to a woman named Isabella and from his letters we know that they had six children: Celia who married a man by the name of Hamilton; a son named Mooberry who was born around 1844 and held 228 acres in County Mayo at his death on 14 August 1866; a daughter named Mary born around 1850; a son Robert born around 1852/3 (identified in cemetery records as Robert of Thornill, died 1918, Tobercurry); a son John born around 1858; and a daughter Catherine born around 1864 (died 1918, Tobercurry). Information received from the County Sligo Heritage and Genealogy Society indicates that George’s son John and daughter Catherine were residing in Ballynacarrow with a nephew and two servants as of the 1901 census. A headstone has been found for George and his wife. Their daughter Catherine and son Robert are buried in the same cemetery plot, together with their brother John and his wife.


What little we know about Jane is found in George Brett’s letter of June 16, 1875. In that letter, George asks about Jane and her husband Thomas Clark, who George appears to know. George writes to John: You said you expected to pay Jane & Thos Clark a visit this summer. If so ask them to write to me & let me (k)now how they are going on & how many in family they have. I suppose age is beginning to pray a little on Tom for he is older than I am.” There is no clue in the letters to tell us where Jane and Thomas Clark live, but they are most certainly in North America and are probably close in age to George.


Our knowledge of Mary comes entirely from George’s letters. Mary married William Sadler (sometimes spelled Sadlur), also of Co. Sligo, and they had four sons and three daughters: George, who retired from the police and lived in Derry; three younger sons, one named James, all of whom immigrated to Philadelphia; and three daughters, the second eldest of them married to a man named Monson to whom Mary gave their 22-acre farm (perhaps because the law required it).

In his letter of September 23, 1874, George reports that Mary and William are living in Croughau, six miles above Boyle.

In his final letter to John (dated June 11, 1878), George reports as follows:

I have to tell you that sister Mary, her soninlaw & family are gone to Philadelphia. They did not let me [k]now anything of their moves until a few days before they left. There is now only her eldest son & eldest daughter in this country. They never write to me & I don’t [k]now why as I never gave them any cause to complain of me, always happy to see them when they came to my place & treat them with as much kindness as I could.


Born about 1821, Co. Sligo. Died 28 May 1916, Gosfield North. Buried Cottam Cemetery. Married Uriah James Rose on 15 June 1847 at Smith’s Falls, Ontario. Uriah Rose was born in March 1821 (in Wolford Twp., Leeds & Grenville Co., near Ottawa) and died in Gosfield North on 27 February 1895. William Nelson, soon to be Catherine Brett’s husband, was a witness at Cecelia and Uriah Rose’s wedding.

Cecelia and Uriah Rose had four children: John Alexander 1849-1934; Ellen J. 1851-1911; George Henry 1855-1942; and Ina Rose b. 1864.

Uriah Rose is remembered for opening the first livery stable in the hamlet of Essex Centre around 1874, before the railway was extended to Windsor, the electric railway was built and horseless vehicles were invented. He operated his business for 35 years.

Cecelia Rose’s death notice provides additional details.


Born about 1825 in Ballisadare, Co. Sligo. Died 27 Dec 1880, Amherstburg, Ontario. Buried at Rose Hill Cemetery, Amherstburg. Married Ann Elliott, born 27 Jul 1832, died 1 Sep 1878, Amherstburg. Buried Rose Hill Cemetery, Amherstburg.

John Brett is our ancestor. Watch for a future posting dedicated specifically to John Brett.


Born on 15 Dec 1829, Co. Sligo. Died 16 Apr 1920, Belleville, Ontario. Buried Belleville Cemetery. Married William Buell Nelson on 1 Jan 1849 in Johnstown, Ontario, near Ottawa. William Nelson was born 11 Sep 1826 (in Brockville, Ont.) and died in Belleville on 29 Nov 1897.

