The McElroy Family of Richmond, Ontario, Canada

Henry McElroy and Family

Henry McElroy was one of the original military settlers in Richmond, Ontario. This summary of his life is derived from notes prepared by my father, (since deceased).

All first person comments in the following are being made by George Eldon McElroy Jr.

Along the Jock River (II); a watercolour painting by William Maurice Merrick McElroy

Along the Jock River; a watercolour painting by William Maurice Merrick McElroy, a great grandson of Henry.

Henry's Irish Ancestry

We know from family records that Henry McElroy was born in the year 1774 in Drumgooland Parish, County Down, Ireland. Drumgooland Parish includes the town lands of Leitrim, Benraw and Leganany, all or which adjoin, and is situated about midway between Castlewellan and Dromore. The lands in Drumgooland Parish were, in the 18th and 19th centuries, part of the estate of the Annesley-Glerawley family.

Family records indicate that Henry's father's name was William.

In l965, I commissioned the Ulster-Scot Historical Society to conduct a search of records available in Belfast and Drumgooland for evidence of McElroy ancestors. Their report provided much interesting information. The report states that the earliest reference found to the name McElroy in Drumgooland Parish was in a Survey Map of Leitrim dated 1727 which records "Muckleroy's Quarter" as l26 acres. The next reference was also in records of the Castlewellan estate - a map and list of tenants, dated 1742, which mentions William, Patrick and John McElroy holding farms of 31, 32 and 29 acres respectively in Leitrim. It is possible (indeed likely) that one or more of these were Henry McElroy's forebears.

The report also stated:

The church registers for Drumgooland Parish (Protestant Episcopal) which have not been preserved prior to 1779, record that in that year the baptism of John and also in 1782 that of Mary Ann, children of William McElroy and his wife, Mary, of Leitrim.

William, father of John and Mary Ann was undoubtedly also the father of Henry. This is as far back as I was able to trace and document the history of the McElroys of Richmond.

Although some family records show that Henry was born in the year l778 the following inscription is on his tombstone in. the Anglican cemetery at Richmond: "Henry McElroy August 26, 1844. Age 70 years."

We have no exact information on when or under what circumstances Henry left his home in Drumgooland, County Down, but family records show that he married Joanna Chambers, daughter of John Chambers, Justice of Quoram, in Castlebar, County Mayo, on or about l802. Their first child, Patrick was born in Castlebar, March 31, 1803.

John Chambers, Justice of Quoram, was married twice. Joanna was his only child and her mother died soon after her birth. Chambers' second wife was a Roman Catholic and I suspect that she may well have been the old boy's housekeeper. He died soon after his second marriage and Joanna was raised by her stepmother as a Roman Catholic. Legend has it that Joanna inherited a fortune of three thousand pounds. (This was mentioned in a memorandum written by William McElroy, one of Henry's grandsons.)

Joanna died at Richmond. Although she became an Anglican when she married Henry, she returned to the Roman Catholic religion on her deathbed and was buried in the Roman Catholic Cemetery. The following inscription is on her tombstone: "Joanna Chambers, wife of Henry McElroy, a native of County Mayo, Ireland - Dec 2, 1838 -- 56 Years". Therefore, her year of birth must nave been 1782. She would nave been 20 years old at the time or her marriage to Henry.

In the year 1834 Henry McElroy, then living in Richmond, received a letter from his brother John in Ireland.

Dear Henry, we all thought it very strange that you never wrote to any of us so long a time. We were thinking that you were dead.

It would seem that once Henry left Drumgooland he wanted to make a clean break with his past and his family. The letter from John also reported

the death of brother William that died on the third of October last very sudden. Was only two days ill and left the wife and four children.

The letter also mentions their sister, Mary Ann. It therefore appears that Henry's father William and his wile, Mary, had four children: William, Henry, John and Mary Ann.

This information raises some interesting questions about Henry. Why did he leave his home in County Down? How did the son of a poor tenant farmer manage to marry the daughter of an Irish Justice with a fortune of some three thousand pounds? Also when and why did he join the British Army?

