‘I am a Poor man with a helpless family’: Peter Finnerty petitions the Crown

Marriage of Peter Finnerty and Anne Havey, 11 July 1843, Notre Dame Basilica, Québec.

Peter Finnerty was born about 1810 in Co. Kerry, Ireland, the son of John Finnerty and Catherine Dunleavy. He emigrated to Canada probably in the early 1840s, initially working as a labourer (journalier) in Quebec City. Here  he married another recent Irish emigrant, Anne Havey of Co. Sligo, daughter of John Havey and Mary McGee. The couple were married on 11 July 1843, at Notre Dame Basilica, Québec (click preview, left, to see larger image). 1 A year later, they could be found in McNab township, Renfrew County, Ontario, where they raised a family of seven known children.

Two of the sons of Peter Finnerty and Anne Havey — John and James Finnerty, respectively — married two of the daughters — Catherine and Bridget Benton, respectively — of Thomas Benton and Honora Ryan, which two Finnerty-Benton unions produced an impressive number of Finnerty children (nine by John and Catherine; eleven by James and Bridget) who were double first cousins.

In the parish register for St. John Chrysostom, Arnprior, Renfrew Co., the Rev. Father Alphonse Chaine used the term “shantyman” with reference to both John and James Finnerty: we would now call them “lumbermen” or “lumberjacks.”2

In the Renfrew County Directory of 1888, 3 John Finnerty, farmer, Arnprior, Township of McNab, is found on the west half of Lot 2, Concession 13 — the same piece of land for which his father Peter Finnerty petitioned in December 1852 (see below), and apparently successfully. But John Finnerty (b. 1847; d. between 1905 and 1910) and Catherine (“Kate”) Benton (1857-1941) moved to Cloquet, Carlton County, Minnesota around 1892 (after the birth of son Michael Dominic Finnerty on 13 April 1891 in Arnprior, McNab township, Renfrew Co., but before the birth of son Peter Finnerty in December 1893 in Cloquet, Carlton Co., Minnesota); presumably John Finnerty’s emigration from Arnprior, Renfrew Co., Ontario to Cloquet, Carlton Co., Minnesota was related to the lumber trade.

James Finnerty (1851-1921), husband of Bridget Benton (1860-1940), lived all his life in the Arnprior area, and died the death of a shantyman: he was buried in the RC cemetery at Arnrprior on 13 May 1921, as “James Finnerty, husband of Bridget Benton of this parish, who was drowned most probably about five weeks ago.”4 I recall meeting one of the children of James Finnerty and Bridget Benton at my paternal grandfather’s wake, btw, when I was a kid; she must have been about eighty-seven years old at the time, but still quite lively (and with a characteristic old-time Ottawa Valley sense of humour).

Peter Finnerty was literate, and able to both read and write. He signed the register when he married Anne Havey in 1843 (see image above), and the petition transcribed below (13 December 1852) is in his own hand. His spelling is irregular and idiosyncratic, obviously, but his petition appears to have been written with a sure and steady hand. In the 1891 census, where Peter Finnerty is found at St. Patrick’s Orphanage and Asylum in Ottawa5, the enumerator marked him as able to read but unable to write: this was clearly inaccurate.

Peter Finnerty died at St. Patrick’s Orphanage and Asylum in Ottawa on 8 June 1900,6 and was buried at the RC cemetery in Arnrprior on 10 June 1900, with his son James Finnerty and a Hervé Gelineau serving as burial witnesses.

Peter Finnerty’s Petition 7

Note: I have attempted to transcribe the following faithfully, without adding missing punctuation, and with the original spelling. Where Peter Finnerty’s spelling might make the meaning unclear, I have added my own correction/interpretation (or best guess) in brackets [ ]. Finnerty used “now” for both “no” and “know,” and also for his rendering of “another” as “a now ther.”

