| Intro 1 | Story
1 | Intro 2 | Story
One of the most interesting surviving first-hand accounts of early life in Norfolk County is Amelia's Story, the Historical Memoranda of Amelia (Ryerse) Harris, daughter of pioneer settler Samuel Ryerse.
First published by her cousin Dr. Egerton Ryerson in his 1880 book Loyalists of America and Their Times, it is transcribed here complete with Egertonís introduction.
This transcription includes a few transcriberís notes, injected between square brackets. This transcription divides the original text into web page size pieces, giving each web page a descriptive sub-title. Ameliaís long paragraphs have been subdivided for easier reading.
The balance of this Preface provides a historical perspective for reading Amelia's Story.
The Province of Ontario was originally part of Quebec. In 1791 this province was re-named "Upper Canada" by the British government because it was farther up the St. Lawrence River than "Lower Canada" (the present Province of Quebec).
In 1841, Upper Canada was renamed "Canada West," the name it went by until Confederation in 1867, when it was renamed "Ontario." Amelia refers to Upper Canada as Canada West because that was its name at the time she wrote.
At the outbreak of the American Revolution, British forces captured New York and held it as the British foothold throughout the war. Many of the colonists who chose the British side, moved their families to New York for the duration of the war so they would be safe behind British lines. Samuel Ryerse moved his first family from New Jersey to New York, and thatís where they were living when his first wife died.
After the War, many American communities refused to allow their "traitorous" neighbors who had fought for the British to return to their homes. Their land and property were confiscated. Some who tried to return to their homes were tarred and feathered, run out of town, or killed. Some communities passed bylaws making British supporters criminals. Many Loyalists consequently turned to the British for a solution to this dilemma.
Hoping such supporters might defend its colonies to the north, Britain offered them passage by ship to what is now the Canadian province New Brunswick (which at that time included the province of Nova Scotia) and free land grants to settle there.
This is where Captain Samuel Ryerse settled and married his second wife, Sarah Underhill (the widow of another British supporter named Davenport), who had been raised in comfortable circumstance in New York before the Revolution.
Many Loyalists found New Brunswickís soil and climate unsuitable for farming, and within a few years were petitioning the British for an alternative.
British General John Graves Simcoe, who had commanded many Loyalists during the American Revolution, was by then the first Lieutenant-Governor of Upper Canada and stationed at Niagara. He took advantage of their discontent to solve his latest problem: attracting settlers loyal to the crown to the north shore of Lake Erie to defend this area from impending American invasion. He offered them free land grants in the "western wilderness."
Since neither roads nor railroads existed here then, pioneer settlers arrived either by foot over Indian trails or by boat. Many of Norfolk Countyís earliest pioneers arrived by water, coming west along Lake Erieís north shore until they found a place they liked. Most settled near the lakeís shore or beside a river to have easy access to water.
The woman named Granny McCall in Amelia's Story was Elsie Simpson, the wife of Donald McCall, another Loyalist from New Jersey. The McCalls settled in nearby Charlotteville Township, northwest of Vittoria. Two of Donald and Elsieís grown sons, John and Daniel, are also mentioned.
The Amelia's "Mr. Powel" was actually Mr. Powell. The "Proyer" family name was actually "Troyer."
Amelia's Story is in two parts.
The first written circa 1859,
the second in June 1879. The first was written for the authorís
children, the second was written as a favor for the authorís cousin
extends her original story to the end of the War of 1812.
This account of
Amelia's Story originally appeared as "The Settling of Port
Copyright 1994-2014 John Cardiff and Port Ryerse Environmental and Historical Society