Catherine and William Nelson had nine children: Cecelia, John, Samuel, Mary Jane, Martha, Annie, William, Catherine, and Jasper. Note the repetition of the names “Cecelia” and “Jasper”.

Census returns show that the Nelsons remained in the Belleville area well into the 20th century. Upon her death, Catherine Nelson had been living at the same address for over 50 years.


What little we know about Patrick is found in George’s letters to John. Suffice it to say he doesn’t make a good impression on his brother.

“As for Patt the Boy he is not in America but at home. He came home this time six years with £60 and remained until he spend this, most of it in drinking & sporting, then went off again to the states, and remained there with uncle Christy’s son in law at Brickmaking until he made up sixty more & started for home again & Began the old trade again. So I had to get rid of him again. He then went to live with Charles Brett of Aconry & stopt there until he fell in fashion with his servant girl & was going to get married to her but was prevented by uncle Patt’s two sons. He now stops with young Patt, taking an odd spree.” – Sept 23, 1874 letter

“As for brother Patt, I fear he will never do much good. He lives with uncle Patt’s son. I believe he has nearly his money spent in drink. He does not come near us attal because I would not countenance his folly in the course he was pursuing. He lived with Charly Brett a while & fell in love with his servant maid, a papist. He was put off that & remains an old bachelor. Still Jim Sadler did not care much about seeing him. He said he was ashamed of him when he called to see him on his way coming home as he passed through Philadelphia. I heard lately that he intends to return to America. He did not spake to me the last time I met him. He is angry with me because I would not give him Mumlaugh.” – Feb 23, 1876 letter

 “Brother Patt is still in Scotland. I am told he is going on well & keeping steady & sober & in constant employment. He never writes to me.” – June 11, 1878 letter

Why they never wrote

Having read George Brett’s letters a multitude of times, I am struck by how often he mentions that his siblings haven’t replied to his letters. I am also intrigued by the types of questions he poses to John and the types of basic personal information he provides in his first letter, dated Sept. 23, 1874. George provides basic information about his property and his family in a fashion that suggests he’s not been in touch with his brother for a very long time, possibly as far back as the time of John’s departure from Ireland in 1841. George inquires about John’s occupation (“Is it by the trade or otherwise you are going on” possibly referring to John’s occupation as shoemaker). He’s not really sure about John’s age (“I believe your age is about 49 years. I would get your age from the Church registry but the Clergyman is at present in England.”). It’s as if George has initiated contact with a brother who may have been a bit reluctant to reply (his first letter begins with “After your very long silence…”).

Perhaps staying in touch with relatives was not as easy in the mid-1800s as it is today. Perhaps the mail system was unreliable or maybe transatlantic postage was too expensive. Illiteracy was a widespread problem as well. I don’t really know if any of those things played a factor in what I suspect was a 30-year silence between brothers, but I would speculate that, for the average Irish immigrant, staying in touch was just a bit too painful. Knowing that you’d never have enough money to return to the old country and that there was no place for you there even if you did would be a big disincentive. And… if your brother inherited the family farm and grew to live in “opulence,” as the letter writer above suggests, while you and your siblings were tossed across the stormy seas to an unknown land and an uncertain future, perhaps staying connected to your people in Ireland wouldn’t seem like a priority.

When you first start delving into your family history it’s all about names, dates, and pedigree charts… connecting one generation to the next in neat, linear order. But after a while, after you’ve collected a multitude of names and dates and interesting facts, and after you’ve started to piece the family puzzle back together… that’s when the names become people and the people become personalities, and the personalities jump off the page and start to populate your mind with ideas about who they were, the times they lived in, and the hardships they endured. It’s the stories behind the facts that I find so interesting.

Doire Uan: Wood of the Lambs

In North America we say “I live in Essex County.” But if Essex County were located in Ireland we’d say “I live in County Essex.” I can’t explain why the word order is reversed, but I suspect that everyone who has done genealogical research of Irish ancestors from this side of the pond has noted that curiosity. In the case of the Brett family of Co. Essex (Ontario), there’s much to ponder about Co. Sligo (Ireland) and the Bretts who have made it into the history books.

