A Short History of It’s Beginnings
The founding of the settlement which became the village of Brockville has its roots in the first wave of Loyalist refugees displaced from their homes during the years of the British – American War of 1776-1783.
In the summer of 1784, the first of these disbanded soldiers and their families began to land all along the north shore of the St. Lawrence River including this area which had been known earlier to the French as, Toniata. The land on which Brockville stands was probably not the first to be chosen by the very first travellers who were more interested in land for farming, but they may have camped overnight near the natural bay which was protected by an oak-covered point of land east of the creek mouth.
In fact, it was this bay and Oak Point which attracted William Buell, a former officer in the King’s Rangers, one of the Loyalist regiments. Buell, a native of Hebron, Connecticut, was 33 years old and had spent the duration of the war in the service of the King. He had married in 1782, Martha, the 20-year old daughter of Andrew Naughton, a loyalist from Farmington, Conn. when they were living in one of the refugee camps south of Montreal.
To William Buell goes the distinction of being the first settler of Brockville. He took up his grant of land on this spot in 1785, and developed the land which he owned into a thriving village. Apparently he was able to interest others in settling here and purchasing land from him. Eventually the small settlement may have become loosely known as Buell’s Bay.
Just to the west, another settler, Daniel Jones, took up the piece of land containing the southern part of the stream we call Buell’s Creek. He built and established a saw mill just north of where this creek empties into the St. Lawrence. Jones was one of seven brothers who had similarly remained loyal to, and fought for the British side in the late revolution. Daniel Jones was eventually granted the west half of lot 12 and all of lot 13 in the first concession. This ran from Ann Street in the west over to Kincaid St.
William Buell’s grant of land was the east half of lot 12 and the west half of lot 11, from Kincaid St. almost over to West Market St.
The eastern portion of present-day downtown Brockville from Buell’s land over to Ford St. was purchased in 1805 by Charles Jones, the eldest son of Ephraim Jones of Augusta. This land comprising the east half of lot 11 and all of lot 10 was originally granted to the family of the late Lt. Peter McLaren who was killed before the Peace Settlement of 1783. Charles Jones went on to become one of the most influential men in eastern Upper Canada. A merchant and mill-owner in the area most of his life, he also gained appointment to the Legislative Council for Upper Canada. Similarly to William Buell, he was soon to capitalize on the continued desire of immigrants to settle in the village and was able to sell parcels of his land to newcomers.
It was thus that these three gentlemen became responsible for the pattern of the early development of our city, and share the honour of being the founders of Brockville.
In the early 1800’s, Elizabethtown was the name applied to both the village and the surrounding township by the government. The counties of Leeds and Grenville were part of the District of Johnstown and the regional administration for the District was set up in the village of Johnstown 15 miles east of Elizabethtown. It was there that the district Magistrates held regular courts and where a jail was kept.
By 1808, it was decided that a more central location was needed for the Court House and Gaol in the Johnstown District and a suitable site in Elizabethtown was sought. All three land owners here were eager to give a piece of land to the government to re-locate here. The high ground on Buell’s land, where the present Brockville Court House stands, was finally chosen and a deed was given by him on 16 May 1809. This proved to be perhaps the step which sealed the future prosperity of this settlement, as it seemed to doom that of Johnstown.
A large brick court house and gaol were erected shortly and a wide avenue was laid out down to the river, all on land donated by William Buell.
It wasn’t long before the inhabitants of the growing community began to seek a name which would be distinct from that of the Township of Elizabethtown. On a survey of land and lots owned by Buell dated 1811 was applied the name Williamstown.
This was not universally accepted by the relatives and friends of Charles Jones, who may have thought that Charlestown would be more suitable. In any case, we find that locally, this village is referred to as Brockville as early as August 10, 1812 in a report sent to Major General Isaac Brock by Col. Lethbridge of Kingston who reported having just returned from Prescott and “Brockville“. Gen. Brock at the time was struggling with the administration of the province and the conduct of the war against American invasion. There is also some evidence as well that Charles Jones labelled some of his correspondence to the capital as coming from “Brockville”. The choice of such a name to compliment the Commander-in-chief in Upper Canada must have met with his approval and was starting to be used in Brockville before his untimely death shortly afterwards in October 1812.