Earliest Bonner & Willson Ancestors



Bonner and Wilson Pictures

The Bonner family came from Scotland, probably driven from there in the 1820s during what the English politely call the "Clearances", which comprised driving families off their farmland, so that the land could be used for the more profitable sheep grazing. Families were driven from the Scottish Highlands (north country) to coastal areas, where life was much harsher. Some were forcibly sent to the New World, and others voluntarily crossed the ocean in search of a better life. Also, families tended to be large, and the available farmland could not be divided up among all the children, increasing the pressure on many to emigrate. Infant and child mortality were high, relative to modern times, and parents were under great economic pressure to provide for themselves, their children, and the children of their children. Canada and America offered vast expanses of uninhabited, virgin land for farming.

The story of the Turnbull branch of the Bonner family is rooted near Newcastle-upon-Tyne, in Northumberland County, the north-eastern most county of England, on the Scottish border, and in a little town just over the border, Lilliesleaf, Scotland. The Turnbull ancestors were landed gentry, the Bates family, which owned a large estate known as Milbourne Hall. Ralph Bates, a baronet, was descended from several of the local noble families including the Chaytor and Tempest families, through whom we are direct descendants of several prominent ancients including King Alfred the Great, Charlemagne, and Saint Arnulf of Metz, discussed further below. Anne Ellison was the daughter of Henry Ellison, also a baronet. The Bates family was also related by marriage to Sir Cuthbert Shafto, yet another Northumberland baronet, who is mentioned in Brant Bonner's letter about the Milbourne estate. Several of these individuals served as High Sheriff of Northumberland at various times, including Ralph Bates (in 1762), his son and Nancy's brother, Ralph Bates (1812), Annie Ellison's father Henry Ellison (1734), and Sir Cuthbert Shafto (1795).

The Willson family probably emigrated from Scotland in the 1700s. Benjamin's father might have been the John Willson who arrived in New Jersey in 1718. The first Willson about whom we have documentary information is Benjamin Willson. Benjamin was born and raised in Wantage Township, Sussex County, New Jersey. He first appears in land deeds in 1763 in Wantage, New Jersey; he was a farmer and a Quaker, and was a British Loyalist during the Revolutionary War. As a result, as happened to many Loyalists after the war, life became untenable for him and his family in the United States after the war, and he moved to Canada in 1787.

Annie Willson's maternal grandfather, Duncan McKinlay, was born and raised on the McKinlay family farm called "The Anie", in the parish of Callander, Perthshire, Scotland. The first owner of this farm of record was Finlay McKinlay, who lived and farmed there in the early 1600s. He had a grandson, John McKinlay, born about 1645, who in turn had three children: Donald McKinlay, born in 1669; James "The Trooper" McKinlay, who went to Ireland, then to America, and is a direct ancestor of President William McKinley; and our ancestor, John McKinlay, born 1679.

In Scottish, the "Anie" means, "ford of the deer". More about the Anie can be found in the story on this site, "The Anie".

Many generations of McKinlays lived and farmed the "Anie", starting with Finlay McKinlay in the 1600s, and some of the original structure still stands. We have some information about Annie Willson's maternal grandfather, James McKinlay (1756-1825), who married Elenora Cameron (1768-1859). James was a "tacksman", who held intermediate status in Scotland: tacksmen generally rented rather than owning their land, but often rented from a relative, and subleased some of the land to others. There is a chapel, St. Bride's Chapel, near the Anie, where James McKinlay was buried in 1825, and his headstone still is visible.

James and Elenora McKinlay had nine children. Annie Willson's father, their fourth child Duncan, immigrated to Canada with his brother, Ewen McKinlay. The reason or reasons that Duncan and Ewen left Scotland are unknown. However, the family farm would typically pass to the oldest child, and farmland was scarce in Scotland for those looking for new land. Further, the 1820s and 1830s were a time of economic distress, in addition to the cruel English "clearances" that put further pressure on farmland. It seems a safe assumption that the reason for Duncan's and Ewen's emigration was economic.

Children of Annie Willson & Robert John Bonner:

Gordon Willson Bonner (1900-1951) m. Agnes Caroline Martha Russell (1899-1986)

Brant Robertson Bonner (1909-1978) m. Mary Lucille Hinton (1914-2000)

Kathleen Patricia Bonner (1913-2000) m. John R. Tomlinson (1913-1975)