By Elgin County Museum
The Talbot Family
The Talbot family lived in Malahide Castle, located north of Dublin, Ireland. In 1185, the castle was granted to Richard de Talbot by Henry II and in 1475, Thomas Talbot Esq. was granted additional feudal privileges and rights from King Edward IV. In 1831 Thomas Talbot’s mother, Margaret O’Reilly, was given the title Baroness Talbot of Malahide. This title was passed down the family through the eldest child. Other than a brief period from 1649 to 1660 the Talbot family reigned and lived in Malahide Castle until 1975, the longest in Ireland’s history.
Thomas Talbot was born on July 19th 1771 to Richard Talbot and Margaret O’Reilly, he was their forth son. Being a son of a family with status, he received a commission as an ensign in the 66th Regiment of Foot (a unit in the military) at the age of 11. At the age of 12 he received lieutenancy and then retired at half pay at 13. He was educated at Manchester Free School in England and at the age of 16 became active again in the military, as a lieutenant in the 24th Regiment of Foot.
From 1786 to 1788 the 1st Marquess of Buckingham, lord lieutenant of Ireland, (George Nugent-Temple-Grenville), had two Aides-de-camp, Arthur Wellesley “Lord Wellington” and Thomas Talbot. This association with the Marquess provided Talbot with many connections in Ireland’s high society. In 1790 at the age of 21, he went with his regiment to Quebec. It was here that he met the first lieutenant-governor of Upper Canada, lieutenant-colonel John Graves Simcoe. Simcoe was traveling west to establish the new province, and Talbot became his aide-de-camp and confidential secretary. He was employed in several transactions that included visits to Philadelphia and Detroit. He remained with John Simcoe and his wife for four years.
In 1794 he returned to England as a Major where the French Revolution took Thomas to the battlefields of Europe and Flanders. The next year he was promoted once again to lieutenant-colonel and after 5 years Talbot sold his commission on Christmas Day, 1800.
Choosing the Land
In 1793, the beautiful and fertile region situated between the lakes was a vast wilderness. When Talbot was travelling with Simcoe the idea of founding a colony formed in Col. Talbot’s mind, and became the ruling passion and sole interest of his future life.
Simcoe offered him a piece of land for his dedication to the Simcoe family, but failed to make it official. When Talbot came back from England in 1801 circumstances had changed and the land was no longer available. This did not discourage Talbot and he landed near Port Stanley and called it Skitteewaabaa (Ojibway for fire-water) (note: the location of Skitteewaabaa is debated as either Port Stanley or Port Bruce. Fred Coyne Hamil in Lake Erie Baron, argues that the true location was closer to Niagara.)
It would take more to receive his land, Talbot remained at Skittiewaaba for a time but went to London England the following year 1802. He addressed the government in England with regards to soil, climate, and inhabitants of Upper Canada and praised the character of the country. And said if his grant is made free of fees he will use his capital in establishment of agricultural works especially the cultivation of hemp. The Col. was content to ask for the usual grant to a field officer -5000 acres- , and he preferred to have the land in the township of Yarmouth, the Colonel had already received a grant of 1200 acres, the customary grant to officers settling in the Province.
Col. Talbot sailed for Canada with a letter from Lord Hobart to the Provincial Governor, Lieut.-General Hunter containing the authority of His Majesty for a grant of 5,000 acres in Yarmouth, or, if that was taken in any other township which he might select. Grants had already been made in Yarmouth to members of the Baby family of Detroit and Sandwich, therefore Talbot selected the southern part of Dunwich Township, west of Yarmouth.
The settlers were to be either from the continent of Europe or from America and to be placed on Talbot’s original grant of 5000 acres. This would provide for one hundred families. This arrangement would call for a maximum grant of 20000 acres for Col. Talbots own benefit (he actually secured upwards of 65 thousand acres).
According to the terms of Lord Hobart’s letter, the additional grant of 200 acres per family, to Col. Talbot, was to be made only upon his having surrendered 50 acres of his original grant to each family. This condition was the subject of much future controversy. Controversy – he kept the original 5000 acres (locating setters outside this land) and the hemp project was dropped.
Reasons for not settling people around his own lots “I find too near Neighbours a great nuisance.”
Talbot in his later years
Talbot did not marry and had no children so in 1833 he asked his nephew Julius Airy to come live with him and take over the land when he past away. Julius lived in Port Talbot for a time but found it isolating and not for him, so in 1843 Talbot asked Julius’ brother Colonel Richard Airey to come live with him, with the promise of transferring the land to him. Airey arrived with his family in 1847, displacing Talbot in the process. So in 1848 Talbot left for a long trip to England with George Macbeth (one time servant, now companion and estate manager). He stayed in England for almost a year and upon returning to Port Talbot he had an argument with Airey and decided to only give him half of his estate, the other half going to Macbeth, with a small allowance of 20 pounds for the widow of a former servant Jeffrey Hunter.
