Pioneers of Grey County: John Lawrence (1833-1926)

The Lawrences of Grey County

In a previous blog post called My People Came From Wicklow: The Lawrence Experience of 1848, I wrote about some of the obstacles that John and Martha Lawrence overcame in their search for a better life in Canada.  Although nearly 170 years have passed since they undertook their incredible journey, John and Martha left behind a lasting legacy that continues to be remembered and celebrated by their descendants to this day.

I thought it might be interesting to explore the lives of some of John and Martha’s children to see how that first generation fared in what was then considered to be the wilds of Grey County, Ontario.  I chose their son John, who is my own direct ancestor, to be the subject of this blog post.  Instead of trying to write John’s story in my own words, I decided to share his obituary which provides a detailed account of his long life.

Obituary of John Lawrence

It should be noted that John’s obituary would have been based on information provided by surviving family members.  Those who are familiar with the Lawrence story will know that the spelling of the townland of Slieveroe and some of the dates that appear in the article may not be quite right.  I think that’s OK.  It’s part of the human condition that names and dates become difficult to remember over time!  I think it’s significant that John’s obituary appears as his friends and family would have seen it in 1926.  I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I did!

John Lawrence with his mother Martha on her 100th Birthday in 1901

The Durham Chronicle – December 2, 1926

Elora Mill

In her book, History Of Elora, author Roberta Allan indicates that the Old Elora Mill (pictured below) was bought by J.M. Fraser in 1846, and was burned in 1859.  Perhaps the burning of the Mill is what caused John Lawrence to leave Elora and rejoin his family in Glenelg.) 

Elora Mill

John Lawrence & Sarah Eva
John Lawrence & Sarah Eva Family – Year Unknown


John Lawrence Family (with dates)

Lawrence Family
Children of John Lawrence and Sarah Jane Eva

Closing thoughts

The obituary of John Lawrence provides us with a glimpse into the life of a Grey County pioneer and certainly makes for fascinating reading.  I found the part about his being thrifty particularly interesting.  Perhaps his experience of leaving Ireland during the famine years had something to do with that.

A family member encouraged me to see if I could locate a will for John Lawrence, given his obituary’s reference to a considerable accumulation of goods.  The staff at Grey Roots Museum & Archives were kind enough to help me with my search, and I was eventually successful in locating the document.  John’s will indicated that upon his death in 1926, he left an estate worth $12,676.12, which in today’s dollars would be worth nearly $180,000.

John’s life was not without hardship.  One of his children died during infancy.  In 1909 John’s son Herbert was killed by a falling tree, a story captured in my previous blog post called A Life Cut Short: Herbert Arnold Lawrence (1889-1909).  In 1918, tragedy struck again when John’s Grandson, Ralph Harrison was killed unhitching a team of horses.

With hard work, John seems to have prospered in Grey County, and enjoyed a standard of living that likely would not have been possible had he remained in Ireland with his parents and siblings.  Today, the Lawrence name can still be seen on mailboxes and signs in the area around Wilder Lake, an enduring legacy to those early pioneers who came before.

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