The name Brett is of Norman origin, meaning “of Brittany.” A region in the northwest of France, Brittany is directly south of and separated from England by the English Channel. Historically, Brittany was considered to be one of the seven Celtic nations (the others being Ireland, Scotland, Isle of Man, Wales, Cornwall, and Galicia).

It is believed that the Bretts arrived in Ireland following the Anglo-Norman Invasion of 1169-1172, during the reign of Henry II. Norman lords controlled the island for a time, but many assimilated into Irish culture over the next 200-300 years. The area under English control eventually shrank to a territory called “The Pale” – stretching from Dublin to Dundalk on the eastern coast. The Bretts are described as “Palesmen from County Louth” in Mary O’Dowd’s book Early Modern Sligo 1568-1688: Power, Politics and Land. This made them “Old English” in the eyes of the native Gaelic lords.

O’Dowd also reports that the Bretts arrived in Sligo in 1610 with their relatives, the Taaffes, who became the largest landlords in Co. Sligo by 1633-1635. Sir William Taaffe’s first wife, Elizabeth, was the daughter of Sir William Brett of Tullough, in Fingall, north of Dublin.

The Brett patriarch who arrived in Sligo in 1610 was named Jasper Brett. He lived at Rathdoony, just above Ballymote, and he built a fortified dwelling – perhaps a castle or maybe a fortified manor house – at Derroon (Doire Uan, meaning “the wood of the lambs”).  The remains of that property have been identified, along with ancient burial mounds located on the nearby hills. During times of war and civil unrest – and there were many during the 1600s –  fortified properties gave added protection.

On a map of Derroon and the surrounding area, you will find place names that are significant to the Bretts of the 19th century – places like Ballinacarrow, Ballymote and Moymlough. This suggests that the descendants of Jasper Brett remained in the same small region of Co. Sligo for over 250 years, despite all the troubles that they were to encounter.

Brett historian Bill McGee quotes J.C. MacDonagh’s History of Ballymote and Emlaghfad  as follows:

Jasper Brett, the founder of the family, lived at Rathdooney, and afterwards built the fortified dwelling, now a ruin, at Deroon. He was High Sheriff during the years 1627-28, and again in the year 1635.

The High Sheriff held the highest position in the county, acting as the king’s representative on administrative and judicial matters. McGee notes that the High Sheriff in Ireland was tasked primarily with collecting the king’s revenues for the Exchequer in Dublin, including fines, fees, and rents. He presided over the county court, summoned juries, levied fines and delivered prisoners. McGee writes: “The sheriff was frequently obliged to defend the county in time of war, and, when necessary, to enforce writs by calling on the aid of the posse.” The appointment appears to have been made annually. Jasper Brett held the position of High Sheriff for three years – 1627, 1628 and 1635.

Other Bretts receive brief mention in the history books, but before I share that information I think it’s important to understand the political and religious conditions that existed in England, especially during the Tudor and Stuart reigns.

It is fair to suggest that political ties and tribal loyalties motivated the Bretts to move to Ireland during the Anglo-Norman Invasion. For almost 500 years they lived in the Pale (the area from Dublin to Dundalk on the east coast), benefiting from the protection that being “Old English” and being loyal to the Crown bestowed.

The Protestant Reformation would change all that. In 1517 Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses on the church door at Wittenberg. Among other things, Luther and his supporters were opposed to the Catholic church’s practice of selling indulgences for the forgiveness of sins.

Initially Luther’s movement was confined to parts of Europe and King Henry VIII of England (1509-1547) voiced his opposition to it. Raised a devout Roman Catholic, Henry had no use for Protestantism until he wanted a divorce from his first wife, Katherine of Aragon. When the Catholic church refused his request, he established the Church of England and became the head of that church.

