Gilman Willson, father of John Willson

John Willson (1802-1888) was the son of Gilman Willson (1771-1836) and Hannah Sypes (1775-1856).

John Willson's Obituary

An obituary for John Willson appeared in the Chatham Tri-Weekly Planet on 21 Mar 18881. The obituary states the following:

  • John Willson lived in Ridgetown [Howard township, Kent, Ontario] (line 1);
  • He was of UE Loyalist descent (line 3);
  • He was born in 1802 in Bertie township, Welland county (lines 4-5);
  • He first moved to the future Ridgetown area with his wife in 1833 (line 6);
  • His (second) wife died in 1867 (line 15) [the obituary does not mention his first wife, Mary Bobier, mother of his eldest daughter Mrs. Malcolm, discussed below].
  • He had six children surviving to adulthood, listed beginning on line 18, including Daniel Gilman Willson.
  • The obituary does not state the lineage by which John Willson was of UE Loyalist descent.

There were two men named John Willson of UE Loyalist descent who were born in Bertie and who were early settlers of Ridgetown: one was born in 1800, and one in 1802. They were cousins, both grandsons of the New Jersey loyalist Benjamin Willson, UE. The history of the Benjamin Willson UE family is well documented by Thomas B. Willson2.

The Willson Family of Bertie Township

Benjamin Willson UE (1732-1809) was a New Jersey loyalist who immigrated to Canada in 1787, settling his family in Bertie Township on the Niagara River 7 miles below Fort Erie3.

Willson includes biographies of each of the children and grandchildren of Benjamin and Sarah Willson. The couple had three sons4:

  • Crowell Willson, J.P., M.P. (1762-1832) m. Hannah Crane, second m. Mrs. Wiley. There are extensive surviving records about Crowell5. He moved from Bertie to Crowland, Welland in 1801, and served in the Upper Canada House of Parliament from 1808-1812. Crowell had 13 children surviving to adulthood, including:
    • John Willson, born 1800 in Bertie, and
    • Crowell Willson, born 1802. Willson documents that Crowell lived as an adult in Crowland on land his father had owned. He is documented on a deed in Crowland as late as 18476. He may have moved to Illinois after that date.
  • John Willson (aft. 1762-1807) m. Esther ______. John's will states that he was a brother of Crowell Willson, and states that he had three sons, none named either John or Crowell7.
  • Gilman Willson (1771-1836) m. Hannah Sypes.

Willson lists the children of Gilman Willson and Hannah Sypes8. This list is likely definitive, because Willson had access to Gilman Willson's Bible, which he cites as a reference for Gilman's birth date and birthplace9. Gilman's children include two sons who are important to this article:

  • Crowell Willson, b. 3 Aug 1800, and
  • John Willson, b. 1802.

In summary, Benjamin Willson UE had two grandsons named John Willson, and two grandsons named Crowell Willson, all born between 1800 and 1802. Crowell Willson M.P. (1762-1832) and his son Crowell Willson (1802-aft 1847) lived in Crowland, Welland.

The broad outline of the evidence of lineage in this article is to tie together Gilman and Hannah Willson of Dunwich Township with their sons, the brothers Crowell and John Willson of Ridgetown, and to tie Daniel Gilman Willson to this John Willson; and finally to show that the second John Willson of UE Loyalist descent in Ridgetown, son of Crowell Willson M.P., was not Daniel's father.

Specifically, this article discusses proof that:

  • Gilman and Hannah Willson and family moved to Dunwich, Middlesex in 1811, 200 km from Crowland, where they remained for the duration of their lives;
  • There is no evidence of any other Willson family in Dunwich besides Gilman, Hannah, and their children;
  • John Willson "of Dunwich" married Mary Bobier in Dunwich in 1833, and this John Willson was Daniel Gilman Willson's father, thus proving that he was the son of Gilman and Hannah Willson;
  • Land records and a letter from 1882 prove that this same John Willson of Dunwich was an early settler of Ridgetown with his brother, Crowell Willson. This Crowell Willson of Ridgetown could not have been the son of Crowell Willson M.P. because the M.P.'s son lived in Crowland; therefore the records are additional evidence that the Crowell Willson of Ridgetown (and his brother John) were sons of Gilman and Hannah Willson;
  • Land records further show that the other John Willson of Ridgetown of UE Loyalist descent (the one who was not the father of Daniel Gilman Willson) was from Crowland, and was the son of Crowell Willson M.P. (1762-1832), providing further evidence that Daniel Willson's father John Willson was the son of Gilman and Hannah Willson.