Talbot left again for England in the summer of 1850 and stayed over seas for another year. During his time away he became sick and declined in health, and upon returning home found that that Airey’s had left and were renting the home to John Sanders. Macbeth invited Talbot to stay with him in London and that is where he remained until his death in the winter of 1853.
Thomas Talbot was a son of an Irish noble family who sold his army commission in 1800 at the age of 29 to return to Upper Canada, where he had spent several years both as the aide-de-camp to Lt.Governor Simcoe and as a prospective settler. It may have been Simcoe who inspired him with the resolve to assist in the establishment of a loyal British colony in Upper Canada, to serve as a bulwark against the breakaway republic to the south.
When Talbot arrived in Upper Canada he brought with him a grant from the Crown of 5,000 acres. He had convinced the Colonial Secretary that he wanted to establish a settlement in Upper Canada, where he and his “tenants” would grow hemp to be used for cloth and cordage. He was to receive a further 200 acres for every settler he placed on 50 acres of his original grant, to a maximum of 20,000 acres.
Talbot was forced to take up his lands in Aldborough and Dunwich, located to the west of the townships he wanted, which had already been granted or reserved. He arrived by boat in May of 1803, founding Port Talbot on some high land overlooking the lake next to a creek, where he built his house, named Malahide Castle after the family home in Ireland. The nearest white settlement was forty miles away.
At this time almost anyone could obtain a grant of 100 acres in Upper Canada. One had only to complete the settlement duties, which included building a log house as well as clearing 3.5 acres and the road allowance in front of the lot, within two years. The deed to the property could then be obtained with the payment of a fee.
Some of the first settlers Talbot attracted to his lands were a large number of Scots from New York State, the Red River Settlement, and Argyllshire. He promised them additional lands if they agreed to take his 50 acre plots in Dunwich or Aldborough. In many cases, however, Talbot actually located them on lots not yet granted to him, providing the settler with 50 acres and keeping the other 150 acres for himself. Upon learning this, the government initially refused to grant him title to these lands but eventually relented, demanding that Talbot submit a plan of the locations and a signed statement that the settlers listed thereon were each resident on the land. He submitted plans with locations for 186 settlers in 1821, receiving 50 acres in trust for each of them and an outright grant for himself of 40,420 acres. He later conveyed the land in trust to the individual settlers.
Unfortunately the Scots faced higher than usual fees in obtaining the deeds. And although the fees were ultimately reduced, the fact that Talbot received so much land compared to their small holdings left hard feelings towards Talbot that would last for generations. Indeed, while growing up in the years just after WWI, John Kenneth Galbraith recalled that a few of the 50 acre farms still existed, “a souvenir of Colonel Talbot’s design for an unearned increment.”
Much more of Talbot’s time would be taken up granting crown land, first along the Talbot Roads, beginning in 1809, and then in many of the townships through which the roads passed. He was also responsible for the sale of crown and school lands in some townships. Part or all of 29 townships were eventually under his control. In general, the government allowed him to manage the settlement on his own terms. He ensured that settlers completed their duties in the time allotted and dispossessed those who failed to do so. By 1836 when the active period of his agency was coming to a close, an official assessment revealed that he had settled 500,000 acres — representing a little over 3,000 lots with a population, Talbot claimed, of 50,000 residents.
Talbot soon realized that good roads would allow settlers to get to their lots and later provide the means of getting their produce to market. He obtained permission in 1809 to b egin the survey of a road commencing at the east end of the settlement near today’s town of Delhi and running to Dunwich Township, where his grant was located. Talbot Road North (now Colonel Talbot Road) was then run through Westminster Township in 1811 and the main road was pushed as far west as Howard Township.
In 1824, Wharncliffe Road was surveyed to connect the settlements in London Township to those in the south, and the main road was pushed through to Sandwich (now Windsor) on the Detroit River. A Middle Road was completed from Sandwich to Aldborough’s boundary in 1830.
In a number of townships, where the roads cut through the original survey, new lots were laid out on either side of the road and were granted to those settlers Talbot thought capable of staying on the land and clearing their section of the road. In other townships, the road was part of the original grid, which included a large number of lots reserved for later sale for the benefit of the crown or the established church. Talbot convinced the government to designate other lots within the township to compensate for the ones that happened to lie along his road.
Of course it was the settlers that built the roads, in the same way in which Yonge Street had been built a few years earlier. Settlement duties, required of everyone granted a lot, included clearing the portion of the road in front of the lot as well as building a log house and clearing 3.5 acres within the first two years. Without reserve lots to create gaps, the Talbot Roads became a continuous line of farms that ran for miles through the settlement.