‘Voices from the Past’: Samuel Smith—sentry, soldier, surveyor, settler

By BOB McCARTHY
Lambton Shield

Pictured: Black locust trees planted along Smith Falls Road.

Canadians and Americans alike have all heard about the American War of Independence in the 1770s, or the Revolutionary War as it was referred to by people loyal to the British. A well-known American hero of this war was Paul Revere, who warned the Americans that “The British are Coming.”

However, very few Canadians and probably no Americans know about our Canadian equivalent of Paul Revere. About 35 years later, during the War of 1812, a Canadian born member of the Militia warned the British and Canadian forces that “The Americans are coming.”

His name was Samuel Smith. What if you had a chance to talk with him just a few weeks before his death in 1857? What might he tell you?

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Welcome to my home.  I have lived on this land for over 30 years now, back even before it was called Lambton.  I will tell you more about my home here in Euphemia Township shortly, but first let me tell you about my years before I settled here.

I am named Samuel Smith.  My parents were United Empire Loyalists who came from New Jersey to Ancaster here in Upper Canada because they remained loyal to the British crown following what the rebels to the south call the American War of Independence.  This rebellion against our British friends happened during the 1770s. 

I was born in Ancaster in the year of 1795.  By early October of 1812, I was just 17 years of age.  Rumours of war with our neighbours to the south, now known as the United States of America, had surfaced and I was serving as a volunteer in the 49th Regiment in the Company commanded by Captain John Williams.

Because of the threat of an invasion from the south, our regiment and other units of the Canadian Militia had been called up in 1812 for service with the British forces here in British North America. We had been ordered to the area of Queenston Heights. 

I am sure that you have heard of Paul Revere.  He was the one who rode his horse one night to warn the rebel forces that "the British are coming" at the start of their so-called War of Independence.  Did you know that I was the one many years later who warned our British allies and our Canadian Militia forces that "the Americans are coming"?

I will never forget the early morning of 13 October 1812.  It was about 4 a.m and I was alone on sentry duty, standing silently in driving rain along the banks of the Niagara, straining to see if anything was moving out there.

When I heard some sounds across the river to the south, I concentrated as hard as I could to try to see what was happening in the early morning fog. Then I saw some American soldiers boarding boats to cross over to our side. I realized very quickly that there were many boats, all seeming to be coming straight at me.

Without wasting a moment, I ran to a guard house and summoned help.

When the general himself appeared, I told him that an attack was beginning across the river, that the Americans were coming. 

Now, the Americans, they outnumbered us for sure that day, probably about four to one. We had on our side only about 1,000 British soldiers and about 600 Canadian militiamen and Indians.

All of our men were quickly roused and in place beyond cover in time to meet the enemy with a hail of musket and cannon fire as they tried to get off the ships and come ashore.

We were lucky. We lost fewer than 100 that day. I feel proud that my actions that day helped our forces to turn back the Americans.

Let me read to you what I wrote in my diary 20 years later on Saturday, the 13th day of October in 1832.

Twenty years ago this morning, I was in the Battle of Queenston, fighting the Americans.  I was on the second patrol and discovered the enemy putting their boats in the Niagara River, then shoving up from the five mile meadow, say three miles below Queenston.  

I did not know then, but the American invasion of the Canadas, in what is now known as the War of 1812, had just begun.  That war would continue for more than three years until 1815, but with the help of our Indian allies, our side would prove to be victorious. The unfortunate thing was that the war caused the death or maiming of so many young men on both sides.

Even though I was very frightened at the time, I have always been proud to say that I served my country and my empire well.  I will always know that I was the first one to warn my comrades that the Americans were coming to invade our country.

During the war, I was honoured to meet and serve with a surveyor who lived in Lambton County, one of my officers, a Captain by the name of Mahlon Burwell.  I would meet him again a number of years later.            

Following my service during the War of 1812, I decided to become a surveyor myself, working at first in Haldimand County and later in Kent County, which then included what is now Lambton County.

In 1818, I began to work as a deputy surveyor for Captain Burwell.  He assigned me to help with the surveying of parts of what was then the Western District.  The areas I helped survey were along the St Clair River and they later became known as Moore and Sombra Townships. 

By the year of 1822, I was married to my wife Sarah.

Soon after that, I completed the survey for what was then known as Zone Township of Kent County.  In my survey, I numbered each of the lots from 1-35 numbering from south to north and the concessions from number 1-11, numbering from west to east. 

Each lot, by the way, was about 200 acres. Land is still being sold according to my surveying, with people buying land in the east or west half of lot number so and so on concession number so and so.

