Loyalist son comes home to Morrisburg: memorial for William Johnson Munro.
William Johnson Munro was born December 10, 1781 in Montreal where his father Capt. John Munro of the King's Royal Regiment of New York was stationed at that time in charge of the housing and care of Loyalist refugees during the Revolutionary War. John, a descendant of the Munros of Fowlis at Ross-shire, Scotland, (1) came from Scotland to America as a Sergeant in the British Northumberland 48th Regiment of Foot in 1756 for the French and Indian War. Electing to remain in America at the end of his service, he married at Schenectady in 1760 Maria Brouwer, daughter of a prominent Dutch family. He was a noted merchant in Albany and eventually settled on extensive land grants awarded for his military service east of the Hudson River where he built a large estate called "Fowlis" and had numerous tenants and neighbours comprised of disbanded soldiers of the British and Highland Regiments. At the onset of Colonial unrest he openly declared for the Crown and was instrumental in enlisting many previous soldiers and settlers secretly into the British Army before he was arrested and jailed. (2) Sentenced to hang, he eventually escaped to Canada and joined his friend Sir John Johnson as a Captain in the First Battalion of the King's Royal Regiment of New York. His wife, Mary, with their seven children also eventually escaped to join him in Canada.
William J., named for Sir William Johnson, an old friend of his father, spent his early childhood in the little village of L'Assumption where Mary and the children waited for resolution of their Loyalist claims. John was pleading Loyalist claims in England for nearly three years, and his family was in the care of eldest son Lt. Hugh Munro and Simon McTavish of the North West Fur Company. (3) William grew up on the new Munro crown-grant homestead in Matilda Township, Upper Canada, a well known stop for notables on the trip up the St. Lawrence River to York (Toronto).
The Munro family was intimately involved with the North West Fur Company. From his merchant and military days in New York Province, John had many old friends who were partners, agents and merchants of the company. Eldest son Hugh married, at L'Assumption, Angelique, the widowed sister of well-known fur trader, Laurent Leroux. Daughter Cornelia married the noted fur trader Allen Patterson and they lived at Matilda next to the Munro homestead. Son, Dr. Henry Munro, had joined the North West Company as a physician, surgeon and agent in 1796. At the age of 17, William, under the sponsorship of Simon McTavish, signed a seven-year indenture with the North West Company and began his service as a clerk at the post at Rainy River. (4) He served an eventual eight winters in the Rainy River, Pembina and surrounding areas, returning only once to Matilda at the death of his father in 1800.
At the end of his indenture, William J. decided not to accept a permanent post and in 1807 he joined his cousin, Judge Hugh Munro, in New Brunswick and erected a trading-post and store at Bas-Caraquet on the Crown Land Grant awarded to him as a Loyalist son. He married Sarah Sherar, daughter of Loyalist Thomas Sherar, of the New Carlisle Loyalist colony across the Bay of Chaleur on the Gaspe coast. William began a diverse career as a Justice of the Peace and as a merchant trading in dried and salted fish and other local products, supplying truck to the Acadian fishermen, running a tavern trade, delivering mail and collecting customs and tax. He was one leg of a family triad in shipping and trading with Judge Hugh Munro, merchant of Bathurst, and schooner Captain James Sherar of New Carlisle.
Within ten years William and Sarah became the parents of six children including twin sons William Thomas and Thomas Brock Munro born in 1811. Son John, named for his well known grandfather, died at age five in 1818 and was buried on their property at Bas-Caraquet. On the 27th of May, 1820, William Johnson died at his home at the age of 39. No details of his illness or death have been found. It is speculated that he died suddenly as he left no will or previous arrangements about his business affairs. Sarah, in the last weeks of pregnancy, delivered his posthumous son, George, on the 5th of July, 1820.
Burial arrangements for William were a problem for Sarah. The burial must be done immediately; transportation to New Carlisle was not possible for her in her condition. There was no local Protestant church or graveyard in all of Caraquet. The William Johnson Munro family was the only Scottish Presbyterian family in a community of French Catholic Acadians. The only solution was burial on the family land grant, and William was interred on a little rise of land beyond the cleared fields next to his little son John. If markers were erected for the graves they were probably of wood, and soon deteriorated in the inclement weather.
Family members came from Bathurst, New Brunswick, and New Carlisle, Quebec, to help Sarah. William J.'s nephews, sons of his brother Cornelius, came from Cornwall and Matilda, Upper Canada, to help Sarah settle the estate, bill creditors, and try to collect some of the many debts owed to the store. Sarah was aware she would not be able to continue the business, and the title to the land grant had not yet been finalized. Eventually Sarah took her six remaining children and went home to her parents at New Carlisle, Quebec.
In 1832 the eldest sons of William J., twins William Thomas and Thomas Brock, reached their majority. They had already inherited a portion of land at New Carlisle from their Sherar grandfather, and William Thomas was busy farming there. Thomas applied to the New Brunswick Government for title to his father's land grant at Bas-Caraquet, stating he wanted that specific parcel as "my father and brother are buried there." (5) The land in Bas-Caraquet is poorly suited for farming; fishing is the basis of the economy. The soil is thin, rocky and poor; the water table is so high that the many low lying areas are wet and marshy; the growing season is short with wind sweeping over the exposed area; winters are long and severe with the bay frozen over. Thomas eventually sold the property to local Acadians.