[Aside: the name "Crowell" was probably Sarah Willson's maiden name. Family lore has it that she was distantly related to Oliver Cromwell, and Royalist branches of the family dropped the "m". More on naming at the end of this article.]

Gilman Willson and family in Dunwich township, Elgin/Middlesex County

Gilman Willson still lived in Bertie in 1810, when he served as an assessor of Bertie. In that year he petitioned for additional land in Bertie10. He and Hannah moved their family to the Port Talbot settlement in Dunwich, Middlesex in 1811 [Elgin County was separated from Middlesex County in 1851].

A brief history of the Port Talbot settlement: Col. Thomas Talbot was an Irishman who had a distinguished career in the British Army, serving in Ireland, Quebec, and in Holland fighting the French. He left the army in 1800 and returned to Canada in 1802 to found the Port Talbot settlement in Dunwich. The Crown gave Col. Talbot access to 5,000 acres of land: for each 50 acres he gave free to a settler, he received the right to 200 acres of the land reserved for him. Over time the Talbot Settlement spread over 29 townships.

Col. Talbot's story is told on a plaque in the St. Peter's churchyard in Tyrconnell, Elgin, near Dunwich. He arranged land for settlement for several members of the Willson family. He required that each pay settlement fees, which often occurred years later, and required each to swear a loyalty oath to the Crown.

Records first document Gilman Willson in Middlesex County with his commission in the 1st Regiment, Middlesex Militia, on 12 Feb 181211. He served as Captain of a Company in the 1st Regiment, Middlesex Militia is documented from July 1812 to July 181412.

A county map from 1812 shows that Middlesex/Elgin counties were adjacent to Kent County to the southwest13, where Gilman's sons Crowell and John would settle.

Gilman Willson and his wife Hannah were baptized and confirmed in St. Thomas Church on 23 Aug 182714.

Extensive research has found no surviving record of a will or official death record for Gillman or Hannah Willson, possibly because the area where they lived was so rural. The couple's tombstone is in St. Peters Church churchyard, Tyrconnell, Elgin. The tombstone reads15:

"In memory of/Gillman Willson/died 1836/aged 64 years/also Hannah/wife of the above/died 1856 aged 81 years."

The ages and death years yield a birth year of 1771 for Gilman and 1775 for Hannah.

Hannah Willson's maiden name is documented on a Bertie deed dated 31 Dec 1798 that refers to "Gilman Willson and Hannah (alias Hannah Sypes) his wife, both of Bertie"16.

Hannah is mentioned in a second obituary of John Willson, father of Daniel Gilman Willson17. This second obituary also states that John Willson's first wife was Mary Bobier18.

John Willson's first wife, Mary Bobier

The marriage bond for John Willson and Mary Bobier from 18 Mar 183319 states that both John Willson and Mary Bobier resided in Dunwich. It remains to be shown that this John Willson of Dunwich was the father of Daniel Gilman Willson, and to provide supporting evidence that this John Willson of Dunwich was the son of Gilman and Hannah Willson.

The 1833 date of marriage is consistent with the Chatham Planet obituary of John Willson cited at the beginning of this chapter: John Willson first moved to the area of Ridgetown in 1833, presumably after his marriage to Mary Bobier. More documentation of John Willson's land holdings in Ridgetown will be presented below.