In later years, the northern part of Zone Township, the part with lots numbered from 16 to 35, would become the Township of Euphemia here in Lambton. 

Euphemia Township, by the way, was named in 1840 by Malcolm Cameron, who was then an elected representative for the Western District.  He named it to honour his mother, Euphemia McGregor Cameron. 

Before I tell you of my later years, allow me to read to you from my diary about some of my days as a surveyor.

Thursday, 24 May, 1821

Continued my line with much difficulty crossing Bear Creek.  Sent J. Quart up the creek with a canoe to the rapids.  He could not proceed any further.  I sent him and another man.  They undertook to go up the rapids and upset the canoe and lost an axe….  They found the axe in the rapids of the creek.  I continued and measured across eight lots and returned to the camp at dark.

Tuesday, 29 May, 1821

Arrived at twelve o’clock midday.  I sent the men down the river to Joshua Cornwall’s.  I went up to the Moraviantown to get an Indian to go out with me but they were busy planting corn… I eat mush and milk for supper.  Went to the barn to sleep.

Thursday, 20 September, 1832

I then started with Holmes and Jones and travelled up Bear Creek 4 ½ miles to the grist mill on Lot 16 in the 1st Concession of Zone.  Holmes could not go any further with the team.  Put our beef and peas in the mill.  I could not get any flour and wheat ground as the water had failed, but the miller promised to grind tomorrow morning.

Sunday, 23 September, 1832

I started with my small party and loaded the three canoes that was brought down yesterday and went up Bear Creek to Mr. Bell’s store.  Stored our provisions there on Lot 32, west half of the 5th concession of Zone.  Sent William Armstrong off up Bear Creek in Mosa, about 10 miles, to hire more men.

I went on to survey in the Vienna and Port Burwell area the next year and completed some surveying for the Canada Company.  A few years later, I was one of the surveyors on the Huron Road from Guelph to Goderich and continued to work as a surveyor right through to the year of 1854.  But in all of my travels, I found that I liked the Euphemia area best, especially the land along the Sydenham.

In 1835, I settled on 600 acres on Lot 27, Concession 4 of Euphemia Township with my sons Hugh and Oliver and my daughter Sarah.  It was at a bend in the Sydenham River where it broadened and the water tumbled over the rocks.  I erected grist, saw, fulling, carding and turning mills along the river near to the rapids.  The area around my property soon became known as Smith Falls.

There is a good stone quarry on my property.  My son Oliver has said that he would like some day to mine here to provide building stones for house and barn foundations.

Did I tell you that I had to serve again in the Militia during the Rebellion of 1837?  Following my service to King and Country for a second time, I again returned to my land in Euphemia.

You probably know about the persecution of black slaves by their masters to the south of the Great Lakes.  But did you know that some slaves, fleeing north on the Underground Railroad, found their way this far north to my property, instead of stopping down around Dresden.

I remember well the day that Randall Henderson and his wife Laura, two black folks, turned up here. They were good Christian people and followed the Methodist faith of John Wesley. I gave them land to share-crop.  They are both good workers and will always be welcome to work on my land.

Now, you might have noticed the row of trees along the road as you approached. Those are black locust trees planted by Randall and Laura to remind them of the friends they left behind when they fled north.  They have told me that this is the kind of trees that are planted for shade along the entrance road on the property down south where they were slaves.  Do you not think these trees look impressive?  I hope that they will continue to grow for many more years.

I finished with my surveying a few years ago in eighteen and fifty-four.  Some time before that, my wife Sarah had died, but I was not alone.  I am sorry to say that my wife and I experienced some difficulties and were not living together during much of our marriage.  I certainly hope that my children will be more successful in their own marriages.

Did you know that none of my children were born in this part of the country?  They were all born in Ancaster, but my sons, Hugh and Oliver, and my daughter Sarah, moved here from Ancaster to help me clear some of my land and build a home.

Only a few years after I finished as a surveyor, we were hit one day by a terrible fire.  It was in eighteen and fifty-six on the day after Christmas.  Early that morning, we were awakened by one of our sawyers who had found our saw mill aflame, a fire which quickly spread to the woolen factory right next to it.  We lost so much that day. 

Our saw mill, which had been back in operation less than two months after installing new machinery, would soon be burned to the ground.  With the burning of the woolen factory next to the saw mill, we also lost a new double carding machine and picker, new machines for shearing and fulling, a press stove, nappers, a turning lathe and a dye house.  We suffered such a great loss.

Everything inside both buildings was also destroyed by the fire—many bushels of corn, many barrels of lime cement, thousands of board feet of valuable black walnut lumber, and so many other items too numerous to mention.  I did not have any insurance for the loss that must have totaled more than ten thousand dollars.