The Bretts, like most Old English families of the Catholic faith, would have started to feel uneasy around this time, torn between the widespread acceptance of the Pope’s authority in Ireland and their allegiance to the English monarchy. To make matters worse, Henry was declared King of Ireland after a failed rebellion there. British interest in the small Celtic nation intensified.

For the next hundred years or so, religions fell in and out of favour depending on the views of the reigning monarch. Loyal subjects were motivated to adopt whichever religion was in favour at a particular point in time to avoid imprisonment, torture and execution. The Bretts appear to have held to their Catholic faith throughout the reigns of several Protestant and one Catholic ruler:

The Bretts may have been uneasy about their faith during the years of the Tudor dynasty, but their concerns would multiply exponentially during the 1600s and the Stuart reign.

In 1609, Stuart King James I began the systematic colonization of Ulster, the northernmost province of Ireland. The Ulster Plantation scheme was designed to populate the region with Protestants (about half of them Scottish) to prevent further rebellion. In this most Gaelic part of Ireland, a group of chieftains led by Hugh O’Neill had rebelled against the imposition of English rule but had lost the Nine Years War by 1603. Their lands were seized and the “Plantation of Ulster” began.

The historic antagonism between Catholics/Protestants and Irish/British sympathizers in Ireland finds its origins in this time.

When Charles I succeeded his father on the throne, Anglicanism remained the approved religion. But the king’s marriage to a French Catholic raised concerns. On the one hand, Protestants feared that the king’s children would be raised in the Catholic faith, which rendered the future of Protestantism uncertain. On the other hand, Catholics hoped for religious tolerance and petitioned the king for full rights in society and freedom of religion. They even agreed to have their taxes raised in exchange for these rights and freedoms. King Charles eventually agreed to their demands, but after the levies were implemented in 1630 he postponed the fulfillment of his promises.

The political position of the “Old English” lords was becoming increasingly precarious. Loyalty to the Crown, even though it had been demonstrated for centuries, was no longer viewed as sufficient proof of fidelity without conversion to Protestantism. Many of the Old English now spoke the Irish language, patronized the Irish culture and had married Gaelic women. They continued to be staunchly Catholic.

Like most of the Irish Catholic upper class, the Bretts would not have been ideologically opposed to Charles I’s sovereignty over Ireland, but they would have rightly feared the loss of their lands and their social position in Irish society.

In 1640-41, King Charles sent Thomas Wentworth to Co. Roscommon and Co. Sligo to check land titles with a view to raising revenue. When Wentworth started to confiscate the lands of Old English families it became clear that the British intended to expand the colonization (or plantation) of Ireland, a fear that had been festering for almost 40 years.

The Irish Rebellion of 1641 started in Ulster but quickly spread throughout Ireland. The Old English in the Province of Connaught (which included Co. Sligo) were slow to join but rallied to the cause about six months in. Most of the bloodiest violence occurred in Ulster, with both sides suffering great losses. This rebellion marked the beginning of the sectarian violence in Northern Ireland that continued down to the 20th century.

Near Dublin, the Lords of the Pale organized a rebel force and gave notice of their grievances to the king on 17 March 1642. In response, King Charles sent a large army to suppress the rebellion. Only a few short months later Charles was forced to withdraw his troops from Ireland when civil war broke out in England. King Charles’s woes in England multiplied and kept him at bay until his execution in 1649.

What happened to the Bretts during this time is unknown, but we do know that their circumstances did not improve under Cromwell’s rule.

After Charles I was put to death, Parliament invited the Puritan Oliver Cromwell (1649-1658), followed by his son Richard (1658-1660), to rule as Lord Protector of the Commonwealth. Oliver passionately disliked Irish Catholics, while his son passionately disliked ruling the country. During the Cromwellian period, the Old English in Co. Sligo, including the Bretts and the Taaffes, openly opposed the Puritans. If the Bretts and the Taaffes had not been dispossessed of their lands during Charles’ reign, they most certainly were relieved of them now. Land ownership passed mostly to Protestant settlers and Cromwellian soldiers.

