The Memoir of Adiel Sherwood (1779-1874)

.The following detailed record was written about 1868 by the former sheriff of Leeds and Grenville at the request of Dr. William Canniff of Toronto who was writing a history of the province entitled, History of the Settlement of Upper Canada (1869). Dr. Canniff, however, chose not to use Sherwood’s paragraphs in that book.

Later, the material written by Adiel Sherwood was used and heavily edited in the 1879 publication of the History of Leeds and Grenville by Thad. W.H. Leavitt.  The Leavitt version is printed below.  The unedited original is only accessible in the collection of the Library & Archives Canada, MG24 165 – The Adiel Sherwood Papers.


At the conclusion of the Revolutionary War, in 1783, the first settlers of Upper Canada were residing in Lower Canada, at and between Quebec and Montreal. Two Provincial corps deserve especial notice; they were stationed at St. Johns, about 27 miles from Montreal, on the south side of the River St. Lawrence. One was commanded by Major Jessup, the other by Major Rogers, the forces under their command being actually the very first settlers of Leeds and Grenville.

About the first of June 1784, they came up, and located along the bank of the St. Lawrence, commencing a short distance west of the Provincial line, and extending even to the Bay of Quinte. The total number of new settlers who entered the Province in 1784 was computed at 10,000.

The river was ascended by means of small boats, called batteaux. These barques were built at Lachine, and were capable of carrying from four to five families each. Twelve boats constituted a brigade. Each brigade was placed under the command of a conductor, with five men in each boat, two of whom were placed on each side to row, with one in the stern to steer. It was the duty of the conductor to give directions for the safe management of the flotilla. When a rapid was ascended, part of the boats were left at the foot, in charge of one man, the remaining boats being doubly manned, and drawn up by means of a rope fastened to the bow, leaving four men in the boat, with setting poles, to assist. The men at the end of the rope walked along the bank, but were frequently compelled to wade in the current, upon the jagged rocks. On reaching the head of the rapid, one man was left in charge, and the boatmen returned for the balance of the brigade.

The Loyalists were furnished rations by the Government, until they could clear the land, and provide for themselves. The seed given consisted of spring wheat, pease, Indian corn, and potatoes. Farming and other implements were provided, consisting of axes, hoes, augers, etc., and, in some instances, a kind of metal mill, in which to grind the corn and wheat. I am not aware that any of the mills were distributed in Leeds and Grenville. Commissioners were appointed to issue the rations and other supplies.

At that time, the country was a howling wilderness. Not a single tree had been cut by an actual settler, from the Province line to Kingston, a distance of 150 miles. By the original survey, the lots were designated by a post planted, plainly marked with the number of each lot.

The following is a short list of the actual first settlers in the County of Leeds, whom I remember:
First was my father, Thomas Sherwood, who was the first actual settler in the counties. He located on lot number one, in the first concession of Elizabethtown, about the first of June, 1784. My father was one of a family of three brothers, named Seth Sherwood, Thomas Sherwood and Adiel Sherwood. Thomas was born at Old Stratford, in the State of Connecticut, in the year 1745. He emigrated to the State of New York, where he located on a beautiful farm, situated about five miles north of Fort Edward, and but a short distance from the spot where General Burgoyne surrendered. Both of my fathers brothers settled in the same neighbourhood.

At the commencement of the Revolutionary Bar, my father remained loyal to the British Crown, and as soon as he could escape, made his way, via Lake Champlain, to St. Johns, Lower Canada, where he found assembled a large number of British troops. He was at once employed in the Secret Service, going into the States and enlisting men to serve His Majesty King George III. His family remained in the States until 1779, when they removed to St. Johns, and he was appointed a subaltern officer in Major Jessup’s corps. Both of his brothers entered the Continental army as officers.

My father was frequently called upon to run the side lines of the lots for the first settlers, and to show them the location of their land. Though not a legalized surveyor, he had the instrument, and understood its practical use. He was ever ready to give his assistance and advice to the new-comer, and rendered great service in promoting the settlement of the county. He was made a captain in the first regiment of Leeds, becoming a magistrate when the first commission was issued. At that time, magistrates were legally qualified to perform the marriage ceremony; and he probably united in the holy bonds of matrimony more individuals than has ever fallen to the lot of any clergyman in the United Counties, with the exception, perhaps, of the Rev. William Smart.

I have frequently heard him mention the circumstance of a young man asking him to perform the ceremony, at the same time confessing that he had no money, but promising to make a good wheat fan. The offer was accepted, and, in due time, the fan was delivered. An old man once came on the same errand, his offer being a corn basket, with oak splints, and so compactly,,that it was ‘warranted to hold water.’ It is needless to say that he was made happy.

My father lived on the farm on which he first pitched his tent, and died there in 1826. I am happy to say that he lived in comfort, and died in peace.