The Irish Rebellion of 1798

We can only guess the answers to these questions but Irish History provides some helpful clues. In 1798, rebellion had once more broken out in Ireland. It was also the time of the Napoleonic wars and a French military force landed in the west of Ireland and joined forces with Irish rebels. This force advanced inland to the town of Castlebar and captured it from the British garrison. Later, British troops re-captured the town. Eventually all the French invaders surrendered and were sent back to France. The Irish rebels didn't fare nearly so well. Most of them were hunted down and executed. In Irish history, 1798 became known as "The Year of the French".

It appears that there were McElroys on both sides during the 1798 Rebellion. We know that Henry and his family were Protestant Episcopalians and were loyal to the Government in Dublin but a note appears in one of the Downshire letters about the McElroys of near the Mournes who were taken as suspects in connection with the 1798 Rebellion. Most of those who took part in this uprising were either Presbyterians or native Irish. Hugh and John Mcllroy are recorded in a list of Protestant Dissenters (Presbyterians) for Drumgooland in 1775.

The following letter dated June 12, 1798 from F. Carleton was received by Lord Downshire:

The York Fencibles and Newtownards Yeomen fell into an ambuscade in a wood near Saintfield ... Capt Chetwynd was killed ... The Monaghan Militia and 22nd Dragoons went to avenge his death. The rebels hanged two men at Ballynahinch for not joining them and burnt a house with four children near Kate McKay's bridge.

The people have been warned and I expect every moment to hear of their rising. Cleland, Lord Londonderry's agent is mustering ... Lucas Waring and Curry with twenty of my yeomen are this moment returned from Mourne with a number or prisoners and fifty stands of arms all loaded and better flints than in Newry. Marmions, McElroys etc are amongst the number ... all taken in their homes.

Henry's Military Career

It is my guess that Henry McElroy served with the yeomen militia or a fencible regiment and perhaps took part in the fighting at Castlebar. Anyway, sometime during this period, we know he enlisted in the British Army. It was also during this time and afterwards that he became acquainted with Joanna Chambers and her step mother. He may even have been billeted with them in Castlebar.

There is little information about Henry's military career other than the fact that he achieved the rank of colour sergeant in the 37th Regiment of Foot. It is, however, possible to make assumptions based on the dates and places of birth of his children. Henry and Joanna had seven children; four boys and three girls.

PatrickCastlebar, County Mayo, IrelandMarch 31, l803
Mary Dover, EnglandDecember 25, 1813
Robert Fermoy, IrelandAugust l8, 1816
MargaretMontreal, Canada?
SusanRichmond, Upper Canada June 11, 1829
HenryRichmond, Upper Canada?

It will be noted there are lengthy time gaps between the birth dates of Patrick and John and John and Mary. This suggests that Henry and Joanna may have been separated due to Henry's military service. He may have served with the Duke of Wellington's army in Portugal and Spain or possibly in the West Indies. It is known that Henry and his family were in Northwest Europe at the time of the Battle of Waterloo. In an old dictionary, now in my possession, Patrick McElroy (son of Henry) wrote:

1815 Battle of Waterloo 18 June 1815. P. McElroy was then in the Citadel of Antwerp in Brabantz & heard the whole affray - aged then 12 years.

Reggie Wilson (a cousin) once mentioned in a letter to me that Henry was in Belgium at the time of Waterloo but was not in the battle. Probably the 37th Foot was in reserve.

In a letter dated July 23, 1976, Maitland McElroy wrote:

My only souvenir is a tobacco box picked up by Henry at the Battle of Waterloo. It is engraved in an old Dutch script which I have only been able to have partly translated.

Sometime after the birth of Henry's son, Robert, at Fermoy, Ireland, Henry and his family went to Montreal, Lower Canada. Henry was still a serving soldier. Henry's daughter, Margaret, was born in Montreal but we have no record of her date of birth. The next date we can be sure of places Henry in Richmond on August 20, 1819. This is the date of the death of the Duke of Richmond.

