Pioneers of Grey County: John Lawrence (1831-1926)

The Lawrences of Grey County

In my 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 first subject in this series of blog posts.  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.  With the exception of the pictures that have been added, the obituary is as it appeared in the Durham Chronicle on 2 December 1926.

A bit of context

It should be noted that John’s obituary would have been based on information provided by his surviving family members, and 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 it 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 have not made these corrections as I wanted to keep this reproduction of John’s obituary as his immediate family members 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


Mr. John Lawrence Died Following Short Illness, Though He had Been In Failing Health for Past Couple of Years.  Was in His 94th Year.

Egremont lost possibly its oldest resident on Tuesday morning of this week when death claimed Mr. John Lawrence.  He was 93 years and six months of age, and death followed a general break-down, noticeable during the past two years, but which took a decided turn for the worse about a week before his death, which occurred at the home of his daughter, Mrs. Thomas Harrison on the 21st concession.

Up to two years ago, Mr. Lawrence enjoyed remarkably good health, but following an accident in which he sustained a broken leg his health began to fail and combined with stomach trouble, his recovery has not been expected for some time.

Mr. Lawrence was one of the pioneers of this township, was a man well-known by a wide circle of friends in his native township and Durham, and his death removes one of the earliest settlers in the section boarding Wilder’s Lake, where he resided for many years.

Wilder Lake
Wilder Lake – Near Town of Durham, ON


The late Mr. Lawrence was born at Sleithrow, County Wicklow, Ireland, in 1831, about twenty miles from Dublin, and came to Canada in 1849 with his parents, the family settling at first at Elora and Fergus.  The next year, in 1850, the parents came to Glenelg, but Mr. Lawrence remained at Elora, where he secured employment in a mill there, and it is thought that it was about the year 1860 that he came to the vicinity of Durham, where he has resided ever since.  (Note: 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

In March, 1863, he was married to Miss Sarah Eva, who died in 1920, the young couple taking up home-making on their farm at lot 7. con. 21, Egremont, where they remained until 1918 when they came to Durham.

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

Following the death of his wife, Mr. Lawrence lived with various members of the family, and last spring went to live with his daughter, Mrs. Thomas Harrison, where he was taken ill and since confined to his bed the greater part of the time.  He was up and about part of the time, however and only last September was able to cast his vote, though shortly after he was again taken ill and has been bedfast most of the time since.  It was only a week before his death however that his condition became alarming and it was then seen that his passing was only a matter of a few days.

Mr. Lawrence can truly be said to have been one of the grand old men of the remaining pioneers who contributed his full share of hard work and industry in wresting Egremont from the wilderness of its early days.  He was thrifty as well, and by an exercise of this today, almost forgotten trait, accumulated a considerable amount of this world’s goods which stood him in good stead during his unproductive years.

Surviving him, of a family of fourteen children, are a family of six sons and six daughters: Philip and William J. in Durham; George in Mount Forest; Arthur in Egremont; Albert in Carman, Manitoba; Thomas in Toronto; Sarah (Mrs. W. Guthrie) San Coulee, Montana; Rose (Mrs. J. Atkinson), Bender, Sask.; Elizabeth (Mrs. J. Clark) Toronto; Minnie (Mrs. Jones Harrison) Egremont, who assisted in attending him in his last illness; Martha (Mrs. Thomas Harrison), also of Egremont, at whose home he died; and Alice in Toronto.  A son, Herbert, was killed about 18 years ago by a falling tree, and another child died in infancy.

John Lawrence Family (with dates)

Lawrence Family
Herbert Lawrence (middle, back row) with a number of his siblings

The funeral is being held from the home of his daughter, Mrs. Thomas Harrison, tomorrow afternoon and will be in charge of the Rev. J. H. Whealen, rector of Trinity and St. Paul’s Anglican churches, of which deceased was a member.

The Chronicle extends the sympathy of the community to the family.

Closing thoughts

The obituary of John Lawrence provides us with a glimpse into the life of a pioneer of Grey County 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, and no doubt shaped the man he would become.

A family member had 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 good 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.

Although the money was split amongst his 12 children, one of whom (Alice) was in a hospital for the insane, it was not an insignificant amount of money.  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.

One thought on “Pioneers of Grey County: John Lawrence (1831-1926)

  1. Once again Chris you have not failed to bless my heart regarding the journey of the Lawrences. Its good to know we come from such good to speak! To think you now reside yourself in the very area they lived. Keep on writing and and researching. I so enjoy reading your blogs and look forward to what you have for us next!

    Liked by 1 person

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