SHERWOOD -Adiel (ca 1850 by Lock) sepia

Adiel Sherwood in a painting by Frederick W. Lock ca.1850

The following are the names of a many of the early settlers in the County of Leeds: Joseph White, Asa Webster, David Kilborn, Reuben Mott, Henry Mott, Conrad Peterson, Jonathon Mills Church, Edward Leahy, Henry Elliott, Bartholomew Carley, Levius Wickwire, Jonathon Wickwire, William Buell, Bemsley Buell, Jonathon Buell, Samuel Wright, William Wright, Abraham Elliott, Adam Cole, John Cole, Jonathon Fulford, Captain Joseph Jessup, Six Mutchellore, Ensign Thomas Smith, Enoch Mallory, Elisha Mallory, Joseph Buck, Asa Landon, Sr., Alexander Bernard, Henry Manhard, Lieutenant James Breakenridge, Ruggles Munsell, Matthew Howard, Stephen Howard, John Howard, Peter Freel, Terence Smith, James Miller, Daniel McEathron, John McEathron, Daniel Shipman, Joseph McNish, Levi Hotchkiss, Robert Putnam, James Cooney, Henry McLean, Robert McLean, Alan Grant, Joseph White, Jr., William Clow, John Munroe, and Levi Comstock.

The distance from the Province line to my father’s farm, three miles below Brockville, was 95 miles, and to the port this side of Kingston, 50 miles. At the end of each mile was planted a red cedar post, having marked on it the number of miles from the Province line. This line of road was made some years after the first settlement, but I have forgotten the year.

For many years, the first and only legalized clergyman, within a hundred miles of this part of the Province, was Parson Stuart, who was a member of the Episcopal Church. The next clergyman, I believe, was the Rev. Mr. Bethune, a Presbyterian clergyman, who settled near Cornwall. Next was the Rev. Mr. McDowell who located on the Bay of Quinte. He came from the United States, about the year 1800, and on his way stopped in the neighbourhood of Brockville, where, at that time, I was teaching a common school. I believe that the first public prayer he ever made in Canada was at an exhibition of my school, on the day of his arrival.

In 1811, the Rev. William Smart arrived in Brockville, being the first minister of any denomination to settle in that place, or, for that matter, within fifty miles of it.

The first doctor was Solomon Jones, domiciled about seven miles below Brockville. He was one of the early settlers, and the first in point of education and respectability.

One of the first magistrates, and after some time, Judge of the District Court, was Samuel Sherwood, who had studied law with Lawyer Walker, in Montreal, for two or three years. He was the first lawyer appointed in the District of Johnstown; Jacob Farrand, the first in the eastern District; McLewen, of Kingston, and the father of the late Judge Hagerman, the first in the Bay of Quinte. The lawyers were all appointed by authority vested in the Lieutenant- Governor of the Province, authorizing him to appoint a certain number of persons, such as he considered qualified to discharge their duties― hence arose the by-words, “Heaven-born lawyers.”

School teachers were often employed for three or six months only, as boys could not attend in the summer.

I recollect seeing pigeons flying in such numbers that they almost darkened the horizon, and so low, often, as to be knocked down with fish-poles. I saw where a near neighbour killed thirty at one shot.

When I was a boy, probably about thirteen or fourteen years old, I went, in the autumn, on a fishing excursion, to a place called Sandy Creek, on the south side of Lake Ontario, being in company with four men, in a Canadian batteaux. At that place, I saw ducks flying in immense numbers, round and over a marsh; when they rose, they made a noise like the roar of very heavy thunder.

Not many years since, I rode out with a gentleman to Temperance Mills, situated near Temperance Lake, where a small spring keeps open all winter. The fish resort to the spring in the coldest weather. During our visit we actually caught a large number of fine fish, scooping them out with a long-handled frying-pan.

I will now detail to you a short history of myself, and some personal observations of an early date.

I was born on the 16th day of May, 1779, on a farm near Fort Edward, New York. I was brought to St. Johns, in Lower Canada, while at my mother’s breast. When I was five years old, my father removed to the banks of the St. Lawrence, coming up with the first brigade of batteaux. I saw the first tree cut in the United Counties by an actual settler; the first hill of corn and potatoes planted, – but alas!- where is the axe, or the man who did the work? Not a single individual, that I am aware of, is now living of the first settlers, but myself.

While many difficulties were encountered in the early settlement, yet we realized many advantages. We were always supplied with venison; deer were very plentiful, partridge and pigeons in abundance, plenty of fish for all who wished to catch them, no taxes to pay, and an abundance of wood at our doors. Although deprived of many kinds of fruit, we obtained the natural productions of the country — strawberries, raspberries, gooseberries, blackberries, and plenty of red plums. The cranberries were found in abundance in the marshes.

The only animal which we brought with us was a little dog named Tipler, that proved almost invaluable in hunting.