In 1660, things started to improve for the Old English. Parliament invited Charles II (1660-1685) to return from exile. This period is known as “The Restoration.” The history books tell us that the Taaffes were re-granted their lands, probably because Theobald Taaffe, was a favourite in Charles II’s court. The king made Taaffe the first Earl of Carlingford and restored his lands. Bill McGee says that the Bretts and others seem to have managed these lands until they were sold in the 1750s. It is unknown what happened to the Brett property at Derroon.

In 1662-63, a Mr. Brett assisted in making a survey of the town of Sligo. Around the same time, a John Brett of Sligo served as a Member of Parliament in the Irish Parliament of Charles II and as an assessor for the province of Connaught. Although British law prevented Catholics from holding high official positions, it did not yet prevent them from working in important positions or holding public office.

During the short reign of James II (1685-1688), the final Stuart king and the last Catholic monarch of England, a resurgence of Catholicism occurred. James II, the son of Charles I and his French Catholic wife, had converted to Catholicism after the Restoration and his reign brought with it new turmoil. An uprising against James was ultimately crushed.

In short order James II managed to alienate the British nobles. First he held treason trials called “The Bloody Assizes” and sent many rebels to their deaths. He then produced a Catholic heir. Fearing for the future, leading nobles called upon William III of Orange (1688-1702) to invade England and claim the crown with his wife Mary (James’ daughter). This William did. James initially fled to France, but in 1689 he arrived in Ireland where he enjoyed strong support. In The Irish and Anglo-Irish Gentry When Cromwell Came to Ireland, John O’Hart reports that five Bretts fought for James. The deposed king’s forces skirmished with Williamite supporters, but the Jacobites (James’s supporters) were ultimately defeated at the Battle of the Boyne. James fled to France where he died in 1701.

The Treaty of Limerick was signed on July 1, 1690. It permitted Catholics to practice their religion but forbid them from owning land. A series of punitive laws soon followed that prevented Catholics from having guns, holding political office, or receiving an education unless it was in the Protestant faith. Many Irish converted to Anglicanism to avoid the Penal Laws.

The 1700s brought consistent and widespread Protestant rule to England, Ireland and Scotland.

Although the first Bretts in Essex County were Protestant in religion, starting with John Brett (1825-1880), there is no historical evidence that points to a conversion from Catholicism. It is interesting to note, however, that John Brett’s older brother George is buried in a Protestant cemetery, the Rathbarron Church of Ireland Graveyard located in Coolaney, Co. Sligo.

Aside from religion, questions about land ownership or land management cannot be easily answered. We know that a Jasper Brett owned land in the townland of Moymlough in 1825. An entry in the Title Applotment Book for that year (which listed property valuations for taxation purposes) includes a listing for Jasper Brett.

[NOTE: A “townland” was the smallest division of land in Ireland, but it could vary in size from a single acre or less to several thousand acres. Five to thirty townlands were grouped together to form a civil parish. Civil parishes were grouped into baronies. A number of baronies were grouped together to form a county. Because the 19th century Irish census returns were destroyed, land and property records have become quite valuable as a means of identifying where Irish ancestors lived in the mid-1800s.]

We also know that our ancestor, John Brett, had an older brother named George who was a livestock farmer. From letters written by George to his brother John in the mid-1870s, we know that George moved from the townland of Mumlaugh (Moymlough) to the townland of Cornabby, Balinacarrow, Ballymote in 1861. The 1858 Griffith Valuations lists George Brett as the lessee of 68 acres of land in the townland of Moymlough, Parish of Killoran. He appears to have retained the leasehold on the land in Moymlough when he moved to Cornabby. From his letters, we know that, as of 1874, George held 64 acres of land in Ballymote, the 68 acres in Moymlough, and a large farm in County Mayo.