Many years passed with few changes in this slowly developing area. In a hundred years all traces of William J.'s homestead and the graves disappeared. Eventually progress came to the area as a road is cut across the higher ground to connect Shippigan and Caraquet with the rest of northern New Brunswick. Houses that had always faced the sea were built along the highway for convenience. One house was built on the rise of ground on William's land containing the unmarked Munro graves.
In the fall of 1993 the owner of that home along the road decided to remove the old foundation under his house and replace it with new concrete. He jacked up the house and hired a back hoe operator to excavate the new foundation hole. The old stone, concrete and excess dirt were hauled to the waterfront and dumped to provide "riprap" along the eroding shoreline. Winter came; storms and wind weathered away the pile of dumped excavation. The bay froze; the usual blizzards and snow blanketed the area. The spring thaws set in; as the ice went out more inclement weather worked on the pile of debris. One mellow day a local resident was walking the shoreline with her dog when she discovered distinctly human bones on top of a mound of dirt. The local Constable was called; the RCMP were notified to investigate; the coroner was obliged to attend; people were questioned. In short order the archaeologist from Fredericton arrived to confiscate the bones for testing, identification and dating. (6)
A local resident of the adjacent property called her brother, a government historian in Fredericton. Fidele Theriault (7) had been born within sight of the Munro land and grown up in the community. Always interested in history and genealogy he had spent years documenting all the residents and descendants of the Bas-Caraquet area-many of them his kin. He had begun with the very first settlers and, although primarily interested in the Acadians, he had diligently researched every family. His correspondence in search of information about William Johnson Munro had led him to the Munros in New Carlisle and eventually to those in Washington State. As he talked to the investigating archaeologist and walked over the area of the excavation he soon was convinced that the remains had to be those of William Johnson Munro. At first doubtful of his conclusion, the authorities reviewed his information of the area and documentation of the community. When they read William J. Munro's land grant application and the letter of his son Thomas citing the graves they were convinced of the possibilities. The wheels of the government agencies grind very slowly. As the months went by there were no other alternatives presented for identification of the remains. The archaeologist confirmed the bones were very old -- easily 150 to 175 years. The individual had been an active person, about six feet in height, Caucasian, and probably died by age 40 -- an apt description of William Johnson Munro.
Finally, by July of 1995, the various authorities had all dismissed their interest in the remains. Since no "foul play" was involved and they agreed with the logical identification they were willing to release the remains to a family member for appropriate reinterment. On a trip across the United States and through New Brunswick and the Gaspe to visit Munro relatives, the Munros collected the remains and William Johnson began his long ride home to Morrisburg, Ontario by RV -- an improbable means of transportation for a life ending in 1820.
William Johnson's widow, Sarah Sherar Munro, died and was interred in New Carlisle in 1837, but no stone marks her unidentified grave site or those of their children. Appropriate graveyards in the New Carlisle area are now closed for new interments. Since William Johnson has been effectively "lost" to the extended Munro family and UEL historians because of his long absence in the far west and then his marriage and settlement in New Brunswick, the Munro family agreed that the appropriate location for the brief recovered cremains and his memorial marker would be at Riverside Heights, Ontario with those of his parents. First buried at a pioneer cemetery flooded by the St. Lawrence Seaway Project, the headstones and iron fence of the Munro burial plot were moved to Riverside Heights to form the UEL Memorial near Morrisburg dedicated 10 June, 1967. The ornamental fence, cast of scripted "M"s and Scottish thistles surrounds the upright grave markers of Capt. Hon. John Munro and his wife Mary Brouwer with the new William Johnson Munro surface stone located in the foreground.
For the Munros this is not a sad occasion. A son is home again with his family. They look forward to sharing this memorial with on-going generations of family, friends and neighbours of the Munros of Matilda.
(1) John Munro was descended from the Fowlis Munros through his father, Hugh Munro of the Milnton of Katewell Munro line and also his mother, Christiana Munro of the Fyrish Munro line. His ancestry is registered with the Lord Lyon Court in Scotland.
(2) Affidavit written by General Allen MacLean for Loyalist Claims by Capt. John Munro, Haldimand papers and Audit Office Claims.
(3) Private letter Mary to Capt. John Munro 1785; original in Munro Box at McCord Archive Library, Montreal, Quebec.
(4) Letters from William Johnson Munro written from Northwest Company posts to family members in Ontario 1798 to 1806; originals in Munro Box at McCord Archive Library, Montreal, Quebec.
(5) Petition of Thomas Brock Munro to Lt. Governor Campbell of New Brunswick dated 11 October 1832, wherein he requests grant of his father's lot in Bas-Caraquet and states it was on that lot "on which my father erected a dwelling house and barn and cleared about sixteen acres, and on which lot my father and brother are buried." Loyalist Claims, New Brunswick Archives at Fredericton.
(6) Archaeologist Moira McLaughlin, History and Archaeology Dept. of University of New Brunswick at Fredericton.
(7) Historical Dept. of University of New Brunswick at Fredericton
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|Author:||Henry Munro; Vallena Munro|
|Publication:||The Loyalist Gazette|
|Date:||Sep 22, 1996|
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