The first census of Dunwich was conducted in 184220, the census shows John Willson's mother, Hannah Willson, as head of household21, Gilman was deceased by this time. Joshua Bobier, the co-signer of the wedding record for John Willson and Mary Bobier, is shown on the same page, as are many other members of the Bobier family. The census also lists the founder of the Port Talbot settlement, Thomas Talbot, Esq.22

Another source confirms that Hannah Willson continued to be a resident of Elgin County in the years before her death23, from an interview with Mrs. Gilman Willson of Elgin County "prior to her demise."

The 1842 Dunwich census lists three of Hannah's sons living near her: Peter, Jeptha and Christopher24 . There are no other Willson's living in Dunwich, corroborating the fact that Gilman and Hannah Willson and family were the only Willson's living in Dunwich; and therefore, that John Willson, husband of Mary Bobier, was the son of Gilman and Hannah Willson.

The John Willson who resided in Dunwich in 1833 and married Mary Bobier can be shown definitively to have been the father of Daniel Gilman Willson. John Willson and Mary Bobier had one daughter, Mary, born 22 Jun 183725. Mary is listed as John Willson's eldest child on the 1851 Ontario census, Mary, age 1626. Daniel G. Willson is shown on the line under Mary, age 11, followed by the rest of John and Ann Willson's children.

Mary Willson married Sherman Malcolm: he is shown living with or next to John Willson and family on the 1861 Ontario census27The couple is shown married on the 1871 Census: Ontario, Kent census28.

Mary moved to Normal, McLean, Illinois sometime before 1910. She is shown as a widow living with her daughter's family in Normal on the 1920 U.S. Census29. She died on 7 Feb 1926. Her death certificate30 lists her parents as John Willson and Mary Roberts, and her birthplace as Ridgetown, Canada. The listing of her mother's last name as "Roberts" instead of "Bobier" can be accounted for by the fact that her mother died almost 90 years before this certificate was filled out; Mary Willson was raised by a step-mother, Ann McEwen, away from her Bobier relatives; and the informant for the death certificate was someone other than her daughter.

The fact that Mary's birthplace is listed as Ridgetown confirms that John Willson had moved to Ridgetown by 1837. We recall that the Chatham Planet obituary lists "Mrs. Malcolm of Blenheim" as one of John Willson's children, confirming that the father of Mary Willson Malcolm, husband of Mary Bobier and resident of Dunwich in 1833, was the father of Daniel Gilman Willson.

Mary Malcolm's death certificate interestingly lists her father's birthplace as Pennsylvania. John's mother, Hannah, was from New York, but the family moved to Pennsylvania shortly after Hannah's birth31. The listing for John Willson's birthplace may just be another error from the informant, but it is possible that John's mother might have returned to family in Pennsylvania to have her son in 1802.

In summary, the above records comprise evidence that John Willson of Dunwich was the son of Gilman and Hannah Willson, and the father of Daniel Gilman Willson.

Land records allow us to distinguish between the two Ridgetown cousins of UE Loyalist descent named John Willson, as follows.

Ridgetown – The brothers Crowell and John Willson, early settlers

Willson states that Crowell Willson, son of Gilman and Hannah Willson, moved from Dunwich to settle in Ridgetown with several siblings including his brother John32. As noted above, Crowell Willson, son of Crowell Willson M.P., remained in Crowland during his lifetime33, and therefore could not be the Crowell Willson of Ridgetown: this observation corroborates Willson's statement that the Crowell Willson of Ridgetown was the son of Gilman and Hannah Willson. Land records and a contemporaneous letter prove that Daniel Gilman Willson's father, John Willson, was the brother of Crowell Willson of Ridgetown, and therefore was the son of Gilman and Hannah Willson.

In 1882, when Crowell Willson of Ridgetown had moved to Traverse City, Antrim, Michigan, he wrote a letter to the East Kent Plain Dealer about the early days in Ridgetown. The letter was printed in the Plain Dealer on 2 Nov 188234. Crowell's letter describes a nocturnal bear attack on his brother's hogs, as follows:

"I first knew Ridgetown in 1826… I was living where Daniel Willson now lives. I heard my brother John's hogs squealing in the pen on his place one night in the fall. I roused John, and we took a lantern and opened the door. It was a very dark night but by the light we saw a huge bear..."