As land rights were key to economic wellness, it is likely that the Bretts converted to Protestantism some time after the Treaty of Limerick, possibly as early as 1690 or perhaps much more recently. We really have no way of knowing.

What we do know is that land ownership in Ireland continued to be fraught with problems. The practice of male primogeniture, whereby the firstborn male inherited the land and estate of his father to the exclusion of younger siblings, left many young Irish adults with few options. They could stay on the land, remain unmarried and work without pay, or they could emigrate to another country. The plight of unmarried women was particularly grim.

Evidence suggests that George Brett, as the eldest sibling, inherited his father Jasper Brett’s property. The fact that all of George’s siblings but one emigrated to North America is not unique to the family. About 3.5 million people left Ireland between 1815 and 1855.

By that time, memories of Doire Uan (Derroon) had probably become quite faint, if not forgotten.

Acknowledgements: I am very grateful to Bill McGee of Nepean who has done all of the Ontario Bretts a great service by researching the Brett family exhaustively. Although forging connections between the Essex County Bretts and other Ontario Brett families has been difficult, I continue to have some hope that someone will crack the code eventually. For more from Bill McGee, visit

Living in the Past

Study the past if you would define the future. 

                                                                       – Confucius

I’m living in the past again!

For over 30 years I’ve been collecting news clippings, census data, photographs, official records and miscellaneous items as part of a sometimes sporadic, sometimes intense research project focused on my family history. The Brett branch of the family set the wheels in motion.

The project started in the late 1970s when Aunt Elaine (Brett) Cascadden agreed to tell me about changes in the town of Essex over the course of her lifetime so that I could do a high school history assignment. After we finished talking about things like the Great Depression and the two World Wars she’d lived through, our conversations turned to family history. We spent many hours pouring over boxes of memorabilia that Aunt Elaine had collected – news clippings, funeral cards, marriage invitations, sympathy and birthday cards, and letters. In the days before easy access to photocopiers my options for reproducing some of these items were limited. So I did the thing that I knew best… I copied it all down by hand. And I took pages and pages of notes about everyone and everything Aunt Elaine mentioned.

When I had exhausted Aunt Elaine’s resources I turned to my next project – a thorough review of the old bound annual volumes of The Essex Free Press. Under the watchful eye of Uncle Ken Brett, then publisher of the town’s weekly community newspaper, I spent day after day standing at the slate layout tables, reading one issue of the paper after another, and taking meticulous notes about all the Brett relatives and ancestors mentioned. Photocopying was still a few years off, so I recorded the date of the paper and the page on which a particular item appeared. I had no idea then how useful my notes would be until my dad, Wilber Brett, the third generation owner of the newspaper, decided to send the backfiles to be microfilmed. In the 1990s the town’s public library purchased a copy of the microfilm and made the Free Press available using a microfilm reader with photocopy capability. Using the library’s resources I was able to locate all of the clippings and make copies.

I also had no idea then that I would become the publisher of that newspaper from 2004 to May 2011, or that I would marry a systems librarian, Art Rhyno, who would spearhead a large newspaper digitization project in Essex County. Local history and genealogical research has become so much easier since our historic community newspapers (The Essex Free Press, The Kingsville Reporter, The Leamington Post and The Amherstburg Echo) have been made searchable and freely available over the Internet ( It’s still a work in progress but I’m proud to have been part of the movement to provide open access to important historical resources for our community.

Today my children accuse me of asking too many questions. I have to believe that it’s just a phase in their development and that some day they will understand and appreciate that very little of their family history would have survived into this century had someone not asked questions and recorded the answers. That’s not to say that all the questions have been answered – indeed, there are many details I have yet to sort out – but I’m much further along in my information gathering than I was in the 1970s and I hope that the blog entries that are to follow do justice to our past.