Now, I must bid you farewell. I am feeling very tired. Too many memories.

Historical notes from the author

The old Smith homestead is on property once owned by Samuel Smith along the west side of today’s Smith Falls Road.  Looking out the front door of the home, you can see across the road to the Eacott Cemetery, a family burial ground, which was also used to inter the remains for other local pioneers in this area. 

Among those whose remains rest in this cemetery is Samuel Smith (1795-1857).  A memorial plaque located in the cemetery reads:

While serving in the Canadian Militia as a sentry on
13 October 1812, Samuel Smith spied American forces
embarking for an invasion of Canada at Queenston
and promptly notified his commander.

How different our lives might be today if the Americans had successfully crossed the river at Queenston that day.

The remnants of 100+ year old black locust trees brought north along the Underground Railroad still shade a stretch of Smith Falls Road.  It is easy to imagine that you might be travelling along a road leading to the house on one of the plantations we often see in pictures of the old south.

From 1819 on, Samuel Smith assisted in surveying parts of Moore and Sombra Townships and was the lead surveyor for much of the surveying done in Eastern Lambton, including Euphemia Township in 1822 and Brooke Township in 1831.

The Underground Railroad provided a route for fleeing slaves to seek freedom by heading north.  This was not a train that ran secretly or underground.  It was instead a series of sympathetic people, both black and white, who were in opposition to the idea of people of any colour being enslaved.

Terms familiar to railroad users, such as Conductor and Terminal were known to those helping escaped slaves but were not known to those employed by plantation owners to capture what they considered their property.  The idea of a secret railroad running under the ground was so convincing that people actually believed that there was a network of escape tunnels running from the south to the north. 

Two of the slaves who escaped up this route were Randall and Laura Henderson.  Census documents confirm that the two of them lived on Samuel Smith’s farm.

Ontario was first divided into districts and after that into counties. The area now known as Lambton was originally part of Kent County in Upper Canada’s Western District. Counties were made up of a series of townships that were rectangular, except where they bordered a body of water such as a lake or a river.

Generally, each Township was divided into concessions, about 1.25 miles in width, which were numbered with Roman Numerals.  Concessions were then divided into lots, with each lot usually 200 acres in size.  These lots could then be divided into two halves, each 100 acres in size.

Land linear measurements likely used by surveyors such as Samuel Smith during the 1800s included:

 1 hand= 1/3 foot=4 inches
 1 foot= 3 hands= 12 inches
 1 link= 1/100 chain= 0.66 foot
 1 chain= 66 feet = width of usual road allowance
 1 rod= 1 pole = 1 perch (1/4 chain = 16.5 feet)
 1 yard= 3 feet= 1 chain
1 furlong=10 chains= 660 feet
1 mile= 8 furlongs = 80 chains (5,280 feet)
1 pace= 1 mile/1000  = 5.28 feet
1 league = 3 miles= 24 furlongs (15,840 feet)
1 concession depth = 100 chains = 6,600 feet = 1.25 miles

 One of the entries on April 20, 1833, in Samuel Smith’s diary records what was likely the first birth of a child in Brooke Township as follows:

 “I also found a squatter in the township by the name of Neil McCall who has made two acres of improvement on lot 25 in the sixth and seventh concessions.  The man is said to be steady and honest and industrious.  He has a wife and two children; the youngest was born in the said township last December.”

The fire on Samuel Smith’s property was described in the Sarnia Observer of January 8, 1857.

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  • Leona Wright

    Interesting information! My family is descendants of Samuel Smith and it is wonderful to see an interest in Samuel’s life, and his involvement in the war of 1812/1837. My genealogical line is Samuel, Oliver, Hugh, Clarence and myself.

    I would be interested in any other information you may have and are willing to share. Also, please contact me if you have any further questions on the Smith family.

  • Marilyn Hardsand

    I also am connected with Samuel. I have shared this story with anyone who will listen. I believe Samuel’s story need to be heard! I come thru Samuel’s brother Benjamin.

    Thank you for telling his story!

  • Barry Ecott

    I’m trying to find out any information regarding the Ecott or Eacott name in Lambton County Ontario Canada.

    I’d appreciate hearing anything anybody may have

  • Colin Rich

    My grandpa was Samuel Smith’s direct bloodline, Leona is my mom’s Aunt… It is amazing to learn how our family basically started this country now called CANADA. What a pleasure to know how connected we really are to this land!! Family is important and I am just learning now how much the family had an impact. I can hope that I will be able to do such great things as THEY. This article was very enlightening.

  • Danielle van Benthem

    The Hendersons were my family, nice to get a little glimpse into their life