Ellen Watters

Following my direct maternal line is my 4th great grandmother, Ellen Watters. She was born in Co. Tipperary around 1802 to a family of seven boys and one other girl. Her family rented about 2 acres from William Cooper Crawford, and lived about 2 miles from the town of Nenagh. According to Google street view, this is what the area looks like today:

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Around the age of 22, Ellen married Timothy Tierney, a sheepherder and tenant farmer. They had four girls and two boys; the youngest was my 3rd great grandmother Mary, who was born in 1834. This was also during the Tithe Wars. All tenant farmers were to pay a 10% tithe to the Church of Ireland, although as most of the tenants – like my family – were Roman Catholic subsistence farmers. A movement arose during 1831-6 where many of these farmers staunchly protested these tithe collections. These Tithe Wars were an by-product of the Whiteboy movement which had begun a century before. This was secret agrarian organization that fought for the rights of tenants. Members swore oaths, and by night would cause all sorts of mischief to protest high rents, evictions, tithes and other acts of oppression by landlords. The white smocks they wore gave them their name. In 1835, when Mary was just a baby, Timothy was found guilty of the theft of firearms and tithe collection books of a nearby landowner and collector, Gilbert Carter.


Timothy’s trial was in 1835. He was sentenced to life of hard labour in Australia and was shipped out shortly after his trial. He was eventually pardoned nearly years later, but under the condition he never return to the UK or Ireland. He died a pauper in Australia in 1872, having never reunited with his family. I wonder if they ever had contact with him after his conviction and their immigration to Canada.

A few of Ellen’s brothers had already immigrated to the Ottawa Valley in Canada, where they had settled near the Jock river. Within 3 years of Timothy’s sentence she crossed the ocean to join them. On days when I moan about loading my two young children into our SUV to run an errand or two, I imagine boarding an overcrowded coffin ship and spending a month or two on the rocky seas with 6 young children.

In the 1851 census, she is listed as the head of her house in Jockvale, Ontario – a farmer and a widow. In fact, her husband was still living and was one year away from being pardoned. I wonder if she had any idea what had become of him or if he were even still alive. Neither of them were literate, so communication would have been difficult.


Her four oldest children eventually moved to the US. Three of the girls ended up in New York and one boy in Iowa. The youngest two, including Mary – my direct descendant, stayed in the Ottawa Valley and started their own families. It is said that when Ellen was in her 60s she walked to  Ogdensburg, NY to visit her daughters. I google mapped it – it’s about 50 miles. Not bad for a woman in her 60s!

Ellen never remarried and by all accounts raised her children herself. She eventually moved in with with her son John and died in the Ottawa region in 1888 at the age of 87, according to her funeral record. EllenWatters