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History of
Sir John Graves Simcoe

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"From the year 1795 till this year of Grace, 1924, is indeed a long while.  So far as we can ascertain the former year was the first one in which a white man slept within the limits of Simcoe.  Picture to yourselves, if you can, the difference between that rude camp in the woods which is now Lynnwood Park, alongside the little stream now called the River Lynn, with Governor Simcoe and his party resting after the toils and fatigues of the day, and the present conditions with which we are surrounded and see what wonderful, what gigantic progress has been made between the periods above mentioned.  It is the intention of this booklet to glance as far as limited space will permit over some of the principal events which have occurred in the past, and which have culminated in this reunion of the Old Boys and Girls of our community.

The Town of Simcoe was named in honor of General John Graves Simcoe, who was a son of Captain John Simcoe of the Royal Navy.  General Simcoe was born at Cotterstock, in the County of Northumberland, England, on the 25th day of February, 1752.  The father dying in 1759, the family shortly afterward removed to Wolford Lodge, in Devonshire.  At the age of fourteen young Simcoe entered Eton, and three years later we find him at Merton College, Oxford, where he remained two years.

He became an ensign in the 35th Regiment and saw his first active service at Boston in 1775.  The next year he was promoted to the command of the Queen's Rangers, with the rank of Major.  He was engaged in the army until the end of the Revolution, when he returned to England, where the next ten years of his life were spent between London and the family estate in Devonshire.  In December, 1782, he married Miss Elizabeth Posthuma Gwillim, of Old Court Hereford.

In 1790 he was elected to Parliament for the division of St. Mawes, Cornwall.  However, he served but one year. Canada having been divided into two provinces -- Upper and Lower -- in 1791, Colonel Simcoe was named as the first Lieutenant-Governor of Upper Canada, and immediately sailed to take up his new duties.

He arrived in Kingston on July 1, 1792.  The Government was organized there, an election held that summer, and the first parliament of the Province convened at Newark (now Niagara-on-the-Lake) on the 17th September, 1792.

It has been said that while Governor Simcoe evidenced the most disinterested devotion to what he considered the best interests of the Province, yet his ideas of colonial government were dominated by military and aristocratic conceptions quite unsuited to the pioneer conditions of Upper Canada.  The result was friction between Lord Dorchester, the Governor-General, and himself.

He left Canada in September, 1796, and was sent on a mission to San Domingo.  There his health broke down, and he was obliged to return to England once more.  He was made a Lieutenant-General, and in 1800-1 was in command at Plymouth.  He was also Colonel of the 22nd Foot Regiment.

Desiring further service abroad he was named Commander-in-Chief for India.  However, his health again failed, and he died at his home near Exeter, Devonshire, on the 26th October, 1806.

A remarkably fine monument to his memory adorns the south wall of Exeter Cathedral.  It was executed by the celebrated sculptor, Flaxman, and is one of the finest things in this cathedral, which is one of the most beautiful in England.  On page 2 of this book [below on this web page] is a picture of this memorial.  It is strange that in the inscription not a word is said about his military or civic services.  The only thing to connect him with this country is the figure of the Indian at the right side.

At the bottom of the tablet, in lettering too small to be seen in the engraving, are the following lines:  'During the erection of this monument his eldest son, Francis Gwillim Simcoe, Lieut. in the 27th Regiment of Foot, born at Wolford Lodge, in this county, June 6th, 1791, fell in the breach of the Siege of Badajoz, April 6th, 1812, in the 21st year of his age.'

Not only were the County of Simcoe, and our own town, as also Lake Simcoe, named for our first Governor, but several cities and towns in Ontario have their Simcoe streets as well.  And the Townships of West Gwillimbury in Simcoe County, and North Gwillimbury and East Gwillimbury, in York, bear names derived from the maiden name of Lady Simcoe.  Besides these names, the Townships of Tiny, Tay and Flos, in Simcoe County, were named for three poodle dogs, owned by the General's wife."

[Compiler's Comment: On 7 Jun 2010 we received an email from Elizabeth Goetz which said in part: "you are in error in saying that Tay, Flos and Tiny were named for Simcoe's wife's dogs. The dogs belonged to Lady Sarah Maitland, wife of Sir Peregrine Maitland, Lieutenant Governor after Simcoe."]

Simcoe Mural
Mural Tablet in Exeter Cathedral.  The inscription reads as follows:  'Sacred to the memory of John Graves Simcoe, Lieutenant-General in the Army, and Colonel of the 22 Regiment of Foot, who died on the 26th day of October, 1806, aged 54.  In whose life and character the virtues of the hero, the patriot, and the Christian were so eminently conspicuous, that it may justly be said he served his king and his country with a zeal exceeded by only his piety toward his God.'

SimcoeJG.jpg (10727 bytes)
John Graves Simcoe
Born 25 Feb 1752
Died 26 Oct 1806

Source: Simcoe and Norfolk County published by Pearce Publishing, 1924
(Out of print. Copy available for inspection at Norfolk Historical Society.)
Copyright 1997-2017 John Cardiff and Norfolk Historical Society