Convicts named Timothy are easier and more interesting to research than farmers of the same name. There are shiploads of records associated with convicts and better books about their lives and experiences. It’s easy for me to imagine their struggles and how they lived. Farmers, though? They are harder to get into. Also, it’s tough for me to imagine my ancestors when all I’ve got is census data. But… I’m going to do my best to imagine one, because there are a lot of farmers in my tree, and I’ve got to start somewhere.
It seems like most of the Irish immigrants in my family came from the old country to the new, got some land and farmed it hard. Some of them packed it in and went to the city within a generation or two, while others kept on clucking. In fact, the Brennan farm, which is now being encroached upon by suburban sprawl and box stores, was just sold in the last couple years, after more than 150 years in the family. I get that land ownership is a loaded concept: the Haudenosaunee and the Anishnaabe had been on that land a lot longer, but still there’s still a tinge of sadness that it’s being eaten up by a growing city. At the same time, I’m not about to move to rural Ontario and figure out how to sow canola or husband cattle because of a false sense of nostalgia.
Timothy Brennan (1821-1906) was the immigrant on this branch, and I know very little of his life in Ireland – or Canada, really. His parents were farmers (Paul Brennan and Mary Walsh) in Ireland. He was baptized in Seskin, Old Leighlin, Leighlinbridge, Co. Carlow, Ireland in 1821. He probably had holy water poured over his screaming face in the 13th century cathedral below, St. Laserian’s. His headstone claims he was born around 1815, while censuses peg it at various dates from 1821-26. I guess he wasn’t great with math. He was the oldest of 6 boys and 2 girls.
He was also confused about when he immigrated. The 1901 census says 1849, but a newspaper article says 1856. I can’t find him in the 1851 census, and he was married in Ottawa in 1854, so I’m going with early 50s. It’s also possible he immigrated around 1849, but took a few years to make it to the homestead, which actually belonged to his father in law. There were huge numbers of Irish immigrants during this time: it was right in the middle of the great potato famine. During the late 1840s and early 1850s, over 1 million died and another 1 million emigrated, resulting in a loss of around 25% of the population. County Carlow was particularly badly hit, and lost up to 50% of the population to starvation or immigration.
The famine itself was caused by blight, a crop disease, but the effects were amplified by the political and economic climate of the time. Already before the famine, the Irish were almost totally dependent on the potato as their main (and often only) source of food. The vast majority of the population was poor tenant farmers, who were barely surviving before the blight hit. When the disease got to Ireland, it spread quickly because their monocultured variety of potato was susceptible. During these years, though, farmers were still expected to export their crops. Over 4000 ships filled with grains were sailed from Ireland over these years, while the people were starving. Exports of cattle actually increased. This occurred because British landlords demanded certain quotas and Ireland was largely under the power of the British.
So Timothy likely left Ireland to escape the famine. He was the oldest son and around 30 years old when he came to the Ottawa Valley. It’s likely he would’ve been sending money home to Ireland. He may have immigrated with his younger brother James, or perhaps went ahead and sent money for James to join him. I believe their parents and other siblings remained in Ireland, although their younger brother Paul joined them in Canada many years later in the 1880s after some time in the military.
Timothy immigrated as a farmer and used those skills in Canada. He married Ann Kennedy (a Tipperary lass) in 1854 in Ottawa. They went on to have 2 boys and 4 girls, who were farmers or married to farmers (i.e. were also farmers). One of them was his son Patrick, my great great grandfather (pictured below with his wife Anastasia Brophy circa 1925).
In an article from the Ottawa Citizen (Sept 26, 1931), his son Patrick (my great-great grandfather), tells stories about him. Timothy came from Carlow in the 1850s and secured an inner lot, meaning that there was no road access to their 50 acres. I believe it actually belonged to his father in law, as stated on a map from 1879. Although their land was on the banks of the Jock river, he had no way to travel the river, and so he had to haul everything and cross overland and through bush on other people’s unfarmed and unoccupied lots (which his family subsequently bought up). Eventually he built a boat to come and go from during periods of flood. Their eventual home is hardly a shanty so I think they did relatively well. Here’s a picture of the farmhouse and stockyard, when his sons Patrick and James were running it, around 1925.
Timothy’s wife Ann died in 1898, and he passed away in 1906 of old age at 85 – I’ve got a headstone below – it replaced the previous one which was in disrepair. At the time of his death, he’d been living with his son James, who reported the death. By the next census James and his brother Patrick were living there. This is where my great grandmother grew up, and the land stayed in the family through her sister.
Although the records are pretty boring, I can imagine a few things of his life. He probably arrived in Canada destitute and hungry, but managed to make a decent life for himself and his family. I would love to know what became of his siblings who remained in Ireland (and there’s an old post online from a woman who has a 1869 letter from him to his brother Paul, which I’d love to get my hands on!). Conclusion: farmers are indeed more boring to research than convicts.