It was Henry's practice to keep a diary of his daily life, travels and experiences. There were at least two volumes but unfortunately they were lost at Montreal during the 1920's. (Probably destroyed in an apartment fire.) Henry's diary told of the family's trip by Durham boats (bateaux) from Montreal to Lachine where a portage was made around the rapids and thence up the St. Lawrence to Kingston, Upper Canada. Here, Henry was stationed until he obtained his discharge and settled in Richmond.

A memorial plaque at Fort Henry, Kingston, unveiled in 1953, lists British Army regiments that served there and the dates. It includes "The 37th Regiment of Foot now The Royal Hampshire Regiment. 1817 - 1818, 1823 - 1824." It therefore seems reasonable to assume that when Henry learned that his regiment was about to leave Kingston in 1818, he applied for his discharge and a land grant at Richmond. He would then have been forty years of age.


The journey of Henry and his family from Kingston to Richmond would not have been easy and probably was made on foot. They probably first traveled to Perth. From there it was some thirty miles to Richmond. There was no road - nothing but a blazed trail through the swampy wilderness.

After settling in Richmond, Henry, in partnership with his son, Patrick, began careers as general merchants. It must have taken some additional capital though to start a business as a general merchant but Joanna may still have had some of her original inheritance left. I have no information on where Henry's first store was located but the building on the southwest corner of Strachan and McBean Streets later became Patrick McElroy's store. Before that it was Sergeant Major Andrew Hill's Masonic Arms Tavern which was later re-named The Duke of Richmond Arms. The Duke dined and spent the night before his death there.

McElroy Store in Richmond, Ontario circa. 1870.

The McElroy Store in Richmond, Ontario circa. 1870. From left to right (trust me on this!) are: Gertrude Beckett; Mrs. John Beckett (Gertrude's mother); Mrs. Patrick McElroy; Mrs. W Beckett (later Mrs. Henry Bennett); Emma Beckett (Mrs. C Lewis); John McElroy; Mrs. Merrick (Mrs. John Beckett's mother); nurse girl; Arthur McElroy; James McElroy; Robert McElroy; Patrick McElroy; and Mrs. Henry McElroy.

Henry received one or more land grants. One of these was dated Feb 8, 1834 and was for eleven acres in Parish Lot Number Nineteen on Perth Street adjoining the town of Richmond and Lot Number 3 on the East Side of McBean Street in said town of Richmond. However, it is highly probable that he received a grant or grants before this. Ex-sergeants were entitled to grants of 200 acres. On page 25 of the 1879 County Carleton Historical Atlas, the map of Goulbourn Township shows two farms on Perth Street just outside the village. One is for 200 acres and is registered to H. McElroy. The other is for 99 acres and is registered to Wm. and Jas. McElroy. Henry, William and James were all sons of Patrick. I suspect that both farms were Henry's original land grant at the time of settlement.

Henry's Children

Margaret, at some time after the family settled at Richmond went to Jamaica where she married a man named Chambers. I believe he was dentist.

Mary went to Wingham and married a man named George Knox.

Susan went to Wingham in 1859 and married Lauchlin McLean in the Township of Stanley, Huron County.

Henry was the youngest child and was born at Richmond but family records available do not show the date of birth or death. It should be noted, however, that Susan was born in 1829 when her mother was forty-seven. Henry was born sometime afterwards - a bit late in life for Joanna to be bearing children.

Robert was only sixteen when he died.

John died at Kingston and his obituary stated that he had lived there for a considerable period. The family may have made friends there during Henry's military service and John decided to make his home there sometime after the family moved to Richmond.

Henry (father)RichmondAugust 26, 1844
Joanna (mother)RichmondDecember 22, 1838
PatrickRichmondNovember 6, 1876
JohnKingston, OntarioDecember 8, 1883
Mary KnoxWingham, OntarioMay 25,1887
Robert RichmondMarch 20, 1856
Margaret ChambersKingston, JamaicaJanuary 1, 1875
Susan McLeanWingham, OntarioFebruary 26,1911
Henry (junior)probably Richmonddate unknown