This letter establishes that Crowell and his brother John lived very near each other, and that Daniel Willson (John's son) later inhabited the same land. Land records confirm these facts as follows:

  • An 1847 instrument confirms that Col. Talbot located Crowell Willson on 100 acres in Howard Township in 182535The given location of the land is the South ½ of Lot 12, Concession 9.
  • The record of deeds and mortgages for Ridgetown S ½ Lot 12 Concession 936 shows that the initial grant recorded in 1828 is from the Crowne to Crowell Willson (top line). The next line shows that John Willson purchased 50 acres of this concession from Crowell the same year. Presumably he cleared the land and built a house by the time he moved there in 1833 with Mary Bobier Willson.
  • The record of deeds and mortgages for N ½ Lot 12 Concession 937 shows that John Willson bought these 100 acres in 1848.
  • These records show that John Willson subsequently sold 50 acres from the south ½ and 50 acres from the north ½ to Daniel Gilman Willson on 3 Aug 1868.
  • The Indenture that recorded the sale of these 100 acres of land in Lot 12 Concession 9 to Daniel Gilman Willson stated that Daniel was the son of the seller, John Willson38.

The records cited above, and the 1882 letter from Crowell Willson to the Plain Dealer, establish that Daniel Gilman Willson's father, John Willson, settled in Ridgetown with his brother Crowell Willson on Lot 9, Concession 12.

The house that John Willson built on Lot 9, Concession 12 remained in the family until 1953, when the Province of Ontario made the home and adjoining farm part of the Experimental Farm of the Ridgetown College of Agricultural Technology39.

Ridgetown – the cousin John Willson

The last corroborating evidence is to show that the other John Willson of Ridgetown who was of UE Loyalist descent was the son of Crowell Willson M.P. This cousin's land petition40 of 1847 has the following entries:

  • "John Willson of Crowland for 200 acres as the son of Crowell Willson of the same place an UE Loyalist", "Lot number fifteen in the seventh concession";
  • "the son of the late Crowell Willson of the Township of Crowland", "1825 for two hundred acres of land in the township of Howard".

The deeds and mortgages for Ridgetown Lot 15 Concession 741, first line, shows that cousin John Willson's 200 acres from the Crowne were recorded in 1847 after payment of settlement duties.

Cousin John Willson is shown on the 1861 census42 with wife Jane and 4 children at home.

These records establish that the John Willson of Lot 15 Concession 7 was the son of Crowell Willson M.P., and corroborate that the brothers Crowell Willson and John Willson of Ridgetown, settlers on Lot 12 Concession 9, were sons of Gilman and Hannah Willson.

Notes on naming of children

There is good evidence that Sarah Willson's maiden name was Crowell43The naming of children appears to follow the Scottish custom of using grandparents' names for the oldest children, then the parents' names for younger children. This fact provides corroboration that Daniel Gilman Willson's grandfather was Gilman Willson. Naming sources follow:

Children of Benjamin and Sarah Willson44

  • Crowell Willson – Sarah's maiden name
  • John Willson – believed to be Benjamin's father's name. John Willson immigrated to New Jersey from Scotland in 1718.
  • Sarah Willson – presumably after her mother
  • Hannah Willson – source unknown
  • Gilman Willson – source unknown

Children of Gilman and Hannah Willson45

  • Sarah Willson – after her maternal grandmother
  • Hannah Willson – after her mother, paternal aunt, possibly earlier paternal relative
  • Benjamin Willson – after his paternal grandfather
  • Crowell Willson – after his grandmother's maiden name
  • Andrew Willson – after his mother's brother who served in Butler's Rangers
  • John Willson – paternal uncle, possibly paternal-paternal great grandfather
  • Remaining children – unknown

