2011 P.H.S. Spirit Walk, Crown Cemetery
Catharine STEWART was my 5x-great aunt. She was born in 1816 at Moral farm near the village of St. Fillans on the shore of Loch Earn in western Perthshire in the Highlands of Scotland. Moral farm is located at the foot of Dundurn - the same Dundurn after which Dundurn Castle in Hamilton is named. Sir Allan Napier MacNab's ancestors lived right next door to Catharine's family.
Catharine's native tongue was Gaelic, but she was fluently bilingual in English as well. Within two generations of her family's arrival in Canada the Gaelic would be lost.
Catharine was the ninth of eleven children born to Robert Stewart and Catharine McNaughtan-all of whom survived to adulthood, which was highly unusual for that time. On her mother's side she was a distant cousin of the MacNabs of Dundurn. On her father's side she belonged to a bastard cadet branch of the Stewarts of Ardvorlich who were descended from King Robert II of Scots, the first of the Stewart kings, who was himself a grandson of King Robert the Bruce. Thus Catharine could claim a royal ancestry.
The late 18th and early 19th centuries were known in Scotland for the Highland Clearances when many Highland families were evicted from the homes they'd had for hundreds of years and were forced to relocate to the New World. Catharine's family had lived o shore of Lochearn for over 400 years. They were not evicted by force; instead their landlord simply raised their rent so high that they were abandon their farm. It was about this same time that Catharine's father died. So, in 1833, when Catharine was only 17, her widowed mother and all ten of her sisters and brothers boarded a boat, with all their worldly possessions, bound for Canada. The journey would take more than eight weeks. During the trip one of Catharine's brothers-in-law contracted cholera, causing the family to be briefly quarantined upon their arrival in Quebec. After their release they hired a barge to take them and their possessions up the St. Lawrence into Lake Ontario and as far as Old Muddy York (Toronto). However the barge foundered upon the rocks in the St. Lawrence and sunk. The family had to cling to rocks for the whole night before they were rescued in the daylight. All of their possessions sunk to the bottom of the St. Lawrence.
The Stewarts eventually arrived in Hamilton where Sir Alan MacNab took them under his care, gave them a house, and gave Catharine's eldest brother a job as foreman of a road crew building what is now Highway 2.
Catharine's second brother, Robert, my 3x-great-grandfather, acquired 100 acres of farmland here in Puslinch. His wife, Mary Gillespie, was the daughter of Hugh Gillespie, one of the founding elders of Duff's church. Catharine's family was one of the founding families of Duff's and her mother is the “Widow Stewart" listed among the role of the original members.
Catharine's oldest siblings, who were all married, remained in Hamilton. Her second brother, Robert, took his widowed mother and the younger, unmarried siblings, including Catharine, to live with him on his farm in Puslinch. Catharine established herself as an able worker around the house. The first year they barely had time to construct more than a rudimentary wooden shell with a blanket for a door to survive their first winter in Canada. At one point a bear strolled right into their house. For many years they all lived in a one-room wooden cabin. Catharine was a defacto nanny helping her widowed mother raise her younger brothers into men-surviving all the hardships of pioneer life in southern Ontario.
In the winter of 1848, when Catharine was 32, an outbreak of smallpox hit the family. Catharine's mother and her brother Robert and his wife all died within a few months of each other, leaving Robert's four children, ages 2-11, all orphaned. Catharine and her younger brother Peter Stewart took over the family farm, and together they raised their niece and nephews - including my great great grandfather.
After the orphans were adults and able to move out on their own, Catharine's younger brother Peter, finally married. He tore down the old log cabin and built a stone house that still stands to this day. Peter and his wife Catharine McLean had nine children of their own and Catharine Stewart acted as nanny to all of them as well.
Catharine was in her 60s when her last niece was born. Then her brother Peter's wife died prematurely, leaving Peter's children without a mother. Catharine assumed primary care for Peter's children.
Catharine Stewart died in 1904 at the age of 87. She must have been an amazing woman. She never married, nor had any children of her own, but spent her entire life raising two younger brothers and thirteen nieces and nephews.
(Prepared by Rev. Ryk Brown, 20 June 2011)
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