Apr 132018
 

Our members are participating in the A-Z Blogging Challenge for 2018 with the theme People of My Place. Today's entry is from Brenda Turner.

Richard Lester was born in 1821 in St Mary’s, Whitechapel, in London England. In the 1841 census he was reported to be age 15, younger brother of Henry Lester, who was a bricklayer, and son of Hannah Lester, a widow age 50. In 1844 Richard married Mathilda Wallis at the Church of St John of Jerusalem in South Hackney. By the 1851 census they are shown as living on Richard Street, Limehouse, which is right off the Commercial Road in Tower Hamlets. By then they had children Richard Junior age 6, Mathilda age 4, and Charlotte, age 2. Richard was reported to be a bricklayer.

At some time before 1860, the Lesters had left the grotty overcrowded east end of London for the open lands of Canada. Why? It was probably for the same reason the writer’s English family arrived here in 1921: to build a better life for their family. By the 1861 census they were living near what is currently the road Montee Paiement, in what was then West Templeton, a township in west Quebec. They were sharing with another family in a log cabin near the Thomas Davidson farm. By this time the family also included children George (9), Daniel (7), Mary Ann (6, Elizabeth (5), Mary Jane (4) and little son William at age 2.

By that time Richard had obtained a land grant of 100 acres not far from Ottawa, formerly the city of Bytown, and across the Ottawa River from where the family were then living. He had to locate and clear part of the land, and use the cut trees to construct a house for the family before they could move there and make the new land productive. He had to travel between those locations frequently, also working in the city when bricklaying work was available.

We are lucky that Richard Lester kept a diary of his life. Here it begins on one of his trips as he neared the land he had been granted near Bytown. There were no roads to either location, and few horses, and a new immigrant family could not have afforded a horse anyway.

"I called at Mr. Forsyth's, about ten miles from the city [of Bytown], and five miles from my destination. I told him what a strange presentiment I had. He asked me if anything was wrong when I left home, and I told him all was well, only I thought my little boy's teeth were troubling him [William], but he was playing about all right. He said he thought it was only imagination. After dinner I proceeded on my journey to Mr. Watson's. He lived on the adjoining lot. I was very much cast down. I told him I would go back. I could do nothing. As there was at that time no road, I asked him to see me through the bush a few miles. I was afraid that I could not find my way through alone. He said he would go with me, but not right then. I could find my way in, but not out. The next morning I was very much cast down. I told him if he would not go with me, I would go by myself, and run the risk of finding my way. He then went with me until I knew the road.
On my way home I called at Mr. Forsyth's as before. He was surprised to see me. I told him I must go home, as I was sure something was wrong at borne. He made me stop and have some dinner, as it was now ready. While I was eating my dinner, young Mr. Davidson of Templeton rode up on horseback to the door. He looked over to where I was sitting and said, “You are the man I am looking for.” I asked him if anything was wrong at home, and he said “Your little boy.” I said, “Is he sick?” He said, “He is dead.” He died Thursday, October 24, 1861. What I thought or said, or if I said anything I do not know. You can better imagine than I can tell you.
It was about half past one o'clock. I started there and then for home. I had to go on foot, sometimes running, sometimes walking. I had ten miles to go to the city, to cross the Ottawa River by ferry, and five miles to walk to reach home. I got home about half past four o'clock just before dark.
Truly our home was a house of mourning that night. Our former troubles were nothing compared with the loss of our dear little William, aged three years all but five days, the first break in our family. The funeral took place the next day. He was buried in the McLatchie Burial Ground in Templeton."

William was buried in the McLatchie Burial Ground in West Templeton, now called the West Templeton Cemetery. It was then in 1861 still part of the McLatchie private land which had been granted to the writer’s Scot 3 X great grandfather, Hugh McLatchie, in 1826. Don Kelly, a long time resident of the area, once told this writer that the central part of the West Templeton Cemetery, where there are no headstones, was where the young children, and children born dead or who died soon after birth, were buried. Despite tons of topsoil having been added to level the surface of the cemetery after almost two centuries of use, the ground still gently undulates. And we we know that means many collapsed graves.

Little William Lester was the only one of the twelve children of Richard and Mathilda Lester who did not live to maturity. Given the mortality rate of children at that time, that the Lesters successfully raised eleven of their twelve children to adulthood is remarkable. Little William is memorialized on the Lester family headstone in Beechwood Cemetery, where his father Richard Lester and most of his family were buried. But he remains unmarked in the West Templeton Cemetery, one of the few infant deaths we know of which resulted in a burial there, and the lone member of the Lester family buried there.

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