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On the 9th of April 1831 at the age of 29 or 30, my great-great-great-grandfather William Campbell, son of John Campbell and Margaret Asher, left Elgin in Morayshire, Scotland by ship and sailed to Canada. He arrived in Montreal on 26th May, 1831, the first of my ancestors to set foot on Canadian soil. His wife Isabella (née Masson, alternatively Mason) followed in March 1832.

William Campbell and Isabella Masson were born in Morayshire near the North Sea, William in 1801 and Isabella in 1796. Family legend has it that William, crossing a brook one day, overheard a beautiful singing voice and was enchanted. The owner of the voice was Isabella, daughter of Alexander Masson and Isobel Hardie (or Hardy). William and Isabella married in 1827.

Cottertown of Budgate, home of Alexander Masson (Duffus Parish, Morayshire)

One hundred and eighty-two years ago this month William Campbell left Scotland for Canada; he bought land from his brother John who had arrived before him and built a house at Lot 31, Concession 9, Thurlow Township, Hastings County (Ontario), and his wife joined him the following year. It is not known what prompted the Campbells to emigrate; they set sail for Canada before the potato crops failed in the late 1830s and before the peak of eviction of Highlanders from their homes in the 1840s and 1850s.

The first steamship, the Royal William, crossed the Atlantic in 1833, so William and Isabella would have travelled by sailing ship. William left Elgin on the 9th of April, 1831 and did not arrive in Montreal until late May.

View of Montreal Harbour, 1830s

William continued on overland to what is now southern Ontario but was then known as the Province of Upper Canada, a colonial territory of Great Britain. The population of Upper Canada (236,702 according to an 1831 census) consisted of Canadian- and foreign-born British (about half the population), Acadians, Metis, First Nations (Anishinaabeg: Odawa, Ojibwe/ Chippewa, Algonquin, and Iroquois), United Empire Loyalists, and freed and fugitive American slaves.

Upper Canada, 1800

William and Isabella raised nine children: Flora (my great-great-grandmother), Elizabeth, William, John, Isabella, Margaret, Alexander, Helen, and [unknown female]. The first three of their children were born in Scotland and the rest in Thurlow Township, Hastings County, Ontario. William, who had been a stonemason by profession in Scotland, was justice of the peace for Hastings County, and a farmer.

Painting by George Ackerman of the Campbell homestead, 1866

The Campbell house in the 1980s

Isabella Campbell and her daughters

William Campbell’s gravestone with Masonic symbol, Roslin, Ontario

My information is that Isobel Hardie Masson, mother of Isabella Campbell, is also buried at Roslin so she must have at some point joined her daughter and son-in-law in Canada. Apparently her husband Alexander Masson died and is buried in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. How this came to be, I do not know. There is some suggestion that Isobel Hardie was somehow related to Captain Thomas Hardy, to whom Admiral Horatio Nelson addressed his famous deathbed words “Kiss me, Hardy” after being fatally wounded in the Battle of Trafalgar, but I have no proof of the veracity of this story.

Note: Much of the information in this post is taken from the book William and Isabella Masson Campbell of Hastings County, Ontario: their ancestors and descendants by Margaret D. Leslie Lindner, another descendant of William and Isabella Campbell and their daughter Flora Campbell Leslie. The photos of William and Isabella, Alexander Masson’s house, the page from William Campbell’s notebook, the image of the Campbell homestead painting, the photo of their homestead taken in the 1980s, the photo of Isabella and her daughters, and the photos of William’s gravestone are also taken from that book.

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