Family lore

The farm on New Canada Road.

I love to walk. Sweet fern and dry grasses scented the warm air during my late summer walks through the Blue Hills. As Marcel Proust describes in Remembrance of Things Past, scents evoke memories. In my case, the memories are of my grandmother and lazy summer days at New Canada Farm in Danbury, New Hampshire. It wasn’t until cleaning out my mother’s papers after her death that I learned that New Canada Farm was named for a nineteenth-century settlement of French Canadian farmers along the road. New Canada Road starts at Route 4 in Wilmot and hugs the contours of Ragged Mountain before passing into Danbury and turning towards Gulf Brook.

The document I’d located was a “History of New Canada” written by Danbury native Myrl C. Phelps. For nearly thirty years, Myrl helped my grandparents maintain New Canada Farm and, in the summer, pastured his cows and sheep in the fields. I remember Myrl as a warm-hearted man with an accent so thick I could barely understand him. Myrl subtitled his history as “A lot of truth and a lot of bull.” Hmmm.

My earliest memories of New Canada Farm were from the late 1950s. By then, none of the French Canadian families remained on the northwest side of Ragged Mountain. All that was left along New Canada Road were cellar holes, tumbledown buildings, and what my family called “The Farm.” Neither my parents nor my grandparents ever mentioned a French Canadian settlement.

A view of Bog Pond.

Myrl’s account of the settlement of New Canada begins with a Mr. Dudley, who, according to Myrl, settled at the head of Bog Pond in the late 1700s. Mr. Dudley recognized the value of the timber on Ragged Mountain and decided to recruit logging workers from Quebec. Myrl’s narrative describes Mr. Dudley’s trip to an unnamed town in eastern Quebec which resulted in five families arriving at the Dudley farm the next spring. Only one new settler spoke English. Next year three more families arrived. Mryl’s account goes on to describe the early years of the settlement and wraps up with events from the 1930s through the 1960s. The latter events include a few names.

Myrl subtitled his history as “A lot of truth and a lot of bull.” Hmmm.

I decided to attempt to corroborate Myrl’s stories of the early settlement of New Canada by looking through U.S. Federal Censuses as well as Danbury and Wilmot land records (borders between the two towns changed over the years) for possible French Canadian names or individuals whose origin was specified as Quebec. My goal was to identify the names of the eighteenth- and nineteenth-century settlers along New Canada Road, since Mryl’s narrative provided only Dudley’s name. Who had first lived on the land that my grandparents bought, land that shaped my childhood memories? And what were the stories of the settlers? Did they all hail from a single town in Quebec?

I began my search with Mr. Dudley and the U.S. Federal Census. My search was somewhat complicated by county changes and border shifting between the towns of Danbury, Wilmot, Andover, and Alexandria. Danbury was formed from Alexandria, Hill, and Wilmot in 1795. Until 1874 Danbury was part of Grafton County and then joined Merrimack County. In the 1790 census there were Dudleys in Andover, on the south side of Ragged Mountain, but none in Danbury itself. The head of the Bog Pond mentioned by Myrl has always firmly resided in Danbury.

The Dudley surname doesn’t appear in the Danbury censuses until 1850, with entries for Enoch and George Dudley. Enoch purchased land in 1846 and 1848.[1] His 1848 deed explicitly states his intent to log the land. I could not find any Dudley purchasing land in the town of Danbury prior to 1846.[2] So, on the one hand, Mr. Dudley existed and intended to log the land (Myrl’s narrative confirmed); on the other, his arrival to Danbury was about fifty years later than the arrival suggested by Myrl (narrative not confirmed).

Myrl’s narrative mentions very few names, which should have been a red flag, but I missed it.

Sorting fact from fiction on the arrival of families from Quebec proved much more difficult than I anticipated. Myrl’s narrative mentions very few names, which should have been a red flag, but I missed it. The names he does mention – Fleury, Allard, and Hemen – were families from whom my grandparents purchased property beginning in 1920s. Perhaps they came from the same location in Canada? My imagination was in overdrive.

Working backwards from these names using land and census records, I discovered that Alexander Fleury, Jesse/Hyacinthe Allard, and Albert Hemen all arrived from Canada between 1870 and 1880. They purchased land from longtime Danbury/Wilmot residents Edward Farnum, Daniel Downes, Benjamin Kenniston, and James Reed. But they did not share a natal location in Canada.

The Fleurys appear for the first time in the 1880 census along with the Latouche, Austin (Ostigny), and other families I now recognize from my research on the New Canada Road property. Most were listed as farmers, but several were listed as “wood choppers.” The Allards and Hemens purchased their land in the late 1890s and appear in the 1900 census. Review of censuses beginning with 1850 show scattered names that could be from Quebec, but not in a concentration of French names that shouts “settlement.”

It appears, then that Myrl’s several-page description of the New Canada settlement is mostly likely fiction, perhaps created to explain the early twentieth-century presence of French Canadian settlers along the road. Myrl did warn his reader that the narrative was “A lot of truth and a lot of bull.” While there were families and settlers from Quebec along New Canada Road, their arrival and tenure did not follow Myrl’s script. But now I have the names and land records that link to a very important piece of my childhood. I look forward to continued research on the stories of the residents of New Canada Road.

Notes

[1] Grafton County, New Hampshire deeds, 187: 369, 199: 407, FHL film 298379.

[2] Grafton County, New Hampshire deed index, FHL film 7836185 (grantor) and FHL film 7836183 (grantee); Hillsborough County, New Hampshire deed index, FHL film 7836186 (grantor) and FHL film 7836190 (grantee); Merrimack County, New Hampshire deed index, FHL films 7836196, 7836197 (grantors) and FHL films 7836198, 8128850 (grantees).

About Ann Lawthers

Ann G. Lawthers assists our library patrons in enhancing their research skills and in bringing alive their family histories. She is a graduate of Wellesley College, the Harvard School of Public Health and has completed the Boston University Certificate in Genealogical Research program. She has conducted genealogical projects as an independent researcher. Ann is familiar with resources for Massachusetts, Vermont, Pennsylvania, Maryland, New Jersey; and has research experience with Quebec and the Canadian Atlantic Provinces, Ireland and Germany.

2 thoughts on “Family lore

  1. Working on my very own edition of bull. Power was out yesterday so I was forced to reread stuff I already had. In 1979 a “cousin’s aunt” was nearing 104 years and no longer able to research. The “cousin” was hoping to solve the mystery for her aunt. And here I am 2019 still looking. I have a file cabinet full of possibilities but no smoking gun. How depressing is that! If I had all the money that’s been spent on this project I’d be VERY wealthy.

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