After the first year, we raised a supply of Indian corn, but had no mill to grind it, and were, therefore, compelled to pound it in a large mortar, manufacturing what we called “samp” which was made into Indian bread, called, by the Dutch, “suppawm.” The mortar was constructed in the following manner: we cut a log from a large tree, say, two and a half feet in diameter, and six feet in length, planted it firmly in the ground, so that about two feet projected above the surface; then carefully burned the centre of the top, so as to form a considerable cavity, which was then scraped clean. We generally selected an ironwood tree, about six inches in diameter, to form the pestle; and many a time have I pounded at our mill, until the sweat ran merrily down my back. Although this simple contrivance did well enough for corn, it did not answer for grinding wheat. The Government, seeing the difficulty, built a mill back of Kingston, where the inhabitants, for seven miles below Brockville, got all their grinding done. In our neighbourhood they got along very well in summer by lashing two wooden canoes together. Three persons would unite to manage the craft, each taking a grist. It generally took about a week to perform the journey. After horses were procured, kind Providence furnished a road on the ice, until the road was passable by land. What is wonderful is, that, during the past fifty years, it has not been practicable for horses and sleighs to traverse the ice from Brockville to Kingston, such a way having been provided only when absolutely necessary for the settlers.

Lieutenant Breakenridge, who I believe, was a lieutenant in Major Roger’s corps, was appointed at an early period as Lieutenant of the County of Leeds, being authorized to make arrangements necessary for the formation of the militia, commissioning the respective officers and organizing the force. I received an ensign’s commission in the First Regiment of Leeds Militia, under his command as colonel. At that time I was but seventeen years of age. From Francis Gore, Lieutenant-Governor of the Province, I received a commission as adjutant; by General Brock I was created a captain; by Sir Peregrine Maitland, a major, In 1830, Sir John Colborne conferred upon me the rank of Colonel of the First Regiment of Leeds. In June, 1813, I was appointed Paymaster of the Eastern and Johnstown Districts; the same year I became Treasurer of the District of Johnstown, and was placed on the commission as a magistrate. In 1815, I received the appointment of D.F. Clerk of the Crown for the District. In 1816, I was made Commissioner for the Branch Roads in the same district. In 1819, I was appointed a member of the Land Board; and in 1829, Sheriff for the District of Johnstown.

After fifty years service as a militia officer, I resigned, and was gazetted as retiring with the full rank of colonel. After my appointment as Sheriff, I resigned my office as Treasurer, which I held for twenty-five years; and, last of all, I resigned my situation as Sheriff, having officiated in that capacity for thirty-five years.

Adiel Sherwood

Old Court House 2 1879

Sheriff Adiel Sherwood worked for many years in the old Brockville Court House, as depicted in this old drawing.

In addition the following shorter letter was written by Sheriff Sherwood to Dr. Canniff:

Brockville, March 10th 1868

Dear Sir:

In answer to your letter, as regards slaves, I only recollect two or three who were settled in the District of Johnstown. One coloured man, in particular, named Caesar Congo, was owned by Captain Justus Sherwood, the grandfather of Mr. George Sherwood, County Judge at Belleville. Captain Justus Sherwood came, with his family, in the same brigade of boats with my father, and located two miles above Prescott. I recollect distinctly Caesar Congo, then a stout young man. He often took the late Mr. Justice (Levius P) Sherwood (who died at Toronto) (and was a son of Justus Sherwood) and myself on his back, to assist us in walking, while the boats were being drawn up the rapids. The boys used to call Caesar, Scippio. Caesar was sold to a half-pay officer, Mr. Bottom, who settled about six miles above Prescott. After twenty years’ service, Mr. Bottom gave Caesar his freedom. Caesar then married a free coloured woman, and settled in the Town of Brockville, where he lived many years, and died. Daniel Jones, Esq., father of the late Sir Daniel Jones of Brockville, had, at one time, a female coloured slave. There were also a few more slaves residing in the District, but so far from my residence that I can give no account of them from personal knowledge.

The first Lodge of Free Masons that I am aware of, was held in the Township of Elizabethtown, near Brockville. I am unable to give the precise date. The members consisted principally of half-pay officers, who were located along the bank of the St. Lawrence. I understood that they met under a travelling warrant. It was some years after the settlement of the Province that the regular organization of the fraternity took place. I believe it was accomplished by Mr. Jarvis, who came out as Secretary of the Province, and acted under the appointment of the Duke of Sussex, then Grand Master; Mr. Jarvis assuming the duties of Provincial Grand Master, and issuing the necessary warrants.

Adiel Sherwood



Sherwood Adiel

Adiel Sherwood in 1872

Adiel Sherwood retained his position as Sheriff of the District for 35 years until he gave up the job in 1864. He had married Mary Baldwin (1882-1854), the daughter of Stephen Baldwin, a native of Conn., on October 11, 1801. Their family consisted of one son and seven daughters. They were Julia, William, Mary, Sophia, Maria, Caroline, Amelia, and Harriet. He died in Brockville on March 25, 1874 having almost attained the aged of 95.

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