December the 13 — 1852

To his

Excellency the governor general the Petision [Petition] of Peter Finnerty your Petioner [Petioner] has Been liveing on the west half of lot N2 Clergy resarvs 13 Concession of McNab these six years Past and has a large improvement and I Petioned Diferent times about it I recived an answer last march from the crown land Department ordering me to Bring on a Provensial [Provincial] Surveyor which I did leaveing the survayors fees in the hands of the Government Eagent [Agent] in renfrew for to give him as soon as he would give in his return about the lot I have went Diferent times to the land Eagent and to the survayor to now [know] if they had sent it and got now [no] satisfaction a bout it I Demanded the money and Could not get it as I entended to bring on a now ther [another] survayor I am rather tinking ther some trick in it as there is a now ther [another] man trying to get my improvements I would bring on a now there [another] survayor But thinking that they would send En their report and I think it verry Expensive to gow and Pay another it was a man Buy the name of Mr Harvee I got to value it

as I am a Poor man with a helpless famially [family]

I hope your Excellency will Protect me and my improvements as I am in readiness to arange for it I would wish to now [know] from the Crown land Department if they had received the return a bout the land. From the survayer as I cannot get now [no] satisfation from the other Party about it I hope your Excellency will teake Pitty on me and see me relisyed [released? relieved?] as I am a Poor man with a helpless famially and by sour [soever?] Doing your Petioner is in Duty Bound will

For Ever Pray

Peter Finnerty

The response of the Crown Land Department:

The Petitioner being in the occupation of the West half of the Clergy Reserve No. 2 the 13th Concession of the Township of McNab it is recommended that he be allowed to purchase at 7 s per Acre.
A.N. Morin

Crown Land Dept
Quebec 5 Sept 1853

In Committee 23 Sept 1853

Petitioner being in Occupation with improvement the Committee recommended that he be allowed to purchase at Seven shillings per Acre, being the valuation adopted by the Resident Agent.

Approv’d in Council 28 Sept 1853

  1. Basilique Notre-Dame (Québec City, Québec), Register of Births, Marriages and Burials, 1843, p. 123, M. 69, Peter Finnerty-Anne Havy marriage: database, Ancestry.ca (http://www.ancestry.ca/: accessed 23 March 2012), Quebec Vital and Church Records (Drouin Collection), 1621-1967.
  2. E.g., “James Finnerty, shantyman of this parish, son of age of Peter Finnerty and of deceased Anne Havey of this parish.” St. John Chrysostom (Arnprior, Ontario), Register of Births, Marriages and Burials, 1888, p. 72, M. 6, James Finnerty-Bridget Benton marriage: database, Ancestry.ca (http://www.ancestry.ca/: accessed 23 March 2012), Ontario, Canada, Catholic Church Records (Drouin Collection), 1747-1967.  
  3. The Renfrew County Directory, Including a Complete Directory of – Pembroke Town, Arnprior and Renfrew Villages. – Also – Gives Name, Occupation, P.O. Address, No. of Lot, and Concession of Every Resident in the Townships of the County. Pembroke: W.J. Gallagher, at the Standard Printing and Publishing House, 1888, p. 79.
  4.  St. John Chrysostom (Arnprior, Ontario), Register of Births, Marriages and Burials, 1921, p. 174, S. 15, James Finnerty burial: database, Ancestry.ca (http://www.ancestry.ca/: accessed 23 March 2012), Ontario, Canada, Catholic Church Records (Drouin Collection), 1747-1967.
  5.  Sister Campagne household, 1891 census of Canada, Ontario, Ottawa City, Wellington Ward, family no. 85, p. 118, line 9: Finnerty, Peter, Inmate
  6.  Founded in 1865 as “a House of Refuge for the Irish poor,” St. Patrick’s Orphanage and Asylum was established by an Association of Members of St. Patrick’s Church (Nepean St., Ottawa), and was run by the Grey Sisters of the Cross. It housed orphaned children and also some adults, mostly elderly adults who were presumably in need of care. The original building (corner of Laurier Ave. and Kent St.) was torn down years ago, but there is still a St. Patrick’s Home in Ottawa (on Riverside Drive).
  7.  Peter Finnerty petition, 1853, Upper Canada Land Petitions, RG 1, L 3, vol. 200, F Bundle 7, petition 12: microfilm C-2026, Library and Archives Canada.

  1 comment for “‘I am a Poor man with a helpless family’: Peter Finnerty petitions the Crown

  1. 27 March 2012 at 5:08 pm

    In the second last line, could “and by sour” = “and be sure.” ?
    Fun transcribing these things isn’t it. I had 35 letters of my great-grandparents and some of them I just couldn’t get at all.

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