Children of John Willson and Anne McEwen46

  • [Mary Willson, daughter of Mary Bobier – after her mother, ? maternal grandmother]
  • Daniel Gilman Willson – middle name after his paternal grandfather, Christian name unknown source. Daniel's daughter Annie Willson Bonner was named after Daniel's mother (children of Daniel listed on Willson 37, see page C32).
  • Benjamin W. Willson – after his paternal-paternal great grandfather
  • Margaret Willson – after her maternal grandmother
  • John Neil Willson – after his father (Neil unknown)
  • Hannah Willson – after her paternal grandmother


1John Willson Obituary. Chatham Tri-Weekly Planet Newspaper, Vol. XXXI, No. 127, 21 Mar 1888. Chatham Ontario, p. 1

2Willson, Thomas B. Descendants in Canada and the United States of Benjamin and Sarah Willson, New Jersey Loyalists of Ft. Erie, Ont. Madison, N.J.: St. Thomas Public Library, 1967, pp. 12-14

3 Ibid., p. 1

4 Ibid., p. 6

5 Ibid., pp. 7-8

6 Ibid., p. 19

7 Ibid., p. 9

8 Ibid., p. 14

9 Ibid., p. 12

10 Ibid., p. 12

11 Ibid, p. 12

12 Lauber, Wilfred R. Catalog of Upper Canada Militia Records 1812-1815. Chatham: Kent County Branch, Ontario Genealogical Society, 2002, p. 36

13Ibid., p. 10

14Willson, op. cit., p. 13

15West Elgin Genealogical & Historical Society. St. Peter's Church Cemetery, 1825-. Elgin County: West Elgin Genealogical & Historical Society, 1986, p. 23, No. 83

16Willson, op. cit., p. 13

17Ibid., p. 13

18Ibid., p. 29

19Marriage bond, John Willson & Mary Bobier. Marriage Bonds, 1833. (RG5, B9, Vol 26). Public Archives of Canada

20McGugan, Colin A., ed. The Early History of Dunwich Township 1790-1903. St. Thomas: Impressions Printing, 2004

21Ibid., p. 85

22Ibid., p. 84

23Sims, Hugh Joffre. Sim's History of Elgin County Volume III. Elgin County: Aylmer Express Limited, publisher, 1988

24McGugan, op. cit., p. 85

25Death certificate, Mary Bobier, 7 Feb 1926. Normal, McLean County, Illinois. State of Illinois, Department of Public Health, Division of Vital Records.

26John Willson family. 1851 Census: Canada, Kent County, Howard Township

27Sherman Malcolm family. 1861 Census: Canada, Kent County, Howard Township

28Sherman Malcolm family. 1871 Census: Canada, Kent County, Howard Township

29Bruno Warlitz family, 1920 U.S. Census: Illinois, McLean, Normal

30Death certificate, Mary Bobier, op. cit.

31Willson, op. cit., p. 13

32Ibid., p. 26

33Ibid., p. 19

34Watson, O.K., compiler. Memories of Ridgetown. Ridgetown, 1930 [Chatham Public Library], p. 13

35Crowell Willson land petition 1847. Canada Land Petitions "W" Bundle 4, 1847-1848. (RG1, L3, Vol. 540).

36Township of Howard Land Registry, Concession 9, Lot 12

37Township of Howard Land Registry, Concession 9, Lot 12

38Indenture, John Willson to Daniel Gilman Willson, 3 Aug 1868

39Gordon, Shaw H. and H.S. Feagan. Ridgetown Album of Historical Homes and Landmarks, 1875-1975. Ridgetown: Dominion Press Limited, 1975, pp. 136-137

40Crowell Willson land petition, 1847. Canada Land Petitions "W" Bundle 4, 1847-1848. (RG1, L3, Vol. 540)

41Township of Howard Land Registry, Concession 7, Lot 15

42John Willson family. 1861 Census: Canada, Kent County, Howard

43Willson, op. cit., p. 5

44Ibid., p. 19

45Ibid., p. 14

46Ibid., pp. 29-30