The Smith Family Starts From Scratch

As I said in an earlier post, great-great-grandpa John was kidnapped by a press gang when he was nine and forced to serve on board one of His Majesty’s ships until he escaped at age 14. He jumped ship in Halifax and hid in the woods. Apparently the ship fired their cannons at him as he sought shelter in the woods, but he managed to escape being hit. From there he worked his way to Ontario where he met Miss Ruth Dobson.

John and Ruth Smith’s oldest child Mary was born Oct 20, 1856 and married Sam Vance on April 10, 1978. They had two sons, Allen and William (Will). Mary died Sept 24, 1924.

Mary’s Siblings

William, born 1858, married and had 4 children: one became a policeman in Toronto; one (Allen?) went to Edmonton; there was a girl, Cora. William himself found a home with his brother Moses Smith for the last few years of his life.

Amos, born 1861, married Elizabeth (Lizzie) Searles. They had about six children, but only two, Francis and Edna, lived to adulthood.

Martha, born 1863, married John Allen and they had six children. They homesteaded not far from Moses, but gave that up and moved to Evesham, SK, near the Alberta border west of Unity. He was a cantankerous sort, though; she finally divorced him and went to live with some of her children in Michigan. One son went to Edmonton.

Barbara, born 1867, died of a ruptured appendix when she was about fourteen.

Tomlinson, born ?, went to live with James Ronald and his wife. In their older years they had a kind of orphans’ home in Listowell and great-aunt Tomlinson went to work for this Mr. Ronald as a housekeeper, then after his wife died she married him. (She was 30; he was 70.) After he died his children wanted that house, so she brought several of the orphans with her to Spy Hill to visit her brother Moses, then went to Saskatoon with them. She had no children of her own.

Moses, born 1872, married Margaret Barnett in 1893 in Listowell, Ontario. They came out west and homesteaded at Spy Hill along with his brother-in-law and nephew Allen. They both died in 1927, she of a heart condition and he of TB on May 4, 1927. They are buried at Spy Hill, SK.

This info comes from his youngest daughter, Evelyn.

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About Christine Goodnough

I'm a wife, mom & grandma, a writer, homemaker and nature lover at home on the Canadian prairies. I post short stories and poems about life and personal experiences, writing from a Christian perspective and adding a dash of humor where I can.
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4 Responses to The Smith Family Starts From Scratch

  1. I read regency romance and I have seen press gang incidents used in novels. I can’t remember names or authors, but in one, the antagonist wanted to get rid of the hero, so he arranged for thugs (footpads) to pick him up and kill him. Instead they sold him to a press gang and collected the money for killing him and then for selling him. Being the hero, he escaped and came back to London. In another, a little boy, who was heir to a dukedom, and who wasn’t wanted by relatives, was sold or given to the press gang who sold him to a ship. He disappeared, but being the hero, he ended up owning a shipping company and then came back to London. In novels the press gang are a very convenient way to get rid of a person, without killing them off. In reality I think that being sold to a merchant ship was a death sentence. I don’t blame this so much on the King’s navy as on merchant ships. I think my ancestor was very fortunate to escape.

  2. chmjr2 says:

    What a great piece of family history this is. This is the stuff of which books are written and movies made of. Do you know of where he sailed and any of his adventures while on the ship?

    • The poor man didn’t even know for sure what city he was in when he was kidnapped; he told his son he thought it was London. And yes, this would make a great book! Like, did his parents search for him? Did the King’s navy really change his name? If he was a street urchin, did he even know his last name? (Think Oliver Twist.) This all happened in the early 1800s and press gangs were common. One thing I’m guessing: he was a husky lad. I can’t imagine they’d have snatched some puny little guy. (And his son was a husky fellow.)

      He served as cabin boy on the ship for four years; that in itself would have been a hard lot. But our family has no record of any of it — likely he was only too glad to forget that part of his life. We don’t know how he escaped from the ship, if he swam or snuck off at night when the “watch” was dozing or if he grabbed a barrel of something and pretended to be one of the other sailors unloading. But he told his son they fired on him when he was hiding in the woods.

      Thanks for visiting our site and for your comment.

  3. I have great admiration for GR Grandpa Smith. Of all the accomplishments of our family since, I don’t think that anything beats this 14 year old kid escaping the ship where he was a virtual slave by swimming for his freedom in Halifax and having cannon balls being fired at him as he went. What a frightened boy he must have been as he hid in the woods, cold and hungry waiting for the ship to finally sail without him. He made his escape in Canada in an English speaking country, where he had some hope that someone would help him. It was a great act of courage to escape as failure would have meant death or torture.

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